Well, OK, in the interest of full disclosure, Great Great Great Grandpa. And of course, as he would be turning 217, he isn’t around to read this, either.
But, of all my ancestors whose lives I’ve poked around in, I feel a certain kinship to Ephraim Clark, MD.
Ephraim was born in Wheatsheaf, New Jersey on March 29, 1797, an only child. I can trace his father back another 7 generations, and go sideways to a variety of cousins, including his second cousin, a Signer of the Declaration.
However, there is something personal about him, something personable, that makes him more to me than notes on a page.
His handwriting is distinctive. If he wasn’t left-handed, I would be very surprised. That is a pretty rare thing back then! So, when I am going through those piles of papers that were in my attic as a teen, his were always easy to locate. And as a fellow south-paw, I guess I feel an affinity.
He participated in the Civil War, as a Post Surgeon. (I haven’t done too much actual digging for service records.)
While he was born in New Jersey, he moved to Staten Island as a young man and married into an old Island family. He stayed there till he died at 88 in 1885.
He knew the Vanderbilt’s, he met the Marquis De Lafayette, and he was one of Aaron Burr’s physicians. This article was published in 1878 in the New York Times.
It describes a pretty lively 77 year old!
I have only one photo of him; I assume there are more because during his life time, he seems to often have been where the action was, but I haven’t discovered them. Someday, maybe I will find them at Richmondtown. He is the old man with cataracts on the top left; the gentleman to his right is his son, James. You can read a letter James sent to him, below. Those are his grandsons below him—Fredrick Ephraim and James Guyon.
I have a lot of papers that I rescued from our attic…Here are a few transcriptions.
Nothing earth shattering, just interesting snippets of life. And you will note that children haven’t changed much in the ensuing 200 years, when you read the letter from his son!
I am now itching to start to dig through these letters again and to do more on the fleshing out of other members of the family!
INDUCTION AS AIDE DE CAMPE
State of New York, Richmond County
I hereby certify, That on the 20th day of January, A.D. 1842 ….constitute Ephraim Clark Aide-de-Camp of the Second Division of Infantry of our said State (with rank form 1st December 1841) ….. Witnefs WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Esquire, Governor of our said State,….
Passed the Adjutant- Generals Office. (Signed) William H. Seward
(signed) Rufus King? Adjutant-General
(original in possession of Trish Casey No. 19)
REQUEST FOR VACATION MONEY FROM SON
Bellvue Feb. 5, 1846
I received your letter ….I therefore want you to provide me with at least $20 with which to take the trip and spend a couple of days or so. I deem the recreation necessary to my well being before going to the Small Pox Hospital.
Your son, JG Clark, MD.
DEMOCRATIC DELEGATION (Charleston,) April 23, 1860
I have but one moment to write – all is confusion We are just going into battle. Climate warm and beautiful. We have the best quarters in Charleston. I wish you were here. Oh, how you would enjoy it. I never have seen so pretty a place– We live like Nabobs at a small expense- a servent at every elbow. The Delegations from other states have called on us every hour. We shall have a hard fight. Love to Ma. and Etta. I will write tomorrow. Yours aff. E. Clark
(original in possession of Trish Casey No.3)
The blast of the foghorn momentarily distracts me from my reverie. The damp, foggy air only sharpens the smell of “OLD”. It is pervasive, touching everything. It has wrapped itself into the folds of cloth, into the cracks and crevices of boxes and books; it is folded inside letters. Its perfume lingers in old trunks and hangs low from the rafters.
Gingerly, I open a letter. The date– 1823. Quickly scanning it for a familiar name, I refold it and place it on the ever-growling pile on the floor. Its destiny– not neglect or mildew any longer, but a curious strangers’ careful transcription.
A stack of memories builds by my side. Letters forgotten before my grandfathers were born are entrusted to my care. I’m guardian to their memories. They have traveled physically only within the confines of an Island, but over one hundred years later they have journeyed to an attic where they sit waiting for me. Generations separate them from their intended audience.
I read through missives written by people whose names have but the slightest meaning to me. Letters that were written at a time of candlelight and feather pens. They are very formal, with proper and labored wording, even to those with whom they were intimate.
It occurred to me anew as I peered uninvited into these peoples lives and their private thoughts, that this “collecting” spirit is seemingly an inherited trait.
There is a photo of Aunt Genes’ back door hanging on my wall. The door was planed to fit the frame, the paint is peeling, and the door knob is of purple glass. But according to my grandfather, the photo is missing a crucial element– the strings hung with once and twice used tea bags, suspended there to dry.
Last year, Aunt Gene and Uncle Everett had to move to Florida. Cleaning out their home was a distressing experience for them. These two people had spent their lives reusing, recycling and collecting. The ultimate irony became, for them, a painful reality. Mom got the glass jar full of old broken crayons. Those crayons and the coloring books that went with them were old when I was a child. Just a few years ago, my own daughter colored those same pages. Tow five-pound mayo jars full of glorious old buttons were donated to a preschool.
After some cajoling on my part, Aunt Gene gave me a few mismatched antimacassars, and a lace table cloth, crocheted by my great- great grandmother, my great grandmother Miriam or by Aunt Gene her self. Boxes of negatives were rescued from the rubbish pile.
The sum total of nearly 100 years (for her parents lived there before her) was slowly and precisely laid out on the front porch, the front yard, the curbside, and what wasn’t picked over, finally went to Fresh Kills.
It no longer seems odd that my little one has an affinity for paper; for “books” filled with all manner of scribble, crayon drawings, stacked in piles, balance precariously on the tops of toys in her “area”. Her “figures” collection pours over the edge of the large Easter basket put into use to house these treasures. They are each precious to her. None may be discarded.
I can’t walk by a stationary store with out looking. The desire to own these papers is strong. To fold and tuck into an envelope my thoughts and secrets, sealing them inside.
I know now why boxes fascinate me. Small, large, containers of all sorts I collect to hold– what? I have an extra-deep bookcase so that I can perch various momentos and memories in front of the smaller books (mostly volumes rescued from the ravages of various basements)
So many parts and pieces, each with a story. My home is a living overstuffed monument to those who came before me. I am a product of my upbringing.
The Tiffany candy dishes that now grace my tables, were wrapped and carefully tucked away in my grandmothers closet. Every year I discovered them as I searched for evidence of Santa’s early visit.
This inherited trait is the reason that this treasure trove exists. No one could bear to throw things out. It is reassuring to understand why I frantically search through reams of paper for a letter I know exists.
It is just because of a long line of collectors before me. I can’t complain, but only be thankful because I know there were other people in my family who were the same way.
And I feel secure in the knowledge that someone will find that paper I’m looking for– Someday! <<<<THIS was written a few DECADES ago by me. I’d say 1991… But it still holds true!
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