Tag Archives: quaker marriage

A little Quaker love story, Part 3B

A lot can happen in 14 years. For instance, in the 14 years between 1793 and 1807, the following happened: the Treaty of Greenville (1795) opened Ohio up for more settlement; the city of Dayton, Ohio, was founded (1796); George Washington died (1799); the Library of Congress was founded (1800); Ohio became a state (1803); Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase (1803), doubling the size of the United States’ territory; and Lewis and Clark set out on their famous adventure (1804).

Why did I choose the arbitrary-sounding dates of 1793 and 1807? Because those are the years in which Samuel Forrer and Sarah Howard were born, respectively. He was 14 years older than her, and at the time of their marriage, he was 33, and she was 18. And actually: they were married in February, and Sarah had only just turned 18 the previous December.

I know I promised previously that Part 4 would be the final installment, and so as to keep that promise, I am cleverly deeming this “Part 3B,” and still reserving “Part 4” for a discussion of the men mentioned in Samuel’s second letter, as intended.

I noticed the age disparity sometime after writing Part 3 and decided that it really deserved a discussion.

I wonder how a father might view the situation, if a 33-year-old man wanted to marry his 18-year-old daughter. Today a dad might object purely on creepiness factor. (The would-be groom was probably already starting to think about shaving the year his prospective bride had been born.) However, that is looking at it with twenty-first century eyes and cultural norms.

But would it have been considered odd in the 1820s? I’m not going to answer, because I don’t know. I couldn’t find any good statistics on the matter from the time period at hand, although the CDC has an interesting document – “Marriages: Trends and Characteristics” – but it only covers 1867-1967. This document states at one point: “Men marry later in life than women” (p. 13), which seems like an almost obvious “duh,” but I suppose bears actually stating explicitly if you are going to bother writing up an analysis of statistics on the subject.

J. William Frost writes in The Quaker Family in Colonial America (1973) that “the average age for Quaker women [to be married] was 22.8 and for men 26.5; the median age for women was 20.5 and for men 24” (p. 151). He states this in contrast to “the popular stereotype of colonial women marrying in their teens, bearing a dozen children, and then dying young” (p. 151). But again, as I said in Part 2 when I mentioned Frost before, you can only extrapolate so much from Frost to the Forrer/Howard situation, since he was writing about the colonial era, of which 1826 is not a part. Furthermore, though Sarah was a Quaker, Samuel was not.

Another angle to consider is the possibility that an early 19th century father – or perhaps any father, for that matter – might actually be pleased that an older gentleman with an already well-established, steady career was interested in marrying his daughter. By the time Samuel Forrer met Sarah, he already had several apparently successful years of civil engineering experience under his belt, enough so that he was chosen as one of the three top engineers on the new Ohio canals project in 1825. So by the time he was asking for her hand in marriage, he had a good state-paid job on a project that would keep him employed for the next few years at least until the canals were finished. (And, although they did not know it at the time, Forrer was involved with the canals for much of the rest of his life, into the early 1870s.)

I’m not sure I will ever know how Horton Howard felt about the fact that his daughter’s suitor was 14 years her senior, all non-Quaker-ness aside. (Again, I really wish I could read whatever letter Horton wrote back to Samuel. And perhaps someday I will. Maybe it’s out there somewhere.)

But part of the reason that I bring all of this up is point out something about primary sources (e.g., letters, diaries, oral history interviews). Primary sources constitute first-hand information. Is that better than second-hand information? (Remember the telephone game in kindergarten?) Sure, it probably is. But is it always 100% accurate? Not necessarily. You have to remember to watch out for fallacies in the information from, well, just being human. There can be errors of memory (reconstructing things over time), perception (“I thought I saw…”), or estimation (fish tales, anyone? and some people, like me, are just genuinely bad at estimating sizes).

You could be reading a primary source and the author gives a reason that he or she thinks something might be true; their perception of “why” something happened or why someone else did something. But how do you know they are correct? There are a lot of factors that go into the degree to which you can trust their assessment but the bottom line is: you don’t, really.

When I wrote Part 2, I focused on whether or not Horton Howard would disapprove of Samuel Forrer marrying his daughter Sarah simply on the basis of Samuel’s not being a Quaker. Why did I do that? Well, it does seem to be the most obvious reason for Horton’s disapproval. But I didn’t know much of anything about Quakers before I got into this, so how did I even know that might be an issue?

