By Beverly Wilgus
Early images of the Stars and Stripes from the Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.
Early images of the Stars and Stripes from the Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.
By Beverly Wilgus
All of this historic context, moreover the genetic material of their ancestress, was not valued by her descendants, who found her mourning brooch too disgusting to keep.
In about 1996, while trawling for hair-work brooches on eBay with a tax return smoldering in my pocket, I found a listing with a ridiculously blurry photo of what looked like—just maybe—a Regency era mourning brooch. The accompanying item description encapsulated the prevailing 20th century attitude toward mourning jewelry. As I recall, it read something very close to “We found this pin that belonged to grandma. It has hair in it! Eww! Get it out of our house!” I obliged for about $40; no other bidders were willing to take the chance with that kind of sales photo. One- by three-quarters-inch in size, this type of small brooch was known as a “lace pin” and used to secure veils, ribbons, pelerines, and other accessories. They were also worn by men as lapel pins.
The 210-hundred-year-old gem that I received was made of 10-karat or higher plain and rose gold with completely intact niello and inset faceted jet cabochons. (Niello is a black metallic alloy of sulfur, copper, silver, and usually lead, used as an inlay on engraved metal.) The brooch was in pristine condition, bearing the inscription “Mary Palmer. Ob. 3 July 1806, aet. 38.” The abbreviation “Ob.” is from the Latin obitus—“a departure,” which has long been a euphemism for death. “Aet.” is from the Latin aetatis—“of age.”
My Mary was probably born in 1768—the year when the Massachusetts Assembly was dissolved for not collecting taxes and Boston citizens balked at quartering British troops. Additionally, John Hancock had refused to give royal customs agents access to his vessel—one of the first acts of physical resistance to British authority; a month later, that same authority would seize Hancock’s ship. In Scotland, the first encyclopedia was published; in London, radical MP and journalist John Wilkes was imprisoned for penning an article that criticized King George III. His arrest kicked off riots that led to the Massacre of St. George’s Fields.
In 1838, British Shakespearean actor Junius Brutus Booth would name his youngest son John Wilkes Booth in the jailed MP’s honor. By the birth of this future presidential assassin, Mary Palmer had been dead for 32 years. The world on which she closed her eyes had recently seen Napoleonic War hero General Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, repose in state at St. Paul’s, the the surrender of Dutch Cape Colony to the British, explorers Lewis and Clark begin their journey back from the Pacific, the distribution of Noah Webster’s first American dictionary, and the start of Thomas Jefferson’s second term as U.S. president.
All of this historic context, moreover the genetic material of their ancestress, was lost on and to her descendants, who found her memorial brooch too disgusting to keep.
One of the most beautiful trends in memorial jewelry is the reconstitution of a cremains and hair as diamonds.
It can be postulated that the major televised tragedies and wars of the early 21st century have made displays of public and personal grief more acceptable. Or perhaps rising generations are rebelling against the old ways, as they are wont—their elders did not speak of death, therefore they will. In either case, for whatever collective reasons, many years after I purchased the Mary Palmer memorial brooch, I stumbled across the website Memorials.net and read, “Memorial jewelry is, perhaps, the newest, most novel idea in the memorial industry [emphasis mine] and it is becoming more popular every year…. Memorial jewelry is…used to store locks of hair of family members whose bodies have been buried, and memorial jewelry often simply encloses a special picture of a loved-ones. Many pieces of memorial jewelry are also engraved with special memorial quotations.”
Clearly, someone needs a history lesson. However, the acknowledgement of momentum is spot on. For example, the growing preference for cremation has led to jewelry that contains, or is made from, a portion of the deceased’s ashes. Much like the Victorian jeweler Dewdney, today companies and artisans who specialize in memorial jewelry offer it in various styles of precious and semiprecious metals with personalized engraving.
