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Mary Steinhauer

Courting couples of the nineteenth century even played out the roles of the traditional married couples of the period. Women offered domestic services when mothers of the men were not available. On the Ohio frontier, this was not uncommon, since many of the men had come from elsewhere to preach or establish businesses. The men, in turn, offered their protection and guidance for the entirety of the couple’s life together, seeing it as their God-ordained duty.

Steubenville April 14, 1821

Dear Mary,
And so my "pathetic complaints"--the very dolorous repinings of my last letter "afforded you not a little diversion"? well, I had much rather you would laugh than weep, albeit the laugh were at my own expence; yet at the same time it must be confessed, I had much rather myself laugh with than be laughed at. However, as Dr Johnson says--one step beyond the sublime becomes the ridiculous; I only take credit to myself for having been too sublime, and will take care hereafter to keep within the due bounds provided you will forgive the past flights of oratory so expressive (as I thought) of all the eloquence of grief on my part and so productive it seems of mirth on yours.

These [privy] whinings & sickly sensibilities are indeed contemptible, and I should despise myself were I obliged to descend to the stuff of novelists and romance for expression of my feelings. If on all mankind a common doom is passed--if all are fools and lovers first or last--I at least will strive to mix some wisdom with my folly. If with me that time already have arrived, I will endeavour not wholly to surrender the reins of judgment and reason into the hands of passion. I will be the philosophic, or rather the Christian lover whose affection is not bounded by time, but extends throughout eternity--whose esteem is not produced by the beauty of form, but by the graces of mind, and therefore shall exist undecayed and unimpaired when beauty is no more when mind alone survives.

Verily it is not good for man to be alone, I would have a friend in my solitude; and like Adam, I would have that friend an[d] helpmate--yea, bone of my bone & flesh of my flesh.

Do you not remember an expression of mine in a sermon on the creation of man? It was to this effect--Beneath his arm, from near his heart was woman taken, and wherefore but to teach him he should be her guardian & her friend.

I trust you are convinced of my friendship; when shall follow the guardianship? when shall I be permitted to call you mine? [O], when will Providence remove the obstacles which now divide our paths & prevent their journeying into one? Do not think me too impatient. No, I will be patient as the man of [?] for a better wife than he had. I will be the calm, the rational, the philosophic lover; whose passion, if it rise not into exstacies and transport, will be less liable to sink into despondency & declension--& bid fairer for permanent durability. I remember Cowper’s fable; [?] time anticipated; and had a melancholy example of its fulfilment before my eyes during my late journey to this place. "Poor birds!" thought I when the rain descended, and the snow fell, & the winds blew, "poor birds, how unwise & thoughtless have you been!" Thus are the blossoms of hope & expectation chilled by the cold maxims of prudence. And thus are we made wise at a less cost than our own experience. Which of these sentiments is most appropriate to the subject, I leave you to judge. For myself, I think both proper.

Some time since I was sleeping in a cabin, where the portions were very slight, and awoke myself in the morning by saying "Dear Mary! my own Mary." This trifling circumstance I should not mention to any but yourself; and to you only as it proves what is the subject of my thoughts sometimes by night as well as by day--in visions of sleep, as in daydreams. And do you not sometimes think of him who in journeyings often encounters perils by land & perils by water, for the sake of the Church of God and the perishing souls of his brethren? If the present is to be the last year of my missionary life, by God’s grace and blessing, it shall be an active one & diligently employed.

Accordingly, since my arrival here, I have held service five times in the neighbouring towns, Smithfield, Springfield, Wellsburg, and Wheeling; and next week, expect to go out about twenty miles west on a similar occasion and duty. Revd Mr Armstrong is very popular among all denominations at W. & the church is commenced on a larger scale. His son is expected back from England in July, & we hope will settle somewhere in the west. I also look for two clergymen from N.Y. in the course of the summer. They were formerly my fellow students & chums. If one of them would take charge of Z. I then could confine myself entirely to this parish & St. James: All goes on well here.

Early Ohio coverlet.
Woven coverlets such as this were
very popular in 19th century Ohio.

If nothing prevent, I shall be in C. about the middle of June but my stay will, of necessity, be short--yet it shall be my endeavour that Mr. S. & yourself have a larger portion than before. Do not neglect writing to me early next month at Z. and let me know respecting the health of Mrs S. & of all your joys & all your sorrows, if you have any; for I both rejoice & sympathize with you, and feel a deep solicitude to hear from you daily were it possible.

Tell your dear [m]other that if I become her son-in-law, her daughter’s happiness shall be my constant & earnest care; and if we meet not in this world, yet it shall be our hope thro’ Christ to meet, with joy, in the world to come, never more to be separated.

And now farewell. May the good God ever bless & keep you!--May He cause the brigh[t]ness of his face to shine upon you now & over is the fervent prayer of your affectionate & sincere friend,


Mary's response:

Chillicothe May 4th, 1821

My dear Friend,
Conscious that I do not merit the very high opinion which you entertain of me I shall endeavour in this letter to lay before you some of my failings & defects in the hope that they may have more eight with you than the caution which my last contained(?) appears to have had. I would rather you thought less of me now that I might indulge the hope of rising in your estimation after marriage instead of having the fear continually haunting me that a closer intimacy must produce disappointment to you of Mortification to me. Altho’ you profess to be indifferent to personal appearance it is my duty to inform you of natural failings: but lest you should be too much alarmed at the formidable catalogue, I will first tell you what I suppose you have some curiosity to know, my age, on the third of next month I shall count 28 years, perhaps you may think there is some mistake in the number, when I add that I am getting grey hairs, losing my eyesight, teeth, & strength. Much ill health & an uncommon share of afflictions have caused these infirmities to appear earlier in me that they usually do in most persons.

With respect to mind the defects are as many that they cannot possibly be enumerated. I am told that my temper has of late become more irritable & I feel it is so: you must form your own judgement of my disposition.

The education I received was a very singular one: my Father having a large family thought it most prudent to employ a private Teacher for his daughters: but being one of the old School was more wishful to have us good Housekeepers rather than good Scholars. He engaged a good Moravian Sister, who paid more attention to our hearts than our heads. She was indeed better qualified to fit us for Heaven than Earth. I passed my childhood under her care my life since that period with the exception of the three last years has been principally spent in attending to sick relatives which left me little or no leisure for the improvement of my mind. The [scenes] I have gone through would fill a volume.

Now though your feeling heart may readily allow there is sufficient excuse for any deficiencies: yet I am aware you will much regret to learn that I have not received a more liberal education.

I hope you will find time when you visit us to write to my Mother. I received a letter from on of my Sisters yesterday in which every thing is said which is kind, & tender, & every appeal made to my feelings to induce me to return to [letter here]. If you feel any wish to change your mind, only tell me so; if [you set] me [free], I will surmount every other difficulty. So consider well before the fatal knot is tied.

Mrs Steinhauer’s health is tolerable, Mr S. has many very vexatious trials to bear from these Ohio Parents; they really do not deserve to have a faithful Teacher for their children. I hope to hear from you before I see you.

Do not fancy there is any impropriety in the question which follows, Can I be of service to your wardrobe either in making or mending? if I can bring me the articles when you come.

Excuse this mean paper I did not observe it was so bad but I have an idea you would rather have it then wait some days longer for another. I almost fear I shall be too late for the mail as it is. We are without help at present so have little time for writing love letters.

yours most affectionately,

Mary Steinhauer



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