Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - 4 Children dead

 In September 1843, John and Mary Brown experienced a terrible tragedy. In the course of a 12 day period, four John and Mary's seven children, ranging in age from 1 to 9 years old, died from disease. Charles, age 6, died September 11, 1843. The next three, Austin, age 1, Peter, age 3, and Sarah, age 9, followed on September 21, 22 and 23 respectively.

Accounts differ as to what the disease was - diphtheria, dysentery and cholera are the three most likely culprits - but we may never know for sure which one was the actual cause.

What we do know is that Mary, seven months pregnant with my great-great grandmother, Annie, and John, father of a total of 13 children, were devastated by the death of nearly a third of his children, more than half of their younger ones.   Two days after the fourth death, John wrote the following to his eldest son John, Jr:

Richfield 25th Sept 1843
Dear Son
God has seen fit to visit us with the pestilence since you left us, and four of our number sleep in the dust, and four of us that are still living have been more or less unwell but appear to be nearly recovered. On the 4th Sept Charles was taken with the Dysentery and died on the 11th, about the time that Charles died Sarah, Peter, & Austin were taken with the same complaint. Austin died on the 21st, Peter on the 22nd & Sarah on the 23rd and were all buried together in one grave. This has been to us all a bitter cup indeed, and we have drunk deeply, but still the Lord reigneth and blessed be his great and holy name forever. In our sore affliction there is still some comfort. Sarah (like your own Mother) during her sickness discovered great composure of mind, and patience, together with strong assurance at times of meeting God in Paradise. She seemed to have no idea of recovering from the first, nor did she ever express the least desire that she might, but rather the reverse. We fondly hope that she is not disappointed. They were all children towards whom perhaps we might have felt a little partial but they all now lie in a little row together…

The following is an account of a neighbor who helped the family with the sick children. The information is located at the Richfield Historical Society - Oviatt Family Chronology, compiled by Leah & Lynn Krulik. 
"John Brown, the famous abolitionist, lived in three different houses in Richfield. The first home was in the vicinity of Fountain Rd or Boston Mills Rd as it's now called. It was there that four of his children fell ill with diphtheria, a potentially fatal bacterial infection. Sophie Sheldon, a neighbor to the Brown family who had helped to nurse the children became worn out. 
A buggy pulled up to the front door and Fanny Oviatt stepped out. 'Go away, Aunt Fanny. You can't come in here. It's a house of death.' 'Of course I can,' Fanny replied. 'You don't suppose I am afraid of sickness, do you? How is the little boy?' 'Dead. Dead, I tell you. And Sarah doesn't know us anymore when we talk to her. Go home before your children get it too.' 'Sophie, your father is waiting for you outside and you are to go home with him. When you get there, take off your clothes in the woodshed and burn them, every one. Then wash yourself all over with lots of soft soap and water before you go into the house. You'll not get it or give it to anyone else'. 
Fanny turned to Mrs Brown and said ' My husband Mason didn't want me to come but I said to him "Mason Oviatt, what would you think if it was our children sick and no one to help?". He was ashamed of himself then and said of course I should come.' Later, two children Austen and Peter, lay dead. And the third, Sarah, which she cared for, died during the night. They were buried the next day in one grave beside their brother Charles, who had died ten days before. They are buried in the East Richfield cemetery.
"Due to the precautions taken by Fanny, none of her eleven children contracted the deadly disease."
As a mother, my heart hurts to read these accounts. Losing not one, not two, but four children so quickly, not being able to do anything more for them than trying to make them comfortable, watching them go to sleep and never awaken. How hard that must have been. And poor Mary, the fear she must have carried with her for the next two months - would the baby she was carrying be okay? I am sure that John and Mary spent many hours in prayer in the latter part of 1843.

The four children share a grave at the Richfield Cemetery in Richfield, Summit, Ohio. Next time I am in Ohio, I will be paying my respects to my distant cousins, who never got a chance to grow up.

Find a grave registrations
Austin Brown 38560582
Charles Brown 38560420
Peter Brown 38560502
Sarah Brown 38560313

Sunday, October 21, 2012

(Not So) Wordless Sunday

Beatrice, 5; Georgie, 2; Marjorie, 3

This is a picture of my grandmother and two of her younger sisters. I estimate that it was taken around 1908 based on the ages of the girls.  My great aunt, Alice, who was their baby sister, helped me identify the girls, and told me how her father insisted on his daughters wearing white frilly dresses.

