A Mirror Image of Mother

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.

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A 6th-plate, hand-tinted daguerreotype of “Hannah McCracken Kelly, our mother, taken after her death.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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Claysville S-Bridge, built in 1815. The McCrackens and Kellys would have known this view. Photograph by John Kennedy Lacock and Ernest K. Weller, 1910.

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.

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The image in its case with a note pinned to the red velvet padding.

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.

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The first of two copies of Hannah Kelly’s daguerreotype.
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This copy of the original postmortem made its way to Australia before it was again sold. The current owners of both copies are unknown.

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.

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Purviance Cemetery, Claysville, where Hannah McCracken Kelly rests, her grave unmarked. Photo by J Terry.

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.

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After Dr. Kelly relocated to “Little Washington,” as the Pennsylvania town is locally known, he was a partner in Kelly & Roberts, a druggist located at Mansion House Corner. This item from 1887’s “Industrial and Commercial Resources of Pennsylvania: Historical, Descriptive and Biographical Review : Cities and Towns of Erie, McKeesport, Johnstown, Altoona, Washington, Braddock, Warren, Bradford, Connellsville, Uniontown, Brownsville, Oil City, Franklin, Butler, Monongahela City, Etc.” describes the upscale business.

“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.

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When George Kelly married, at the late age of 48, the newspaper made clear that the Kellys’ local social standing was high. “The Daily Notes,”  Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, page 1, 13 October, 1902.

“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.”

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The social set was not aware of Clara Kelly’s marriage until after the fact. “Pittsburgh Press,” 15 February, 1903.

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

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Hannah’s daughter, Clara Kelly Lockhart, pictured center. Scranton Republican, 20 November, 1931.
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Above ground mausoleum of Dr. John and Anna Eliza Kelly, Washington Cemetery. Photo by Sandman.

A Widower’s Search for Solace

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

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

Myersville, July 10th, 1852

Dear Emeline,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly,

Joseph Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Frederick News, 4 March, 1910.

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

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

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

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

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

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“A Rich Man in Every Sense”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nathaniel Tucker, the excitable father of Nathaniel Amory Tucker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who Was Private Raisin Pitts?

My attention was drawn by the unusual name carved into one tombstone: Raisin Pitts, a Confederate private who died 26 September, 1862, now buried in a Yankee town in a Union state, far from home.

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The grave of Raisin Pitts, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Frederick, Maryland, photographed by the author on Confederate Memorial Day, 28 April, 2016.

Recently, and quite serendipitously, I visited Mount Olivet Cemetery—the preeminent burial grounds of Frederick County, Maryland. Francis Scott Key, who in 1812 wrote the poem that became the National Anthem, reposes there. Also interred at Mount Olivet are prosperous Victorians and Edwardians, Colonial and Federal-era area residents moved from their original gravesites in small family plots and cemeteries around the county, and Civil War soldiers who fought for the Confederacy but breathed their last as Union captives.

It was Confederate Memorial Day, a solemn remembrance of which I was unaware when a friend and I decided to visit the cemetery. We found Mount Olivet’s Confederate graves bedecked with flags. Reenactors laid wreaths after a small, bagpipe-led parade.

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Confederate graves at Mount Olivet. Raisin Pitts is buried in this row.

My attention was drawn by the unusual name carved on one tombstone: Raisin Pitts, a Confederate private who died 26 September, 1862, now buried in a Yankee town in a Union state, far from home. My curiosity propelled by his unusual—and unlikely—name, I decided to search for more about Private Pitts.

I have apparently not been alone in my quest. Several weeks later, during a visit to the Pry House, where some 800 wounded soldiers were treated during and after the bloody Battle of Antietam, I mentioned to staff member Katie Reichard that I was writing about an oddly named soldier buried at Mount Olivet. She immediately asked, “Is it Raisin Pitts?” Several years ago, another historian held a program about Pitts at Pry House, she said. Reichard added that he had reached my same conclusions about one soldier proposed to be Raisin Pitts but had not mooted an alternate identification.

