Document 16

Author: James Harris Fairchild

Recipient: Mary Fletcher Kellogg

Date: 8 February 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.


In this last letter of the edition, James writes to Mary of his time in Palmyra and of his plans for the future. Though James almost always dictated the pace of their romance, here he seems touchingly concerned that Mary have a say in their future plans. While James and Mary were in many ways conservative in their gender roles, their caring and respect for one another did lead them to greater egalitarianism than their traditional roles suggested.

This letter is also notable for its discussion of a “little joke” that occurred while James was visiting some former friends he had known from Oberlin. James was an abolitionist, albeit not a radical, but abolitionism did not preclude racism. In this anecdote, James’ amusement at the idea that he could have been in an interracial relationship reveals how antebellum understandings of race even within abolitionist communities, seem highly racist today.


Oberlin, February 8, 1841.

My dearest Mary,

Fourteen weeks have passed away since I last wrote to you from my room here in the corner of Colonial Hall[1]. Your answer to that<,> I have just received. It was waiting for me at the P.O. when I came. What has occured [sic] to me since that, you know before this time. Indeed<,> my absence seems to me now almost like a dream from which I have just been aroused. But while I was in Michigan<,> it was not a dream. There is no dream in preaching and taking the responsibilities of a minister of the gospel. Since I came home<,> I have dreamed of preaching<,> but while I was there<,> it weighed upon my spirit like matter of fact. I bade my congregation farewell on Sabbath Eve, the last of January. They gathered around me with tears and it was hard to break away. But the next morning found me on my way home. We came by private conveyance, five of us in the carriage<,> Messrs. Fisher[2] and Adair,[3] Mr [sic] Kedzie[4] and his sister,[5] and myself. We hoped to have sleighing, but the snow vanished a day or two before we set out. But the road was fine, and our journey was delightful. The first night we spent at Maumee City<,>[6] and I crossed over to Perrysburg[7] and found Mr. Barrows[8] and his wife, formerly Miss Moore (Catherine P.). [sic][9] You remember her well. Mr. Barrows is preaching at that place. They gave me a most hearty welcome, and I spent the night with them. I think they are both much more spiritually minded than they were when they left Oberlin. They have a pretty little daughter<,> nearly two years old.[10]

Now I must tell you a little joke that happened to us there. Mrs. Barrows had heard before I came that I was engaged to a young lady in Louisiana who had been at Oberlin. In the evening as we were sitting around the table eating nuts and apples<,> she took up the Oberlin catalogue and began to question me about one and another of whom she had heard. At last she asked me in a half whisper and with a knowing look if I was acquainted with Miss Clarissa Simpson?[11] Oh, yes, said I, she is a colored girl. Mrs. Barrows blushed deeply and seemed quite disconcerted and said, “She isn’t, is she?” I did not apprehend the matter then<,> but<,> before evening was closed, she inquired about Mary Kellogg. I told her all about you<,> and then she shouted as if she had made a discovery. So I told her like an honest boy that we are engaged<,> and then she explained the occasion of her embarassment [sic] before. She had looked over the catalogue and found no young lady from Louisiana but Miss Simpson and had consequently concluded that she was the one.[12] The matter does not sound on paper as it did when it happened. It seemed a little queer. You know I can’t tell a story decently. Mrs. Barrows wished me to give an abundance of love to you from her. She will probably spend a part of the summer here.

We reached Oberlin Wednesday evening and found that all things continued as they were. No, not quite as they were. This is a changing world. It seems strange to find my home here but not unpleasant. I shall board at home[13] during the coming term. The next morning I went into the recitation room and found my classes[14] there<,> ready with the lesson I had assigned thirteen weeks before. So I am again at my employment as if I had not been absent at all.

There is quite an excitement over the country about the “lynching at Oberlin[15] as it is called. Accounts have been published in almost all the religious papers at the East, some of them very bitter. They think it is the natural result of doctrines held at Oberlin.[16] The father of the young man has been here in great wrath although a professor of religion, armed with pistols, bowie knife, etc. The place and people were so different from what he expected to find that he went away somewhat pacified. His intention was to prosecute the faculty. So you see I may not escape without a share after all. He sent word to Henry[17] that he would let him go free if he would permit him to lay as many stripes upon his back as he dealt out to his son. It is a sad affair<,> but I hope it will not do much mischief. Students are not frightened away by the noise. We shall probably have more this year than ever before.

