Harriet, Jeff, Aunty, and Anna

“I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it.”

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A mourning stationery envelope addressed to Anna M. Ramsey. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

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.

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Page one of the black-edged letter written on mourning stationery to Anna Ramsey.

I was not surprised when we received the notice of Aunty’s death. From what you had written to me I was expecting it. But felt very sad indeed. I wanted to come east last fall to see you all once more but Jeff was sick so long and so bad that we could not leave him. I think from what you tell me about Aunty she must have been (in her sickness) very much like cos Kate Hume (McNair). She did not suffer pain but had that distress feeling and sick at her stomach. She had a cancerous tumor.

Dear Anna, we are so lonely. We miss Jeff so much. He was so good and kind to all. I had often read of happy deaths but never witnessed such a one in my life. He was sick only five days. In the afternoon of the day he died, Rosie was sitting on his bed crying. He said to her “I would so much rather you would go to the piano and play and sing for me ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ then to sit here and cry.” She went to the piano and played and tried to sing with the help of some friends. Poor child. It seemed as if it would kill her almost.

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Letter to Anna Ramsey, pages 2 and 3.

He bid all goodbye and talked to each one separately and was perfectly willing to go. Said he did not dread death and was ready to die, only his worldly affairs were not just as he would have them. He thought he lingered longer toward the last then he ought to, so asked a friend to read and sing with the friends that time might pass faster. There was about 50 persons in to bid him farewell. He shook hands and had some good word for all. It hurt him very much to talk but when he found he could not live he talked the most of the time until about half an hour before his death.

He had a great many friends. There was between 1,000 and 1,500 persons at his funeral. He requested to have one of our old preachers to preach at his funeral. The sermon was very good. He was buried with Masonic honors. We sent a notice to Aunty. Did you get it? Anna, I would like you to write to me soon and tell me about Aunty’s death. All join one with much love to all friends. Accept a very large share for yourself.

From your cousin,

Harriet S. Hart

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Letter to Anna Ramsey, page 4.

The poignant letter above was written by Harriet Shepard Vanartsdalen Hart (22 February, 1830, Philadelphia, PA–11 December, 1900, High Point, MO), wife of Thomas Jefferson Hart (9 February, 1826, Bucks Co., PA–29 February, 1884, High Point, MO). According to his obituary, Hart struggled for years with “an enfeebling lung disease,” his “exhausted nature at last yielded to an attack of acute pneumonia after five days’ illness,” leaving a Harriet a widow with eight surviving children of the 16 she had born.

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Jeff and Harriet’s son Louis Folwell Hart (4 Jan., 1862-4 Dec., 1929). He is buried in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington. Hart served as governor of that state from 13 February, 1919, to 12 January, 1925. Neither of his parents lived to see his election.

Many years later, Jeff Hart’s then-middle-aged son Louis, a lawyer and later governor of the State of Washington, filed an application to join the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). The document contains substantial genealogical evidence about the Hart family, naming Jeff Hart’s father as Lewis Folwell Hart (17 March, 1792, Bucks County, PA–1841, Belleview, Illinois). Jeff’s mother was Sidney Gill (1796–1854). He was the grandson of Joseph Folwell Hart (b. 7 December, 1758) and Ann Folwell (1758, Warminster, PA–11 March, 1843, Southampton, PA), who was the daughter of Colonel William Thomas Folwell (1737 – 1813). That Joseph was the son of Warminster, Pennsylvania, native Joseph Hart (1 September, 1715–25 February 1788) and his wife Elizabeth Collet (14 May, 1744, Philadelphia, PA-19 February, 1788, Warminster, PA).

Joseph, Sr., took part in the American Revolution as a “colonel, Second Battalion,” the SAR application notes. He commanded a regiment of Bucks County militia, serving in Amboy, New Jersey, during the latter part of the summer of 1776. Joseph, Sr., was a great-grandson of Christopher and Mary Hart of Oxfordshire, England, who came to America with William Penn and settled in Warminster Township, Bucks County, where the family lived until 1855, when Jeff Hart moved his branch of the family to Missouri.

