William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
Amy Kirby Papers, 1824-1825
Rachel K. Onuf, May 1998
Amy Kirby papers
Post, Amy, b. 1802
The Amy Kirby (later Amy Kirby Post) collection consists of courtship letters written to Charles Willets describing their relationship as well as Kirby's life as a Quaker.
The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
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The collection is open to research.
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Amy Kirby Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.
Amy Kirby (later Amy Kirby Post) was the daughter of Jacob and Mary Seaman Kirby, who lived in Locust Grove, on Long Island. The family were longtime Quakers, and members of Jericho Monthly Meeting, well-known as the meeting of Elias Hicks (1748-1830). In 1827-1828 the Society of Friends would undergo their most severe schism, as the reformers, dubbed Hicksites after one of their leading spirits, split off from the Orthodox Friends. In Hicks' own monthly meeting, all but twelve of the 199 members would join the Hicksites. Amy referred to the much older Hicks as her "cousin," and like many of the Jericho Friends, they were related by marriage, if not by blood.
In 1824, Amy Kirby and her family traveled three hundred miles west to Skaneateles, in Onondaga County, New York. It is possible that they were visiting Amy's sister Hannah, who had married Isaac Post at Jericho MM in 1821, and removed to Skaneateles, where they were probably members of Scipio Monthly Meeting. While visiting, Amy either met or revived an acquaintance with Charles Willets, a Quaker man who had most likely been a member of Jericho before removing to the finger lakes region. He was probably the son of William Willets and his first wife, Latitita Valentine, members of Westbury MM, the meeting Jericho was set off from in 1789.
Upon her return home, Amy received a letter from Charles, in which he professed his love for her. This was the beginning of a candid epistolary courtship. Occasionally Amy addressed her letters to Isaac Post rather than Charles, in what was probably a feeble attempt to put the watchful townspeople off the scent of her blooming romance. Sadly, Charles Willets died in late May or early June of 1825, leaving Amy desolate. By 1828 she had recovered sufficiently to marry Isaac Post, her former brother-in-law. Her older sister Hannah had died, leaving at least one motherless child, for a daughter Mary had been born in 1823. Amy and Isaac Post either withdrew or were disowned from the Society of Friends in the mid-1840s. Radical reformers, they were active in the abolitionist movement, woman suffrage, and other burning issues of the day. The Posts were two of the first promoters and protectors of the controversial spiritualists, the Fox sisters. In 1852, Isaac, acting as a "writing medium," published Voices from the Spirit World, which included messages from George Fox and Elias Hicks.
Collection Scope and Content Note
Seven of these letters are courtship letters from Amy Kirby to Charles Willets, each one longer than the one before, until by the seventh, every page has cross-hatching. Her love for Charles developed over the course of the correspondence, and by her last letter, she wrote happily and assuredly about becoming his wife. The eighth, and final, letter is a beautiful testament of her love from Amy to Charles' parents after she had learned of her intended's death.
After having given Charles permission to initiate a correspondence while she was out visiting with Scipio friends, Amy's first letter appeared to indicate a change of heart. Although she admitted that she felt "what I may romantically call a pang at receiving" his declaration of love, she asked Charles to "dismiss me from thy remembrance without a sigh" (1824 March 9). She gave no satisfactory reason, and Charles refused to be put off. He proved himself capable of reading between the lines, and his next foray at least supplied an explanation -- however unsatisfactory. Amy confessed, "When I replyed to thy first, I did not think it prudent to announce a dedication of heart, without the knowledge of my parents -- as it was the most probable, the hand would next be required -- I therefore informed them, alone, with the circumstance, and found their approbation unattainable -- it still is and I trust ever will be -- and now Charles please, unreluctantly, relinquish the idea, for it is my duty to obey, and thine to submit" (1824 April 3). Amy went on to intimate that she felt strongly for Charles, but warned him, "think not that I intend by these acknowledgments to rekindle thy affection... I must bid adieu to thee forever..."
