“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.”
Myersville, July 10th, 1852
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.
This English carte de visite (CDV) is one of the most popular in my collection, if Flickr views and Pinterest re-pins equate to evidence, that is. It shows a young British widow—identifiable as such by the white ruching on her black bonnet—squatting in the background, having just propelled her black-clad daughter toward the photographer. The widow stares forward forlornly, her hand over her mouth, indicating without words her shock and concern for their future. It is a candid, painfully honest pose, and one rarely seen in types of images. She is no “Hidden Mother,” but a vital element of a tableau meant to convey the message, “This is his orphan.”
The reverse stamp on the CDV reads “T. Bennett, Photographer, 46 Foregate Street and Church Street, Malvern.” According to research conducted by the creator of Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland, 1840-1940, Thomas Bennett “opened his first studio in Worcester in 1856. At different times, he operated at five studios in Worcester and three in Malvern under his own name and the business continued under the name of Bennett & Son and Bennett & Sons until at least 1916.”
“The 1861 census records the [Bennett] family living at his shop at 46 Foregate, Worcester, where he is described as a Lay Clerk (of the church) and photographer. His firm Thomas Bennett and Son is thought to have been established about 1856. His branch in Great Malvern was possibly the second photographic studio” in that town—this information gleaned from the Malvern Records Office. Bennett threw open the doors of his Malvern studio in 1868 and the CDV of mother and daughter could not have been taken long afterward.
The subject of this CDV is Eliza Schuyler Kuypers, wife of Ethan Alphonso Allen (8 February, 1818-27 November, 1889). Eliza’s husband was the grandson of the American patriot, farmer, philosopher, deist, and writer Ethan Allen (1737-1789) and his second wife Frances Montressor (1770-1834), through their son Ethan Voltaire Allen (1789-1845) and wife Mary Susanna Johnson (26 Sept., 1797-1 November, 1818).
Eliza, born in 1820, was the great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Schuyler (1771-1801) and her husband Rev. Gerardus Arentz Kuypers of Curacao, Dutch West Indies, who had been born on the island in December 1766 and later came to Hackensack, New Jersey, then to Rhinebeck, New York, to minister to the Dutch community there. Eliza’s grandfather was their son, also named Gerardus Arentz Kuypers (1787-1833), who was educated at Hackensack, and then studied theology under his father. He was licensed to preach in 1787 and served as a collegiate pastor in Paramus, New Jersey. In 1780, he moved to New York City to preach in the Dutch language. In 1791, he earned a Master of Arts degree from the College of New Jersey, as well as a Doctor of Divinity from Rutgers in 1810. It is noted that he suffered from asthma but died of “ossification” of the heart 28 June, 1833.
Eliza was the daughter of his son, Dr. Samuel S. Kuypers (8 March, 1795-10 January, 1870) and Amelia Ann VanZant (1794-1864). Dr. Kuypers was an alumnus of Rutgers and a member of the Medical Society of the County of New York from 1820 until his death.
In the CDV image above, Eliza is most probably wearing mourning after her mother’s death in the penultimate year of the Civil War. Amelia VanZant Kuyper’s demise was announced in the New York Times of 8 January, 1864, as follows: “On Thursday, Jan. 7…in the 70th year of her age. The relatives and friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral from her late residence, No. 142 2d-av., on Sunday, Jan. 10, at 3 o’clock p.m. without further invitation.”
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately I became aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure.
Within eBay’s vintage and antique photo subcategory, every slightly odd-looking baby is a dead baby. I confess that when I saw the listing for the carte de visite (CDV) above, I thought this was an infant gone, never to grow up, forever to sleep, dressed in angelic white and buried in a tiny coffin so unfairly made-to-fit, her grave topped by a small stone lamb. This was cruel fate; this was a Victorian postmortem. But those who explore the Victorian propensity to mark gut-wrenching loss via photography should take this story as a cautionary tale, not unlike the one I featured last November, “To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem.”
The CDV’s backstamp is that of “John Davies, Portrait & Landscape photographer, BelleVue High Street, Weston-super-Mare. Formerly with the late T. R. Williams, London, Photographer to the Queen and Royal Family.” There is also a handwritten inscription: “Alice Maud Culley, 8 weeks old, Aug. 1879.”
