“There Lived an Old Man in Our Little Place”

Every village has its quirky characters. My own, Myersville, Maryland, was once home to a cantankerous teacher, reverend, and still-breaker nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”

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Main Street and Wolfsville Road, Myersville, Maryland, circa 1905. Courtesy Myersville and Wolfsville Area Historical Society.

Myersville—Emphasizing the need for lights in the streets of Myersville, there was a stoning encounter on Saturday night, when Robert J. Ridgely, a school teacher at Burkittsville and a resident of Myersville, was stoned by four or five young men of the town. Reports have it that Mr. Ridgely stoned back, but as the teacher could not be located this morning, this could not be verified.

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Frederick News, 6 October, 1915

Mr. Ridgley has an ugly cut over one eye, which bled profusely, and Wilber Shepley, one of those in the in the party stoning Mr. Ridgley, also has a cut, probably inflicted by a stone, although one report has it that Mr. Shepley sustained the cut by striking a telephone pole, while running.

“The stoning incident has aroused a number of people in the town, and it is stated that there is a stronger sentiment for electric lights, many residents claiming the affair would not have happened had the town been well lighted.”

The victim in this article, Robert Johnson Ridgley was born in Myersville in January 1867 to William Worth Ridgley (1822-1901) and his wife Martha Matilda Johnson (1834-1920). (Note: The family name is spelled variously as Ridgely, Ridgeley, and Ridgley. For consistency only, I am using the latter.) William Ridgley was well-known in the area for his success as a farmer although he was blind. His tenacity and determination were inherited by his son.

As an adult, Robert Ridgley received a scholarship from the Maryland State Normal School in Baltimore, later rechristened Towson University, starting his studies in September 1895. Before that, he was a teacher at Loys Public School. After his father’s death, he lived with his mother and a servant, Susan Shank, the latter of whom worked for Ridgley until at least until 1940. Keeping a long-term, live-in servant of this type is a positive testimony to Ridgely’s character, which was sometimes maligned by his fellow Myersvillians.

Ridgley faced the boys’ ire on that unlit October night because he was Myersville’s weirdo, thus a natural honey to the local bully bees. These same miscreants gave Ridgley the nickname “Buffalo Bill”—after wild-maned, Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody—because he wore his brown hair over his shoulders, potentially as an expression of sexual ambiguity. Ridgley never married; he may have been homosexual, transsexual, or asexual. Myervillian Clara Grossnickle Metzer expressed this in doggerel, “He shunned the ladies/Marrying was not a sin/But he much preferred/ To fight with the men.” John Grossnickle, also a bad poet, wrote of Ridgley, in an ode that began “There was an old man in our little place/who wore long hair and a funny face,” that people could neither call Ridgley “a lad nor a lass/He was neither Balaam nor Balaam’s ass.”

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Robert J. Ridgley in front of his Main Street home, circa 1920.

Even before the 1913 stoning incident, the local lads responded with glee when Ridgley, who was then an elected town burgess, was arrested for allegedly assaulting Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Wolfe. The Frederick News of 11 October, 1908, reported the boys hooted, cheered, and loudly banged pots and pans in celebration as the prisoner and the deputy sheriff waited at the trolley stop for the next car into Frederick to place Ridgley before a judge. Wolfe sued Ridgley for $500 because of the incident.

At some point during the same year, “Guy Shank called [Ridgely] ‘Buffalo’ at Melvin Shepley’s Post Office. Mr. Ridgley promptly threw him to the ground and sat on him, hoping someone would call the sheriff. Charles Poffenberger ran to his home and told his mother Mrs. John Poffinberger what was happening. Mrs. Poffenberger, a very determined woman, grabbed a tea kettle of hot water from the stove, and walked up the street, freeing Guy from his captor,” states The History of Myersville, 1971 edition. Whether Mrs. Poffinberger actually scalded Ridgley to achieve her goal was not reported.

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Robert Ridgley’s former home on Main Street, Myersville.

As well as teaching at a succession of local schools, including Burkittsville, Harmony, and Mt. Tabor, Ridgley was an avid agriculturalist. He owned a farm near Harmony—a settlement near Myersville—where he grew both crops and fruit. “Some of the finest apples in the county have been raised by Mr. Ridgley,” the News lauded in May 1911. On 12 November, 1921, vandals destroyed 30 of Ridgley’s apple trees. A News item stated, “The trees were beginning to bear fruit and were chopped off close to the ground.” This destruction was attributed to Ridgley’s unwillingness to allow hunting in the orchard and was one of a number of revengeful acts that occurred in the community.

Ridgley was a member of the religious sect called the Brethren (also known as the Dunkards), was against the playing of music during religious services, and was teetotal. According to The History of Myersville, he thoroughly “disapproved of strong drink,” loved to debate, and frequently took on alcohol proponents. The History states, “He often talked about the horrors of liquor, the need for Prohibition and how all the contents of the stills must be thrown into the rivers. Inevitably, someone in the audience would stand up and say, ‘Shall we gather at the river?'”

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Frederick News, 11 October 1908

In 1913, after the local lads cheered his arrest, Ridgley made an extended trip to Europe, during which he visited Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. He told the News that he was much impressed with the cleanliness of Germany and delighted by the excellent crops produced there, however, Italy was dirty and unimpressive. Whilst in Germany, he traveled to the town of Swartzanau, a borough of Bad Berleburg in today’s North Rhine-Westphalia, and purchased a granite block as a cornerstone for the Myersville Church of the Brethren, then under construction. The Brethren originated in Swartzanau so the cornerstone carried great significance to the congregation at home.

Ridgley’s generous nature was further illuminated in a News article of 24 May, 1911, that reported Harmony School four students were treated to a trip to Washington, D.C., at Ridgley’s personal expense for their exemplary attendance and academic performance. Ridgley hired a car to drive them—some had never been in an automobile before—and made sure they had a memorable time. “Since he has been teaching at Harmony School, Prof. Ridgley has done much to make the several courses attractive to the pupils. Progressive in every way, this is not the first premium awarded by him for good work at the school, as a result, his pupils idolize him,” the News noted.

Earlier that year, Ridgley offered a total of $15 in prizes to Harmony School students who made winning entries in an agricultural display contest. A News article of 11 March 1912 reported that Ridgley put up prize money at another agricultural display at Mt. Tabor School.

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The Harmony School near Myersville where Robert Ridgley was a teacher, circa 1905.

For some years, probably beginning in the late 1920s, Ridgley served as reverend of the Myersville Church of the Brethren. He was described thusly in the Frederick Post of 11 March, 1935, which noted that the body of Mrs. Mary Snyder of Harmony was discovered in her home by Rev. Ridgley who had called in on his way to church. (She died of a heart attack.) In May, however, Ridgely was ousted from his position, he claimed, because he had turned to still-breaking, targeting local moonshiners who paid no income taxes on their product.

When Prohibition was overturned by the 21st Amendment in December 1933, Ridgely surely felt great anger and despair. His hatred of alcohol—born from powerful religious beliefs and probably also from negative personal experiences—required a new focus. Clara Metzer’s poem states, “His stature was straight/And lots of brawn/Was sure in his mind/He never did wrong … His hair was long/and in this his strength/To carry out his convictions/He would go to all lengths.”

According to the History of Myersville, Ridgley “was an informer for the Internal Revenue Service. Every time the ‘revenuers’ broke up a still, Ridgely would put a white flint stone between the sidewalk and the curb in front of his house. Pretty soon, the whole space in front of his house was covered with white flints.”

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An Appalachian moonshiner, circa 1930.

The Daily Times of Salisbury, Maryland, reported on 12 October, 1934, that during a raid instigated by Ridgley, Wilber Horine was arrested and arraigned for operating a still on his Myersville farm. (Charges against him were later dismissed.) On 4 January, 1935, the News ran a story titled “Again Leads Agents.” It detailed how Rev. Ridgley took federal agents “to the site of an illicit still in the mountains near Wolfsville, six miles north of Myersville. Three men, the small still, which had ceased operation only a few hours previously, and 225 gallons of mash and other equipment were seized… It is said that Rev. Mr. Ridgley received information … that the plant was in operation and rode about 10 miles on horseback to investigate the matter personally.”

