Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Tragic Death of Mary Whiteman

In the post about the Roseville Cotton Factory, I included a snippet from an old newspaper that I had found online, more specifically, at the site Old Fulton NY Post Cards. I realize that Fulton is nowhere near Delaware (it's between Syracuse and Lake Ontario), but the site has a collection of old newspapers that includes one from Wilmington. In searching the site one day for Mill Creek Hundred-related items (yes, my days are just that exciting), I came across a couple of things of interest. Most of what I found was more along the lines of what we already saw -- real estate ads. However, the piece excerpted here caught my eye. It was not a particularly important event in and of itself (except to the families involved), but I thought it was interesting to be able to flesh out the details of those involved. As a side note, it also is a good example of the interconnectedness of families in MCH in the 19th Century.

The paragraph in question was reprinted in a number of papers. This one happened to be from the December 5, 1866 edition of the Albany Evening Journal. It tells of the tragic death of Mrs. Whiteman and her two-year-old son, and of the narrow escape of her baby. While filling a coal oil lamp on November 22, the oil exploded, setting Mrs. Whiteman and the room ablaze. Her sister was able to save the baby, but Mrs. Whiteman and her son were killed. While I can find no other direct references to this incident, I have been able to piece together a little more about the people involved, and I have some guesses at more. As it turns out, there's already been a post about this family on this site -- the Henry Whiteman House post. The Mrs. Whiteman involved in this horrific accident was the wife of Andrew Jackson Whiteman, who lived in the house on the south side of Smith Mill Road, just west of Paper Mill Road (the house I believe was originally built about 1826 by Andrew's father, Henry, although it was certainly renovated later in the 19th Century).

On November 15, 1860, at Ebenezer Methodist Church, 24 year old Andrew Jackson Whiteman married 20 year old Mary E. Moore. Mary was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson Moore, a blacksmith who lived not far away. The Moore's home was north of Pleasant Hill Road and Corner Ketch Road, just past the intersection of Paper Mill and Polly Drummond Hill Roads. Since A.J. and Mary's marriage happened completely between censuses, it's a little difficult to reconstruct their family with certainty. All we know for sure is what we can learn from the article -- that in 1866 they had a two-year old boy and a baby. I still haven't found any other evidence of these children (i.e., birth notices, genealogical records, burial sites) to know exactly who they were. By the time of the 1870 census, this branch of the Whiteman family looked very different than it would have a few years earlier.

Not long after Mary Whiteman's death, her husband remarried, and with his second marriage we may have a clue as to who the sister was who rescued the baby from the conflagration. About a year or two later, Andrew married Susanna Moore, the younger sister of his first wife. (As odd as this sounds to our ears now, this sort of arrangement was not unheard of at the time. I have come across several instances of a widow/widower marrying a sibling of their departed.) Knowing this, it makes me wonder if Susanna was the sister mentioned in the story. She would have been 16 (and unmarried) at the time, so it seems reasonable to think she would have been at her sister's house helping out with the baby. However, she is far from the only possibility. By my count, Mary had eight other sisters besides Susanna. And on a side note, these two marriages were not the only ones between the Whitemans and the Moores. Aside from Andrew, tying the families together were marriages between Jacob Moore and Margaret Whiteman, and between Sarah Moore and Henry Whiteman.

Whiteman grave at Ebenezer Methodist Church

As mentioned previously, I have been unable to find any other information about the young Whiteman boy. I don't know his name or where he is buried. Mary's baby is even more of a mystery. In the 1870 census, there are no children listed (except for an older farm laborer) in the A. J. - Susanna Whiteman household. Unless the then four-year-old child was missed, it means he or she either had died by then or was living with another family, probably relatives. There are several children born at around the right time who later lived with relatives in the area, but there is no way to be sure if any of them were the child in question. If I were to guess (and I will, since it's my blog), I would say that the baby died sometime between 1866 and 1870. Andrew's rather quick re-marriage to his teen aged sister-in-law makes perfect sense in the context of providing a mother for his young child. When women died young or in childbirth (sadly, not uncommon at the time), the widowers often remarried quickly to bring in a new mother for their children. This is what I feel happened here.

Andrew Jackson Whiteman, about 1914

Despite the tragic roots of their marriage, Andrew Jackson and Susanna Whiteman enjoyed many years together. They had children of their own, and their union lasted over 50 years, ending only with the death of Andrew in 1919. They each lived well into their 80's, and were buried together at Ebenezer Methodist Church. I can only hope that they were eventually able to put behind them the traumatic events of that November evening in 1866.


Note: For more information on this story, check out the follow-up post.

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