America’s First Valentine

johngravesLt. Col. John Graves Simcoe in Queen’s Rangers uniform painted in1791 by Jean-Laurent Mosnier, in the Collection of the Toronto Public Library. 

John Graves Simcoe also had a more personal link with the Townsend Family. Indeed, Raynham Hall is home to the first known Valentine in the United States, addressed to Sarah by Simcoe, and presented to her on February 14th, 1779. The Valentine alludes to the difficulty of loving an enemy. The poem reads:

Fairest Maid, where all is fair, Beauty’s pride and Nature’s care;
To you my heart I must resign, O choose me for your Valentine!
Love, Mighty God! Thou know’st full well, where all thy Mother’s graces dwell,
Where they inhabit and combine to fix thy power with spells divine;
Thou know’st what powerful magick lies within the round of Sarah’s eyes,
Or darted thence like lightning fires, and Heaven’s own joys around inspires;
Thou know’st my heart will always prove the shrine of pure unchanging love!
Say; awful God! Since to thy throne two ways that lead are only known—
Here gay Variety presides, and many a youthful circle guides
Through paths where lilies, roses sweet, bloom and decay beneath their feet;
Here constancy with sober mien regardless of the flowery Scene
With Myrtle crowned that never fades, in silence seeks the Cypress Shades,
Or fixed near Contemplation’s cell, chief with the Muses loves to dwell,
Leads those who inward feel and burn and often clasp the abandon’d urn,–
Say, awful God! Did’st thou not prove my heart was formed for Constant love?
Thou saw’st me once on every plain to Delia pour the artless strain—
Thou wept’sd her death and bad’st me change my happier days no more to range
O’er hill, o’er dale, in sweet Employ, of singing Delia, Nature’s joy;
Thou bad’st me change the pastoral scene forget my Crook; with haughty mien
To raise the iron Spear of War, victim of Grief and deep Despair:
Say, must I all my joys forego and still maintain this outward show?
Say, shall this breast that’s pained to feel be ever clad in horrid steel?
Nor swell with other joys than those of conquest o’er unworthy foes?
Shall no fair maid with equal fire awake the flames of soft desire:
My bosom born, for transport, burn and raise my thoughts from Delia’s urn?
“Fond Youth,” the God of Love replies, “Your answer take from Sarah’s eyes.”

The Valentine was said to have been found among Sarah’s possessions after her death at the age of 82. Sarah never married, and we may never know what effect the Valentine might have had on her life, nor the true nature of her relationship with Simcoe.