Giuseppe’s letter to his son Joseph Brigham at West Point Academy.

Joseph Brigham Toronto

In June 1875, both Giuseppe and his first wife, Eleanor, wrote letters to their first son, Joseph Brigham, who had just enrolled at West Point Academy to prepare for a career as an Army officer. This was a prestigious appointment and a high honor: only one person was nominated annually from each state for such an appointment, and the nomination had to be approved by both the governor of the state/territory, and the president of the United States. To turn down this nomination, or to accept it and then drop out of the Academy, would be considered very bad form, and a blight on the reputation of the state or territory that nominated the prospective cadet. So there was considerable pressure for Joseph Brigham to accept the appointment, which he did reluctantly, probably out of a sense of loyalty to his father, Giuseppe, who was a close associate of the governor and president of the LDS church, Brigham Young. Having made the long trek back East, and after barely a week at West Point, Joseph Brigham realized he had made a mistake, and expressed a desire to return home to pursue an academic career. He apparently hated the military mindset and lifestyle, and expressed his desire to leave the Academy. Giuseppe responded to his son’s dilemma with this letter in which he expresses his point of view and offers some fatherly counsel.

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:

Salt Lake City June 29th 1875

Dear Son

We received a letter Date of the 21 of June we herd you got there safe and good I herd you dont feel well in your mind towards Arived in that place your mind changed altogether we feel for you i know what that means that I been tried that way many times my self the Lord wants to draw nearer and nearer to him to lean unto him for help to give you experience between you and the Lord the Lord wants to make somebody of you and he is going to try you If that be the place for you If that be the place let the will of the Lord be done If it be to come back let the will of the Lord be done you said you know to much allredy to be bond there eight years My Dear Son it is your own choice if i prevent going you would find fault with me so i help you to go now my son cheer up take corage the lord be with you to comfort you if it is to stay or to come back dont be afraid about the passage we pay for you going or if it is to come back I will foot all the expeces for you to help you if it is to come back go and see brother Stanes(1) to help you to come back the cheapeast way he can and i will pay him back that is if you resolate to come back If the Spirit of the Lord want you to do so when i left my parents i felt home sick for a few days then i got over it because the Lord wanted me to go away from there then he sterenkeng me up and comfort me and give me helth and streketh and preserve my life many time because I done what the lord wanted me to do and i respect my parents and i fed them till they died so the lord be with me unto the end to finish my work so the lord be with you unto the end to finish your work the lord is going to make somebody you if he is to serve a government or to come back in this country(2) the lord is giving you expearence for you to feel for the lord and feel for your parence and you know how it is to be away from home now is the time for the Lord to stick religion your head we feel well and we pray for you that you may do what the lord wants you to do now you bileve a little better what your father taulk to you before you said not to sign our name in that paper till you sent a word back John Q Canon made me signe my name on a papper that i was willing for you to go and serve the government which I know nothing of the contrary amigitly i wen to John Q Canon he told me he sent the lettr to you you can do what you please if it is any good keep it if it is no cont burn it up my mind is still leading me back to Italy i wrote a few lines in the other letter which didend pease me which brothe louis wrought so I sent a lettr my self which Johny(3) wrote You didet tell me about any Italian vessel mabe you had no time we all send our best respects from father God bless you

1 Staines, Church financial agent in New York.
2 “This country”: Utah, which was not part of the United States in 1975.
3 Jonathan Jones, the youngest son of Giuseppe and Eleanor, born 1865.

University of Utah Marriott Library Special Collections, Ms 179 Box 2, Folder 8
(Letter from Joseph Toronto to his son, Joseph Brigham, at West Point.)

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One Response to Giuseppe’s letter to his son Joseph Brigham at West Point Academy.

  1. Ray Toronto says:

    I would be interested to know if there is any connection to my grandfather, Felix Toronto, who passed away in the late 1970’s at 88 years old, in New Jersey by way of NYC, and also a Mac Toronto, Felix’s nephew I believe, who lived in Jamaica Plains, Mass.

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