|1796 Map of the area around Boscawen, N.H. where this love story took place|
The Love Story of Betsey and Edward – [taken from Genealogy of the Corser Family by S.B.G. Corser, 1902, p. 213-222
Introductory Letter from Rev. Enoch Corser to Samuel Bartlett Gerrish Corser
Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 15, 1901
There is an unwritten romance, of which I am the present custodian, pertaining to the lives of two of our family, in days following the birth of our nation. It is in my thought, so tender and sacred a glimpse of a most pathetic tragedy, that I have hesitated to make public the old manuscripts, which in October 1864, after the death of my grandmother, Mrs. Judith Burbank Corser (wife of David Corser, Jr.), came into my possession. She had at her death been for nearly sixty years the custodian of the sad story. I give you copies of the two letters of Edward and Betsey Corser, the latter only a fragment, together with that part of the story which is told in the endorsements, attached to the letters, written in 1806 by Mrs. Sarah Gerald Corser (Edward Corser’s mother), and the full story written in 1820 by David Corser.
It seems to me now, that, as all those who were actors in, or had personal or contemporary knowledge of, this romance and tragedy of those days long since passed, are no longer living, this story of our cousins of those early days may properly be told and may interest others of our name, as it has interested the writer.
Elwood S. Corser
p.s. I have in many instances modernized the quaint spelling, and in some instances slightly changed the form of expression, but never changed the thought. –E. S. C.
Letter of Edward Corser to Betsey Corser (his first cousin)
Boscawen, N.H., Feb. 26, 1795
Dear Cousin Bess,
I shall on your 18th birthday send to you the little gift which during ten years past has been my usual remembrance, ever since you were a sweet little girl of barely eight years, and then you were glad when I lifted you up to receive the kiss which I was permitted to give to you, and to receive a return in like from “My Little Sweetheart.”
How well I can recall those years, when I used to have you constantly with me in the house, or garden, in the barn or the fields, and even in long tramps in the woods for flowers in the spring, and for nuts in the autumn. In those days you were broken-hearted when I shot the squirrels as they were carrying home the beech nuts to their “wives and babies,” as you always assured me.
In those days we used to sit for hours together, while I told you of the battles of the war for liberty, which had been won by the colonists, poor and ragged, and ill supplied, pitted against the scarlet-coated British, and their hired Hessian allies. Then you would listen with wide opened eyes when I spoke of the brave General Warren at Bunker Hill, and the gallant Stark at Bennington. I am certain that I gave you to understand that the result at Bunker Hill depended very much upon the valor of my father, “Corporal Corser,” and we had some doubt whether he was not really high in command. Then you always came in with the exploits of your father David at Bennington, and how the Hessians “bellowed” when the Yankee riflemen poured their fire into their ranks. I can remember that we had in those years no name for the Hessians but “Dutchmen.”
It has come about indeed very naturally, that I have always loved my sweet cousin and “little sweetheart,” but I knew but little of this until, as you grew to be a tall girl of sixteen and no longer had kisses to give, nor would receive mine except when you were home and with your mother near; and especially when in the singing school, and the church, your voice was so much the sweetest, that I had no thought of any other, ---that I came to know that you are all the world, and more than all the world to me. Then for years you were so timid and so shy, and when two years since I began to speak to you of my love, you were at first startled and told me I was only your big brother, and although you have always been kind to me in many sweet ways, you still have seemed to give me some kinder glances, and in some manner, I do not know how, I have come to have hope again, that you may yet become what you so sweetly called yourself in those past years.
In a few weeks our birthday, on the nineteenth of March, will be here again, and I shall be twenty-six years old and you will be eighteen. I do not need to tell you that I love you, and have always loved you, for you know it full well, but I beg of you to think well of it, and then after you shall have time to answer, ---for I would not have you pressed or hurried---you will I beg tell me how it shall be. Your love, if it may be mine, will make my life most happy, and I shall ever endeavor to give to you all that I may win for you, to make your life still happier than now. If I had the eloquent speech which I so admire in others, I would tell you all that I have in my thought of you, but I do not need to write it, for you know it all, and so I send these words, praying that they may find entrance to a heart so gentle, that it will not shut its gates and refuse entrance to my messenger.
Your faithful cousin and lover,
Fragment of letter from Betsey Corser to Edward Corser
-----till of late months I have never dreamed of you as my lover. I have always remembered those days, long ago before I was eight years old, and long before I used to follow you through the fields when you came to my father’s house, and listened with me to the stories of the war, which ended in 1783, when I was only six years old; and I can remember that when we learned that peace was come again it seemed as if we were all in a new world. In those very early years we would sit listening to your father and mine talking of the battles, and of the horrid Indian massacres, till I would be chilled with fright, and I used to creep nearer and put my hand in yours for warmth and for protection, for when I was six years old and you were fourteen you seemed almost grown.
