J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, November 19, 2022

“The long talked of affair between Mr. Pepperrell and my daughter”

As I wrote yesterday, Sir William Pepperrell, baronet, and Samuel Waldo, militia brigadier and great proprietor, were pleased when their children, Andrew and Hannah respectively, became engaged in 1746.

Presumably they remained happy in 1747.

By early 1748, with no wedding date set, the gentlemen began to worry. At the time, Waldo was in Boston while Sir William was up at his house in Kittery, Maine, said to be the grandest in the district. (It’s shown above, courtesy of Buildings of New England.) That separation meant we have the ability to read their conversation about the family situation.

According to Usher Parsons’s biography of Pepperrell, on 9 Jan 1748 Waldo wrote to him:
As to the long talked of affair between Mr. Pepperrell and my daughter, I am at a loss what to think about it. You know matches are made in heaven, and what’s appointed must be. It is not best for any to be overanxious, but to govern with prudence, on which head no caution is necessary to you. I am very much obliged to Lady Pepperrell as well as yourself for your good liking of my daughter, and more especially that she should become yours. The proposed union gave me great pleasure, and the more so as I knew she could not fail to be happy in your family, and I promised myself it was not in her power to misbehave. I had never, Sir, any reason to doubt of yours or your lady’s heartiness in the affair, but if there be not a mutual good liking between the young people, it will not be best they should come together. But I leave the affair to them.

I am, by yours, confirmed in my former sentiments, that you had done very handsomely for your son. Above a twelvemonth ago, I think it was, I had a conversation with him when I proposed a speedy issue to the business, and assured him my intentions as to the future well-being of my daughter were not contracted. He declared himself in a very genteel and generous manner. The sum you mention is large; part of it is probably laid out upon his house. Some misfortunes he has met with in trade, and possibly he may think that the improvement of the remainder may not be a sufficient sum to support upon as your son. I had some difficulty on this head myself before marriage. I got what I could from my father, and trusted Providence for the rest. My daughter is very well and presents her duty to you and Lady Pepperrell.
The next month, Waldo assured his friend again:
I am obliged to you, Sir, and Lady Pepperrell for your good liking of the proposed alliance between our families; nothing can be more agreeable to me, and it would be an additional satisfaction could there be a speedy consummation. It has been long enough pending for the young people to know, not only their own, but each other’s mind. My good liking to it they have both of them been long acquainted with. Till lately I flattered myself that before I embarked for Europe, which I hope will be soon, (though not before I make you a visit to Kittery,) the proposed alliance would be finished.
Pepperrell wrote back on 15 March:
I observe by your letter that you are exceedingly surprised that I did not know the reason that the family affair, so long pending, was delayed; but what I wrote you is certainly true; and if ever my son will do an ill thing I cannot help it, nor ever can or will pretend to justify it; and if he never marries I will never say so much to him about it as I have said. I do think, so far as I have been enabled, that I have discharged my duty to him.

It is certain that he has laid out upwards of ten thousand pounds in a house, contrary to what I should have advised, but considerable of that I gave him, beside the twenty-eight thousand I mentioned, and my design was, that if he should marry, I should give him land that would be an immediate income, but if he does not, I look upon myself to be the best judge how to dispose of my estate, and shall act accordingly as long as it shall please the Most High to preserve my reason and senses.

It is true that he has met with considerable losses in his trade, but from what I know, his interest sent abroad is safe, that he has upwards of thirty thousand pounds, old tenor, in trade; considering that he has wharves, warehouses, etc., fitted to his hand, I think it is a handsome fitting out, and if he behave himself well, as long as I am able I shall be doing for him.

I always thought that you would be doing all in your power for all your children, and I know that you are able; but as every thing in this life is uncertain, if Providence should order it that you could not give Miss Hannah any thing, I say if this should be the case (though I hope it never will), I should be freely willing my son should marry her, and I cannot think he will ever be happy in this life if he don’t, nor can expect a blessing; but I hope he soon will, and not expose himself and friends to unfriendly remarks. If you knew the trouble it gives me to write, you would readily excuse me from enlarging.

Mrs. Pepperrell joins with me in best respects to yourself and family, and in particular to Miss Hannah.
The two gentlemen thus acknowledged that money was a factor—a big factor—in a genteel marriage, but they promised each other that their children would have enough to be comfortable. As long as there was “a mutual good liking between the young people.”

TOMORROW: The young people.

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