One of the most intriguing manuscripts I discovered while working on Darkness Falls on the Land of Light is the text that appears below: a courtship letter sent by Isaac Garfield (1717–1792), an early settler of Tyringham, Massachusetts, to his future wife, Mary Brewer (1722–1799). Written in a shaky and unschooled hand during the peak months of the Whitefieldian revivals and suffused with biblical allusions, Garfield’s missive included no professions of affection or amorous allusions. Unlike many young men in eighteenth-century New England, he made no effort to impress his beloved with his reading knowledge or literary wit. Instead, Garfield sternly exhorted Brewer to search her soul for evidence of conversion. It’s a compelling example of the many small ways in which the revivals transformed the writing practices of eighteenth-century New Englanders. Garfield and Brewer married several months later and soon emerged as leading townspeople and prominent members of the Tyringham Congregational church. They had eleven children between 1743 and 1765. Both spouses are buried Woods Cemetery in Monterey, Massachusetts.
Garfield’s courtship letter is part of the Blandina Diedrich Collection, volume 1, in the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My transcription follows the expanded method described in Mary-Jo Kline in A Guide to Documentary Editing, 2d ed. (Baltimore, 1998), 157–158, 161–164. I have enclosed conjectural readings of the damaged portions of the manuscript and glosses of grossly misspelled within square brackets. For genealogical information on Garfield and Brewer, see Henry Bond, Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts, including Waltham and Weston (Boston, 1860), 230; Town of Weston: Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1707–1856. 1703—Gravestones—1900. Church Records, 1709–1825 (Boston, 1901), 15; Vital Records of Tyringham, Massachusetts to the Year 1850 (Boston, 1903), 30, 96; History of the Congregational Society in Monterey, Mass., 1750–1900 (Monterey, Mass., 1900), 54; and Eloise Myers, A Hinterland Settlement: Tyringham, Massachusetts, and Bordering Lands (Pittsfield, Mass., n.d.), 6, 21, 24–25, 36, 40. I discuss the Garfield letter in Darkness Falls on the Land of Light, 193.
[September] the 27/1742
Madam I take this opertunit[ie to write] to you hopeing you are as wall as I am att prasent for [which I] have grate caise of thankfullness and now I would call a upon [you to re]pant and Seek an Entrist in Christ before it be to late. Before I wass Concerned for my Soul I was not conscarned for your soul. But now when I consider my wicked life: O how many air [are] my Sins. They mak me to Cry out O lord my flesh trambles and I am afraid of thy Judgments. I have Case to feair Continually least the lord Should Say of me as of the barron fig tree Cut it down why Cumbereth it the grown. O let me coll upon you to Seek an Entris in Christ. Seek now in a finding time. Now the Spirit of god Seems to be Striving with yong people. Wee have ben asleep but our damnation Slumbreth not. O let us awake out of a ded Sleep of sin. O Let us Return as the poor prodigall did for we have bin Sarving a hard master. We have bin feeding on husks and are rady [to] perrish. O fearfull Estate for us to live only to heep up fuel for our own Everlasting burning even treasuring of wrath for the last day. Shall this be our cais and we not tremble. O that my Eyes wair water and my hed a founting of tears, that I migt weep day and night for my sins. Seek ye the Lord whil he may be found and call upon him while he is near. Begin now to do what in you lies to Regain the tim by double diligence in the matter of your grate Concarn: Least the voice of the archangel Should finish your time of triel and Call you to Judgment before you air prepaired. What time lies before you for this dubel improvement god only knows. The number of your days air with him and every evening the num[ber] is deminished. Let not the rising Sun upbrade with Continued neglience. Remember your former abouce [abundance] of ours and days munths and years in foly and [sin]. Let these of your past Conduct lie with an afectual wate on your hart and mind So as to keep you Ever vigerous in the present duties Sence you have bin so long and loitering in the mater of your Salvation in time past. Take large staps daly. Stracth [Stretch] all the powers of your soul to hasen towards the Crown and the prise. Harken to the voice of god in his word with Strong atinshon [attention] and pray to a long sufering god with dubel fervency. Cry aloude and give him no rest till your Sinfull Soul is Changed into penitence and renued to holiness and till you have Som good Evidence of your Sencear love to god and unfaned faith in his Sun Jesus Christ never to be Satisfied till you air Come to a wall grounded hope through grace that god is frind and reconsiled father that when days and muths and years Shall be no mor you may Enter into Everlasting Light and pece with god of his infinit marcy grant throw Jesus Christ our Lord [amen].
So I Remain