EARLY COURTSHIP (Jan. 8, 1853-Mar.1854)

At this point in his life, William Hill had two things on his mind - - Mary Carnes and a career in Law. The former was by far the most pressing. On January 8, 1853, he wrote her a letter. In spite of the brevity and subtlety of his letter, Mary understood fully the depth of his feelings for her and, on January 10, posted a not too encouraging reply. Nevertheless, their correspondence continued for the next year. Unfortunately, only one other letter written during this period survived. It, however, is a masterpiece.


White Co. Tenn. Jan. 8, 1853

Dear Miss Mary,

I trouble you with a few lines. And first I must ask you not to regard the manner in which they are done up as in any way emblematical. An intercourse of some kind with you has been for some time desired by me. I would greatly prefer a verbal, but as it is not convenient, I have taken this method of saying a few words to you. I have but a few things to say. You already have my mind to a great degree. Already I have passed the bounds of modesty, having so little assurance of your regard. I must hold on until I receive something from you. If there is any thing about which you wish to inquire, mention it. If it is required, I will gladly disclose the contents of my mind and heart too. I have had some serious thoughts about matters and things since I saw you. I deem it not proper to say anything more just now.

Yours truly

W.J. Hill

If you will you may direct your letters to W.J. Collis , Cove P.O., so that they may come in disguise.


Burritt College Jan. 10, 1853

Mr. Hill,

Your letter came duly to hand, and as I consider promptness in such matters requisite, I hasten to reply. I think the affair under consideration one of serious moment - perhaps involving much happiness if entered into without seriously, candidly and conscientiously resolving and weighing every point belonging to it. We may think we know each other thoroughly and be mistaken. You and I have had very little intercourse - far too little to make a decision of this kind. Meeting as we have, only seldom except in the school room, we are almost wholely ignorant of each others tastes, feelings, sentiments and intentions. Now suppose, on further acquaintance, these should prove to be wholly dissimilar - would a union be productive of happiness? Our temperments are certainly very different, and if other things should be as much so - might not the feeling with which you now regard me be changed into disgust and insufference?

These things all deserve consideration. I hope you will not think me too cautious. I am candid and wish to deliberate before I decide. In the meantime I remain

Your sincere friend,



Burritt College Aug. 1, 1853.

Mr. Hill,

I received your letter yesterday and have been thinking considerably of its subject since. I scarcely know what to say in reply. While my feelings whisper to me to accept your offer, my judgement assures me the duties and responsibilities devolving upon the companion of a lawyer, are far too numerous and too onerous for me to meet incompetent as I am.

I have been intimately acquainted with several families the head of which were lawyers, and they all fall very far short of my idea of either usefulness or happiness - the two greatest motives in life. Do not understand me to be asking you to relinquish any purpose you may have formed for my sake. You doubtless have good and valid reasons for such a determination as you have formed. A man of your sense and christian principle never acts without a motive for good. If you attend to your profession, so as to make it lucrative and honorable, you will necessarily be always from home, which will detract very much from its pleasures; and more, all the care and management of home affairs will devolve upon your companion. Some women, indeed can, and do fill such a place, but I dare not undertake so large a work, unassisted - -almost unadvised.

Justice to you, and the avowels you have made so complimentary to me, require that I should say, I entertain a higher regard for you than any other man who has ever addressed me. I shall ever feel an interest in your welfare, such as I would not have felt, had circumstances been different. I shall ever be rejoiced to hear of your prosperity and happiness.

Perhaps, I have done wrong in keeping you so long in suspense without expressing more of my own feelings; but I did not wish to cherish feelings and license hopes, which I was not sure could be realized. If you have at any time felt that I have acted thus you will attribute it to a pure motive on my part.

As to the matter of which you spoke in your letter to it, father's being offended at you, I assure you there is nothing of it. He was displeased with the conduct of some on that occasion, from which that report originated, no doubt. You may perhaps deem it unnecessary to say any thing more on this subject, from what I have here stated but I will be anxious to hear how you started off in your new employment. If you should write again, and cannot conveniently have your letter mailed at another office than Smithville (which I would prefer) you may direct them to father - he knows we are corresponding, and this will avoid all unnecessary talk.

We are moving on as usual - have over eighty students, and new ones are coming in daily. I fear we will be crowded again. It is quite late. Good night.

Ever your friend


To continue, go to PLANS FOR MARRIAGE (Mar. 1854-Jul. 1854)

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