When two years since you began to speak to me of love, I was frightened and tried to avoid you, but I know that from the first what you said had a strange and powerful fascination, and I have always had to hold myself in restraint that I should not appear to seek to give you opportunity to speak those words I dreaded, and yet longed to hear.
Then your letter of last February came just three weeks before our common birthday. I am certain that while that letter was in your thought to be written, it was by some hidden mystery also in my constant thought as already written. During all the nights of the month before my birthday, and before the letter came, I saw it in my dreams, always in one form, and identical in its appearance with the real form of the letter which came; and then always in my day dreams, I knew it would come, and would come before my eighteenth birthday, and although I still struggled against an irresistible fate, I knew what the letter would ask, and I knew also what my answer would be.
I have withheld my answer for weeks, and now it is June, and I have seen the reproach in your eyes, and have felt the pleadings of my own heart, aching because it has not been permitted speech. You shall have an answer. I feel shame in my confession, but while I have lifted my voice in songs of praise to God, I have often feared that you have been the heaven-descended person whom my heart has praised. How can I—how dare I write this, but how dare I refrain from writing it? And now it shall be as you wish. This beautiful June is so lovely that it seems to me a new earth and a new heaven have been created for us.
You ask that when June shall come again I shall come to you, and we shall build our own home. It shall be as you wish. I know now that I am yours and I cannot refuse what you claim. When June comes again, if you shall claim me, I shall come to you, with gladness and with song. And now, dear Edward, I pray you do not come to me just yet. In this letter I have laid bare my soul, and I am shamed and must not see you yet. At least give me time to clothe myself with my newly confessed love, and then when you shall take me in your arms, I shall not be shamed before you. Dear one, when we shall meet, I shall have so much to say to you that no period short of eternity shall be sufficient for my glad unending speech. How can it be that so much gladness has come into my life? Not the birds alone, but the brooks also sing a love song—the leaves whisper it, and the gentle south winds breathe it with sweet perfume on my cheek, as I sit in the evening moonlight, hiding my blushes when I think that all these, and the bright stars and the sweet heaven, know of our love, and all are glad with us.
Note from Elwood S. Corser, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 15, 1901—This fragment of the letter written by Miss Betsey Corser to her cousin lover is all which remains. Whether the balance of the letter, its opening and closing pages, were lost after the death of Edward, or were lost later, when in the keeping of Mrs. Judith Corser, does not appear. All that remain to tell the story are the endorsements on the wrapper in which the sad drama of the lovers is told. These endorsements are as follows:
First endorsement written by Mrs. Sarah Gerald Corser, Boscawen, N.H., 30th June 1806—These two letters are those which were exchanged between my dear Edward and the sweet girl he was to have married ten long years ago this month. They were found by me on his body that fatal morning, the twentieth of March, 1796. I have never shown them. I shall send them soon to Judith Burbank, who married dear Bess’s brother David, in 1801, and who was so close a friend of our dear Bess during her short, sweet life.
When these shall come into Judith’s keeping, I beg that she may shortly afterward send them, at her convenience, to Miss Betsey Corser, who was born two years after Bess’s tragic death and who bears her sister’s name. I cannot write more of this. I have had no pleasure in life since dear Edward’s death, nor is his name ever spoken in our family. Judith Burbank was fifteen years old when this terrible storm destroyed our fond hopes, and blotted out these two lovely lives, and I pray that she may write the sad story, which should accompany these sweet letters. My failing health warns me that I have not long to live, and I must send them to Judith before the end comes.
Sarah Gerald Corser
Second endorsement written by David Corser of Ogden, New York to Judith Corser in March 1820—The enclosed papers came to my wife, Judith Burbank Corser, in 1807, while we were living in New Hampshire, being given to her by Edward’s mother, Sarah Corser, wife of Samuel Corser. Afterward, as requested by Mrs. Sarah Corser, Judith gave them to Miss Betsey Corser, who, having been born two years later than the time of here sister Betsey’s death, and knowing the close and tender friendship which existed between Judith Burbank and her sister Betsey, returned them to Judith, requesting that she should keep them during her life, and should write and preserve the story of the tragic death of the lovers. At Judith’s request I wrote the following brief account of this matter, as remembered by my wife, who was Betsey’s nearest and dearest friend.
THE TRAGIC STORY
Edward Corser, the second born child of Samuel Corser and Sarah Gerald Corser, was born in Boscawen, N.H., March 19th 1769. Eight years later was born, in Boscawen, to David Corser and Ruth Blaisdell Corser, their oldest daughter, Betsey, born March 19th 1777. She was the sister of David (the writer hereof), who was born four years later. The fact of these children having their birthday on the same day and month, and that they were very often together in their childhood, caused them to frequently meet in the home of Betsey’s father, and they were always boy and girl lovers from early childhood. Edward’s father served as a corporal in the patriot forces at Bunker Hill, and David as a private soldier under Stark at Bennington. The letter of Edward, which his mother preserved, with the fragment of Betsey’s reply, tell better than any other can tell, the story of the cousins’ early love. The story of their tragic deaths needs but few words. They had fixed the date of their marriage for June 1796, and it was recalled later, that during the months preceding March of that year they seemed even more engrossed in each other than is usual with happy lovers. As if they were already living, each in the other’s life, it was remarked that while Edward, hitherto, impetuous and impulsive, even to brusqueness, was refining in the gentle companionship of Betsey, she, although losing none of the gentle loveliness which endeared her to all who knew her, matured in independence and self-expression.