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According to his stone, Raisin Pitts belonged to the 6th Alabama Infantry, 2nd Brigade, under command of Colonel John J. Seibels. It was established in May 1861, containing 1,400 men divided into 12 companies. The recruits were drawn from Autauga, Henry, Jackson, Lowndes, Macon, Montgomery, Russell, and Wilson counties. Company B, headed by Captain J. M. Kennedy, was known as the “Loachapoka Rifles,” as the company was accepted in Confederate service at Loachapoka, Lee County, Alabama, for a one-year term of service.

Shotgun’s Home of the Civil War provides a concise summary of the action the 6th Alabama saw up to the date of Pitts’ death: “Its first service was at Corinth. It was soon ordered to Virginia, and during the winter of 1862, was stationed far in front of the army, at Manassas Junction. Its first serious battle was at Seven Pines, May 31 to June 1, 1862, where the regiment was greatly distinguished, losing 102 officers and men killed and wounded, including Lieut.-Col. James J. Willingham, Maj. S. Perry Nesmith, and Capts. Thomas Bell, Matthew Pox, W. C. Hunt, Augustus S. Flournoy, and John B. McCarty. The Sixth served in nearly all the battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, including Mechanicsville, June 26, 1862; Cold Harbor or Gaines’ Mill, June 27th and 28th: Malvern Hill, July 1st to 5th; Boonsboro, September [14th]; Sharpsburg, September 17th.”

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One of the flags of the 6th Alabama Infantry. This flag was carried in 1863 and captured in 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Courtesy Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Returning to Private Pitts, I wondered whether “Raisin” was a nickname or whether “Raisin Pitts” was an entirely false moniker, provided to his Union captors as he lay wounded? Whilst possible, the latter is unlikely, as there is no evidence of captured soldiers hiding their identities except in extremely select cases. Providing a false name could mean that loved ones would never know the soldier’s fate—something that was understandably important to the majority of them.

What is demonstrably true, however, is that Raisin Pitts was neither of two men previously proposed (and conflated) by other researchers: Erastus J. Pitts and Erastus T. Pitts.

The Erastus J. Pitts who served with the 6th Alabama, Company B, is without doubt Erastus Jesse Pitts, born 10 January, 1836, in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, to farmer Jesse Pitts (1812-1855) and his wife Martha Bryan (1815-1854).

After his parents’ deaths in the 1850s, Pitts relocated to Alabama and enlisted in the 6th, Company A, on 11 May, 1861, in Abbeville, Jefferson County. Later, he transferred to Company B. His unit participated in the Battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, Maryland, and in its aftermath, Pitts was only tentatively accounted for.

Extant Confederate records note that during October, November, and December, Pitts was “sick at some unknown hospital since 25 September.” Other records show that on 18 October, he was admitted to hospital at Camp Winder, one of the largest Confederate medical facilities, located in Richmond, Virginia—quite a distance from Sharpsburg. Records show he remained at Winder until 15 December, when he was transferred to a hospital in Danville, Virginia. He remained there until 30 January, 1863, then returned to active duty. The only clue about what led to this four-month hospital stay is the word “debilitas” written by the category “complaint.” The term was used by the era’s medical practitioners to denote overall weakness and feebleness and is more of a descriptive than a diagnosis.

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Summer 1865: Confederates at Point Lookout prison during their final days before release after the war’s end.

After rejoining his unit, Pitts left further documentation of his service: He was paid and reimbursed for clothing on 3 November, 1863, and again one year later, in November 1864. He appeared on a muster roll of September 1864 and on a payroll of 1865. Erastus J. Pitts eventually ended his long Confederate military service interned at Point Lookout on the farthest tip of Southern Maryland. He was taken prisoner at Petersburg, Virginia, and arrived at the peninsular Union prison on 11 April, 1865. Several months later, he swore an oath of loyalty to the renewed United States, was released and returned to Alabama—years after Raisin Pitts was laid to rest in Mount Olivet.

On 21 September, 1867, Pitts married Samantha J. Haughton in Henry County, Alabama, and took up, or returned to, a livelihood of farming. In May 1894, through the U.S. Government’s Homestead Act, Pitts was deeded 160 acres in Houston County, Alabama. The 1900 Census places him, still farming, in Brantins, Geneva County, Alabama. Before the 1910 Census, Pitts had removed to Holmes County, Florida. He died there on 10 January, 1909, and was buried at Sandy Point Cemetery, Ponce de Leon.