By the time Amy wrote again, in October, the situation had brightened, about as inextricably as it had shadowed over. Without the letters written by Charles it is difficult to deduct what the points of contention were. It appears that Amy doubted his sincerity somewhat, or else felt that she had to let Charles convince her of his sincerity for the course of a few months before she would allow herself to be persuaded of his honorable intentions. In any case, her parents no longer presented an obstacle, except that Amy could not bear the thought of parting from them or leaving Locust Grove. She handed her suitor a challenge: "therefore until thou canst teach me to believe, that Skaneateles is adjacent to Locust Grove, and that I can be happier, without parents than with, more comfortably separated from brothers and sisters, than together, and finally more happy with thee, than with anyone else, I can not I believe consent to become a Willets. . ." (1824 October 26).
He must have taught her, and quickly, for by the next spring, she was thawing: "Oh how often do I wish that the enduring ties of native home, would loose their power to charm, and then my heart, perhaps would dare to acknowledge that it gave thee the prefferance..." (1825 April 5). Amy was frank about her feelings for Charles, and stated, "I seam to think that what the hart dictates need not be repressed" (1825 January 30). In her last letter to him, she boldly shifted her focus to the physical realm: "the pressure of thy hand is indelibly stampt on my heart -- thou must never my dear C expose me or this to any one, I should blush to think that any one knew it but him to whom my hand is to be given. I fear I have written to warmly..." (1825 May 16).
The health of Charles, her family, and herself typically got a mention in Amy's letters. She put on weight, changing from 92 to 103 pounds, only to lose it all when she was confined with a cold for two weeks. She was concerned about Charles' cough, and recommended Anderson's drops. She took a molasses and butter mixture for her own sore throat. Amy also told Charles about what various Friends were up to socially, and speculated about which couples would next announce their engagements. His parents came to call on her, and she was relieved that they knew of their son's "prospect" and approved of his choice (1825 May 16).
Amy also wrote about some of the contention already surfacing amongst Quakers about their religious faith and practice. The theological disputes between reformers, led by Hicks, and the Orthodox Friends were further complicated by traveling Evangelical ministers from England, including Anna Braithwaite, who visited Hicks in January and March of 1824. Amy wrote to Charles, "it is likely you have heard of Anna Braithwaite's letter stating the antick notion doctrin professed by Elias Hicks and his reply, which is now published and to crown all Ann Shipley comes out with another printed letter affirming to the truth of A. B. statement after Elias had contradicted it, I think we grow worse and worse and what will be the end of this I know not but I believe the two women will tell more lies than one man..." (1824 October 26). The publication of Braithwaite's A letter from Anna Braithwaite to Elias Hicks on the nature of his doctrines (Philadelphia, printed for the reader, 1825) was the beginning of a pamphlet war between reformers and English Evangelicals that was still going on after the 1827-1828 separation.
When Braithwaite returned to America in 1825, Amy again expressed her own decided opinion: "O have the heard that Anna Braithwait is comeing again to America has got liberty of the monthly mg most folks are very sorry but for my part I am rather glad that she is comeing but I have little doubt but what she herself will be sorry for the truth apprehend will this time be told on her certificates" (1825 May 16). Apparently when Anna did arrive at Jericho in January of 1826 the meeting could not agree to endorse her traveling certificate as was customarily done, and finally it was just recorded as being received, without the typical approbation or the condemnation Amy had hoped for.
- Hicks, Elias, 1748-1830.
- Medicine--Formulae, receipts, prescriptions.
- Post, Isaac, 1798-1872.
- Quaker women.
- Quakers--New York.
- Quakers--Social Life and customs.
- Society of Friends--Controversial literature.
- Society of Friends--Customs and practices.
- Society of Friends--Hicksite separation.
- Society of Friends. Jericho Monthly Meeting.
- Women--New York.
Additional Descriptive Data
Isaac and Amy Post Papers at the University of Rochester.
Barbour, Hugh, et. al., eds. Quaker Crosscurrents : Three Hundred Years of Friends in the New York Yearly Meetings. (Syracuse, N.Y., 1995).
Hinshaw, William Wade. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, vol. 3. (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1940).
Ingle, H. Larry. Quakers in Conflict : the Hicksite Reformation. (Knoxville, Tenn., 1986).