Just a few weeks later, the Hagerstown Daily Mail reported that Lloyd Leatherman, a farmer near Wolfsville, was raided by agents who discovered 50 gallons of hard cider in his home. Ridgley had provided the tip and went with agents to Leatherman’s farm. “Rev. Ridgley assisted in destroying a still and other equipment, which … appeared to have been recently set up for the purpose of manufacturing applejack…. The residents of Myersville say the Rev. Ridgley has openly served notice that he intends to continue his personal activities until the section is free of moonshiners. It is claimed that shiners have been operating boldly in the mountains of the section for several years during which time several barns were destroyed by fire and one murder committed, all being blamed on drunken brawls.”

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Robert Ridgely, center front, poses with attendees of the 1926 Harp family reunion, Myersville. His infamous hair appears to have been cropped by this date.

In August 1936, two local boys—Willis Brunner and Murphy Beall—tried to steal some of Ridgley’s white stones, as well as damaged his gatepost and taunted the old man with calls of “Buffalo Bill!” Ridgley shot Beall, aged 19, in the legs with buckshot. Whilst in hospital, the 3 August Daily Mail reported that Beall told investigators, “‘I do not care to have anything done about the shooting.'” This position can be read either as a result of Beall’s remorse or that Beall saw Ridgley as a wacko, but he was Myersville‘s wacko, so hands off—a weird, but well-observed, protective response amongst community members.

Ridgley was busting stills as late as October 1949, when the Morning Herald reported, “Sleuthing by the Rev. Robert J. Ridgley of the Church of the Brethren, Myersville, resulted in the discovery of an illegal still in that area.”

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Frederick News, 21 October, 1952

In early 1950, 83-year-old Ridgley’s robust constitution failed. “Mr. Robert J. Ridgley, retired school teacher and dealer in antiques, who has been ill at the Emergency Hospital for several months, returned home [to] Myersville following his recovery,” announced the News of 7 April, 1950. The cause of his prolonged hospital stay was not made public. The following year, in September, he was well enough to travel by bus to Rockwell City, Iowa, to visit his brother Champ, who lived there with his family. It was Ridgley’s swan-song adventure.

The irascible Ridgley died at Guilford Nursing Home, Boonsboro, Maryland, 15 October, 1952. A few days later, the contents of his Will, written in long-hand in February 1910, was discussed by the News. “A lot in Myersville is bequeathed to the Church of the Brethren to be used for the site of a meeting house with the provision that no musical instrument be used in any part of the religious service…. The bequest is one of several involving churches made by Mr. Ridgley, who left an estate in excess of $10,000,” noted the newspaper on 24 October. The Grossnickle Church of the Brethren, located some miles outside of town, was bequeathed 17 acres upon which to build a children’s home, if possible, otherwise to dispose of it to the church’s profit.

“The testator directs that his books, furniture, farming equipment, horses, and cattle be sold at public sale and the proceeds be equally divided … to keep in repair the cemetery at Grossnickle’s Meeting House and the cemetery near Haw Bottom where his father is buried.” The rest of his property and real estate was to be sold and money given to his brother’s children “after careful inquiry by my executors [concludes they are] industrious, honest, and temperate people individually,” the News quoted.

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Ridgley’s gravestone at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church Cemetery.

In his Will, Ridgley asked to be buried at the Grossnickle Church Cemetery, as near as possible to the grave of Elder George Leatherman (1827-1907). “I feel that I owe practically all from a spiritual standpoint to this Grand Good Man,” he wrote only three years after Elder Leatherman’s death. It is possible that Leatherman served as a grandfatherly influence in young Robert’s life, as well as a religious mentor. Ridgley’s wish was not granted. His obituary states that he was buried at Myersville United Brethren Cemetery, which refers to today’s Mount Zion United Methodist Church Cemetery. Ridgley was a member of this congregation before joining the Myersville Church of the Brethren.

Amongst those who attended the public auction of Ridgley’s estate was Beatrice Toms. In her book Bits and Pieces of My Lifetime, she recounted, as a depressed young teen, encountering Ridgley on a Myersville street. Ridgley comforted Toms, telling her “Things will be better, just wait and see,” and “Little lady, if I ever can be of any help to you, please call on me. I would be proud to help you, if I may.”

The effect of his gesture “was like a life-line being tossed to a drowning soul,” she recalled. “I don’t know if I ever had the occasion to speak with him again, but his kind words had resurrected my self-esteem…. The memory of his kindness and concern lives with me to this very day.”

At the sale, Toms purchased “a handmade walnut pie cupboard and his handcrafted walnut secretarial desk, at which he must have sat and composed many of his sermons, essays, and readings.” The objects reminded her daily of Ridgley. “To me,” she closed, “he was a man among men.” Ω

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Ridgley’s possessions are detailed in this November 1952 estate sale advert.

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Hidden Behind Time: A New Way to Recapture Lost Images

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This daguerreotype was thought lost to the ages until rapid-scanning micro-X-ray fluorescence imaging analyzed the plate. Courtesy Western University of Ontario.

By University of Western Ontario

Art curators will be able to recover images on daguerreotypes, the earliest form of photography that used silver plates, after a team of scientists led by Western University learned how to use light to see through degradation that has occurred over time.

Research published in June 2018 in Scientific Reports—Nature includes two images from the National Gallery of Canada’s photography research unit that show photographs that were taken, perhaps as early as 1850, but were no longer visible because of tarnish and other damage. The retrieved images, one of a woman and the other of a man, were beyond recognition.

“It’s somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time,” said Madalena Kozachuk, a Ph.D. student in Western’s Department of Chemistry and lead author of the scientific paper.

“The image is totally unexpected because you don’t see it on the plate at all. It’s hidden behind time,” continues Kozachuk. “But then we see it and we can see such fine details: the eyes, the folds of the clothing, the detailed embroidered patterns of the tablecloth.”

The identities of the woman and the man are not known. It’s possible that the plates were produced in the United States, but they could be from Europe.

For the past three years, Kozachuk and an interdisciplinary team of scientists have been exploring how to use synchrotron technology to learn more about chemical changes that damage daguerreotypes.

Invented in 1839, daguerreotype images were created using a highly polished silver-coated copper plate that was sensitive to light when exposed to an iodine vapor. Subjects had to pose without moving for two to three minutes for the image to imprint on the plate, which was then developed as a photograph using a mercury vapor that was heated.

Kozachuk conducts much of her research at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and previously published results in scientific journals in 2017 and earlier this year. In those articles, the team members identified the chemical composition of the tarnish and how it changed from one point to another on a daguerreotype.

“We compared degradation that looked like corrosion versus a cloudiness from the residue from products used during the rinsing of the photographs during production versus degradation from the cover glass. When you look at these degraded photographs, you don’t see one type of degradation,” says Ian Coulthard, a senior scientist at the CLS and one of Kozachuk’s co-supervisors. He is also a co-author on the research papers.

This preliminary research at the CLS led to today’s paper and the images Kozachuk collected at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source where she was able to analyze the daguerreotypes in their entirety.

Kozachuk used rapid-scanning micro-X-ray fluorescence imaging to analyze the plates, which are about 7.5 cm wide and identified where mercury was distributed on the plates. With an X-ray beam as small as 10×10 microns (a human scalp hair averages 75 microns across) and at an energy most sensitive to mercury absorption, the scan of each daguerreotype took about eight hours.

“Mercury is the major element that contributes to the imagery captured in these photographs. Even though the surface is tarnished, those image particles remain intact. By looking at the mercury, we can retrieve the image in great detail,” said Tsun-Kong Sham, Canada Research Chair in Materials and Synchrotron Radiation at Western University. He also is a co-author of the research and Kozachuk’s supervisor.