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The grave of Erastus J. Pitts with its identifying CSA stone, Ponce de Leon, Florida.

The second individual associated with Raisin Pitts is Erastus T. Pitts, the son of Robert G. Pitts (1822-1850) and Adeline Nell Deshazor (1822-1890). He was born 10 July, 1848, in Shelby County, Alabama. His father died unexpectedly when he and his brother were toddlers, and the extant tangle of estate paperwork indicates his widow Adeline was left in a precarious financial state. She married again soon after, but the social status of the Pitts boys appears to have been permanently impacted. Erastus T. Pitts went on to farm in Shelby County with his first wife Emiline E. White (1840-1872), whom he wed 27 December, 1868. After her early death, he married Louisa Laura Crowson (1851-1925), who bore him eight children. Later in life, he took up carpentry and died intestate in Birmingham on 24 April, 1927. He is buried in Union Baptist Cemetery, Lipscomb, Jefferson County.

Erastus T. Pitts, who was a young teen when the 6th Alabama Infantry formed and who was technically underage during the duration of the war, left behind no record of Confederate military service.

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The tombstone of Erastus T. Pitts in Baptist Union Cemetery, Lipscomb, Alabama.

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Having determined who Raisin Pitts was not, the focus shifts to whom he might be. “Civil War headstones, especially those with errors, reflect the limitations of record-keeping of the era,” the National Park Service points out at the Andersonville (Georgia) Prison Historical Site. Andersonville’s historians freely admit that their database and military tombstones are rife with errors, and it is certain that the Union also made plentiful mistakes in the rolls and on the burial markers of their prisoners. If Raisin Pitts, with his Southern drawl, was asked his name as he lay wounded, in agony, or slipping in and out of consciousness, it may be that the Union questioner merely misheard and misrecorded the proffered response. It is also possible that a later transcription error is to blame. The result of either mistake is carved in stone at Mount Olivet today.

A search through 6th Alabama Infantry service records for soldiers with the last name Pitts led me to this man: Drayton Pitts, who enlisted as a private for a 12-month term in Company J of the 6th Alabama Infantry on 15 May, 1861, at Montgomery, Alabama.

Drayton Pitts was born to Amassa Pitts (1788-1857) and Catherine Pitts (1802-1857, daughter of Caleb Pitts and Frances Cole) in about 1833. According to the 1850 Census, his family worked a farm in with real estate valued at $4,000 in Newberry County, South Carolina. Amassa Pitts had been previously married, so Drayton’s siblings included half-brothers Michael, Giles, and Joseph, as well as full siblings Abner, Permelia, Ira, Hillery, Sandford, Rueben, Rachael, Susan Jane, Pamela, and Frances Ann.

Like Erastus J. Pitts, Drayton Pitts appears to have migrated to Alabama after the death of both his parents. By the day of the 1860 Census, he was in Russell County, Alabama, and was enumerated as “Dratin” Pitts on land farmed by the Law family.

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An ambrotype of an unidentified Confederate soldier from Alabama. Collection unknown.

A letter appeared in the 20 July, 1861 edition of the Opelika, Alabama, newspaper Southern Republic composed 5 July from Sangster’s Crossroads, Virginia, by a soldier of the 6th Alabama, who signed himself “J. M. P.” The soldier wrote, “On Friday morning, June 28th, a scouting party of eleven men from each of our four companies…were detailed under the command of Capt. [Walter H.] Weems to proceed in the direction of a place called Accotinck and find out the strength of the enemy there.” The men afterward continued on toward Union-held Alexandria.

The extended reconnaissance included hunkering down in the woods for a night and being brought a stout breakfast there by local sympathizers, hearing from a “friend” that “a tory named Gilliham had gone into Alexandria…to inform [the Union] of our whereabouts,” and eventually coming within sight of Union armaments at Alexandria while marching quietly “in our stocking feet, with boots and shoes in our haversacks.” The group was eventually spotted and the reconnaissance ended in a skirmish that included hand-to-hand fighting during which J. M. P. saw Captain Weems shoot several Union attackers.

