When Hannah McCracken Kelly died in 1855, she left two small children who would retain no memory of her and possess no photographic image other than this postmortem daguerreotype.
Hannah B. McCracken was the daughter of John and Mary McCracken (or Mecracken), who farmed in Claysville, Washington County, Pennsylvania, during the early 19th Century. Named after the “Great Compromiser” U.S. Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852), the town is located on the line of the Cumberland Road which forms its Main Street. Claysville is 18 miles east of Wheeling, West Virginia, and 10 miles west of Washington, Pennsylvania. The town was laid out in 1817 and remained unincorporated until 1832.
John McCracken was born about 1795 in Pennsylvania and died 28 December, 1865, in Claysville. His wife, Mary, the daughter of Samuel Caldwell of Buffalo Township, was born in about 1797 and died 4 August, 1878. The couple married in Washington County on 30 December, 1820. They are buried together in the old Purviance Cemetery, Claysville.
Hannah was the eldest child, born in 1829. She appears on the 1850 census of Donegal Township, Washington County (about 3 miles northwest of Claysville), with her parents and siblings. The next born, in January 1830, was Samuel C. McCracken. He married Susannah R. McCay and migrated to Longton, Elk County, Kansas, where she passed away in 1900; he followed in 1912. They had three children. Youngest brother John H. McCracken was born in 1834. He had removed to Des Moines, Iowa, by 1875, when he married Emily Robinson on 10 March. On his wedding day, He listed his occupation as merchant. The youngest daughter was Mary, born in 1837.
Hannah married Dr. John W. Kelly 12 September, 1852, in Claysville at the First Presbyterian Church on Wayne Street. Kelly, born in 1823, was the son of John Kelly and his wife Mary. The union quickly resulted in the birth of two children: George Mutter, in 1854 and Clara Brownell, born 12 February, 1855. A reasonable speculation is that Hannah Kelly died, at approximately age 31, because of this second labor and delivery or of puerperal sepsis thereafter.
The daguerreotype I own was likely taken whilst Hannah was laid out in the Kelly home before burial in Purviance Cemetery. The image was prettily hand-tinted and is housed in a nearly perfect union case with domed glass over the image. Two copies were made, both of which surfaced after I purchased mine in early 2012 from a dealer in Alexandria, Virginia. The first copy was auctioned on eBay in July 2012. The second copy, located in Australia, was sold on eBay in October 2012.
Almost certainly, each of Hannah’s children was given a version of the image. The third may have belonged to Dr. Kelly. My daguerreotype is the original and the only one with identifying information included. It shows Hannah in mirror image, as all daguerreotypes do because they are viewed from the side that originally faced the camera lens. The copies were made later, in the photographer’s studio, thus returning Hannah to her actual orientation upon the bed on the day she was photographed.
Widower John Kelly, the Clayville area’s only physician, who rode out in all weather or times of day to attend his patients, was left with a toddler and a newborn infant. In short order, he wed again. The bride and step-mother was Anna Eliza Laird, born 28 December, 1837, the daughter of John Laird and Agnes Maxwell. Dr. Kelly and Anna Eliza had one child, Hannah Mary, born in 1858 and christened with the name of Kelly’s first wife.
After she died, aged 76, in August 1914, Ann Eliza’s obituary provided her background: “[Her] family were among the pioneers of this section, descending from John and Mary Snodgrass Laird, natives of Ireland, where he was born in 1758. He came to the United States in about 1792. His wife and family came about 1800. They traveled by team to Lancaster, where he had located. About the year 1801 they came to near Taylorstown, and later Mr. Laird bought a tract in Donegal township, where they made a home. There the deceased was born and reared.
“She was married to Dr. John W. Kelly, for years was a prominent physician in Washington [Pennsylvania,] who died [30 October,] 1899. One son and one daughter are bereaved—Dr. George M. Kelly, of Washington, and Clara, wife of George E. Lockhart, who resides on the Kelly farm in Buffalo township, about a mile east of Claysville.”
The obituary does not mention Anna Eliza’s own daughter, Hannah Mary, who the 1870 Census reveals lived to at least to 12 years of age. Whether she died young or married and died before her mother is unclear. What is certain is that Hannah’s children, George and Clara, saw Anna Eliza as their mother. It was she who had raised them, fed them, taught them, heard their prayers, and nursed them when they were sick.
Yet Hannah McCracken’s name was not forgotten. The note with my daguerreotype was written by one of the two children, as it reads “Our mother, taken after the death.” She had lived on in the name of their younger sister. And when George Kelly died of arteriosclerosis in 1927, his death certificate and obituary stated correctly that he was the son of Dr. John W. and Hannah McCracken Kelly.