Betsey was a sweet singer and her music took on a new and most touching sweetness and tenderness. Their common birthday came on March 19th and toward the close of that day, as the sleighing was fine, they started out with a horse and sleigh for a drive. There was some snow falling as they left their home, and Betsey’s careful mother cautioned them not to drive far and to return early. Just after nightfall the wind began rising, and the snow fall became heavy. By nine in the evening the storm was terrific and blinding, and the family of David (Betsey’s father) became alarmed at the failure of the lovers to return. It was thought, however, they had found shelter at the house of Edward, as they had planned to call there upon the family before their return. Toward midnight the storm began to break, and Betsey’s father made his way through the drifting snow to the home of Samuel. There they found that the missing children had not been seen, and a searching party was organized and spread out over the country along the roads over which it was known they must have driven. Toward dawn, when the light permitted objects to be seen, the body of Edward was found about one mile from his home, toward which he had made his way for relief. Soon after, about a quarter of a mile from the body of Edward, was found the overturned sleigh, sheltered by which and carefully wrapped in the sleigh robes by the tender hands of her lover, Betsey was found, still living, but chilled and nearly unconscious.
The lovers had made their drive longer than they were aware, and when they could not tell the route, the horse fallen and helpless, Edward had loosened him from the sleigh and started him for home, trusting to the instinct of the horse to find his way to David’s and so perhaps give alarm there, while he (Edward), first protecting his companion as well as possible in the shelter of the overturned sleigh, should make his way on foot to his father’s home. Unfortunately, the lines were not safely secured, and the horse, although he had started direct for home, had entangled the lines in some underbrush and was found only a few rods distant on his way home. When Edward’s body was exhumed from the snow in which he lay buried, upon his person were found the enclosed letters, which have been preserved as the touching story of these unfortunate, but not unhappy lovers.
So terrible was the shock to Edward’s father and mother that the mother’s death, which followed twelve years later, in 1808, was directly traced as the slow effect of this tragedy. Lest her reason should be overthrown, the sad event was never mentioned, at least in her presence, and this apprehension accounts for the fact that no stone marks her son’s grave, nor does there appear any trace of this son in the family records; the few sad lines written by the bereaved mother in 1806 are all that tell of this son and of the mother’s silent, despairing sorrow.
To the stricken girl there came no knowledge of this sad ending of the sweet romance until weeks later, when the first grass of the opening spring was already carpeting Edward’s grave. When she was restored to consciousness in her father’s home, it was to pass at once, without knowledge or memory, into the delirium of fever, from which she only recovered to learn of the past and the present, in the early days of the June following, in those summer days which had been set for her marriage. The knowledge of her loss was imparted to her by her mother, and so tender was the heart to which cane this death blow, that even Judith Burbank, who was always by the sick girl’s side, the mother could only say, “Betsey was already an angel when with her hand in mine and her face hiding on my breast she listened to the sad story, and I must not repeat to any one the words she spoke to me.” She rallied from the fever, but she was a delicate girl, with indications of a tendency to consumption, and is soon became evident that she would not long be parted from the one to whom she had given herself. She lived until August 24th following. She rarely spoke of Edward, and when she named him it was as if living and near. A sweetness so perfect and so pervading as to defy expression in words marked these closing weeks of her life. We could not tell why, but during the last days of her life all those around her felt that she was not alone, but that she rested consciously in Edward’s arms, and it did not then seem unreal or strange to those of the household who were near her. On the evening before her death, when she seemed quite unconscious, she roused and said plainly with infinite sweetness and pathos, “Yes, Edward, I am so glad for you that the day has come.” Toward morning she roused again and sang with her own angelic human voice attuned to heaven’s melodies, and then as her voice failed we caught plainly these last words: “Edward! Immortal life! Immortal love!” and then she passed with Edward to that immortal life—immortal love.
I have told this story sometimes in my own words, but its more tender and personal passages are in the words of my wife, Judith, and she bids me add that it fails far short of the unspeakable sweetness and pathos of the reality.
Note from the owner of this blog: Betsey Corser's mother, Ruth Blaisdell Corser, is my 2nd cousin and Betsey my 3rd cousin (both several times removed from me). Our common ancestors are Jonathan Blaisdell and Hannah Jameson. I may also be related to Edward, but I have not found a connection there yet.