Monday, March 31, 2014

Alice Milburn Wood vs. Hollis Amidon

Let’s lay out the course of events leading to the 1875 lawsuit over lot number 11. There are just two pieces of information that I’m relying on here, the newspaper article that presented the case to the general public in May of 1875 and the abstract of the case published in the following year with the court records for the term.

Lot number 11 was just one piece of the estate of George Milburn. When he died in 1838, the everything was bequeathed to his children and their heirs. But the use of the property and the decisions on how and when to distribute it were invested in George’s widow Margaret for her lifetime. As the children did come of age and marry, provision was duly made for them. When the fourth and last child to marry, namely George’s middle daughter Margaret Agnes, did finally become the bride of Hollis Amidon, nearly everything in the estate had been disposed in accord with the will. Old Mrs. Milburn retained only one piece of property. That was lot 11, sometimes called more explicitly part of lot 11, at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Seventh Street SW. And on that lot stood the house where all three of them lived—had lived for over ten years. Hollis and Margaret Agnes made some kind of improvements to the property. Old Mrs. Milburn then, in November 1866, turned over the whole, both the land and the house, to Margaret and Hollis Amidon, to be Margaret’s portion as George’s heir, and in consideration of her own—old Mrs. Milburn’s—need to be looked after in her later years.

We don’t know what the reaction by the rest of the family was to any of this business up to this point. But when Margaret Amidon died “intestate and without issue” in December of 1869, someone in the family put it to Amidon that he could not expect to have title to the land, since that belonged to George’s heirs by rights, and Mrs. Milburn lacked any power to deliver it to anyone else; that whatever contract appeared in the 1866 deed, it was void with respect to Hollis Amidon. But nothing else happened, it seems. In the 1870 census, Hollis's name appears on the record at the top spot in the household, with old Mrs. Milburn next, keeping house for everyone; and then follows the usual assortment of boarders.

In November of 1874 old Mrs. Margaret Milburn died. The following January Amidon registered the property in his own name. Straight away Alice Milburn Wood and her husband complained to the Court. The deed should be cancelled, since it was improper, and there should be a “partition.” I suppose that to mean a separate consideration of the house, which the Woods appear to have recognized as Amidon’s now, from the land which they believed was by right due to them. Who else took their side? The newspaper account of the suit names Violet Abell, George Milburn’s youngest daughter, as a defendant along with her husband. I can only think that this is a mistake. The only way, it seems to me, that Violet and her husband could ever be involved was as fellow Milburn heirs with an interest in the property. Surely they must have counted among the plaintiffs? The published abstract does not help to clarify who lined up with whom. It does include an “et al.” for Amidon, but I can’t imagine who those others could be or, indeed, why there should have been anyone else in his corner.

However this may be, Amidon, for his part, filed a “demurrer” to say that the Woods’ suit raised only invalid points and ought to be dismissed. The Court agreed. George Milburn’s will was consulted and found to give to old Mrs. Milburn all the discretionary power she needed to look after her own interests, so that she could give up the house and the land to the Amidons with the understanding that they would continue to look after her, while at the same time making this final distribution of George Milburn’s estate as a marriage portion for Margaret Agnes. It was all made so explicit by the language of the will and of the 1866 transfer that it’s hard to see how the Woods or their counsel thought they had the slightest chance to prevail.

So that was that. Alice Wood didn’t live too much longer, as we’ve already heard. Hollis Amidon got married one more time, his third wife being a widow lady from Vermont. The couple went to live in a new house clear on the other side of town. Amidon was eighty-two when he died in 1889, and the newspaper obituary mentioned his widow, but got his lady from Vermont confused with Margaret Agnes Milburn.

• • •

Why didn’t Mrs. Milburn marry Amidon? That’s one thing I can’t figure. Would she have lost control of her remaining property and income if that had happened? It just seems so much more likely that those two were the natural couple—compatible, near in age, close in religious experience. I suppose it is possible that there was some ardor between Amidon and Margaret Agnes. However, the brief mention of the Amidons’ union that we’ll get to hear in the eulogy for Margaret Milburn Amidon does nothing to convince me.