“His father rode the mud roads of his day in all the surrounding country on horseback to attend the sick and afflicted. For years he was the only physician residing [in Claysville]. Dr. [George] Kelly attended the common school here and W. & J. college until completing his junior year, when he entered Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, graduating in a class of 170 in 1875. His thesis was entitled ‘Acute Pleurisy.’ He served as interne in Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh, then associated with his father at 39 North Main Street, Washington, continuing eight years until 1885, when he studied ophthalmia in Morefield Hospital, London; eye, ear, nose and throat diseases in Berlin and Vienna. He had an office in the Joseph Horne Building, Pittsburgh, until it was destroyed by fire, May 1, 1927.
“He resumed a partnership with his father, continuing 15 years, part of each year being spent in study in New York and Philadelphia, specializing in surgery, diseases of the stomach, and other subjects. He was a promoter of the old Washington Hospital and helped make it a reality. He served 15 years on both the surgical and medical staffs. He held similar positions with the City Hospital. Local educational and civic interests were also given of his time and mind, serving on the school board. He was a member of Trinity Episcopal church and served as vestryman.
“He leaves his wife, Mrs. Rose LeMoyne Kelly, and one sister, Mrs. [Clara] George E. Lockhart, both of Washington.”
A year after her brother wed, on 11 February, 1903, when also in her late 40s, Hannah’s daughter Clara married 50-something George Edwin Lockhart (1848-1924) at Trinity P. E. Church in Pittsburgh.
As a teenager, Lockhard had joined the 147th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and was with General William T. Sherman at Atlanta and during the famous “March to the Sea.” Afterward, in his native Pennsylvania, he became a player in Washington County’s Republican party, served as deputy sheriff then sheriff in the 1880s, and was chief clerk of the County Board of Commissioners from 1897 to 1906.
The childless couple owned the farm near Findley Township where the renown William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) was born, using it as their summer house. McGuffey was a college professor who wrote the cherished McGuffey Readers, the first elementary school textbooks used in the United States. Millions of adult Americans felt what we now call the “warm fuzzies” about these books that shaped their childhoods.
After Lockhart died of the grippe and angina, Clara was a wealthy widow. Deeply devoted to animals, before her own death from bladder cancer on 1 November, 1931, she made a Will specifying the use of $85,000 to turn her farm into a haven for friendless cats, dogs, and horses. The animal sanctuary was administered by the American Humane Society. Clara passed away with a cat named Buddy upon her deathbed.
Clara, her husband, father, and step-mother are buried in Washington Cemetery. John and Anna Eliza share an elaborate above-ground tomb. Clara and George Lockhart’s graves are either unmarked or they, too, rest in Dr. Kelly’s mausoleum. Clara’s possessions were sold or otherwise dispersed. There were no descendants to treasure them. Today, I protect what may have been her singular image of a long-lost mother.Ω
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
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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“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.’”
“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.”
“Her husband was the only one in the room, and he was asleep.”—Louisville Courier-Journal
The earthly remains of Iola M. Haley Newell are buried in Somerset City Cemetery, Somerset, Kentucky, within the casket seen above. It was almost certainly white, with a crackled paint finish and colored velvet covering the pallbearers′ handles. The rest of the gently sunlit parlor held rich photographic detail. The fireplace was surrounded by colorful Victorian art nouveau tiles. On the wall, above the harp-shaped floral tribute, a paper or cardboard image of a blooming plant proclaimed, “The Year of Flowers.” Reflected in the mirror, along with two female mourners, were more images also possibly culled from “The Year of Flowers.” Behind the black-clad ladies was the staircase to the home’s upper floor.
It is a wistfully beautiful image: A bright-colored room, burgeoning with flowers in recognition of a beloved daughter, sister, friend, and bride of little more than a year, dead before age 30. The most likely causes of Iola’s demise should have been pregnancy complications or childbirth. However, there is no record of a child born alive or dead—and if the latter, we would expect to see the stillborn infant in the casket, beside its mother.
It is also clear from the photo that Iola was not the a victim of a wasting disease, rather of something that cut her down in otherwise acceptable health. Her husband, Dr. John B. Newell, survived Iola narrowly, dying a year-and-a-half later. Newell worked in a field of medicine—dentistry—whose practitioners could be easily exposed to Tuberculosis and other contagious diseases. Another possible cause for one, or both, of the couple’s deaths was typhoid. An epidemic occurred in Pulaski County in 1920, and since the disease can be waterborne, contaminated waterways may have existed in the area in the decade before, when the couple were yet alive.
I have, however, recently learned that none of my logical speculations were the cause of Iola’s passing. The reality was not logical, not acceptable. It was, frankly, shocking.
Kentucky native Iola Haley, born 14 September, 1872, was the eldest daughter of John Perry Haley (1847-1931) and his wife Elizabeth Jane (1850-1941), who married 25 March, 1868, in Somerset County. Her paternal grandfather was H. W. Haley, a lawyer in Pulaski County (b. 1820).
Iola had an older brother, Thomas Walker (March 1870-23 Sept., 1926) and a younger sister named Elizabeth Pearl (b. 14 Jan., 1878), called “Pearly,” who may have been the writer of the inscription on the reverse of the photo, although this is problematic for internal reasons. Another brother, Jack R., was born in 1886.