Harriet was the daughter of John Vanartsdalen (b. abt. 1800–aft. 1870) and his wife Maria S. Davis (1807, PA–7 November, 1854, Philadelphia, PA). Harriet’s family was descended from early Dutch settlers Simon Jansz Van Arsdalen and his wife Jannetje Romeyn.

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The grave of Harriet Vanartsdalen Hart in High Point Cemetery, High Point, Missouri.

Jeff Hart married Harriet Vanartsdalen on 16 March, 1848. On the 1850 Census of Philadelphia, the young couple and their second-born son John Byron (b. 1849, PA–1886) (the first, also named John Byron, died either at birth or in early infancy), were living with—or possibly visiting—Harriet’s mother Maria, the woman of whom her daughter would later write, “Well I do remember the pangs of suffering I passed through when I had to give up my own dear mother. It seemed as though all the sunshine had gone out of the world.” Also in the household was Harriet’s younger brother, John (b. 1835). Jeff Hart’s occupation at that time was carpenter.

Harriet lost her beloved mother in November 1854. Maria was laid to rest in Philadelphia’s Odd Fellows Burial Ground, an historic cemetery at 24th and Diamond Streets established in 1849. The cemetery property was acquired by the Philadelphia Housing Authority in 1950 for construction of a housing project. The bodies that had been interred there, including Maria’s, were relocated to Philadelphia’s Mount Peace Cemetery and Lawnview Memorial Park in Rockledge, Pennsylvania.

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When the U.S. Civil War erupted, the Jeff Hart family had been in Missouri for about six years. They dwelt in “Township 43, Range 15” of Moniteau County. Today, that place is called High Point. It is less a town than a crossroads placed amidst a deeply agrarian landscape. At High Point, the 1860 Census reveals Jeff Hart had made a leap from carpenter to merchant, and Harriet managed four children who ranged in age from 11 to six months: Byron; Frank H. (1858 – 1905), Laura Louisa (b. 1859); and Lillie Josephine (1856 – 1863).

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Confederate General Sterling Price. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Jeff Hart served in the U.S. Civil War in Company B of the 48th Missouri Infantry as a captain. His registration record of the summer of 1863 enumerates him as a 37-year-old merchant with three months of previous experience serving in a militia. According to its regimental history, his unit saw service at Rolla, Missouri, “until December 9, 1864. Defense of Rolla against Price.” This is likely the only military action that Hart participated in.

“In 1864, the Missouri legislature was gearing up for a new election. Confederate leaders believed that if they could take the capital, Jefferson City, return the exiled Confederate politicians there, and hold elections, that the state would elect a Southerner, putting the state legally in the hands of the South for the next four years. General Sterling Price was chosen to lead this raid because of his popularity in the state,” explains The Civil War in Missouri.

After this, Hart moved with the unit to Nashville, Tennessee, from December 9 to 19. Then, his unit was “assigned to post duty at Columbia, Tenn., and garrison blockhouses on Tennessee & Alabama Railroad from Franklin to Talioka until February, 1865. Moved to Chicago, Ill., February 18-22. Guard duty at Camp Douglas and escort Confederate prisoners to City Point, Va., for exchange until June 16. Ordered to Benton Barracks, Mo., June 16. Mustered out June 22, 1865. Regiment lost during service by disease 120.”

victorian+ornaments+image+graphicsfairy2After the war, on 29 March, 1867, Jeff Hart was appointed postmaster for High Point—it was a position that made practical sense, as he operated out of an adjoining storefront. Hart held the government-paid postmaster position until his death. The 1871 Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval in the Service of the United States states that his pay that year was $110, but in 1873, it had fallen to $81. A slight lessening likely did not discomfit the family. In 1881, the Osage Valley Banner reported in its social column that Hart, who was “largely engaged in [railroad] tie contracts and general merchadise,” had been in town—the paper naming him “the Rothchild [sic] of High Point.”