This research will contribute to improving how daguerreotype images are recovered when cleaning is possible and will provide a way to seeing what’s below the tarnish if cleaning is not possible.

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What scanning revealed: A Victorian beauty, now no longer forgotten. Courtesy Western University.

The prospect of improved conservation methods intrigues John P. McElhone, recently retired as the chief of Conservation and Technical Research at the Canadian Photography Institute of National Gallery of Canada. He provided the daguerreotypes from the Institute’s research collection.

“There are a lot of interesting questions that at this stage of our knowledge can only be answered by a sophisticated scientific approach,” said McElhone, another of the co-authors of today’s paper. “A conservator’s first step is to have a full and complete understanding of what the material is and how it is assembled on a microscopic and even nanoscale level. We want to find out how the chemicals are arranged on the surface and that understanding gives us access to theories about how degradation happens and how that degradation can possibly or possibly not be reversed.”

As the first commercialized photographic process, the daguerreotype is thought to be the first “true” visual representation of history. Unlike painters who could use “poetic license” in their work, the daguerreotype reflected precisely what was photographed.

Thousands and perhaps millions of daguerreotypes were created over 20 years in the 19th century before the process was replaced. The Canadian Photography Institute collection numbers more than 2,700, not including the daguerreotypes in the institute’s research collection.

By improving the process of restoring these centuries-old images, the scientists are contributing to the historical record. What was thought to be lost that showed the life and times of people from the 19th century can now be found. Ω

A Widower’s Search for Solace

“Some of my best friends have told me that I need not expect to be happy anymore unless I would marry again and have advised me to do so.”

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Letter from Joseph Brown to Emeline Hoffman, page one. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Myersville, July 10th, 1852

Dear Emeline,

I hope you will not think hard of me for thus approaching you so unexpectedly, as my mind has bin [sic] for some time a good deal taken up with you in regard to coming to see you in order to have some private conversations with you, not knowing at all whether my company would be agreeable or not, but take this plan of ascertaining something about the state of your mind.

Dear Emma, you are well acquainted with me and know all about my situation. You know that I have bin unfortunate in the loss of a very dear and kind companion, one in who my whole soul delighted to honor and respect. But she has gone I trust from a world of trouble and sorrow to one of happiness and joy, and I can have no more comfort nor consolation from her anymore, only with a firm hope and expectation of meeting her again in those blissful regions where parting shall be no more. I can do no more than to respect her memory, which I will ever do.

We read in the Bible that it is not good for man to be alone. I have realized that to be a very true saying indeed. I was once as happy as any person could be in the enjoyment in the company of my much-lamented Mary, but how different my case. With all I have I have no enjoyment & some of my best friends have told me that I need not expect to be happy anymore unless I would marry again and have advised me to do so, although I do not wish to do so for some time yet. But I have come to the conclusion to do so providing I can suit myself. I now feel like a lost sheep, lonely and without anyone to cheer me or comfort me, and if it was not for the comforts and the consolations of religion, I would often times have to despair in sorrow. But thanks be to God that he still comforts and consoles me. I find that I can never be happy again in this world without fixing my affection on one again in who I am satisfied will be a kind companion to me, and dear Emeline, you appear to the only one I can have any idea of going to see at the present and of fixing my affection upon.

You will please excuse me for being so bold in writing to you so soon in my present situation and not knowing anything about your mind on regard to the matter, but I hope you will consider the matter well and then reply to me & let me know as soon as you can something about the state of your mind in regard to the matter. I would like after some little time to have a private talk with you, as I cannot give you the same satisfaction in writing that I could if I was present with you. And you may perhaps see some difficulties in the way which perhaps can be removed.

If these few lines are received by you as they are sent, you can truly rely on me as one who would treat you with kindness and respect. If this does not meet with your approbation, all I ask of you is to tell no one about it except your parents, only burn it, and I hope there will be no harm done and you can respect me as you have always done, and I will do the same.

If you should have any other engagement with any person, I would not wish to interfere upon …?…. I would not like to attempt anything of the kind if your parents should not be satisfied to it.

I have many reasons for this movement, which at the present I could not give, but I have many things to say to you which would no doubt be interesting to you could I have the opportunity to do so, as I would not like …?… should you be …?… to come there to see you. But we can correspond with each other and it will not be found out, perhaps.

Please do as I have said in regards to not telling any person.

Yours truly,

Joseph Brown

The plaintive writer of this remarkable missive was born 28 February, 1819, on a farm in Foxville, Frederick County, Maryland, to Ignatius Brown (1781-1830) and Elizabeth McAfee (1781-1853). Ignatius Brown was a member of the Frederick County Militia, who, on 12 October, 1804, was commissioned as a lieutenant and later became a captain. Brown served in the War of 1812 and later operated a waterpower sawmill located between Foxville and Deerfield. The captain was also a constable and magistrate. He died of typhoid fever on 12 March, 1830, in Foxville, when his son Joseph was just 11.

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Scottish thistles on Joseph Brown’s Monument, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery, Myersville, Maryland.

On his father’s side, Brown descended from early English and Dutch settlers of New York and New Jersey. Joseph’s maternal line were Scots—indeed, Joseph Brown’s tombstone is decorated with Scottish thistles. Perhaps this heritage was significant to him, even after spending his life amongst the heavily German and Swiss population of Myersville, about 12 miles southwest, where he resettled as a young man and eventually set up a thriving mercantile business.

Joseph Brown was in Myersville by 3 October, 1843, when he married a local girl named Mary Doub. Her people were descendants of French Huguenots, who first resettled in Germany, and then came to the Colonies in about 1712. They were amongst the group of settlers who built a religious settlement at Jerusalem, now on the outskirts of Myersville.

Mary Doub Brown was the daughter of John Doub (1799-1824) and Sophia Floyd (1802-1877). The Doubs’ union produced Mary on 11 October, 1823, and another daughter, Caroline (1821-1891). In 1824, John Doub died at the age of 24. Sophia was left to watch his burial in Jerusalem cemetery, perhaps with her two tiny girls beside her. She shortly did what the majority of widowed women with dependents had done for millennia: She found a new husband and provider, Michael Hoffman (1805-1860). The marriage was entirely successful. Sophia and Michael produced five children, one of whom was Emeline Hoffman (1834-1898).

Mary Doub’s life would have been spent wholly in the domestic circles of her birth family, then her family by marriage. The years that Mary spent with Joseph were his salad days. With his wife beside him, Brown developed his large mercantile establishment at what is today 205 Main Street. Brown clearly felt she was more than an adequate helpmeet. The letter indicates that Joseph Brown deeply loved Mary Doub and that, during the decade they were man and wife, he felt that she lived up to the wifely standards of the age; she was his “very dear and kind companion, one in who my whole soul delighted to honor and respect.” Sadly, we know little else about her—not her height, build, the color of her eyes or hair, nor any of her thoughts and feelings.

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Circa 1900: Joseph Brown’s store is the last visible on the far left side of Main Street, Myersville. Flush with the road, it can be seen behind another house that sits farther back. Both yet stand today.

The Browns’ marriage produced three daughters. First was Sophia (1844–1911), named for her grandmother and who married prosperous carriagemaker John T. Hildebrand (1829-1923). Next was Sarah E. (1848-1898), called “Sallie,” who, in 1879, at the age of 31, married merchant and public notary Peter R. Langdon (1859–1920) and made up for lost time by bearing five children before the age of 40; and last, the unusually named Arbelon (1851– 1919), who married Dr. C. W. Harper (1838–1909).

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An albumen carte de visite of Sallie Brown, circa 1865. As well as providing a possible glimpse of her mother, Sallie sports fashions worn by trendy teens of the mid-1860s. Author’s Collection.

