Old letters shine a light on 19th Century Vermont romance - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Old letters shine a light on 19th Century Vermont romance

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The Vermont French Canadian Genealogical Society has cracked the case on a series of old letters they received in 2013. The letters date back to the 1800s, and after more than a year of research, the team has tracked down the descendents of one author. 

Nearly 200 years have passed since George Bradford Shaw and Susan Maria Griswold embarked on a long distance romance between Burlington and Danville. All that's left are their letters, and the present- day relatives that one team of volunteers worked to find. 

Shaw and Griswold first met in Danville, but when Griswold and her family moved to Burlington in 1819, they began writing love letters, where for four years they detailed everything from their travels and holiday plans to health scares. "I think Susan was getting a little tired of it, and she started talking about a guy she had met in Burlington, and it was like two weeks later, and they used the term fortnight back then also, which is two weeks, and about two weeks later he was in Burlington, and they were getting married," said Sheila Morris, the President of the Vermont French Canadian Genealogical Society.

Morris got the letters in 2013 from a friend who had no relation to the couple, but found their letters in a hope chest she had purchased. The Society transcribed all 182 pages of the 50 letters. After more than a year of research and looking through public records, an old obituary led them to George Shaw's descendents. 

"It's amazing to actually hold something that an ancestor in the early 1800s actually held, and wrote, and thought about, and considered. That's really, really cool to be able to do that, but what was really, really impressive was the amount of work that went into transcribing these, scanning each and every one of them," said Alessandro Bertoni, Shaw's Great-Great-Great Grandson.

The team learned that the couple's story didn't have a happy ending. They were married just two years when their only baby died, and Griswold passed away two days later. Shaw's current day relatives are descendants of his second wife. "It caused me to go and look through my documents, and I found a whole box full of similarly dated letters, and I haven't, no one's gone through these letters yet to figure out if they're more letters from George Shaw, but they are...plenty of stuff in here," said Willard Pope, Shaw's Great-Great-Grandson.
Morris says it was an epic love story that gave them insight into Vermont's past. "Well normally we're looking backwards, so it was much more difficult, and not many people come here to look for their descendents. They're usually looking for their ancestors, so I think it was kind of fun for us to do a different project, and the more we read, the more interesting it became," she said.

The Society plans to donate the letters for safe keeping to the University of Vermont's Special Collections Department. 

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