In about 1849, a mother and child were photographed in a New York town where visionaries struggled to change the world.
A long inscription is penciled inside the case of this daguerreotype: “The picture of Flora and her mother, taken when she was three years old at McGrawville, Cortland Co., NY.
“I’ll think of thee at eventide/ When shines the star of love/ When Earth is garnished like a bride/ and all is joy a-bove/ and when the moon’s pale genial face/ is shed or [sic] land & sea/ and throughs [sic] around her soft light/ t’is then I think of thee. EM
“Flora & I are in the parlor as I write this, talking of the war, etc. etc. Henry …?… is buried Thursday Oct. 30th, ’62.”
The sentimental verse is likely based on “Better Moments,” by poet Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867), printed in 7 July, 1827’s New-York Mirror and Ladies Literary Gazette, Volume IV, as well as and in the New Mirror’s Poems of Passion in 1843. Willis’s poem includes the lines: “I have been out at eventide/ Beneath a moonlit sky of spring/ When Earth was garnished like a bride/ And night had on her silver wing.” It is uncertain whether variants of Willis’s poem existed that included the stanza scriven in the case, or whether the writer “borrowed” a few lines of it for his or her own poetic creation.
McGrawville, Cortland County, New York, was once home to New York Central College, an institution of higher learning founded by the antislavery American Baptist Free Mission Society in 1848 and which held its first classes in 1849—a date congruent with the fashions worn by Flora and her mother.
The college “opened its doors to any student able to pay the modest tuition regardless of sex, race, or religion. Blacks constituted an estimated half of its enrollment,” explained historian Catherine M. Hanchett. “Some came from New England, from Virginia, from Canada West [Ontario]. Some where fugitive slaves, others newly freed. Several were members of prominent black families.”
The college employed at least three Black professors—Charles Reason (1818-1893), George Boyer Vashon (1824-1853), and William G. Allen (1820-aft. 1878), the latter of whom was at least two-thirds white, but who would cause scandal by asking for the hand of a Caucasian student, Miss Mary King.
Fittingly, the college also served as a stop along the Underground Railroad that assisted escaped slaves heading to Canada.
A smallpox epidemic in 1850 led to the deaths of some of the college’s African-American students—all were buried on the campus beneath tombstones extant today. Illness at the school seemed persistent, as student William Austin wrote to his family on 23 May, 1852, “There has been and is at present a considerable sickness among students but Mumps and Measles are to blame but I think they will not injure me.”
Otherwise, Austin found the nearby villages and the college bucolic. “This is a beautiful section of country, somewhat uneven, but just enough to awaken mankind to the romantic beauties of nature,” he wrote. “The boarding hall is some thirty rods [165 yards] from the college so that we have a pleasant walk to get there to meals which are at 6 1/2 o’clock in the morning, at noon, and at 5 P.M. The Ladies all room at the hall. The Gentlemen at the College.”
Throughout its existence, New York Central College faced constant racist and misogynist criticism from both southern and northern states. It was “an institution confessedly established for the purpose, figuratively speaking, of whitening the blacks and blackening the whites,” pronounced the Buffalo Courier of 4 July, 1851, during a state funding appropriation battle. “It is said that one of the professors, an accomplished and skilled teacher, has crispy hair and a southern skin,” the Orleans Republican of Albion, New York, snickered on 9 July. The article continued with a quote from a Mr. A. A. Thompson, who was of the opinion that “‘Rather than give $4,000 [in state money] to that vile sink of pollution … they ought to give it to a mob that would raise [sic] it to the ground.’” Later in July, the Albany Argus called the college, “an institution repulsive in its objects and character.”
However, one female graduate had another opinion of the school that recognized her innate equality. Angeline Stickney wrote of her alma mater, “I feel very much attached to that institution, not withstanding all its faults, and I long to see it again, for its foundation rests upon the basis of Eternal Truth—and my heartstrings are twined around its every pillar.”
The inscription states that Flora was three when the daguerreotype was taken in McGrawville, which, when fashions are considered in tandem, makes the approximate year of her birth between 1848 and 1850. On 30 October, 1862, the writer was in the parlor with Flora, then in her teens, speaking about the ongoing Civil War. The indecipherable surname of Henry, who was buried that day, might lead to a breakthrough, but thus far no guesses of mine have yielded results.
How was Flora’s family connected to McGrawville? Was she the child of a teacher, an administrator, abolitionist Baptists, or simply part of a local Cortland family? Where did Flora and her people go after leaving McGrawville? Why did the burial of Henry raise memories of the more than decade-old daguerreotype, and what motivated the writer to pencil the poem and message in the case at that time? These questions remain stubbornly unanswered. Ω
“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.
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately I became aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure.
