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1769.06.09 – Elizabeth Porter Phelps to Penelope Williams, June 1769

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1769.06.09 – Elizabeth Porter Phelps to Penelope Williams, June 1769


Over the course of eight days in June 1769, Elizabeth Porter Phelps wrote four letters to her dear friend Penelope Williams. In the first letter, Phelps conveys sincere gratitude for Williams’ expressed affection in their last letter exchange, while simultaneously explaining she could not find the right language to reciprocate Porter's vulnerability. She was left speechless. She then invites Williams to her upcoming wedding. In the last few sentences of this first letter, Phelps is expressing her anxieties; she is so overwhelmed she finds it difficult to read and write.

In Phelps' second letter, she seems to be having somewhat of an existential dilemma. She is self-critical, weighing whether she has done right by God. At the time of her writing, it does not seem as though she thinks she has. Partway through her letter (between pages 1 and 2), she transitions to discussing her immense gratitude for Williams' presence in her life.

In the third letter, Phelps begins by saying she has found the time to write to her friend despite having many work responsibilities. Like in the previous letter, Phelps expresses gratitude to Williams. The degree to which she does, and the nature of her language leads one to wonder whether their relationship extends beyond friendship. Were there any romantic relations between the pair? Phelps mentions that she has been missing her deeply. The letter concludes with Phelps asking Williams for a favor, hoping to procure needles.

In her fourth letter, Phelps mentions quite a few people who we have yet to identify including James, Polly, and Mrs. Holebrook. According to Phelps, Williams' brother coordinated for her to travel to Boston. Phelps also discusses the travels of another mutual acquaintance of theirs who has been sick. As in her previous letters, Phelps lastly expresses her appreciation for Williams.


Elizabeth Porter Phelps


Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers (Box 5, Folder 16)
University of Massachusetts Special Collections and University Archives




Public domain





Hadley, June.9.1769. ~ Fryday night after 9
O my dear how can I bear so much tenderness as you express for me in your letter you brought by your Brother, ten thousand thanks to you for it indeed twas precious to me ~ I dont know what ails me but I could not write I felt uncommonly put to it for words when I wrote you that letter I sent by Mr. Por & indeed tis just the same case now I’m all shut up I’ve nothing to say, struck Dumb, a great deal I long to say but yet cant say one word, once in a while can fetch a good hearty Sigh & set & set & look on my paper. I never my Candle acts like a fool, you would guess something was the matter by the Looks of my lines. ~ O by the way you will be sure to come home by Weding, my weding did you ask? Ay mine ~ But by the account I hear there is some probability of one before mine I intend to tell you either the man or the Girl & leave you to find out the other ~ Timothy [indecipherable] now if any body else should write & tell you [indecipherable] girl I should [indecipherable] my labour they say he has been constantly once a week ever since he came from Boston & sometimes twice & O dear how stupid [indecipherable] I’ve been asleep once; alas alas what does ail me? What shall I come too I think I grow worse & worse on every account, I can’t write, & dont read nor nothing else that I should ~ I do nothing but sleep now good night fast asleep ~ ~

Sunday Eve June 11
O my dear love I’ve been pestered prodigiously to make a pen, I must need think, how happy you was in having a brother to go too in that need as well as many others: but why should I have one hard tho’t? rather let me admire the Goodness of God in other things how many mercies have I &, how few do I deserve? O that I might Live under the continual apprehension of my own [indecipherable] ~ O Pride Cursed pride how vain it makes a meer worm ~ This day my friend have I again turned my back upon Christ & his Church implicitly said I will not have Christ to Reign over me ~ is it not in that to undo what my parents did for me in Baptism to say I will not consent to it & actually to renounce it; shocking tho’t, alas my dear can you have any friendship with such an one how dare you will it not displease your great master? Surely my friend I grow worse & worse ~ I’m stupider than ever ~ why dont I remember I was born to Die - how natural tis to one to put the evil day for for often ~ when I know not how near it may be ~ oh that I were fit to Die & then would be to my good to Live ~ How can I expect that God should Lift up the Light of her Countenance upon my Soul when I had such a careless wicked Life ~ pray for me my dear my tender friend that I may not be Left in sin, but that the mercy of God may appear in my Justification & Sanctification; I hope you will have opportunity to send letters by the bearer of this [indecipherable] – & you may be sure I hope for a share. ~ indeed my dear your last letter is [indecipherable] to endear you to my heart; you kindly ask me if ever you accused me of a fault, & rightly answer no ~ no my dear you never gave me reason to think you blamed me but surely that kindness sisterly kindness indeed