Touching the deaths of children, independent artisans have begun to craft pieces meant for those who have lost infants or experienced stillbirths and miscarriages. One such enterprise, La Belle Dame, explains on its website, “We created our miscarriage and infant loss jewelry to help mothers feel connected to their little ones, to have a tangible something to touch and give them strength when they need it most.”
One of the most beautiful trends in memorial jewelry is the reconstitution of cremains and hair as diamonds. These are formed by carbon extraction while the ashes and hair are subjected to extreme heat and pressure, replicating the process that occurs naturally in the earth. According to one company, writting in almost the same heavily sentimental language of the Victorians, “The diamonds are available in brilliant and beautiful yellows and blues like a sunset captured in time or a wave upon the ocean.” The gems can be set into rings, pendants, or brooches that memorialize the dead.
Today’s mourners who commission these pieces can be assured they shall be cherished—if not by their own descendants, then by future collectors. And perhaps, in that long-off century, someone will feel a tickle that grows into a powerful urge to discover who the dead once were.
As for Mary Palmer, I cannot tell her story yet. I have identified a number of British and American women with this name born at the right time, but none of these offer a corresponding 3 July, 1806 death date—and at any rate, if Palmer was a married name then none of the Marys born in 1768 are correct. I hope that one day I will locate Mary in extant records and piece together a life that will stand as meaningful to me, if not to those who shared her blood. Ω
“We used to be fascinated watching the owner, the late Elmer Marshall, sitting at his desk in the window.”—Nashua Telegraph, 1961
Due to a wonderful synchronicity, I own two cabinet card portraits of Elmer Daniel Marshall, late-Victorian and Edwardian man of business. I was contacted by a photo seller who found the image above on Elmer’s Find A Grave memorial after I had placed it there. He offered me a younger image of Marshall, below, which I purchased to keep them together.
Elmer was born 3 July, 1862, in Nashua, New Hampshire, the son of Daniel Robinson Marshall, born 18 March, 1821, in Windham, New Hampshire, and his wife Roxanna R. Morse, of Wilton, New Hampshire, born 25 January, 1824. She was the daughter of Ephrem Morse and Lois Hackett, both of Wilton.
His paternal grandparents were Samson Marshall (3 April, 1786-28 May, 1845), a watchman, and his wife Margaret Davidson (1794-9 Feb., 1877); his great-grandfather was Nathaniel, son of Richard and Ruth Marshall, who married Hannah Marsh in 1788. She was born at Nottingham West, New Hampshire, 22 July, 1757.
Daniel Marshall, who was then a butcher, and Roxanna Morse married before 1850. It appears the couple’s firstborn was a boy named Charles, who died before the 1850 census was taken. In that year, the couple were enumerated with a five-month-old daughter, Harriet L., who died before the next census in 1860. In that year, the Marshalls lived with Daniel’s mother Margaret and a daughter, Carrie G. (b. December 1858), who died only a few months later in August. Today, in Nashua’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where several generations of Marshalls are interred, there is a row of three tiny stones—the only trace of Elmer’s lost siblings.
(A curious aside: Daniel Marshall’s occupation in 1860 was noted by the census taker as “man.”)
In 1861, at age 40, Daniel Marshall dutifully registered for to serve as a Union soldier, but was never called up.
Daniel was 41 when his only surviving child, Elmer, was born in the summer of 1862. At the time of the 1870 Census, Daniel was a real-estate dealer; by 1880, he had again radically changed professions and was a deputy sheriff. Daniel Marshall died of heart disease, aged 72, 29 September, 1893. He is buried at Woodlawn.
Elmer was married 5 August, 1886, to Nettie Agnes Flagg (November 1864-11 March, 1951), daughter of Hollis, New Hampshire, farmer Henry A. Flagg (b. 1821) and his wife Adeline Wheeler. Three children were born to Elmer and Nettie: Roy Flagg Marshall (15 April, 1888-29 Jan., 1961); Paul Hackett Marshall (21 November, 1889-11 Sept., 1972), and Evelyn Lucile Marshall (21 August 1897-28 Dec., 1989).
