1835 -- 1924

Photographed in 1908

"GRANDPAPA'S LETTER" to his children

Being the story of a boy's life in a country village from 1835 to 1847
as remembered fifty years later.


From the original manuscript typewritten by the author at Milwaukee Wisconsin 1898
Together with notes of interest to the family edited by his grandson Charles Harrison Vilas II

This book is privately printed for distribution to the descendants of "The Twins" Gerritt Smith Van Valkenburgh and Franklin Butler Van Valkenburgh by their grandchildren Mary Frances Land Leach and Charles Harrison Vilas II 1958


The author of this book: explains more eloquently than I possibly could why the manuscript was written and I respectfully refer the reader to his opening paragraphs. As Editor I have deleted nothing from the original. Were this book being produced for sale, I am aware that deletions would be in order.

However, Frances Leach and I are publishing it so that we may share with distant and in many cases unknown cousins the thrill and Joy we have experienced from this intimate glimpse into the lives of our forebears. Since this is a gratuitous enterprise, other readers will simply have to bear with with us if we seem to be preoccupied with matters of strictly family interest.

There was a Van Valkenburgh at Valley Forge, another at Pearl Harbor. The knowledge that one was the grandfather of the Author and the other his grandson lends continuity and intimacy to the otherwise vast span of history that these two events encompass. There were Van Valkenburghs in the Union Army, one in the Confederate Army, all brothers of the Author. When Japan was opened to world trade President Johnson sent a Van Valkenburgh to be the first minister to that far away land------again a brother. The realization of all this makes history much less remote much more personal, vivid and real.

It was in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1948 that your cousin Frances Land Leach ( Mrs. Thomas Witt Leach of Bismark North Dakota & Tulsa, Oklahoma ) and I first discussed the possibility of sharing this manuscript with the rest of you. We agreed to go halves on the cost of publishing, and to distribute the copies as gifts to our relatives. We hope no one will be shy about asking for additional copies. They will also be available to any libraries or historical societies interested on the same basis.

Lest it be forever lost in a musty attic, we are including a short autobiographical sketch of the Author's maternal grandfather "Parson" Higgins whose span of life included a minor role in the Revolutionary War and later participation in that great western explosion of humanity that peopled this continent in the last century. You will find this In the appendix together with a notice of the posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh. Should you be descended from either of "THE TWINS" you may see a chart showing exactly where you fit into the family.

Your cousin Mary Corinne Smart West of Pine Bluff, Arkansas has been most helpful in supplying names for this chart and some of the family photographs. Stephen Bert Merritt, historian for the town of Prattsburgh, N. Y. has gone to considerable trouble to discover an old map of the village of Prattsburgh which served as the basis for the one drawn by my wife Margaret Van Pelt Vilas and found on page 12. Frances and I wish to thank them all for their interest and cooperation.

If the reader gets but a fraction of the pleasure out of this book that we have had in preparing it, or that our Grandfather must have had in writing it, we will consider the task well worth the effort.

Johnson's Point
Branford, Connecticut

Feb. 21,1958

Charles H. Vilas (1907 - 1988)

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