Saturday, February 23, 2013

February Twenty Third at Four in the Morning

"Dear Madam - On me devolves the Melancholy task to inform you of the Death of our beloved friend, Mrs. Fergusson..."

So begins the April 6 letter Betsy Stedman wrote to Deborah Senior, Elizabeth Graeme's cousin in Jamaica, informing her of her cousin's death on February 23, 1801 at four in the morning. In today's world of instant and constant news via Facebook, Twitter, texting, and the like, it is hard to imagine that people often didn't find out about the deaths of loved ones until months after the fact, but that was indeed the case, and not at all uncommon.

Elizabeth was traveling in Europe when her mother, Ann Diggs Graeme, passed away on May 29, 1765, and she did not learn the news until July 15, almost seven weeks later. Letters in that day would collect at the port for weeks until a ship was ready to sail, and they'd all arrive together weeks later in a packet. Elizabeth's nephew, John Young, who sided with the British during the Revolution, returned to England after the war. In early 1794, Elizabeth, trying to learn what happened to him, appealed to a friend in England to check with a relative in Scotland, to find out about him. In late summer she learned he'd died back in April. I'm not sure she ever learned whether her husband, Henry Hugh Fergusson, was alive or dead, last having heard from him in 1788 and about him in 1796.

Like her mother, Elizabeth planned out her own funeral. It was her desire that her "funeral expenses not exceed 15 pounds" and that she be buried in a "coffin of plain cherry boards, to be taken to town and laid at the feet of [her] Parents. [She felt she was] not worthy to lay at their side. The neighbors round are to be invited they appear to respect [her] and [she] respects them."

Betsy's letter ends "great is my loss in the deprivation of my friend's conversation and society, yet be assured I do not wish her back, no, every day convinces me her removal was at a time, the properest and best."

Elizabeth is buried at Christ Church in Philadelphia, next to her parents.

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