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Southern Republic letter from J. M. B. that mentions Drayton Pitts.

Against the odds, the group made it back to the Confederate camp, where “all had given us up for lost, as General Ewelle had sent the Battalion a dispatch that we had been captured.” Only one of the Confederates had been lost. “His name was Hayes and he was from Richmond, Va. Our boys recovered his body, but could not carry it with them. We [later] learned that the ladies of Alexandria had it interred in a splendid metal casket…. Your humble correspondent was also reported dead, but I knew it was a lie as soon as I read it,” J. M. P. joked.

Among the men with Weems and J. M. P. on this mission was Drayton Pitts. The published detailed letter provides a singular window into his life as a soldier and may explain his eventual promotion to 2nd Lieutenant: He was a man willing to take risks.

During a reorganization at Orange Courthouse in March 1862, Pitts was reassigned to Company F. Afterward, he moved with the 6th Alabama Infantry in the same pattern of battles as did Erastus J. Pitts, surviving Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, Cold Harbor, and Malvern Hill. Then came South Mountain.

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Drayton Pitts survived the brutal Battle of Seven Pines, which occurred in Henrico County, Virginia, on 31 May and 1 June, 1862. The 6th lost 108 men and 283 were wounded out of 632 engaged. The battle was observed from a Union Army balloon by Professor Thaddeus Lowe. Currier & Ives; courtesy Library of Congress.

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South Mountain, part of the Blue Ridge, is a meandering behemoth, rocky and beautiful. The battle that roiled upon and around it on 14 September, 1862, was fought over control of three gaps in the mountain—Crampton’s, Turner’s, and Fox’s—that provided passage east and west. It was a resounding Union victory that set the stage for the Battle of Antietam only a few days later.

Before the battle, Henry Tisdale of the 35th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, penned his feelings, which could have easily been those of Confederate Drayton Pitts: “Prospects of our getting into action before night multiply causing a sort of feverish excitement to come over me. Help me, my heavenly Father, to do my duty in thy fear and for glory for Christ’s sake, Amen.”

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It was once believed that this photograph dated to September 1862 and showed Confederates moving through the city of Frederick in the runup to the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. The Washington Post reported in June 2018, however, that amateur researchers Paul Bolcik and Erik Davis determined it was taken 9 July, 1864, and around the corner from where it was once thought to have been made. The Confederates were actually on their way to the Battle of Monocacy. Courtesy Historical Society of Frederick County.

Tisdale was shot in the leg that day and lost a quantity of blood. Whilst retreating toward the medics, he recalled that “a wounded rebel who was sitting against a tree called me and asked me if I did not have something to eat. Exhibiting a loaf and going to him I opened my knife to cut off a slice when he placed his hands before his face exclaiming ‘Don’t kill me’ and begging me to put up the knife and not to hurt him. Assuring him I had no intention of hurting him I spoke with him a little. Found he had a family in Georgia, that he was badly wounded and was anxious to have me remain with him and help him off. But found I was growing weaker from loss of blood and that the surging to and fro the troops about us made it a dangerous place so limping and crawling was obliged to leave him and move for the rear.”

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Sharpsburg citizens help load wounded soldiers into an ambulance wagon. Courtesy Library of Congress.

That day, the Confederates forces, which numbered approximately 1,800, suffered 325 killed, 1,560 wounded, and 800 missing. One of these casualties was Drayton Pitts. The October returns for Company F reported that Pitts was “Absent. Wounded in battle Sept. 14 ’62 and captured by the enemy.” His company was at that point unaware Pitts was dead. By November, it understood his fate. The return stated that Pitts “died in October of wounds suffered at Boonsboro.”

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After the Battle of South Mountain, whilst their wounded soldiers “still lay sprawled unseen among the craggy terrain, the Confederates began their retreat from the slope,” wrote Kathleen A. Ernst in her seminal work, Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign.  Drayton Pitts may have been one of those left behind on the field.