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately, I was aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure. Alice Maud Culley wasn’t dead. I could then plow into the public records because of the fortuitous identification upon the reverse.
“Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning tears of love,
None so devotional as that of ‘Mother,’
Therefore, by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me.” — Edgar Allan Poe
A quick note: I will be having surgery on Tuesday, 4 April, and will be taking at least a four- or five-day hiatus to recover. I will return as soon as possible. Promise.
The wedding of Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren was so popular that children in wedding attire began to reenact the marriage ceremony.
By Beverly Wilgus
The highlight of the 1863 New York City social season was the February 10 “Fairy Wedding” at Grace Episcopal Church of two of P. T. Barnum’s “little people,” Charles Sherwood Stratton and Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump. In the theatrical world, they were known as General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren—he stood 2’10”; she, 2’6″. There were 2,000 invited guests and Barnum also sold tickets to the reception after the wedding for $75 each. Although 15,000 ticket requests came in, only 5,000 were available. One newspaper, the Cleveland Daily Leader, noted that after the particulars were announced by Barnum, “then followed such a universal toadyism…all for the sake of begging, buying, or stealing invitations to the wedding.”
In spite of the event’s commercial nature, Tom and Lavinia’s marriage was a true love match. (Barnum, however, thought Lavinia was too tall for Tom and that her smaller sister Minnie would have been a better choice of a bride.) Lavinia had also been romantically pursued by Thumb’s rival performer, George Washington Morrison Nutt, whose stage name was Commodore Nutt, but Lavinia’s heart belonged to the Little General from the start. After their marriage, the couple lived in domestic harmony for twenty years until Tom’s death on July 15, 1883.
“Poor boy! I never knew you, yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.”―Walt Whitman
The carte de visite (CDV) shows the young and almost impossibly handsome John Van Der Ipe Quick, born 27 August, 1829, in Lodi, Seneca County, New York, northwest of Ithaca. The CDV is a copy of an daguerreotype that was taken in about 1850, probably when he reached the age of 18.
John’s parents were farmer and Reformed Dutch Church member Christopher Quick and his wife Ellen Van Der Ipe, who was the daughter of John Van Der Ipe and Harriet Ten Eyck. Christopher Quick was born in South Branch, Somerset County, New Jersey, 14 August, 1798, to Abraham Quick (1766-1819) and Catherine Christopher Beekman (1766-1848). Abraham Quick, was, in turn, the son of farmer and Revolutionary War soldier Joachim Quick (1734-1816), who had been born in Harlingen, Somerset County, New Jersey, 22 July, 1734. His tombstone can be found in Harlingen Reformed Church Cemetery, Belle Mead, New Jersey. His wife, John’s great-grandmother, was Catherine Snedeker (1739-1815).
The final resting place of Joachim Quick, Revolutionary War soldier and John Quick’s great grandfather.
The gravestone of Abraham Quick, John Quick’s grandfather.
John’s father Christopher’s union with Ellen Van Der Ipe, who was born 3 November, 1798, in Neshanic, Somerset County, resulted in three daughters: Harriet Ten Eyck Quick, born 30 November, 1822; Maria (b. 1825, died young); and Catherine (b. 1827). After John arrived two more sons followed: Abram, born in 1832, and James, born in 1838. But the Quicks soon may have felt this verse from Job spoke to them most particularly: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; naked I will return there. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken; bless the Lord’s name.”
The 1840s began pleasantly. Eldest daughter Harriet married Cornelius Peterson (b. 1823) on 8 December, 1841. Tragedy struck hard, however, when paterfamilias Christopher Quick died at age 44 on 9 January, 1842. At that time, the recorder of deaths at the Farmville Reformed Dutch Church had the habit of noting a biblical verse by the name of each entry; for Christopher Quick, he chose Mathew 6:10, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Christopher was buried in Lake View Cemetery, Interlaken, Seneca County, New York. In his Will, he bequeathed each of his children $100. His wife was left in charge of his property until his youngest child turned 21, then his estate was to be evenly divided between the children with one-third for his widow.
