Saturday, December 1, 2007

Last Chapter of Our Little Old Lady

Doubleday, Page & Company of Garden City, New York, published Our Little Old Lady by Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd in 1919. The book, though, was copyrighted in 1914. It has now passed into the public domain.
The little book has the following chapters:
I. She Tells What It Means to Have a Real Grandmother.
II. She Recalls the Greek Slave.
III. What She Missed by Living in a New York Flat.
IV. She Tells a Beautiful Story of Having Company Down Home.
V. She Tells Her Own Exquisite Love Story.
VI. The Big Christmas Present That Came Into Her Home.

The last chapter begins on page 142 and ends on page 165. It is as follows:


The Big Christmas Present That Came
Into Her Home

CHRISTMAS EVE had come and was almost gone. There was no chance for more eleventh-hour shopping. The Christmas letters and cards had been posted. The packages that had not already gone by express or messenger were all wrapped and tied in festive hshion and piled neat1y in various rooms of the apartment
Mrs. Robert dropped into a big armchair and sighed eloquently.
“I’m an absolute wreck,” she admitted, “but I think everything is done. I do wish I had sent Milly the tray instead of the muffineer. She’s almost sure to send me something much more expensive than thc muffineer. And, now that it’s too late to get anything, I feel positive that Clara Bates will send me a present to-morrow. There’s no earthly reason why she should, but I feel it coming on, and I never even thought of her when I was making out my list. Maybe there will be something among my presents in the morning--from someone I don’t care about, you know--that I can send around to her just by way of making sure.”
“Did you get your furs to-day?” asked the head of the family from his place on the couch.
“Robert, I couldn’t--I simply couldn’t! I was so tired I could hardly wriggle, and there were a million last things, more or less, that I had to do, and I had positively promised to be at the candy table of the Hospital Bazaar from two to four. But I have the check, dear. That’s just the same, and I can choose my furs after Christmas when the stores won’t be so crowded and I won’t be so mortally tired and things will be marked down.”
“That’s not my idea of a Christmas present,” grumbled the husband. “I’d rather have something in my pocket that you didn’t know anything about and surprise you with it Christmas morning.”
A look of consternation swept over Mrs. Dale’s tired face.
“For goodness’ sake, Bob, don’t ever take to surprising me with Christmas presents! We can’t afford it. I need too many things to let you spend a lot of money on something I probably wouldn’t need and might not even like. I’d much rather have a check.”
A muffled protest sounded from the couch--something about that sort of Christmas giving being no more fun than paying the butcher’s bill.
It brought the nerve-worn woman in the big chair to the verge of tears.
“Well, you are always wishing I were more economical and practical, and when I do try to be practical you say I haven’t any sentiment; and I’m sure nobody works harder over Christmas than I do!”
The tears were very near the surface now.
“Christmas is frightfully expensive, anyway. Everybody expects so much of one and most of our friends and relatives have more money than we have, and even little things do mount up.
“There, there!” The husband’s tone was of the “Heaven give me strength” variety, usually adopted by the man who is being patient with a nervous and unreasonable wife. “I didn’t say you were extravagant or that you hadn’t any sentiment. I was only wishing we all had a little more real sentiment about this Christmas business and went in less for flubdub. The fault isn’t yours, Sally. We all work ourselves to fiddle strings and spend more than we can afford, and only succeed in spoiling Christmas. I’ll bet things were different down at Grandfather’s. Weren’t they, Mother?”
The Little Old Lady smiled.
“Very different, dear, and better I think. But then, I know I’m foolish about the old times down there. Everything about them seems better to me--except children and grandchildren. No generation ever did show children and grandchiIdren to beat mine."
She laughed lightly at her own prejudice, and the tension in the room
lessened. Tension never lasted long in the same room with the Little Old Lady.
“There’s one thing sure, Sa11y," she went on, her eyes turned lovingly toward the daughter-in-law who bad worn herself out in the cause of the modern Christmas. “No one in the old days could have worked harder to do her duty than you have this last month. I don’t wonder you are tired. It’s a mercy you aren’t sick in bed--and if what you’ve done hasn’t been for the best happiness of every one concerned that isn’t your fault. You’ve done your duty as you saw it, and I do think you’ve accomplished wonders.”
