This collection of Appleby family papers, which consists of approximately 327 items, documents the social life of rural Pennsylvania immediately after the Civil War as described by young people of marriageable age. In addition to documenting the re-entry into civil society of soldiers after the war, these papers show the writers' fascination and absorption with personal relationships, particularly with members of the opposite sex.
The courtship letters between Tom and Mattie comprise the majority of the collection (roughly 184 pieces). There are about twice as many letters from Tom as from Mattie; unfortunately, the two wrote many more letters not included in the collection and there are large holes in the correspondence. All of their letters date between 1866 and 1870. The other letters in the collection are nearly all directed to either Tom or Mattie. Other letters to Tom include courtship letters from Annie Kelly during the war; courtship letters from Mattie McKibbin slightly after the war; letters from his brother, Daniel C. Montague Appleby; letters from Mattie's sister Kate; official and business letters; wartime letters from his grandfather, Daniel Montague; and wartime support letters from various girlfriends and acquaintances. Other letters to Mattie include letters from her sisters Kate and Dutton; letters from her mother, Mary; and letters from her girlfriends.
Tom Appleby was a morally upstanding, attractive young man, so courtship and marriage played a large part in his life after the civil war. His first girlfriend, Annie Kelly, was younger than Mattie. She supported the war effort in theory, and hated "copperheads," but was terribly unhappy about Tom's decision to volunteer for the Union Army. She encouraged Tom not to serve again when his term was up: "I never want to see you going Drafted while there is any honorable way of getting away with it" (1865 April 8). Even before the war Tom's romantic interests were shifting to Mattie McKibbin, as evidenced by a letter from his brother Dan, which mentioned that Tom was escorting Miss McKibbin (August 27, 1862). On May 9, 1866, a disgruntled Annie wrote Tom, "it might perhaps be interesting for you to know that your humble friend is still in existence." Although unhappy, Annie accepted Tom's informal breaking of their courtship, and she did not write him again until 1868, when she gave the news that she had married David Willes on April 28.
Tom's second girlfriend, Mattie McKibbin, was wiser and probably older than Annie Kelly. Mattie turned down a suitor, "Frank," and her letters reveal the pressure on women to marry. Frank wanted to know, "how that old maid of McKibbin's is getting along," she wrote to Tom on February 14, 1866. "He (Frank) is the same man who less than one year ago went to tell McKibbin's favorite daughter that she was the very star of his existence and also wondered how I could refuse, or rather slight, the undivided love of a man of his years for the friendship of a boy." Mattie, who was older than Tom, felt awkward about her age, and was uncomfortable turning down the suitor, but obviously hoped that Tom would consider her for marriage. "Let him go about McKibbin's old maid I can bear it as bravely as he can his disappointment" (February 18, 1866).
Like Mattie McNeal, Mattie McKibbin taught school and wrote intelligent, thoughtful letters. When no marriage proposal came from Tom, Mattie McKibbin became jealous of Mattie McNeal. Mattie McNeal, on the other hand, could not believe that Tom was not seriously involved with Mattie McKibbin. Tom declared in one letter to Mattie McNeal that he was fed up with women in general and sarcastically concluded, "Oh but after all women are a good institution, and have good hearts (i.e. when they have any at all)" (November 26, 1867). In his letter of December 12, 1867, Tom tried more seriously to explain his relationship with Mattie McKibbin, stating that he felt they corresponded "as brother and sister." Mattie McKibbin set her sights elsewhere, and in January 1868 married a Mr. Lefferty, ending her somewhat tempestuous relationship with Tom. "I suppose Lefferty will not allow me to send letters about his house," Tom predicted (January 30, 1868).
Both Tom and Mattie McNeal felt a certain intellectual and moral superiority over some of their companions. Mattie turned down a date in Maryland because he was "as dumb as -- well a mule...I want somebody along who is intelligent" (October 28, 1866). Tom agreed with her, stating, "I know it is a pleasure indeed to talk to an intelligent, sensible lady, on subjects scientific or intellectual" (December 4, 1867). Tom felt that he should not allow his emotions to overwhelm his intellect, especially with love: "So I get in love, step by step and don't plunge head over heels in a day or week" (November 5, 1867). Additionally, Tom did not believe he should have more than one girlfriend while in a serious courtship: "That where there is an engagement; or an intention to bring on an engagement; that it is unwise and impolitic to receive the attentions of another" (January 12, 1868). Mattie agreed with Tom's caution against yielding to the emotions of love: "Hope neither of us may love an imaginary being of our own fancy, but each other as we are, with many faults and failings" (July 25, 1869). Mattie even considered being nicknamed "Miss Modesty" a compliment (January 4, 1868).
The two young adults focused more on morality as they became involved in evangelical Christianity. Both Tom and Mattie were Presbyterians, though Tom often went to Methodist services. Mattie once went to an immersion baptism ceremony, although she was not sure what she should make of the ritual: "I though it was quite gay to see the gentlemen dive under, but when it came to the ladies it made me shudder" (December 8, 1866). Both Mattie and Tom decided they wanted to make a public declaration of their faith in Christ. "The greatest desire of my heart is that I may love and serve God acceptably," Tom wrote Mattie (January 5, 1868). Mattie agreed, but showed a considerable amount of self-deprecation, stating, "I do so much want to be a Christian, a child of God but I am so sinful, so unworthy, and deserving only God's wrath and curse" (June 4, 1868). Tom, too, felt that he was lacking in goodness, but both persisted in their religious search, with guidance from the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Shade Gap, Mr. W.C. Kuhn.