Harriet became pregnant at about the time of her father’s death, and her first child, a son named Christopher Quick Peterson in honor of his grandfather, was born 8 November, 1842. A life was taken and a new life given, but the cycle was far from finished: The youngest Quick, James, died 29 November, 1843, aged four years, eight months, and 15 days. (The registrar of deaths chose Isaiah 3:10: “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.”) The following year, John’s sister Harriet bore another son, Peter. In 1848, there was the birth of a third son, John Bergen Peterson, as well as the death of John’s little brother, Abram Quick, on 18 April, aged 16.
The 1850 Census enumerated the surviving Quick family in Lodi, with mother Ellen Quick running the family farm valued at $5,500. John was a laborer there, along with 14-year-old William Peterson, who may have been brother-in-law Cornelius’s younger brother. There was one more birth—that of Harriet’s son Abram, on 16 April, followed in short order by the death of John’s sister Catherine Quick on 1 October. A final Peterson child—this time a daughter named Mary, was born 1 November, 1856. (Happily, all of the Peterson children thrived and lived into the 20th century.)
A decade later, on the 1860 Census of Covert—a Seneca County town not far from Lodi—Ellen, John, and William Peterson lived with Hannibal and Maria Osborn and their children—the Quick family farm presumably sold. Osborn was a sawyer—a man who sawed wood, particularly using a pit saw, or who operated a sawmill. John and William were listed as sawyers as well, and this may have been where John’s career rested had the Civil War not removed him from his native state.
John joined the Union Army on 6 August, 1862, at age 29, for a three-year term, entering as a private in the 126th New York Infantry, according Civil War muster roll abstracts. In his enlistment records, John was described as having blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, and standing 5’8″.
By September 1862, John was in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). On 12 September, the troops of Confederate Major General Stonewall Jackson attacked and captured the Union garrison stationed there. The muster rolls state that John surrendered to the enemy on 15 September and was paroled 16 September. The Union Army: a History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, 1861-65, explains, “The men were immediately paroled and spent two months in camp at Chicago, Ill., awaiting notice of its exchange. As soon as notice of its exchange was received in December, it returned to Virginia, encamping during the winter at Union Mills.”
The muster rolls note that John was present during the entirety of 1863, which means that he fought at Gettysburg. According to the regimental history, “In June, 1863, [the 126th] joined the Army of the Potomac, and was placed in Willard’s Brigade, Alex. Hays’ (3d) division, 2nd corps, with which it marched to Gettysburg, where the regiment won honorable distinction, capturing 5 stands of colors in that battle. Col. Willard, the brigade commander, being killed there, Col. Sherrill succeeded him, only to meet the same fate, while in the regiment the casualties amounted to 40 killed, 181 wounded and 10 missing.”
A monument to the 126th can be seen at Gettysburg today. In part, it reads: “The regiment was in position two hundred yards at the left, July 2 until 7 p.m., when the brigade was conducted thirteen hundred yards farther to the left and the regiment with the 111th N.Y. and 125th N.Y., charged the enemy in the swale, near the source of Plum Run, driving them there from and advancing one hundred and seventy-five yards beyond, towards the Emmitsburg Road, to a position indicated by a monument on Sickles Avenue. At dark the regiment returned to near its former position. In the afternoon of July 3rd it took this position and assisted in repulsing the charge of the enemy, capturing three stands of colors and many prisoners.”
From 5 to 24 July, the 126th pursued Gen. Robert E. Lee to Manassas Gap, Virginia. By October, it was fighting in the Bristoe Campaign, followed by the battles of Brandy Station and Mile Run.
The muster rolls state that John Quick was on furlough from 6 to 16 February, 1864, presumably visiting his family in Seneca County. Once he had returned, he was promoted to corporal. His regiment had been hard hit by losses and seasoned men were being elevated to replace the dead. Returns from Fort Wood, Bedloe’s Island, New York City Harbor (where later the Statue of Liberty would be built), place John there in April 1864, where he was amongst the “enlisted men casually at post” on the 25th of that month.
Between 5 and 7 May, John fought in the Battle of the Wilderness, where the regiment lost five men, 62 were wounded, and 9 went missing. Just a few days later, he was at Spotsylvania Court House, where six died, 37 were wounded, and seven went missing.
