A fine romance this is.

Romance comes in all shapes and sizes.

Love does what it wishes and will not be confined to our formulae nor our fences.

The Hollywood slander is that only the young and beautiful fall in love, that somehow the plain and the aged are outside the bounds of this most wonderful experience in life. It’s a lie, of course, as is so much of what Hollywood peddles.

I’ve just finished David McCullough’s account of the settling of Ohio when it was the “far west” in the American experience.  The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West is a slow read, one I had to make myself stay with.  Scattered throughout the story, however, were delightful episodes, worth the effort of reading the book.

Ephraim Cutler (1767-1853), one of the earliest settlers and a champion for a hundred reasons, was widowed at the age of 40.  The death of his wife left him with four  small children.  Interestingly, however, before her death,  Leah chose Ephraim’s next wife.  We will let McCullough tell the story…

But in her final days, (Leah) had offered some advice.  For his own good, and that of their four children, she had insisted, he must remain single for a short time only and remarry.  She even went so  far as to name the person she thought best suited for him.  It was an act of genuine, selfless good intent, and of courage.

The woman she had in mind was not someone she knew, only heard about.

In the margin of the book, I scribbled, “Wow.”

Her name was Sally Parker and she was also unknown to Ephraim.  Thirty years old, or ten years younger than he, she had…come west with her family at age eleven…. Her father William Parker had a proprietor’s share in the Ohio Company of over a thousand acres, but on reaching western Pennsylvania decided he did not want, not yet at least, to risk his wife and family to the realities of life on the Ohio frontier.  Instead he purchased a small farm in western Pennsylvania.  Not until 1800 did they continue on to Ohio.  By then, Sally was twenty-three.

On March 11, 1808, a matter of only a few months after Leah’s death, Ephraim sat down to write Sally Parker a letter.  Imagine how one would go about doing this.  (The formal language he and she employ puts us in mind of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.)

His letter:

It is with great difficulty I presume to address you on a subject which to me is of the highest importance….  I am at this time destitute of that solace of the heart a female friend to whom I can disclose my cares or who can alleviate my sorrows, assuage my grief or share my joys.  The author of our natures has given your sex the most unlimited facilities and powers in all those respects and has said that it is not good for a man to be alone.  I am not insensible of the hard terms which I have to offer you and in consequence a total rejection of my suit is what I have a right to expect….  I have nothing to give as a compensation for this but my love and respect, but I find the impetuosity of my passion has carried me too far.  I wll then only ask the favor to address you and cultivate an acquaintance.  As I am very anxious to know my fate I must ask the favor that you will condescend so much as to convey to me your sentiment in such a way as you may think proper.

Considering that Ephraim was poorly educated–although a constant reader and one who continued to grow throughout his life–it’s a pretty impressive letter.

McCullough continues. Four days later came her reply.  She felt herself in an “awkward predicament,” knowing nothing of his “person, manners, taste, and sentiments,” but given his reputation as a gentleman:  If a personal interview is consistent with your desire, I am induced by the principles of politeness to accede thereto.

No record was left as to when or where they met.  What we do know is they were married on April 13, scarcely one month after Ephraim’s contact.

In a letter to his father in New England, Cutler described his bride:  She is tall and of a very agreeable figure.  Her countenance is very striking, it is perfectly engaging without having that regularity which distinguishes great beauties, a native dignity and elegance of manners added to this intelligent and serene countenance with a modest air which tells the beholder she is well-bred, cannot fail to be interesting. 

And you thought this happened only in the day of email and texting.

Ephraim and Sally Cutler lived happily ever after.  They had five more children.  The first arrived one year after they married, the second one year later, and so forth.

Ephraim built the family a nice new home, “a handsome two-story stone house facing the Ohio River in what was to become the town of Warren,” Ohio.

We have their letters. Ephraim served in the Ohio legislature and was frequently gone from home.  In his first love letter to his wife, he told her that the heart when full to overflowing seeks a vent and that nothing relieved it so effectively “as to pour out our thoughts to one we love.”  Now he began pouring them out to her in a constant stream of letters.

Sally wrote back to him: To say that I am concerned about your health would be but a faint expression of my uneasiness on that account…. I regret that it is not in my power to attend on you, and  administer those little offices of kindness which is so necessary in your situation and which delicacy forbids you to ask of another.  It seems as if Providence has designed we should not live much together, to this I must quietly submit, although it is, and ever has been a source of regret and uneasiness.

She loved this man.

Once, after the death of their 12-year-old son as a result of the influenza epidemic,  when Ephraim was serving  there in Columbus, Sally wrote:

I think I see his animated countenance, his noble mien.  The arms of material tenderness are extended in vain to embrace the beloved child.  The next moment my gloomy thoughts are transported to the silent grave where he sleeps in the dust.  The sorrows of a mother are beyond all human consolation.

She lived as his wife for thirty-eight years, dying on June 30, 1846.  She was the mother of five children. Ephraim lived another seven years.  In the early spring of 1853, his horse stumbled and threw him to the ground.  He died a few weeks later of internal injuries.  He was eighty-six.

McCullough says: He was put to rest beside his wife, Sally, in the Gravel Bank Cemetery on a hill not far from the family home overlooking the Ohio River.

I thought you would enjoy this.






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