Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

“But gone before/ me”

Life in the 18th century was so fragile. FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON LEAR lived only a short time after her marriage to Tobias Lear. She died in 1796 from the same disease that had claimed her first husband—consumption (tuberculosis). The painting is the sort of memorial commonly created for a deceased family member. It is thought that Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, made this one, probably in 1796, the year of Fanny’s death. The watercolor—ink and gouache on laid paper—references both classical and Christian themes. The pointed evergreens represent the hope of eternal life. A grieving woman leans on a plinth; the script on a square of paper pasted on the front reads: “She is not lost!/Blest thought!/ But gone before/ me!”

Citation for this post: HERE.

posted July 31st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Death,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Washington, Martha

“When God his Summons Sends”

That inveterate writer JEMIMA CONDICT from Pleasantdale, New Jersey, summarizes what had befallen her family in the past year.

It is now the 2 of JANUARY [1777] & as I have not had time to write any this winter I thought this a Proper Season, as I am up With my Sick Sister, to take Pen in Hand & Recollect a little of What is Past. I intended to kept a Strickt account of the Times, But as Providence has ordered matters, I have my Hands full By Night & Day, So that I shall Now only jest Tell you In Broken Languige What Troubles we have had in Our family. since I Saw you Last. My Dear mother was taken Sick the 25 of October & was So Bad that we Did not much Expect her recovery. It was then I thought I Should Bin Deprivd of that great Blessing I had so Long undeservedly enjoyd. My Youngist Brother also Lay Very Bad So that we did not Expect him to Live for many Days. Dear father was taken Sik Quick after, But through the Goodness of God they Soon recovered; So that we were in Hopes of having health in our habitation. But at Chrismas my Sister was taken Sick & was Extreme Bad. She had a Strange Disoder. it Lay in her throat & Stomack Sometimes she would be So Choack that we never expected She would Come too agin. another of my Brothers Likewise at the Same time was very Sick; But it has Pleased a holy god to show us his Power in Raiseing them to a State of health.

JANUARY ye 29 1777 Samuel ogden my Brother in Law was taken Sick at Newark & was Brought up to his uncle abrams. Where after a Short tho Tedious fit of Sickness Died; his mother Being there to tend him; she was taken Sick the Next Night & Died the week following So the both died from home yet not from friends.

And so all must Go
When God his Summons Sends

Jemima Condict, Her Book: Being a Transcript of the Diary of an Essex County Maid During the Revolutionary War (Orange N.J.: Jemima Condict Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930), 64-65, 66. The original of Jemima Condict’s diary is in the archives of the New Jersey Historical Society, “Manuscript Group 123.”

posted March 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Condict, Jemima,Death,Illness,New Jersey

“the Blody flux”

JEMIMA CONDUCT, the young woman from Pleasantdale, New Jersey, once again writes about actions of the British.

Monday May first [1775]. this day I think is a Day of mourning we have word Come that the fleet is coming into Newyork also & to Day the men of our Town is to have a general meeting to Conlud upon measures Which may Be most Proper to be taken; they have Chose men to act for them & I hope the Lord will Give them Wisdom to Conduct wisely & Prudently In all matters.

In 1776, disease ravaged the area. “July 23, Did that Distressing Disorder the Blody flux Began to rage in this Neighborhood.” Jemima cites death after death: of friends and neighbors, adults and children, civilians and soldiers. “August the 16th, Then Died Jered freeman. he was taken Sick at newyork among the Sogers & was brought home & Died Soon After.” Some soldiers were killed in action, but more died as a result of sickness.

September 1776. We hear News from our army at Montigue & Several of them we hear is Dead. sense there Departure Benjamin Canfield & Stevan Morris, David Luis Died with the Camp Disorder & william acorn we hear was killed by the injuns; Sen Jabez freeman the Son of the Late Diseast John freeman is Dead, also Sias Heady Died up there with Sickness.

The bloody flux or dysentery is characterized by bloody diarrhea. The “Camp Disorder” is likely typhus. It is heartbreaking to read Jemima’s list of the dead. It goes on and on, year after year, and is a reminder of the fragility of life at that time and the ineffectiveness of treatment. What is also impressive is the way sickness and death were borne: always regarded as God’s will, to be accepted. Gratitude was expressed for those who had been spared.

Jemima Condict, Her Book: Being a Transcript of the Diary of an Essex County Maid During the Revolutionary War (Orange N.J.: Jemima Condict Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930), 52, 59, 60, 61. The original of Jemima Condict’s diary is in the archives of the New Jersey Historical Society.

posted March 23rd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Condict, Jemima,Death,Illness,Medicine

“try to give her up freely”

Dr. Richard Hill and his family were part of the substantial Quaker community in America. Born in Maryland in 1698, Hill married Deborah Moore whose grandfather was the governor of Pennsylvania. Hill was a surgeon, an amateur botanist, and a merchant—he owned four ships. In addition he owned several parcels of land and at least forty slaves. When he came upon hard times and was denied “immunity from debts,” he sold most of his assets and relocated to Funchal in Madeira where he tried to build a business in the wine trade. He eventually prospered sufficiently to repay his creditors and make a comfortable living.

