This letter was written by schoolteacher Sarah E. Dayton (1824-1857) to her fiance, Newton Bateman (1822-1897). The couple were married in Jacksonville, Illinois in August 1850. Sarah died at age 33 — after only 7 years of marriage to her “precious darling Newton.”
Newton Bateman was a prominent educator in Illinois who helped found St. Charles College in Missouri and the University of Illinois at Champaign, and also served as State Superintendent of Schools in Illinois from 1859-1875 and as president of Knox College from 1875-1893.
Born poor in New Jersey, Newton Bateman’s family had immigrated to Illinois when he was 11. As a child, he set as a goal attending and graduating from the Illinois College in Jacksonville. He put his education to good use.
At 23, Bateman started his teaching career in a private school he started. He taught mathematics at St. Charles College in Missouri from 1847-1854. He became a school principal in Jacksonville when he moved back to Illinois. In 1858 he was elected Illinois state superintendent of instruction over former Governor Augustus C. French; the margin of victory was provided by votes siphoned away by a Buchanan Democrat. Bateman held the post for the next 14 years.
While living in Springfield, Illinois, Bateman became friends with Abraham Lincoln and they shared adjoining offices at the Illinois statehouse. It was said that, “When Mr. Lincoln desired to consult Dr. Bateman, or introduce him to some friend, as he did almost daily, he often called out to him in such terms as these: “I say, you Big Schoolmaster, just come here, won’t you?”– an invitation to which the person addressed always responded with alacrity. It is necessary to mention that the adjective “Big” was intended to have a double reference,– directly to Dr. Bateman’s official position as State Superintendent of Schools, and ironically to his physical stature, which, judged by Mr. Lincoln’s standards, would doubtless appear inconsiderable. Mr. Lincoln sometimes introduced the good Doctor to some rural acquaintance in the following terms: ‘This is my little friend, the Big Schoolmaster of Illinois.'” Lincoln scholar William Barton noted that Bateman “was, perhaps, the last man to shake hands with Abraham Lincoln as Lincoln was leaving Springfield, and he was one of the pallbearers at Lincoln’s funeral.” [Source: Mr. Lincoln & Friends website]
Addressed to Mr. Newton Bateman, St. Charles, Missouri
October 25th 1849
My own precious darling Newton,
It is now intermission and I have just finished reading your last letter just brot from the office. O how I do want to fly to your arms to comfort and cheer. As I opened your letter after repeatedly kissing it, I turned as I thought to the last page (tho’ it proved to be the first) to see if you were well, but O how pained to learn the state of your health. O must it thus be, without your Sarah to cheer — console — comfort or assist in any way. I would indeed fain press your aching head to my breast, fain wipe away the falling tear, and press you with unspeakable love to my heart. O Newton, are your wants supplied as far as they can be by kind friends? Are all trying to promote your comfort & happiness? O that I could indeed fly to your arms this moment. I do so much want to know how you are for several days have passed since it was written. You will use the most vigilant care, will you not?
Think how your own Sarah would do, how watchful she would be over your health — how precious it is to her. I have often thought perhaps I love Newton too much. He is so dear — so inexpressibly dear. What could, what should I do without him? Dear, dear Newton. If I could this moment lay my head on your breast & give vent to my feelings. You see, Newton, I am much hurried as I have only a few moments if I send by next mail & I knew it would be accepted by you.
My health & spirits are pretty good. Be as cheerful as you can while sick. O it is hard, but be assured of your Sarah’s tenderest love & sympathy. How happy am I to do anything for you to render you more happy. O, know that Sarah will be ever unchangeably yours. Know that all her earthly hopes are centered in you, my precious one. I feel more and more daily that it is so sweet to love — trust — confide wholly. And O, I long for the time which shall make us one on earth. Yes, Newton, where I may truly be your bride — your wife — the partner of your bosom — the sharer of your joys & sorrows. O how sacred must be the union of two hearts already one in feeling & interest.
We are all as well as usual except mother, who has not yet become entirely well — tho’ not seriously unwell. Here am I in the room where you were sick one week with the medicine — or some of it — still before me. How much I wish you were now here so that I could attend to your heart as well as body. But we should be thankful for the past, for the precious hours which memory can so kindly recall & all the kind assurances of mutual, unchanging & unchangeable love.
My time is flying fast. O can I leave you to enter upon school duties when you are uppermost and the one great object of thought? But it must be. May God in His infinite mercy spare your life & my life to be united. May he raise you from this bed sickness is the prayer of your dear Sarah. You well know her heart is overflowing [and] how tenderly she loves you. It cannot be otherwise. I hope you will have written so that I can hear soon. It will do me good — Oh how much good to hear you are some better. Do be exceedingly careful of yourself & do not begin teaching too soon. Now let us sit folded in each other’s arms in a fond sweet embrace & in unbroken silence each feel each other’s love. If you get well, write as often as possible. Your letters are a balm to my spirit. They cheer me when sad, encourage me when desponding, & bid me look forward to a bright & happy future in your society. You shall hear again soon. O be as cheerful as possible.
Of course Sarah would love to know her Newton’s dream.
A fond affectionate kiss & adieu.