The 1900 Census reveals that Elmer was a wholesale grocer who lived with his mother, his wife, and their children. Two years earlier, an 1898 Nashua directory listed Elmer and a cousin, John Otis Marshall (17 Sept., 1840-22 Feb., 1902), as the proprietors of the Marshall Grocery Company located at 11 and 12 Railroad Square. A Nashua Telegraph article of 29 April, 1959, gives some background on the business: “In 1865, John and Caleb Marshall opened the first wholesale grocery business in eastern half of the old building…on Railroad Square. In 1893, Caleb left his brother to establish a similar business on Franklin Street…. Elmer D. Marshall joined John in 1893 and continued the business as the Marshall Grocery Company until [John retired] and the Holbrook brothers bought John’s interest.”
The rechristened Holbrook-Marshall Company opened in mid-May 1906, but less than a year later the trade publication Flour and Feed reported that the building “collapsed, with considerable damage,” but did not give the cause. In 1911, the Telegraph noted that Elmer had become a member of the board of the Nashua Hospital Association. In early 1912, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Foods reported, “Ninety barrels of vinegar in the possession of the Holbrook Marshall Grocery Company of Nashua, N. H., were seized by pure food inspectors because of misbranding.” Otherwise, it was a sterling and prosperous company. A piece of surviving ephemera proclaims it a wholesaler of groceries and flour, as well as a jobber of pork and lard, and a coffee roaster.
Elmer and Nettie’s son Roy was married 18 June, 1913, to Kittie Gladys Grover (1889-1988). A son, Lewis R. Marshall, was born in 1917, then, in a twist of fate, on 8 August, 1914, Elmer’s second grandchild, Gladys Shirley, was born the same day his mother Roxanna died at age 90 years, six months, and 11 days. On Roxanna’s death record, the cause was listed simply as “old age.” She was laid to rest in Woodlawn with the husband she had outlived by more than two decades. Crushingly, little Gladys followed her great-grandmother 16 August, 1918, dying at age 4 after an operation on a ruptured appendix. The little girl lies buried with her family in Edgewood Cemetery, Nashua.
After Gladys’s death, Roy and Kittie would have five more children, some of whom are still living today. His World War I registration card describes him as tall and slender, with blue eyes and dark brown hair. In April 1942, he also registered for the World War II draft. In that record his height was logged at 5’11”, his complexion fair, and his hair grey.
Roy, and presumably both his siblings, graduated from Nashua High School. He went on to New York City’s Packard business College, earning his degree in 1907. After his father retired from Holbrook-Marshall, Roy succeeded him as president and treasurer until his own retirement in 1946. He died in Nashua in January 1961 and is interred at Edgewood. His obituary notes that at the time of his death, Roy had 18 grand-children, so there are many descendants of Elmer Marshall alive today to stumble across this article.
On 25 June, 1913, Elmer and Kittie’s son Paul wed Marcia May Barnes (1891–1981) at the home of the bride’s parents in Litchfield, New Hampshire. The couple had one son, Warren Elmer Marshall, born in 1914.
In 1917, Paul registered for the World War I draft and was described as 5’6″ and of a medium build with brown hair and blue eyes. He was also noted as suffering “nasal trouble.” He did not serve in the war, but went on to spend his early career in the Holbrook-Marshall Company. By 1930, however, he altered his course to become an insurance salesman. In 1935, Paul and his family removed to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he continued in the same field. In the 1940s, he became a Mason at Worcester’s Rose of Sharon Lodge, and the 6 July, 1963, issue of the Telegraph reported on Paul and Marsha’s golden wedding anniversary in Worcester, which was attended by his brother Roy and many other family members from New Hampshire. Paul Marshall died in Boylston, Massachusetts, 11 September, 1972. He is buried in Edgewood Cemetery, Nashua.
Paul’s son Warren married thrice, and with his third wife, Marie Teresa Madden (1910-1981), had five children. Warren passed away 11 March, 2004, in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He and his wife are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
“Miss Marshall and Holbrook were rushed to Memorial Hospital and late last night, the condition of Miss Marshall was considered serious.”
