Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Lucy Proper Thompson's Civil War


Lawrence, Massachusetts, a New England mill town, 1854

When the Civil War began in 1861 widowed Lucy Proper Schuyler, 48 years old, had recently married John Thompson and was living in Lawrence, Essex County, Massachusetts.

She'd had at least three children with first husband Peter Schuyler who died in 1856. Arilla, born in 1850, and Rodney, born in 1839, are recorded as dying as children but she'd probably given birth to others and lost them before her youngest son Arthur was born in 1847. Arthur was about 14 or 15 when he decided to lie about his age and enlist in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

Arthur was not as young as the drummer for the 54th
but was certainly younger than the bearded members of the African-American troop.

John G. Thompson's son George S. P. Thompson, two years older than step-brother Arthur, may have been living with his father and stepmother during the war. The Thompsons are hard to track as they'd changed their name when they escaped slavery in Missouri. John was originally George Brown before he fled to Canada and returned as a free barber John Thompson.

Lucy was descended from Black and Native American New Englanders. The Schuylers lived in Albany, New York before moving to Worcester, Massachusetts and then to Lawrence.

Lucy was known as Dr. Lucy Thompson as she had learned medicine
and healing from her indigenous ancestors. Here she is advertising
her services under her new married name.

Lucy is said to have had Pequot and Narraganset ancestors, the people who lived
north of the Long Island Sound before English colonists created New England.

Common Street in Lawrence in the 1920s

Slavery destroyed many African-American families but the Thompsons tried hard to keep theirs together. Before he married Lucy, John living in slavery, had a Missouri wife Ellen Turner who tried to join him in Canada and New England. Worried about losing his freedom-seeking investment the slave holder sold Ellen and her two children to a Kentuckian in Louisville. Mattie, Ellen's eldest born in 1847, was the same age as John Thompson's son George. Mattie Jane Jackson apparently was not John's biological daughter, but he cared enough about her to search for her when the war was over.

Arthur Schuyler probably contracted tuberculosis in the army and was sent home during the war to his mother whose herbal medicine could do nothing to save him. He died of consumption when he was 18, a year after the fighting ended.

Tuberculosis or consumption, easily spread in crowded conditions and among family members, was a common cause of death in the 19th century. No herbalist, water cure doctor or physician trying to adjust the body's "humours" with a mustard plaster could treat it. Arthur seems to have spread it to his stepbrother George who died of consumption about ten years later.

The stepbrothers are buried in Bellevue Cemetery overlooking Lawrence. 

John Thompson contacted stepdaughter Mattie Jackson in Kentucky after the war and she joined Lucy and John in Lawrence in 1866, the year Arthur died. Her 11-year-old half-brother also found a home with the Thompsons. Mattie was not a blood relation of either parent but they called her their stepdaughter and sought to give her the family and education the 16-year-old hoped for. Lucy listened to Mattie's stories of slavery and decided to record them in a book with the profits going for Mattie's schooling. 

Mattie J. Jackson
A True Story
Dr. L.S. Thompson, 1866

Mattie's preface:
"I feel it a duty to improve the mind, and have ever had a thirst for education to fill that vacuum for which the soul has ever yearned since my earliest remembrance. Thus I ask you to buy my little book to aid me in obtaining an education, that I may be enabled to do some good in behalf of the elevation of my emancipated brothers and sisters."
Freedpeople's school in 1866

A few years later Mattie returned to her former home in St. Louis and her birth mother Ellen. 

At 27 she married Union Army veteran William Reed Dyer (1846–1912) with whom she had nine children. She died in a small town in St. Charles County west of St. Louis in 1910.

The Dyers in the 1880 census in St. Louis. William is a musician and they have four children plus a boarder who may be helping Mattie with the children. Her wonderful name: Christmas Easter.

Twenty years later the Dyers are living in St. Genevieve south of St Louis on the Mississippi.

Lucy seemed to have a generous and affectionate nature expressed in raising other people's children. We can guess there were more who found love and education at her Massachusetts home before she died in 1881 at 61.

A little glimpse of her son Arthur's service in the 54th Massachusetts is also a window into that famous regiment recalled in the film Glory.

Memorial to the GAR women by Alexander Johnson of New Bedford, 
Massachusetts who was one of the drummers for the 54th Massachusetts.

Detail of Auguste Saint-Gaudens's bronze memorial to the 54th Massachusetts
Read Mattie Jackson's story as told to Lucy Thompson.

Arthur's grave

1 comment:

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

How fascinating that you found a book about this lady. Thanks for the information.