The 126th saw further action at Totopotomy, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad, the Siege of Petersburg, and Deep Bottom. But it was at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, where John’s luck ran out. According to the website for the battlefield’s preservation, “On August 24, Union II Corps moved south along the Weldon Railroad, tearing up track, preceded by Gregg’s cavalry division. On August 25, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth attacked and overran the faulty Union position at Ream’s Station, capturing 9 guns, 12 colors, and many prisoners. The old II Corps was shattered. Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock withdrew to the main Union line near the Jerusalem Plank Road, bemoaning the declining combat effectiveness of his troops.”
It appears that amongst the many prisoners taken was Corporal John Quick. The muster rolls called him “missing in action at Ream’s Station since Aug. 25 ’64.” Another notation stated, “Captured Aug. 25.” It is believed that more than 2,000 Union soldiers were taken prisoner that day. However, in the correspondence of the Ontario County Times dated three days after his supposed capture, Quick was seemingly still with his unit:
“Casualties of the 126th Regt. N. Y. S. V.
Headquarters 126th N. Y. Vols.,
Camp near Petersburg, Va. Aug. 28, 1864.
To the Times:—The following is a list of the casualties of the 126th in the [battle] of Ream’s Station, Aug. 26th:
Killed—George M. Fuller, Co. D.
Wounded—Corp’l John Quick, Co. C, face; Aaron H. Abeel, Co. E, leg; Chas. Wolverton, Co. E, neck; 1st Sergt. Cornelius Alliger, Co. I, leg.
Missing and supposed to be prisoners: Sergt. Martin McCormick, Co. B; Isaac Miller, Co. C; Alex. Wykoff, Co. C; Michael Cunningham, Co. D; Chester B. Smith, Co. E; Andrew J. Ralph, Co. G; Edgar T. Havens, Co. G; Nathan D. Beedon, Co. B; Charles H. Dunning, Co. B; Frank Dunnigan, Co. G.
None of the wounds are necessarily fatal. I have prepared this list hastily.
J. H. Wilder, Capt. Comd. Regt.”
The extent of John’s face wound, and how, when, and for how long he remained in Confederate hands is unclear, although the military records all indicate that he was indeed a prisoner of war at some point. After his capture at Ream’s Station, he may have been sent to Libby Prison in the Confederate capital, Richmond. Another soldier taken that day, George E. Albee, 3rd Wisconsin Light Artillery and Company F, 36th Wisconsin Infantry, was sent there, as noted in his 1864 diary. He was eventually exchanged and lived to rejoin his family. Another captured soldier from Ream’s Station was Edward Anthony of the 3rd New York Cavalry; Anthony was also held at Libby then Andersonville Prison, and died of an unknown illness in Macon, Georgia, that September. Others captured that day ended up at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina.
The final muster roll notation was that handsome Johnny died 4 April, 1865, “of disease,” with a note appended beneath, “in Rebel prison.” However, a pension application submitted on his mother’s behalf noted that “John Quick died 4 April, 1865, at Harrisburg, Pa. (Camp Curtin) of typhoid fever and scorbutus [scurvy].”
A Federal training camp named after the Pennsylvania governor Andrew Gregg Curtin, “Over 300,000 soldiers passed through Camp Curtin, making it the largest Federal camp during the Civil War. Harrisburg’s location on major railroad lines running east and west, and north and south made it the ideal location for moving men and supplies to the armies in the field. In addition to Pennsylvania regiments, troops from Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and the Regular Army used Camp Curtin. The camp and surrounding area also saw service as a supply depot, hospital and prisoner-of-war camp. At the end of the war, Camp Curtin was used as a mustering-out point for thousands of troops on their way home. It was officially closed on November 11, 1865,” states the Camp Curtin Historical Society.
Camp Curtin’s hospital was John Quick’s last stop on a long road through a terrible war. Weakened by a facial wound and a sojourn as a prisoner of war that resulted in scurvy, this brave man who had survived the carnage of countless battles and skirmishes finally succumbed, so very close to home. His death was not by a bullet or bayonet, but by a disease born of contaminated water or food. Typhoid is excruciating, with high fever and diarrhea that leads to dehydration, delirium, intestinal hemorrhage, septicemia, or diffuse peritonitis. We can only hope that John passed quickly. He was most likely rapidly buried at Camp Curtain in a grave unmarked today.
