Stephen Symonds Foster
Courtesy of Nancy Burkett
Radical Stephen Symonds Foster (1809-1881) of Canterbury, New Hampshire, courted Abby Kelley for four years as they worked the anti-slavery lecture circuit. This is a sample of edited (corrections removed and disruptive spelling and punctuation corrected) excerpts from an exchange of love letters that give the reader a feel for their affections and humor.
Utica Aug 10 – 43
My own dear Abby –
Perhaps you do not like this idea of being so thoroughly possessed by another, even though he be your own S.S. but I cannot help it. I have made you my tithe to you, + now I shall hold you fast. I have come honestly + honorably by you, + now, depend upon it. I shall keep you in my strong arms’ so you may resign all hope of ever affecting an escape. I know you are an artful girl, + much skilled in managing; but you can never manage yourself away from me by any tricks of your’ + I positively will never well you your Freedom, short of the services of your whole life.
So you see, I am not going to let you turn yourself from me, under any pretext whatever; nor shall another steal you away, but I shall hence forth claim, + hold you as my own property, which all ay be free to enjoy, but non but myself can possess.
Put yourself into my situation, + tell me, if it was not so. Let me whom you tenderly love treat you with less than common civility__ let him say to you, when business naturally throws you into his Society, “I am positive in this matter, I must not see you”!
I was half a mind to take you at your word, + say you should not meet; + I believe I should have done it, but unfortunately your likeness which lay on P’s (1) table caught my eye, + I became as resolute as a child.
And then I was so vexed at my weakness in being so much under the control of a woman that she could do with me what a mob of thousands could not! But I have punished you smartly for it; + I doubt not it will do you good, as I am sure it has me. It made you feel bad as you deserved to; + it made me feel well, as I deserved to. Even your own accomplice P.S.W. does not blame me; + if she did, I would not care for her. It has drawn you out, + made you tell the truth, + reveal you whole heart to me, which is what I wanted. I have now found out that you are as completely in my power, as I am in yours, + I am satisfied. I shall now tyrannize over you to my hearts content, so you may prepare for it, + make a virtue of submission, if you please. “Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands,” you bear in mind is the command.
I have been thinking since the Syracuse meeting, how much longer I ought to allow you to be strolling about the county in company with all sorts of men, except the one in whose company you ought to be + my conclusion is to limit the time at the farthest, at the Utica Fair. I have no idea of spending another cold Winter alone, so long as I have a wife who is bound to “dwell” with me, + keep me warm + comfortable. I am heartsick of bricks + flat irons for winter companions. They may do for you, but they will not do for me. I have had them long enough, + now I must have my own Abby. You admit, I believe, that a man may do what he will with his own, + I have a bona fide troth to you “to have + to hold”; + my present determination is to come into possession of you, at the time I have specified. I am positive in this matter, + you must not object. Indeed, I shant allow you the veto power. “Wives submit” remember!…
…One of your converts, a Mr. (Bauer?), came out in this discussion, + denounced me as no Abby Kelley abolitionist. I wish you could have been there to witness the fruit of your labors! He, I take it, is one of those who you, + the [National Anti-Slavery] Standard have fed on milk. Perhaps he is not a fair sample of your followers, but if he be, he was quite right in saying that I was not an Abby Kelley abolitionist. If such, am your abolitionist, I must beg leave to drop the abolition from the word, + content myself with simply being an Abby Kelly-ist. [sic]…
In you last letter but one, you say that we “men don’t know what is in a woman’s heart.” Well, that’s a fact, so far as regards myself. But it is not my fault that is so, for I have always been anxious to know more of your sex; but have not enjoyed the opportunity. And I wish you to know, that I now hold myself in readiness to take lessons in this important department of science, whenever my own Abby will consent to become my teacher….
[Stephen does not sign this letter, but lets Paulina Wright finish writing the last page.]
(Abby Kelley Foster Papers, box 1 folder 6 at the American Antiquarian Society)
(1) Paulina Kellogg Wright (1813-1876) was married to Francis Wright, a ‘young merchant of wealth and position” in Utica, NY. They had been converted to the abolitionist cause after Abby stayed in their home while lecturing in the area.