The 1880 census shows the Haley family living in the town of Somerset, with John Haley working as a store clerk. He would eventually rise to become a prominent merchant. On the census, Iola was enumerated as “Ollie,” aged 8.
In 1898, the entire Haley family, including Iola, left Somerset for a new life on a farm in Bozeman, Montana. At the time of the departure, however, there almost certainly existed deep affection between Iola and her future husband, for whom she would return to Kentucky in mid-1900. John was born 4 September, 1873, in Somerset. The two probably had known each other for many years, as their families moved in the same social circles.
John’s father was Henry Clay Newell (6 June, 1832-6 Nov., 1912) and his mother was Florence V. Beattie (9 Nov., 1835-21 Nov., 1912), daughter of John Beattie (3 Dec., 1786–1 March, 1861) and Sarah Edminston (30 July 1790–23 Dec., 1868). John’s family had been in Somerset for the entirety of the 19th Century and at least the latter half of the 18th. The 1850 Census recorded Henry Clay and his numerous siblings—including a brother named John B., after whom his son would be named—living on a farm in Somerset with his parents, John Montgomery (1790-1871) and Margaret Beatty (1799-1851) Newell. Whether Henry Clay fought in the Civil War is unclear, but on 6 April, 1866, he became post master for Stiggalls Ferry, Pulaski County. Three years later, 7 December, 1869, he married Florence Beattie. The 1870 census showed the couple working a farm near the rest of Henry’s family. A decade later, they were still there, with young son John and a daughter, Sallie (1870-1926).
The 1890 census was destroyed by fire, so our next glimpse of the Newell family was during 1900, when Henry Clay was enumerated on the Somerset census, living on the east side of Crab Orchard Street, as a 67-year-old “capitalist,” whilst John Newell was enumerated as a 26-year-old dentist. The census was taken too early in that year to include Iola, although arrangements may have been in the making then for John and Iola’s September wedding.
In my searches, I found neither evidence of the Newell’s marital happiness nor unhappiness. Should Newell or Haley relatives who possess deeper insight discover this article, I welcome communication via the contact page. This stated, and extrapolating from the reported facts of 31 October, 1901, it is clear the marriage was in crisis.
On Halloween, at the Newell family home in Crab Orchard Street, Iola rose early, perhaps at dawn, to fix her husband’s morning meal. When the food was ready, she climbed the stairs to the bedroom “where her husband slept and called him to breakfast,” reported the Nashville Tennessean. Iola “then turned, and picking up a pistol from the dresser, fired a bullet into her brain.” Iola died bout one hour later, without regaining consciousness.
It would be repeated by newspapers in multiple states that Iola was in unspecified poor health and that something dark drove her mind. “She feared she was going to become insane,” noted the Paducah Sun Democrat. “Fearing she would lose her reason, Mrs. Iola Newell…committed suicide,” reported the Adair County News. “Mrs. Newell had been despondent from ill health for some time,” stated the Danville Advocate.
Details of the event vary between publications and this raises troubling questions about what really happened in that bedroom on Crab Orchard Street. For example, the Louisville Courier-Journal states, “It is not known how the shooting was done, as her husband was the only one in the room and he was asleep. The ball entered the back of the head and ranged downward into the vertebra.”
Is it possible that Iola actually shot herself from behind?My limited research on suicide by gun indicates that if a person can reach that far, shooting oneself in this way is possible—but is it likely? Why cook breakfast, wake your husband—as the Tennessean reported—and then grab a handy, loaded gun to end your life in front of your spouse? (Unless this was, in itself, a statement on their relationship.) Sadly, I must propose the possibility that Iola did not kill herself, but instead was murdered. If correctly reported by the Courier-Journal, the gunshot from behind with a downward trajectory hints at foul play. The Advocate’s coverage seemed to moot the possibility, too, noting that Iola “was shot in the head and almost instantaneously killed in her own room…. The only other person present at the time was her husband [emphasis mine]….”
Did John Newell shoot his wife? Lacking further information on family dynamics or a death certificate—which do not appear to exist for either Iola or John—I can only continue to speculate.
As mentioned at the start of this article, John Newell did not long survive Iola. Unlike hers, however, his death at age 29, 6 April, 1903, apparently went unreported. He was buried beside her in Somerset City Cemetery, in the Newell family plot that would also contain his parents.
Stepping forward nine years past the 1901 death of their daughter-in-law and seven years past the death of their only son, the 1910 census placed Henry and Florence Newell in Catlin, Vermilion County, Illinois, living in retirement beside their daughter Sallie Newell Colyer, her husband John (a bank cashier), and their grand children Florence and Varnon. Henry Clay Newell died 6 November, 1912; Florence Newell died only a few weeks later on 21 November, 1912.
Iola’s father farmed in Bozeman for some 33 years, dropping dead at his dining table of a cerebral apoplexy in June 1931. Her sister Pearly went on to marry William Douglas Bell. They had a daughter, Jane (1917-2000). Pearly died in Helena, Lewis and Clark County, Montana, 15 June, 1961.
