Document 14:

Author: Mary Fletcher Kellogg

Recipient: James Harris Fairchild

Date: 11 January 1841

Location: Oberlin College Archives, James H. Fairchild Papers. Series III Courtship Correspondence,

1771-1926, RG 2/003.

Document Type: Transcript (1939) Autograph Letter, Signed by Author.


1838 Map of the United States, annotations and cropping by R. Debus.
Source: Bradford, Thomas G. “United States. – David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.” David
Rumsey Map Collection. web address, accessed August 7, 2015.

        In this letter, a direct reply to James’ letter of 22 November, Mary continues to show the strain this long distance relationship has placed upon her. However, unlike James, who felt free to express his anxiety, even in a way chiding Mary for causing him worry, she had no such freedom. Though she begins her letter with reassurances of her love and support, the rest of her missive is still full of her palpable worry that James might find her an unfit wife. Her inability to completely state her fears in this matter was likely due to both the necessity of restraint, and because, as a woman, she could risk a greater social penalty should their engagement be called off, particularly if it was due to her own failings. While engagements were considered serious for both parties, men’s virtue was not policed nearly as much as women’s was. Mary was also dependent on this relationship as a means of removing herself from Minden. She did not like the South, and had few friends there. Mary was in many ways dependent on James if she wished to return North. Her lack of agency in both her romantic relationships and her physical location is reflected in her sarcastic comment of “I have a great deal of independence, have I not?”


Minden[1], Jan. 11, 1841.

Beloved James,

        Your letter of November 22, I received two weeks since. I felt a strong desire to answer it immediately, but was hindered the first week by the mail not going out and the last by company.

        And now, dear James, what shall I say respecting the contents of your letter. Could I believe it would appease or soothe your feelings at all, I would tell you how deeply grieved I was that I have caused you unhappiness and how keenly I felt your reproof. What I had so hurriedly written had produced so little impression upon my own mind that it was not until you quoted remonstrance from fellow students or Professor Finney[2] that I could form the least idea of what had troubled you. The mention of that brought to my recollection the thoughts and feelings that for a little while had possessed my mind, but I did not remember as having written them.

        I cannot nor will I attempt to say anything in extenuation of myself, yet I will assure you the habitual state of my mind has been perfect confidence in you and if ever a different impression has for a moment <r>ested upon me, it has been in consideration of my own unworthiness<,> together with a consciousness of a want of fitness for the station of a minister’s wife. I have felt<,> too<,> that our mutual friends in Oberlin did not place much confidence in me, while I was there<,> and I expected their confidence would decrease in proportion to the time I should spend in this country. Nor does it seem unnatural to me that it should be so, at least if they knew the influences with which I am surrounded. You, dear James, by the spriit [sic] of my letters can tell how far I have yielded. Yet I would not be judged by them. I am sure but little of myself has been expressed in them. I am gratified by the confidence you repose in me and I shall indeed try to prove myself worthy of it. It was that lack of confidence which took away all my ambition and energy in Oberlin. I have a great deal of independence, have I not?

        James, after all of my bad letters, did I suspect that you had the same opinion of the faithlessness of woman’s heart that some of my associates here have, I should feel it necessary to assure you that you occupied the only place in my affections, but I know you better and this is unnecessary. I may often admire and be pleased with the politeness and gallantry of some of the young men here, yet I can see that it is all selfishness. A lady here is only valued for her personal charms, and her mind is appreciated only as it enables her to set off these to advantage. And where, dear James, is there a heart among these for me to admire or love!. . . [sic]

        I see my paper is about filled. You may wish to know something of our employments, amusements, prospects, etc.

        Balls in the village and surrounding country are very frequent<, o>ften several nights in succession. I have attended but one, we gave on New Year’s day. Marcia[3] and Lucy[4] attend frequently.

        We have now a very fine school; Augustus,[5] cousin Martha,[6] Marcia, George,[7] andLucy attend it.

        I should find it very profitable to myself to study with them, could I release my mind and hands from employment at home sufficiently. I can scarcely take time to read the miscellaneous works I would wish.

        James, by the time you come, I hope we shall be out of this disagreeable place- a public house. I do not think Pa is satisfied with the business<,>[8] and<,> for my own part, I am glad he has found it so unpleasant.