Years ago, I acquired a photograph of the middle of Brown’s first three daughters, Sallie, through an independent source. It was not until I obtained Joseph Brown’s letter that my research finally allowed me to link Sallie Brown to her family. It is in the face of Sallie, with her neat dark hair, oval face, and uniform features, that we can perhaps catch a glimpse of Mary Doub, with whom, her husband attested, “I was once as happy as any person could be in the enjoyment in the company of my much lamented Mary, but [now] how different my case.”

Mary Doub Brown died 3 February, 1852, of unknown causes. She was laid to rest in Jerusalem, near the father she could not remember, and next to her brother, Ezra Valentine Hoffman, who died at age 21 in the spring of 1848, four years earlier.

Mary’s loss left Joseph Brown staggered. As his late wife’s mother once lacked a father for little her girls, he was now a widower with eight-, five-, and one-year-old daughters. Brown was more than emotionally bereaved; he desperately needed a wife to care for his children and run his home, and we must wonder whether his best friends’ advice to marry again, without which, they said, “I need not expect to be happy anymore,” was not also given in the hope of reknitting a shambolic household.

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The graves of Mary Doub Brown (left) and her brother Ezra (right). The placement of the burials may hint at a closeness between the siblings, as Mary was five years old when Ezra was born—a perfect age to develop a deep adoration of her first little brother. The grave markers chosen for Ezra and Mary clearly indicate family affluence: They are amongst the largest and most ornate found in a burial ground where most stones are untrimmed slate scratched with German inscriptions. Ezra’s, in particular, is an impressive red brick table tomb with no comparison in the cemetery. A lengthy sentimental inscription covers the sandstone top, at the beginning of which is a decorative tableau of weeping willows, obelisks, and hearts. The latter may relate to Valentine, the young man’s middle name, and which makes clear that Ezra was a cherished firstborn son.

After fixing his mind on the idea of remarriage, it seems Brown cast a mental net for possible candidates and came up with one name alone: Emeline Hoffman, his late wife’s younger half-sister. When Joseph Brown wrote to her, Emeline was nineteen years old. She may have been staying with relations in Petersville, about 18 miles south of Myersville. It is also possible that she was living in Middletown, about five miles away, as her family appears, albeit without her, in the 1850 Census of the district.

Whether Emeline was in Petersville or Middletown, she was somewhere other than Main Street, Myersville, as Brown wrote that “my mind has bin for some time a good deal taken up with you in regard to coming to see you in order to have some private conversations with you.” He asks her to write to him from her current location: “I hope you will consider the matter well and then reply to me & let me know as soon as you can something about the state of your mind in regard to the matter. I would like after some little time to have a private talk with you, as I cannot give you the same satisfaction in writing that I could if I was present with you.” Towards the end of the letter, he tells her that he wants “to come there to see you. But [until that time,] we can correspond with each other and it will not be found out, perhaps.”

Turning to the physical letter, “Miss Emeline Hoffman” is the only writing on the front of the folded pages. (There is no envelope.) Adhesive-backed postage stamps were mandated in the United States in July 1847, so the lack of both a stamp and address indicates that the letter was furtive, delivered to Emeline by a third party. That person may have been a friend of Brown’s with personal business near where Emeline stayed or may have been one of the friends who told him to marry again and who was keen to undertake the matchmaking journey. Whoever it was, Brown clearly counted on his or her discretion.

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These women are not Mary Doub and Emeline Hoffman, but they clearly capture the similarities between sisters that likely drove Joseph Brown’s proposal. Circa 1860, these unidentified 1/9th-plate ambrotypes were taken by “Kimball & Childs’ Ambrotype Gallery, No. 176 Elm Street, Ferren’s Building, Manchester, New Hampshire.” Author’s collection.

In both the United States and Great Britain, marriage between a man and his dead wife’s sister was considered taboo by ecclesiastical law—it was perceived as akin to incest. However, that did not stop grieving men from wedding the sisters of their spouses.

In 1835, the British Marriage Act firmly quashed such unions, although marriages of couples already wed stayed legalized. The desire of men to wed their spouses’ sisters remained so common, however, that by 1842 a bill was introduced into Parliament to end the prohibition. It was defeated, but that loss reignited the public debate that continued unabated through the reign of Victoria and into that of her son, Edward VII. Finally, The Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act of 1907 was passed, as was the clarifying Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act of 1921, giving both types of marriages equal legality.

Today, in an age of very different social mores, we must strive to understand the drivers of these affinal marriages. As it was in Britain, in the United States, unmarried sisters often dwelt with married couples, or visited for long periods of time to help with childbirth, childcare, nursing, and housekeeping. For example, during her final illness in 1821, Elizabeth Branwell cared for her sister Maria Branwell Brontë, the mother of the literary Brontë sisters, who was dying of ovarian or uterine cancer. Elizabeth came the considerable distance from Penzance, Cornwall, to the parsonage at Haworth, Yorkshire, and after Maria’s death, “Aunt Branwell” remained with the six Brontë children for the rest of her life. She did not marry her brother-in-law, Vicar Patrick Brontë, but the matter may well have been discussed between them.

Anne D. Wallace, professor and head of English at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, writes in On the Deceased Wife’s Sister Controversy, 1835-1907, “In the 1849 Commons debates…a Mr. Cockburn, supporting a bill to legalize [deceased wives’ sisters marriages], calls the deceased wife’s sister ‘the person who, of all other human beings, was the best constituted and adapted to act as a substitute for the mother. She was already, as it were, half a mother to them from her very position; and even the law regarded her in the place of a parent. The children, who would have shrunk from a stranger, turned with affection towards the sister of their mother.’”

Wallace also provides the example of Prime Minister and Liberal politician William Ewart Gladstone, who “speaking in opposition to [these marriages] later that year, waxed more eloquent, but in very similar terms: ‘No doubt the children of the first wife derived an inappreciable advantage from the care of the sister of their mother after her death. She stood to them in a natural relation, approved by God and man; and, mindful of the tenderness which united her to one now removed, she carried the overflowings of her tenderness to the offspring of the beloved person who had been called away.’”

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Unidentified sisters, 1/4th-plate ambrotype, circa 1859. The wedding rings of all five have been decorated with gold. Author’s collection.

In the United States of Joseph Brown and Emeline Hoffman’s day, the debate was as vociferous. As in Britain, the primary disconcertion was committing incest in the eyes of God. Other arguments against the marriages included that should a man was allowed to lay with his wife’s sister after her death, little would prevent him from doing so before he was a widower. The sure destruction of the family would follow.

Martin Ottenheimer, professor of anthropology at Kansas State University, writes in Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage, “Acrid debates over marital law in the country during the first half of the nineteenth century were dominated by concerns with the moral consequences of the affinal marriages. Incestuous relationships, in general, were viewed in terms of social and moral implications of marriage. Affinal kin were treated no differently from consanguineal kin in legislating prohibitions. Each side of the debates relied primarily on biblical interpretation and ecclesiastical authority for their arguments…. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the debates over the regulation of marriage no longer focused on biblical exegesis and moral concerns. The emphasis had shifted to the results of empirical investigations into the health of various human subgroups and to the possible physical consequence of consanguinity for offspring.”

Whilst much has been written about why sisters were all-but-tailor-made replacements for a lost mothers, and whilst no one of the Nineteenth Century would disagree about a man’s need for woman to tend his home and mother his children, little has been said about what truly lay in a man’s heart, as opposed to his head, to spur him to marry his sister-in-law. Surely, in cases where the heart played an important role—and Joseph Brown presents every indication of a man being primarily moved by his emotions—that cause is the same as already mentioned in regard to nieces and nephews: the sister-in-law possessed the same ability to soothe and comfort the widower, who yearned the return of the woman he’d lost.

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Unidentified sisters, 1/2-plate daguerreotype, circa 1850. Courtesy Leigh McKinnon Collection.