That made you see with so much partiality ~ forgive me my dear I had a bushel of vapours & its likely I shall have again ~ I have been looking to see what come next & tis where you thank me heartily for all my kindness O my dear how [indecipherable] has it been ~ you say you Love me with all your heart all you have to say is if it might been ~ forgive me my dear I can go no further I must stop ~ I find some not all flint I can say yet O how cruel to before to disoblige the kindest friend ever a poor girl was befied with ~ I dare to pronounce none knows the trial none know the distress but them that have felt it ~ indeed my dear I can hardly expect your love but to have you tell me you love me with all your heart [indecipherable] how I bore it ~ not without a flood of tears of gratitude & love amazed that you should express so much kindness for me indeed my dear I shall not at all wonder to see your love for me cool your affection abate & placed on another filling the place you once expected me to fill ~ & I earnestly pray it may be one worthy & better qualified than your poor [indecipherable] friend to make happy the life of —---- you & yours whose comfort can never be a matter of indifference with me while I live in this world ~ Shall I thank you for your desire of my happiness yes my dear I thank you heartily happy with the best of men ~ alas my [indecipherable] I deserve for from that ~ why did you not wish me happy Single thats the life for me ~ but have I not almost worn out your patience well my dear you may say it by now & if you have time take it again for I have not done yet I hope

June 13. Tuesday Eve ~
Well here I am again; Work calls very loud but i bid it defiance & must indulge myself in the Sweet employ of writing to my dear friend ~ I have left heard Mr. Dickson is not a going very soon but that dont hinder me ~ for you must know I feel now mere as if [indecipherable] be some kind of pleasure to you to hear from me than I do sometimes ~ O dear what would I give to see you or rather what would I not give with how much affection have I been often received by you how kindly tender was your words & Looks the last time I saw you ~ I have tho’t of it since with stars in my eyes how far I was from returning of it in the [indecipherable] degree I took a great deal of notice of your [indecipherable] than ordinary affectionate behavior [indecipherable] of Patty too, perhaps twas because you tho’t twas the last time till after. Com—t but I dissent; I could not bear to have it be - & never bid you Adieu neither why did not I take a tender leave of you as I ought in a parting manner: of from my side the dearer part is torn: the rest lies bleeding & but lives to mourn I’ve no where to go now nor no body to Look for here ~ alas my dear am I not torn almost away surely theres but little good left at best ~ why my friend do you ever think of me now in the midst of all your Comforts & Delightfull entertainment ~ why [indecipherable] I hope you do Morning & evening at least ~ I cant but hope I come into the Number of your friends the utterly (un)worthy

I have not dwelt upon the Dark [indecipherable] Now may I not Please myself with your return; how happy shall I be when the week begins that I expect you to come home in; wait longing to hear the welcome News of your arrival but when I come to see you I guess I shall want to say as Joseph said when he made himself known to his Brethren ~ But o my dear how dare I depend on it in the least; how little do we know what may be on the morrow ~ you may at this present time over now while I am writing be in sorrowing by reason of sickness ~ perhaps laid on a bed of Languishing & [Litheness] or Breathing your last O my Blood Runs Cold ; I trust I hope in the Power & mercy of God to save us both from Sin & sorrow & bring us to a Comfortable meeting here if it may be; but (however) that be may we meet at Christs Right hand [indecipherable] thro’ the Merits of a Redeemer My mother is poorly that pain in her Breast is very Distressing sends kind Love ~ I’ve been very well since my journey ~ W must send his how [indecipherable] do to you ~ pray my dear if it wont be too much trouble will you get me a hundred or too of Nedles I am almost out of sizeable ones ~ but I hear your Brother has very good very cheap [indecipherable] perhaps I can happily myself [indecipherable] present if you should have no convenient opportunity to send can tell you come home ~ but by the way I would not leave you in the Dark about [indecipherable] for nothing, the Lady is miss Anna Smith Should you a tho’t of it ~ they say John Cook drives on very fierce down street the Widow as to be sure the Widow to be sure. ~ but dont you think I had better go to bed as do to get up sometime in the fore-noon to-morrow good night

June 17. Saturday last night
This day your Welcome Brother called upon us he & James had been a stray herring & a pretty Basket of Strayberrys he had too ~ be sure I was the better for [indecipherable]. But my dear you must know he brought me something better than stray - I as you cant guess what, well well I’ll tel you twas a letter from a [indecipherable] absent but dear friend ~ ten thousand thanks my dear how much was it worth to me ~ you tell my being with Polly why really I never seen her but twice except Sundays since I came home she came here & [indecipherable] two days & one night the next week after & I’ve been there one day & thats all - so dont wonder if I have vapours I hope Mrs. Holebrook is better ~ But by the way your Brother told me some agreable News too ~ he told a waggon was to set out for Boston on Monday Morn so here I am forcibly to be sure to be ready ~ O the Doc’r has got a little fellow there as an apprentice Pol says to be in his own likeness she supposes - but I must not forget to tell you that [indecipherable] set out for Rhode Island with her Brother last week on wednesday very poorly she was taken very ill the week before but was a little better I believe some are fearful whether she will hold it back I tho’t by what Mrs Crouch said she feared a violent quick Consumption very horrible she told me ~ poor White they say Looks as if he no courage sunk into the earth poor man I heartily pity him & hope all will be for the best Well my dear if your patience held out to here now I have left done wishing well of you happy & returning my sincere thanks for all you kindness [indecipherable] kindness in getting the handler Alas, but very well must be ever acknowledged by yours [indecipherable]

Charlotte Phelps letters written which she was young -
For Miss Penelope Williams