Within eBay’s vintage and antique photo subcategory, every slightly odd-looking baby is a dead baby. I confess that when I saw the listing for the carte de visite (CDV) above, I thought this was an infant gone, never to grow up, forever to sleep, dressed in angelic white and buried in a tiny coffin so unfairly made-to-fit, her grave topped by a small stone lamb. This was cruel fate; this was a Victorian postmortem. But those who explore the Victorian propensity to mark gut-wrenching loss via photography should take this story as cautionary tale, not unlike one I featured last November, “To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem.”
The CDV’s backstamp is that of “John Davies, Portrait & Landscape photographer, BelleVue High Street, Weston-super-Mare. Formerly with the late T. R. Williams, London, Photographer to the Queen and Royal Family.” There is also a handwritten inscription: “Alice Maud Culley, 8 weeks old, Aug. 1879.”
Upon receipt of the carte, I scanned, enlarged, and enhanced the image. Immediately, I was aware of motion blur caused by the child’s arms moving during the exposure. Alice Maud Culley wasn’t dead. I could then plow into the public records because of the fortuitous identification upon the reverse.
Alice’s mother, Mary Jane Stayman, was a dressmaker who may have created the ensemble in which she was photographed.
Alice Maud Culley was the daughter of Henry Edward Culley. He was born in 1847 in Cockfield, County Durham, England, a village on the edge of Teesdale. Alice’s mother, the beautiful and elegant woman pictured, was Mary Jane Stayman, a dressmaker who may have created the ensemble in which she was photographed. In 1851, Mary Jane was born in the historic Teesdale market town of Barnard Castle. The town takes its name from the venerable fortification at whose foot it grew, which was erected in the 12th Century by Bernard de Balliol and rebuilt by Richard III.
Alice’s maternal grandparents were Thomas Stayman (d. 1893) and Elizabeth Stokell, the former of whom was born in 1817 in East Layton Yorkshire; Elizabeth was a native of Winston, Durham, born 1811. They married in early 1839 in Teeside. By 1851, the Staymans lived in Barnard Castle, the census reporting that Thomas worked as an agricultural laborer with his wife and children Ann (b. 1840), Elizabeth (b. 1841), John (b. 1842), Margaret (b. 1846), Thomas (b. 1849), and baby Mary Jane living in the home.
In 1861, the Staymans lived in Galgate Street, Barnard Castle, only a few doors from the Teesdale Union Work House, built in 1838 to hold approximately 140 of the paupers of Union’s 44 parishes. Later, the family lived in Baliol Street.
Alice’s father, Henry Culley, was the son of William Blakey Culley (1817-1893), a flax worker, and Maria Snaith (1817-1880). The family appears on the 1851 Census of Hartwith cum Winsley, Yorkshire—a smattering of houses in the ancient parish of Kirkby Malzeard in the West Riding, now part North Yorkshire. Henry’s eldest sisters Eliza and Jane were, at this date, both “factory girls;” his older brothers William and John were scholars but also factory workers; the youngest children—Margaret, Henry, and Robert were under their mother’s care at home.
By 1861, the Culleys removed to Barnard Castle. William Culley listed his employment as “flax dresser.” Henry was then the eldest child still living at home, with his brother Robert and youngest sisters Maria and Elizabeth. All of them attended school and Henry’s good, clear signature remains on extant documents.
The new trooper swore an oath to “defend Her Majesty, Her Heirs, and Successors, in Person, Crown, and Dignity, against all enemies.”
Henry’s elder brother John joined the British Army’s 2nd Regiment of the Life Guards, formed in 1788 as the monarch’s main mounted protectors. Military attestation papers state that John brought his brother into the same regiment on 27 May, 1868, when Henry was a 19-year-old blacksmith. The following day at Marylebone, the new trooper swore an oath to “bear true allegiance to Her Majesty, Her Heirs, and Successors” and to “defend Her Majesty…in Person, Crown, and Dignity, against all enemies.”
The records also include a description of Henry: He was 6′ tall with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, and sandy (later described as “reddish brown”) hair. His medical exam related his appearance in even more detail: He weighed 162 pounds; the circumference of his chest over the nipple was 37″; his muscular development was “middling;” he had been vaccinated against smallpox in childhood but was revaccinated two days after joining the army. We even know that on 27 May, 1868, whilst he sat for the military physician, his pulse was 72 beats and his respiration was 20 inspirations per minute.
Henry Culley and May Jane Stayman married at the Register’s Office, Teeside, Durham, on 26 September, 1869. Mary Jane’s elder brother Thomas became a blacksmith, as did Henry, so it is possible that the couple met through her brother, or perhaps they became acquainted long before, during their adolescence in Barnard Castle. The 1871 Census, taken on 2 April, placed Mary Jane, then pregnant, in her hometown with her family. She may have visited before the birth or spent part of her pregnancy there. Her child, Henry Edward, Jr. (Oct. 1871-31 July, 1930), safely arrived later that year in St. Pancreas, London.
