To William and Helen Cochran

19 May 1846


[MS in the William C. Cochran Papers, RG 30/8, Oberlin College Archives.]


In his unpublished autobiography, William C. Cochran, the son of William and Helen Cochran, wrote:

To this college [Oberlin] came William Cochran, son of a prosperous farmer near Fredericktown, Ohio, who soon distinguished himself as a scholar, a debater, a writer and a theologian. He was made a tutor as soon as he graduated from the college, in 1839, and an associate professor as soon as he graduated from the Theological Seminary, in 1842. He was managing editor of the Oberlin Quarterly Review and wrote many articles for it which attracted general attention. Two articles on the "Simplicity of Moral Action" were highly appreciated in the East.

The Tappans, who were greatly interested in the Oberlin enterprise, asked Mr. Cochran, in the spring of 1846, to come East and become Secretary of the Union Missionary Association and Editor of the paper which was to proclaim the objects of the Society and win supporters to the cause. He consulted Mr. Finney, who advised him to go, believing that he could fill both positions better than any one else, and that he would be able to earn twice as much money there as Oberlin could afford to give him.

He was a favorite with Mr. Finney and was always a welcome visitor at his house. He and Mr. Finney's oldest daughter became engaged and when the latter heard of Mr. Cochran's going East to stay&emdash;no one knew how long&emdash;she asked her father to consent to their marriage so that she could go with him. Her father finally consented, though, on the morning of the marriage, while at family prayers, he invoked God's blessing and tender care of Helen, saying, "Thou knowest, oh Lord, that she is no more fit to be married than this chair", emphasizing his remark with a sharp blow on the chair. They were married by Mr. Finney at half-past five in the morning of May 6, 1846, and took the stage for Cleveland at quarter past six. The guests present were members of the faculty with their wives, the Cole's family, Mrs Cole being the sister of William Cochran, and a few of Helen's most intimate friends.

Professor Morgan grasped her hand when the ceremony was over, but could not speak as the tears rolled down his cheeks. He pressed the hand of Mr. Cochran three times with tremulous affection and many others wept, including Helen's mother. The latter slipped a little note into Mr. Cochran's hand, whispering that it was for him alone. ...

As they were leaving, Mr. Finney threw his arm around William's neck and kissed him, saying:- "The Lord bless you, William, Amen." William wrote to Edmund Hall, who married his sister Emeline:-

"Such treatment is very potent with my heart. Were it encrusted with Alpine rocks, ice and snow, affectionate confidence like this, so publicly expressed, would enkindle internal fires sufficient to melt a channel through it all to give vent to a flood of grateful emotion and enduring love."

The first part of the Finneys' letter to William and Helen Cochran is in the handwriting of Lydia Finney:

Oberlin, 8th May /46 --

Dear Helen,

Could you have looked in upon us today when we assembled around the social board, at the family altar, and in our rooms, you would have been ready to enquire "What has happened, that this once cheerful happy family, are now so sad, that tears so often flow, and the long drawn sigh so frequently heaves the agitated bosom? Pa says "I would not have imagined that Helen's leaving could have produced such a great breach" my heart is swolen nigh to bursting, no singing, no music." Dear Julia has cried herself sick and gone to bed. Very soon after you left Mrs Mahan sent me over some Asparagus for my dinner, and for Julia to come and spend the P.M. with the little girls sewing carpet rags. I hoped this might divert her mind a little, but it failed to do so.&emdash; When I say Julia did so, and so, I might with out any difficulty say the same of Ma.&emdash; To see your seat empty, to listen to no sound from your familiar voice the live long day, a day that has seemed to include weeks in its lengthened hours, has been more than we could any of us endure with composure. The idea, that you are gone, separated from us, no more to hold the place in our family which you have hitherto done, that your mother can no more from day to day pour out her whole heart into your bosom of love & sympathy, no longer divide her cares, and share her joys and sorrows with a loved daughter, who knew how to speak words of comfort, how to veil all her infirmities, and cheer her heart, when flesh and strength were failing. As these thoughts rush upon me I am overwhelmed and should sink down in discouragement did I not hear the voice of Jesus saying "Fear not I am with thee." Good night, my precious child

[page 2]

May 14th My dear Child, My heart almost sinks within me when I reflect that you have gone, really gone, from a Fathers house into the wide world to contend with the life's destinies, while but a child, so young, so inexperienced, so utterly unacquainted with the ways of the world. Oh! Oh! I cannot think of it, only in the light of that perfect confidence which I place in our beloved William. Was he younger, was he --- I might go on to enumerate but was he indeed any thing less than we esteem him to be I should feel that I deserve to be called a very weak woman. Helen Dear show yourself worthy the affections, the choice of such a man and suffer nothing on your part ever to make him regret that he took you to his heart. Ever keep in mind that love is a tender, delicate plant that will not endure the rough blasts which frequently assail it. I said a word or two to William in a note which I handed him just before he left. He will watch over you with more than a mothers tenderness, conceal nothing from his sympathizing heart.

