There seems to have been no surprise when Elias was found dead, slumped over by the fireplace in the oldest part of the house.
Elias’s oldest son George inherited the place and once he married, he moved his bride into the family home. Their first three children were stillborn and then there was the War. George went off to fight and his letters, in retrospect, have a sad humor. He writes to his wife about how good it feels to be out and moving around, how the longer he walks, the better he feels. While everyone else was suffering and getting sick, shot, or dead, George seems to have come into his own.
“I have been captured by the detestable Yankees,” he writes at one point, “And am being sent to Ohio. Join me there, my beloved Abigail. I hear it is lovely this time of year.” The letter was written in January. And yet, he seems not to have been delusional. When he wrote his brother later that year, he said that Abigail was able to visit him regularly and that they were both finding the change of scenery delightful. Abigail was pregnant again and due in the spring.
Reading the letters the first time, I had to fight the urge to pick up my pen and write to this distant ancestor and beg him to not come back from Ohio. But the past is settled and return to Allendale they did. By 1867, George was dead of an infection that settled in after he broke his foot and George’s sister, Liza, who had never married, moved into the house to help care for the children.
Liza came down to breakfast one day to find Abigail and the children slumped over the kitchen table, all dead. The strain was too great for the poor woman and she went mad from grief.
There was some talk of trying one of the servants for poisoning the family, but she, too, died before she could be arrested. This resolved the matter for people at the time, but, though I am certain the deaths were unnatural, I am more certain that the servant girl was not to blame.
And what to make of the stories they tell about Eliza, who at the height of her fits would, they say, shout out in French? On the one hand, a schooled woman would have learned some rudimentary French as a part of her education. On the other hand, I found no evidence that Eliza had such an education. I mention it only because it is odd, though I must admit there could be a rational explanation. I have no rational explanation for her complaints of a staring thing that bit and chewed her.