In late October 1872, Henry committed a breach that separated the couple for six months. His records note that on 28 October he was placed in confinement for insubordination. The following day he was tried and imprisoned until 16 April, 1873. When released, he was no longer a trooper, but made a horse-shoeing blacksmith for the regiment instead. He then settled into military life without further incidents, his commanding officer noting “Habits regular. Conduct very good.” After two years, he was promoted to corporal-farrier on 28 June, 1875.
The image at right shows an unknown corporal-farrier dressed as Henry would have appeared on parade. The Farriers’ uniforms were sombre blue and they wore axes at the side. When on parade, troopers drew their swords and the farriers drew the axes, as pictured.
At the time of his promotion, Henry and Mary Jane had a second son Charles Snaith, born in 1874 at Barnard Castle (d. 1950). A third, John Stayman (d. 1973) arrived 12 July, 1876, at Windsor. Alice Maud, the first daughter, came into the world in late Spring 1879, either at Regent’s Park Barracks, St. Pancras, London, or at the Knightsbridge Barracks at Windsor.
When she was two months of age, she traveled with at least her mother and likely with her father and gaggle of brothers to the Somerset holiday town of Weston-super-Mare, where the Birnbeck Pier offered a pleasant walk in the salt air and the little boys could play at the water’s edge.
At some point during their holiday, Mary Jane dressed herself in fashionable raiment and Little Alice Maud in what may have been her christening dress. At Davies’ gallery on the busy High Street, mother and daughter sat together for their portrait, which I hold in my hand today, 138 years later.
Of the photographer, “John Davies was born in Tetbury 1839. He was apprenticed to a watchmaker in London; however his interest in scientific instruments was such that he designed and made” at least two brass and mahogany orreries sold in 2009 by a descendant, wrote Dreweatts Donnington Priory Salerooms, which sold the objects. “Photography was another interest which resulted in him setting up in business, in partnership with his brother Martin, as photographers, printers, booksellers, and stationers at 14 High Street, Weston-super-Mare, in 1873. ‘Davies Brothers’ continued to trade after John’s death in 1919 until the premises was destroyed in an air raid in 1942.”
Henry Culley’s medical record states that he suffered from the effects of a “predisposition” to haemoptysis—acute bronchitis with coughing of blood.
In 1881, the Culleys lived at 40 Red Hill Street, St. Pancras, according to the census. Mary Jane was pregnant with another boy, Thomas Alfred George (d. 1968), who was born that summer. Emma May arrived in 1883 and Frederick Barnabas (d. 1969) in early 1885.
Corporal Henry Culley had begun to suffer greatly from the negative health effects of his career. His medical record states that as early as 1869 he suffered from a “predisposition” to haemoptysis—acute bronchitis with coughing of blood. He had tonsillitis in June 1870 from “catching cold in the stables,” bronchitis from “exposure” in March 1873, and “acute rheumation”—probably of the hands—in July 1875, also caused by exposure.
Henry received a severe burn to his foot in June 1877 (one hopes a hot horseshoe was not the cause); another attack of rheumatism followed in July 1882. The final entry to his record was “paralysis (local)” on 12 May, 1886. Whether the cause of this condition was a stroke or otherwise, it left him permanently unable to perform his duties. Shortly thereafter, Henry was “discharged in consequence of being found unfit for further service.”
Now without a prestious position or income, former Corporal-Farrier Culley and his brood left London for Leeds, Yorkshire, taking up residence there before the birth of Edith Victoria on 21 June, 1887 (d. 1966)—her mother having labored through the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Before the 1891 Census, there was yet another daughter born named Ethel. (A tenth child and final son, Sam, would be born in 1894 when his mother was 43. He died at age 13 in 1907, the only Culley child not to reach adulthood.)
On Sunday, 5 April, 1891, the census takers found the Culleys at 57 Anchor Street, Hunslet, Leeds. Henry, aged 42, and his teenaged son John worked as advertisers for Watson’s, soapmaker. Joseph Watson and Sons ran their soapworks out of Whitehall, Leeds, and I believe that Henry and John Culley may have been two of many individuals who walked the streets wearing large painted banners and boards, pitching products such Watson’ Matchless Cleanser and others the soapmaker sold.
A decade later, the family was still almost fully intact at 57 Anchor Street. Henry had taken work as a porter and the girls as assistant chemists and apprentice bonnet or cigar makers. One son was a postman, another a steam engine fitter.
Alice married Tom Booth the following summer on 3 August at St. Mary the Virgin Church, Hunslet. The son of Yorkshireman James William Booth (b. 1856) and Jane Briggs (b. 1859), he followed his father’s trade of glass bottlemaking. Tom was born 10 September, 1879, and baptized at age ten at St. Mary the Virgin. Much like Alice, he had grown up in a terrace house bursting with siblings—for at least some of that time at 11 Springfield Place on Woodhouse Hill. Alice gave birth to a son 1 June, 1902, who was named Harry after her father. A daughter, Ellen, was born 1 July, 1908.