        I am glad, dear James, to learn you are so agreeably situated. It will be gratifying to you to exert yourself in behalf [sic] of others in a cause and manner which is unexceptionable. The source upon which you rely for support is an unfailing one. I am glad you mentioned the promise of God “Fear not, etc.” It imparted some encouragement to me, but I must close this.

        You will remember me to Mr. Fisher[9] and believe me<,> still<,>

                        Your own sincere<,>


Transcribed by Joanna Wiley.

[1] Minden, Louisiana.

[2] Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875). Finney was a revivalist preacher and one of the most important figures from the Second Great Awakening. In 1835, he became a Professor, and the head of the Theological Department at Oberlin, and in 1851, Finney became the second President of Oberlin College. (Oberlin College Archives, “Charles Grandison Finney Presidential Papers Finding Guide.” web address, accessed 11 August 2015).

[3] Marcia Louisa Kellogg, Mary’s sister (Oberlin College Archives, “Lucy Fletcher Kellogg Papers Finding Guide.” web address, accessed 11 August 2015).

[4] Lucy Philanda Kellogg (b. 1832), Mary’s younger sister. She attended the Oberlin Preparatory Department from 1849 to 1850, and then enrolled in the Ladies’ Course, graduating from it in 1854. She married Charles P. Birge (Oberlin College Archives, “Lucy Fletcher Kellogg Papers Finding Guide.” web address, accessed 11 August 2015; General Catalogue of Oberlin College 1833-1908 (Cleveland, Ohio: The O. S. Hubbell Printing CO)., 1909).

[5] Charles Augustus Kellogg (1821-1897), Mary’s oldest brother. He was enrolled at Oberlin from 1837 to 1838.

[6] It is unclear who Cousin Martha was; she might have been the daughter of Lucy Fletcher Kellogg’s sister (Mary’s aunt), who lived in Minden (Oberlin College Archives, “Lucy Fletcher Kellogg Papers Finding Guide.” web address, accessed 11 August 2015; General Catalogue of Oberlin College 1833-1908).

[7] George Martin Kellogg (1837-1904), Mary’s youngest brother. He moved to Oberlin with Mary when she returned there after marrying James Fairchild. He attended the Preparatory Department from 1842 to 1844, and then began studying at the college. He graduated from Oberlin with an A.B. in 1848. He married Sarah W. Barker.  (Oberlin College Archives, “Lucy Fletcher Kellogg Papers Finding Guide.” web address, accessed 11 August 2015; General Catalogue of Oberlin College 1833-1908. Cleveland, Ohio: The O. S. Hubbell Printing CO., 1909).

[8] Titus Kellogg apparently struggled for quite some time to establish any kind of business in the south, and it is unclear what precisely he was attempting to do at this time. Eventually, he was able to accumulate enough land to attempt to farm cotton, likely with the help of slave labor, but given that here he ends up living in a public house, rather than a plantation, it seems unlikely that he was farming cotton at this time (Lucy Fletcher Kellogg’s memoir mentions three black men, three black women and six black children living with them at their cotton plantation, but does not specify if they were free paid laborers or slaves. In one of Mary Fletcher Kellogg’s letters to James, she mentions a black woman that her father had spoken of either hiring or buying, indicating that, though the Kelloggs were Northerners, and Mary at least was a fervent abolitionist, her father considered owning or leasing slaves)(Oberlin College Archives, “Lucy Fletcher Kellogg Papers Finding Guide.” web address, accessed 11 August 2015; “Timeline for Louisiana Kellogg Families.” web address, accessed 10 August 2015; Oberlin College Archives, James H. Fairchild Papers. Series III Courtship Correspondence, 1771-1926, RG 2/003).

[9] Caleb Ellis Fisher (1815-1876). He graduated from Oberlin College in 1841 with an A.B. and then from the Theological Seminary in 1844. He married Mary Hosford, Mary Kellogg’s classmate, one of the first three women to earn an A.B. in the United States. They had three children together, all of whom attended Oberlin College. Caleb Fisher made a career preaching, and also served as Oberlin College’s financial agent from 1873 to 1875 (Former Student File: Caleb Ellis Fisher. Record Group 28/2, Box 328. Oberlin College Archives).