Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Married women will still have their favorites...

Letter from Sarah Haley, Newburyport to Nabby Angell, Boston  ~ June 2, 1777
Dear Cousin Nabby,
May I flatter myself, My Dear Girl, that a letter from a sober matron, quite removed from all the polite amusements of the times, and who has very little consequently to say for herself, can be quite acceptable to you?
You desired me to scribble you a few lines and I am willing to think you will deal as sincerely with me, as with others.  If not, you have only the poor consolation of answering this letter, as I am determined to accept nothing less from you.  Make no excuses that you have nothing to write back, as such an evasion will not do, as I am sure Headquarters can easily furnish something worth communicating, especially when embellished by your able pen.  As for me, I can only say that I love you as well as ever – which perhaps you will say is of little consequence and that my own pen grows cleverly and looking like a little Indian which may be still.
Has any of the lasses secured themselves a gallant among the Independents or did they think them not worth the trouble?  Cartwright is here recruiting and drank tea with me the first day he came to town.  He told me that Miss Corliss had represented to some lady in Boston, that he was the author of a song, which upon his honor, he says he never wrote!
Some of the lads in their letters to their friends, exclaimed against Providence, and with their great warmth upon the whole, I think they were in general, much neglected.  I was half in love with one of my partners, a Captain Brown, a much agreeable well behaved man, of about three and twenty and with the addition of a handsome face made him one of the principle figures in the room.  My next favorite (you see, married women will still have their favorites) was one of the homely agreeable.  Mason, with a broken nose – but no matter for that!  So, I hear as well, the redoubtable Colonel Russell is writing to your brother’s late flame and Cousin George has at last got married – was not you a little surprised?  I think it is my sister Polly and Corliss’ next turn.
Your situation begins to be pleasant and you are never at a loss for company, or I imagine you spend time gaily.  And so Mrs. Tilston, a lady of my acquaintance has come to spend an hour which obliges me hastily to subscribe myself and so,
Your Affectionate Cousin,
This letter was given to me by a friend who collects such things.  He also collects Revolutionary War pay vouchers which are interesting to look at until the tenth in a row, and then one finds oneself screaming for something about bonnets and ribbons instead of lead and ammunition.  And so, this amiable little letter was dropped into my hands and now I find myself with a new passion for women’s letters.  Recently, I bought one written by a woman to her seamstress in 1869.  It is full of buttons and bows – just the kind of feminine fluff I like.  This letter, however, is appealing too.  It’s authored by a married woman, Sarah Haley from Newburyport Massachusetts, to her cousin, Nabby Angell in Boston.  “Nabby” was a girlish nickname for “Abigail”.
Nabby had requested a letter from her cousin, and Sarah being married (and older, I presume), laments that she is not sure she will have anything of interest to tell her single cousin.  But here, she tells Nabby many things and paints an alluring snapshot of  life in a coastal village during Revolutionary War times.  Apparently, Sarah has attended a party where she “partners” (dances?) with a handsome Captain who is her “favorite” among the soldiers and she asks Nabby if  her friends have also met any attractive soldiers.  The rest of the letter is filled with bits of happy gossip about love, courting, and anticipated unions and marriages.  The missive ends when another friend interrupts Sarah for a short visit and perhaps tea.
Women’s letters are notoriously scarce and so I have imagined that this one was tucked away by a beloved granddaughter or niece who found it equally charming.  It’s a simple domestic letter written by a young wife during an extraordinary time.  But for me, a woman possessed by the past, what I read between the words was as satisfying has having watched a full length Merchant Ivory film.
Picture Credit:  Henrietta Johnston 1674-1729. Subject: Mrs. Pierre Bacot  


  1. And what a shame the art of writing a proper letter is all but passed these days. Hopefully, some will keep it alive, but I know not who they may be.

    I wrote a few myself recently for the first time in a long while and it felt very strange. Like riding a bike again after many years. Emails are not the same. And now everything is 140 characters or less.

    I read some letters between a Civil War soldier and his wife awhile back and they were very moving. They give you a bright light into the lives of the people living during times long past that I don't think you could get any other way.

  2. I love this post, Donna...very touching and reminds me a lot of Jane Austen's letters to her darling sister, Cassandra! I'm not a fan of letters and it pains me to read them, but this one (what I read of it) was lovely! Warmly, Kay

  3. Bron, I find Civil War letters the most poignant of all correspondence especially those between solider and wife or soldier and mother.

    And thank you, Kay for your comments. They mean a lot!


  4. Nice way to decorate your walls. I have never done that. My effort to beautify the walls in my house was to order big-sized canvas prints from wahooart.com, from images of western art. I use the same angel motifs in all of the rooms painted by different painters, such as this one by very interesting English artist Stanley Spencer, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT7K6.