The daughter-in-law’s face lightened. Appreciation is a wonderful emollient for ragged nerves.
“Weren’t people dead tired on Christmas Eve when you were young, Mother?” she asked.
The Little Old Lady’s brain and heart were straightway so busy with memories of a great old farmhouse living-room, where candlelight and the flames of huge firelogs shone on happy faces and fought with flickering shadows, that she quite forgot to answer the question; and it was only when Louise, the small granddaugher, spoke that she came back, with a start, to the electric-lighted, steam-heated room perched high above the city streets.
“Didn’t you have any Christmas presents, Granny?”
The Little Old Lady answered both questions together.
“Why, yes, we did have Christmas presents, but such very simple ones that there wasn’t much stress or strain about getting them ready, and we very seldom exchanged presents with any one outside our own family, so no one’s list could be long. It was rather an exceptional thing for the grown-ups to give each other presents at all, and even among us children presents weren’t the whole meaning of Christmas, as they seem to be now. Jollity and good will and generaI merrymaking were the things that made Christmas, and then, back of it all, was the real reason for peace on earth and good will toward men. I don’t believe we lost sight of that as completely as most folks do now. Maybe we children would have slurred over the religious side of the festival if we had been allowed to do it, but we weren’t likely to have the chance--not in Father’s home, and most of the homes in our neighbourhood were like his in that respect.
“Everybody wasn’t so sternly religious as Father, but religion was a part of every-day living then. It’s a sort of Sunday affair now, where it hasn’t dropped out of sight altogether; at least orthodox religion is. I shouldn’t wonder if there were a mighty lot of good Gospel religion going on nowadays without calling itself religion at all. I try to think about that when I see how people I know have fallen away from the old religious ways. I reckon it’s what you live, not what you believe or say, that counts as grace, but it certainly does seem to me as if the Christ Child’s birth had been pretty well lost sight of in Christmas celebrating. Christmas might as well be Saint Valentine's Day or May Day or any other holiday, except that everybody is more extravagant and more tired at Christmastime.”
“Did you go to church all day Christmas, Granny?” The sm├úll girl’s eyes were wide with pity, and Granny laughed as she met the look.
“No, indeed--only for an hour in the morning, and then of course we
had family prayers in the morning and the evening; but the Christmas meaning was in the air. Sometimes I’d stop to think why I was so happy, and I’d decide it was partly my new mittens and partly because Christ was born. I wasn’t very serious-minded, just a normal, grubby, healthy little girl; but I didn’t forget about Christ being born, you see, even if I did mix it up with new mittens; and I’ve an idea that’s a pretty good way to live--just taking your religion and your mittens along together.”
“Did you always get mittens, Granny?”
“Mercy, yes! Christmas wouldn’t have been Christmas without new mittens--and wristlets--and comforters--and hoods. Grandmother used to knit them for us. She always did the knitting for the family, but for a month or so before Christmas she would be very mysterious about what she was doing--cover up her knitting if any of us children came in, and sometimes go to her own room to knit instead of sitting in her own particular corner by the fireplace. Christmas things were always in special fancy stitches and unusual colours. Grandmother would send to Louisville for the yarns sometimes instead of spinning and dyeing them, and we were as excited over those mittens and wristlets as you’d be over getting a pony or a piano.
“Mother would usually make something for us, too, and then she would persuade Father into buying us little things that weren’t too serious. His taste rather ran to new slates and very useful presents like that, but Mother understood children better. We had stick candy on Christmas and thought it was wonderful, though it wasn’t half so good as the maple sugar and nut candy we made ourselves; and each of us had an orange. That was a very special treat, and long before Christmas we’d usually bargain off our Christmas oranges. Joe almost always got mine. I never was very forehanded, and when I wanted something from him I’d promise him my Christmas orange for it. That was all right when Christmas was a long way off, but when Christmas morning came and I had to take my orange out of the toe of my stocking and hand it over--dear me, what a trial it was! I will say for Joe, though, that he usually gave me part of it.
