My high school Latin teacher, an elderly Catholic nun who was usually slightly disgruntled anyway, always used to get exasperated with us for not having enough “intellectual curiosity.” She’d hint at something we ought to look up—but not “assign” us to do so—and then act all surprised the next day when we hadn’t looked it up. What did she really expect from a bunch of 16-year-olds who had friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, sports, extracurriculars, 6 or 7 other classes, and a bunch of other regular “assigned” homework to do (including nightly Latin assignments)?
This isn’t a story about my high school Latin teacher, though. It’s about a civil engineer who fell in love with a young Quaker woman at Cincinnati in the mid-1820s.
However, I think Sr. D would be pleased to know that somewhere along the past 12 years, I have definitely developed a considerable amount of “intellectual curiosity.” Maybe it’s partially because as an archivist I spend such a significant portion of my day surrounded by, for lack of a better simple term, “cool old stuff.”
And sometimes, I come across “cool old stuff” that gets my intellectual curiosity sense going, and I just know that (a) I’ve just got to look into it further, and now that I have a blog (b) I’m going to share that journey with others.
Now is one of those occasions.
A few weeks ago, while processing the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) – something you may hear me talk about frequently over the next several months, as it is quite large – I came across the following letter (well, draft of a letter, really). The final version of the letter was sent from Samuel Forrer, a civil engineer at Cincinnati who was involved with the construction of Ohio’s canal system, to Horton Howard, a Quaker leader in the Delaware/Columbus area.
The letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, undated but probably written in late 1825 or early 1826, reads as follows:
Your late visit to Cincinnati and the consequent accidental circumstance of leaving your amiable daughter Sarah Howard, at my friend with the family of my good friend M. T. Williams has given me an opportunity of forming and cultivating an acquaintance I have long since ardently desired. The result of this acquaintance has fully satisfied a conviction on my part that Sarah was a determination on my part to make Sarah a tender of my affections; which I did and am now happy to say that I have received from her an acknowledgement that she reciprocates them— In short we are morally engaged to be married, with the condition on the part of Sarah that you her much loved parents do not forbid it unconditionally— I am aware sir that the rules of the Society of Friends imperiously requires parents to guard against the intrusions of strangers; and that, consequently I must not expect that you will give consent to our union— But may I not hope that your acquaintance with my character will warrant me has given you an impression not unfavorable to my character that you will object only on the ground that I am not a member of your society? Pardon the interrogatory but my happiness here depends so much on my union with Sarah that I am constrained to make it, and for the accompany it with a request that you will have the goodness to consult with Sarah’s kind mother and affectionate brothers and sisters, for all of whom she has [discovers?] the most ardent feelings of affectionate regard, and immediately communicate your advice to my beloved Sarah.
So many things about this letter jumped out at me that I was compelled to look into it further.
The most striking thought I had was, So apparently Quakers do not like their children to marry non-Quakers? And Samuel Forrer states right here that he is a non-Quaker, while I know that Sarah Howard was one… And I’m going to go ahead and spoil things for you right here and tell you that, yes, they do get married. But what did her father say initially? Did he give permission, or did they disobey him? There are several other letters from Horton Howard to the Forrers in the collection, so if he was mad, he obviously wasn’t that mad, because they seem to have remained on good terms. I also wondered about these Quaker marriage rules in general.
Another thing that jumped out at me: Who was this M. T. Williams? This seemed like a reasonably researchable question. After all, how many men by that name could there have been in Cincinnati in 1826? Actually, I would hit the jackpot on answering the M. T. Williams question. I also wondered what Sarah was doing in Cincinnati with the Williams family, when her family lived near Columbus. I never did find an explicit answer to this, per se, but I have developed a speculation. And at first, I thought the mention of M. T. Williams was just a bit of good, honest storytelling. But as I learned more, I think there was another reason for the name-drop…
I think I’ll leave it at this for Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2.
The Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) discussed here can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.