The 1870 Census of Moniteau County lists the couple’s children living at home as Byron;  Frank; Laura; Louis; Emma Rosealie (b. 1866)—the “Rosie” mentioned in the letter weeping for her dying father; and Alberta S. (b. 1869). All the children, with the exception of the first, were born in Missouri. Also living with the family was a nonrelated servant, dry goods clerk, and laborer, as well as a man, aged 70, who is simply called “Van Archdalen,”—a farmer born in Pennsylvania. This was almost certainly Harriet’s father, John. (Other Hart children who died young were the first John Byron (1849-1849); Annie Louisa (1850-1852); two babies named Howell Dorman—the first lived from 1852 to 1853, the second from 1853-1854; Maria Louisa (1854–1854); U. S. Grant (1863–1864); and Lillie Bell (1865-1865.)

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High Point Post Office with Jeff Hart’s mercantile establishment beside it and the Odd Fellows Hall above. Photo by courthouselover.

A short memoir by a family member gives us a more personal glimpse into the Hart family at that time. “[Jeff] was for a number of years a prominent merchant…. His area of trade extended south to near the Osage River…. To this union was born 16 children. [Harriet] did not nurse them, so all were cared for by ‘hired girls.’ [Eight] of these children died in infancy and 8 lived (5 boys and 3 girls). She did almost all of the buying for the store in St. Louis, Mo., sometimes leaving her babies when they were less than 2 weeks old. In that way, she was a great help to her husband as he was badly needed to stay and take care of the business at their store. Their eldest son was named Byron. He married their hired girl….” (She was Mary Elizabeth Foraker, born in 1848. The couple had three children before her early death in 1885. The following year, on 12 May, 1886, Byron Hart was killed by a train in Arthur, Missouri.)

Jeff’s son Louis would become a lawyer, and there is some evidence that Jeff himself also practiced law. He was described by the Jefferson City State Journal on 17 September, 1875, as “T. J. Hart, Esq.” in an article about his pursuit, with the local sheriff, of a Hart employee, Charles Thomas, who had stolen $165. The pair traced the employee “across the country and river to Columbia, where they found he had 40 minutes before left for Centralia. The sheriff…telegraphed the description of Thomas to his deputy, and the latter arrested Thomas as he was purchasing a ticket to St. Louis. He had purchased two sets of clothes, a revolver, &c., and had left $58. The pursuers arrived in a hack, and Sheriff Yarnell and Hart returning with their prisoner, he was indicted by a special grand jury, tried, convicted, and sentenced…ten days from the time of commission of the crime.”

Just a few months later, on 26 November, the same newspaper reported: “T. J. Hart’s store came very near to being destroyed by fire on Friday last night. The Odd Fellows Hall is situated over the store. It is supposed that when they retired, some of the party lit their pipes and probably threw a match into the spittoon. When Mr. Hart’s son went to the store and discovered fire on the show case, he lost no time in getting in the hall, which was almost suffocating him with smoke. The wooden spittoon was nearly consumed, a stand was minus one leg, and a hole in the floor nearly two feet square and a 2 x 8 joist nearly burned off. [There was a ] burning hole in the ceiling of the store, ready to warm things in general.”

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An obituary of Thomas Hart, included with the letter, that supplies many of the details of his life, character, and religion.

The 1880 Census of High Point shows Jeff Hart then had no occupation, as he was presumably struggling with his chronic lung disease, which could have been Tuberculosis, lung cancer, severe asthma, or any number of other issues affecting the airways that could lead to fatal pneumonia. The children living at home at that time were Laura; Louis; Rosie; Alberta; Elmer E. (1870 – 1930); and Carlos Brumhawk (b. 1875). The eldest son, Louis, was the only member of the family with work—he was listed a clerk in a store, almost assuredly his father’s.

In mid-November of that year, there was yet another brush with fire. The Hart’s uninsured farm at High Point burned to the ground. According to the Kirkville Weekly Graphic of 27 November, “Thirty-eight hogs, two calves, two buggies and one carriage, besides a great deal of provender, were consumed.” But the tragedy could have been much worse. “Mrs. Hart, [Jeff’s daughter-in-law], led one mule and two horses from the burning building, and was in the act of rescuing a calf when her clothing caught fire. With a presence of mind remarkable under the circumstances, she tore her clothing off thereby preventing what would have been a frightful death.”

