**Written in September 2021 by RoxAnn Raisner (house director) in the voice of Lucy Stephenson and published in the online Edwardsville Intelligencer, October 6, 2021, https://www.theintelligencer.com. Based on historical facts, current happenings at the House, and a historians vivid imaginings. Follow Letters from Lucy Stephenson on Facebook (facebook.com/LettersfromLucy).
September 27, 1820Edwardsville, Illinois
It is with a very heavy heart that I write
this letter. Unfortunately, we have not escaped the encroachment of summer
fever sweeping across the region and mourn the loss of so many. It seems hardly
possible that mere few weeks ago all was well, only to find ourselves caught
unaware by a loved one’s sudden and complete departure from this world. How I
ache from it daily. Preparations are being made so our house may observe a
period of mourning. My daughters, Julia and Elvira, have begun the task of
washing, airing, and mending clothing suitable for the expression of our loss.
And, Winn has set to task picking apart some old garments to dye black and
refashion. This morning, I sent an order to the fabric merchant in Belleville
to procure several bolts of bombazine so we may sew-up some additional mourning
attire for the entire household since it will be some time before we are
unburdened by grief. The wool crepe bunting now hangs above our door so that
all those who pass may be aware of our sorrow.
Winn, in her infinite ability to be
prepared, has baked several batches of funeral biscuits embossed with cherubs
and crosses for mourners attending the funerals to pay their respects. I
visited the newspaper in lower town yesterday to procure an order of small,
printed remembrance wrappers to cover the biscuits, as well as several pieces
of black sealing wax from Mr. Poage’s store to use in the closure of each. I
find having a useful occupation keeps my mind from dwelling for too long on
that which I cannot change. The reprieve does not last long, of course. I know
you will want a copy of Winn’s receipt for the funeral biscuits so I shall
include it. It’s quite simple and they store exceedingly well for long periods
of time. I find many guests chose to keep their biscuit as a memento mori as
opposed to eating them at the funeral.
Take twenty-four eggs, three pounds of
flour, three pounds of lump sugar, grated, which will make forty-eight finger
biscuits for a funeral.
Dr. Todd, our local physician, has truly
been a godsend the last weeks. Besides attending to countless families
suffering from the summer fever’s, Ben’s ague recrudesced quite suddenly. As
you well know, for some time now, Ben has been plagued with bouts of this
insatiable illness. Some episodes far worse than others. Admittedly, this
particular recurrence was quite arduous, causing me great concern as to his safe
recovery. The severity, at one point, warranted the need to send for Rev.
Ballard who provided much comfort through his ecclesiastic ministering and
friendship. Thankfully, a new shipment of yellow bark arrived a Poage’s store
to which we procured two orders before the supply was depleted from demand.
After several days of treatment, it appears the most critical time has passed.
Ben appears to be returning to health, slowly, but I do believe we owe much to
both Dr. Todd and Rev. Ballard. I fear the probable outcome without the succor
Well, my dearest friend, I must close this
letter for there is much to attend to. Hopefully, my next will contain happier
news and these dark times shall be left behind as distant memories. I pray you
stay well. Please write soon so that I may have something to brighten these
bleak days. Give my love to all and know I hold you in high regard, as always.
Yours In Friendship,
was a fabric used for mourning clothing in the early 19th century.
It was a silk and wool mixture with a very flat appearance. It is no longer
made. The closest fabric resembling it today is wool crepe.
Biscuits receipt (recipe) was published in the 1828 (5th Edition) of
The Whole Art of Confectionary: Sugar Boiling, Iceing, Candying, Jelly Making,
&c. by W.S. Staveley. These biscuits were commonly given out at funerals
and often wrapped in paper with the deceased name, poem, and/or information
about the person printed on the outside and sealed with black sealing wax
stamped with a funerary image such as skull and crossbones, cherub, rooster,
cross, heart, etc.
Ague is the
historical term for malaria. At the time, it was treated with a bark from South
American known as yellow bark, Jesuit bark, lima bark, or Peruvian bark. The
bark contained quinine and was the most effective treatment available at the
Stephenson died on October 10, 1822, from what historians believe to be
malaria. The museum will host Mourning Col. Stephenson: A Special Exhibit from
September 30-October 31.