One other question comes to mind due to that description of Mrs. Amidon being “intestate and without issue.” Recall that she had tuberculosis and knew for a long time—perhaps years—that she was dying. How is it that she never made a will? I wonder about that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mrs. Margaret Milburn and Miss Margaret Milburn at home

If you go to Washington DC, and you make your way to the corner of 7th and D Streets in the small southwestern quadrant of the city, and you look toward the northwest, there in your view will be a large, sandy-colored office building of a vague, shapeless shape. Ignore this office building, and instead pay attention to the city block it rests on, the triangular block bounded by 7th, D, and Virginia Avenue. This block is called “Square 464” in the city property books, despite its triangular boundary. All the lots in this “Square 464” were once owned by Thomas William Milburn’s grandfather, Mr. George Milburn, who “established the Milburn home” at the eastern end of the block.

George died some years before TW was born. But George’s widow Margaret was still living here into the 1870s, in a house on the western corner of the block at Virginia and 7th.

Mrs. Margaret Milburn was George’s second wife. George’s first wife and the mother of his children was Alice, who died in 1833. Margaret was actually Alice’s younger sister, and thus she was aunt as well as stepmother to the children. George married Margaret three years after Alice died, probably in order to provide for her, and certainly so that she could look after his children when George was gone, portioning out to each one some of the remaining property.

George’s daughters Mary Ann and Violet and his son Thomas—TW’s father—got married in the 1840s. (I don’t know what parts of the property they may have received. Thomas and his family had an address some blocks west of here for many years. Violet and her husband did build here along Virginia Avenue, and their daughters lived there still in the ’80s.) That left George’s unmarried middle daughter Margaret Agnes at home with her aunt. A serious and pious schoolteacher, Miss Milburn remained single for nearly two decades. Meanwhile old Mrs. Milburn took in boarders.

We actually know a little something about Mrs. Margaret Milburn beyond what the census tells. Judge Job Barnard in 1920 offered to the Columbia Historical Society a short account of the formation of the Swedenborgian church in DC. He tells how Mrs. Margaret Milburn’s aunt Mary Arnott, was shunned by her church due to her early interest in Swedenborg’s doctrines, and how Margaret went on to be one of the founding members of the Swedenborgian society. Barnard’s paper continues with how the society grew from the meetings of those in the District who were interested in Swedenborg, rather like a little club, to a regular denomination with an official charter, a church building to meet in, and hired clergy. (Judge Barnard was himself one of the members of the church.)

It’s also clear from Barnard’s paper that some of Mrs. Milburn’s boarders were themselves adherents to the Swedenborgian Church. I’d like to know whether Margaret Milburn pressed information about the church into the hands of her boarders, or whether persons with a prior interest in Swedenborg’s New Jerusalem found Mrs. Milburn and found her home convenient. At any rate there was one particular boarder in the Milburn household we must take note of: an older fellow called Hollis Amidon, a widower from New York. For more than a decade Mrs. Milburn kept house with her niece Miss Margaret A. Milburn and Mr. Hollis Amidon.

Miss Milburn was teaching school. She began her career at about the age of sixteen when she opened her own private school. The Washington public schools were just then starting to come into their own as an institution acceptable to a broad public. Margaret was soon hired by the Trustees to teach in the public schools in the Fourth District, which is to say in that same neighborhood where she lived. She became an extremely well-regarded teacher, commended for her keen skill in interesting her pupils individually in the schoolwork, prompting their genuine engagement rather than merely teaching by rote. Evidently she was highly dedicated to her efforts with her students, and a kind of warm enthusiasm for her shows up in the Trustee reports and in the newspaper accounts of the annual examinations.

Then in December 1862 Miss Margaret A. Milburn wed Mr. Hollis Amidon. She, who had not up until then seemed to be interested in getting married, wed the man twenty years her senior—Amidon was actually old Mrs. Milburn’s age—with whom she had been living for years. Very little really changed. Mrs. Amidon kept working as a schoolteacher in the Fourth District, and she and Amidon continued to live with old Mrs. Milburn in the same house where they had been so long.