A well-known American example of this psychological phenomenon is Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, third U.S. president, slaveholder, and lonely widower. Much has been written about how Jefferson established a long and, most likely, genuinely loving relationship with his mulatto slave, Sally Hemings, but little has been said about Sally’s true relationship to her owner: As was Emeline Hoffman to Joseph Brown, Sally Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s affinal sister. Sally’s mother, Betty Hemings, was the daughter of a Welsh ship captain and an African enslaved woman. Betty’s owner was a white planter and slave trader John Wayles, who was also the father of Jefferson’s wife Martha. Soon after the death of the last of his three wives, Wayles took Betty as his mistress and had six children by her, of which Sally was the last, born in 1773.

Although she was two-thirds white, Sally was still a slave, and she came to be owned by Thomas Jefferson through his marriage to Martha Wayles. According to Isaac Jefferson, a former slave at Jefferson’s Monticello, “Sally Hemings’ mother Betty was a bright mulatto woman, and Sally [was] mighty near white…. Sally was very handsome, long straight hair down her back.” Her sister Martha was also beautiful—tall, lithe, and dearly and deeply loved by Jefferson.

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Sisters Caroline and Dulcie Eden, photographed in about 1850. Courtesy National Library of Wales.

Whilst with Jefferson in Paris when he served as U.S. ambassador to France, Sally turned from a child to a young woman who may have looked, moved, and spoken very much like her sister. “Interestingly, [Jefferson historian Annette] Gordon-Reed believes that speech patterns may have been one more way that Sally Hemings actually reminded Jefferson of Martha. Besides resembling each other physically, half-sisters can resemble each other ‘in the tone and timbre of voice, and mannerisms.’ Furthermore, Gordon-Reed points out that ‘even before they were together in Paris, the Hemingses and Jeffersons lived in close proximity to one another and interacted on a daily basis, creating as this did all over the South, a mixed culture of shared language, expressions, sayings, and norms of presentation,’” writes University of Richmond Professor Suzanne W. Jones in her 2011 article “Imagining Jefferson and Hemings in Paris” (Transatlantica: Revue D’Etudes Americanes.)

It is entirely possible that Emeline Hoffman, due to her shared DNA and upbringing, was as familiar to Joseph as Sally Hemings was to Jefferson. Emeline may not only have looked and spoken like Mary but may have emitted similar pheromones that sparked an attraction on a more primal level. A 2012 article by Scientific American, probed the issue: “‘We’ve just started to understand that there is communication below the level of consciousness,’” says Bettina Pause, a psychologist at Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf, who has been studying pheromones and human social olfaction for 15 years. ‘My guess is that a lot of our communication is influenced by chemosignals.’”

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Detail, 1/6th-plate daguerreotype of sisters, circa 1855. Author’s collection.

What transpired after Emeline received Joseph’s missive is not known, but the ultimate outcome is that she did not marry him. The “Why not?” may be speculated in several scenarios: One possibility is that for either religious or personal reasons, her parents did not wish their daughter to make an affinal marriage. Like Joseph Brown, the Hoffmans were Lutheran and may have agreed with scriptural prohibitions against a man marrying his late wife’s sister; they may also have thought the age gap between the two was too great, or that Emeline was not prepared to take on her sister’s three children. Another scenario is that Emeline rejected Joseph for her own religious or personal reasons, including that she had set her sights on another man. A third possibility is that Emeline and Joseph did court, with or without her parents’ permission, but ultimately decided they would not be compatible as man and wife.

What is definite, however, is that Emeline did not do as Joseph requested: She chose not to destroy his letter and apparently kept it for the rest of her life. There is no chain of provenance, so it must be speculated that the letter was found amongst her papers by her children who also chose to save it from fire or rubbish tip because they appreciated the affection that had existed between, if not Joseph and Emeline, then the Brown and the Hoffman families. The letter has now survived for more than 165 years, preserved by descendants or other owners until I became its current custodian in late 2014.

The letter’s tale, written on very fine rag paper that now feels also like worn cloth, remained intact through the years, as did the fondness, I believe, between Emeline and her brother-in-law. Indeed, for the rest of their lives, they dwelt near each other, attended the same church, and could almost surely be found at the same social and family events.

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The memorial to Joseph Brown and his second wife Lenah, St. Paul’s Church Lutheran Cemetery, Myersville.

The woman who became Brown’s second wife and the stepmother of his children on 28 March, 1853, was 20-year-old Magdalena Charlotte Schildknect, known as “Lenah.” The couple had four additional children. Brown was widowed for the second time when Lenah died on 6 January, 1874. In 1878, Brown married a third wife, 35-year-old Lugenia Routzahn (1843-1915).

On 18 September, 1855, Emeline Hoffman wed farmer and laborer David Kinna (1832–1912) and had nine children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. She died 15 September, 1898, at the age of 64, and is buried in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery with her husband beside her.

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Frederick News, 4 March, 1910.

Joseph Brown made his last appearance on the 1910 Census. He was then 91 years old, living off his own income, at what is now 199 Main Street. As is fitting for such a long-lived and well-respected man, he was surrounded by multiple generations of his family. He had then been married to Lugenia for 32 years—longer than his first two marriages combined.

Brown continued to run his mercantile business until 1902, when failing eyesight forced him to retire, ending a “business life of more than fifty years,” during which “he had walked more than 23,000 miles, [as] his place of business was 1/4th of a mile from his residence, ” stated A Brief History of the the Middletown Valley, 1849-1880.

Joseph eventually lost his sight entirely, but the History of Frederick County, Maryland, Volume I, in a section that dates from before Brown’s death, pointed out, “He retains a remarkable memory and can intelligently speak of events of Frederick County for three-quarters of a century past.”

At age 93, Brown died 3 November, 1912, in Myersville. He is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in a row close to the building. Both Joseph and Emeline rest on the same green hill with the spouses they eventually chose—still brother and sister, but never lovers. Ω

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Brown letter, page 2.
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Brown letter, page 3.

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In Honor of Juneteenth, Three Images from my Collection

I own just a few early photographs of African-Americans, for they are scarce and much sought after. I present them with love.

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A gelatin silver bromide print of a beautiful African-American woman wearing full mourning. Despite her loss, she was clearly a survivor. Circa 1900.
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Of this enchanting young Creole woman, I know only that she was from New Orleans, Louisiana, and her name was probably Jois. This was likely a wedding photo. Ambrotype, circa 1855.
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Mrs. Della Powell, Post-Mortem Albumen Print, 1894, photographed by William Carroll, Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. Formerly in the collection of Ben Zigler and now in mine, this rare post-mortem image of an African-American woman, who may have begun her life as a slave, was published in the 2004 book “Mourning Jewelry and Art” by Maureen DeLorme. I’ll be writing more about Della soon. Stay tuned.

