1820: Blakey Sharpless to Mary Offley

Embroidery of Quaker School in Westtown, Pennsylvania by Dorcas Haight in 1805

This letter was written by Blakey Sharpless (1787-1853), to Mary Offley (1793-1865). He began his correspondence with her in 1819, and although this letter has no indication of the year date, it can be dated at 1820, as it is written before they were married, and in the letter he hints at their upcoming marriage. At this time, Mary Offley lived at 178 South Front Street, in Phila.

Blakey Sharpless’ father, Nathan Sharpless (1752-1837), lived at Downingtown, Pennsylvania. His mother, Rachel (Baldwin) Sharpless died in 1802. Written in the Quaker style, Blakey describes his travels in Chester County, Pa., and of visiting Westtown (he writes it as “Weston”), where, in his younger days, he was a student and a teacher at the Westtown School — a Quaker boarding school. The school opened in 1799 and the first schoolhouse was 110 feet long by 60 feet deep.

Hand-carried Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION

Addressed to Mary Offley Sharpless, No. 178 South Front Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

[Downington, Pennsylvania]
My Father’s House
4th day evening

Page 1

I have retired, my Dear Mary, at an early houre from my loved family circle, to devote a little time to thee. Robert Massey will leave his father’s at 6 in the morning for the city, and I have engaged to rise at 5 and ride 3 miles to give him this letter!

We left the city [Philadelphia] at 10 o’clock A.M., 3d day, and had a pleasant ride. The dust was well “laid” and we inhaled a fine “north wester” which we met full in our faces. I am, thou knows, quite a country man. The country is very charming. The effect of the late rains was very fine, the brown of harvest and the absence of rain for several weeks were changed for a delicate verdure, and all nature was peculiarly sweet. I often wish’d for thee, My Dear M., who feels so finely the beauty of the country and fine landscapes, to partake with me many beautiful prospects which presented as we rode over the hills and across the valleys, each of which brought us nearer this favorite spot. My good “Pa” and self talked of farming, and of “divers matters and things” as we rode on, and a certain ____ did not pass by unnoticed. I begin to think he will be disowned.

Page 2

Within 3 miles of Weston, [West Town] we were overtaken by a shower which detained us so long that I prevailed on father to turn in at our former home and tarry till morning. Weston, that beautiful place where I have spent so many happy days, and thee so many gay and sprightly ones, why do I love it so much? I am always welcomed. A visit revives most strongly a recollection of many, very many, happy hours of my youth, not confined to that light-hearted period when a school boy, but the more sober period when I felt the cares and anxieties of a teacher,¹ when I felt peace of mind at night, with my head reclined on my pillow, on reflecting that although my duties were arduous, I had honestly fulfilled them according to the best of my power. This part of my residence was recollected, and the recollection was sweet! I hope, dear M., we may visit that place together.

We left the “farm house” before 5 A.M. (this morning) and stop’d a short time in West Chester. Saw E.K. there on the subject I told thee of lately. I paid my respects to John Harwood. Thee will perceive by this week’s Record that his gouty toe is so much better as to permit him to tell us a little love tale. He very pressingly invited me to dine with him while I am in his neighborhood. Should I, his amiable Lucy will no doubt furnish the Board with her willing hand. We arrived in time for Meeting this morning which I attended. J.T. asked kindly for you in Front St. My afflicted mother is about as helpless as when I was up here last. I almost despair of ever seeing her walk again! The family all enjoy good health, and are recovering from the labors of building and harvest.

Page 3

I forgot to tell thee, I had quite a long talk with Sophronia Osborn. Sarah Parker was to be one of her particular correspondents by agreement before she went to Weston, but Sarah had neglected to write to her until since our Monthly Meeting. She “got up” a letter informing Sophronia that I had requested a certificate! She accused me with the fact very soon after I entered. She appeared pleased to see a Philadelphian, inquired for thy mother, spoke of her visit, and said she was disappointed in not seeing thee, for friend Davis had told her all about our affair. She also talked a god deal of the innocent John T and H. L and W. Cresson. I wish she was well married, with all my heart, as a punishment for talking so much about the beaus! how saucy! Did thee say ____ M ____. I forgot to tell thee that I stopped at G. Peterson’s as I came up. Six weeks ago, I weighed 121 lbs! Now I weigh 122 lbs by the same scale!! Well! if it is so, it is true enough!

