The Dall-Tardy Collection
The Dall-Tardy letters are a collection of a total of 33 letters, 19 in their original, hand-written script dated from 1840 to 1854 mostly from James and Henrietta Dall in Baltimore to their niece and foster daughter Clara Austin Tardy in Mobile. Clara Honey Austin (1818-1858) was the youngest of 8 children born to Horace Austin and Elizabeth Richards Austin, and she was less than 7 years old when both of her parents had died. She was “taken in” by her father’s sister, Henrietta Austin Dall, and her husband, who became her foster parents, and to whom Clara always referred as “Mother” and “Father.”
With the collection are 6 letters written in 1858 to Clara’s son Alexis H. Tardy, then 14 years old, and to Clara’s husband Balthazar Tardy, about Clara’s death in March, 1858, at the age of 39. There are two accounts, both thought to be written by Alexis, of Clara’s dying words to her husband, children and servants.
Also included in the collection are 3 letters to Henrietta Cecilia Tardy, Clara’s daughter: one in 1860 from a girlfriend after Henrietta had gone away from Mobile, one in 1866 from her father Balthazar about her getting married and leaving home, and one in 1874 from her brother Alexis following the death of her husband John Nathaniel Matthews at the age of 41.
Included with the collection are three other letters: one written in 1904 by “Etta” (thought to be Henrietta Austin Matthews, double first cousin of Lucien Tardy Matthews) to Lucien’s wife Clara about the death of Clara’s father; one written in 1908 by Hallie Austin Aldrich (granddaughter of James and Henrietta Dall) to her cousin (presumably Henrietta Cecelia Tardy Matthews) in which she mentions “the packet of dear old letters” (this very collection); and one written in 1939 by Carrie Matthews to her brother Lucien Tardy Matthews (both children of Henrietta Cecelia Tardy Matthews) in which she also refers to this collection of letters.
Many of the letters are conversational in tone, express much affection, offer bits of family news, and convey a flavor of the personalities involved. Those following momentous and often sad events express condolence and shared grief. The 1866 letter is a tender, loving one from a busy, business man father who misses his newly married daughter. Also prominent in these letters is the strong Christian faith of the persons involved.
Clara Honey Austin Tardy and her descendants were apparently good “letter-savers”. It is that trait we have to thank for this treasure trove of letters offering such an intimate window into this family.
The full collection has been transcribed and annotated (by Harry Porter, Jr., MD, August, 2003).