The white frilly dresses with all those yards and yards of lace and ruffles, were made by hand by the girls mother, Bertha, and their grandmother, John Brown's daughter, Annie. My great grandfather, George Madison Cook, believed that little girls should always be clean and proper and dressed in white.  It must have been very time consuming for Bertha to keep all of those frilly white dresses clean and pressed.

George and Bertha had a total of 9 children, five of which were girls. I can not imagine the amount of bleach that Bertha must have gone through over the years keeping all the dresses white.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Life with the "Invisibles" at Kennedy Farm

In the summer of 1859, my just shy of sixteen year old great-great grandmother, Annie, and her just shy of seventeen year old sister-in-law, Martha, joined John Brown and his band of followers at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland just a few miles across the state line from Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

John Brown, going under the assumed name of Isaac Smith, rented the Kennedy Farm to use as a base of operation for his planned attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and subsequent slave uprising that he was certain would follow his daring raid. He had written home asking Mary, his wife, to come and keep house for him and the men. He suggested that their eldest daughter, Annie, also come to help. Mary declined, siting her poor health and the needs of the younger children, as the reasons she could not fulfill her husbands request.

Annie and Martha, the eldest girls at the farm in North Elba, NY volunteered to go. Annie was anxious to assist her father, and Martha wanted to be with her husband of four months, Oliver, who was at Kennedy Farm preparing to fight at his father's side. Martha elected herself head housekeeper because she was an older married woman. One or two months pregnant, Martha slipped off the loft ladder the day they were leaving and severely twisted her ankle. But nothing was going to keep her from being with her husband.

Martha did most of the cooking, while Annie was the all-important lookout, who warned the men to go into hiding when ever a noisy neighbor happened to come near the house. 

Annie wrote about the first night they arrived at the farm, and gives an inside view of what the men, and the young girls, endured during that summer. She included the reminiscence in letters sent to her friend, Dr. Alexander Ross of Canada. It is an endearing description of two young women trying to take care of the "invisibles" as Annie later called the men.

"We commenced housekeeping at Kennedy Farm sometime in July.  I cannot now remember the date, although I remember the day well.  Father and my brothers went to The Ferry to purchase a stove and necessary articles, Martha and I went to the house and tried to surprise them with a dinner which we tried to cook in an old fireplace.  We had been boarding for a few days at a neighbors who lived nearby.  We succeeded after making several attempts in getting a poor fire to burn, and boiled some potatoes and onions which tipped nearly over several times, spilling out a few each time. We was trying to make some kind of bread when the boys arrived bringing bread and rusks from the bakery, relieving us of that source of worriment to older housekeepers than we. 

We ate our dinner camp fashion and began housekeeping in real earnest.  Our family at that time consisted of six persons, Father, J G Anderson, Owen, Oliver, Martha and I.  Kagi had gone to Chambersburg and they had not found Cook yet. He had done to Harpers Ferry the year before and was teaching school there.  He had married the daughter of the woman he boarded with about the time we went down there.

The first addition to our family was my brother Watson, and William and Dauphin Thompson who came on a few weeks after Oliver, Martha and I did.  Then followed the rest over, two, three and four at a time. These last arrivals all came secretly by way of Chambersburg. Father and some of the rest going there with a light covered wagon, in which they rode or else walked a part of the way. They would hide in the woods and come in to the house before daylight in the morning or else after dark at night.

They all lived up stairs over the dining room, coming down to their meals, and at any time that there was no strangers or visitors about. It was my special business to keep watch on the porch and signal to them with my hand, if any one approached when they would disappear quietly up the stairway closing the door after them, while I remained and entertained the company directly under them, as if nothing unusual had happened.

We had one neighbor, our nearest one, a very little woman, but she often caused us a good deal of trouble, by coming at such unreasonable hours to call, bringing her four children.

I attended to the dining room, waiting on the men. I used to call them my "invisibles." If any on approached while they were at their meals I would let them know, when they would each take articles of food and dishes, clearing the table and disappear as usual, while I kept the person or persons on the porch as long as I could.