Page 4

I shall not stay longer than 2d day; have not concluded whether I shall return sooner. I believe Oley is too far off, and has too many big hills between us. My dear brother Jacob lies on his bed near me, and I have been telling him his reasons are all empty, and that he is to be one of our officers. I this moment told him I would send thee word. He exclaims,”tell her I am an obstinate fellow.” I have a great mind to write to Mary myself. The doctor says to help out Blakey’s laconic letter. My mind has been much with this afternoon and heart mellowed toward thee. My best beloved M. Many inquiries have been put by my family.

I hope to hear from thee, — Blakey

FOOTNOTES

¹ Blakey Shapless concluded his employment as a schoolteacher in West Town, Pennsylvania, in 1814. See the letter below that was addressed to his brother, Joseph Sharpless.

Weston 7 mo. 31st. 1814.

My Dear Brother Jacob:

Thy letters of 22nd and 28th instant lie before me and I have concluded notwithstanding I have “the care” and my duties thereby increased, to essay a letter which may serve as a reply to both. It is true, that is like returning kindnesses by the summary, and an inference might be drawn to my prejudice; but I will endeavour to adapt my feelings to the circumstances of the case, and only say on that subject, that thou art my brother, that thou knowest my engagements and state of my health, which has latterly tended very much I have thought, to distract my letter- writing qualifications. In fact I take up my pen not with my usual alacrity but more like a person who feels that he owes a just debt without the means of honestly discharging it, and a letter for thee whom I love and whom I have freely communicated with [interlined “I will be candid”] received before the Yearly meeting from Cousin Joshua Lloyd is yet unanswered, and occasionally when I recur to the circumstance I feel a little as I have felt when I have neglected to perform what I new to be right, until after the proper time. The foregoing explanation of my apparent or real deficiency in a proper attention to my correspondents may a little illustrate my conduct in letting a long time elapse after receiving a letter before a reply, or in answering two by one. —- If my letters as stimuli act upon the excitability of thy mind and at all, occasion a delectable sensation, I am pleased and feel that I have not written in vain.

I believe as the period elapses which I have to fill up according to the custom in the case of a departing teacher, the committee to whose care the provision of a Successor was committed, have not been idle nor unsuccessful, and that I [take] my leave when that period expires. — Thou spoke in a feeling brotherly manner in the subject, and to set thy mind a little more at liberty, I can state that my health is better than when on our Bucks County tour, though frequently I feel a strong desire to be at liberty when I cannot, and when the pressure of some disease or some corporeal effection, is so great as to disqualify both body and mind, from any other than a reluctant discharge of the real duties of my undertaking. Then it is my dear brother that I feel the effects of what thou feelest free to call “an arbitrary system.” But my great attachment to the establishment and interest therein will make it long feel dear to me (as a place at which I have spent many a happy hour) and induce me to defend it when I hear it abused and explain some of its apparently arbitrary rules. This of “three months previous notice” is a rule calculated to be wholesome in its effects, by enabling the com. to supply themselves timely with a new teacher. They informed me when on a visit at the school Six weeks ago that they did not wish me to stay longer than I could discharge my duties without much oppression, at the same time expressed their reluctance and regret at being obliged to part with me insinuating that my services had been acceptable from the first. It may be said this last remark was made probably to cajole me into a longer stay, which I believe was by no means the case, they were kind [and] did not wish me to stay longer than would be proper.

Our nominal Cousin M. Newbold has truly met with a great loss, if her J. possesses the sensibility most lovers do, no doubt he may succeed in consoling her and in removing the poignancy of her grief. I heard from home lately; they were well. Our family is also healthy. I was nearly omitting to mention our having the company of Caleb Richardson, he is on his way to visit his family. I have sometimes thought my brother Jacob might absent himself two or 3 days from his studies and visit Weston[.] (written in left margin)

Sister and myself are pretty [well] and unite in love to thee affecty.

Blakey Sharpless

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