This is one of my favorite letters from my dissertation research, a description of a Valentine’s party in Boston written February 19, 1837. It’s from Mary Minot, Jane’s cousin on her mother’s side, who was 26 at the time. Jane spent months at a time living with her Boston family, so the society mentioned here is familiar to her, especially George, William, and Frank, Mary’s three brothers. It’s a great source for learning about how young people socialized, how the celebration of this holiday developed, and even about introduction of the triangle into Boston society.1 But I always think about Jane, stuck in snowy Stockbridge, reading this letter about a party full of all of her friends that she couldn’t go to, just a few days after her own 16th birthday.
How much I wanted you & Fanny here the other day my dear Jenny we had a little party to celebrate St. Valentine’s eve—which went off with such eclat that I determined to sit down & write you an account of it, hoping it will be relished by one of your romantic tastes. The first idea of the party originated with George who had lately become quite intimate with an agreeable [group?] of young ladies—The Jacksons Channings &c—& wishing to make himself interesting in their eyes, he bethought himself of paying this tribute to their charms—We received great assistance in the decorations from Mrs. King, a friend of Mother’s who has been staying with us. She is a mighty learned lady from Cincinnati but was kindly disposed to descend from her sublime musings to sharpen a dart from Cupid’s bow & bury a heart in roses.2 You remember the large window in the back parlour—Against the shutter was printed in large Evergreen letters valentine—over this was placed Cupid’s bow trimmed with roses and the mischievous arrow—just ready to be discharged at a heart which was suspended between the folding doors. Another heart transpierced with the dart was placed opposite over the parlour table, & the walls were hung all around with evergreens & flowers. The company of course was small & select about 16 ladies & an equal number of gentlemen. Some of the girls were very pretty—among the prettiest were Miss Susan Jackson, Miss Dana (a niece of Mrs. Thorndike’s) Miss Mary Channing & Miss [Sohier?] Others were more distinguished for their mental charms. The beaus were none of them very distinguished except young Flagg the painter—who is quite a genius—he is the nephew of Mr. Allston. I must not omit to mention among the ladies Miss Bowditch who is a great favourite with all—Helen & myself played for them to dance & Frank accompanied us on the triangle, a new instrument which has lately been introduced into the family & is a great assistance in playing cotillions. It is simply two pieces of steel which are struck together at short intervals with a clear musical sound. It gives considerable animation as an accompaniment to the piano & can be played by anyone who has an accurate ear—about the Middle of the eve & the girls names were written on separate slips of paper rolled up & thrown into a basket & the gentlemen were all brought up “to the sound of slow music” to take their chance at a Valentine—After they had made their bow to the lady whom fate had bestowed on them – they all came to me again for their Valentine—which was a poetical effusion of two or three verses applicable to the peculiar charms of each lady—Most of these were original productions of Mother’s, with some assistance from Henry Davis—They were all appropriate and very pretty. & the girls as you may imagine were quite delighted—In addition to the Valentine, each gentleman brought a bouquet which he presented to his fair one & then devoted himself to her in the dance for the remainder of the eve. You have no idea what a pretty animated group they formed—Your friend James Coleman was here – his Valentine was Elizabeth Bryant, George’s was Miss Jackson – Wm’s was Barbara Channing & Frank’s Julia Bryant. They continued dancing in great spirits awhile 12 o’clock & winded up with a very good new ***** song of Helen’s about matrimonial advice to young men. The idea of the party was quite a new one and proved so successful that it is just now the engrossing topic of conversation among the rising beauxs and belles.
Selection from Mary Minot to Jane Minot Sedgwick II, 19 February 1831, Sedgwick Family Papers, Box 84, Folder 22, Massachusetts Historical Society. The associated image is from a piece of Valentine ephemera from the 1840s, available digitally through the Library of Congress.
- I guess? I never went down this particular rabbit hole so if someone knows more about this, leave a comment.
- Sarah Worthington King Peter, who Jane missed meeting at this Valentine’s party, would later convert to Catholicism as Jane did and become a good friend.