The Proposal: Samuel Sechler and Mary Davis, Part 4
Although the Sechler family of Pennsylvania only impacts the genealogy of a fraction of our readers, the letters that Samuel Sechler and Mary Davis wrote to each other in 1879 and 1880 open a window to the way Americans communicated during that time. All readers of Hagenbuch.org are sure to benefit by enjoying the language, romance, and social culture reflected in these jewels of the pen.
After the February 29, 1880 letter of Mary to Sam, there is a break of two weeks before Sam writes to Mary. The March 12th letter from Sam to Mary is the climax to the letters and visits that had been going on since late November of 1879. In that three and a half month period, Sam woos Mary with poetry, visits, sharing secrets, and possibly even songs. On March 12th, he writes a beautiful letter—beautiful in both its handwriting and thoughts. It is transcribed here exactly as written.
Dear beloved Mary
I received your loving letter yesterday. I cannot describe my feelings of joy and happiness when I read it. Dear Mary you have made me truly happy. It is an honor I never expected to possess. I feel now as though I could defy the world.
You will forgive me Dear Mary for my hastiness in sending you the following proposal for indeed Dear Mary I cannot wait until I see you to learn my fate. My family and connexions [sic] are so well known to you that I need not say nothing of them. If I am disappointed of the place I hope to hold in your affections I trust this step will not draw on me the risk of losing the friendship of yourself and family which I value so highly that an object less ardently desired or really estimable could not induce me to take a step by which it should be in any manner regarded.
Dear Mary please read my “proposal in poetry” on the opposite page and give it your deep and heartfelt thoughts for remember our whole future happiness is at stake. I advise you to consult your mother if you think it necessary but I think you are capable of judging for yourself only it would be more honorable to obtain her consent. I am going down to my place Monday morning, will be up house again on Friday or Saturday evening fro my trunk. I expect an answer from you please by that time.
Dear Mary consent to become my wife and it will be the one great object of my life to make you happy, for I love you with my whole heart. Adieu God bless you Your Sam
On the opposite page is written:
My own beloved Mary. If you do not feel disposed or are unable to comply with my request, please burn this poetry, also the letter.
If thou will be mine no want or care, Shall ever disturb thy life. Thy days shall all be bright and fair, With worldly blessings rife.
If thou will be mine what have I love, That is not also thine. Oh then my heart no longer prove, But say thou wilt be mine.
From S.H.S. to his only love M.C.D. your letter was dictated by a true and loving heart.
On March 20th, Mary replies with a long letter. Transcribed below are important portions:
My Dearest Sam
With pleasure I received and read your loveing [sic] letter yesterday and feel happy that mine gave you joy but yours is fraught with So much interest to both of us that I hardly know what to Say your proposal did not tak (sic) me by Surprise but yet I cannot answer you now for as you Say our whole future happyness [sic] is at Stake and I would not like to make a mistake in Such an important question by A hasty discion [sic].
Dear Sam I thank you with my whole heart for the confidence you have placed in me for I consider your asking me to be your wife the highest compliment you could have paid me and if you will kindly wait until the first Evening we Spend together I will try and answer you then give me that length of time and please Dear Sam I cannot take your advice about consulting Mother. don’t think Strange please and I will explain Some time and I trust to be guided aright by A higher Power. you know you and you alone possess my love and with the knowledge of that you will wait a short time patiently. I know you will be disapointed [sic] in not getting an answer to day for I did not get yours in time to get one down to the office and will tak [sic] this my self Some time next week.
