A Great Big Lark

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Nehemiah Fitzgerald's Death

Nehemiah Fitzgerald is a 3rd great-uncle of mine who was born in Hampton, Virginia in 1841.  He was the oldest of 10 children.  He served in the Civil War with the Richmond Howitzers, finished his education, and left Virginia to seek opportunity elsewhere after the war.  His first stop was Louisiana, which he found "just as bad" as Virginia, so he took a ship to San Francisco in 1867.  He had teaching jobs in Chico and Rio Seco in 1868, Quincy and Live Oak in 1869, Cherokee Flat in 1870, and Gridley's Station in 1871 before arriving in Lake City in 1872, in what is now Modoc County, CA.  At some point, he bought sheep and established a homestead, before becoming the first county clerk of Modoc County in 1874, when he moved to Alturas (then Doris Bridge.)  He married Melissa Garrett, and continued to teach, raised sheep and cattle, and did some merchandizing.  The following letter was written by his daughter Phebe to his youngest sibling, Charles Fitzgerald (in Virginia), after his death.  I have the original letter, which I found in his sister Martha's family Bible (which is actually a salesman's sample Bible, and is full of family memorabilia.)

Alturas, Cal.
July 30 – 1905

Dear Uncle Charlie: -

No doubt ‘ere this you have received the card, announcing Bessie’s marriage and we little thought when it started on its way to you that it should so soon be followed by another telling not of a happy union but of a sad parting, but it is so.

Poor papa has gone from us and gone so suddenly that at times it seems it must be some terrible dream.  Bessie was married at noon, leaving for her new home at 4 o’clock, happy of course, but before night had come, all our joy had been turned to sorrow.

The heat had been extreme and papa had suffered from it, complaining of the weakness he felt – still all the week he had kept the store books holding the position for me.  He slept poorly Saturday night – because of the heat and excitement he felt over Bessie’s marriage – but Sunday, save a slight dizziness in the morning he seemed to feel as well as usual and thinking back now I can recall nothing unusual in his talk or manner – there being quite a number of people here.  He talked more than was his custom and largely of his ailments but that was his usual subject of conversation and to us it did not seem strange.

Shortly after five o’clock he ate a dish of ice cream, sat reading a while and then went out to do the evening chores, carried some water and went to the shed to get the grain for the chickens.  In a few moments Baby ran out there for something, saw him, was frightened and came running to me and said there was someone in the wood shed.  I tried to tell her it was some of our folks, for her not to be afraid to go and get what she wanted but she insisted she could not go alone; so I started with her and there I found papa lying cold in death as I knew the instant I saw him.  I ran to him, called him and tried to rouse him and then hurried to the house for help.  But papa was past all help before I reached him the first time.  Dr. said life had gone before he reached the ground, that it was instantaneous and without any suffering.  That is consolation for us and I hope will be for you.

Papa was not under the Dr’s care at the time but he had made a study of the disease and told us we should be prepared for this at any time – but you can know how we felt that it must be, if at all, sometime a long, long way off.  We never suspected the end was so near nor do I think he did tho’ he may have realized it more than we know.

The services were held here at home Monday at 4 o’clock – I wish you could have seen him then, it will always be a pleasant memory to me to know that all the careworn, tired looks pains and suffering had brought was gone and in its place was a faint smile and rest.

I will send you the papers, and try to write more fully another time.  I know you will share our grief with us and may it be lighter to you than it is for us.

Your loving niece

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