Courtship and Marriage
Mr. Crawford was in Richmond at the time Mr. Teague's letter, given above, reached Dr. Taylor. As a result of some conversation between them on the advisability of marriage before entering the missionary life, the letter was shown him. He read it carefully and was so impressed that he took a copy of it. He had long before made up his mind that the woman who should accompany a man in such an enterprise should do so not merely for his sake, but also for love of the work itself. The letter seemed to promise a fulfillment of this ideal.
On his way back to Tennessee he revolved in his mind many plans for forming the acquaintance of the young lady mentioned, and finally decided to go in person to Warsaw, Alabama, and see Mr. Teague. There was then no railroad communication between Tennessee and central Alabama. The rivers were swollen from continued rain, and traveling by stage coach was difficult and uncertain. He started in February, 1851, on horseback — a mode of traveling much more common then than now. After several days' journey he stopped one afternoon at a blacksmith's shop near a country church. Of a negro, who was at work in the shop, he asked, "What church is this, Uncle?" The negro, who was shoeing his horse, replied, "A Baptist church, sir." "Who is the principle member, and where does he live?" "Mars Jack Bealle, sir, and he lives a little further on."
He went at once to Mr. Jack Bealle, who was, as he afterwards learned, an uncle by marriage of the young lady he sought. He received cordial hospitality, and while he and the host were partaking of refreshments embraced the opportunity to make enquiries in regard to Mr. Teague's residence and the places at which he preached. Mr. Bealle could tell him nothing, except that Mr. Teague lived at Warsaw, and recommended ended that he seek information at the home of Mr. John S. Bealle, whose adopted daughter Mr. Teague had married. It was nearly dark, when after a journey of nearly fourteen miles over a very rough road, Mr.
Crawford reached the place. On account of serious illness in the family he was advised to go half a mile back to Mrs. Ann Foster's, who, he was assured, could tell him what he wished to know about Mr. Teague. Mrs. Ann Foster, widow of Robert S. Foster, and her daughter, Miss Cornelia, were at home. Here he was, though an utter stranger, hospitably entertained. Mr. Teague and the places where he preached were the theme of conversation. Clinton was mentioned and the schools there discussed. Mrs. Foster told him there were two schools in that village, one of them taught by her niece, Miss Foster. Mr. Crawford remembered that Mr. Teague in his letter to Dr. Taylor had referred to the lady as Miss F., the F. being followed by five stars, and immediately recognized that the name Foster would correspond. He also learned that Clinton was twenty-three or twenty-four miles distant — that Miss Foster's father lived east of the Black Warrior river at Carthage, and that the river could not then be crossed safely (for there were no steam ferryboats there in those days); also that the Tombigbee river on the west, between him and Warsaw, was likewise impassable. He was between the two rivers, so was Clinton, and so was the young teacher. He slept but little that night, his brain being busy with plans for making her acquaintance, for it was now apparent that this could not be done through Mr. Teague, as he first purposed, without waiting for the waters to subside.
Next morning Mrs. Foster asked him if he were not a minister, and on his departure sent her love to her niece, who, she said, was at the hotel of Mr. W. W. Paschall, a prominent Baptist. "Tell Miss Foster I have lately heard from her father's family and they are all well." This commission was eagerly accepted as affording an opportunity for making the acquaintance he sought, thus solving the problem which had caused him so much anxious study during the previous night. It was February 16, 1851. Mrs. Paschall that evening told the young lady that a Mr. Crawford had called during the afternoon, stating that he was an agent of the Foreign Mission Board. He had come to see Mr. Paschall, but not finding him at home would call again after supper. The fact that he was in any Way connected with the Foreign Mission Board immediately excited her interest. Later while in her room writing, she received a message that Mr. Crawford had called and desired to see her. He delivered her aunt's message, and then their conversation naturally turned to missions. Judson's recent death was mentioned; Goodale had died soon after reaching Africa; Bowen had just been heard from. Later, in order to draw out her plans, he spoke of the
Brownsville young Ladies' Institute in Tennessee, stating carefully, however, that he had not been commissioned to make enquiries, but would she be willing to teach permanently? "She might," he said, "consider the matter and let him know tomorrow; or would that be too far from home?" "Home is where duty is" she replied. "Those are exactly my sentiments," responded Mr. Crawford.
