W2855 TO REV. THOMAS BAKER from James Walker
May 3 1848
To: Rev. Thomas Baker, Brantford, [Ontario]
From: Hamilton, [Ontario]
My Dear Mr. Baker
After much reflection upon those circumstances which we so fully discussed, and entertaining a clear conviction even after the excitement has subsided, of the propriety of giving to your Daughter Our Your [sic] Friend the liberty of Action as well as thought to which she is entitled,
--We now contemplate a years [sic] attendance upon the classes in the Burlington Academy, in which circumstances Mary-Anne exprefses [sic] her wish to be governed advised and protected dobly [sic] by Mrs. Walker & my self [sic], and during which time she will be open to a free communication with her Father & brothers, as far as the prosecution of her studies admit, either personally or by letter.
In this view if you see pleased to do so, she would be glad of the class books she used when in the institution, and of her wearing apparel which would otherwise be rendered of no use.
Such further provision for all her wants of a temporal kind I shall chearfully [sic] furnish, and feel that to gard [sic] my young friend against temptation from pecuniary Obligations as imperitive [sic] upon me, a year added to her former advantages may produce some change upon her views, but whither [sic] it produces change, or confirms them, she will be better fitted as a valuable member of Society for her future lot.1
Believe me My Dear Mr. Baker yours faithfully
1 For Rev. Baker's reply, see W2856.
Mary-Anne Baker had unexpectedly arrived at the home of Mr. James Walker in April of 1848 and Walker wrote to her father, Rev. Thomas Baker, under the impression that the Reverend had not wanted her to be there. Apparently, Mary-Anne wished to marry Frederick F. Wilkes, the widower of her late older sister Harriett (Baker) Wilkes, who had died in childbirth the previous year
(Minnes, 5). At this time, the marriage would have been unlawful and Rev. Baker was fiercely against the union. According to Mary-Anne's letter of July 1, 1848 she had left her brother's residence (likely that of John Orange Baker who sided with their father on the issue) "to escape from injust [sic], and uncalled for confinement" (W2868).
The Walkers consulted a lawyer to determine what rights Mary Anne had to choose either her own residence or marriage partner and found that the law gave Mary-Anne, who was then approximately 19 or 20 years of age, the right to choose both. As a result, the Walkers gave Mary Anne shelter in their home and refused to send her back to her father, instead asking that her clothes and books be returned so that she could complete her education. Outraged, Rev. Baker refused to comply with the request, asserting his "inalienable right...of choosing her [Mary-Anne's] residence" (W2856). Many of Rev. Baker's letters to Mary-Anne have an authoritarian and manipulative character, typically condemning her relationship to Wilkes as "prostitution" (W2870) with a tone of bitter condemnation and haughty religious fervour, then suddenly softening with promises of a father's love and forgiveness if she rejected the "marriage settlement" and came home.
In the Autumn of 1848, Frederick Wilkes wrote several letters to Rev. Baker asking for the return of some of his and Mary Anne's belongings, some of which had likely fallen into Baker's hands after Harriett's death. Baker refused to comply for several months, and it is not known whether or not he was ever compelled to return the items.
In late 1849, Mary-Anne became seriously ill and wrote her father asking for forgiveness, but he still refused to visit her, telling her to ask Christ's forgiveness and stating that although they would never see each other on earth they would meet again in heaven if she would allow herself to be redeemed, remarking that "[s]hould you be restored, you must shortly die" (W2894). In 1850, Mary-Anne, like her sister Harriett, died in childbirth (Minnes 6). See W2840, W2848, W2849, W2851, W2864, W2874, W2880, W2882, W2883, W2889 (partial list).
Years later, Rev. Baker and Rev. Enoch Barker exchanged letters over Barker's alleged "slanders" against Baker, this tragic family affair being at the centre of the issue. See W2971, W2975, W2982, W2984, W2986.