Iola’s brother Thomas married Nellie Wood and had a number of children, including John Perry Haley (1895-1972), the “Perry Haley” mentioned in the photograph inscription. Family history published at Findagrave.com reports, “John Perry Haley received his education and spent his boyhood on the home farm near Bozeman, and Billings, Montana, and at the age of 20, taking charge of the ranch while his parents were in Boise, Idaho.
“In the spring of 1920 he went with his father to British Columbia where they were looking for a stock ranch and that fall Mr. Haley lost his entire capital when a bank near Billings failed. For 3 years Mr. Haley was part owner in the Midnight Frolic Roundup near Billings. Mr. Haley erected a grandstand with racetrack and chutes and operated a summer resort, which was used as a dance hall and skating rink. In 1925 he moved to Klamath County and he and his brothers, Oliver and McClellan, leased their father’s ranch.
“Within 2 years J. Perry Haley rented a farm near Malin and during the ensuing 3 years he added acreage and by 1930 bought his own place. In Columbus, Montana, July 6, 1917, he married Dorothea Haggerty. The were the parents of 4 children born in Montana: Iola Louise born Jan. 4, 1919; Nellie Juanita born June 13, 1920; Maxine Leila born Aug. 11, 1923; and Thomas Walker Haley born Oct 12, 1924.” Ω
“I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it.”
To: Miss Anna M. Ramsey Richborough P.D. Bucks County Pennsylvania C/O Mr. Ed Ramsey Please forward
High Point April 27th ‘84
Dear Cousin Anna,
Yours of April 4 received. Was so glad to hear from you. I had looked for a letter for some time from Aunty. But have treasured up my last one from her. Anna, I sympathize deeply with your in your affliction. Your loss is her gain. But it is so hard to part with those we love so dearly but Aunty has only passed from this wicked world to a brighter and better one beyond. But oh the loneliness and sadness in the home without a mother or father. My heart aches for you, well I do remember the bitter pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world. To this day I grieve for her. But time changes all things and we must be reconciled.
I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it. But felt very sad indeed. I wanted to come east last fall to see you all once more but Jeff was sick so long and so bad that we could not leave him. I think from what you tell me about Aunty she must have been (in her sickness) very much like cos Kate Hume (McNair). She did not suffer pain but had that distress feeling and sick at her stomach. She had a cancerous tumor.
Dear Anna, we are so lonely. We miss Jeff so much. He was so good and kind to all. I had often read of happy deaths but never witnessed such a one in my life. He was sick only five days. In the afternoon of the day he died, Rosie was sitting on his bed crying. He said to her “I would so much rather you would go to the piano and play and sing for me ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ then to sit here and cry.” She went to the piano and played and tried to sing with the help of some friends. Poor child. It seemed as if it would kill her almost.
He bid all goodbye and talked to each one separately and was perfectly willing to go. Said he did not dread death and was ready to die, only his worldly affairs were not just as he would have them. He thought he lingered longer toward the last then he ought to, so asked a friend to read and sing with the friends that time might pass faster. There was about 50 persons in to bid him farewell. He shook hands and had some good word for all. It hurt him very much to talk but when he found he could not live he talked the most of the time until about half an hour before his death.
He had a great many friends. There was between 1,000 and 1,500 persons at his funeral. He requested to have one of our old preachers to preach at his funeral. The sermon was very good. He was buried with Masonic honors. We sent a notice to Aunty. Did you get it? Anna, I would like you to write to me soon and tell me about Aunty’s death. All join one with much love to all friends. Accept a very large share for yourself.
From your cousin,
Harriet S. Hart
The poignant letter above was written by Harriet Shepard Vanartsdalen Hart (22 February, 1830, Philadelphia, PA–11 December, 1900, High Point, MO), wife of Thomas Jefferson Hart (9 February, 1826, Bucks Co., PA–29 February, 1884, High Point, MO). According to his obituary, Hart struggled for years with “an enfeebling lung disease,” his “exhausted nature at last yielded to an attack of acute pneumonia after five days’ illness,” leaving a Harriet a widow with eight surviving children of the 16 she had born.
Many years later, Jeff Hart’s then-middle-aged son Louis, a lawyer and later governor of the State of Washington, filed an application to join the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). The document contains substantial genealogical evidence about the Hart family, naming Jeff Hart’s father as Lewis Folwell Hart (17 March, 1792, Bucks County, PA–1841, Belleview, Illinois). Jeff’s mother was Sidney Gill (1796–1854). He was the grandson of Joseph Folwell Hart (b. 7 December, 1758) and Ann Folwell (1758, Warminster, PA–11 March, 1843, Southampton, PA), who was the daughter of Colonel William Thomas Folwell (1737 – 1813). That Joseph was the son of Warminster, Pennsylvania, native Joseph Hart (1 September, 1715–25 February 1788) and his wife Elizabeth Collet (14 May, 1744, Philadelphia, PA-19 February, 1788, Warminster, PA).
