Ladies, is this the perfect time for a marriage proposal, or what? That question certainly popped into my head while reading up on Rev. Joshua Thomas during the work I did for my book, “Eastern Shore Road Trips: 27 One-Day Adventures on Delmarva.” Thomas was the famed “Parson of the Islands,” of course, and he traveled the Bay in a log canoe called The Methodist back in the early 1800s.
He hit a rough patch in life when his first wife died. She left him with three young children, one still nursing. He did exactly what you would expect an upstanding Methodist firebrand to do—he marched off into the woods and dropped to his knees.
I came across two different versions of what happened next. Be sure and stay around for the second one–that’s where the headline comes from. But first up is the just-the-facts-ma’am version, from the 1861 biography of Thomas called The Parson of the Islands:
He began to think that though his wife had been dead only a few weeks he should have to marry again very soon. He prayed the Lord, that if this be best, He would direct his mind to a suitable person for his wife, and a mother to his little children. A Miss Bradshaw was presented to his mind’s eye as the right person.
But he replied, “Lord, she is too young.” Repeated prayer brought the same answer. … He determined to visit the family. … He was kindly received, and after supper and family worship, the children retired. The old people began to condole with him in his desolate condition, and asked him what he intended to do? He told them that all his friends thought he would soon have to marry again. In this they coincided, and asked him whom he thought of seeking as his second wife?
He told them of his impressions, in answer to prayer. They said their “Lotty” was too young for him, but if she were willing, they would not oppose.
When he arose the next morning, he saw her engaged in milking a cow. After his secret devotion, he went out of doors to where she stood, straining her milk. He asked her “if she loved his late wife well enough to undertake to be a mother to her children.” She replied in the affirmative.
“Well then,” said he, “I will come and take you up, and get Brother Aydelott to marry us.” To this arrangement she gave her consent, and they were married accordingly.
This match … was an eminently happy one. She did him good and not evil all the days of his life.
But there is a slightly different version of the same incident in Methodism of the Peninsula, by Robert W. Todd, and this one has an element of slapstick comedy to it.
As he kneeled in a thicket and made known to his Divine Friend his desires and asked for his direction, a certain Miss Lottie Bradshaw’s image was presented to his mental vision.
Instantly he expostulated: “Lord; she is too young!”
Retiring to another place, he again bowed before the Lord, and presented his request. Instantly, and for the second time, the image of Miss Bradshaw flitted before him.
“Oh, Lord! She is too ugly!” exclaimed the unfortunate petitioner.
Long and earnest was [his] third prayer. Like Jacob, he wrestled with the angel for the answer of full assurance; and finally the answer came, but it was the old answer repeated—Miss Lottie Bradshaw’s homely, but kindly smiling face again beamed upon the lonely widower.
He calmly arose from his knees, submissively saying: “Well, Lord, I reckon you know better’n I do.” … Untieing his canoe, he pushed out, hoisted sail and steered for the Bradshaw homestead on Holland’s Island. On arrival the following dialogue ensued.
“Good morning, Brother Bradshaw.”
“How d’ye do Brother Thomas?”
“Brother Bradshaw, I think it is the will of the Lord that you should let me have Lottie to be my wife.”
“Well, brother Thomas; Lottie is rather young; but we will leave the matter to her. You can go see what she says about it: you’ll find her out at the cow-pen, milking.”
Mr. Thomas soon encountered the rosy maiden in the back yard. After the usual friendly salutation had passed, said Joshua: “Sister Lottie; I’ve come on special business this mornin’. I’ve been prayin’ over the matter; and I think, Lottie, understand, that it’s the will of the Lord that you and I should git married.”
“The will of the Lord be done, Brother Thomas!” responded Lottie, in the spirit of humble submission to her divinely ordered fate, and, in a few days … there was an equally matter of fact wedding; and what seemed to be God’s order was cheerfully consummated.
Many years afterwards, at a camp-meeting on Deal’s Island, the dear old saint said to a company of preachers, after relating to them the above story: “Brothers; when I married her, understand, I thought she was one of the ugliest women in the world; but now, I tell you, I think she is the purtiest. She has made me a lovin’ wife, and a good, faithful mother to my orphaned children; and I know, brothers, understand, that the good Lord picked her out for me.”
–research and writing by Jim Duffy
–published July 8, 2016