Ω

Preternaturally Lovely: Britain’s Queen Alexandra of Denmark

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Albumen carte de visite (CDV) of future Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales, taken at Sandringham in 1863. This image was marketed by the London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 54 Cheapside and 110 Regent Street. There is also a sticker on CDV’s reverse: “Juvenile Book Depot and Passport Agency, C. Goodman, bookseller and stationer, 407 Strand.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia of Denmark as a young woman, circa 1860. She was born 1 December, 1844, in the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen, the daughter of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (later King Christian IX of Denmark) and Princess Louise of Hesse-Kassel. Her upbringing was not extravagant and she remained close to her parents and siblings, even after marrying Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and taking up her new life in Great Britain. Library of Congress.
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September 1862: A group photograph to mark the engagement between the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra. Included are members of the Princess’s family including Prince Christian of Denmark, later King Christian IX; Princess Louise, later Queen of Denmark; Leopold, Duke of Brabant; Marie Henriette, Duchess of Brabant; and Princess Dagmar of Denmark. According to an 1879 issue of the magazine Harpers Bazaar, “A younger generation are fond of recalling the April morning when the young Princess of Wales reached England. The boat touched the shore, and the multitude crowding the quay saw a mere slip of a girl nervously clinging to the railing on the deck, and looking with a pale, pretty face at the new country, her dress plain almost to shabbiness, and her bonnet of so old-fashioned a make that a London milliner was hurriedly telegraphed to for a more lilting head-gear for the future queen’s entry into London. A wave of applause and cheers went up as the Prince of Wales embraced his betrothed and conducted her to the shores of her new home. The same day she was driven through London in great state, and a lady near enough socially to be good authority has told us of her pretty, girlish timidity when the crowd stared at her, with cheers and wild demonstrations of delight.” Courtesy Royal Collection.
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The Dagmar Necklace, a wedding gift given to Princess Alexandra in 1863 by her father, King Christian IX of Denmark. It was created by court jeweler Julius Dideriksen to include 118 pearls and 2,000 diamonds set in gold. It features a replica of an 11th Century Byzantine cross found in the grave of Queen Dagmar of Denmark, the wife of medieval King Valdemar II. The original cross is considered a Danish national treasure. The Dagmar Necklace is occasionally worn by British Queens to this day. Royal Collection.
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10 March, 1863: A hand-tinted albumen print of the Prince and Princess of Wales after their wedding at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. Queen Victoria watched the service from the Queen Catherine of Aragon Closet. The monarch, whose adored husband, Prince Albert, was dead not yet two years and who still deeply mourned him, burst into tears during the service. Royal Collection.
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September 1863: The new Prince and Princess of Wales a few months after their marriage. “I frankly avow to you that I did not think it possible to love a person as I do her,” he wrote to his mother. Alexandra penned, “If he were a cowboy I should love him just the same and marry no one else.” Despite his constant affairs, she never stopped loving him, nor he, her. Royal Collection.
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1864: Alexandra with her firstborn child, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, called Eddy, who was second in line for the throne after his father, the Prince of Wales. Prince Eddy died of influenza in 1892, leaving his mother heartbroken. Royal Collection.
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1869: An intimate albumen CDV of Alexandra, her long hair loose, with the Prince of Wales and their first three children. Alexandra was a hands-on mother who loved to care for her children. Mrs. Blackburn, the royal nursery’s head nurse, recalled that the Princess of Wales “was in her glory when she could run up to the nursery, put on a flannel apron, wash the children herself and see them asleep in their little beds.” Alexandra suffered from rheumatic fever during the birth of Louise, Princess Royal, seen in her mother’s lap in this CDV. The illness combined with labor almost killed Alexandra, and although she recovered, the rheumatic fever left her with a permanent limp. Her gait was later emulated by other women to whom she was a style and fashion icon. Royal Collection.
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A tartan gown worn by Alexandra in 1870. Bath Fashion Museum.
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Alexandra gave birth to Prince Albert Victor in 1864, Prince George in 1865, Princess Louise in 1867, Princess Victoria in 1868, Princess Maud in 1869, and Prince Alexander John, who lived only one day, in 1871. “The Princess’s children were born in such rapid succession that much of her time has been spent in their nurseries; and as a mother, she has excelled even the proverbial English standard. The three nurseries at Marlborough House are fitted up in no way luxuriously, but with every possible contrivance for the comfort and pleasure of the little inmates, and the Princess herself visits them night and morning. Every want is made known to her, every order given by her in person; and looking at the recent picture of her, with her five children grouped about her, one can see her at her best—the happy, loving mother,” reported Harper’s Bazaar. Royal Collection.
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1881: Alexandra, Princess of Wales, wearing the Dagmar Necklace given to her by her father. Royal Collection.
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27 July, 1889: Alexandra posed with her sons George, Duke of York, and Eddy, Duke of Clarence, on the wedding day of Louise, Princess Royal, to Alexander Duff, Duke of Fife. Royal Collection.
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This embroidered silk dress, worn by Alexandra in 1893, proves her figure remained virtually unchanged by six pregnancies during 30 years of marriage. Bath Fashion Museum.
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A smiling Alexandra, Princess of Wales, captured outdoors when in her late 50s, circa 1900. A keen amateur photographer herself, the Princess of Wales holds a Kodak Brownie camera. Collection unknown.
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April 1901: This illumination of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra was part of the Federation Celebrations in Brisbane, Australia. The royal couple had became king and queen on 22 January, upon the death of Queen Victoria. Courtesy Aussiemobs.
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Obverse, commemorative coronation medal for King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, 9 August, 1902, at Westminster Abbey. The coronation had to be postponed for several months after the king suffered appendicitis and required emergency surgery. Mark Etheridge Collection.
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Queen Alexandra dressed in coronation robes.  She was Queen Consort during her late 50s and 60s, until 6 May, 1910, when King Edward passed away and her second son ascended the throne as King George V. Royal Collection.
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1901: King Edward and Queen Alexandra dressed for the opening of Parliament. Alexandra wears black mourning for her late mother-in-law Queen Victoria. Courtesy Royal Collection.
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A late-stage mourning gown worn by Queen Alexandra for her mother-in-law in 1902. (In the background is a mannequin dressed in a mourning gown and widow’s cap worn by Queen Victoria.) This photo was taken by the author at “Death Becomes Her,” an exhibition of mourning costumes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, January 2015.
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The Family Order badge of Queen Alexandra. Royal Collection.
1904: A caricature of the Queen during a trip to Norway. She is portrayed carrying her camera. From one of Alexandra’s personal scrapbooks. Royal Collection.
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Queen Alexandra and her younger sister, Dowager Tzarina of Russia Marie Feodorovna (formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark), ride in the funeral procession of King Edward. Postcard, collection unknown.
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1913: Alexandra, Queen Dowager, dressed in state eveningwear and jewelry, including sash with Royal Family Orders. Library of Congress.
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1915: A sepia-toned bromide print of Queen Mary of Teck (left) and Dowager Queen Alexandra. The image is an early copy of a photo now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London, taken by Christina Livingston Broom. Whether this vignetted image was sold by the National Portrait Gallery or originated with Christina Broom is unknown. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Dowager Queen Alexandra, her daughter Maud, Queen of Norway, and her grandson Crown Prince Olaf,  from “Court Life from Within,” by Eulalia, Infanta of Spain, published 1915.
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Alexandra lived to see the birth of her great-grandson George Henry Hubert Lascelles on 7 February, 1923. This postcard shows four generations together: Queen Alexandra; King George V; Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood; and baby George Lascelles.
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The Dowager Queen in her late 70s, just a few years before her death. As Alexandra grew older, she became the victim of increasing hereditary deafness. Toward the end, she developed mild dementia. Alexandra suffered an unexpected heart attack and died at 5:25 p.m., 20 November, 1925, at Sandringham, Norfolk. Library of Congress.
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A postcard of the tomb of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. She was buried there on 28 November, 1925, after a royal funeral at Westminster Abbey, London.

Ω

“With Great Sorrow I Address You”

“Platitudes for the fallen officer were given in great numbers and the correspondent concluded with a highly personal plea: ‘Poor Joe! May the turf lie lightly on his manly breast.’”

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Major Joseph Gilmour, 48th Pennsylvania

“In the spring of 1864, the pages of Schuylkill County’s most important newspaper was filled with information of exciting events from America’s increasingly bloody civil war. But amid the news of battlefield drama also came the sorrowful news of local soldiers cut to pieces during hellish combat in the rolling hills of the Virginia countryside.”

Read more via Wynning History’s “With great sorrow I address you” – A heartbreaking letter to the father of a fallen Civil War soldier. Ω

“A Rich Man in Every Sense”

Meet Nathaniel Amory Tucker—seafarer, gentleman, businessman, handsome dandy, ardent hunter, Civil War paymaster, brevet lieutenant colonel, faithful Catholic.

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Inside the case of this exquisite 1/6th-plate daguerreotype is written “N. A. Tucker, March 1853.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The opulent mat surrounding this daguerreotype would draw attention from the portrait of a lesser subject, but not the ruggedly handsome, square-jawed, blue-eyed Nathaniel Amory Tucker, then aged 39. Blessed with money and looks, one of his obituaries described him as “an officer and a gentleman of much talent and geniality of wit.” Frère Quevillion, a Catholic priest who knew him well, called Tucker “a rich [man] in every sense.”