In 1911, the final census to which we have access, Tom, Alice, and their children lived at 1 Balmoral Grove, Hunslet, with Harry and Ellen. Mary Booth was born in 1911 and Alice Booth in 1913. I hope that when the 1921 Census becomes available in 2022 (or sooner, if genealogists have their way), that the stories of the Booth children can be added to meaningfully.
Harry Booth wed Agnes Bell in the same church as his parents, St. Mary the Virgin, on 17 March, 1928. His namesake grandfather and his grandmother almost certainly attended the service. Henry Culley would live another two years, dying in January 1930, aged 81. Toward the end of that year, Alice Maud Culley Booth, the not-dead infant of the summer of 1879, followed him out of life. (Her husband outlived her by 13 years, dying in June 1843, also in Leeds.)
Mary Jane lived to see her granddaughter Ellen marry Thomas Reginald Wilson, a boilermaker, the son of John William Wilson, cable layer, on 16 March, 1935, also at St. Mary the Virgin. Mary Jane passed away at age 87 in early 1938. On 8 March, 1948, Harry Booth, then of 2 New Pepper Road, died at 128 Beckett Street, Leeds. The estate he left was £399 14s. 6p. His wife Agnes died in late 1960, with her daughter Ellen Booth Wilson following in 1965. Ω
The posing of mother and child may also deliberately highlight the loss of her long and well-cared for hair.
This stunning tintype, circa 1875, of an American mother and infant, is owned by collector and Your Dying Charlotte contributor Beverly Wilgus, who notes, “This little tintype is not as much a ‘hidden mother’ as a mother who chose to put the emphasis on the baby. I do wonder about her very short hair. One explanation could be that she has been very ill, maybe after a difficult birth, and her hair was cut short for comfort.”
It is possible that the woman pictured suffered from puerperal sepsis (called childbed fever) in the aftermath of delivery, which had been combatted, in part, by hair cropping. If true, this mother surely thought the tintype image celebratory—even triumphant: She had survived; her magnificent reward was the healthy infant draped over her shoulder, offered visually to posterity.
The sitter was lucky—a scarce survivor of a bitter scourge. “Childbed fever killed at the cruelest moments. It was described as a ‘desecration,’ an aspect of the natural world that felt almost deliberately evil. What caused it? Some thought ‘a failure of uterine discharge;’ others, a little later, called it ‘milk metastasis,’ noting that the internal organs of the women who died seemed covered in milk. Eventually it was accepted that the fluid was not milk at all. It was pus,” wrote Druin Burch in a Live Science article, “When Childbirth Was Natural, and Deadly.” When obstetricians and midwives talked of “delivering women,” he explained, they meant delivering them from the deadly perils of childbirth.
Puerperal sepsis from Streptococcus pyogenes is transmitted via unsanitary conditions during delivery. In an age before antibiotics, the takeover of its host was medicinally unstoppable. Between 1847 to 1876, an estimated five deaths resulted after each 1,000 live births, with puerperal sepsis causing up to half of those losses. “There was no cure available: doctors merely prescribed opium, champagne, and brandy-and-soda, trying to ease the passing, rather than making a vain attempt to cure a mortal illness,” wrote Judith Flanders in her 2003 book Inside the Victorian Home.
Yet against the odds, this mother survived.
In the Little House series, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life.
That hair should be cut during a high fever steamed from a long-held notion that it could drain the energy of the seriously ill; cutting it also allowed heat to escape the body thus lowering the patient’s temperature. In the popular Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for example, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life. (As an aside, JSTOR Daily points out, “Pediatric historian Beth A. Tarini believes the term was inaccurately used to describe viral meningoencephalitis in Mary Ingalls, whose disease rendered her completely blind.” The article is a fascinating read.)
Whenever a woman’s hair was cut for medical reasons, it was mourned by her family and friends as a brutal loss. Long and well-cared for tresses were considered a Victorian woman’s chiefest treasure. Writers of the age reflected the obsession in their literary works. “No other writers have lavished such attention on the physical properties of women’s hair: its length, texture, color, style, curliness. There is scarcely a female character in Victorian fiction whose hair is not described at least perfunctorily, and often the woman’s hair is described in incredible detail. The brown, neatly combed heads of virtuous governesses and industrious wives; the tangled, disorderly hair of the sexually and emotionally volatile women like Hetty Sorrel and Catherine Earnshaw; the artfully arranged curls of the girl-women like Dora Spenlow Copperfield and Isabella Linton are all familiar, even conventional elements in Victorian character description.” wrote Elizabeth G. Gitters in “The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination.” (PMLA Journal, October 1984).
In a culture that all-but worshiped long female hair, caring for it was a rigorous process. It was an an era before shampoo and available cleansing options often contained caustic or drying elements. Women instead brushed their hair to redistribute the natural oil whilst often adding in tonics or perfumes. The brushing regimen was done daily by some women, such as the singer Aline Vallandri, for upwards of a half hour. Mrs. Walker, who published a 400-page tome in 1840 titled Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress, recommended the use of a soft brush for at least ten minutes, twice a day, after the hair had been combed and brushed with a hard brush to remove dandruff and dust, such as soot from coal burning fires.
