Beware, O My Child

In 1812, sixteen year old Phebe Beach was in Fryeburg, Maine, far from her family in Canaan, Vermont. She lived with an aunt and uncle while she attended school at Fryeburg Academy. In later years, she married Joseph Palmer Fessenden of Fryeburg, and she lived her life as a pastor’s wife.

Phebe Beach Fessenden
Phebe Beach Fessenden Photo courtesy of Bridgton Historical Society


Her father, Samuel Beach Sr., concerned for his young daughter so far away from him, sent several instructional letters to her, including this excerpt where he warns her of the dangers of men who might be less than honorable in their attentions.

It remains a strong testament to the love of a father for his daughter, and a father’s fierce protective instincts.

September 6, 1812

O my dear child, I suppose you are surrounded with friends. You have a tender and loving aunt, a kind and affectionate uncle, who will, we have no doubt, do every thing they can for your good. You have, no doubt, pleasant and agreeable neighbours who will respect you. You live in a fine house in a pleasant village surrounded with harvest fields and pleasant meadows. All is lovely and gay.

Your little soul has not yet been stung. Your lucid eyes have not yet seen what I am about to tell you, that there are holes and dens in Fryeburg, too. Devils and angry dragons inhabit them. Vipers and adders live there. O, beware my little child. Beware lest they fall upon you and devour you. There are wolves too that wear sheep’s clothing. They will approach you unawares. You will think that they are lambs. They will fawn ‘round you with false prettiness, with flattering words of wily lies.

Beware, o my child. Beware. Satan, you recollect, beguiled Eve. You, too, may be deceived. Their wool which looks so sleek and smooth is all dogs’ hair. Their words are barbed darts. They have stings about them which will pierce your heart and leave mortal wounds. Such, my child, is wicked man, and worse too if it could be described.

It may have seemed to you that your parents have wanted to keep them from you—but their knowledge and experience in life hath taught them to be alarmed for you. We are alarmed. We tremble lest you should fall a prey to the wickedness of man. We want to have you remember us and take care of yourself for us. You must not forget to be always at home with your aunt at all times when the sun is set.

You perhaps have thought us a little hard at our opposing your going to balls and places of gaiety and amusement. We would explain ourselves. The company has never been an objection with us, but it is the time they occupy, the night. We have been afraid to have you out of our sight in the dark lest some beast of prey should fall upon you and devour you.

We have no objection to your going to respectable balls in the day time but it must always be understood that you are to be returned to your aunt by sunset. This is my command, and should anybody attempt to persuade you to break it, you must like a little woman expostulate with them. You must tell them that you have the commands of a father upon you which you cannot, you dare not, and that you will not disobey.

If you cannot prevail upon your partner by soft and generous expostulations, and by informing him whomever he may be that it is the solemn injunctions of a father’s command that you wish to obey—you must apply to some respectable young lady and make known your situation to her and request her to intercede with some gentleman to conduct you home and never be catched in company again with a man who would compel you to break your father’s commands. Such men are your enemies.

Again, Phebe, I tell you beware of that man who wishes to pursue his affections any farther than will prove for your honor. You must let such ministers of corruption understand that you are not at liberty to receive a dishonorable proposition from any man. Reflect for a moment with me, Phebe, on this case. See if I am correct. Would you suppose that any person had a design upon your life, you would flee them as you would a serpent, and be assured that that person under whatever pretense who wishes to rob you of your honor is worse than a murderer. Better would that wretch serve you and me and my family should he pierce your heart with a sword than to commit a depredation upon your chastity.

I have dealt plain and familiarly with you, Phebe. I think you cannot mistake me.

[From the Joseph and Phebe Beach Fessenden Collection at Bowdoin College.]

Caroline Grimm is the author of the Voices of Pondicherry  series which features Reverend and Mrs. Fessenden’s lives, and their efforts to bring about the abolition of slavery.

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