Oh yeah, because Samuel said so:

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 what I do not have, as I have said all along, is the letter that Horton wrote back, stating not only his answer but (hopefully) his reasoning. And that would be the most trustworthy source for Horton’s reason: a letter written by him, stating, “I disapprove, and here’s why.” Do I imagine that the objection was probably for the exact reason that Samuel expected? Sure, it probably was. But could it have been for a different reason—like the age difference. Which, come to think of it, did Horton even know Samuel’s exact age? They seem to have had at least a few mutual friends—which I will get to in Part 4—so I suppose it is logical to assume that someone could have given him at least an approximation of the man’s age if he had asked for it.

Back to the idea of factors weighing into whether or not you trust the writer’s assessment. Let’s not forget Samuel’s beloved Sarah. We might assume that Samuel knew Sarah well, and one would think that Sarah probably knew her father well. Perhaps Samuel assumed that Horton would disapprove on religious grounds because Sarah has told him so.

Can’t you just imagine them? Samuel’s just floated the idea of marriage, and at first Sarah’s all giddy, but then she gets somber and informs him, “My father will never consent to it, since you’re not a Quaker, but we have to at least ask him.” Now I have this image of her perched over his shoulder as he scribbled down that draft. Perhaps her suggestions even resulted in some of the strikethroughs? See, now I’m drifting into the realm of total, unfounded, imaginative speculation.

I get lost in it, I really do. I can imagine how long it has taken you readers to sift through the details of these last several posts. And hopefully they do not come off as completely scatter-brained. But even as long as they may take to read, I’ve spent quite a lot more time reading and researching and stewing on the matter myself, and then I had to try to unwind the web of thoughts into some kind of halfway-intelligent narrative.

As promise, the next will be Part 4, the final installment, in which we explore the men named in Samuel’s second letter, the letter that says, “Oh, by the way, we got married last week even after disapproved of it, but all these people think it was a good idea” with a silent “so you should, too.”

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which 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.

Advertisements

A little Quaker love story, Part 3

When you’re working with history, you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, many times far fewer than you’d like, and so you use your brain and you do some guesswork and speculation to hopefully help you connect the dots, get from A to B, explain whatever it is you’re trying to explain. But always keep your eyes open for hard evidence that will eventually tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree.

During this investigation, lacking for any other documentary evidence (as yet), I wandered down what turned out to be a false trail myself for a while.

I mentioned in Part 2 that Horton Howard and his family were “disowned” in 1829 for joining the Hicksites. But what did that mean? Well, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but suffice it to say that the Ohio Quakers found themselves divided in 1828, and when the dust settled, the more conservative members stayed with the “Orthodox” Quakers, and the more liberal members joined the Hicksite faction (named for Elias Hicks, whose ideas they agreed with). [If you are really interested, you can read more about it at the “Ohio YM (Hicksite)” entry on Quakerpedia. Yes, there is a Quakerpedia.]

So I was beginning to piece things together in my head: Hmm, so I know that there are later letters from Horton Howard to Sarah and Samuel addressed to “dear children” and they seem generally pleasant, so if he failed to give his blessing to their marriage, he obviously didn’t “disown” them himself or stay mad forever. And now, here I have this bit of information stating that he sided with the liberals during this religious schism in 1828, so I suppose that probably means he was one of the more, well, liberal Quakers himself. So could it stand to reason that perhaps he just went ahead and gave his “permission” for Samuel and Sarah to get married with a “devil may care” attitude towards what the rest of the congregation might think? But then again, he was one of their leaders, so that probably wouldn’t have looked very good, and maybe he was concerned about keeping up appearances, even if privately he didn’t care who she married?

You can see how my brain might have been starting to implode, with all these “what ifs” swirling around and seemingly no way to confirm any them.