Joseph, Sr., took part in the American Revolution as a “colonel, Second Battalion,” the SAR application notes. He commanded a regiment of Bucks County militia, serving in Amboy, New Jersey, during the latter part of the summer of 1776. Joseph, Sr., was a great-grandson of Christopher and Mary Hart of Oxfordshire, England, who came to America with William Penn and settled in Warminster Township, Bucks County, where the family lived until 1855, when Jeff Hart moved his branch of the family to Missouri.
Harriet was the daughter of John Vanartsdalen (b. abt. 1800–aft. 1870) and his wife Maria S. Davis (1807, PA–7 November, 1854, Philadelphia, PA). Harriet’s family was descended from early Dutch settlers Simon Jansz Van Arsdalen and his wife Jannetje Romeyn.
Jeff Hart married Harriet Vanartsdalen on 16 March, 1848. On the 1850 Census of Philadelphia, the young couple and their second-born son John Byron (b. 1849, PA–1886) (the first, also named John Byron, died either at birth or in early infancy), were living with—or possibly visiting—Harriet’s mother Maria, the woman of whom her daughter would later write, “Well I do remember the pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my own dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world.” Also in the household was Harriet’s younger brother, John (b. 1835). Jeff Hart’s occupation at that time was carpenter.
Harriet lost her beloved mother in November 1854. Maria was laid to rest in Philadelphia’s Odd Fellows Burial Ground, an historic cemetery at 24th and Diamond Streets established in 1849. The cemetery property was acquired by the Philadelphia Housing Authority in 1950 for construction of a housing project. The bodies that had been interred there, including Maria’s, were relocated to Philadelphia’s Mount Peace Cemetery and Lawnview Memorial Park in Rockledge, Pennsylvania.
When the U.S. Civil War erupted, the Jeff Hart family had been in Missouri for about six years. They dwelt in “Township 43, Range 15” of Moniteau County. Today, that place is called High Point. It is less a town than a crossroads placed amidst a deeply agrarian landscape. At High Point, the 1860 Census reveals Jeff Hart had made a leap from carpenter to merchant, and Harriet managed four children who ranged in age from 11 to six months: Byron; Frank H. (1858 – 1905), Laura Louisa (b. 1859); and Lillie Josephine (1856 – 1863).
Jeff Hart served in the U.S. Civil War in Company B of the 48th Missouri Infantry as a captain. His registration record of the summer of 1863 enumerates him as a 37-year-old merchant with three months of previous experience serving in a militia. According to its regimental history, his unit saw service at Rolla, Missouri, “until December 9, 1864. Defense of Rolla against Price.” This is likely the only military action that Hart participated in.
“In 1864, the Missouri legislature was gearing up for a new election. Confederate leaders believed that if they could take the capital, Jefferson City, return the exiled Confederate politicians there, and hold elections, that the state would elect a Southerner, putting the state legally in the hands of the South for the next four years. General Sterling Price was chosen to lead this raid because of his popularity in the state,” explains The Civil War in Missouri.
After this, Hart moved with the unit to Nashville, Tennessee, from December 9 to 19. Then, his unit was “assigned to post duty at Columbia, Tenn., and garrison blockhouses on Tennessee & Alabama Railroad from Franklin to Talioka until February, 1865. Moved to Chicago, Ill., February 18-22. Guard duty at Camp Douglas and escort Confederate prisoners to City Point, Va., for exchange until June 16. Ordered to Benton Barracks, Mo., June 16. Mustered out June 22, 1865. Regiment lost during service by disease 120.”
After the war, on 29 March, 1867, Jeff Hart was appointed postmaster for High Point—it was a position that made practical sense, as he operated out of an adjoining storefront. Hart held the government-paid postmaster position until his death. The 1871 Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval in the Service of the United States states that his pay that year was $110, but in 1873, it had fallen to $81. A slight lessening likely did not discomfit the family. In 1881, the Osage Valley Banner reported in its social column that Hart, who was “largely engaged in [railroad] tie contracts and general merchadise,” had been in town—the paper naming him “the Rothchild [sic] of High Point.”
The 1870 Census of Moniteau County lists the couple’s children living at home as Byron; Frank; Laura; Louis; Emma Rosealie (b. 1866)—the “Rosie” mentioned in the letter weeping for her dying father; and Alberta S. (b. 1869). All the children, with the exception of the first, were born in Missouri. Also living with the family was a nonrelated servant, dry goods clerk, and laborer, as well as a man, aged 70, who is simply called “Van Archdalen,”—a farmer born in Pennsylvania. This was almost certainly Harriet’s father, John. (Other Hart children who died young were the first John Byron (1849-1849); Annie Louisa (1850-1852); two babies named Howell Dorman—the first lived from 1852 to 1853, the second from 1853-1854; Maria Louisa (1854–1854); U. S. Grant (1863–1864); and Lillie Bell (1865-1865.)