Mary goes on to write of items that are not serious: asking forgiveness for the quality of the paper she has used and the lateness of her reply, commenting on the lateness of the hour she is writing this letter, and so on. She ends the letter with:
Dear Sam I can not write as I feel nor have I the gift to express my self and hopeing [sic] you will take the will for the deed I will quit my Scribbling for to night and remain as ever yours only Good night darling to S.H.S from M.C.D
Although written the evening of Saturday, March 20, 1880 the envelope is postmarked Friday, March 26th. On that same day, March 26th, Mary writes a short note, a very important reply to Sam’s proposal. However, the postmark on the envelope cannot be read, and the next letter from Sam was written on March 29th and does not have an accompanying envelope. So, it is unknown the sequence of the receipt of these letters. They may have even crossed in the mail. They are transcribed here by the dates that Mary and Sam penned them. First, is Mary’s short note of March 26th followed by Sam’s letter which he wrote on March 29th.
My own Dear Sam
I have thought over your question and the time will Soon be here for you to have your answer and I will be your wife providing you can gain Mothers consent which I am afraid will not be an easy Task but my request of you is write plainly to her and we will See what the result will be. hopeing [sic] you are well and enjoying your Self from your own Adieu
My Dear Mary
I will try this evening to write a few lines, as I can you know express myself better in this manner. What I write to night is the honest truth and yet have a right to know it as it is for your own welfare if you accept me as your husband as I hope and pray you may.
Dear Mary did you ever take a thought as to my position in this world or whether I was capable of supporting you properly.
Dear Mary I am a poor man as I have nothing but what I work for by hard honest labor which is no disgrace to me I think If you think different please tell me.
This has troubled me a great deal since I wrote to you the last asking for an honor I am in no way worthy to possess. But you know that no person is perfect. I have my faults as well as other folks you remember what I said in my first letter when I asked you to correspond with me. I think it has been carried out properly do you not answer me truly and you will make me happy.
No more till I have press you to my heart and kiss your sweet face. Remember I will always love you whether it be Yes or No.
[The letter is not signed.]
Whatever the sequence of these last two letters, there is no doubt as to Mary’s intentions in this next letter. Written on Thursday, April 8th, more than a week after Sam’s last letter, her words are clear and her future is sealed. There is no way to know if Sam visited her between the time he sent his March 29th letter and when she wrote this letter of acceptance—transcribed here with added paragraphs, corrected spelling and punctuation, but with the typical run on sentences.
My Dear Sam
I will try this evening and fulfill your request. Mother received your letter Tuesday eve and although she is not pleased she says do as you like you are old enough to judge for yourself. Dear Sam I have thought over our poverty for I am as poor as yourself and I think if we adapt our wants to our income we will get along. I for one am willing to try and will now tell you why I delayed in not giving your answer. It was on account of my health which has not been good all winter but I think I am improving now and I think our corresponding has been properly conducted.
When I told you that I had always taken care of myself I meant I had never been a burden to anyone and hope you may never consider me such. For if you should ever in the future treat me as I have seen some men treat their wives I would sooner be in my grave and I hope that no act of mine will ever change your love for without that life would be dreary indeed, and as to my thinking you foolish in regard to your getting me a ring I do not, but thank you for your thoughtful kindness which has ever marked your actions toward me. Trusting that happiness and joy may yet be ours I will bid you good night. Ever your loving. M.C.D.
So, Sam did write to Mary’s mother, Hannah (McWilliams) Davis, which she received on Tuesday, April 6th. One can only imagine the discussions between Mother Davis and Mary for two days until Mary, surely in complete joy, writes Sam the good news. But, this letter also contains some very serious subjects. Mary believes they will be fine financially if they spend only what their income allows. She also states that her health was not good but now is better and that their four months of courting was done properly.
Furthermore, she makes sure that Sam knows that she will not be treated badly as she has seen other wives treated. This is a comment that makes much sense since it comes from a woman whose father abandoned her mother, and Mary may have witnessed other abuses from husbands to wives. Finally, a never before known subject comes up, the purchase of a ring, which must have been previously discussed. Mary’s comment on this point leaves the purchase of the ring unanswered.
Only four more letters are found between Sam and Mary after Mary’s April 8th letter. One of those contains an important request from Mary of Sam, which will be revealed in the final installment in this article series.