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American Annals of the Deaf

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Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer

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For five years Mary Ann filled her days with the formidable challenges of raising a family in a suddenly and profoundly altered environment. But as a woman who was deaf and did not speak, she was marginalized by family, friends, and strangers. They questioned her abilities and sometimes took advantage of her lack of experience in financial affairs. She was extremely patient, but understandably frustrated. Mary Ann’s writing is less eloquent than Edmund’s, at times showing the nuances of having been deaf since an early age, but her intelligence and fortitude were responsible for a happy and healthy family that largely prevailed during Edmund's mining years. Her letters reveal her struggles and bravery as a frontierswoman; her fears were mingled with tears, and, at times anger, but she always hoped for Edmund’s safe return.

Mary Ann had indeed sent Edmund several letters, but they had not reached him in California by the time she received his letter on January 2, 1850. She had directed her first letter to San Francisco and two others to Sutter's Fort. She wasted no time in responding to him the following day.

Dear Edmund,
     Last night I received your interesting letter. I thank God that you arrived in the gold region safely and I am very glad that your long and tedious journey is ended. . . . I was most crazy for joy to hear that you were well. While I read it, all boarders and children stood around me and watched and felt anxious to know what had become of you, till I finished to read it. I gave it to Durham to read it to them aloud. . . . Mr. Skinner asked me if I was not glad that I did not go with you and I answered no. He laughed. I told him if I had no children I would like to go with you and see the country.11
Mary Ann mentioned that she had read in the newspapers about 500 emigrants who became discouraged and returned home. She asked Edmund if he were disappointed not to find enough gold. Even in this letter, she was anxious about when he would be returning home, following with an expression of hope “that we will be happy to live better in the future when you get rich.”12

Friends in Iowa were also curious about Benjamin Clough, Edmund’s deaf friend who had accompanied him on the overland journey. “They wondered why you did not say a word about Clough and believe that he might be dead. The people here heard that I had a letter from you and felt anxious to inquire about you and Clough. . . . They liked him very well because he had great friends here.”13 Edmund subsequently explained to Mary Ann that he had left Clough in Weaverstown and had not heard from him since.14

In her January 3 letter, Mary Ann also described the local schoolteacher, Miss Hall, who arranged for four sleighs to take the children for a ride and followed this event with a party. “She said Thomas was a good singer. Miss Hall told me that he was learning very fast and he would make the first rate scholar.”15 Mary Ann wished Edmund a happy new year and told him about some decisions she had made regarding the family finances, including selling the old cow for $12 to pay taxes. Thomas often encouraged her to write and she was proud that he could read as well as Hannah's son William.

O N  M A R C H 19, 1850, Edmund expressed delight over finally receiving Mary Ann’s earlier letters, as well as other correspondence.

Sunday, I went to an express office and obtained two letters one from you dated Dec. 2nd. The other from George in [New Orleans]: date Nov. 13th. I felt much relieved for I had not heard one word from home since I left in May—over ten months.16

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