Where we have been in Michigan the people have all become friends to Oberlin. Prejudice has disappeared almost entirely. They would be glad throughout the country there to obtain ministers from this Institution. They would almost compel me to promise to return, after I had completed my studies. They said they should send me a call next summer. They have a house which they design for us and promise that it shall be ready furnished and all such things. Perhaps they will forget it now I have come away.

Since I have returned<,> I have been conversing with some of the faculty about it. They say I must not leave Oberlin. They intend to keep me here. All I wish is to be in the place designed for me<,> and there is where you will be glad to go<,> is it not? You have not told me whether you would rather be the wife of a country minister or of a teacher in this institution. I am inclined to think, my dear Mary, that you could be more useful in some little village like Palmyra. There is not as much opportunity here for women to exert an influence, except in their own families. But I do think you will be happy and useful here if it is the Lord’s will that we should remain. Some one [sic] must stay here and teach Hebrew<,> and he will be a better man with a wife than without one, if she is as good as you are Mary. Then, may we not be the persons to remain? Oh, I wish you were here this spring to think about it and talk about it. I am as ready to be a missionary as ever if that is best<,> and so are you.

You know, dear Mary, that I have all confidence in your integrity and fixedness of principle, but I almost tremble when I think of the influence by which you are surrounded in Southern Society. I have thought of this the more as I have been out this winter and met now and then a flirting girl who seems to think of nothing but what others think of her. I have turned away sickened at the sight and thanked God that my Mary is not such a one. Your independence<,> of which I have always thought you possessed an unusual share<,> must be often called into exercise<,> and that can avail little without dependence upon a higher and holier influence. Do not think I fear for you. No, my confidence is if possible more firm, but I often think of the temptations by which you are surrounded and ask God to throw around you his protecting arm. They felt quite curious in Michigan to know what kind of girl my Mary was. They never asked me, but did Brother Fisher, and he knew nothing about you but what I had told him, as he had not become acquainted with you at all before you left……… [sic]

You are reading the writings of the distinguished Charles Dickens. I love Oliver Twist[18] very much. It is worth reading. The Pickwick Papers[19] are altogether queer. Nicholas Nick<le>by[20] has so much nonsense in it that I never could read more than a chapter or two at a time, and<,> at last<,> relinquished the task. Perhaps if I had possessed a larger stock of patience<,> I should have found it a treasure. Pardon my off hand remarks. I did not intend th<e>m as a criticism on his works. I don’t know enough about his works to criticise. It was several years ago (two or three) that I read what little I have of them. I read Oliver Twist the last summer that you spent at Oberlin. Dickens is a most beautiful writer<,> and<,> if he would endeavour to guide the popular taste instead of throwing himself into its current, he would be greatly useful.

Mary, I can’t stop to look this over<,> so you must correct the blunders. Give my love to all. Send me a subject to make a speech upon at the coming commencement.[21] Don’t fail.

                        Ever and only yours,

                        JAMES H. F.

Transcribed by Kasey Ulery and Rebecca Debus.

[1] Colonial Hall was the dormitory where James Fairchild was living. The first floor of the building contained a large chapel, while the second and third floors had twenty-two rooms for a young men’s dormitory. The second floor also contained a large recitation room. Colonial Hall’s name reflected the fact that the colonists of Oberlin paid for nearly half of the building costs, and were therefore allowed to use the chapel for their own religious services (General Catalogue of Oberlin College 1833-1908. Cleveland, Ohio: The O. S. Hubbell Printing CO., 1909. Int. 74).

[2] 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).

[3] Samuel Lyle Adair (1811- 1898). He was in the same class at Oberlin College as James Fairchild, graduating with an A.B. in 1839, and from the Theological Seminary in 1841. He married Florilla (or Florella) Brown, a graduate of the Oberlin College Literary Course in 1839, and the half-sister of famous abolitionist John Brown. After their graduation, the Adairs moved to Osawatomie, Kansas, where they founded a Congregational Church in 1861. While they lived in Kansas, they also supported the abolitionist work of John Brown, and often hid him at their house (Former Student File: Samuel Lyle Adair. Record Group 28/2 (?), Box (?). Oberlin College).

[4] This is most likely John Kedzie, a preacher, who received his A.B. from Oberlin College in 1841. However, it could also be Robert Kedzie, who began attending Oberlin College in 1841 and later married his classmate, Harriet Eliza Fairchild, James Fairchild’s younger sister. Robert Kedzie then became a Professor of Chemistry. While there is no clear relationship between John and Robert, they both come from the same area of Michigan, and given their fairly unusual last name, it is quite likely they were related (Former Student File: John Hume Kedzie. Record Group 28/2, Box 556. Oberlin College Archives; Former Student File: Robert Clarke Kedzie. Record Group 28/2, Box 556. Oberlin College Archives).  