What happened to Union soldier Henry Tisdale after he was shot may mimic some of what wounded Drayton Pitts experienced. Tisdale was first treated in the garden of a nearby home then moved back to one of the many temporary military hospitals quickly assembled in places such as Middletown. Eventually, he would be sent to Frederick. Indeed, the aftermath of 14 to 17 September would see approximately 8,000 wounded from both sides trundled into the overwhelmed city on a steady flow of horse-drawn Union ambulances.

Lavinia Hooper, a girl of nine when the casualties began arriving in her town, later wrote, “I can recall standing on Market Street, which was a dirt road then, and how we used to watch the wagons bringing the wounded into Frederick for us to look after. There was so much blood dripping out the backs of the wagons and falling on the dirt road, that eventually the mud became red as the wagon wheels plowed through the streets.”

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Drayton Pitts was likely moved to Frederick, along what is the modern Route 40A, in a Union ambulance. This replica is at the Pry House Museum, Keedysville, Maryland.

At first, Union doctors must have thought Drayton Pitts could survive. It seems unlikely that under the new triage system developed by Union Medical Director Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Pitts would have been sent on the long, bumpy ride—perhaps first into Middletown and later Frederick—taking the place of a soldier with better chances. Once arrived, Pitts would have been admitted to a building commandeered as a hospital—possibly the Birely Tannery—and treated as competently as possible in the midst of the madness that only escalated as the days passed.

If the tombstone in Mount Olivet is at all correct, Pitts failed to improve, then began a steady decline that ended on 26 September. He may have succumbed to infection, gangrene, dehydration from diarrhea, or perhaps his wounds were never survivable. Whatever caused Drayton Pitts to pass from life, my hope is that he went quietly, with a kindhearted stranger by his side.

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Drayton Pitts may have died in a temporary hospital in Frederick such as that created within the Evangelical Lutheran Church, where a false floor was built atop the pews in an attempt to prevent damage. Both Union and Confederate wounded were treated and convalesced there.

Drayton Pitts’ family may not have known of his death for some months, but his siblings were definitely aware by July 1863, when a sale of their late brother’s personal property raised $399.25 in Confederate money. (The goods included a grey mare, a black-headed cow, a red cow, a red heifer, a white heifer, and a feather bed and coverings. Drayton’s younger brother and executor Rueben Pitts bought the bed for $32.) In early November, the dead man was commemorated by his elder brother Abner, whose wife Mary Goodwin Pitts gave birth to a son they named Drayton Abner (1863-1943).

For reasons unclear, settling Drayton Pitts’ estate took years. Finally, on 21 December, 1869, Rueben filed documents with the probate court attesting that all surviving family members received their share and that those to whom his late brother owed money were paid. This is the final mirror glimpse of Drayton’s short life.

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I believe that the evidence supports a conclusion that Raisin Pitts, who has lain in Mount Olivet for more than 150 years, was Second Lieutenant Drayton Pitts of Company F, 6th Alabama Infantry. But whether or not my conclusion stands the test of further research, it is clear that whoever the brave Alabamian was, his true identity deserves to be established and memorialized beneath a new headstone. Ω

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South Mountain, Frederick County, Maryland, not far from my home.

 

“Come up if Possible. No Time to Add More”

A black-bordered invitation brought ill tidings of a father’s death.

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Funeral invitation on mourning stationery. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection

Mr. Glenn Putman,

You are respectfully invited to attend the funeral of Cornelius H. Putman, Esq., from the residence of his son-in-law, Gardiner Blood, No. 10 Market Street, on Friday next, the 15th inst., at 3 o’clock P.M.

Amsterdam, N.Y., Aug. 13, 1873

Dear Brother,

I telegraphed you today to 348 West 53 Street and send you this also, in hopes it will reach you in time. Come up if possible. No time to add more.

Yours aff.,

Effingham

Cornelius Hendrick Putman, esq., was born in Caughnawaga, Montgomery County, New York, 28 August, 1796, to Cornelius Hendrick Putman (1761-1798) and his wife Mariah Quackenboss (1758-1834). The Putman family descended from Rutgerus Putman, born in 1510 in Hamm, Westphalia, Germany, and died in 1575 in Lipstadt. The family moved to Holland, where in 1645, Johannes Putman was born, probably in Leyden. He emigrated to what would become Schenectady, Albany County, New York, dying there 9 February, 1690.