If Tom was unhappy about his own impure thoughts and actions, he was doubly unhappy about his brother, Daniel. Dan was in many ways Tom's opposite. He was frivolous and carefree. While in the army, he wrote, "I have one or two sporting women, but I want one of respectability to go to church with" (March 24, 1865). He signed some of his letters "Blossom." Dan retained his wild ways while working with Tom in the dry goods store in Mount Union.
Both Mattie and Tom disapproved of Dan's behavior. As Tom experienced his religious revival and Dan became more seriously involved with his cousin Allie, Tom's disapproval grew: "I fear his precepts have not always been the most wholesome. He seems restrained by nothing save the restraints of society, and these he violates behind the curtains" (February 16, 1868). Allie's mother disapproved of their relationship, so Dan and Allie arranged "clandestine meetings." In her letter to Tom on April 10, 1869, Mattie was impressed and almost jealous of the disobedient behavior of Dan and Allie: "Dan and Jim brought them [Kate and Allie] home the old lady never dreaming that Dan was within 300 miles of her daughter. ha! ha!" Yet in her next letter, possibly because she was rebuked by Tom, Mattie wrote, "I don't approve any more of Allie's style than I do of Dan's" (April 14, 1869). In May 1869, Dan eloped with Allie, heading west to Quincy, Illinois. The last letter from Dan (January 21, 1870) described how he developed close business contacts and personal friendships with the Jewish community.
Early in their letters Tom and Mattie discussed politics frequently, although they were rarely in agreement. Tom was a moderate Republican while Mattie was more conservative, although she supported the Civil War. When she was invited to represent republican interests in Rohrersville, Maryland, she declined. "I think they are radicalized," she wrote Tom on October 13, 1866, "I see negro equality exemplified very often, last Sabbath I saw a white man walking beside the blackest negro I ever saw. Suppose he was an abolitionist." The Civil War was discussed infrequently, with emphasis being on the effects of war and not on battles. Tom's heart went out to the mothers who lost their sons in the war: "It is indeed a sacrifice to give an only son to one's county" (December 22, 1867).
Other topics they discussed were Tom's business and Mattie's school teaching, but they particularly enjoyed discussing their relationships and the relationships of other people. In their letters before 1868, Tom and Mattie write to each other in a teasing, somewhat guarded fashion. "I should like to say 'good evening Mattie' have a hand shake and just one sweet kiss. Of course I wouldn't get the latter," Tom wrote to Mattie on March 13, 1867. As they grew more at ease with each other, their letters became less guarded and more affectionate. Throughout their correspondence, Mattie never feared to speak her mind, and tended to be more forthright than Tom. When Tom offended her in his description of human nature, Mattie fired back at him, "Men do well term all their weaknesses 'woman like,' when women would scorn to employ their minds for a moment with the narrow thoughts that men confine themselves to, not speaking of their degrading habits and vulgar speeches" (January 4, 1870).
Mattie even felt free to ponder the differences between married and single life: "I often wonder which is happier, an independent maiden, or a loving and loved wife. But guess Paul is about right, in his conclusion that those who marry do well , but those who remain single do better" (September 12, 1868). Despite her conclusion, she did long to marry Tom, and began to get impatient. When giving Tom her birth date, she complained it was "enough to shock the nerves of a delicate, sensitive spinster" (April 10, 1869). Mattie brought up the words "spinster" and "old maid" frequently after she turned 26. Mattie's illness in 1869-1870 delayed their wedding, and at one point Tom was concerned that she would never recover. When she did recover, both looked forward to the happy date, although they tried to treat it with the seriousness they felt it deserved.
Mattie's sisters, Kate and Dutton, who wrote to Mattie while she was away teaching, offered their own views on marriage. Dutton, Mattie's senior by six years, was increasingly concerned with her single status. "I think on the whole an old maid is to be pittied, but instead of pity they may expect the sneers and jeers of the more favored ones" (January 7, 1869). Kate, on the other hand, felt perfectly happy with her single status, and found suitors to be a nuisance. In one letter to Mattie [late 1867], she wrote that she had a "Drake" to keep her company, but also wrote, "I do not care for him at all ... but some of the folks think we are deep in love and I make them believe so all I can. I don't care I am going to leave this neck of the woods soon not to return." When Dutton, in a shared letter with Kate, wrote that she wished that "some sensible man" would court her or Kate, like Tom courted Mattie, Kate disagreed: "Now I for my part do not want any of the low-lifed creatures that call themselves: Lord's of Creation. Pretty Lords indeed! Staying out nights until 12 o clock and then coming home to abuse there poor neglected wives" [October 1868].
Some time after Mattie's marriage, Dutton married James Elliot Harper. Kate, of course, remained single and did not leave Shade Gap as she had hoped. Before Mattie's death, she and Tom were friendly, exchanging letters and even visits, so it was natural for Tom to turn to Kate when seeking a second wife and mother for his children. The letters unfortunately provide scant information about Mattie's death or Kate's marriage to Tom.