“He got a jew’s-harp every Christmas. That was the thing he wanted most and the old jew’s-harp was always used up before the new one was due, so nobody had to do any worrying over what to get for him.”
“But didn’t you ever get any big presents?” Mittens and jew’s-harps and oranges were not Louise’s idea of Christmas riches. Granny’s eyes twinkled.
“You never got a present in your pampered little life, dearie, that looked as big to you as an orange looked to me or as a jew’s-harp looked to Joe; yet, mind you, we weren’t poor folk. Father was worth more money than your father is to-day and we lived well, as living went in those days. Ideas of necessities and luxuries were different, that’s all, and I’m thinking that’s why there wasn’t any groaning about the high cost of living.
“We did have a big present one year, though--the biggest kind of a present."
The child of a more extravagant day looked tremendously relieved. It had been terrible to think that the Christmas joys of so dear a grandmother had been bounded on north by new mittens and on the south by an orange.
“What was it, Granny?” The voice and eyes were eager.
“Well"--the Little Old Lady smoothed the black silk over her knees and her story-telling look came into her face--"it happened on Christmas Eve. Father had ridden over to the village to get something Mother wanted, but Grandmother and Mother and my two sisters and Brother Joe and Lizzie, the hired help, and I were at home in the big living-room and having a beautiful time. We children had trimmed the room with green boughs and berries and there were dozens of extra candies lighted and the Yule log in the fireplace was so big that two men had hardly been able to walk it in. We always did have backlogs too big to be carried, you know, and when one was needed the men laid a wide board down on the floor from the door to the fireplace and walked the log along it. Nobody ever sees such a fire now as was roaring up our chimney that night.
“There were dishes of apples and nuts on the table--beech nuts and chestnuts and butternuts and walnuts. Bushels and bushels of them were always stored in the attic each autumn.
“The girls had made a pan of butternut maple taffy, and Mother had set out a plate of fresh crullers and cookies, and a pitcher of sweet cider was waiting for Father. Joe and I were popping corn--not in a popper. I don’t believe poppers had been invented then and we popped our corn in one of the sheet-iron baking-ovens that Mother used for cooking in the big fireplace. There wasn’t a stove in the house until years later. We’d put the corn in the oven and shut it up tight and set it on the coals, and pretty soon there’d be a tremendous clatter, and when the noise stopped we knew the corn was all popped.
“I remembet the corn was banging against the sides of the oven that night, when we heard a horse gallop along the road and stop in front of the house and we knew Father had come. Then a few moments later he came along the porch, stamping the snow off his boots, and opened the door.
“I can see him as plainly as I did then--so tall and broad-shouldered that he fairly filled the doorway, his wide-brimmed hat and his bright blue, brass-buttoned cape coat all powdered with snow, and his face shining with love as he looked in at us. Even Father sloughed off all his sternness at Christmastime.
“He came in, shaking himself and laughing, and stood with his broad back to the fire, rubbing his chilled fingers. Dear me, how it all comes back.”
The Little Old Lady wandered off into dreams, but her granddaughter called her back.
“But the Christmas present, Granny?”
“Oh, yes; the Christmas present! I mustn’t forget that. Well, Father stood there smiling at each of us in turn until he came to Mother. He had a very special sort of a smile for Mother always, and this Christmas Eve it was even more special than usual. He was happy and at peace in his home, with his wife and his children and his mother gathered around the hearth, and he was a man to realize his blessings and be thankful for them.
“But all of a sudden a little shadow crossed his face. ‘Nellie,’ he said, ‘I
came mighty near bringing you a Christmas gift.’
“Mother laughed. 'Near isn't near enough, Robin,’ she said. 'Why didn’t you bring it?’
“‘I was afraid you wouldn’t like it.’ Father's voice was serious. We all looked up at him in surprise, and Mother got up out of her chair and walked over to him.
“‘What was it, Robin?’ she asked in a puzzled way.