[5] This could be either Mary Kedzie or Elizabeth Kedzie. Mary P. Kedzie attended the Oberlin College preparatory school from 1842 to 1843, and the Literary Department (then the Ladies’ Course) from 1843 to 1848. Elizabeth McAuley Kedzie attended Oberlin from 1839 to 1843, and graduated from the Literary Department (then the Ladies’ Course) in 1842. She married Samuel F. Steele, who is mentioned in several of James Fairchild’s letters and seemed to have been a good friend of his. Neither of these two women can be positively said to be related to either John or Robert Kedzie, but all came from the same general area of Michigan and were likely related (General Catalogue; Former Student File: Mary P. Kedzie (Mrs. Henry H. Hitchcock). Record Group 28/1, Box 116. Oberlin College Archives).

[6] Maumee City, Ohio, is a modern-day suburb of Toledo. It is along the banks of the Maumee River, once a major shipping artery.

[7] Perrysburg, Ohio, is directly across the Maumee River from Maumee City. It was named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, one of the great heroes of the War of 1812, whose victories were critical to the development of the region.

[8] John Manning Barrows (1807-1891). He studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before attending Oberlin College from 1834 to 1836.  He then attended the Oberlin Theological Seminary, graduating in 1838. He then preached for several years before becoming a professor at, and later President of, Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan (Former Student File: John Manning Barrows. Record Group 28/2, Box 51. Oberlin College Archives).

[9] Catherine Payn Moore (1813-1893). She entered Oberlin College in 1835 and graduated from the Ladies’ Course in 1839. She married John M. Barrows in 1838, with whom she had four children, one of whom, John Henry Barrows, later became President of Oberlin College. Catherine Barrows worked as the matron of the Ladies’ Hall at Olivet College in Michigan, where her husband was a professor (Former Student File: Catherine Payn Moore (Mrs. John Manning Barrows). Record Group 28/2, Box 51. Oberlin College Archives).

[10] This is probably Mary E. Barrows, their first child. She later married Leroy Warren.

[11] Clarissa A. Simpson attended the Oberlin Preparatory Department from 1840 to 1842 (Former Student File: Clarissa A. Simpson. Record Group 28/1, Box 232. Oberlin College Archives).  

[12] While Oberlin students were decided abolitionists, abolition and acceptance of interracial marriage (known as amalgamation) did not go hand-in-hand. There were, during this time, efforts to remove anti-amalgamation laws, and in Massachusetts, those measures succeeded, but many people, including some abolitionists, would have much preferred that blacks and whites not intermarry. Catherine Barrows’ embarrassed reaction makes it unclear whether or not she personally disapproved of interracial marriage, but certainly indicates that she found it a taboo subject (Gary Nash, “Mixed Race America – Forbidden Love | Jefferson’s Blood | FRONTLINE | PBS,” PBS, web address, accessed 10 August 2015).

[13] James Fairchild’s family moved from Brownhelm, Ohio, to Oberlin in late 1840 or early 1841 so that it would be easier for his sisters to attend the college (Oberlin College Archives, James H. Fairchild Papers. Series III Courtship Correspondence, 1771-1926, RG 2/003).

[14] James taught Hebrew at this time, and became a Professor of Languages at Oberlin the following autumn (Oberlin College Archives, James H. Fairchild Papers. Series III Courtship Correspondence, 1771-1926, RG 2/003; Former Student File: President James Harris Fairchild. Record Group 28/2, Box 312. Oberlin College Archives).

[15] See Document 12 in this collection for full details on the “Lynching at Oberlin.”

[16] As noted in Document 12, many religious groups and newspapers saw the Oberlin Lynching as proof that Oberlin’s peculiar theological leanings (especially those espoused by Charles Grandison Finney) were considered by many to be heretical, promoting sin and violence.

[17] Henry Fairchild, James’ older brother who flogged Norton.

[18] Oliver Twist was published 1838. It was Dickens’ second novel.  

[19] The Pickwick Papers was Dickens’ first novel and was published in 1837.  

[20] Nicholas Nickleby was published 1839. It was Dickens’ third novel, and cemented his popularity.

[21] According to James’ letter of 22 August 1841, Mary did not give him a subject for his commencement speech, and he had to create his own. The letter states: “I have managed to get a subject after a fashion and have produced a dry metaphysical address, ‘Freedom Inseparable from Moral Action.’”