Other cleansing tricks written about in the 19th Century include the use of baking soda and vinegar, rum, and black tea, as well as egg yolks and rosemary as conditioning agents. Ladies could powder their hair and then brush it after the excess oil was absorbed—as descendants of these women do today with dry shampoo. Ω
“It was the purpose of the author to describe a number of novel and curious effects that can be obtained by the aid of the camera, together with some instructive and interesting photographic experiments.”—F. R. Fraprie, 1922
By Beverly Wilgus
In 1893, H. P. Ranger was granted Patent No. 505,127 for a “Mirror For Use In Photography.” This was a device comprised of two adjustable mirrors set at an angle. When a subject was placed in front of it, his or her image was reflected in each mirror and that reflection was again reflected, resulting in five or more figures—the number of figures determined by the angle of the mirrors.
The above schema is from an article published in Scientific American in the 1890s that was included in the 1896 book Photographic Amusements by Frank R. Fraprie and Walter E. Woodbury. My husband and I own a copy of the 1931 edition that still contains the original illustrations.
Also from the book is the illustration above: “Diagram Showing The Method Of Production Of Five Views of One Subject By Multiphotography.”
This drawing from Photographic Amusements shows a photographer’s gallery arranged for multiphotography.
This image from the book illustrates the multiphotographing of a full-length figure. In the 1970s, when we started to build our photographic collection, we found a number of photo-multigraph real photo postcards from the early 20th century, but we knew that the style dated from the late 19th Century, so set out to find earlier examples. Within the last year, we have obtained six cabinet-card photo-multigraphs and one tintype. We are now hunting for an example of a standing model, as is shown in the illustration above. We also hope to find an example where the subject is facing the camera rather than the mirrors.
We now own a photo-multigraph tintype that is especially interesting because it shows some the studio wherein the image was taken, including a raised platform and large mirrors that would certainly be capable of showing a standing subject. This gives us hope of finding a full-length photo-multigraph in the future.
The majority of photo-multigraphs we have collected or seen are real photo postcards dating from the first three decades of the 20th Century. Identified galleries were most often in Atlantic City and New York City, although there are other cities represented and a number of images with no gallery identified.
“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.
“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The above daguerreotype, which includes a 20th-Century handwritten note indicating it was once held in the collection of the Ossining, New York Historical Society, shows Avis Burr Wooster in about the fifty-fifth year of her life.
Avis was born on 26 May, 1796, in Southbury, New Haven County, Connecticut, in the ember glow of a hot century that had seen Connecticut change from a British colony to a sovereign state inside a new nation. By the time the Revolution exploded, Southbury was already a venerable place, having been established on land bought from the Paugusset tribe in 1659. The area remains much as it was in Avis’s day: rural, agricultural, quiet.
The Burr family’s transplantation to the New World was courtesy of Jehue Burr, born in about 1605, who sailed with Governor Winthrop to Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1630. Jehue eventually removed to Fairfield, Connecticut, and planted the seeds of a lineage that would include the noted vice president and unfortunate dualist Aaron Burr. Avis’s line was through Jehue’s son Nathaniel (1635-1712) to Avis’s great-great-grandfather Colonel John Burr (1673-1750) to her great-grandfather Captain John Burr (1698-1752) to her grandfather of the same name and rank (1728-1771), who married Eunice Booth (abt. 1728-bef. 1786) circa 1750.
Avis’s father, William Burr (23 June, 1762-28 Jan., 1841), lost his own father tragically when he was less than ten years old. According to the parish record of Stratfield, on 28 July, 1771, “Capt. John Burr, a farmer, son of…John Burr, was killed by lightning at the old Pequonnock meeting-house…. The congregation was standing in prayer. Parson Rose stopped praying, and after a pause he uttered the following words, ‘Are we all here?’ When the congregation moved out it was found that David Sherman and John Burr were dead. They were both in the prime of life, with families (the very pick of the flock). There was no rod on the steeple at that time.”
A mere five years thereafter, when the Revolution began, teenaged William Burr joined the Connecticut Militia, enlisting on 1 April, 1776. His pension files, included in the tome Revolutionary War Records of Fairfield, Connecticut, indicate that his postings were many and varied, and that he served for a time as a substitute for another man, Andrew Curtiss. One of Burr’s postings was to the “Battery at Black Rock,” or Black Rock Fort in New Haven, later Fort Nathan Hale. The Connecticut Sons of the American Revolution note, “Fort Hale is situated upon an insulated rock, two miles from the end of Long Wharf, New Haven…. The Americans [had] a battery of three guns upon this point, which greatly annoyed the enemy when landing.” Many years later, Aaron Turney of Fairfield attested that in 1779, Burr was 1st sergeant at the battery and second-in-command under Captain Jarvis. Burr appears to have left military service sometime in 1780.