(Here’s where I shake my fist on behalf of historians everywhere and encourage each and every one of you out there to write down more about your lives—and keep it safe, and in print—so that future generations will know the whos, whats, whens, whys, and hows of…well, more of your life than if you write down nothing. Now, back to our regularly scheduled 19th century tale…)

Just as I was about to resign myself to perhaps never knowing whether Horton Howard gave his blessing to Samuel and Sarah to be married, but knowing that whatever he said, they definitely did get married….I found this:

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 1 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 1 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 2 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 2 of 2

Why yes, that is a letter from Samuel Forrer to his new father-in-law Horton Howard, dated February 13, 1826, a little less than week after Samuel and Sarah were married on February 8. Apparently, they were married in Cincinnati—even all the biographical sketches I found claimed they were married in Delaware, Ohio, since that’s where her family was…

But here are the words, straight from Samuel’s own mouth…er, pen:

Smith’s Tavern, Feby. 13, 1826

H. Howard Esqr.

Dear sir,

With feelings of gratitude and pleasure on account of my peculiar good fortune I hasten to inform you that your daughter Sarah is now my wife— All that is now wanting to make my situation all that I can wish it is that yourself and family will excuse the step I have induced your daughter to take in opposition to the rules of your society and without the consent of her much loved parents, and that you will permit me to address you by the endearing name of Father in any future correspondence— This would relieve my dear Sarah from all doubts of your feelings, in regard to our union— We were married on Wednesday evening feby. 8 by the Revd. William Burke, at his dwelling house, and passed the evening at our good friends Mr. M. T. Williams, where we had the pleasure of the company of a most agreeable little party of our friends, all of whom seemed to congratulate us with much pleasantness and sincerity of feeling— Joseph Gest, who had not been made acquainted with the situation of affairs until about the time we were to be married at first doubted whether he ought to pay us a visit or not on the evening we had our little party at Mr. Williams— He however did come and I was much rejoiced to find him as cordial in his congratula- [page 2] tions as we could wish—by his and Mr. Gest’s particular request we passed the next evening with a party of friends at his house. On Friday morning Mr. Joseph Evans call’d and gave us a warm invitation to spend an evening at his home but we had determined t leave the city that day and consequently declined his and several other kind invitations to parties— I mention these little circumstances to show that the mutual friends of Sarah and myself, in this city, approve of the course we have taken— Sarah and myself approve of it I am sure— And that her much esteemed parents brothers and sisters will also approve of it (aside from the common objections under similar circumstances) is now the only wish of both of us— I have not yet fixed on a place of residence for any length of time; but it is my intention to locate myself for some time at some point on the Miami canal where I can spend the most time at home with the least possible injury to the public service— At present we are boarding at a genteel country tavern two miles from Cincinnati on the Hamilton road— The house is owned by Oliver Martin a friend of Joseph Ridgeway’s son. Mr. Williams will also probably bring his family here, in which case we shall both make it a summer residence— Sarah and myself will expect a letter from you very soon— Do indulge us and believe me[,] yours with much esteem—

Saml. Forrer

(Our mutual love to the family)

[Written on the side:] Direct your letter to Cincinnati.

So there you have it, folks: “without the consent of her much loved parents.” Mystery solved—that one, anyway. Apparently, dad said no, and they big fat did it anyway. Although it seems to have worked out all right in the end. Like I said, Horton Howard clearly wasn’t so angry that he cut off contact with them or anything. (He sent them several letters afterwards addressed to “dear children” and signed “your affectionate father.”) Heck, maybe he wasn’t really angry at all, but for the “official” record had to deny the request. Very interesting stuff, religion and politics.

But hey, let’s not forget our final point of interest: There’s that name again—M. T. Williams. (Remember, he’s the man whose home Sarah was staying in when Samuel met her?) And for that matter, now that I have this second letter, who are all those other guys? Samuel sure seems to think that the fact that he knows these people and the fact that they approve of his marriage to Sarah ought to win him some brownie points with his new father-in-law. Like, “Look, Dad—er, I mean, ‘Sir’—these guys think I’m good enough for your daughter, so you should too.” So who were they?

I think I may save that for Part 4. And I promise, Part 4 will be the final installment of this particular adventure.

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which 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.

A little Quaker love story, Part 2

When we left Part 1, Samuel Forrer had written a letter to his beloved Sarah’s father Horton Howard, asking permission to marry her and hoping that, if he objected, it would be “only on the ground that I am not a member of your society.” And by “society,” he meant the Society of Friends, or Quakers. This piqued my interest, so I decided to do a bit of searching into the marrying customs of Quakers.