“‘Another child, Nellie--such a pitiful little shaver! When I went into the store he was there, sitting on a soapbox in a corner--the thinnest, raggedest, dirtiest little scrap of a fellow, with big, miserable eyes in a white face. Belden, from down Morris way, had brought him--taking him up to the poorhouse at Madison, but his horse went lame to-day and he had to lay up.
“‘Mad as a hornet Belden was--said he had calculated to spend Christmas with his sister in Madison, but now he couldn’t get there before afternoon. He was going to spend the night with Si, and the boy was to sleep alone in the back of the store. Seems he’d been living with his mother in a little woodsman’s cabin since his father ran away and left them last year. They’d have been looked after if they had lived around here, but the Morris folks didn’t rightly know how poor they were and the mother was poison proud and wouldn’t ask for help. So they starved along until she got pneumonia and died Saturday.
“‘The boy went for someone then, but it was too late to do anything except bury the poor woman and make some provision for the boy. Nobody around there wanted to take him in, so the poorhouse seemed to be the only thing, but it sort of broke me all up--Christmas time, you know, and his mother just died, and such a little chap!"
“Mother’s face was all a-quiver and her eyes were full of tears. ‘Robin King,’ she said, taking hold of Father’s coat lapels and giving him a little shake. ‘Go get that boy for me. Go get him at once. I’m ashamed of you!'
“‘But you have so much to do now, Nellie,’ Father said, putting his big hands over hers.
“‘A woman can’t have too much mothering to do. Go quick, Robin. Missing his mother! And on his way to the poorhouse! And sleeping alone in the store! And Christmas Eve! Hurry, Robin, hurry!’
“She fairly pushed him out of the door, but he stooped to kiss her before he went and he held her close for a minute.
“They understood each other, those two.
“You can imagine how excited we all were. I reckon I danced from one foot to the other for the whole hour that Father was gone, but at last we heard hoofs coming fast through the night--clippity clap, clippity clap!--and then Father came stamping along the porch and opened the door and stood in the doorway again, but this time he unwrapped his big blue coat from around a little boy and set him down on the floor. All eyes, the child seemed--and oh, such miserable, frightened eyes in such a peaked, white face--eyes that didn’t believe in happiness or in home or in Christmas.
“Mother gave just one pitying little cry and flew for him.
“All the motherhood in the world was in her look when she gathered him into her arms; and he hid his face against her shoulder, as though he knew he needn’t be afraid any longer.
“She carried him off to the summer kitchen without a word to any of the rest of us; and, when we started to follow, Father said: ‘Stay here, Chicks.’ So we stayed, but I nearly died of excitement and curiosity in the next half hour.
Finally Mother came back with the boy clinging to her hand. We hardly knew him. He had been fed and scoured and his hair had been cut and he was dressed in clothes Joe had worn at his age; but it was in his eyes that Mother had worked the biggest change. There was no fright or misery in them now--only a shy, shining faith that would grow to happiness--the look of a child that had been mothered.
“Mother sat down in her chair and took the boy on her lap. ‘That’s your Granny, over there in the corner, dear,’ she said. ‘And these are your little brothers and sisters, and this is your home.’
“He believed it. Since he had found her he was ready to believe in any wonderful, good thing. She held him in her arms, while Father read us the story about the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, and about the Babe of Bethlehem; and, every once in a while, the boy would look up into Mother’s face to see if these wonderful things were true, too.
“‘A blessed Christmas Child like you, dearie,’ she said, when the reading ended.
“He hadn’t had a word to say, but he spoke up then. ‘Aw, shucks!’ he said; ‘He was only a baby. I’m a big boy. I’m most six.’
“Father was sort of shocked, but Mother understood. ‘So you are, Honey,’ she said, ‘and so you’re going to be the greatest possible help and comfort to me.’
“He was, too, a help and comfort to her as long as she lived, and the very best Christmas present any family ever had.”
“But it was a big risk,” commented the head of the family, who didn’t believe in adopting children.
The Little Old Lady looked at him tolerantly. “It’s plain to be seen, Robin,” she said, “that you don’t remember your grandmother. There wasn’t any risk in a mothering job when she undertook it.”