Having reached manhood during the fight for independence, Burr beat his sword into a plowshare, marrying Sarah Hubbell (1770-1857), the daughter of Jeremiah (1725-1801) and Sarah (1724-1775) Hubbell, on 23 November, 1786. The above-cited pension records include testimony by friend Aner Wheeler, who was “born and lived in Sarah’s neighborhood, and knew her from childhood,” that she “saw William Burr and Sarah Hubbell married in Huntington in the fall of 1786” by Congregational Minister Rev. Elisha Rexford.
The couple was blessed with a multitude of children whose names and dates of birth were presented by Sarah Hubbell Burr during her attempts to gain a pension increase and land bounty based on her husband’s service. Although it may at first seem tedious to list them, doing so illustrates the spacing between infants that was either natural to, or practiced by this American family, and is illustrative of the sibling maelstrom in which Avis Burr was raised: Alvan (1788); Abigail (1790); Sally (1792); Betsey (1794); Avis (1797); Olive (1800); George (1803); Erastus (1805); Eliza (1808); Harry (1811); and William, Jr. (1814).
As is sadly the case with bygone women, there is little to fill the story of Avis’s days until 15 November, 1820, when she married farmer Russell Wooster (b. 25 April, 1791) in Southbury. Wooster was the son of Joseph Wooster (abt. 1743-1819) and Hannah Woodruff (abt. 1755-1835). He was descended from the early immigrant Edward Wooster, born in 1622 in Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, who became the first permanent settler of Derby, Connecticut, and died there 8 July, 1689.
Whilst running a prosperous farm (the value of the real estate was $6,000 in 1870), Russell and Avis had four children: William Burr (1821-1900); Cynthia Cordelia (21 Dec., 1824-17 Aug., 1868); Samuel R. (22 April, 1830-5 Feb., 1906); and Avis Amanda (1839-1889).
Avis’s eldest daughter Cynthia—whose strong resemblance to her mother is evident in the photo below—married Thomas Merwin Downs (15 July, 1823-19 Feb., 1874) on New Year’s Day 1845. Downs, also pictured below, was the son of Henry Downs and Sarah Ann Botsford. He was listed on the 1850 Census as a farmer, and on both the 1860 and 1870 censuses as a “laborer.” By the latter enumeration, two years after his wife’s death, he had amassed $5,500 in real estate and $3,000 in personal wealth. The couple had three children: Imogene Amanda (5 Sept., 1847-12 May, 1881), Wilber Russell, and Avis Elena (b. abt. 1866-aft. 1931). The circumstances of Cynthia Wooster Downs’s death are unknown, but she was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia, Connecticut. Her husband would remarry, but have no further offspring.
Cynthia Cordelia Wooster
Thomas Merwin Downs
Avis and Russell’s second daughter Amanda lived with Cynthia’s widow Merwin, presumably undertaking the duty of replacement mother for her sister’s children until Merwin married again. She left the Downs’ residence by 1872, when she wed the widowed Joseph White Naramore (1827-1898), the son of William White Naramore and Mary Lyman. Naramore’s first wife, Amelia Wallace, died in 1870. Naramore listed his profession in 1860 as a machinist and in 1870 and 1880 a pin maker with $5,000 in real estate and $2,000 in personal property.
Amanda and Joseph had two daughters: Amelia Wooster (b. 1874) and Harriet Avis (b. 1875). Harriet never married and remained her mother’s companion all her life. Amelia married Harrison Abram Cornell, Jr., a fire insurance agent in Ossining, New York. They had three children: Marguerite E. Cornell (1901-1940); Joseph Naramore Cornell (b. 1904); and Greta A. Cornell (1911-1997). As was noted at the start of this article, my daguerreotype of Avis Burr Wooster was formerly in the collection of the Ossining Historical Society, and by this connection that mystery is solved: one of the Cornells certainly made the original donation.
Joseph Naramore died in 1898 in Derby, and was laid to rest at Oak Cliff Cemetery beside his first wife. In 1900, Amanda and Harriet were living with her brother Dr. Samuel Wooster, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. By 1910, Samuel had passed away and Amanda and Harriet returned to Connecticut. Twenty years later, the 1930 Census found the pair living in Park Street. Amanda died in 1933, aged 96, the last survivor of Avis and Russell Wooster’s brood. Harriet died in Hamden, Connecticut, 6 December, 1957, and is also buried in Oak Cliff.
“Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings.”
On 1 June, 1858, Wooster married Josephine Ella Godfroy, who was born 28 February, 1837, in Michigan, to Detroit native Richard Godfroy and his Canadian wife Anne Lewis. Samuel and Josephine had one daughter, Louise D. Wooster, born in January 1860.