The men used to sing, play games and read to pass away the time. Kagi who was stationed at Chambersburg always sent them a bundle of papers and magazines whenever the wagons made a trip. It was very tiresome for them to be shut-in the house without exercise so long.  They would go out in evenings and walk to rest themselves"
Annie's hand drawn map of the farmhouse

 In the late 1800s until her death in 1926, Annie wrote letters and articles about her father and her time at Kennedy Farm.

Photo by Fred Mecoy 2009

The Kennedy Farm was purchased by a black Hagerstown minister, Reverend Leonard W. Curlin, in 1949, and sold to a white private developer, South T. Lynn, in the early 1970s. Capt Lynn has spent more than $100,000 in personal, state and federal funds to restore the Kennedy Farm house back to the 1859 appearance.

In 1974 the Kennedy Farm was designated a National Historical Landmark

In 2009 I had the great honor of participating in the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Harpers Ferry Raid and one of the most moving events I participated in was the re-enactment of the night of Oct 16, 1859 when John Brown and his men hiked from Kennedy Farm to take control of the Harpers Ferry Armory. I stood on the upper porch and spoke words of my ancestors. It was an unforgettable night for me.
Photo by Fred Mecoy 2009

In this photo, Dennis Frye, Harpers Ferry Historian, Capt. South Lynn, Alice Keesey Mecoy, Capt. Lynn's son.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I cannot believe that he is an elected official! Off Subject

Okay, I know that we live in a freedom of speech country and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I believe this right to be valid, important and worthy of defending, but really? To state in writing that one of the darkest eras of American history might have been "a blessing" for the very people who suffered through the horrendous physical, mental and spiritual hardships, seems small minded and downright ignorant to me. But for the writer to be an elected official makes it reprehensible to me.  Tell me what you think in the comments. Now, please excuse me while I take a shower and wash the trash off of me.

 Jon Hubbard, Arkansas Legislator, Says Slavery May 'Have Been A Blessing' In New Book

Jon Hubbard, a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, has written a new book in which he says slavery was "a blessing" for African-Americans, among other questionable statements. 

Hubbard, a first term Republican from Jonesboro, Ark., makes a series of racially charged statements in the self-published book, including saying that integration of schools is hurting white students, that African slaves had better lives under slavery than in Africa, that blacks are not contributing to society, and that a situation is developing the United States which is similar to that of Nazi Germany. 

The questionable statements in Hubbard's book, "Letters to the Editor: Confessions of a Frustrated Conservative," were first reported by Arkansas Times and TalkBusiness.net.
Regarding slavery, Hubbard wrote:

“… the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.” (Pages 183-89)

  (click here to read entire article on the Huffington Post  if you can stomach anymore of this bunk)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Some Things Never Change

I had to have a molar pulled a few days ago. I broke my tooth on my breakfast cereal last Monday. On cereal!?! Really?!?!

While I was sitting at Baylor Dental School awaiting my turn to see the dentist, I remembered a letter that Annie wrote in 1887. One hundred twenty years ago she was writing about the poor state of Americans' teeth. Some things never change..........

Letter from Annie Brown Adams to Dr Ross, December 28, 1887
Held by Gilder Lehrman Museum in New York index # GL3007.18 
"The American of this great state do not “dig their graves with their teeth[i]”. They part with their teeth before they get out of their “teens”.  It is not uncommon now to find persons between fifteen and twenty, with false teeth, in this vicinity.  One man I know, paid fifty dollars to get his young daughter’s teeth filled.  Now what is the cause of this early decay?  I think it must be the consumption of so much sweets, candy, etc.  We Americans consume more sugar than any other nation, and take more and better care of our teeth (while we have them) than any other people do.  Indians, Negros, and nearly all Foreigners have good teeth.  Some say that it is caused by the use of too much fine, white flour bread stuffs.  We use several preparations of wheat to make mushes, rice, cornstarch, sego[ii], tapioca, cornmeal instead of the nationalpie”.  I make puddings, and brown bread, and corn bread, for a change from the white."

[i] Greedy eaters dig their graves with their teeth.  French Proverb
[ii] Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii, is a bulbous perennial which is endemic to the Western United States. It is the state flower of Utah.