This letter was written by Mary Eliza (Beecher) Fitch (1804-Aft1850), the wife of Timothy Fitch (1794-18xx) — a lawyer in Batavia, Genesee County, New York. The Fitch’s had at least five children: Eliza Caroline Fitch (b. 1832), Mary Catharine Fitch (b. 1833), Timothy Fitch (b. 1834), Augustus Beecher Fitch (b. 1838), and James Bolles Fitch (1843-1844). Eliza married Charles Edwin Mayo (b. 1827) in 1861.
Mary Eliza (Beecher) Fitch was the daughter of David Beecher, Jr. (1773-1834) and Prudence Scammel Chadbourne (1777-1859), making her a second cousin of Rev. William Henry Beecher, who she mentions in this letter.
The letter was addressed to France M. (Emerson) Burchard (1802-1892), the wife of celebrated evangelist Rev. Jedediah Burchard — a fire and brimstone preacher who worked the upstate region of New York. Rev. Burchard became famous for his vivid description of hell:
“Do you know what hell is? Well, I’ll tell you; and I’ll tell you, too, it’s real. An ocean of liquid burning brimstone, that is daily replenished. It is walled in by great walls guarded by devils armed with pitchforks. High on the crest of the waves of fire, the damned soul is swept toward this wall, where the sinner thinks he may find at least temporary rest, but when at last he has managed to climb part way out of this sea of fire he suddenly finds himself pitchforked back and swept out by the receding tide.”
Addressed to Mrs. F. M. Burchard, Belleville, Jefferson County, New York
Batavia [New York]
September 16th 1846
My Dear Mrs. Burchard,
I was surprisingly glad to hear from you once more by letter, for I had begun to think that you had quite for gotten us & should have written you many a time, had I have known your location. Though you may think me in no haste now that I have found it out — but if you do not know that house keepers cannot always do as they would, you are in a state of happy ignorance. I have not been free from company (& some of the time, a houseful) since I received your letter, & tho’ I might, almost everyday, have written you a few lines, I did not do so because I wanted to say so much that I was not content to snatch a moment when I might have done, but waited for a more convenient season. But as I see no prospect of its approach, have taken the time when the family are all in bed, to acknowledge the receipt of yours.
I need not say how much I regret to hear of your ill health — not only on your account, but for the loss sustained by the Blessed cause you have so much at heart. But the Lord knows what is best for us & will carry on his own work with, or without the aid of his creatures.
I have thought a great deal of you of late, & wished very much that I could see you & open to you my whole heart, with regard to my children & particularly Eliza. I have great trials (tho’ perhaps this is too strong a term for me to use as it is generally used to denote more than common trouble, which I have not) with her, in particular. She is more sensitive than the rest, or has less moral courage — I can hardly determine which. She cannot withstand the influence & example of those with whom she approaches & not one of her associates are such as I desire for her. But one of them attend Sunday School or catechizing, or church any oftener than they choose! So you can easily judge of their morals & conduct.
Now you will say at once, or think so, at least, “As my friend ins____, that she sees & knows of this pestilential infection, & will not keep her child from it! = Alas! Alas!! — And so say I everyday of my life. But experience is far harder to gainsay on this point than knowledge. I know my duty & hence experience my inability to perform it. She cannot live a recluse in the midst of society & if we have any, here, we must take it as it is!
O, how often I have wished that you were in my place for a little time that I might know how you would act! — not a very charitable wish, I’ll allow. But take an example — I require Eliza to go Sunday School — her companions jeer & taunt her with thinking herself “very pious.” I restrain her from going to places that I consider improper & if she meets then in the street, they will shun her & say her Ma don’t like her to associate with them. All these things irritate & annoy her exceedingly & their influence upon her is very bad inasmuch as it leads her to think me more strict & severe than others.
It is some two weeks since I commenced this letter & have made several ineffectual attempts to ginish it. Yesterday was the first time in two months that I have been without company & most of the time a houseful.
I am tired to death of this unceasing commotion & excitement & often think I should be glad to take my children & go into the woods ten miles from any living being. I don’t wish or intend to complain, but I do feel that my greatest consolation is that I have not got to live a;way in this world of sin & sorrow.
