|Date(s):||February 15, 1838|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
It was only one day after Valentine's Day, 1838, and twenty-one year old William Byrd was missing his future wife, Mariah Hawkins Massie. Away at Lagrange College in Franklin County, Alabama, it is possible that William had not seen Mariah in quite some time. Possibly being wrapped up in the spirit of the holiday, William sat down to write Mariah a letter. Already betrothed, William pleasured in the duty of writing this letter to his fiance, stating that words could not do justice to the love and affection he felt for her. Their absence from one another, to William, was both painful and pleasant as he knew that Mariah felt the same for him. He concluded the letter with hope that they would soon be reunited, gushing that it is truly flattering to my vanity that one so esteemed could love him so dearly.
This letter brings out the essence of true love in the marriages of southern spouses. For centuries, marriages had been about filial alliances and personal financial gain. During the years immediately preceding the Civil War, however, many couples in the South married out of true, mutual love as opposed to for economic efficiency. True love is evident as William poetically pours out admiration and desire for Mariah, both of whom have exchanged pledges of eternal love for one another.
Nevertheless, courtship between William and Mariah was still as structured and traditional as it had ever been. Eligible bachelors would have to prove to the bride's family that they were economically stable enough to be considered a suitable husband. Furthermore, even though William's letter dripped with affections, it was not in any manner physical or sexual. Unmarried couples could never proceed with any vaguely physical contact or sexual behavior. Lewd behavior could even foster criminal charges.
Even though William and Mariah were in love, they still would have to foster a functional marriage. As for Mariah, the role of the southern woman was not always that of the stereotypical southern belle. Women labored at a variety of domestic tasks, and Mariah would have to act as a crucial partner for William with large responsibilities in the absence of her husband. After their marriage later that same year, William and Mariah depended upon one another in a mutually beneficial partnership, founded on a sincere love.