She further said, "I need not defer the answer to that question for tomorrow. I am unwilling to engage to teach permanently, having decided to become a foreign missionary."
Mr. Crawford had not yet told any one in Alabama of his appointment by the Board, or that he designed becoming a missionary. She thought he was an agent for the Foreign Mission Board for the purpose of interesting the churches in missions and to receive contributions; as indeed he was, temporarily. She proceeded to tell him that Mr. Teague had written the Secretary in her behalf, and that Dr. Taylor had replied encouragingly.
With characteristic dispatch, seeing now no other excuse he could give for asking a second interview, be said: "I was in Richmond when Mr. Teague's letter arrived; I have a copy of it with me, and have come expressly to see you in regard to the matter. I have been accepted as a missionary to China, both by the Big Hatchie Association and the Foreign Mission Board."
Mrs. Paschall was present during this entire conversation. Promising to call again next day, he requested Mr. Paschall to walk out on the veranda with him, where he told him his whole circumstances and plans. He left, after accepting for the next day Mr. Paschall's invitation to make his house his home while in Clinton.
It is needless to attempt a description of the excitement in the village of Clinton, and in the circle of the young school teacher, during the few days following. After several interviews, they decided to go by steamboat to the home of Miss Foster's parents, and submit to them a proposition of marriage. Her two younger sisters, who were in school under her tuition, and Mr. Paschall accompanied them. The party boarded a steamer at the Eutaw landing and reached Carthage the next day.
The parents were both absent from the house when they arrived, but Mr. Paschall, walking out, soon found the father and told him the reason for their coming. The father was astounded and his feelings past description. The mother's first impulse said, "It shall never be." Miss Foster told her parents, with deep feeling, that she had come to submit to them the question of her marrying Mr.
Crawford, but not that of her becoming a missionary. That question was not for mortal to decide; God had commanded, and sooner or later she must go.
The newspapers, announcing Mr. Crawford's appointment as missionary, had not yet reached Alabama, a very delicate question presented itself to parents. The father thus stated the matter: "How do I know who this man is, or what he is?" Several days of agony were passed; even the daughter not then fully realize her father's position or appreciate the anxiety he must have felt. Here was strange young man, asking for his daughter in marriage with not a single reference, not one acquaintance! Most men would have said "No!" and have attempted to put a stop to the matter. Not so her dear father, who knew her mind had long been the foreign field, "lest," as he said, "I should be fighting against God."
The parents, the daughter and Mr. Crawford went city of Tuscaloosa, to the home of Judge Arthur the last remaining brother of her father, to spend a few days and advise with him. The father conferred with the late Dr. Basil Manley, Sr., president of the University of Alabama. Dr. Manley, after examining her closely on her exercises of mind in regard to the missionary work, gave it as his opinion that she was guided by the Holy Spirit — that her call was from God. Also he advised that the two questions, of becoming a missionary and of marrying Mr. Crawford, should be kept distinct, and settled separately. He had received a letter from his son, Basil Manley, Jr., who then lived in Richmond, and was a member of the Foreign Mission Board, stating Mr. Crawford's appointment and other things in his favor. Judge Foster gave the parents and daughter good counsel. It was finally decided to leave the question of marriage to the decision of the young couple themselves. They had not yet gained their own consent. Their first impressions of each other had been favorable, but the storms of anguish on one side and of anxiety on the other had so completely occupied their thoughts that they had none left to cultivate other feelings. "Grief and excitement," she said, "had benumbed her physically and mentally."