Sometime, apparently in the 1970s, Ruth Robertson wrote out the "key" to the book. Her letter, addressed to no one in particular, follows:

Ruth E. Robertson
R.R. No. 1
Deputy, Indiana 47230

The setting of Our Little Old Lady by Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd was what we used to call the Uncle Will Steward place about two miles east of Deputy on the road to Paris.
Louise's father was Robert Smith, known to everyone as "Uncle Robin" and his wife was "Aunt Nellie."
There were five children--four girls and one boy. Milton, the only son and called Joe in the book, when grown went west (Kansas).
The four girls were Julia, Evaline, Elzina and Louise. They were not named in the book. In fact, she gives names to only two of the three sisters--Peggy and Bess.
The boy, who was the subject of the last chapter, "The Christmas Present," was John T. Phillips, whom "Uncle Robin" and "Aunt Nellie reared to manhood.

Among the land deeds filed in Jennings County is an apprenticeship document dated two days after Christmas in 1831. Through this document, the wardens of the poor in Jennings County bound John T. Phillips to Smith. The papers noted that Thomas Phillips was not providing for his son, but made no mention of mother Martha. No one except the wardens of the poor consented.
Smith agreed to raise John, to see that he learned to read, write and cypher as "far as the single rule of three," and to give John, on his 21st birthday, a new Bible, a suit of clothes and a horse worth $30.
The clerk's copy of the document is on file at the courthouse in Vernon, but some of John's descendants think a relative might have had the original document well into the 1900s. The text of the clerk's copy, a masterpiece of frontier gobbledegook:

"This indenture made this 27th December one thousand eight hundred and thirty one. Between Dennis Willey and James S Smith overseers of the poor of Montgomery Township Jennings County Indiana of the one and Robert Smith of Graham Township Jefferson County Ina, of the other part. Witnesseth that the said overseers of the poor have and by these presents do place and bind out John Phillips a poor boy aged 12 years 5 months and 23 days son of Thomas Phillips who has neglected or unable to support his son, as an apprentice to the said Robert Smith to be taught the art of trade mistery & occupation of a Farmer which the said Robert Smith now used to live with and serve him as an apprentice for the term of eight years six months and eight days from the date of these presents that is to say untill he the said apprentice arives to and be of the age of twenty one years which the said overseers are informed and believe will hapen on the fourth day of July one thousand eight hundred and forty if the said John Phillips so long lives and the said overseers do by these presents give unto him the said Robert Smith all the authority power and rights to and over the said John Phillips and his serice during the said Term which by the laws of this State a -- Master hath to and over a lawfully and Indentured apprentice and the said Robert Smith on his part in consideration thereof doth promise covenant and agree to & with the said overseers and each of them their and each of their successors, for the time being and with the said poor boy each by himself -- respectfully to teach and instruct the said John Phillip as his apprentice or otherwise cause him to be will and sufficiently instructed and taught in the art [some scratching out] Mistery trade and occupation of a Farmer after the best way and manner that he can and to teach and instruct him the said apprentice or cause him to be taught and instructed to read write and Cypher so far as the single Rule of three and also to learn the habits of obedience industry and Morality and provide for and allow to him meat drink washing lodging and appearal for summer and winter and all other necessaries proper for such an apprentice -- during the time of service as aforesaid and at the Expiration thereof shall give to the said apprentice a new bible a good suit of Casinett clothes and a horse worth thirty dollars
In witness where of the said parties have hereunto set their hands and seals the day and year first above written --
Denis Willey (seal)
James S Smith (seal)
Robert Smith (seal)