A short memoir by a family member gives us a more personal glimpse into the Hart family at that time. “[Jeff] was for a number of years a prominent merchant…. His area of trade extended south to near the Osage River…. To this union was born 16 children. [Harriet] did not nurse them, so all were cared for by ‘hired girls.’ [Eight] of these children died in infancy and 8 lived (5 boys and 3 girls). She did almost all of the buying for the store in St. Louis, Mo., sometimes leaving her babies when they were less than 2 weeks old. In that way, she was a great help to her husband as he was badly needed to stay and take care of the business at their store. Their eldest son was named Byron. He married their hired girl….” (She was Mary Elizabeth Foraker, born in 1848. The couple had three children before her early death in 1885. The following year, on 12 May, 1886, Byron Hart was killed by a train in Arthur, Missouri.)
Jeff’s son Louis would become a lawyer, and there is some evidence that Jeff himself also practiced law. He was described by the Jefferson City State Journal on 17 September, 1875, as “T. J. Hart, Esq.” in an article about his pursuit, with the local sheriff, of a Hart employee, Charles Thomas, who had stolen $165. The pair traced the employee “across the country and river to Columbia, where they found he had 40 minutes before left for Centralia. The sheriff…telegraphed the description of Thomas to his deputy, and the latter arrested Thomas as he was purchasing a ticket to St. Louis. He had purchased two sets of clothes, a revolver, &c., and had left $58. The pursuers arrived in a hack, and Sheriff Yarnell and Hart returning with their prisoner, he was indicted by a special grand jury, tried, convicted, and sentenced…ten days from the time of commission of the crime.”
Just a few months later, on 26 November, the same newspaper reported: “T. J. Hart’s store came very near to being destroyed by fire on Friday last night. The Odd Fellows Hall is situated over the store. It is supposed that when they retired, some of the party lit their pipes and probably threw a match into the spittoon. When Mr. Hart’s son went to the store and discovered fire on the show case, he lost no time in getting in the hall, which was almost suffocating him with smoke. The wooden spittoon was nearly consumed, a stand was minus one leg, and a hole in the floor nearly two feet square and a 2 x 8 joist nearly burned off. [There was a ] burning hole in the ceiling of the store, ready to warm things in general.”
The 1880 Census of High Point shows Jeff Hart then had no occupation, as he was presumably struggling with his chronic lung disease, which could have been Tuberculosis, lung cancer, severe asthma, or any number of other issues affecting the airways that could lead to fatal pneumonia. The children living at home at that time were Laura; Louis; Rosie; Alberta; Elmer E. (1870 – 1930); and Carlos Brumhawk (b. 1875). The eldest son, Louis, was the only member of the family with work—he was listed a clerk in a store, almost assuredly his father’s.
In mid-November of that year, there was yet another brush with fire. The Hart’s uninsured farm at High Point burned to the ground. According to the Kirkville Weekly Graphic of 27 November, “Thirty-eight hogs, two calves, two buggies and one carriage, besides a great deal of provender, were consumed.” But the tragedy could have been much worse. “Mrs. Hart, [Jeff’s daughter-in-law], led one mule and two horses from the burning building, and was in the act of rescuing a calf when her clothing caught fire. With a presence of mind remarkable under the circumstances, she tore her clothing off thereby preventing what would have been a frightful death.”
On 13 March, 1884, within a fortnight of her husband’s death and about five weeks before writing her letter to Anna Ramsey, Harriet became the post mistress for High Point and appears to have retained the role until October 1891, when a replacement was named. That man, Robert Reynolds, may have taken over the Harts’ mercantile business at the same time.
At some point after selling off the store, Harriet went to live in the home of her daughter Laura, who married Simon Patrick Cronin of California, Missouri. Harriet did not die until 11 December, 1900, and ought to appear for a final time on the census of that year, but I cannot find her. She was buried in High Point, presumably beside Jeff, whose grave appears to be unmarked.
The recipient of the letter Harriet wrote in April 1884 was Anna Mary Ramsey (b. 21 October, 1847, Richboro, Bucks Co., PA), the daughter of farmer Robert Ramsey (b. 1814, PA) and his wife Elizabeth Vanartsdalen (b. 1817, PA)—the “Aunty” of whom this letter speaks. Elizabeth was, it appears, the great-aunt of Harriet Vanartsdalen Hart—her paternal grandfather’s sister.
The Ramsey family was large, with eight children who all reached adulthood. The 1850 Census saw the family living in Northampton, Bucks County, where Robert Ramsey was a farmer. The children listed on the 1850 census were Jeanette V. (b. 1842); Amelia G. (b. 1844); Henry K. (1845-1910); Anna; and John V. (12 January, 1850–5 May, 1890). The 1860 census includes all of these children, as well as William Augustus (b. 1852) and Edward (b. 1855), the latter of whom this letter was sent in the care of.