The lot, or partial lot, where the house stood was the last piece of George Milburn’s “Square 464”  property left to bestow on one of his children. Mrs. Milburn was getting on in years and thinking of her old age, and so she arranged for its transfer to the Amidons. But all was not secure. Margaret Amidon was ill with tuberculosis. (Maybe she knew this, or suspected it, at the time she married.) She died in 1869, remaining with her beloved pupils until close to the end. Mrs. Milburn didn’t outlive her by many years: she died in 1874. Hollis Amidon, Milburn-less, undertook to put his wife’s property (“lot number 11”) directly in his own name. This was the situation to which some others in the family objected in the courts.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cogee tells a joke

Cogee Milburn liked to tell jokes. If I remember she even wanted to tell one during her taped interview in 1983. Here’s a joke that she used to tell with delight. I’m sure she repeated this one to me several times, but these aren’t her words exactly, only my recollection.

“A farmer was out working in his fields. Here comes his little boy, calling to him, “Daddy, Mama says to come in right quick, ’cause the preacher’s coming by for a visit!” The farmer asked his boy which preacher was coming, but the boy didn’t know. So the farmer said, “I’ve got to stay and work here longer. You run back, and if it’s the Catholic then hide the whiskey jug. If it’s the Methodist, make sure you hide the that jar with the money in it. But if it’s the Baptist preacher, you just sit on Mama’s lap till I come home.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thomas William Milburn’s “Vicissitudes”

Besides his “Texas letter,” one other piece of Thomas W. Milburn’s writing has survived and turned up again after seventy years. Late in his life TW put down on paper a set of anecdotes, a little clutch of incidents from his childhood and youth in Washington. He calls them vicissitudes, a word he must have chosen to be a little too fancy, like a stage wink. The three pages of his “Vicissitudes letter” were mailed to Mrs. G.F. Carlisle, and introduced by a sort of bread-and-butter cover letter. The whole thing was found in an envelope with a 1943 cancellation.

The memoir content was certainly written two years earlier, in about August of 1941, and seems from the language of its apologetic last paragraph to have been conceived as though talking to some specific person, not to The World or to Posterity. Why then the two-year gap between the writing and the mailing? And, since the letter was actually sent off to Mrs. Carlisle, how did it come back into possession of the Milburn family, so that we have it now?

To answer that last question I’ll have to guess and say that Mrs. Carlisle simply returned it to the family when TW died in 1944. Seems reasonable. As for the first question, about the gap, I just don’t know. I can’t come up with a good explanation.

TW’s “Vicissitudes Letter” is short enough that I will print the whole content here, and after it mention a little point of interest to me.

Some of the Early Vicissitudes in a Long Life.

To have been born, in Washington D.C., in the 1850’s. was my first V.

Three years after birth, while meandering along, back of the stalls of a lot of big mules, upon my Uncle’s Maryland farm and being led to the slaughter by a little slave girl, at least one mule saw an opportunity for revenge against the white race and kicked me in the middle and against the barn door. In some manner, the dead boy survived a long buggy trip to W. and after the third day he returned to life, thanks to that sweet drug – Niter.

A couple of years later, this same colored nurse permitted this same near angel to crawl from bed, while enjoying a high fever and to roll down the kitchen roof, to the walk below, which, I suspect, caused the fever to drop to a reasonable figure —

So, we get to the beginning of our Civil War – Washington was in as much confusion then as now, in 1941 – but there was a Patriot in the White House. Lee’s army was just across the mile wide Potomac, in Virginia. The Northern Army, mostly, had come to W. to save the city and I stared daily at the troops, officers, cannon and at the killing upon the streets, of many distempered horses. The streets were all unpaved and muddy, except between the double car tracks, in all parts of W., which were cobble stoned – in fact there were no paved streets – that I remember until U. S. Grant’s inauguration, when Penna. Ave. was paved, from Capitol to White House, with pine blocks, laid upon boards, which lasted until they floated away – Cement and bitulithic were practically unknown.

I grew up or down in South Washington – It was then known as the “Island[”] – V-shaped by the Potomac on one side – Eastern Branch of same, upon the other and a canal, upon the N. and S.E. sides entirely separating it from Northern & Eastern W.

This canal began at Harper’s Ferry, ran to Georgetown parallel, all the way, with the Potomac – At G. there were flour & meal mills. The canal kept on going – crossed down back of the Executive Mansion and from 15th street to the Botanical Gardens it paralleled Penna. Ave. one block South, thence south east to empty into the Eastern Branch.

This canal has been filled in but not before its great attraction nearly got me. Skating upon its ice one day, an air hole suddenly engulfed me and when they pulled me out I was a stiff mass of mud and ice[.]