During the Civil War, Samuel Wooster was first attached as an assistant surgeon to the 8th Michigan 8th Volunteer Infantry, which, according to the unit’s Record of Service, was mustered 23 September, 1861, in Detroit.
With the regiment, Wooster saw service as part of Sherman’s Expeditionary Corps, including “a severe engagement with the enemy on Wilmington Island [and] at Secessionville on James Island, the regiment distinguished itself by a bayonet charge upon the enemy’s works, and though their ranks were swept by the enemy’s artillery, not a gun was fired until the parapet was reached.” The cost of this gallant rush on the Union side, noted the 8th’s record of service, was 13 dead, 98 wounded, 35 taken prisoner, and 36 missing.
Wooster saw the injured as they were offloaded at a wayside surgery that was hastily established. The soldiers were triaged in order to save those who had a real chance. This would become the process during the major conflagrationary battles of the war in which Wooster was a surgeon, including Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam, to name the most famous scenes of carnage—as well as many smaller, bloody affairs across a wide swath of nation busily consuming its own.
The noted Stanley B. Burns, MD, wrote in Surgery in the Civil War, “Military surgeons learned to amputate and perform a wide variety of procedures as they were actively engaged in conflicts…. Few were mentally or physically prepared, on either side, for what was to come.” Unfortunately, sterilization was unknown and unpracticed, and those who might otherwise have survived perished of post-operative infections. “Surgeons operated with dirty hands, going from one patient to the next without proper washing or cleaning instruments and dressings. Knives were often held in the mouth and sutures were wet with saliva,” Burns noted.
Another Union surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston Adams of the 32nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, is the only medical officer to be honored on Gettysburg battlefield. “On the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the doctor set up a rude field hospital close to the line of battle. (One flat rock that was used as a surgical table is still there.) Adams had noticed how many soldiers were dying during transport from combat to distant medical care. Because he began treating patients so quickly and near the fighting, the 1895 plaque reads ‘many of our wounded escaped capture or death,’” noted his great-grandson Mitchell L. Adams during a lecture covered by the Harvard Review. “Adams…labored so long in surgeries at Gettysburg—up for two days and three nights—that he was blind with exhaustion. In 1864, he was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness and captured by Confederate forces. His left leg shattered, he lingered untreated for weeks. Gangrene set in, but Adams treated himself by pouring pure nitric acid into the wound.”
After serving with the 8th Massachusetts, Samuel Wooster was commissioned as a full surgeon with the Michigan 1st Calvary, into which he mustered 11 April, 1863. He rose to the position of brigade surgeon in July of that year while on duty at General George Custer’s headquarters. He was made surgeon-in-chief of the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Brigade from 15 September, 1863, then was appointed an acting staff surgeon by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. During this final posting, Wooster served in field and hospital practice, the Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan: A Historical Account states.
After the war, Wooster practiced for a time in Muskegon, but returned to Grand Rapids in 1871. In 1874, he was one of Kent County’s two coroners, a city physician and health officer of Grand Rapids in 1880, and president of the Kent County Medical Society in 1889.
By 1900, Samuel, Josephine, and Louise lived with his sister Amanda Wooster Naramore and niece Harriett at 165 Jefferson Street, Grand Rapids. A few years later, on 1 June, 1905, at age of 45, Louise Wooster married William Cary, who was employed by a local glass factory.
In one of Fate’s weird twists, Dr. Samuel Wooster died 5 February, 1906, during an operation for chronic cystitis that sent him into shock. He was aged 75 years, nine months, and 16 days. The old doctor was buried in the mausoleum at Graceland Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Grand Rapids. Josephine died 20 November, 1922, after a fracture of her right hip, and was buried in the vault with her husband. Their daughter Louise died 12 March, 1950, aged 90.
“He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery.”
The Wooster’s eldest son, William, began his life “until early manhood…following the plow and tilling the soil upon his father’s farm, teaching school in the surrounding districts during the winter months,” wrote John W. Storrs in the Twentieth Connecticut: A Regimental History.
Wooster had been educated at the South Britain Academy and later Yale Law School, after which he was admitted to the bar in 1846. As the 1850s progressed and his law career grew successful, his thoughts turned to politics: In 1858, he was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives from the town of Derby, and in 1859 he was voted to the Connecticut Senate; in 1861, he returned to the Connecticut House. “In politics he has been a Republican from the outset, and the honesty and uprightness of his political views have been exemplified in every step of his career,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut.
William Wooster was a strong abolitionist and he viewed the war as a righteous blow to end slavery, but he was also unsure that he was fit to command men. Almost year after his younger brother had joined up, William had not gone into uniform. At last, in early September 1862, he received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Together, this group “left behind them the green hills of their fathers, left with them also their mothers, their wives, their children, and sweethearts with heroic bosoms swelling with patriotic devotion…. But alas! with a very inadequate idea as to what was to be the cost thereof,” Storrs lamented.