The most useful resource that I found on the subject was The Quaker Family in Colonial America: A Portrait of the Society of Friends by J. William Frost (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973). Granted, I wasn’t interested in the colonial period, but the 1820s; however, Frost’s work was the most comprehensive scholarly book I could readily get my hands on—and after all, this was just an intellectual curiosity—and I figured that the colonial period would be close enough for general background on Quakers customs. I did a little investigating into Frost himself, finding that he was a well-credentialed Quaker scholar and historian, and was later a professor at Swarthmore College, a Quaker college in Pennsylvania (which incidentally has his Papers).

Frost’s book was very helpful, in particular Chapter 8 “Choosing a Wife.” I learned the following helpful bits of information from it:

  • “The Quakers, who had no sacraments, agreed to register the event of a marriage ceremony with the government, but they insisted that since God alone could join people in holy wedlock the meeting should participate in all formalities” (p. 150). (The “meeting,” by the way, is the basic organizational unit of Quakers, like a congregation.) Quakers married each other; they were not married “by” someone. This was part of the objection to marrying outside of the Society “since a marriage involving a non-Friend entailed being wed by a cleric” (p. 158).
  • “Parents had the right to consent to the marriage of a son or daughter no matter what their ages… If…the parents allowed or did not actively oppose a marriage out of unity, Friends might discipline them and the newlyweds” (p. 155). A “marriage out of unity” was a marriage someone who was not a Quaker.
  • “The records of monthly meetings in America illustrate the great amount of time devoted to the problem of improper marriage. Throughout the colonial period marriage out of unity was the most frequent offense for which Quakers were disowned” (p. 159). Furthermore, Frost further states that by 1765, about 75% of Quaker marriages were “exogamous” (p. 159). From the sound of it, “marrying out” was rather common, at least in the colonial era. And I’m guessing that trend didn’t suddenly reverse itself as time went on.
  • Anyone who was disowned for an offense, including “marriage out of unity” or “marriage contrary to discipline” (being married by a cleric), “who appeared to be sorry and was willing to confess his sin could in time gain readmission. … The admission of guilt was not…for marrying a particular person but for violating a tenet of the Society” (p. 160).
  • And finally: “While there were no direct challenges to the endogamous pattern of marriage in meetings, both the frequency of marriage out of unity and the occasional comments show that some Quakers questioned this tenet” (p. 160).

A search for members of the Horton Howard family in the Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy by W. W. Hinshaw (Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1936+) yielded some interesting results and examples of the above. With a little help from this Glossary of Quaker Terms on Ancestry/RootsWeb, I was better able to understand the meanings of the abbreviations used in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia.

I found the following entry in Hinshaw, Volume 4, page 1166, from the records of the Alum Creek Monthly Meeting:

  • HOWARD. 1827, 5, 3 [May 3, 1827]. Sarah Forrer (form Howard) con mcd.

What did that mean? I already knew that Sarah Howard did marry Samuel Forrer on February 8, 1826. The Glossary of Quaker Terms helped me understand. It meant that Sarah (Howard) Forrer had “condemned” her own misbehavior, that misbehavior being “marriage contrary to discipline.” (They were married by a reverend.) [Incidentally, Sarah’s sister Mary was “disowned” the following year later for the same offense, a record on the same page indicated.] I found it a little strange that there was no mention of a “marriage out of unity” since Samuel Forrer himself stated that he was not a member of the Society of Friends. Perhaps he joined? However, Samuel Forrer is mentioned nowhere in Hinshaw’s compendium. Interesting.

Also interesting and a bit mysterious was the entry just below Mary (Howard) Little’s disownment:

  • HOWARD. 1829, 1, 1 [January 1, 1829]. Horton &w, Hannah, &dt, Ann, dis jH.

In 1829, Horton and the rest of his family were disowned by the Alum Creek Monthly Meeting, for the apparent sin of “jH,” whatever that meant. I did have a hunch what “jH” might mean, based on the time frame and some other things I had read about Quakers, and as it turned out, I was right. Although Hinshaw failed to define the abbreviation “jH” in the front of Volume 4, a later supplement (online here) verified the answer: “joined Hicksites.”

More to come in Part 3.

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which 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.