On 24 October, 1820, Cornelius Putman married Gazena Vissher Mabee (23 Feb., 1801-20 Feb., 1861), born in New York on 24 October, 1820, and christened in the Reformed Dutch Church, Fonda, Montgomery County. Gazena was the daughter of Simon Mabee and Gazena Visscher. In August 1834, Cornelius was chosen as president of Montgomery County’s Democratic Young Men. Two years later, on the Whig ticket, he ran for, but lost, the position of state representative for the 15th District of the county. After this attempt at politics, he spent his professional career as a lawyer.

The Putmans had a number of children, all born in Glen: Glenn—to whom this communication was sent and who was apparently named for the home town (1822-1880); Maria (24 Feb., 1824-24 Feb., 1884), who married farmer and grocer Benjamin Mount (27 Nov., 1820-25 Mar., 1882); Alonzo Cornelise (Oct. 1826-29 Aug., 1892), who married Harriet Maria Van Rensselaer and, secondly, Annie E. MacFarlan; Gazena Elizabeth (1831-1908), who married Gardiner Blood (12 Mar., 1829-29 Nov., 1892); and Effingham Howard (1834-1885)—the author of this missive, whose wife was Anne C., née unknown.

According to the town’s 1869-1870 directory, Effingham Putman was a “dealer in staple and fancy dry goods, carpeting, oil cloths &c., 150 Main Street, Amsterdam.” He and brother-in-law Gardiner Blood were business partners, as is attested by an 1861 advert in the Wisconsin State Journal for Waltham watches that includes amongst its list of satisfied customers “Blood & Putman, Amsterdam [NY].” Their business was still active as late as 1883. Effingham was also was a member of the military, listed in New York Military paybooks for service when he was a young man, although he did not fight in the Civil War.

By the mid-1860s, Gardiner Blood, who was the son of Alexander Blood and Nancy Clark, became an owner of “Chuctenunda knitting mills of Schuyler & Blood,” according to the History of Montgomery County, which goes on to say, “The Chuctenunda Hosiery Mills, situated on Market Street, are operated by Schuyler & Blood, proprietors, who began this branch of industry in 1864. They are at present running six sets of machinery, giving employment to one hundred operators and manufacturing about $150,000 worth of knit goods annually.”

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An advert placed in the Buffalo Morning Express Illustrated, 28 Februry, 1856, for Glenn Putnam’s business.

In 1851, in the town of Glen, Glenn Putman married Letitia Paulison, born 1831 in Hackensack, New Jersey, daughter of Christian Zabriske Paulison (1805-1851) and Caroline Hassert (1805-1858). Their son, Glenn Howard Putman, was born in Glen on 31 January, 1852.

By the mid-1850s, Glenn Putman was a maker and merchant of fuses and gunpowder. He worked and resided in New York City—the only Putman sibling to stray from Montgomery County. In January 1861, Letitia gave birth to a daughter, Caroline Paulison Putman. As his daughter approached her first birthday, in December 1861, Glenn enlisted in the Union Army as a commissioned a second lieutenant in Co. F, and later Co. G, of the 6th New York Infantry. He was 5’7″, with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion.

Glenn died in New York City in April 1880, age 58, of a fall through a hatchway that resulted in a fatal skull fracture. Shortly thereafter, Letitia filed a claim for his Civil War veteran’s pension. She and her daughter ran a small music school for a number of years then, late in life, she left New York City to live with her son, a minister in Dixon Illinois. Rev. Glenn Putman married Mary Amelia Lewis (1867-1950), with whom he fathered four children. He died in Dixon 31 May, 1925, and was buried there on 2 June.

Caroline Putman wed William T. Cameron (1853-1896) and had a daughter, Marie Elise Cameron (1881-aft. 1950), who would marry into the Vanderveer family and have five of children.

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Green Hill Cemetery, Amsterdam, New York, where Cornelius and Gazena Mabee Putman are buried. Photo by Karen Cuccinello.