Anna’s brother Henry may have fought during the final year of the Civil War. A Henry Ramsey enlisted as private on 17 February, 1865, in Company I, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry and was mustered out on 28 June, 1865, in Washington, D.C. However, there are multiple Pennsylvania Henry Ramseys who enlisted during the war. Some can be ruled out as Anna’s brother, but none who remain supply the recorded evidence to make certain identification.
Ten years later, in 1870, Robert and Elizabeth appear alone on the 1870 census of Northampton—all of their offspring had flown. Sons Henry and Edward were enumerated in Abingdon, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, working as laborers on the farm of maternal kin Amos and Lottie Vanartsdalen. The rest of the children were nearby, still in Northampton. Son John worked as a laborer on the farm of Jesse and Hannah Twining. Eldest daughter Jeanette lived with another Vanartsdalen relation, 64-year-old Jane. Jeanette may have been with Jane Vanartsdalen as early as May 1864, when both their names were entered as members of the Dutch Reformed Church of North and Southampton.
Amelia lived on the farm of Marshall and Sarah Cummings, working as a seamstress. Anna was with farmer Charles Torbert and his 21-year-old daughter Emma, keeping house.
Anna’s father, Robert, died 5 May, 1878, and was buried in Union Cemetery, Richboro, Bucks County, “aged 64 years, 6 months, and 8 days,” according to his tombstone. Anna and William then returned to live with 62-year-old widow Elizabeth and were thusly enumerated on the 1880 Census. Anna’s brother John was nearby, enumerated in the 1880 Census as a laborer. He had married a woman named Emma and had two children: Mary (b. 1875) and Robert (b. 1877).
On 18 January, 1882, at the Dutch Reformed Church, William Ramsey married Adelaide B. Addis (1859–1896) and became the father of Anna Maud (1886–1906), Harry A. (1887–1954), and Charles H. (1888–1964.) Anna Ramsey never married, and died in Morristown, Pennsylvania, 7 December, 1933, aged 86, of chronic valvular heart disease and bronchial pneumonia. She was buried on 12 December in Union Cemetery between her mother, “Aunty” Elizabeth and her bachelor brother Henry, 50 years after receiving the grief-stricken missive I now own. Ω
“Oh, Mrs. Crane, he looked so pretty. He looked as if he was asleep and dreaming a very pleasant dream.”
I have in my collection this incomplete letter from the mid- to late 1800s written by an American woman named Julie who had endured the loss of her fiancé, Freddie. Julie’s letter was for another woman—her elder and probably close family friend, Mrs. Crane.
Julie and Freddie were young, possibly in their teens. Julie was quite literate, but her writing contains numerous errors, phonetic spellings, and a general disuse of commas, full stops, and quotations that is endemic to the era. I have corrected her mistakes and added modern punctuation in the quotes below.
“I sat and looked at him all night,” Julie wrote at the top of the single page, recalling the aftermath of the passing. “So many spoke of his smiling and happy beautiful countenance even in death. He looked too beautiful to bury.” She then hopped backward in time, writing, “He was sensible until two minutes before he died, but whether he realized he was really dying, I know not.”
Next she confides in Mrs. Crane, “About two hours before he died, I sat crying and he looked at me. I said, ‘Freddie darling, how can I give you up?’ He raised his hand and said ‘Oh, Julie, don’t.’”
Don’t? Don’t weep? Don’t imply that he was dying? Don’t tarnish his “good death” with female hysteria? Perhaps Freddie’s command was more prosaic: The dying man needed to move his bowels. “[H]e wanted to get on the chamber [pot] and I asked him if I should tell his mother. He said, ‘Mother is weak.’ I said, ‘Freddie, shall I help you?’ He said, ‘Yes, please,’ so I [assisted] him,” she next wrote. Of all the letter’s painful details, this strikes deepest—a heartbreaking intimacy, demanded by circumstance, between a couple who may never have seen each other unclothed.
This passage also raises the question of what killed Freddie at an early age. It could have been tuberculosis (“consumption”) and it is easy to ascribe it as the likeliest cause, but Freddie mentions that his mother is weak—potentially recovering from whatever disease her son then had. Possibilities include cholera, dysentery, typhoid, influenza, yellow fever, and malaria. However, many of these, including consumption, fail to leave a corpse too lovely to put in the ground.
Julie continued, “All that week he could not bear to have [me] out of his sight. I stayed by him all that week, night and day, until he was buried. The last night I [sat] up and kept cloths on his face.” Here, Julie may have meant she placed cold cloths on her fiancee’s visage to keep it from discoloring before the funeral.
In 1891’s Polite Society at Home andAbroad, author Annie Randall White noted, “When the funeral is held at the house, the family do not view the remains after the people have begun to assemble. Just before the clergyman begins the services the mourners are seated near the casket, the nearest one at the head, and the others following in order of kinship. If it is possible, they are placed in a room adjoining, where the words of the service can be heard. They are thus spared the pain of giving way to their grief before strangers. Those who are present should look at the dead before they take their seats for the service, although it is customary for the master of ceremonies (usually the undertaker) ere the coffin lid is closed, to invite all who so desire, to take a last look, ere parting forever.”
