1851: Pattie ?? to John C. Kirby

How Pattie might have looked

How Pattie might have looked

This letter was written by a young woman who signed her name “Pattie.” While we know that she had a younger sister named Emma, little else is revealed about her immediate family. She does not mention her mother and father; she and Emma may have been orphaned. I would guess that she was born about 1832. She wrote the letter from Alloway, New Jersey, where the Reeve family (mentioned in the letter) also resided, but I could not find a Pattie, Patty, or Patricia enumerated in the 1850 Census at that village. She wrote in the language of a Quaker and I have rarely found a letter so well composed by a young woman. She was obviously highly literate and well read. It’s upsetting not to have been able to learn her identity.

Grave of John Kirby

Grave of John Kirby

She wrote the letter to her cousin, John C. Kirby (1826-1897), the son of John Kirby (1792-1881) and Beulah Clark (1798-1873) of Gloucester County, New Jersey. John was a student at the University of Pennsylvania medical school at the time. John graduated in 1852 and then was married to Harriet F. Garrison (1831-19xx) in March 1854. He worked at the State Hospital for the Insane at Trenton, New Jersey, in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He died at Trenton on 22 February 1897.

Beulah Clark was the daughter of Thomas Clark (1767-18xx) and Achsah Pancoast (1767-1808) of Gloucester County, New Jersey.

The dateline of the letter indicates it was written in February but no year is given. I’m going to place the letter in 1851 + 1 year. The letter is written on the popular light blue stationary that was used in the very early 1850s.


Addressed to John Kirby, Pennsylvania University, Philadelphia

Allowaystown, New Jersey
February 15th [1851]

So, my dear Cousin, thou wilt answer this letter if “not too saucy,” verily, a guilty conscious doth make cowards of us all, which is well illustrated in thy case; well didst thou know of what unparalleled impertinence thou hadst been guilt & had I done as impulse prompted there is no telling what a merciless retort would have fallen upon thy maliciousness. “Thus it ever is — the artful prevail over the” unsuspicious, very true, but reverse the parties — man with his cunning, a sure evidence of a weak mind, is ever ready to beguile, deceive, & play the seeming saint & why? Not because of superior mental powers, nor of tact. I would be ashamed of a woman who possessed no more of these qualities than a large proportion of mankind do. Men have cooler heads, thou says, but the process has effectually cooled their hearts also, one reason why men can deceive those who with equal judgment possess warm feelings & too much sincerity of character to suspect guile in others.

“Acknowledge that you have returned to renew sinister designs upon the heart of Will Reeve!!! ¹ I will not truly own any such thing, because I am a lover of the truth, having a detestation of sorcerous arts, witchcraft, &c. As for the “thousand & one attentions” it would take keener eyesight than thine to see them. I despise hate, scorn all planning, maneuvering arts of the kind, & what has come over thee to link my name with that of Will Reeve? I thought it was “the sunbeam Guss Reeve” in thy last letter: thee had better come down so as to settle it in thy own mind as our Guss will beat home in the Spring. I like him much being an agreeable companion from his life & animation, love of fun & pleasant disposition which often chases away clouds of care, effectually dispelling all reserve. It would puzzle a saint to keep a grave face when he was about. He needs good influences, gently guiding hands, for his temptations will be many; thoughtless, frank & impetuous he can be much more easily led astray than his brother will who is naturally quiet & reserved, with less taste for nonsense or mischief, yet withal full of life & energy with an indomitable will. No bed of clay is he — the very reverse, cool & independent, following out his plans perseveringly, accustomed to his own way, with few high bred notions though sensible he is the eldest son, in many respects very thoughtful & considerate in others, unyielding as a rock. He never flatters nor pays compliments, one good trait, is pretty straight forward, even to bluntness, warm feelings but too deep to be often s____, & a horror of sentiment or fussing. He is a fine fellow & I hope most sincerely will get the right kind of a wife, for on it depends his future course. Not easily brought under “fair influences” but when once entranced, his earthly happiness will be sealed. Now I am not the ruler of his destiny, so pray banish the idea as ridiculous, or vows of vengeance will fall upon thee. In some points we are too much alike. For instance — if I punch him under the table, he will kick back unlike my amiable clay man. Our tempers are both quick, naturally, but we have been for several years differently circumstanced; he in his father’s house the darling who knows not of trials or changes, I who have tasted them deeply & taken many lessons in the school of experience. I believe some people look upon me as a living enigma — a perfect paradox, a true chameleon — so different am I in different places with as many characters as that poor creature had colors. By nature reserved to all but intimate friends, my lot ever cast with strangers. I have learned to control & conceal thoughts & feelings, to veil by outward calmness & quietness all that is within. The longer I live & read human nature, the more am I convinced of the impossibility of judging by appearances. Well hath it been said, “Words are but invented to hide thoughts” so little are they the test of truth; actions might often be placed in the same class defying every attempt to trace the moving spring. “Cold & calm can the seeming be; When the brain is all on fire.” There is more “seeming” than reality in this world & the fact should lead us to be very merciful in judging others, lest we err in reading them aright.

Thee will wonder to see such a letter coming from a young lady, so defaced & scratched too, but my naughty sister Emma got hold of it & in snatching it away it assumed its present appearance. I arrived safely at “Joseph’s” the evening of the day I left Philadelphia. The sleighing was good & we made great use of it for 3 days when Emmor & Will came & brought me back here. This peep at home was delightful for there is no place like home; others are only spots to rest in occasionally — not much rest either sometimes. I look back with pleasure to my visit at Aunt Kille’s. They are all so kind  that I always enjoy myself. Please give my love to them when next thou calls.

Thou hast not answered my questions asked in the last letter. Be pleased to gratify me as no doubt giving pleasure to others must be supreme enjoyment to one so, nobly high-minded, dignified, amiable, sincere, talented, generous, wide, & accomplished as my soon-to-be-titled Cousin. And now as I cannot find words to express all the good qualities of my truth-loving Cousin, who cannot flatter, nor pour a flood of words too soft to do much injury. I must even have the rest for imagination to supply; language would utterly fail me. What will I think shouldst thou become a Homeopathist? Why, I have done such strange things myself, after all it would be no wonder to see thee turn. I am growing careful about what I say, because my mind would change & as I am not afraid to own when such is the case, it seems prudent to be moderate. I am no believer in Homeopathy, so expect to be converted some time. Seriously, cousin Jack, I do not wonder thou feels a reluctance to be an obscure country physician, & if there is a brighter prospect, follow it. Tell me thy future path as soon as settled upon. I wish thou couldst have known the pleasure thy last letter gave me & thou wouldst more frequently write to thy affectionate cousin, — Pattie

If thee can’t read this, send it back.

¹ In this paragraph, Pattie provides a lengthy description of the characters of both William (“Will”) Cooper Reeve (1831-18xx) and his younger brother, Augustus (“Guss”) Reeve (1833-1918). They were the sons of William Foster Reeve (1802-1878) and Mary Wills Cooper (1804-1874) of Alloway, Salem County, New Jersey. Will married Mary Mason Acton (1836-1916). Guss married Rebecca Cooper Wood (b. 1833).


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