Part of my day job involves combing through archives for digital cataloging and I don’t often stumble upon many handwritten documents, but every blue moon or so, I do. That is why I’m excited to be sharing this letter preserved from 1725.
The letter is written by the early American poet Jane Colman Turell (1708-1735) to her father Dr. Benjamin Colman (1673-1747) a well-known Boston area Presbyterian minister and selected President of Harvard College in 1724.
Jane began writing poems at the age of eleven and was an avid and prolific reader, often spending night and day reading and writing. Some of her letters and poem still exist and can be found here and here; one of her poems is greatly influenced by fellow woman poet, and contemporary, Elizabeth Singer Rowe. No doubt Jane’s religious upbringing and devoted spiritual piety govern her work significantly.
Jane Turell married young, at eighteen, to one of her father’s students, Ebenezer Turell, another pastor from the town of Medford Massachusetts and died at the age of twenty-seven; her deathbed words were reportedly:
Thou hast deliver’d, thou dost deliver, and I trust in Thee that thou wilt still deliver.
I’ve transcribed the letter as best I could, you’ll notice that spelling has not really been standardized.
Honored Sir, […] I return you many thanks for your kind letters to me which I read with an unspeakable delight as who would not be charmed with such tender lines from the best of Father. Whose care in my Education has sufiently shown that he spard no cost nor pains (had Fortune smild) to make me an acompleshed woman, & its a great grief to me that being descended from so Wise and good a man, that I resemble him no more, & have so littel of his soul in me, therefore I readayly embrace the offer you have bin pleas’d to make, of your writing to me, & my answering again, that by your letters I may be Learnt, not only to write good sence but that you’d instruct me, how to behave myself in the several changes of this life as become a Christian; not to be Elavated with prosperity nor sunk with adversity, that I may be resing’d [resigned or rising?] to the will of God in all things, I beg your prayers, I beg your prayers for me, that as I grow in years so I may grow in Grace, persivering in all godliness & find acceptance at the Throne of Grace; I desier [desire] you to forgive & overlook the many faults herein & if any thing here should be pleasing or acceptable to you it would [rejoce] her who with all all Humility [subserices] her self.
Sir your Dutyfull & obedent Daughter,
June [4th?], 1725
You can read more about Jane in the select hyperlinks above, but also in Girls and Literacy in America: Perspectives to the Present.
[Photos: by me, of the Colman letter, from the “Colman and Turell paper” at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library.]