Wherever you are my child, in whatever company or circumstances remember whose wife you are, and whose daughter. Be an honor to your Father and a crown of glory to your husband, that all who see you may be constrained to say, "such a wife is a treasure beyond all price."&emdash;&emdash;&emdash;

I need not remind you that it is desirable, you should never suffer yourself to be accompanied to different places by any gentleman but your husband, unless something special should call for it. and I should make it, very, very, special. You had much better stay at home than to go with one who is not your rightful protector. Your youth and attractions may expose you to many snares and temptations of which you little dream. Above all things else my dear, live near the Lord. You will recollect that I tried to make you promise before you left home that not a day should pass over your head without being a witness that twice on your bended knees you had sought the blessing, and guidance of your Heavenly Father & consecrated yourself to his service. I want to say to you and Wm both what you will perhaps call an old womans whim. Nevertheless I must say it. never play Checkers or any other game, will you?


[page 3]

Monday evening 18th May. This is the first day that we have been alone i.e. without company since the day you left. Last week on wednesday 2 gentlemen and their wives, from Adams Jefferson Co. old acquaintances of your Pa's, came and spent two nights and one day. They had heard that you were expecting to leave home at some not very distant period but were greatly disappointed to find you already gone.

I went out to meeting yesterday a part of the day, found myself more fatigued than I have been before. It was probably owing to my having been so worn out with company during the week. Shall endeavor to rest more this week. We are quite anxious to hear from you. Do things look as if you should remain in N.Y. How is Mr Dawse getting along with his business? I do think that if Mr Finney remains here that William ought to take a part of his labors that he may have more time to devote to other things. We have just received a letter from Mr Chapin with his usual remittance, saying that it is the last that he shall be able to send. This will keep us along until fall and then what we shall do the Lord only knows.&emdash; To-day after washing Martha wanted to go home and have Jane go with her. And as Miss Low was acquainted with Mrs Higby she thought she would like to go too, so I let them all go. Julia took care of the babe and helped get supper. When we came to sit down at the supper table I believe the feeling was spontaneous, Oh, if Helen & William were only here we should have all our family here and no one else, how sweet it would be. And then the sigh, that probably long months would inter[vene ] ere we should enjoy that pleasure if indeed we ever did.

Dear William I feel that a great responsibility rests upon you. I can no longer assist Helen in her arduous warfare with flesh & blood, against principalities and powers. My feeble prayers, a few words dropped now and then from my pen, is all that I can do. You must take her by the hand and lead her up the steep ascent.- Will you see to it dear William that Helen meets me in heaven? her destiny is in a great measure in your hands. I know you have a more difficult task, than you would have had, had I been faithful to my covenant vows and done all that I might have done for her sanctification.&emdash;&emdash;&emdash;

Tuesday 19th Your joint letter dear children from Buffalo and Rochester is just recd we were glad to hear from you and that you had been able to pursue you[r] journey in the midst of such unpleasant weather. I knew dear Helen that your feigned indifference was costing you a mighty struggle, and blamed myself that I could not assist you in it, instead of making it more arduous, but my weak nerves and weak head & weak heart, all combine to render me, all but contemptable under such circumstances. We sent your letter dear William to the office but as yet have heard nothing from Frederictown. What shall we do? you need your trunk. Perhaps you will return before there is any necessity for sending it. It would be so pleasant could we live together only a few years, then it seems as if I could part with [ ] cheerfully, but the Lord knows best. Helen did you read [ ]Advocate the piece "Beware of strangers." read it if you have not.


[page 4 in Finney's handwriting]

Dear Wm & H. we have been very sad since you left. The dear children are very silent & tearful & Ma cant hear about you with composure, & I am too much of a child to comfort them. I choke down if I attempt it & so I let it go. Dear William the Institution has recd a sad shock in your leaving & [I] know not how your place can be supplied. My decided wish & opinion is that you come back. Mr. Chapin has written me that he shall not be able to send me any more money. Perhaps this is an indication that it is the will of God that I should leave. The brethren set upon me so hard after you left that I consented to have my name go on the Quarterly as associate editor. I have written to Br. T[appan] to see what can be done in N.York to endow my Professorship. We have [had] company almost incessantly since you left. Dear Helen & William let your union be highly spiritual.


