Love in the 1890s - February 2016

PRONI’s documents of the month for February have a love theme in honour of St Valentine’s Day.

Romantic correspondence to Anne Weir, from Edenclaw, Co Fermanagh, shows a young woman who had a number of American suitors in the late 1800s.

Janet Hancock, PRONI, who choose the documents said: “As this is the month of love, a number of letters particularly stood out. One is from a Caleb Jackson who lives in Birmingham, Michigan, to Anne and it shows how their feelings towards one another have changed over the years.

“In this letter, Caleb states '...I think I know nearly what your feelings were towards me in the past, whether they have changed or not I do not know. But I do know that mine have towards you, for I have learned to appreciate sense and sincerity better than I used to’. He goes on to ask for permission to correspond with Anne ‘if you have no other gentleman friend of whom you think more highly’.”   

Love in the 1890s - Document of the month February 2016 1
Love in the 1890s - Weir Papers
Caleb had competition for Anne’s affections, however, as there are similar letters from a William J Weir, another American who refers to Anne as ‘Dear Cousin’.

Janet said: “William J Weir’s romantic intentions become increasingly pronounced in his writings, and eventually lead to a proposition of marriage. This proposal was clearly taken seriously, as a draft response is the sole item of correspondence written by Anne in the archive. However, she declined.”

Undeterred, William continued to write to Anne until she returned to Fermanagh in the summer of 1892. Anne remained in Ireland after this visit and, in the end, chose neither of her admirers in America. She went on to marry a local man by the name of John Weir (who shared her surname but was no relation). Her elder sister, Isabella, married and made a home in America.

Janet added: “While it might seem old fashioned, in the days of the internet and dating apps, love letters were one of the few ways of wooing a potential partner in the late 1800s. Relationships took place across continents, and over weeks and months. Carefully written letters, rather than texts or instant messages, were the main form of communication. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, those which survive in the PRONI archives provide a valuable and personal insight into people’s lives.”

The letters are taken from the Weir papers, 350 letters and family documents, dating from 1885 to 1933. The Weir family were farmers in the town land of Edenclaw. The two eldest daughters, Isabella and Anne, emigrated to America in 1885 where they worked for their uncle in Michigan before parting company to work independently elsewhere. The majority of the archive is made up of letters, most addressed to Anne from friends and family at home, and from her sister and other acquaintances in America.

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