In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to bring a bit of romance to Out of the Box, but when one spends her day working with historic court records, it’s rare to find evidence of a happy couple. In fact, I am convinced that there may never have been a sighting of connubial bliss in Virginia’s circuit court records. Divorce cases, however, are abundant, and this Petersburg couple never even made it to the altar before heading to the courthouse in 1916.
A recently widowed Permelia F. McKinney, born in Connecticut around 1880, met grocery store owner Frank Roberts while visiting friends in Petersburg. Little is known about their initial meeting, but after her return to Connecticut, the two commenced a courtship conducted entirely through letters, with correspondence dating from 4 January 1915 through 26 July 1916. During their year and a half courtship, one would hope for a steamy love affair conducted in the written word, but the couple’s correspondence was tame, with most letters filled with longing to see each other while making plans for Permelia to head south. On 7 March 1915, Frank wrote, “I for one would like to see you here among us,” but first it was too cold for Permelia to travel, then too hot. It seemed that Permelia would never make her way back to Petersburg.… read more »
The romantic landscape may seem ambiguous in 2013, but courtship in 19th-century Virginia was no different. Think those text messages are hard to decipher? Try reading an 1850s love letter full of rigid social etiquette. Dating and its inherent potential for rejection have always been hard. A letter found amongst chancery papers from Middlesex County attests to the fact that romantic rejection can happen to anyone, regardless of the time period.
One woman who had no use for ambiguity when it came to rejecting a would-be suitor was L. B. Powers. On 26 September 1849, she responded to Henry Sears’ letter requesting the “privilege of waiting on” her. She was to the point, not bothering to spare feelings, and offered up her reasons for refusing his courtship:
“I have no objection of your waiting on me but as you are in a hurry for a wife I think it is best for you to dispense with your conversation as I think there is no earthly chance of my agreeing with your proposal for it is something I never intend to give my consent to marry a man without I love them therefore I think it is best for us both to dispense with our writings and conversation as I cannot love you.
I do not think that my age will suit yours not
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