[The address follows on this page:]


[Addressed:] Rev. William Cochran.

New York city.

No.130. Prince Street.


[Postmark:] OBERLIN O. MAY 20


[Endorsed in pencil by Helen Cochran:]


The first letter from my mother

after our marriage.


[The text of Finney's letter continues:]

Did you design that we should send your trunk before we recd order to do so?

I shall not send it, if I receive it, until I have particular directions from you.

Dear Helen in as much as you did not go on a mission & I have nothing else to give Ma & I have about made up our minds to give the Piano with your consent to be divided between the Antislavery the Union & the Evangelical Missionary societies Will you & Wm be grieved if we make this disposal of it. Will you write immediately & let us know?

Br. Wright is here from the Red Lake Mission. They have had a precious revival there & the gospel is working gloriously among the Indians . We love to do what we can to help forward the work. Write soon & often & particularly. [ ]



William C. Cochran quotes the first and last sentences of the letter as written out by his father in the letter to Edmund Hall quoted in footnote 2.

William C. Cochran copied this statement from his father's letter to Edmund Hall. In fact, according to William Cochran, Finney had said "the Lord bless you William". The "Amen" was a comment by Cochran to Hall.

The original letter here has "feelingly".

Cochran's autobiography continues:

Mr. Cochran was cordially received in the East and he and his wife were entertained at many homes, among others at the home of Jacob D. Cox, senior, whose son, Jacob Dolson Cox, had gone to Oberlin to take a college course and then study Theology.

The proposed radical paper was not in existence and to start it would take from £5,000 to $10,000. The Tappans were confident that the money could be raised and that Mr. Cochran would receive a salary of $800 as Secretary of the Missionary Association, and $1,000 as editor of the proposed paper, with prospects of an increase if, as expected, it succeeded in winning a large clientele. William Dawes, a Trustee of Oberlin College, had gone to New York as soon as he heard of the tender to Mr. Cochran and had protested against his leaving Oberlin, although at Oberlin he had protested against Mr. Cochran's receiving the salary of a full professor. Mr. Cochran could see nothing in these moves of Mr. Dawes but personal hostility, and he certainly did interfere in a way that no other Trustee or member of the faculty had done. But while [page 4] Mr. Cochran was in New York City letters came from other Trustees to the Tappans, urging them not to engage Mr. Cochran, because he could not be spared from the teaching force in Oberlin. The upshot of the conference was that Mr. Cochran should return to Ohio and await final decision of both questions. Very hard times ensued. The attendance of students fell off and Mr. Cochran decided to study law for the practice of which he felt himself well qualified. He returned with his wife to the father's farm near Fredericktown. He devoted himself to the study of elementary and statutory law and all was going well when he was stricken with typhoid fever and died three weeks later, August 15, 1847, the local physicians being quite unable to check the disease.

The original of this letter does not seem to have survived, but it was copied by William Cochran into a letter written to Edmund Hall, 29 May 1846:

Dear William, I am happy in giving my dear daughter, my loved one, to you as yours. A similarity of tastes & principles had united your hearts ere this happy morn had made you one. You are now to aid, to cheer, to improve, to comfort & sustain each other through the rest of life's short journey -

William - "Let not thy tender care decay

When thou hast borne her far away

And shouldst thou wondering mark a tear

Unconscious from her eyelid break

Be pitiful & soothe the fear

That man's strong heart can ne'er partake"

She is a precious jewel to a mothers heart, & I fear not she will be the same to your true breast. May the blessing of a faithful God be yours. L. R. Finney (William C. Cochran Papers, Oberlin College Archives).

William Dawes.

Josiah Chapin to Finney, 9 May 1846, in Finney Papers, Oberlin College Archives.

A hole in the paper here has removed part of this word.

A piece of paper has been cut out containing Finney's signature on the reverse.

Finney had written "society" here, but altered it to "societies". He may have been thinking of the Western Evangelical Missionary Society. See William E. Bigglestone, "Oberlin College and the Beginning of the Red Lake Mission" in Minnesota History, Volume 45 (Spring 1976).

Selah G. Wright. See Oberlin Evangelist, 9 December 1846

Finney's signature has been removed.