On 8 July, 1926, daughter Evelyn Marshall was injured in a dramatic attempt to evade justice by one of her father’s employees. According to the Portsmouth Herald, when confronted by a police inspector over an arrest warrant, “Whitney I. Rushlow backed the big limousine he was driving against a pole. [This] threw Inspector Fletcher against a post, severely injuring him, smashed his car and injured Miss Evelyn Marshall and E. S. Holbrook, passengers in the machine. Miss Marshall and Holbrook were rushed to Memorial Hospital and late last night, the condition of Miss Marshall was considered serious. Rushlow is chauffeur for E. D. Marshall of the Holbrook-Marshall Wholesale Grocery Co. and was seated in the car in front of the warehouse awaiting Mr. Marshall when the police approached….” Evelyn survived her injuries and I can find no further mention of the incident in local news.
Elmer’s daughter never married, appears never to have had a profession, served as her mother’s executrix in 1951, and after her own death in late December 1989, was buried with her parents in Woodlawn Cemetery.
“No matter what time we went to school or came home, he invariably could be found at that desk.”
A 1922 passenger record exists for Elmer Marshall, at age 62, entering the port of New York on the S.S. Orca. He was traveling alone and listed his address as 22 Berkley Street, Nashua—a nine-room house, built in 1900, that is still standing and occupied today.
In January 1926, the Telegraph reported that he had been reelected an officer of Indian Head National Bank. He made his last census appearance in 1930 with his wife and 32-year-old daughter. He died in 5 October, 1935, of a coronary occlusion after almost a decade of myocarditis. A brief obituary appeared in New England papers, stating that he died at home and had been, at the time of his passing, the treasurer of the Holbrook-Marshall Company of Keene and Nashua, New Hampshire.
An article in the Nashua Telegraph of 1 Feb., 1961, remembered, “The Holbrook-Marshall Company on East Hollis Street, back forty years or so ago, was the largest wholesale grocery firm in New England, we would venture to say. It was a beehive of activity in those days, and we used to be fascinated watching the owner, the late Elmer Marshall, sitting at his desk in the window, He was our idea of a businessman, in those days.” Elmer’s seat at the window was also remarked upon in an earlier 1959 article: “On our way to the junior high school and high school we had to pass that building several times a day and can still picture, sitting at an open desk before and open window [Marshall], a distinguished looking man. No matter what time we went to school or came home, he invariably could be found at that desk.”
Roy is also mentioned in the 1961 Telegraph article, “[Elmer’s] son, Roy Marshall, also occupied the other front office and even then he was heir-apparent to this flourishing business…. All of this is recalled with the death this week of Roy Marshall. The firm, as we recall it, went out of business 20 years or so ago. And we shake our heads to think of the trainload after trainload of grocery goods being moved into their warehouses for distribution in our area each week by this old, established firm.”
Elmer was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. His wife, Nettie, died in Nashua on 11 March, 1951, as was also buried at Woodlawn. Ω
Update: In August 2017, I received this correspondence from relative Gail Marshall, which highlights the difficulty that a historian has in resuscitating the lives of strangers—to wit, a lack of family secrets :
“I was thrilled to find information on your page about my Great Grandfather Elmer D. Marshall that included his picture. I too was born on July 3rd. There are however a few incorrect parts in what you published that I would like corrected. My Father, Warren E. Marshall, was the first grandchild of E. D. so he received quite a bit of attention from his grandparents. As a result, my Father spent a great deal of his childhood at 22 Berkley St in Nashua. His time there was not because my grandparents were poor. Paul and Marcia were never poor….
“As with many families there are tensions and squabbles between members. My Grandfather, Paul, and his older brother, Roy did not get along. So they visited their parents at separate times. My grandparents at one point lived in Manchester, NH. Paul worked for the family business until he went in to insurance. Paul then had his own insurance agency in Worcester, MA, until he retired. He then worked at a bank where he had his heart attack which ultimately he passed from.
