Family stories are often handed down without tangible proof of their veracity.
A phone call recently helped a Thomasville woman receive evidence to support family stories she heard from her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. It was contained in a traveling trunk that made its way home after 119 years.
At the February Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) meeting, Theresa Brown told the story of her great-great-grandparents who lived during the Civil War. The story centered on a love letter written by her great-great grandmother, Mary Eva Bailey Ames, after the death of her husband, Charles B. Ames Jr. in 1869.
Before Brown read the letter to her fellow DAR members, she told how her great-great grandparents met and settled in Waukeenah, Fla.
Mary Eva Bailey was born on March 4, 1838, in Harrison County, Va. She encountered Charles B. Ames, who was from Groton, Mass., while in Richmond, Va., at a ball. They immediately fell in love. She was selling war bonds after the death of her fiancé and he was in the 19th Infantry Albemarle County. Even though Charles was from the North, he lived in the South and became a South sympathizer.
While in Virginia, he joined the Confederate army and eventually became a lieutenant. There is also documentation of him becoming the postmaster of Covesville, Va., in 1860 before the war.
The couple married on Oct. 20, 1864, at Cove Church in Covesville.
Soon after their marriage, they moved to Waukeenah by way of the first federal highway in Florida, completed in May 1826. The marriage produced three children.
After the war and moving to Waukeenah, Charles became a merchant. His business took him to Savannah and during the time of his absence, he was struck with yellow fever. He passed away on Sept. 17, 1869.
Mary Eva’s letter highlighted her love for her husband and her pain could be felt through her words. The letter was addressed to her cousin, who is referred to as “Vie.”
She began the letter by explaining to her cousin that she couldn’t reply to a previous one because of her troubles and duties.
“God in his mercy has seen fit to take my good, kind husband from me. While he lived, I did not know trouble,” wrote Mary Eva.
She went on to explain how much she loved her husband and wrote, “If ever woman loved man or careth, I loved my darling husband. Oh Vie, I worshipped him and that is why God took him from me! He was so good, kind and affectionate. We loved each other so much and never in our short married life did we have cause to find fault with each other. I always prayed that he might outlive me. But God didn’t answer my prayer.”
In the remainder of the letter, Mary Eva wrote about the night her husband came back from Savannah with the fever. She was expecting him to return in perfect health, but he returned home ill and in her words, “could not speak and did not know anything.”
Mary Eva had given birth to one of her children 10 days prior to her husband’s return, so she was not well, either, but her love for her husband pushed her into caring for him while he was on death’s doorstep.
She wrote, “I was so ill with fever as his darling babe was just ten days old; I was not able to raise myself in bed, but when they brought him in this room, God gave me strength to raise up, had him put beside me on the bed.
I” sat there all night and the next day until two, bathing his head... doing all I could for him to assist the doctor to stay life but all in vain. On Friday 17th, he left this life and went back as peacefully to the God who gave it; he was calm as if sleeping.”
The newly widowed Mary Eva recalled her children asking when their father would be returning home from his trip. She talked about how she longed for death after the event. Her children proved to be a comfort to her during the time and for years after his death.
Life went on for Mary Eva Ames. At the age of 57, she packed her belongings in a large traveling trunk and went to live with her daughter in Washington state. Her daughter moved to Washington when she married a customs officer who was stationed there. Mary Eva’s son stayed in the Waukeenah area.
For 18 years, Mary Eva lived in Washington with her daughter. She died in 1913 and was buried in Olympia, Wash., more than 3,000 miles from her husband’s grave in Florida.
However, the love story does not end there.
At the end of her DAR presentation, Brown made an announcement. She told them her cousin’s widow in Washington state had contacted her about a family trunk that had belonged to her great-great grandmother, Mary Eva Ames. It was the traveling trunk she carried with her throughout her life, possibly including when she went to Richmond and met her husband. It was the trunk she moved her things in from Florida to Washington in 1895 or 1896.
Brown said, “I couldn’t believe it. My grandmother and mother would have been so happy. I’ve heard about the trunk my whole life. In the letter that I received from Washington, my cousin’s widow said she only wished she would have sent the trunk while my mother was alive.”
Over the years, the trunk accumulated many family treasures that confirmed the stories Brown’s great-grandmother, grandmother and mother told her as a child. Until March, the trunk had not been opened since 1978.
The trunk was filled with family Bibles; letters; family photo albums; school papers; World War I artifacts, which included first-account photographs; handkerchiefs; postcards; flags; a pair of spectacles; unconfirmed first-edition Mark Twain books; five pieces of silver with Mary Eva Ames’ initials, and the list goes on and on.
Another interesting treasure found in the trunk was a piece of cloth that matched a piece of a red cloak in Brown’s possession that was worn by Charles Ames’ grandmother in Massachusetts in 1775. The piece of red cloth was framed and given to the decedents and passed down through the years.
More than 200 years later, the legacy of this love story can be found through the treasures in the trunk that have been saved and cherished.
Brown is a member of Thomasville’s DAR, a group that encourages people to take an interest in history, especially their family’s history.
Brown said, “DAR makes people want to look up their ancestors. With this trunk, it was like opening a time capsule and being in touch with the past.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.