Hill and his wife had ten children. Hannah, his eldest daughter, at age fifteen married the grandson of his wife’s sister, Dr.Samuel Preston Moore. She and her husband lived in Philadelphia where Hannah became the surrogate mother to her siblings who did not accompany their parents to Madeira. Her sister Sarah married George Dillwyn, a Quaker preacher; they lived at Green Bank (Burlington), New Jersey. Another sister, Margaret, married William Morris Jr., a dry-goods merchant, who died in 1765, less than eight years after their marriage, leaving his wife with three children and expecting a fourth. The following letter written by SARAH DILLWYN to MARGARET MORRIS contains, to me, a very sad passage. (See the many other posts about Margaret Morris here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Green Bank, August, 1764Mr Dear Sister:—
I was rejoiced yesterday to hear from under thy own hand, that thy precious little one was on the recovery; but, my dear creature, don’t be too secure—try to give her up freely—still—and whether she lives or not, thee will be rewarded with peace of mind. Sister [Rachel] Wells found it the best way to be quite resigned, though it was hard work for her. . . .
I intend to send a few apples for the children; tell me if acceptable, and I’ll send often.
In much love to all,
Thy sincerely attached sister,
S. H. Dyllwin

Sarah is cautioning her sister not to become too attached to her child as the little one may be taken from her by illness at any time. She should prepare herself for this possibility in advance, resign herself to her loss as the will of God. (Their sister Rachel had a child in July 1763; he died in August of that year.) This may have been sensible advice at a time when the death rate among infants was high but it is not the way we look at our children today. The letter is painful to read—and to realize how often mothers lost their babies.

Sources: John Jay Smith, ed., Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and His Children 1798-1881 (Philadelphia: 1854),196. Also John W. Jordan, Colonial And Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania (New York, 1911) 43-46. The portrait of Sarah Dillwyn and her husband is at the Library Collection of Philadelphia.

posted January 30th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Children,Death,Dillwyn, Sarah,Morris, Margaret Hill

“there is something, to me, singularly pleasing”

JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY was interested in burial customs as evidenced by her description of Moravian ceremonies in Bethlehem.

In the Moravian manner of interring their dead, as observed in Bethlehem, and the ceremonies attendant therein, there is something, to me, singularly pleasing—So soon as the spirit is departed from whatever chair or whatever part of the Town—the body is cloathed in white linen, and if a female, the Cap received the Ribbon which designates the order—and the corpse is borne to a small, neat chapel [designed] for this purpose, where it is deposited upon stands until the hour of interment—One of the brethren ascends the highest Edifice, which commands the whole Village, and proclaims the death, by means of a German Instrument of Musick, the name of which I could not learn, and he hath a method of conveying this intelligence, which ascertains the sex, age, and connexion of the deceased.

When the hour of burial approaches, the brethren, the sisterhood, and the children of every description, are by a number of french horns, summoned to attend divine service, in the great chapel, where an exhortation is delivered, and the singing, and instrumental musick, produces a proper, and solemnizing effect—The Body is then borne from the chapel, and placed upon a stand on a beautiful green—the males ranging themselves on one side, and the females on the other—The Body is covered with a snow white Pall, which is ornamented with red, blue, or white ribbon, according to the station of the defunct—upon this Green, a divine anthem is performed, when the deceased is borne to the sepulchrs, instruments of music, resounding, the whole Village, ranging themselves in decent, and beautiful Order, join in the procession—at one of these funerals we attended and we entered the burial ground with a raised, chastized, and solemn kind of satisfaction—Religious exercises were performed at the grave, which being in German, we could not understand, when a sacred concert of vocal and instrumental music again resounding was continued during the interment, and until the Assembly had quitted the Grave yard.

There is a regularity peculiarly pleasing, even in the burial ground at Bethlehem—It is a spacious level plain, decently walled in, exactly divided, and, on one side, are placed the Males, and on the other the females—The Graves are laid out upon a straight line, and we can walk between every one, with as much ease, as we could pursue our way along the gravel Walks of a parterre—The Gray stone is not raised, as with us, but from a modest tablet, which is generally shaded by the verdant grass, and which bears a concise inscription, we receive the necessary information. Thus, these Denizens of tranquility live—and thus their passage out of time is marked. . . .

Addressing her cousin’s wife Dorcas Sargent to whom she has written the above letter Murray says:

“Bless me,” exclaims your husband — “What an Eternal scribbler is this Cousin of ours! Will the Woman never have done? Heavens shield us from her lognacity” . . . . I will leave you to conjecture, and I will intrude no longer, than to assure my dear Mrs Sargent, that I am very sincerely and affectionately her admiring Friend

A Moravian graveyard is referred to as “God’s Acre.” It is said that the name comes from the belief that the bodies of the dead are “sown as seed” in God’s Acre, as in a field, so that they can rise again when Jesus Christ returns to the world. Simple flat gravestones, all alike, identify the dead who are buried with their “choir,” that is, their particular church community, rather than their family, and chronologically, according to the date on which they died. The approach is a testament to the Moravian belief in the “democracy of death.” Music was and is very important to Moravians as is clear from Murray’s description. The instrument whose name Murray did not know was probably the trombone. Favored by the Moravians, its first recorded use in America was in 1754 in Bethlehem.

Bonnie Hurd Smith, the founder of The Judith Sargent Murray Society, has transcribed and published Murray’s letterbooks. See the complete letter HERE. For additional information on Moravian graveyards see HERE. See also an ARTICLE and photograph of the Chapel in The Washington Post by Sue Kovach Shuman.

posted December 29th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,Moravians,Murray, Judith Sargent

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