On 13 March, 1884, within a fortnight of her husband’s death and about five weeks before writing her letter to Anna Ramsey, Harriet became the post mistress for High Point and appears to have retained the role until October 1891, when a replacement was named. That man, Robert Reynolds, may have taken over the Harts’ mercantile business at the same time.

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Sedalia Democrat, 23 December, 1900.

At some point after selling off the store, Harriet went to live in the home of her daughter Laura, who married Simon Patrick Cronin of California, Missouri. Harriet did not die until 11 December, 1900, and ought to appear for a final time on the census of that year, but I cannot find her. She was buried in High Point, presumably beside Jeff, whose grave appears to be unmarked.

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The recipient of the letter Harriet wrote in April 1884 was Anna Mary Ramsey (b. 21 October, 1847, Richboro, Bucks Co., PA), the daughter of farmer Robert Ramsey (b. 1814, PA) and his wife Elizabeth Vanartsdalen (b. 1817, PA)—the “Aunty” of whom this letter speaks. Elizabeth was, it appears, the great-aunt of Harriet Vanartsdalen Hart—her paternal grandfather’s sister.

The Ramsey family was large, with eight children who all reached adulthood. The 1850 Census saw the family living in Northampton, Bucks County, where Robert Ramsey was a farmer. The children listed on the 1850 census were Jeanette V. (b. 1842); Amelia G. (b. 1844); Henry K. (1845-1910); Anna; and John V. (12 January, 1850–5 May, 1890). The 1860 census includes all of these children, as well as William Augustus (b. 1852) and Edward (b. 1855), the latter of whom this letter was sent in the care of.

Anna’s brother Henry may have fought during the final year of the Civil War. A Henry Ramsey enlisted as private on 17 February, 1865, in Company I, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry and was mustered out on 28 June, 1865, in Washington, D.C. However, there are multiple Pennsylvania Henry Ramseys who enlisted during the war. Some can be ruled out as Anna’s brother, but none who remain supply the recorded evidence to make certain identification.

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An old farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, somewhere near where the Ramsey’s lived.

Ten years later, in 1870, Robert and Elizabeth appear alone on the 1870 census of Northampton—all of their offspring had flown. Sons Henry and Edward were enumerated in Abingdon, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, working as laborers on the farm of maternal kin Amos and Lottie Vanartsdalen. The rest of the children were nearby, still in Northampton. Son John worked as a laborer on the farm of Jesse and Hannah Twining. Eldest daughter Jeanette lived with another Vanartsdalen relation, 64-year-old Jane. Jeanette may have been with Jane Vanartsdalen as early as May 1864, when both their names were entered as members of the Dutch Reformed Church of North and Southampton.

Amelia lived on the farm of Marshall and Sarah Cummings, working as a seamstress. Anna was with farmer Charles Torbert and his 21-year-old daughter Emma, keeping house.

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The Old Dutch Reformed Church, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where William Ramsey married in 1882.

Anna’s father, Robert, died 5 May, 1878, and was buried in Union Cemetery, Richboro, Bucks County, “aged 64 years, 6 months, and 8 days,” according to his tombstone. Anna and William then returned to live with 62-year-old widow Elizabeth and were thusly enumerated on the 1880 Census. Anna’s brother John was nearby, enumerated in the 1880 Census as a laborer. He had married a woman named Emma and had two children: Mary (b. 1875) and Robert (b. 1877).

On 18 January, 1882, at the Dutch Reformed Church, William Ramsey married Adelaide B. Addis (1859–1896) and became the father of Anna Maud (1886–1906), Harry A. (1887–1954), and Charles H. (1888–1964.) Anna Ramsey never married, and died in Morristown, Pennsylvania, 7 December, 1933, aged 86, of chronic valvular heart disease and bronchial pneumonia. She was buried on 12 December in Union Cemetery between her mother, “Aunty” Elizabeth and her bachelor brother Henry, 50 years after receiving the grief-stricken missive I now own. Ω

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The graves of the Ramsey family, Union Cemetery, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Mother Who?

The domestic dervish who authored this letter remains unknown.

