Martha & Henry

The following is a letter taken from the Madison Courier, May 1, 1852. It is an exercise in the changing values that have taken place in the last 100 years. You can argue that today’s standards are too lax and that morals have slipped to unconscionable lows but I don’t think that you could make much of an argument for the “high” moral standards that would lead a young girl to the extremes that drove MARTHA to seek the consolation of the cold, dark river.

Where is the happy medium we all wish for?

Dear Henry:

I do not know that this will ever meet your eye, or that you will ever learn my sad fate; but, I cannot close my eyes forever without penning you my last farewell. Chance may throw it in your way; if so, peruse it for the sake of one, who, though wronged, yet loves you with that same devotion that has proved her ruin. That God, in whose presence I shall stand ere tomorrow’s sun, only knows how truly and devotedly I have loved and adored. It was a wild, sweet dream; and it is hard to realize my present condition. In my bright dreams of the future, the thought, that you would deceive or forsake me, never came to mar the loveliness of that vision. But ‘tis past, and I am a lost and ruined girl. Night after night, in the cold winter, have I wandered, thinly clad, to that dear spot where, in days of innocence and peace, we passed so many happy moments; and where you have of late promised so often to meet me. But alas! You came not. And now the sad, unwelcome truth, that I am deceived and deserted, breaks in upon my soul. The anguish of the thought almost drives me mad. I have struggled hard to subdue and conquer my feelings and be resigned to my fate; but it has been a fruitless task. Bereft of every hope, I have nothing for which to live, and I do not fear to die.

I could bear the world’s reproach, its scorn and contempt, if it fell on me alone. But I cannot bear the thought that my poor, innocent, unborn babe should suffer for the crime of its foolish, deluded mother. No! No! It shall never know its mother’s guilt; but pure, innocent, and unborn, it shall go with me into the presence of its God. Three times this week have I gone to the bank of the river, each time resolved it should be my last. But the faint, glimmering hope that I might once more see you, to bid you a final farewell, has turned my steps homeward. Tonight I go for the last time: for I am calm now. That beautiful watch you gave me, as a pledge of your truth and affection, I shall take with me, and it shall time me into eternity; when it has pointed its unerring hand to the hour of twelve, I go to my watery grave. Your dear miniature shall lie close to my heart, as it has ever done, since that Sabbath eve you bid me place it there and wear it for the giver’s sake. The bitter, bitter change, since then! I will not think of it. Enough that I am lost and ruined; and you, the —- but no—- I will not reproach. May God forgive you as freely as I do. Last Thursday two months was to have been our bridal day: a happy bride! a suicide!

It is a fearful thing to die; and yet I feel that a God of mercy and love will forgive a poor, ruined girl. And may he have mercy on my poor soul. And to my poor mother. Oh! Heaven protect her! This is horrible! Oh! Could I forget! Forget!! But I cannot. I will die. I can write no more. Farewell! Farewell! MARTHA

There are those that say these sorts of letters appeared regularly in newspapers as a warning to young women who might “stray”. Another scheme might be that MARTHA might have picked a diabolical way to get even with HENRY. Can you imagine all of the guilty Henry’s wondering if the jig was up? And the poor innocent Henrys whose wives read this and cast a wary eye in their direction, must have sweat bullets for no good reason. Take it for real or take it with a grain of salt, it still mirrored the times.