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Catherine Hay Geyer, mother of Nathaniel Amory Tucker, from an original carte de visite taken not long before her death in 1869.

Tucker was the son of Catherine Hay Geyer (1778-1869), who married merchant Nathaniel Tucker (1775-1857) on 8 July, 1802, in Boston. The Geyers were well-moneyed. Before the Revolution, Catherine’s father—Nathaniel’s grandfather—Friedrich Geyer (1743-1841), had inherited an estate worth £1,000. The family name was originally Von Geyer and the family was “a late immigrant hither, and the tradition was [that] he was of a good German family,” reports English origins of New England families, Second series, Vol. I.

Frederick Geyer married Nathaniel’s grandmother Susanna Ingraham (1750-1796) on 30 April, 1767. In 1778, just before the birth of his daughter Catherine, Geyer—an ardent British royalist—was exiled and his property sequestered.

In the years that followed, the Geyers were based in London. The family had grown to include one son and five daughters, the latter of whom were undoubtedly raised to be prominent ladies of good society. The eldest, Mary Anne (1774-1814), married Andrew (1763-1841), the son of Jonathan Belcher, first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, on 7 September, 1792. When Catherine’s younger sister Nancy Geyer married Rufus G. Amory on 13 February, 1794, a guest at the wedding was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, father of the future Queen Victoria, who was in Boston on his way to Halifax.

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Nathaniel Amory Tucker’s first cousin, Admiral Sir Edward Belcher (1799-1877), was the son of Mary Anne Geyer and Andrew Belcher. The Belcher family returned to Britain, where his Aunt Mary Anne died in mid-December 1814 and was buried at St. Bride, Fleet Street, London.

Amongst her father’s property seized in 1767 was their Summer Street mansion—a possession not reconveyed until 1791 when Geyer’s U.S. citizenship was restored. “The [Summer Street] house, in the days of Mr. Geyer, was famed for its social gaieties and elegant entertainments. Tradition tells us of the brilliant gatherings of wit and fashion around its sumptuous Board,” notes the article “A Home in the Olden Time,” excerpted from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. “Mrs. Geyer was noted for the courtesy and grace with which she presided and put everyone at their ease. There could have been few pleasanter banqueting rooms in Boston.”

It is likely that Catherine Geyer, born and raised in London, considered herself British and spoke with a like accent. With the wealth, connections, and good looks she assuredly possessed in youth, she was a fine catch for Nathaniel Tucker. He came from a line of Nathaniels, including his grandfather (1744-1796), a Massachusetts Revolutionary War private who served under the command of Colonel Thomas Hutchinson.

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Anna Amory Tucker, sister of Nathaniel Tucker, in late middle age.

Whilst living in Massachusetts, Nathaniel and Catherine had four daughters: Anna Amory (1803-1875), who married merchant Henry Atkinson Green; Catherine Geyer (1805-aft. 1870), who married James Iredell Cutler; Marion Belcher (1807-1851), who wed Rudolph Geyer; and Charlotte Mayette (1812-1850), who married George W. Summer. A son, Nathaniel Amory, was born 30 May, 1809, but died in 1813. A new boy given the same name was born 14 August, 1814, in an apparently successful attempt to replace the first beloved child and only son. This Nathaniel Amory, called “Nat-Nat” by his family perhaps in reference to his position as the second Nathaniel, would grow as the heir to money that was old, new, and accumulated by his own merit.

After the birth of their children, the Tucker family removed to Bellows Falls, Vermont, a town that made much money from industries such as paper milling, woolen textile production, and factories that produced furniture, marble, sashes and blinds, iron castings, carriages, cabinet ware, rifles, harness, shoe pegs, and organs. Connecticut River Valley in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire: Historical Sketches by Lyman S. Hayes explains how the family got its wealth, as well as provides a story about young Nat-Nat himself. It is worth including in near entirety:

“One of the most prominent citizens of Bellows Falls a century ago was a man named Nathaniel Tucker. In 1826, he came into possession of the old first toll bridge across the Connecticut River here, and in 1840, he planned and financed the erection of the present structure that has now served the public 88 years. Mr. Tucker was born in Boston in 1775 and became a resident in Bellows Falls in 1815.

“The first bridge became unsafe, and, in 1840, Mr. Tucker consulted a noted local bridge builder, Sanford Granger, in regard to it. Together they planned and built the present structure…. [Tolls were] gathered for passing these two bridges from 1785, when the first bridge was built, until the towns of Rockingham and Westminster made the present bridge free on November 1, 1904, a period of nearly 120 years….

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The Tucker toll bridge at Bellows Falls, Vermont. From History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont, published in 1907.

“During most of the years of his ownership of the bridges, Mr. Tucker attended to the collection of the tolls himself…. Mr. Tucker was a small wiry man, extremely nervous, and was often the victim of pranks by the boys who teased him. He had a son, Nathaniel, Jr., who was somewhat peculiar and erratic. He was a hunter of some note. At one time, he went hunting on horseback, and in riding through the woods, his gun was accidentally discharged and killed the horse. His father, when he returned home and was told of the accident, was greatly excited, and shaking his cane in the young man’s face exclaimed, “Nat-Nat Tucker, the next time you go hunting on horseback, you go afoot!” much to the amusement of several bystanders.

“In 1839, there was a great freshet and the frame bridge at South Charlestown, known as the Cheshire Bridge, was washed away, coming down the river whole…. The old toll bridge was much lower than the present one, and Mr. Tucker feared for its safety if the oncoming bridge came over the falls whole. Neighbors who saw Mr. Tucker that day often told of his great excitement as the bridge neared the falls, and he frantically motioned with his cane, shouting to the bridge to go on the Vermont side where there was more room. As the bridge neared the dam, it suddenly fell apart and passed under Mr. Tucker’s bridge without harming it.

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Nathaniel Tucker, the excitable father of Nathaniel Amory Tucker.

“Mr. Tucker was an ardent churchman, much troubled at hearing profanity used. The fact that he was very brusque and sometimes thoughtless in his reproofs, caused the boys to annoy him greatly. He was a most ardent friend of Rev. Carlton Chase, rector of Immanuel (Episcopal) Church, who later became bishop of New Hampshire. Mr. Chase was with Mr. Tucker during the freshet referred to above when the water was so high it was in danger of lifting the toll bridge off its abutments. Assisting in tying it with ropes, Rector Chase fell into the rushing rapids, nearly losing his life. A rope was quickly thrown to him, which he grasped, and by which he was drawn, much exhausted, to safety.

“Once each year, Mr. Tucker advertised in the local newspaper that all those from New Hampshire points who wished to attend the Christmas services at Immanuel Church could pass the bridge free of toll. The Christmas services were at that time much more extensive than at present, including illumination of buildings, open hospitality; and, with fine music, they drew crowds from thirty miles around.

“When staging times excited much competition, at one time the ordinary fare from Boston to Bellows Falls was $3.00, but for a short time, even that was reduced to 25 cents. Drivers sometimes ran the bridge to get here first. One day, Driver Brooks ran the bridge and was followed by Mr. Tucker to the local Stage House. He exclaimed with much heat, ‘You run my bridge. The fine is $2.’ Upon which Mr. Brooks drew out his wallet and offered to pay; but Mr. Tucker turned away much calmed, saying, ‘Well, don’t ever do it again.’….

“At the New Hampshire end of the old toll bridge, during the first half of the last century, stood a large building known in its last years as the Tucker Mansion, erected previous to 1799. It was built for a hotel and known early as The Walpole Bridge Hotel. In 1817, it was known as the Mansion House Hotel. Soon after the latter date, it became a dwelling house and was long occupied by Nathaniel Tucker … and the tollhouse also was located on the New Hampshire side of the river, just in front of it. These buildings, with numerous outhouses, were, in their day, the most entitled to the name of ‘Mansion’ of any in this whole region, because of their grand proportions, elegant surroundings of gardens, statuary, and decorative trees and foliage. They were a prominent feature of the landscape when the Great Falls were noted far and wide for their scenic beauty. Persons coming from the south to this vicinity were struck by their beauty and majestic location. They were removed when the railroad was built in 1849…. Mr. Tucker then purchased the brick dwelling on Church Street, now known as the Hetty Green House, and there, spent his last years, still taking tolls at his bridge.”