As for his mother Ellen Quick, the pension application states that “credible witnesses testify that all the property of claimant consists of the income of seven pe’ct interest on $1200. Support by son shown before and after enlistment.” John, it seems, had sent his pay home to his mother. On 13 January, 1866, Ellen was granted a pension of $8 per month, backdated to April 1865.
Four years later, Ellen was listed the 1870 census of Covert, dwelling with her son-in-law, 49-year-old retired farmer Cornelius Peterson, and her daughter Harriet. Ellen, who was then 71, was listed as having no occupation but she had real estate valued at $1,400. She died 8 August, 1878, at age 79. Harriet lived more than three decades afterward, dying 14 December, 1914.
After his tragic death, the 1850s daguerreotype—most likely the only image of John Van Der Ipe Quick in existence—was taken to a studio so that CDV copies could be made for his mother or other relatives. Never a husband and father, the image is John’s only legacy. Ω
“A certain vivid face, looking out at you, with its voice just a breath from speaking, can sometimes stop your heart.”
This carte de visite (CDV) is both visually stunning as well as a lovely example of mourning jewelry as it was worn in the Victorian era. And no, this woman was not Reptilian. Individuals with blue eyes merely looked like space lizards when pictured by early photographic technologies.
This is what daguerreotypist Albert Sands Southworth told his female customers in an 1854 Lady’s Almanac article titled “Suggestions for Ladies Who Sit for Daguerreotypes”: “Remember that positive red, orange, yellow or green are the same as black, or nearly so; and violet, purple and blue are nearly the same as white; and arrange your costume accordingly.”
The CDV’s subject was probably a widow in a later stage of mourning. Her headgear seems to be a snood made of woven ribbons with fancy bows and by the ears and at the crown as well as black-and-white lace that is perhaps loosely ruched around the lower part of the hairnet. In her monumental bookDressed for the Photographer, Joan Severa writes of a slightly fancier gown of an identical cut, “This well-fitted frock shows the fashionable puffed sleeve at its height in the early sixties…. The dart-fitted, short-waisted bodice and gathered straight lengths of skirt, plus the extreme width of the hoop, are clear evidence of the early date as well. Also seen here are the effects of the new corset in ordinary use: the breasts are full, separated, and well-defined, and the rib cage is tapered firmly to the small waist measurement (the corset being very short below the waist) [where a belt] cinches the garment properly.”
And now I must praise her like I should.
Joan Severa passed away in March 2015, aged 89. Although I never met Joan, I consider her a mentor and will be forever grateful for her research that taught me to date 19th Century photographs by fashions worn within a two-to-four year span, and for her writing that immeasurably enriched my understanding of the Victorian era.
Born 7 August, 1925, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Joan was long with that state’s historical society, ultimately serving as curator of costume, textiles, and decorative arts. Dressed for the Photographer won the CSA Millia Davenport Award in 1996, and prizes from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Victorian Society in America, Wisconsin Library Association, and the Golden Pen Writing Award from the United States Institute for Theater Technicians. Her followup My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America contains four daguerreotypes now in my collection.
In the introduction to this book, Joan wrote of the photographic traces of lives gone by, “We experience inescapable emotions when viewing these images. A certain vivid face, looking out at you, with its voice just a breath from speaking, can sometimes stop your heart.” When I read these words I was more than convinced Joan and I were kindred spirits. I’m sure that when first glimpsing the beautiful and hauntingly powerful subject of the CDV above, you may have felt the same sudden forceful hearbeats, the in-rush of air pulled sharply through your nose, and knew that when Joan wrote that last quote, she wrote it for you, too.
Leading us yet along a female pathway, the reverse of the above CDV is marked “Mrs. W. A. Reed, Artist, No. 81 1/2 Hampshire Street, Quincy, ILL.”
According to the Illinois Women Artists Project, “Candace McCormick Reed was born in Crab Orchard, Tennessee, on June 17, 1818, and moved to St. Louis as a young girl. She married Warren Reed in 1842 in St. Louis. Leaving Missouri for Quincy, Illinois, the Reeds opened a daguerreotype gallery in 1848 on the southeast corner of the downtown square, now Washington Park. When her husband died ten years later in April of 1858, Candace Reed became the gallery owner and used her acquired expertise as a daguerreotypist, ambrotypist, and photographer to support herself, two young sons, and her mother-in-law.”