During in early May 1863, Wooster was in command of the 20th Connecticut during the disastrous Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, Virginia—an engagement during which “two horses were shot out from under him and his sword taken,” reported the Ansonia Valley Post. He was captured and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, the Confederate capital.
“Libby takes in the captured Federals by scores, but lets none out; they are huddled up and jammed into every nook and corner; at the bathing troughs, around the cooking stoves, everywhere there is a wrangling, jostling crowd; at night the floor of every room they occupy in the building is covered, every square inch of it, by uneasy slumberers, lying side by side, and heel to head, as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines,” described the Richmond Enquirer in February 1864.
Wooster was paroled in a prisoner exchange in time to command the 20th Connecticut at Gettysburg as part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac. The monument to the 20th Connecticut’s heroics during the three-day battle tells the tale: “The [brigade] formed on this line on the morning of July 2nd. At eve it moved to the support left of army. Returning, it found the position and woods on rear occupied by Johnson’s Division, Ewell’s Corps. During the night it lay in line of battle. At dawn, July 3rd, the 20th Conn. advanced under cover of artillery and fought 5 [hours], driving the enemy and reoccupying the works. Was relieved by the 123rd N.Y. In the afternoon moved to support the 2nd Corps against Longstreet’s assault.” The 20th Connecticut suffered the loss of 28 men and upwards of 70 wounded.
On 8 March, 1864, Wooster accepted a colonelcy with the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, Colored, the state’s first black regiment. “He believed in abolition, and led his troops with the idea uppermost in mind that the war would result in the abolition of slavery,” noted the Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut. “But it required great moral courage not less than loyalty to one’s convictions, to assume the leadership of a regiment of colored men even in 1864. All honor is due to Colonel Wooster for the frankness and manliness of his course.”
When the new unit paraded in New Haven, one of the soldiers, J. J. Hill, recalled, “White and colored ladies and gentlemen grasped me by the hand, with tears streaming down their cheeks…expressing the hope that we might have a safe return.” Even so, the unit had much to fight against—not only the Confederacy, which held an estimated 4 million slaves, but also the bias and bigotry of a Northern white society skeptical that blacks could be effective soldiers.
The unit went south to Virginia, where it fought admirably to capture Fort Harrison, not far from Richmond. Then, “On October 13, the regiment participated in a scouting mission which led to the Battle of the Darbytown Road, and two weeks later the men pushed the Confederate army back at the Battle of Kell House, which resulted in over 150 casualties and many captured soldiers,” states a well-researched article on the history of the regiment at Connecticut History.
Frederick Chesson of the 29th wrote of Richmond’s fall, “We began to realize as we had not till then . . . that this was one of the great days of the Lord. Right out there in the open in sight of the flaming city we went wild with excitement. We yelled, we cheered, we sang, we prayed, we wept, we hugged each other and threw up our hats.” As it would happen, Wooster and his colored 29th were the first to enter the Confederate capital—the irony must have been great.
After the Union victory, the 29th was sent to Brazos de Santiago, Texas, arriving in July, 1865. Wooster stayed until the unit was settled, then mustered out in August. A law practice back in green Connecticut beckoned. He became a partner with Wooster, Williams & Gager then paymaster general of the State of Connecticut in 1867. In later years, Wooster was president of the Derby Gas Company and the Birmingham Water Company.
At census time, 1870, William Wooster, aged 48, lived alone in an upscale rooming house in Birmingham, Connecticut, but later that year he married 37-year-old Jemima A. Wallace, known as “Jay,” who was born in New York 11 October, 1833, daughter of the prominent industrialist and English immigrant Thomas Wallace. Her father’s company, Thomas Wallace & Sons, was founded in Ansonia in 1848 and incorporated in 1853. It produced rolled metals, drawing wire, and finished items such as library lamps until 1895.
The Woosters traveled extensively after their marriage, spending several years in Europe. William’s passport application gives us a glimpse of him at age 60: 5’6-1/2″, with a high forehead, blue eyes, a Roman nose, small mouth, medium chin, and brown hair shot with grey.
On 21 September, 1900, the Ansonia Valley Post reported, “Colonel William B. Wooster died suddenly at his home…from apoplexy. He attended a Grand Army celebration in New Britain yesterday, and came home last night in his usual good health. Shortly after arising this morning he was taken ill and died within an hour.” His wife survived until 23 March, 1927.
Avis Burr Wooster, the mother who bore hero sons, herself the daughter of a revolutionary patriot, had predeceased William and Samuel by nearly twenty years, dying 17 September, 1881, aged 86. She and her husband, Russell, who died 23 April, 1877, are buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Ansonia. I am saddened that I cannot tell her story more fully at this time and have some concerns about the latter years of her life. The 1880 census placed her at age 83 in Derby, keeping house for Ira Bliss and Emma J. (Lines) Newcomb. The connection of this couple to Avis remains unclear, as does why her two successful, wealthy sons did not house her, but this absence of facts should not impugn their characters until further research is undertaken. Ω