Cornelius Putman’s funeral procession led along Amsterdam’s lanes from Gardiner Blood’s residence to at 10 Market Street (today a modern shopping center) to the Green Hill Cemetery where he was buried. His Will, dated 20 December, 1866, was made probate in Amsterdam on 11 November, 1873, filed by his son, Effingham, and son-in-law, Gardiner Blood, co-executors.

Glenn Putman had a deeply entwined and potentially turbulent financial relationship with his father. Cornelius’s Will notes, “I give to my eldest son Glenn Putman the Bond and Mortgage he gave to me for twelve hundred dollars with interest, also a judgement obtained against him in the Supreme Court for over twelve hundred dollars, also a note of hand he gave me for five hundred dollars with interest, all which I now hold against him with the several amounts due thereon, and I hereby release and discharge him from the payment of same.” He also bequeathed Glenn his “gold-headed cane.” To Letitia, who was a music teacher, he left “the piano and stool now and which for many years past has been in her possession.” His grandson Glenn and granddaughter Caroline received $200 each.

To his daughter, Maria Putman Mount, Cornelius left a large mahogany dining table, and to his daughter Gazena Putman Blood, “my two agate mantlepiece ornaments or vases, which I bought of my son Glenn Putman.” The daughters were also to divide up to their liking “all my beds, bedsteads, bedding, crockery, two sets of china … glass preserve dishes, knives and forks, silverware, and all my household furniture not otherwise disposed of.”

Effingham received “my compass chair and surveying instruments and a note of hand I hold against him for two hundred and fifty dollars.” Effingham and Alonzo were also given jointly 240 acres of land that Cornelius owned in Ida, Monroe County, Michigan. The rest of the estate, which included treasury notes and securities, book collections, and a gold watch and chain, was to be divided between the two daughters and younger sons.

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Coroner Alonzo Putman is mentioned in this Rochester Democrat and Chronicle item on the drowning of six-year-old Samuel Clifford and his would-be rescuer in a canal near Auriesville, New York, 23 August, 1875.

Taken together, it seems that in the mid-1860s, when the Will was composed, there existed some bad feeling between father and eldest son; the younger sons appeared favored, with Glenn basically receiving nothing but debt forgiveness from a man no longer alive to collect repayment. Any possible estrangement between father and son appears abated by May 1870, when Cornelius added a codicil instructing Alonzo and Effingham to give Glenn $400 out of any money made from the Michigan land.

Also of interest is that one facet of the Will may not have been honored by Effingham and Alonzo. Cornelius instructed his sons to care for his burial plot and keep up the monument. The wording suggests that one was already there, presumably erected after the burial of his wife in February 1861. If there was ever a monument, it does not appear to exist today.

Dr. Alonzo Putman began his career as a pharmacist operating a store at 48 East Main Street, Amsterdam. After selling the store, he practiced medicine and surgery in the town and was appointed a Montgomery County coroner in 1865. As noted above, he was twice married. The History of Montgomery County states that “His first wife, Harriet Maria Van Rensselaer, was born September 12, 1827, married June 4, 1856, and died August 15, 1860. They had one child, Catherine B. Putman Rankin. Catherine was born at Glen … February 20, 1857. Upon the death of her mother, she moved to Albany to live at the old homestead, Cherry Hill, with Mrs. P. E. Elmendorf, daughter of General Solomon and Arriet Van Rensselaer, a cousin of her mother.”

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Cherry Hill, Albany, New York, once owned by Dr. Alonzo Putman’s daughter, Catherine Putman Rankin.

According to the Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs: “Mrs. Rankin is now owner of the old mansion, which stands on high ground to the west of South Pearl street, almost concealed by large trees, a double house, built in 1768 of wood, filled in with brick, with a spacious veranda from which one may view the Hudson river with its commerce passing continually up and down. Instead of abandoning the house for another portion of the city, which might seem to some to be more congenial, or disturbing the interior furnishing as styles changed, she turned her attention to the beautifying of the estate, and to-day presides over one of the most quaintly charming of all the old-fashioned residences to be found within the limits of Albany County. Not alone does it possess for her abundance of charm of family romance, but her guests are immediately appreciative of this when cordially received within the walls from which ancestral portraits look down as one sits beside a great hearth fitted with all the old utensils, even to the crane, and is served from silver and china of past generations. It is to be noted at once that everything is in keeping, thus giving an atmosphere of unusual refinement. Among the many famous men of the early days entertained at Cherry Hill, General Lafayette was twice an honored guest while visiting in this country.”