After the decision of her parents, referred to above, she and Mr. Crawford had a long conversation, continuing until midnight. Both seemed dissatisfied with the state of affairs, yet hardly knew how to express this dissatisfaction. They talked all around this subject of so great moment several times, when at last, he, with his straightforward candor, said, "The short of it is, we do not love each other, and ought not to marry. We are sorely tempted to make
a business matter of it and marry, because it is now expected of us, and all eyes are upon us. But we must not thus lightly wreck our future happiness." This so agreed with the feelings she had been trying to get courage to express that she heartily assented. After a great deal of discussion as to the basis of marriage, and the wrong and misery where love does not exist, they agreed not to marry. Mr. Crawford felt he had resisted the temptation and done the honorable thing. His mind was relieved, and next morning he was himself again. He communicated this decision to her parents, and they returned home with their daughter, while he remained a few days longer in the home of Dr. Manley in Tuscaloosa.
Her mind needed rest after the ten days of intense grief and anxiety it had undergone. She became calm and turned her thoughts toward resuming her school in Clinton. Miss Maxwell had taken it temporarily, and the two younger sisters had returned with Mr. Paschall. For a few days she enjoyed thorough quiet, so that, by the time Mr. Crawford came from Tuscaloosa, she had regained her normal state. They then took up the question under different auspices, free from embarrassments. She says, "I prayed most earnestly for divine guidance, and have always believed it was given."
After much talking, they mutually decided that there was no impediment to their marriage; that is, that there were no regrets in other quarters and no personal objections; that there was a beginning of mutual attachment, which must be developed in the future. It would, perhaps, have been easier for them had they had more time to cultivate this love before marriage, but it was thought there were cogent reasons for a speedy marriage. Messrs. Crawford, Burton, Cabaniss and Whilden were to be set apart at the approaching biennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, to be held at Nashville in May. As he was to be supported by the churches composing the Big Hatchie Association, Mr. Crawford was anxious that his wife should see the members of these churches and that they should see her; also that they both might be present at the Convention in Nashville. He appreciated far better then than she the importance of her becoming somewhat acquainted with Southern Baptists through their leading men. Certainly her hold upon, and interest in, the denomination would have been far less had she gone direct from her quiet home to China instead of visiting these bodies as she did.
No time then was to be lost in the matter of marriage, and they agreed that as they had so little opportunity for courtship before
marriage, that it should continue through life. Nearing the close of life she feels that this resolution was kept, and secured to them more than the ordinary share of wedded happiness. Their minds were cast in entirely dissimilar molds and were very differently trained. He was original and eminently progressive, while she was decidedly conservative; he quick (not quick-tempered but, on the contrary, though quick in manners, was unusually cool-tempered and just under all provocations) and nervous, while she was slow and contemplative. With these opposite temperaments, it may be easily perceived that the course they pursued would be more apt to bring them happiness than if they had been madly in love, and married with expectation that happiness would come of itself. To his maturer judgment the result was largely due. He was twenty-nine years old and she was twenty-one.
It was during a walk one afternoon, after Mr. Crawford's return from Tuscaloosa, that they settled the matter. There was a school-house about half a mile distant, and they had gone in that direction. In this schoolhouse the words were spoken, and an earnest prayer was offered for God's blessing. It was dark when they reached home, and as several members of the family were present, nothing was said of the matter for sometime.
After supper, as the family were engaged in evening worship, all were surprised by the arrival of an absent son. This was John A. Foster, afterwards Chancellor of the Southern District of Alabama. He was then teaching school at Crawford, Mississippi, and had come over to Clinton, partly on business and partly to see his sisters. There, learning the astounding news that the eldest of the sisters had left for home with the intention of going to China, he was so eager to hurry on to his father's to stop this madness that he had traveled a day's journey after dinner. Immediately after prayers, Crawford retired, and John A. Foster spoke, almost the first time since his "Is it true, Sister Martha, that you mean to marry this man and go to China?" he asked, with intense emotion. "It is true," she replied.