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Mourning envelope containing a letter to Mrs. Charles P. Adams, 334 West 124th Street, New York City, postmarked 10 April, 1886. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

To: Mrs. Chas P Adams
334 West 124th St
New York City
The St Nicholas

The Windermere
April 10th 1886

Just a word Nela dear to tell you what I forgot to say yesterday—that Mrs. Pomeroy has been in town for a week, and is here for her health. So I fear she did not yet get your letter, and also that Grace and Fanny are going next week to Baltimore for a visit, so their house will be closed and any steps toward getting that drawing table must be taken without delay. I am sorry to trouble your mind with my matters, indeed your face full of care haunted me all night—but I can do nothing about the Bates property which others are holding.

And I wish of course to have the rooms as attractive as possible when parties look at them. A letter from Minnie W. to Julie—who is in town for a week—says she must give up her home for a while. I fear she intends renting it, and though hers is as large as mine, with only four bedrooms, it is a formidable rival with its pretty portieres and furniture. She has “lost seven letters since Xmas,” two of them contained checks! John W. is “investigating it.” So her letters to Julie are to be accounted for in that way. Julie is going to see her and has just gone to see “Mad Young Fulton” with the fee for the deposit as her last interview was unsatisfactory being “out of hours”—with the other parties waiting, therefore hurried. She received a letter from Mrs. Boyd this AM, offering her the Junior Department, with an assistant, at $400,” the decided wish of the Bishop and Hersey—“begging her not to disappoint them.” It is pleasant to have such an ultimatum if all else fails, and she need not decide now. But she prefers New York if it is possible to get something here. Don’t speak of these things until she or someone else tells you. You know she does not like to have her plans discovered and disseminated even in the family.

Margie & Mable are here for the day. A letter from Cloë says it was more blue paper for the finish of the dining room that she wished to have sent with the package. Fortunately three rolls more were sent up with the bedroom paper, arriving yesterday, and doubtless the entire lower floor will be finished by Anderson this week. Tonight she says the pictures were never so effective on the parlor wall as now, also that she gets all the woods she wants from Burns, who says she is welcome to all she wants! Mrs. Kelly says he does not pay anything for it! Certainly they are the best neighbors I ever had. But they overwhelm me. Cloë goes up to the Stirlings for her dinner! Thus taking that walk six times each day! You will be sorry to hear that Pitt’s engagement is broken off! Clo thinks “Pitkin was a plateful.” I hope Charles is much better and at business.

I fear Grace will leave before then. Chas P can communicate with Fanny. The Woosters live at 23 East 39th—I will gladly pay your fares if you can leave home. Will it be possible for you to see Mrs. Pomeroy tomorrow?

Warmly and tenderly,

Mother

This chatty, domestic, and rather frenetic letter was written in 1886 by a woman I at first believed to be Priscilla Jones Eddy Crane, born 21 January, 1809, in Hoosick Falls, Rensselaer County, New York, to Jonathan Eddy (1774-1840) and Rebecca Rouse (1779-1846). Priscilla was the widow of lawyer and judge, the Honorable John Crane (1791-1860) of Pomfret, Chautauqua County, New York. The town is located on the picturesque shores of Lake Erie and is the ideal spot to own and rent out a summer home, as the writer appears to have done. (I vacation regularly in the Chautauqua area and recommend it heartily.)

John Crane and Priscilla were married 19 November, 1829, and had six children together: John Eddy (1830 -1861), Henry Douglas (b. 1832), Cornelia Frances (1833-1909), Mary Eliza (1835-1889), Carlton Todd (b. 1837), Clarence A. (1839-1983), and Frederick Curtis (1848 – 1887).

According to The Genealogy of the Crane Family, Vol. I, “John Crane was a graduate of Yale College, class of 1812; a lawyer by profession, having studied law at Whitestown, N. Y., with Judge Gould. In 1817, he went to Fredonia and there began the practice of his profession. He at one time having as an associate in his law practice the Hon. Daniel G. Guernsey, and subsequently the Hon. James Mullett, the partnership with the latter continuing until Crane’s appointment as County Judge, about the year 1822. He was an active and influential citizen, having for several years previous to the above appointment, held the office of Justice of the Peace and Supreme Court Commissioner, as well as being an efficient member of the Presbyterian Church at Fredonia. He was the first Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Fredonia Academy. The first institution of the kind incorporated in Chautauqua County. This office he held about 35 years and until compelled on account of the infirmities of age to resign. He died at Fredonia, much lamented, May 18, 1860.” The cause of death was “paralysis” caused by stroke.