Reed opened the Excelsior Gallery at 103 Hampshire Street in Quincy and took as an assistant her sister Celina McCormick. “Typically working under the name Mrs. W. A. Reed or Mrs. Warren Reed, she advertised in the Quincy Whig & Republican (January 4, 1862) promoting her new stock of camera equipment ‘to surpass everything in the line of her art,’” the Women Artist Project noted, and indeed, her career was a garden of unforgettable images.
Candace Reed died in Quincy 7 April, 1900, and despite an 1878 fire in her studio, “Numerous carte de visite portraits, family photographs and photographs of soldiers during the war survive. These photos, along with city street scenes, record events and provide an enhanced view of local 19th Century culture. Her legacy of photographic work adds immensely to community historical perspectives,” the site states. I am glad that my CVD is one of those that can yet cause a breath to draw and a heart to flutter.
In my collection I do not have an truly similar brooch to the one worn by this CDV’s subject—and this is surprising, as mourning jewelry was produced en masse and brooch bodies, ring and stick pin types, and more were commonly advertised for selection by the jewelers of grieving families. I own identical or extremely similar versions of many of the major styles. The closest match from my collection is probably the one below, made to commemorate the death of an English child only a year or so before Candice Reed photographed the blue-eyed widow above. Ω
It is clear this portrait was taken before Susan slipped into the final downward spiral of Tuberculosis.
Written on the reverse of this carte de visite, of which above is a closeup, is “Mrs. Susan F. Sawin, Died April 23rd 1863 aged 29 yrs 10 mos 23 days.” Susan, née Kimball, born 31 May, 1833, was the daughter of farmer Ruben Kimball and Abigail Spaulding. A native of Manchester, New Hampshire, she died of consumption—Tuberculosis (TB)—in Townsend, Massachusetts, only a little more than a year after her marriage.
In the United States, TB was the leading cause of death during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The University of Virginia notes, “It was estimated that at the turn of the [20th] century 450 Americans died of tuberculosis every day, most between ages 15 and 44.” Susan Kimball Sawin was just one of these. Her simple life as a New England housewife was lived long ago and cut off in its prime, but her memory—and the memories of all the White Death’s victims—should be honored.
Susan was the third of four spouses of Elisha Dana Sawin. He was 5 born January, 1824, in Sherborn, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and was the son of Bela Sawin (1789-1858) and his wife Rebecca Barber (1789-1827).
Elisha, who was as a cooper—a maker of casks and barrels—had taken as his first wife Hannah Campbell, daughter of farmer Daniel Campbell (1792-1873) and Susanna Colburn (1787-1859). Hannah was born 6 November, 1821, in Townsend. The couple married 12 November 1846—he a “bachelor” and she a “maid”—but the marriage lasted less than a year. Hannah died 12 August, 1847, in Milbury, Worcester County, Massachusetts, of an inflammation of the bowels.
Sawin’s second wife was Elmira Bartlett, born 21 May, 1826, in Townsend. Elmira was the daughter of Martin Bartlett (1786-1849) and Elmira Graham (1797-1882). The couple had a daughter, Ella F., who arrived in 1851. A second daughter, Anna M., was born in 27 August, 1853, but died of the croup aged 4 months and 9 days. It was a staggering loss, but worse was to come. As the decade waned, it became clear that Elmira had contracted the White Death and that she was waning, too.
“It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.”
When, in 1820, the poet John Keats (who was schooled in medicine) coughed a spot of bright red blood, he told a friend, “It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.” Within a year, aged 25, he did just that.
At the time of Keats, Elmira, and Susan’s deaths, TB was believed to be hereditary or arose spontaneously. By 1868, a french doctor, Jean-Antoine Villemin, ascertained that the disease was spread from one victim to another by a microorganism.
“In 1882, Robert Koch discovered a staining technique that enabled him to see Mycobacterium tuberculosis. What excited the world was not so much the scientific brilliance of Koch’s discovery, but the accompanying certainty that now the fight against humanity’s deadliest enemy could really begin,” states Rutgers Global Tuberculosis Institute at the New Jersey Medical School.
Meanwhile, the variable course of TB only served to make it more baffling and terrifying. Physicians could not easily predict whether a consumptive patient would succumb within months, linger for years, or somehow manage to overcome the disease altogether.
