Michael J. Kiskis
Frances Miriam Berry Whitcher was born in Whitesboro, New York, on November 1, 1814, the thirteenth of fifteen children born to Elizabeth and Lewis Berry. Lewis Berry, proprietor of Berry's Tavern, was active in Whig politics and a member of the Oneida Institute's board of trustees and the local Presbyterian Church; he broke with the Oneida Institute's second president Beriah Green when the institute's political and religious policy was linked with abolition. After Lewis's death in 1849, Elizabeth continued to control the family business until she and her daughters eventually sold the business.
Miriam, the only one of the children to move more than a day's journey from the homestead, was closest to her sister Kate ( 1817-1865), whose two-part biography of her sister, published in Godey's Lady's Book, remains a vital source for information about Miriam's childhood and final months. The family provided stimulation and protection for Miriam, who demonstrated an early talent for parody: she caricatured classmates--her first attempt came at age five--and those adults surrounding her whom she perceived as rude, unfair, or unfriendly. A shy child and a socially reticent adult, humor was her outlet for private pique and public dissent. At twenty-five she became a member of Whitesboro's Maeonian Circle, an active literary and social group, and presented a series of literary sketches featuring her first female protagonist, the Widow Permilla ("Permilly" or "Silly") Spriggins. She continued to write and develop her literary heroines until her death.
On January 6, 1847, Miriam married Reverend Benjamin William Whitcher, who was then pastor of Whitesboro's St. John's Episcopal Church. The marriage was clearly a love match: Surviving letters display a deep and playful affection.