Alexandria Library -- Special Collections

Document of the Month

August 2006

"...calmly & gently in my arms..."
Letter from Thomas G. Russell to Eliza Eaches Fendall, August 17, 1866


This letter is among approximately 200 letters in the Fendall-Tackett Collection. (This collection is being processed and will be available soon).

The day after his wife Carrie died of cholera, Thomas G. Russell, a merchant in St. Louis, wrote to his sister-in-law, Eliza Eaches Fendall, and described his wife's last days. The couple (Thomas and Caroline) had married on August 30, 1860 in Alexandria. Their children were Dora (born 1861), Bradon (born 1863), Carrie (born 1864), and Robert Lee (born 1865).

The transcribed letter follows:

Friday, St. Louis, August 17, 1866

My dear Sister,
You of all others can properly appreciate my feelings at this time. Your dear sister & my dear wife is no more she died this morning about 2 ½ o’clock after a sickness of six days of cholera – on Friday last she was well & so also in the evening – went to church with me – as lively & cheerful & as buoyant as in her brightest times. Sunday morning she complained of heaviness at pit of the chest great oppression there & at some time a slight Diahrea (sic) manifested itself – on my way to the store thot it best to consult my physician, & he advised me to procure medicine to have at hand to be taken in advance.

I returned with the Medicine & had her take some of it – at noon when I returned she still had the oppression & advised her to use every care. I returned early that evening but she was no better. I then went for the doctor to see her, which he did and told her that she needed to be cool & R herself, go to bed and be quiet – about 7 ½ o’clock she had an attack of vomiting & purging – called in the Doctor again who prescribed for her. Mrs. Williams sat up with her that night with me she sunk so rapidly that at 3 o’clock Sunday morning I had to go for the Doctor – he was so alarmed at her condition that he deemed it best to inform me that she had cholera and advised procuring a consulting physician – before they came however she had rallied so affectively that they were led to pronounce her condition exceedingly promising –

Cousin Nell was with us most of Sunday – continuing thus to improve we were led to hope that she would soon be well - & the Dr. advised on Monday the preparation of suitable nourishment to be given Tuesday morning. Monday night however she was more restless - & instead of being in the condition to desire food on Tuesday morning she could not bear it – different medicine was then prescribed thro this day (Tuesday) she threw up quantities of bile, and expressed a great burning sensation at pit of chest & a constant craving for Ice & water the former we gave her of freely as the Dr suggested. Tuesday night was passed most comfortably her condition became more & more hopeful and on Wednesday afternoon her symptoms were so favorable that the doctor pronounced her out of danger. I felt very much encouraged but being with her constantly night & day & knowing fully her condition I did not allow myself to take comfort fully to my heart –

By night complaining greatly of the compression on her chest – I gave her at the Drs direction Coloroform (sic) to induce sleep – it being essential that she should have rest of body & much besides he expected the coloroform to act in place of Morphine – the effects of which he desired to avoid & she also – instead of being relieved however I thot she grew worse & sent for the Doctor at 3 o’clock & he did not however discover anything unfavorable.

Towards 6 o’clock however I sent to him to get a consulting physician again – before their arrival she threw up – a black substance, after which she sank rapidly – they pronounced her case hopeless – as the character of what she threw up indicated dissolution. Her pastor was now sent for but she but barely knew him – the stupor of the coloroform deadened her intellect so completely at the same time her uneasiness was so great that we were obliged to give it to her to keep her out of suffering – she knew us all at times & plainly desired to speak but could not –

Mr. Brooks sang for her a hymn – which she desired him to repeat and from occasional expressions dropped her mind was evidently engaged on heavenly matters – She very distinctly said at one time – Tell John to be a good boy, meaning her brother John – she continued thus to gradually pass away – having all the time an extraordinarily strong pulse – remarkable vigor & strength – I believe tho’ that had we not continued the use of coloroform she would have died sooner – she partly rallied at 12 o’clock & continued so till about 6pm after that she was evidently feeling – we deemed it best to follow the Doctors instructions to keep her quiet with the coloroform and save her any suffering thus –

Her suffering I was unable to bear – the dear sweet thing had been & was too great a suffer to allow of it continuance even if thereby – she would have been more conscious I could have conversed freely with her – I could have wished that it could have been so – but the stupor was so great. I have this satisfaction however in knowing that she was safe – she is now in heaven – yet doubtless looking down upon us in our terrible distress & desolation – she is with Jesus & happy. Oh! How happy! So happy that it were sin to desire her back again still for all this notwithstanding the great consolation this affords we cannot stifle the emotion we are endowed with – we must miss – dreadfully miss those dear to us, only so dear to me as she – I am desolate, terribly so and beside the nervous excitement through which I have pas’t day & night, for six days I may not as fully realize now – still I have a foretaste of that sickness & desolation of heart that I will experience when I come home to my silent house – to meet my little orphan children – with out dear constant affectionate & devoted Carrie to meet me. Oh! It is terrible & I could almost pray if it were not for my little ones – Lord take me away too.

Dear sister you are more to me than ever – you are her only living representative & loving her so devotedly as I did – it is but natural that I should cling to and love those nearest to her – write me often & frequently & thereby afford some alleviation of my horrible distress.

She died calmly & gently in my arms at 12 ½ o’clock this morning, as dear and devoted a wife as ever lived. How strange seems the ways of Providence but we must not murmur. He doeth all things well & does not affect His children but for their ultimate good – I suppose I’ll see that good after awhile. I know this will be a terrible shock to you. God grant you will be able to bear it and in your distress remember me – remember that mine is greater – Let me have your sympathy & your prayers. I have written for my Sister Nannie to come out & take care of the children – if she can come they will be well cared for. Carrie often said if anything should happen to her she would like her to take charge of them. Carrie will be buried tomorrow morning. God grant me strength to bear up under my load of trial.

Your affectionate Brother

T G Russell

P.S. Dora appreciates the state of things and is greatly distressed, poor little thing – She has as much perception as many who are much older.

Transcribed by Barb Winters, July 2006

Related Resources
  • Wyndham B. Blanton. Medicine in Virginia in the Nineteenth Century
  • Ronald L. Numbers and Todd L. Savitt (eds). Science and Medicine in the Old South
  • Todd L. Savitt. Fevers, Agues, and Cures: Medical Life in Old Virginia: An Exhibition, 4 October 1990 - 1 April 1991

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