Sadly, one of the all too common realities of family life in the 19th century was dealing with the illness and impending death of a family member. Too often that family member was a child or sibling.
The letter that follows gives us a glimpse of the feelings of the family at such a time–the worry, the sadness, and the hope and faith that sustained them through their time of sorrow.
This letter is from The Breuninger Collection and was written by Lora Ellis, a daughter of Albert G. and Eliza (Breuninger) Ellis, to her aunt Charlotte Kitchen, her mother’s sister. The letter gives the condition of Lora’s brother Theodore and tells of his final days. Theodore passed away five days after the letter was written.
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
January 18th 1871
My Dear Aunt Charlotte,
You will undoubtedly be very much grieved to learn that Theodore is no better. I would have told you sooner the true state of his illness, had I not been looking for a change for the better. I have always been very much pained about writing to you or anyone else about him, dreading to be obliged to think of him in so alarming a condition. I had been thinking his health better and improving until yesterday and last night. He did not leave his bed at all yesterday and today he is worse. He was in the parlor this morning, but now he is in bed again.
Mother told me to write and tell you about him. She says she does not think he will live many days longer. He is so weak and his breath is so very short, but none “God” his “maker” can tell and He willing Theodore will get better. There is a time set for us all, we cannot tell when we will be summoned to go. I think Theodore has suffered a great deal in his sickness. We are all very much afflicted[?], but I think father and mother are more than the rest.
Theodore is a true believer in his redeemer. A week ago last Sunday he received the Lord’s supper and often since he has asked father if he would let him have a class in Sunday School. Yesterday, when mother was lifting him and he saw the tears which she could not keep back, he said, “Mother why do you cry? Why don’t you let me die?” He does not desire life in this world any longer, only to help his dear old father, mother and take care of us girls, he says.
We must all folly and we hope through our blessed savior “Jesus Christ” to meet again in the better world where there is no pain, no sin, no trouble and no parting. [???] realize his sickness and the way his form has changed and that my playmate and only brother will not be with us long, but the will of God is mysterious and just. He knows best. Perhaps it is not best for Theodore to stay any longer. God only knows what is best for us.
Truly it is said, “Man proposes and God disposes. But be of good cheer fiends! We must do the will of God and do the work he has intended us to do and he will give us rest. We shall meet again when all our trials are ended, our work faithfully performed.” Then will he say “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
We are all as well as can be expected in our circumstances. Father and Mother are not so well. Write soon and I hope you are all well by this time.
Love to all from your affectionate niece
Lora R. Ellis
(Original letter in possession of blog author, part of The Breuninger Collection.)
Theodore’s obituary is on Rootsweb, (unnamed newspaper, accessed 27 Jun 2012):
Theodore Conkey Ellis
Died, in this city, on Monday the 23d inst., Theodore Conkey, son of A. G. & E. C. J. Ellis, aged 21 years.—He bore a lingering and painful disease with christian fortitude, and may truly be said to have “fallen asleep in Jesus.” His funeral will be attended from the Episcopal Church, on Wednesday morning at 10 1-2 o’clock.
[31 Jan] Died, in this city, Jan’y 23d, 1871, of consumption, Theodore C. Ellis, aged 21 years, son of Gen’l A. G. Ellis
The deceased was a member of one of the oldest and most respected families in our city. He was an estimable and accomplished young man and a Christian gentleman. A long and painful illness he bore with Christian resignation and fortitude; and when death came it found him prepared. His premature death has made a void in the family circle that can never be filled, and has taken from the community a valuable and honored member. His demise created a profound sensation in our midst—for Theodore was universally esteemed and loved. His modesty and dignity of demeanor, his kindness of heart and faithfulness won all with whom he had intercourse. “None knew him but to love him.” Possessed of talents of a high order, and a liberal education, a bright future was before him and a noble success within his grasp. Although but a youth, his musical performances and compositions were excellent; and had he been spared would have won high encomiums on account of his fine abilities in that direction. Positions of honor and trust he had most acceptably filled in our midst. In social and in business life he was ever obliging and deferential and the true gentleman. His genial presence will be long and painfully missed by those who knew him. Had he been spared his would have been a life of much greater usefulness and honor. The remembrance of Theodore will ever be freshest in the hearts of those who knew him most.
The burial services were had on Wednesday morning last at the Church of the Intercession (Episcopal) of which the deceased was a member. A very large concourse were in attendance.—The funeral sermon was preached on Sunday evening, by Rev. Mr. Davenport, Pastor of the deceased, from the text “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” No services were had in the evening in the several other churches in the city, the members thereof all attending at the Church of the Intercession to testify their high regard for the deceased and for the family.
The History of Northern Wisconsin has a short biography about Theodore: THEODORE C. ELLIS, son of Gen. A.G. Ellis. Was a promising and genial young man who had been well educated and had a special talent for music. He died Jan. 23, 1871, aged twenty-one years. (source: [Anonymous], History of Northern Wisconsin (Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1881) 748. On-line digital book, Heritage Quest Online via Columbus Metropolitan Library, www.columbuslibrary.org, accessed 27 June 2012.)