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The Hetty Green House in Bellows Falls where Nathaniel Amory Tucker’s parents lived during their final years.

Early in life, living near the port city of Boston, Nat-Nat’s imagination was captured by ships and the sea. According to the History of St. Joseph Parish, Burlington, VT 1830-1897, edited by Robert G. Keenan, “He went to sea at the age of 15 and in twelve years progressed from seaman, through mate, captain, and shipmaster, but kept the title of captain.” By 1842, as he approached the end of his 20s, Captain Tucker left the sea behind, possibly for the woman he loved—Maria D. Deming. The couple wed that year and Tucker settled with his wife in Burlington.

Born 10 March, 1817, Maria was the daughter of Eleazur Hubbell Deming (1785-1807) and Fanny Fay Follett (1788-1878). According to Genealogy of the Descendants of John Deming of Wethersfield, Connecticut by Judson Keith Deming, “Eleazur … moved early in life to Chittenden County, Vermont, where he became a prominent merchant in Burlington. He was a man of great energy and sterling honor, and it was said of him that he was the best businessman in Northern Vermont. His son Charles Follett Deming, was a graduate of the University of Vermont, and of Cambridge (Mass.) Law School, who died at the onset of what promised to be a brilliant career as a lawyer.”

Julius, the only other son, died in infancy. There were also five daughters, only three of whom survived to adulthood. The eldest was Caroline—born 19 November, 1811, who married Carlos Baxter and died 25 May, 1843; Juliet—born 20 October, 1814, and lived only a few months; Maria; Anne—born 21 July, 1819, who married in 1838 the Reverend William Henry Hoyt and died 16 January, 1875; Frances, who was born in 1822 and died in 1823; and Mary Elizabeth, who was born in July 1827 and died the following June. All of the children were raised in Burlington at 308 Pearl Street. This was a fine mansion built by their father in 1816 that Maria would eventually inherit.

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Nathaniel Tucker made another appearance in his role as hunting enthusiast within the book History of Vermont: Natural, Civil, and Statistical, in Three Parts by Zadock Thompson. “The specimen of American Bittern described above was presented to me by my friend N. A. Tucker, esq. It was shot by him in his garden in Burlington Village, where it had alighted, on the 30th of April 1845.” The above Bittern specimen was shot and taxidermied in January 1876.

Tucker was in business with his brother-in-law, James Cutler, operating a paper mill at Hubbell’s Falls, and was also a partner in the merchant company of Bradley, Canfield, and Co. In 1847, Tucker helped found Burlington Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. Next, The businessman is also referenced in History of Chittenden County, Vermont by W. S. Rann: “[S]team tow-boats had become necessary for the purpose of ensuring the regular passage through [Lake Champlain] of boats going to New York…. On the 2d of November, 1847, a charter was granted by the Legislature of Vermont to John Bradley, Thomas H. Canfield, O. A. Burton, H. L. Nichols, N. A. Tucker, A. M. Clark, Horace Gray, J. C. Hammond, Charles F. Hammond, and Allen Penfield, for a steam towboat company.”

The month before towboat enterprise charter was issued, Nathaniel and Maria Tucker officially converted to Catholicism; they had previously been ardent Episcopalians. The History of St. Joseph Parish records, Maria’s “brother-in-law, Rev. William H. Hoyt, was Rector of the Episcopalian Church in St. Albans. When the Hoyts converted to Catholicism in 1846, they started [a movement] and about fifty persons are reported to have followed them into the church; among them were Mr. and Mrs. Tucker.” The couple was baptized 8 October, 1847, in Chambly, Quebec, Canada.

Professor Jeremiah K. Durick of St. Michael’s College wrote in the church publication Our Sunday Visitor of 2 August, 1953, that—surprisingly—the Tuckers did not suffer social backlash from their conversion. This fact was put down largely to Nathaniel Tucker’s affability and hospitality at their Pearl Street mansion. In 1853, the Tuckers would hold a reception there for the installation of Bishop Louis DeGoesbriand (1816-1899). The mansion, now known as the Deming-Isham House, still stands in Burlington and is listed on the Library of Congress Register of Historic Buildings.

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The Deming-Isham House, 308 Pearl Street, Burlington, Vermont. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Nathaniel’s Father, the nervous and irascible Nathaniel, Sr., died on 2 Aug 1857, in Bellows Falls. By that date, it had become clear that Nat-Nat and Maria would have no son to extend the line of Nathaniels. Whether there were miscarriages is unknown, but no children were born of the marriage. It may have been a great sorrow to them, but the couple may have accepted it as God’s will and as a mandate to dedicate themselves entirely to their faith and community.

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Montpelier, Vermont Argus and Patriot, 23 June, 1864.

Tucker was 47 when the Civil War began. A man of his age could not be expected to fight, but he could serve in other ways. First, he was an inspector of ordnance at Reading, Pennsylvania, then on 13 June, 1864, he enlisted as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Volunteers Paymaster’s Department and was promoted to full major on the same day. In this capacity, he became a military paymaster who served with the soldiers in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

On March 12, 1866, Tucker was appointed as brevet lieutenant colonel. The 1866 Executive Journal notes his nomination by President Andrew Johnson thusly: “Additional Paymaster Nathaniel A. Tucker, United States Volunteers, for faithful services in the Pay Department, to date from February 7, 1866.” After the war, Tucker was given a position in Washington, D.C., with the Bureau of Preferred Claims of the War Department. He mustered out 1 February, 1869, and returned at last to Burlington.

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Union Army Paymaster F. Brown, photographed in 1863. Collection unknown.

On the day of the 1870 Census, the reunited Tuckers—now 50-somethings—lived alone in Bellows Falls in the old mansion on Pearl Street. On the official document, Nathaniel listed his profession as “merchant” and stated he possessed real estate worth $25,000 (more than $450,000 today); his wife listed her own personal income as $20,000.

The 28 February, 1873 edition of the Burlington Free Press reported that in January 1871, Tucker suffered a stroke that resulted in some paralysis from which he quickly recovered. Sadly, only a few months later, another stroke crippled him. “From that time onward, he was an invalid, confined most of the time to the house, his powers failing by successive strokes…. For two weeks before his death he lay motionless and speechless, yet perfectly conscious, indicating by his eyes and the feeble motions of his lips, his recognition of his friends and the attention shown him. He bore his struggles with unexampled patience, accepted the offices and consolations of religion, and passed away at last without a struggle” on 25 February. Maria, the article noted, had scarcely left his side for eight months.

Nathaniel Amory Tucker was described by the newspaper as “a man of wide acquaintance with men and things, of quick and generous sympathies, and an interested and intelligent observer of public affairs. He was fond of society and gifted with uncommon powers of anecdote and conversation, which with his genial temper and kindly humor, made him a delightful companion. His integrity and frankness won him the respect of all who knew him, and few citizens of Burlington were ever more missed than he when his patriotic duty and subsequent disease withdrew him from daily intercourse with the community.”

Nathaniel was buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Burlington. He was outlived by his mother, Catherine Geyer Tucker, who died in 1875. Maria lived on in Pearl Street with her niece, Jane A. Hugh, and several servants, in the home her family had filled—a house that she and Nathaniel once hoped to fill with their own brood. She lived on until the summer of 1904, when the Burlington Free Press announced her death in the 21 July edition. After 30 years, she returned to Nathaniel’s side. Ω

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The graves of Nathaniel and Maria Tucker, Saint Joseph Cemetery, Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Barb Destromp.
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Maria’s death notice in the Burlington Free Press.