This letter is significant for at least two reasons:
1. It was always assumed that Giuseppe was illiterate, in both Italian and English, because he went to work as a merchant seaman at a young age and had no opportunity for formal education. This assumption seemed reasonable in view of the fact that we had no correspondence or diaries written in his own hand. Now, with this letter, we know that Giuseppe had managed over the years to acquire some rudimentary skill in both spoken and written English. The spelling and syntax reflect his struggle to express himself in the language of his adopted country, and though no doubt self-conscious about his lack of fluency, felt compelled to write a personal letter in his own hand (rather than using a scribe) at a time when his son desperately needed to feel his parents’ love and support.
2. In the letter, we gain deeper understanding of Giuseppe’s character and life experiences. He obviously cares deeply for his son and expresses his support for Joseph Brigham whether he leaves or stays at the Academy. Those must have been reassuring words to a son who found himself in an embarrassing predicament. We learn of Giuseppe’s feelings of loneliness and homesickness after leaving home in Palermo to help support his family. Although he felt like returning home, he tried to do what Heavenly Father would have him do, and sought His guidance. Giuseppe expresses his confidence that the Lord will guide his son just as he was guided during difficult times as a young man. Above all, he wanted his son to know that his parents loved and supported him, come what may, and that they would help him return home and start a new life if that was his desire. The picture that emerges from the letter is one of a faithful, tender-hearted father who was deeply interested in securing the well-being of his children, and who continued throughout his life to provide support to his own parents and brothers and sisters in Sicily.
The epilogue to this story is that Joseph Brigham did indeed return to Utah and enrolled at the University of Deseret. He was a brilliant student who upon graduation was immediately offered a faculty position to teach both mathematics and languages. He had a distinguished academic career, including service for many years as Vice-President of the university which by then had been re-named the University of Utah.
A full transcript together with images of the three page letter follow below: Continue reading