May 11, 1852

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of John Gellatly

Abbott H. Thayer, Angel, 1887, oil
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of John Gellatly

Tuesday May 11th  George died this morning about eleven

Has not spoken so that we could understand

since yesterday noon.  died at last very easy

without a struggle or groan.  Mrs S Ames & self

laid him out,  His mother has slept but about

two hours for two days and nights. Have trimmed

my straw bonnet. Miss Copeland sewed it over  Spent

about two hours in Olivers this afternoon.  Helen has a 

blister on her arm  The gardener set out some rose plants.

Prairie Rose Baltimore bell and Fraxinella sent

from Boston

George Oliver Witherell, aged fourteen, died on this day from rheumatic fever.  He had been suffering for many days, but “died at the last very easy.”  His Aunt Evelina had been with him for much of the illness, spelling his exhausted mother, Sarah Ames Witherell. She and her other sister-in-law, Sarah Lothrop Ames (who had her own sick child at home), laid out the corpse.

The family must have expected George’s death by this stage of his illness; certainly the attending physician had already predicted it. But anticipation is not the same as actuality, and the death of the young man would have hit everyone hard. Evelina dwelt in her diary on George’s last few minutes, but then added a few mundane notes about her summer bonnet, her niece Helen’s continued battle with an unnamed infection, and some new additions to the flower garden. She might have wished to move on to less painful concerns.

George’s grandfather, Old Oliver, noted his grandson’s death succinctly: “George Witherell dyed to day about eleven O clock.” Oliver rarely included personal items in his daily record; that he wrote of George’s death is a sign of regard, however minimal we might consider it. His grief would have been real.

Of Sarah Ames Witherell’s feelings, we’re told nothing, and must imagine her utter exhaustion and complete sorrow.

2 thoughts on “May 11, 1852

    • I agree. So heartbreaking. A parent should never have to bury their child.

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