“Oh, Mrs. Crane,” Julie wrote, “he looked so pretty. He looked as if he was asleep and dreaming a very pleasant dream. I think some day I shall see him again where there [are] no more partings.”
After Freddie’s burial, Julie remained with his family. “I am here at his home yet. They seem to think the world of me. His father said I should stay with him as long as he lives but I don’t know. Sister Mary was married the 24th of last month to a Frenchman. My sister Emiline died in August. My cousin died in August—she had been married 8 months. My brother-in-law that lived near us died 1 year ago this month with….”
And there, maddeningly, it ends, leaving little more to note than the hope that Julie found love again, established a family, and lived a full life. Time’s window closes and we must move on, so very much against our wills. Ω
The posing of mother and child may also deliberately highlight the loss of her long and well-cared for hair.
This stunning tintype, circa 1875, of an American mother and infant, is owned by collector and Your Dying Charlotte contributor Beverly Wilgus, who notes, “This little tintype is not as much a ‘hidden mother’ as a mother who chose to put the emphasis on the baby. I do wonder about her very short hair. One explanation could be that she has been very ill, maybe after a difficult birth, and her hair was cut short for comfort.”
It is possible that the woman pictured suffered from puerperal sepsis (called childbed fever) in the aftermath of delivery, which had been combatted, in part, by hair cropping. If true, this mother surely thought the tintype image celebratory—even triumphant: She had survived; her magnificent reward was the healthy infant draped over her shoulder, offered visually to posterity.
The sitter was lucky—a scarce survivor of a bitter scourge. “Childbed fever killed at the cruelest moments. It was described as a ‘desecration,’ an aspect of the natural world that felt almost deliberately evil. What caused it? Some thought ‘a failure of uterine discharge;’ others, a little later, called it ‘milk metastasis,’ noting that the internal organs of the women who died seemed covered in milk. Eventually it was accepted that the fluid was not milk at all. It was pus,” wrote Druin Burch in a Live Science article, “When Childbirth Was Natural, and Deadly.” When obstetricians and midwives talked of “delivering women,” he explained, they meant delivering them from the deadly perils of childbirth.
Puerperal sepsis from Streptococcus pyogenes is transmitted via unsanitary conditions during delivery. In an age before antibiotics, the takeover of its host was medicinally unstoppable. Between 1847 to 1876, an estimated five deaths resulted after each 1,000 live births, with puerperal sepsis causing up to half of those losses. “There was no cure available: doctors merely prescribed opium, champagne, and brandy-and-soda, trying to ease the passing, rather than making a vain attempt to cure a mortal illness,” wrote Judith Flanders in her 2003 book Inside the Victorian Home.
Yet against the odds, this mother survived.
In the Little House series, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life.
That hair should be cut during a high fever steamed from a long-held notion that it could drain the energy of the seriously ill; cutting it also allowed heat to escape the body thus lowering the patient’s temperature. In the popular Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for example, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life. (As an aside, JSTOR Daily points out, “Pediatric historian Beth A. Tarini believes the term was inaccurately used to describe viral meningoencephalitis in Mary Ingalls, whose disease rendered her completely blind.” The article is a fascinating read.)
Whenever a woman’s hair was cut for medical reasons, it was mourned by her family and friends as a brutal loss. Long and well-cared for tresses were considered a Victorian woman’s chiefest treasure. Writers of the age reflected the obsession in their literary works. “No other writers have lavished such attention on the physical properties of women’s hair: its length, texture, color, style, curliness. There is scarcely a female character in Victorian fiction whose hair is not described at least perfunctorily, and often the woman’s hair is described in incredible detail. The brown, neatly combed heads of virtuous governesses and industrious wives; the tangled, disorderly hair of the sexually and emotionally volatile women like Hetty Sorrel and Catherine Earnshaw; the artfully arranged curls of the girl-women like Dora Spenlow Copperfield and Isabella Linton are all familiar, even conventional elements in Victorian character description.” wrote Elizabeth G. Gitters in “The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination.” (PMLA Journal, October 1984).
In a culture that all-but worshiped long female hair, caring for it was a rigorous process. It was an an era before shampoo and available cleansing options often contained caustic or drying elements. Women instead brushed their hair to redistribute the natural oil whilst often adding in tonics or perfumes. The brushing regimen was done daily by some women, such as the singer Aline Vallandri, for upwards of a half hour. Mrs. Walker, who published a 400-page tome in 1840 titled Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress, recommended the use of a soft brush for at least ten minutes, twice a day, after the hair had been combed and brushed with a hard brush to remove dandruff and dust, such as soot from coal burning fires.
Other cleansing tricks written about in the 19th Century include the use of baking soda and vinegar, rum, and black tea, as well as egg yolks and rosemary as conditioning agents. Ladies could powder their hair and then brush it after the excess oil was absorbed—as descendants of these women do today with dry shampoo. Ω