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.
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.
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.
A black-bordered invitation brought ill tidings of a father’s death.
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
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.
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 hometown (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.
“Her husband was the only one in the room, and he was asleep.”—Louisville Courier-Journal
The earthly remains of Iola M. Haley Newell are buried in Somerset City Cemetery, Somerset, Kentucky, within the casket seen above. It was almost certainly white, with a crackled paint finish and colored velvet covering the pallbearers′ handles. The rest of the gently sunlit parlor held rich photographic detail. The fireplace was surrounded by colorful Victorian art nouveau tiles. On the wall, above the harp-shaped floral tribute, a paper or cardboard image of a blooming plant proclaimed, “The Year of Flowers.” Reflected in the mirror, along with two female mourners, were more images also possibly culled from “The Year of Flowers.” Behind the black-clad ladies was the staircase to the home’s upper floor.
It is a wistfully beautiful image: A bright-colored room, burgeoning with flowers in recognition of a beloved daughter, sister, friend, and bride of little more than a year, dead before age 30. The most likely causes of Iola’s demise should have been pregnancy complications or childbirth. However, there is no record of a child born alive or dead—and if the latter, we would expect to see the stillborn infant in the casket, beside its mother.
It is also clear from the photo that Iola was not the 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 was yet alive.
“I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it.”
To: Miss Anna M. Ramsey Richborough P.D. Bucks County Pennsylvania C/O Mr. Ed Ramsey Please forward
High Point April 27th ‘84
Dear Cousin Anna,
Yours of April 4 received. Was so glad to hear from you. I had looked for a letter for some time from Aunty. But have treasured up my last one from her. Anna, I sympathize deeply with your in your affliction. Your loss is her gain. But it is so hard to part with those we love so dearly but Aunty has only passed from this wicked world to a brighter and better one beyond. But oh the loneliness and sadness in the home without a mother or father. My heart aches for you, well I do remember the bitter pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world. To this day I grieve for her. But time changes all things and we must be reconciled.
I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it. But felt very sad indeed. I wanted to come east last fall to see you all once more but Jeff was sick so long and so bad that we could not leave him. I think from what you tell me about Aunty she must have been (in her sickness) very much like cos Kate Hume (McNair). She did not suffer pain but had that distress feeling and sick at her stomach. She had a cancerous tumor.
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.”