The only hint of sadness in the text is the sender’s comment, “I am sorry to trouble your mind with my matters, indeed your face full of care haunted me all night.”

Almost without doubt, the recipient of the letter was Cornelia, the Crane family’s eldest daughter. Cornelia married Charles Palmer Adams (1825 –1912) on 31 August, 1852, in Fredonia. Adams was a merchant in Randolph, Cattaraugus County, New York, the son of Edwin Adams (1797-1881) and his wife China Celeste Phelps (1799-1881)—the latter the descendant of American Revolutionary soldier Corporal Jonathan Phelps (1764-1857). The couple had two children, Douglass E. (b. 1854) and Frances McFall (1857-1910), who may be the “Fanny” referred to in the letter.

Charles and Cornelia spent the first years of their marriage living with John and Priscilla Crane in Pomfret. They appear there on the 1855 Census, with Charles working as a clerk. The couple went on to spend their lives living in Randolph quite close to Charles’s younger brother Theodore, a dry goods merchant, and his wife Mary and children. The brothers may have begun in business together, as the 1865 census records Charles as a merchant.

On the 1875 census of Chautauqua, Charles’s occupation was banker, although by 1880, he clarified his job as a cashier in a bank; his son Douglass worked as clerk in a store—probably his brother’s. By 1900, Charles was recorded as a “retired merchant.” He made his last appearance on the 1910 census  in the year after his wife’s death, aged 84, occupation, “none.” Both Charles and Cornelia are buried in Randolph Cemetery, Randolph, New York.

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The grave of Cornelia Crane Adams, the recipient of the letter, at Randolph Cemetery, Randolph, New York. Photo by C. Wellman.

Although the letter does not mention a family death, it was sent in a black-bordered mourning envelope. The only hint of sadness in the text is the sender’s comment, “I am sorry to trouble your mind with my matters, indeed your face full of care haunted me all night.” This darkness passed quickly, however, and the writer returned to the domestic doings and gossip of her circle.

So who was the woman who signed “Warmly and tenderly, Mother”? Cornelia Adams mother, Priscilla Eddy Crane, died 28 December, 1878—eight years before the letter was written. Neither could it have been penned by her mother-in-law, China Phelps Adams—she passed away 10 April, 1881. Cornelia’s father died before her mother, so this letter was not written by a step-mother and both of Cordelia’s grandmothers were also long dead. Did Cordelia have a godmother who took an active role in her life? This seems the only option left to consider.

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The memorial stone for Priscilla Eddy Crane, mother of Cornelia Crane Adams, Forest Hill Cemetery, Fredonia, New York.

The address from which this letter was written—400-06 West 57th Street, Manhattan—was  The Windermere—an early apartment building that marketed flats to “The New Woman” of the 1880s who were single, working, living alone. According to a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, “The luxury class had yet to come to the West Side in the early 1880s, but the Windermere mimicked a rich lifestyle for its middle-class residents with its harmonious ornamented facade wrapping the corner. The 39 apartments boasted between seven and nine rooms, and the latest technology of the times: hydraulic elevators and telephone…. By the late 1890s, working women comprised nearly 80% of its 200 residents.” After decades of neglect, it was listed as a city landmark in 2005.

The St. Nicholas, at which Cordelia Adams stayed when the letter was written, was an apartment house at 334 West 124th Street, New York City. In 1912, it was an investment property of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission of the State of Minnestota. The building no longer exists. Ω

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The Windermere, New York City, from which the letter to Cordelia Crane Adams was sent.

Freddie, My Love

“Oh, Mrs. Crane, he looked so pretty. He looked as if he was asleep and dreaming a very pleasant dream.”