Her parents thus first heard of the final decision of the young couple. Her father looked at her and asked, "You have so decided, then?" "Yes," she said, "late this afternoon."
Her heart seemed almost breaking, but she dared not shed a tear or give way to a sob, as she felt that such would so unnerve her that she could not bear up through the trials that were before her.
Her brother denounced the scheme as madness, and thought duty to her parents ought to restrain her. "There are higher duties
that impel me to go," she replied. He would not admit these "higher duties," and thought the father ought to prevent her by force, just as he would if he saw her put a knife to her throat for suicide. It was all new to him. He did not know the mental preparation through which she had been going for more than a year. He thought this stranger had come along and a sudden romantic fancy was taking his sister off. He returned to his school next day calmer, but not satisfied. Indeed, it was many years before he could tell her that he was reconciled to her being a missionary.
The next week was one of agony. Tears met her on every side, yet she must not weep. At night her pillow would be wet with the overflowing drops; the fountain she dared not touch. Her father expressed surprise at her absence of deep grief, while their hearts were breaking. Her reply was, "O, if you knew the anguish that is rending me you would not think it too little. It is too deep for tears, sighs or words. I dare not give way to it for a moment."
She was taking a step purely, simply, in faith, and believed without the shadow of a doubt that she was guided by the divine hand. Never for one moment did she falter. Not once was she tempted to doubt that God was thus calling her in both these steps. Otherwise surely her strength would not have been sufficient.
On March 12, 1851, one week from their engagement, they were married at her home soon after breakfast by Dr. Basil Man-ley, Sr. Mr. Elbert Norris and his wife, who was a cousin of the bride, and a few others, were present at the marriage. During the ceremony there were sobs all around. Dr. Manley wept, and tears streamed down the cheeks of the bride, but these were only the overflow. She long remembered much of the good man's talk, for the ceremony was mainly a familiar, loving talk. They accompanied Dr. Manley home to Tuscaloosa for the night. Next day in Foster's Settlement they met a few of the bride's relatives at her elder sister's and then left the neighborhood, going to Mobile and New Orleans by water. Thus far they had the company of her cousin, Rev. Joshua H. Foster, who had business matters in Louisiana.
In New Orleans the bride, for the first time, met one of her husband's friends. This was Rev. Peter S. Gale, of Memphis, a leading member of the Big Hatchie Association. Mr. Crawford had lived in his home for a year or more, and they were strongly attached to each other. He had learned in Mobile that Mr. Gale was in New Orleans, and after a long search they finally met in Mr. Crawford's hotel. His warm greeting to Mrs. Crawford,
"Welcome, my sister, as our missionary," and his gentle, loving voice won her instantly. Several days were spent pleasantly in that city, when they left on a steamer for Memphis. In conversation, Mr. Crawford remarked to Mr. Gale, "My marriage, altogether, has been rather peculiar."
"Otherwise it would not be like my brother Crawford," was the smiling reply.
In Memphis they met a number of Mr. Crawford's friends. They had heard nothing of him from the time he went to Richmond to see the Board until they received letters from him announcing the astonishing news of his marriage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Of course all were anxious to know how he made the acquaintance of his wife, and the romantic story must be gone over as each newcomer's curiosity demanded. All were strangers to her, yet she received nothing but kindness and friendly interest.
The six weeks spent in the bounds of the Big Hatchie Association were pleasant, and she ever remembered with gratitude many tokens of sincere attachment. In May they went to Nashville to he present at the Southern Baptist Convention. Then a few days were spent in Murfreesboro where they met a number of Mr. Crawford's fellow students, and where Mrs. Crawford for the first time met Dr. Burton who was to be their fellow-laborer in China.
Go to Chapter 5
[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909, chapter 4; reprinted and reformatted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. - jrd]
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