Not long after this, while under a bridge my boy friends shoved me into deep water, knowing that I couldn’t swim – that and the next act were cruel acts.

I was growing up and trying to impress females. Sunday School time was the most impersive [impressive] place, so one Sunday, dressed in a white duck suit, I lined up at the curb with a muddy pool behind me – Something suggestive must have been seen in that duck suit because the boys ganged up on me and over I went into the mud — Did I put up a fight – no. I ran 8 blocks to the river[,] jumped in with all that finery and walked home and sneaked into other clothing –

I have to omit some other escapades, such as taking the School Trustee’s horse for a ride, so, at 17 I landed 3 or 4 jobs, finally stuck to telegraphy and in 1875, at 20½, came to Texas but my vicissitudes don’t end yet this “I” story must end, as I am 86⁷⁄₁₂ths and sleepy.

T. W. M.

There is a PDF of the letter available which includes the cover letter and envelope.

“My Uncle’s Maryland farm.” In a chronicle that makes no mention of any of TW’s immediate family, who was this off-stage uncle? On TW's mother’s side there was no family, or none that I know of. On his father’s side TW had three aunts. The oldest was Mary Ann. Her first husband, Mr. Hinton, was long dead by 1858, the purported year of the mule incident. Mary Ann’s second husband, Mr. Gunnell, has no connection with Maryland that I know, but came from Virginia, and his family is always associated in that direction. TW’s middle aunt was Margaret, who was not married at the time, nor for some years more. Last there was the youngest aunt, Violet. Her first husband, Mr. Williams, in 1858 was recently deceased. He might have had some property in Maryland since Violet held a sale of his slaves in December of 1858 at Hughesville in Charles County. Violet did marry for the second time in October of 1859 to Mr. Abell, who was without question a Maryland farmer. The Abell property was located at Scotch Neck near Hollywood, in St. Mary’s County. That’s almost sixty miles from Washington—long for a buggy ride. Perhaps TW simply made a mistake, and the mule incident took place when he was four or five years old rather than when he was only three. Of course there is, as ever, the great likelihood that there are persons and places that I simply don’t know about yet.

I do know that TW’s brother George died, according to the papers, at Vineyard Farm, located in Charles County, Maryland. If that’s the same farm as the one with the stalls of big mules it must have seemed like a place of doom.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

End of the family in DC

What became of the Milburn household after Thomas William Milburn set off for Texas? His father, Mr. Thomas Milburn the carpenter, had died in 1872. TW's little sister Eva, the youngest of the children, had died in 1874 when just a schoolgirl. And the rest of them?

TW’s older sister Alice was married and not living at home any more. Before her marriage she had been—like a number of women in the Milburn line—a schoolteacher. For five years she had taught in the Fourth District schools around where they were living, first primary school, then secondary. In October of 1870 she resigned her post, and married John R. Wood. Mr Wood, a Virginian, was a river boat pilot. The Woods moved to a house of their own a few blocks further south. They apparently tried to start a family (this is not clear to me), but never got very far. Alice took sick with a “lingering illness” and died in the summer of 1877. Her husband stuck around Washington. He was now a boat captain taking day-trippers and pleasure-seekers on excursions to, say, Leonardtown down on the Maryland shore. I’m sorry to say I don’t yet know what happened to him, nor where he ended up.

TW's sister Ada was just out of secondary school when she married in January of 1876. Her husband George Kleindenst came from Washington, from the neighborhood, so they had likely known each other for years. Right away they started their large family. Suddenly in 1880 George headed to Texas, following his brother-in-law to San Antonio, and Ada and the children came and joined him there.

Mrs. Pamelia Milburn, TW’s mother, decided to remarry, a few months after Ada wed George. Pamelia's second husband was Mr James H. Granger of Washington. Granger was another carpenter. He was a little bit older than Pamelia, and had been married twice before, with a grown son. For a time the Grangers stayed in Southwest DC, but in the coming decade they wound up moving out to the suburbs south of the Eastern Branch. All of Pamelia’s own children were either dead or living far away.

Portrait from a reproduction of a tintype of a woman, Pamelia Milburn, seated, with dark clothing of the 1860s and a shawl.
TW’s mother Pamelia

There will be more about Pamelia Granger in another post, and more about Ada Kleindenst when we get back to Texas.