According to the 19th century American physician Dr. William Sweetser, the first stage of consumption was marked by a dry, persistent cough, pains in the chest, and some difficulty breathing, any of which could be symptoms of less dire illnesses. The second stage brought a cough described by Sweetser as “severe, frequent, and harassing” as well as a twice-daily “hectic fever,” an accelerated pulse, and a deceptively healthy ruddy complexion.
In the final, fatal stage, wrote the doctor, “The emaciation is frightful and the most mournful change is witnessed… the cheeks are hollow… rendering the expression harsh and painful. The eyes are commonly sunken in their sockets… and often look morbidly bright and staring.” At this point, throat ulcers made eating difficult and speech was limited to a hoarse whisper. Once the distinctive “graveyard cough” began, the diagnosis was certain and death was inevitable. Rarely, wrote Sweetser, “life, wasted to the most feeble spark, goes out almost insensibly.” More typically, severe stomach cramps, excessive sweating, a choking sensation, and vomiting of blood preceded the victim’s demise.
Elmira Sawin rasped her last breath on 21 August, 1860, when her daughter Ella was only four years old. The widower took almost two years to court the little girl’s new mother.
Pretty Susan Kimball, aged 27, became Ella’s stepmother on 10 June, 1862. Sadly, in short order, Susan began to exhibit the telltale signs of TB. Her fight was brief, and with the greening of Spring 1863 she joined Elisha’s previous spouses at Townsend’s Hillside Cemetery. However, unlike Hannah’s and Elmira’s graves, today Susan’s is unmarked. It is uncertain whether there was a headstone that has now vanished or whether Elisha Sawin chose not to have one made.
Elisha, now aged 40, waited only until Autumn to take as his fourth wife, Mary Jane Gilson. Born 19 May, 1830, in Brookline, she was the daughter of William Gilson (1802-1887) and Eliza Ames (1806-1841). The couple married 26 October, 1863, in Townsend. Elisha, Mary Jane, and Ella appear together on the 1865 Massachusetts State Census and the 1870 Federal Census.
On 4 August, 1875, Ella Sawin married the superintendent of schools in Westerly, Rhode Island, Eliel Shumway Ball (1848-1892), whose obituary (above) details his life. Together they had four children: Rose Julia Ball was born in 1876, but died in 1880 at age four; Arthur Watson Ball was born in 1878 and lived only two years; Laurence Sawin Ball was born in 1882 and Alfred Tenney Ball in 1886. The two youngest sons lived to adulthood.
After her husband’s death from acute Bright’s disease on New Year’s Day 1892, Ella lived on as a widow for another 36 years. She died 3 February, 1918, and is buried at Hillside Cemetery.
The union of Elisha and Mary Jane produced no children of its own but appears to have been a busy and happy one. By the enumeration of the 1880 Census, Elisha Sawin was no longer a cooper, but had become a peddler in Townsend. He was also deacon of the Townsend Congregational Church and his wife was involved with its mission, too. The 17 July, 1890, Fitchburg Sentinel notes that Mary Jane, in the company of other Townsend ladies, was “gone to Framingham to attend the Chautauqua meetings there.”
The couple, however, entered into serious decline in the last months of 1899. On 20 October, the Sentinel reported, “E. D. Sawin, who has been ill several weeks, was able to be out Saturday last, but has since had a relapse and is now again confined to his bed.” His sickness was almost certainly chronic cystitis, a bacterial infection of the bladder by Escherichia coli. The illness plagued him throughout the remainder of his life. On 17 November, Mary Jane Sawin died from pneumonia. Elisha outlived her by not much above a year, dying of chronic cystitis, age 77, on 7 January, 1901.
Susan Sawin’s photograph was probably trimmed for insertion into a mourning brooch.
My CDV of Susan Sawin is likely a copy of an original ambrotype or daguerreotype, as the fashions Susan wears could date to as early as about 1853, when she was about 19, or may be late in the same decade. Without seeing more of her clothing, it is hard to pinpoint, but it is clear that this portrait was taken before Susan slipped into the final downward spiral of Tuberculosis.
Susan’s albumen paper image was cut into a small circle probably meant for insertion into a mourning brooch. Multiple copies may have been made for several mourning pieces, and mine was a spare glued onto a CDV card. Ω