The joy I find in processing family papers originates, to some extent, from the unfiltered perspective one is privileged to enjoy in reading personal correspondence between close friends and family members who may have lived anywhere between 2, 20, or 200 years ago. Maybe it’s the amateur historian in me coming out, but I love the rush of that “aha!” moment discovering the missing connection of who knows who, who’s related to who, and why it all matters.
The Beasley family papers promise not to disappoint. Starting with the first Frederick Beasley (1777-1845), we gain a personal perspective of the man who would eventually serve as Penn’s fifth Provost in addition to his role as Professor of Moral Philosophy, rector in the Protestant Episcopal Church, and loving husband and father to ten children. It is clear that Beasley was a well-liked and amiable member of the community as is stated in this letter from William Jay on March 22, 1842:
“… It is pleasant to interchange ideas with intelligent men, but still more pleasant is it to interchange ideas with men who are not only intelligent, but in whose sincerity & Christian motives we have full confidence. The little collision of opinion also in our correspondence renders it more agreeable to me, particularly as we are both in search of truth.” [Ms. Coll. 1217 box 1 folder 8]
Frederic (or Frederick–he is referred to as both) W. Beasley (1808-1878) continued in the family tradition, becoming a Protestant Episcopal rector himself after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1827 and receiving his ordination in 1832. He was known as the Rev. Frederic W. Beasley to his parishioners, but what we additionally discover through this collection’s papers are the creative tendencies that often showed themselves through poetic endeavors. Beasley published Henry Venola: The Duellist, A Poem, in 1841, in addition to poems he wrote to his future wife, Virginia, throughout the duration of their relationship:
1. In thy sweet thoughts, most gentle one,
Thou surely knowest I wait for thee;
Thou needest not the time-piece tone
To see I pine thy for [?] to see.
All things seem sad to me alone –
[?] thou dost come all sad must be.”
[Ms. Coll. 1217 box 1 folder 17]
In addition to the poetry written for the masses and for his intended, we also gain a glimpse of the father-son relationship with this undated letter written to Frederick W. Beasley, Jr, as a young child:
Papa wants to see you very much. You must be a good Boy. Do all your mother tells you to do. Then you know the Lord will love you. Tell ALLY to take care of Jimmy. Dont hurt the Cat. …” [Ms. Coll. 1217 box 1 folder 22]
Frederick W. Beasley, Jr (1845-1873) must have received the blessing of his father and grandfather in the realm of public speaking, as he was elected Class Historian of the graduating class of 1866 at the University of Pennsylvania. We have at our disposal the manuscript he spoke from on Class Day as he outlined the journey his classmates followed during their time at Penn. He went on to teach at the Academy of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, when, sadly, he passed away at the early age of 28. The letter of condolence sent to his father, Frederic W. Beasley, includes many warm thoughts that describe the young man’s demeanor as having “a kind heart and genial manners … [having] endeared him to us all” [Ms. Coll. 1217 box 1 folder 27].