Waterloo Aug 13 43
Your bundle (1) of—I should say “Soft-Soap”, had any other written it, but being from your own pen! I judge from the writing for there is no signature. I will call it experiments__ this I say reached me last evening, while I was in our revival meeting at Seneca Falls, and they were put into my hand while a lawyer, Ansel Bascom, a man of Reformatory character,…—a whole souled man—While he was speaking in a point of ‘difference’ between us your bundle of – was put into my hand and as I had informed the meeting, the evening previous, that the author of the “ Brotherhood” (2) (of which I have sold upwards of fifty in this place, and the convention I [will] attend many before me) was invited to come and help the revival along, I broke the seal to find what was your decision__ As well look for a needle in a “hay mow”, though I, after wading along for some fifteen minutes__ wading more than “knee deep” quite up to the waste [sic],... while in this labyrinth, my friend closed his speech and I was obliged to inform the audience that I could not discover from the letter whether you were coming or not— But after meeting closed I saw it over again, and found what you had said, and probably be there some time this week__ …
There is a general awakening, and so hard driven have they been by my bold demands up the clergy and church to defend themselves, or they stood convicted of the crimes I alleged against them, that for the three last evenings the Baptists have opened their house, which has been overflowing__…By the way, tell Paulina that we are going to have a Fair at Seneca Falls and on Tuesday next I meet the women who then commence a sewing circle—there is not—or I had better say there was not, when I went to the Falls—and, Stephen, you may say you doubt whether there is now/ one person really worthy the name abolitionist. There are several, now, who I think will soon leave their churches. … —I do feel some anxiety for Utica, that things should not be left at “loose ends” there; and a heavy work done up there, will do much, vastly much more for the state, than to engage in a scattering fire— It is necessary, to stability, that we have a few strong foot-holds__ ___ I have no meeting to-day__ do you see how good a girl I am getting to be __and I had none on Tuesday last I said Stephen’s “bundle of experiments”, for I cannot for a moment indulge the thought that it is anything else (I keep mentioning your name and then Paulina’s, as if I were writing to both of you__ I don’t’ know why it is so, except that you have persuaded me that she is, in fact, my better half: does she not seem so to you? Did I not believe you wrote what you did about Christmas and that Paulina endorsed it for the purpose of hounding me, my high opinion of both would fall almost to zero. Have you forgotten what I told you in that never to be forgotten parlor of Francis’ and Paulina’s in that never to be forgotten mesmeric evening? That had you been any other man than the man you were I would not have revealed myself to you__ But having the highest and holiest confidence in your imbuing devotion to duty, I had not fear you would ever try to swerve me, who in such case might be too easily swerved, from the path of stern duty. Now, altho’ I firmly believe you to have been jesting with me for your own amusement, or perchance for the better purpose of studying character, I warn you to be careful how you push your jokes too far. I may demand of you, after the fashion of chivalry, that you bring me the trophies of victory, shackles broken, whips dust-trodden, collars severs, in the left hand, and a proclamation of emancipation in the right, before your lady love shall give to her good knight the eager hand, altho’ he holds her heart of hearts most ‘truly__ My domestic feelings are strong, but my moral organizations is stronger and far more active__ Dost know my firmness is one of my largest prowess? Pauline has truly told thee that one of my greatest faults is in being “slow”__ Yet it will sometimes serve me well__ “Never any good loss without some gain.”__ I shall be slow to sit down to the banquet of domestic sweets while I know the only music I can hear at that banquet will be the wail of the southern wife and the big paean of her heart broken husband as the long distance of the journey of life, through crushing and outrage, separates them. My dearest friend, will you tell me frankly whether you have not been jesting in this letter, and if you have not, will you retract what you have said about Christmas? (3) And here I will let this rest__…
Stephen, you will never learn. What is in “a woman’s heart” even if you are told… She wants to know all about her own doings and thinkings and feelings, whether they transpire in that portion of herself which is always “on hand” or in that portion which is roaming hither and thither far and near. Dost thou understand now? …
I want to know also whether thy meetings are large or small, quiet or disturbed__ Whether you have opponents or every thing you own way__ And so I will tell thee of mine__ I have had six meetings at the Falls__ three out of doors (two in the evening) and three in__ My repeated passing invitations to people, church clergy and politicians, to defend themselves from the crimes charged against them was in vain, to call them out, but they stand convicted__ Our out door meetings were as orderly as any one could wish, and those in the house, only a little disturbed on evening by one egg__ But I was severe, Stephen__ Most horribly severe: as severe as yourself, all but in manner__
Yours in heart but mine in hand Abby
Don’t forget to send me five hundred Brotherhoods. I have read most of it and think it “à la Foster.” Yes, Yeas, quite in character, though entirely out of characters___ ____ Tis as good as a dauguerotype (have I spelled right?) miniature.
(Abby Kelley Foster Papers, box 1 folder 6 at the American Antiquarian Society)
(1) The eight page love letter dated 10 August 1843 from Utica, NY
(2) The Brotherhood of Thieves or a True Picture of the American Church and Clergy, New London, CT, 1843. Single copies sold for twenty-five cents.
(3) Foster had possibly proposed to Abby.