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A partial letter from “Julie” to “Mrs. Crane,” single page with black borders, page one. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

I have in my collection this incomplete letter from the mid- to late 1800s written by an American woman named Julie who had endured the loss of her fiancé, Freddie. Julie’s letter was for another woman—her elder and probably close family friend, Mrs. Crane.

Julie and Freddie were young, possibly in their teens. Julie was quite literate, but her writing contains numerous errors, phonetic spellings, and a general disuse of commas, full stops, and quotations that is endemic to the era. I have corrected her mistakes and added modern punctuation in the quotes below.

“I sat and looked at him all night,” Julie wrote at the top of the single page, recalling the aftermath of the passing. “So many spoke of his smiling and happy beautiful countenance even in death. He looked too beautiful to bury.” She then hopped backward in time, writing, “He was sensible until two minutes before he died, but whether he realized he was really dying, I know not.”

Next she confides in Mrs. Crane, “About two hours before he died, I sat crying and he looked at me. I said, ‘Freddie darling, how can I give you up?’ He raised his hand and said ‘Oh, Julie, don’t.’”

Don’t? Don’t weep? Don’t imply that he was dying? Don’t tarnish his “good death” with female hysteria? Perhaps Freddie’s command was more prosaic: The dying man needed to move his bowels. “[H]e wanted to get on the chamber [pot] and I asked him if I should tell his mother. He said, ‘Mother is weak.’ I said, ‘Freddie, shall I help you?’ He said, ‘Yes, please,’ so I [assisted] him,” she next wrote. Of all the letter’s painful details, this strikes deepest—a heartbreaking intimacy, demanded by circumstance, between a couple who may never have seen each other unclothed.

This passage also raises the question of what killed Freddie at an early age. It could have been tuberculosis (“consumption”) and it is easy to ascribe it as the likeliest cause, but Freddie mentions that his mother is weak—potentially recovering from whatever disease her son then had. Possibilities include cholera, dysentery, typhoid, influenza, yellow fever, and malaria. However, many of these, including consumption, fail to leave a corpse too lovely to put in the ground.

Julie continued, “All that week he could not bear to have [me] out of his sight. I stayed by him all that week, night and day, until he was buried. The last night I [sat] up and kept cloths on his face.” Here, Julie may have meant she placed cold cloths on her fiancee’s visage to keep it from discoloring before the funeral.

In 1891’s Polite Society at Home and Abroad, author Annie Randall White noted, “When the funeral is held at the house, the family do not view the remains after the people have begun to assemble. Just before the clergyman begins the services the mourners are seated near the casket, the nearest one at the head, and the others following in order of kinship. If it is possible, they are placed in a room adjoining, where the words of the service can be heard. They are thus spared the pain of giving way to their grief before strangers. Those who are present should look at the dead before they take their seats for the service, although it is customary for the master of ceremonies (usually the undertaker) ere the coffin lid is closed, to invite all who so desire, to take a last look, ere parting forever.”

“Oh, Mrs. Crane,” Julie wrote, “he looked so pretty. He looked as if he was asleep and dreaming a very pleasant dream. I think some day I shall see him again where there [are] no more partings.”

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Although this real photo postcard may date from as much as 60 years after his death, it illustrates a home viewing in about 1905 that may have differed little from Freddie’s. White lilies drape the coffin and the table beside the young man, who is likely a son of the house, but possibly a young father. He rests in his casket, nestled in bright white crinkled satin beneath a canopy a black netting edged in white. Above him are twin hand-colored portraits painted over underlying photos. At left, the planter is of art nouveau/craftsmanesque style, perhaps a red base with trails of blue. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

After Freddie’s burial, Julie remained with his family. “I am here at his home yet. They seem to think the world of me. His father said I should stay with him as long as he lives but I don’t know. Sister Mary was married the 24th of last month to a Frenchman. My sister Emiline died in August. My cousin died in August—she had been married 8 months. My brother-in-law that lived near us died 1 year ago this month with….”

And there, maddeningly, it ends, leaving little more to note than the hope that Julie found love again, established a family, and lived a full life. Time’s window closes and we must move on, so very much against our wills. Ω

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Julie’s partial letter, second page.