Abby Kelly Marries

1846 lithograph by Robert Douglass
Courtesy of the Abby’s House, Worcester, MA

by Karen Board Moran

Abby and Stephen struggled to find time to marry within their busy anti-slavery lecture schedules as shown in these excerpts from Abby’s letter to the Townsends in New Brighton, Pennsylvania.

[Ohio] Oct. 25 – 1845
Springboro, Warren Co.

Milo and Elizabeth Townsend –

My dear friends-- Milo's letter dated at Mt. Pleasant was duly received and would have been answered long ago, but that we have been hoping, day by day, to be able to decide upon the course we ought to pursue this winter - It has been a severe struggle between our long anticipated pleasures and duty to the slave, our country and a world-wide humanity - We have, as you may have heard, for a long time anticipated consummating our marriage in Chester Co., Pa., and at that time I had intended enjoying two month's rest, which my failing energies absolutely demand, and Stephen with his brother (a reformed lawyer) was in the mean time to look about and select a little grassy spot which we might know by the sacred name of home-- Stephen's health as well as my own absolutely requires a few months' rest-- Then, again, in Chester Co. we could meet many of our friends, whose presence is so desirable on the occasion, to us and them of so much moment-- But Ohio and the rest of the great west is before us, wrapped in death slumbers so deep that the millions of groans and agonizing cries which fill the blue vault are unable to awaken or disturb them-- Nay, verily, the shrieks of their own children, as they are conveyed to Southern dungeons are all unheard and they slumber on -- We are trying with our feeble efforts to establish a citadel here which shall sound the alarm and awaken the slumbers and hence we must stay a little longer as all hands combined are necessary to the accomplishment of our purposes--…

…This we have decided we can afford neither the time nor the expense to do-- And therefore we are looking to Western instead of eastern Pa. for our bridal. … I am about to confer with you as to whether you are willing that Stephen and I, in a very quiet way, inviting only Benj. and Elizabeth and Saml. Brook and the friend who may be my companion at the time, should set the seal to our marriage, in the eye of the world, within the circle of your own little fireside-- We purpose to be there sometime in Dec. probably near the first-- That we can't tell exactly as we have not yet decided how many places we shall visit in south-eastern Ohio and we also desire to visit Pittsburg first-- We don't want to make you any more trouble than a day's visit from four of your own family friends would occasion, and the loss of the reputation you may have still left you from entertaining and witnessing the marriage of "Infidels and no-marriage people"-- But no, we don't want to trouble you by taking away your reputation but I only forewarn you of the result-- I pray you be entirely frank with us and if you have any hesitation on account of inconvenience or otherwise, tell us plainly and we will write to some other friends to whom it may be convenient-- We should have preferred Ohio but for the fact that we cannot conform to its legal requisitions and should we not do so the slanderous courts make use of it to impede our usefulness-- were we not engaged as we are, in publick duties we should rejoice at the opportunity of trampling such iniquitous usurpations under foot.

But I forgot to say we desire to hold meetings in your place also before our marriage-- we regret that we cannot be there before the cold weather that we might have a grove-- Perhaps you will think it best for us to hold our meetings in some neighboring village where we can have a larger house-- you will of course use your own discretion in this matter--…Yours most affectionately Abby Kelley

(Letter 167. Milo Adams Townsend and Social Movements of the Nineteenth Century.

Transcription of their beautifully handwritten Marriage Certificate:

To all whom it may concern. This is to certify that we Stephen S. Foster Son of Asa and Sarah M. Foster of the town of Canterbury and State of New Hampshire, and Abby Kelley, Daughter of the late Wing and Diama [sic] Kelley of Millbury and State of Massachusetts, have this day (December 21, 1845) consumated [sic] a matrimonial connection in accordance with the divine law of Marriage, by a public declaration of our mutual affection, and covenant of perpetual love and fidelity, and of our purpose to perform faithfully, all the relative duties of husband and wife.

In testimony whereof we hereunto affix our respective names. Signed at New Brighton, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, December 21, 1845.

Stephen S. Foster
Abby Kelley Foster


J. Elisabeth Hitchcock
Benj. S. Jones
Saml Brooke
Rebecca A Dixson
Jos. B. Coale
Sarah V Coale
Charles Coale
Milo A. Townsend
Elizabeth W. Townsend
TB White
Olive B. White

[and 26 others not shown on the following image.]

Kelly Foster Papers, Courtesy of Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester, MA