I am everyday expecting Mrs. William Beecher ¹ here on her return from Boston, where she has been spending the summer with her friends. Her health was miserable when she went on. I hardly knew her at first sight. She is so changed. When she comes (if she remains here as long as she promised me she would) we will give you a long family letter. I know very little about their situation at Toledo, tho’ from what I can learn, Mr. Beecher’s stewards there is much the same as it was here. — some like him, but more do not. They were not united when he went there, & he is no great healer of division. Of course everyone likes Mrs. Beecher. I am very impatient for her return that I may open my budget of troubles to her with regard to my children, that I may share her sympathy & listen to her wise counsel. There are but few persons — very few — that I take every satisfaction in exchanging sympathies with on this subject & she is one of them.
I think I can tell you of one piece of news (if news it be) that will astonish you. Mr. Wells & family have gone over to the Episcopal Church! I cannot now tell you all the particulars of this strange movement. But I believe the reasons they give are that they have not been well treated in the other church — some trouble about Seymour & Emily’s dancing at parties. At all counts, they come over good & strong in their determination to remain for they wished to be confirmed at once. But Mr. [James Aaron] Bolles ² very judiciously advised them to wait for a time & inform themselves more wit regard to the doctrine & discipline of the church that they might act more intelligently & wisely in what they ____, & they have done so. But the Presbyterians act the fools about it — not only spite them & have entirely withdrawn all their custom & patronage from him. We can’t any of us get so much as a look or bow from Mr. Sunderland ³ or any of the leading members of his congregation.
You ask after Miss Ingham’s school.† I am unable to give you any definite information with regard to it, tho’ I believe it is prosperous. I do not think the difficulty she has had has injured her school because there are probably more that think her wronged & persecuted than there are that think her in the wrong.
I am interrupted again, & it is useless for me to try to say everything in this letter that I want to so disjointed & faulty as it is. I will send it to let you know that I have not forgotten you & more than ever desire your counsel & prayers. I will try to write you again soon & more at length upon the subject touched upon in your letter.
We are all in good health & so are all your friends here as far as I know.
Our united love to yourself & husband. Eliza is at school or I would have her send you some particular message — or write a P.S. herself. But I have got to leave home today & wish this scrawl to go for fear you will give me up entirely.
Let me hear from you as often as you can make it convenient to write.
Ever your obliged friend, — M. E. Fitch
¹ Rev. William Henry Beecher (1802-1809) “was a dyspeptic minister who was called “The Unlucky” because misfortune attended all his ventures. William Beecher was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the eldest son of the Calvinist preacher Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote. He was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the 19th century abolitionist and writer most famous for her groundbreaking novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational church, and Charles Beecher.
“William Beecher married Katherine Edes on May 12, 1830 in New Haven Connecticut. Of his wedding he wrote: “Was married….No company, no cake, no cards-nothing pleasant about it.” William and Katherine had 6 children: Agnes E. Beecher, Mary Ward Beecher, Lyman Beecher, Roxana Foote (Beecher) Prenzner, Robert E. Beecher, and Grace H. Beecher.
“As a child William had a difficult time learning and was not a very good student. He apprenticed as a cabinet-maker and worked as a clerk in stores in Milford and Hartford, Connecticut, as well as New York. He studied theology at Andover but finished his studies under the directions of his father, before being licensed as a minister. He served as the minister of several churches, but each assignment was relatively short and typically ended with some type of discord over salary or a dislike from influential members of the congregation. William served at Middletown, Connecticut; Putnam, Ohio; Batavia, New York; Toledo and Euclid, Ohio; and North Brookfield, Massachusetts. He retired to Chicago, where he lived with his daughters until his death on June 23, 1889.” [Source: Wikipedia]
² Rev. James Aaron Bolles (1810-1894) was the Rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in Batavia, New York.
³ Rev. Byron Sunderland (1819-1901) became the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Batavia in 1843. It was his first pastorate after graduating from the Union Theological Seminary. Many years later (1886), Sunderland performed the marriage service for President Grover Cleveland and Francis Cornelia Folsom in the White House.
† Miss Emily Ingham (1811-18xx) who came to LeRoy, Genesee County, New York, with her sister Marietta Ingham and opened the LeRoy Female Seminary in 1837. Elily married Col. Phineas Staunton in 1847. Her school continued and was renamed Ingham University. The school folded in 1891 due to financial difficulties.
The “difficulty” at the LeRoy Female Seminary to which Mary refers occurred in August 1842 when a watch belonging to one of the young ladies attending the school was stolen and a Miss Ladd, another student, was accused of the crime. A newspaper clipping describing the trial (“The LeRoy Trial”) that ensued the following year appears below.