“There are several reasons for Paul and Roy’s dislike for one another. Based on a comment from my Father, Paul and Kitty liked one another more than just in-laws. E. D. requested that Paul step aside and let Roy court Kitty. Then as was customary the oldest son, in this case Roy, took over the family business. Once Elmer passed Roy really did not do anything with the family business and let it run in to the ground until it had to be closed.”
Thank you, Gail, for providing me with this information. I am glad to add it to the story of Elmer D. Marhsall.
“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman
I wish all mothers a happy day of love and peace. For all you have done and will do, you are saluted.
“I lament the loss of honest Richard Hough. Such men must needs be wanted where selfishness and forgetfulness of God’s mercies so much abound.”—William Penn, 1705
The subject of this black-and-white version of an albumen paper print is my great-great grandmother, Rebecca Barbara Hough Murdock (25 Nov., 1828-26 Nov., 1917), widow of Thomas McKea Murdock (28 June, 1827-17 April, 1891), seated on a bench outside the Fox family home at 5737 Pierce Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1916. Her daughter, my great-grandmother Rebecca Elizabeth Murdock (29 Sept., 1863-14 April, 1918) married John Thomas Fox (31 March, 1860-11 Jan., 1928). Together they had ten children, the youngest of whom—Helen Kathleen Fox (4 Oct., 1906-28 June, 1983)—can be seen at left. (The fingerprints of my ancestors are also clearly visible.)
Rebecca Hough’s parents were John Thompson Hough (1801-6 Nov., 1869), a cabinet maker in Pittsburgh, and Mary Ann McBride (b. 1804, New Jersey). Rebecca was a direct descendent of the early Quaker Richard Hough (1650-25 March, 1705), a trusted friend and advisor of William Penn. Penn asked Hough to accompany him to Penn’s new land in America to assist in governing the nascent commonwealth.
According to the Genealogical and Personal Memorial of Mercer County, New Jersey, edited by Francis Bazley Lee, “Near a spring of water, Richard Hough built a stone house, one of the few early ones in [Bucks] county, only the most pretentious being built of that material. The stone, no doubt, came from his own land…. In this house six generations of the line all descendants of Richard Hough, were born, part of the land remaining in their possession until 1850, when they removed to Ewing township, Mercer county, New Jersey. [Hough] belonged to the Falls Meeting of the Society of Friends, and in this house the first meetings of the society were held until the building of the Falls Meeting House in 1690, the first in the county. The Bucks County Quarterly Meeting continued to be held there…until 1606.
“Richard Hough took an active part in all the affairs of the early days of the county, political, social, and religious. He was one of the commission or jury that made the first official division of Bucks county. For many years he took a prominent part in the government of the province. He represented Bucks county in the Provincial assembly in 1684, 1688, 1690, 1697, 1700…and 1703; was a member of the Provincial council in 1693 and 1700…. During the meeting of the General Assembly of 1699, Richard Hough was appointed, May 15, one of a committee ‘to inspect into the Account of Charges which have accrued upon occasion of the Privateers plundering the town of Lewes;’ during a second session devoted to the consideration of the same subject, Mr. Hough took an active part, and more stringent laws were passed against piracy and illegal trade. He was one of the few supporters of the proprietary in the assembly of 1704, and continued to be a member of the supreme executive council of William Penn or a member of the assembly until his death.”
On 25 March, 1705, Hough drowned in the Delaware River. James Logan wrote to William Penn from Philadelphia, “Richard Hough, one of the best in the house, was about three weeks ago, unfortunately overset in a wherry, coming down the river, and, with two other persons, lost his life; the rest were saved. He is much lamented by all that knew him, and understand the value of a good man.” William Penn replied, ‘I lament the loss of honest Richard Hough. Such men must needs be wanted where selfishness and forgetfulness of God’s mercies so much abound.”