The final surviving member of her generation was Gazena Elizabeth Putman Blood, who died 3 February, 1908. The Amsterdam Evening Recorder provided her obituary: “Gazena Elizabeth Blood, widow of Gardiner Blood, died at 9 o’clock this morning at her home, No 118 Market Street, of paralysis, aged 77 years. Mrs. Blood has been an invalid for several years but has been confined to her bed only for the past two weeks.

“She was born January 20, 1831, the daughter of Cornelius Putman and wife Gazena Visscher Mabee, and spent her early life in the town of Glen. In 1855, she married Gardiner Blood and removed to Amsterdam, where for many years her husband was one of the leading manufacturers of the place, as a member of the firm of Schuyler & Blood, and later Blood & Stewart, engaged in the knit goods business.

“Mrs. Blood’s only son, Howard Gardiner Blood, died in 1886, and her husband in 1892. She had four brothers and one sister, all of whom passed away many years ago, and her only surviving relatives are her daughter, Mrs. Peter Henry Bennett, and granddaughter, Miss Natalie F. Bennett, of this city.

“Mrs. Blood has been a member of the Second Presbyterian Church for nearly 50 years, and her kindly nature and estimable character attracted her a wide circle of admiring friends who will be grieved to learn of her death. She was also a member of the Century Club and the Antlers and almost since its foundation has been a member of the New York City Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, to which organization she was eligible through her grandfather, Colonel Frederick Visscher of the Tryon County Militia.

“The Funeral will be held at the house at 3 o’clock Thursday afternoon. Interment will be in Fairview Cemetery.” Ω

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The Blood family plot in Fairview Cemetery, Amsterdam, New York, where Gardiner and Gazena Putman Blood are buried. Photo by Joan Frost.

Whilst researching this article, I came across this darkly fascinating item from the 1 April, 1881, Larned, Kansas, Eagle-Optic.

“Mrs. D. Putnam, of Amsterdam, New York, died last week under singular circumstances. A sliver of wood ran into her finger, and, when withdrawn, left a slight wound. While washing some yellow-colored hosiery, poison entered Mrs. Putnam’s system through the wound in her finger and caused her death.”

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“Everybody Loved Her”: The Mysterious Death of Iola Haley Newell

“Her husband was the only one in the room, and he was asleep.”—Louisville Courier-Journal

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The reverse inscription of this albumen print reads, “My Dear Sister Iola Haley Newell in her coffin, who passed away Oct. 31st 1901 in Somerset, KY. The two ladies you can see in the looking-glass are Dr. Joe Owens’ wife & Alma Owens Tibbals, two of Iola’s dear friends…. Iola Morgan, born Feb 5, 1924, named after Iola Haley. She died 3 years before I was born. Also Perry & Dorothea Haley’s daughter named after Iola Haley, too. (Everybody loved her.)” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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In the first days of November, 1901, Mrs. Owens and Alma Tibbals gazed upon at the body of their deceased friend whilst the photographer preserved the moment.

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.

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The Louisville Courier Journal announced the grant of a marriage license to John Newell and Iola Haley on 5 September, 1900.

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.

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East Main Street, Somerset, Kentucky, as Iola knew it.

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.

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Danville Kentucky Advocate, 1 November, 1901, page 1.

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.

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Paducah Sun-Democrat, Thursday, 31 October, 1901, page 2.

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]….”

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Louisville Courier-Journal, 1 November, 1901, page 2.

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.

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The gravestone of Iola Haley Newell. Photo by Judy Lynn.

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.

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Dorothea Haggerty and John Perry Haley (Iola’s nephew), who, in 1919, named their daughter after John’s late aunt.

“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

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Somerset City Cemetery, where the Newells repose today.