52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day! In the spirit of today, below is an image of a romantic letter received by my 2nd great grandmother, Jessie Preston Robinson, from an unknown sender in June 1893. She was 17 years old and had just graduated from Fogg High School in Nashville, Tennessee. Although the letter was not signed, Jessie presumably knew the identity of her secret admirer. At the end of the letter, he writes “Since ‘All the world loves a lover,’ I need not tell you who I am, but promise to be an earnest co-worker with you as I trust in you.”

Because she took the care to keep this letter, I assumed it was sent to her by her future husband, Thomas Robinson, who she knew at this point in her life. However, the following statement proved this theory incorrect: “when I recall my mother’s love story … with a man twenty-five years her senior, and could you realize her pride and gratitude – her eager confidence in superiority of age and attainment – you would feel strongly its blessed potency.”

Jessie’s soon to be husband was only three years older than her, and her admirer suggested that there was a significant age difference between them, like that between his mother and her husband. Therefore, the letter was written by someone other than Thomas. Unfortunately, that little anecdote is the only clue to his identity, and it is still a mystery!

Jessie Lois Preston Robinson in 1893, the year she received the love letter.

Throughout the letter, the admirer attempted to convince Jessie that any young lady should be very flattered to have attracted the attentions of an older man who had the means to take care of her. In his words, ” To have been loved nice truly and dearly by a great heart and expanded intellect has not been the happy destiny of many girls, perhaps greater than you or I.” He clearly thought quite highly of himself, and I do wonder if maybe Jessie thought him too full of himself, too old to be attractive to her, or a little bit of both. Even though she did not return his love and married someone else, she did keep the letter. Maybe she thought the letter was a sweet gesture or maybe it came from someone she liked, just not someone she could love.

I do not know how Jessie responded to this letter. Did she send one to him? Did she speak to him in person? It is fascinating to think how different her life would have been if she had decided to marry this older man instead of my great-great grandfather. Many details surrounding this letter have been lost, and I do not expect to ever discover the identity of the admirer. But it does provide an interesting insight into courtship, proposals, and romantic love in the late 19th-century!