My great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Richard Hough’s home still stands in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ω
“Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning tears of love,
None so devotional as that of ‘Mother,’
Therefore, by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me.” — Edgar Allan Poe
A quick note: I will be having surgery on Tuesday, 4 April, and will be taking at least a four- or five-day hiatus to recover. I will return as soon as possible. Promise.
“You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season.”
On 26 March, 1900, the Alfred Sun of Allegheny County, New York, included this obituary: “Abial Thomas, son of Rowland and Prudence Thomas, was born Sept. 22, 1825, and died Mar. 2, 1900, aged 74 years, 5 months, and 10 days. He was married Sept. 25, 1845, to Mary Crandall, being one of three brothers who married three sisters. In 1848, his wife and infant child died. Mr. Thomas was married again Dec. 1, 1840, to [Ascenath] Jane Stillman. Seven children resulted from this union. Prudence, now Mrs. McHenry, who resides at Alfred Station; Rowland of Hornellsville; Mary, Mrs. Congdon of Hornellsville; Nancy, deceased; Frank of Hornellsville; Lucy, deceased; and Charlotte, Mrs. Melville Green of Hornellsville. Two brothers and one sister also survive, viz., Rowland Thomas of Alfred; Silas Thomas of Milton, Wis.; and Mrs. Alma Green of Silver Lake. Mr. Thomas was taken a little over a week before his death with acute pneumonia, and little hope of his recovery was entertained from the first. The funeral services were held at the 2nd Alfred Church, conducted by the pastor. Text, Acts 26:8. The funeral was well attended, a good many old neighbors and relatives of the deceased being present.”
Abial Thomas was a lifetime native of Alfred—an unusual locality in that there is a Village of Alfred within the borders of the eponymous town that is the site of Alfred State College, Alfred University, and the New York State College of Ceramics. Abial spent his days as a farmer and later a carpenter, never appearing in the newspapers and leaving few records; he registered for the Civil War draft, for example, but already in his late 30s, Abial did not serve.
The above detail of the cabinet card allows us to see Abial as he was late in life, as well as his coffin plaque. According to Ancestors at Rest, “In North America…the popularity of the practice of removing the plates from the coffin before burial increased. Often the coffin plates were never attached to the coffin but displayed on a stand or table next to it…. This practice started in the early 1840s and was particularly popular in the North Eastern United States, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island…. This practice peaked in the late 19th century (1880-1899) and by the 1920s this practice had all but stopped.”
After the funeral, the coffin plaques might become parts of hanging wall shrines to the deceased, which were often replete with wax-dipped linen flowers, skeletonized leaves, dyed and shaped feathers, shells, locks of hair, photographs, and other sentimental items.
The wheat sheaf amongst Abial’s funeral flowers is also worthy of note. Unseen at modern funerals, during the 19th Century the wheat sheaf was a recognized symbol of the biblical verse Job 5:26: “You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, like a sheaf gathered up in its season.” This is beautifully illustrated in the cabinet card above, which includes both elements of the verse from Job. The wheat sheaf was regularly given in tribute to the elderly.
“Her life was marked for honesty of dealings and purity of character.”
The Sabbath Recorder of 17 April, 1890, provides us a concise biography of Abial’s second wife, Ascenath Jane, who had died a decade before him. She was “born in Newport, Herkimer Co., N.Y., Oct. 10, 1818, and died at her home in Alfred, after an illness of about five weeks of heart disease, March 29, 1890, in the 72nd year of her age. Mrs. Thomas was a daughter of Ezra Stillman, long known and well remembered. Four sons and one daughter only are now left of his family. Under the ministry of Elder John Green she was baptized and united with the Seventh-Day Baptist Church of Newport, of which she remained a member until it disbanded, and she never removed her membership. Her life was marked for honesty of dealings and purity of character. In 1849, she was married to Abial Thomas, by whom she had seven children. She was held in honorable esteem by all who knew her, and casting all her cares on Jesus, she died, as she had lived, a Christian.”