Dennis Willey was a preacher who ran a slaughterhouse six days a week in Old Paris.
If you waded through the indenture, you'll notice that it gives John's birthday as July 4. His tombstone, of course, shows that he wasn't born on July 4. It seems likely he had remained at the Smith home while Robin went to Vernon to tackle the legalities. Robin probably forgot to ask John his birthday. Lacking a specific day, it would seem that someone fastened on the next best thing, the national birthday.
The Smiths had been born in Kentucky, "Nellie" on October 19, 1788 and Robert on January 23, 1789.
Robin's sister Margaret had married Steven Stewart, which wasn't important to John then, but would become so years later. Besides Robin and Nellie, John's new family included youngsters named Minerva, Elzina (about nine), Evaline (who turned eight December 29) and Milton (about four). Julia and Louise would soon be born. We'll come back to Louise, who's important to our story.
John and the Christmas Eve that changed his life became matters of national note many years later, simply because rural Jefferson County became a hothouse of literature. (The county's most famous author, David Graham Phillips, wrote, among many other novels, Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, but is best remembered as the muckraking journalist who wrote The Treason of the Senate.
One of Louise Smith's daughters, Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd, became a relatively well-known writer of the 1910s. In 1914, the Saturday Evening Post serialized her stories about life in rural Indiana. Then in 1919, Doubleday published the stories in book form as Our Little Old Lady. The last chapter, entitled The Big Christmas Present That Came Into Her Home, tells how John found a home.
The book isn't without fictional aspects, making it difficult to sort fact from poetic license. In that final chapter, Robin tells Nellie:
"When I went into the store he was there, sitting on a soapbox in a corner -- the thinnest, raggedest, dirtiest little scrap of a fellow, with big miserable eyes in a white face. Belden, from down Morris way, had brought him -- taking him up to the poorhouse at Madison, but his horse went lame . . . the boy was to sleep alone in the back of the store. Seems he'd been living with his mother in a little woodsman's cabin since his father ran away and left them last year. . . . they starved along until she got pneumonia and died Saturday."
Nellie responds: "Robin King . . . Go get that boy for me. Go get him at once. . . ."
The book uses the surname "King" instead of Smith and gives the "gift's" age as five. John T., of course, was about 12. And his mother had not died.
The author quotes her mother, Louise, as saying: "we lived in a big red brick house beside the state road; all the travel between Louisville and Indianapolis went that way. There wasn't a railroad, you know, and most of the travelers rode, unless they were movers or peddlers with wagons. . . . A great deal of the world went by us -- and most of it stopped with us. Everybody knew our house and knew that Uncle Robin Smith never refused lodging and food to a traveler, and, if travelers didn't know, someone was sure to tell them."
John did learn to read and write, which put him one-up on his father (who'd gone west). About 1834 the Smiths had another daughter, Julia Ann, and they probably had Louise not long after. With such a predominantly female family, Robin must have welcomed having an extra farmhand such as John. But, according to Phillips family tradition, Robin and Nellie raised John as a son and some of the Smith daughters grew up thinking he was their brother.
The Smith home is said to have been on the "underground railroad." Eleanor Brainerd quoted Louise:
"Runaway slaves used to come because Father was an anti-slavery man. That's why he moved from Kentucky after freeing all his own slaves. We children never knew much about the runaways for they usually came in the night; but sometimes we'd hear a tapping on the back door, and then we'd hear Mother hurrying around in the kitchen and we'd smell bacon, eggs and coffee. Julia, Evaline and I used to creep out of bed and watch out our window, and by and by we'd see a group of dark figures go slipping off toward the woods."
Wilbur Phillips recorded that John lived with the Smiths until 1840, when he was 21. Considering that John and Robin are said to have gotten on so well, it seems unlikely they differed over whether John's apprenticeship should have ended March 5 instead of July 4.

On December 12, 1867, son Riley married Julia Stewart, making a blood bond between the Phillipses and Robin Smith. Julia's grandfather was Steven Stewart and her grandmother was Robin's sister Margaret.
John T.'s step-mother, Eleanor Smith, died September 14, 1870, at age 81. She was buried in Pisgah Cemetery in Jefferson County near Deputy. Myron Phillips and Ruth Robertson discovered in 1986 that her tombstone had fallen, so they had it reset. Myron reported that it gives Eleanor's date of birth as October 19, 1788.
Robin Smith died September 25, 1875, when he was 86. His will, an old one written in 1867, left Nellie, who'd already died, a life tenure. Son Milton eventually was to get 210 acres of land. Robin also mentioned his four married daughters, "Minerva, Evaline, Louisa and Juliann," plus unmarried daughter Elzina. The clerk's copy of the will also mentions "Eliza Smith," but doesn't identify her. "Eliza" could have been another unmarried daughter, a spinster sister or perhaps a creation of the clerk, if he copied Elzina's name wrong. The text of the will, with boldface added:

I Robert Smith of the County of Jefferson State of Indiana being in the decline of life ut of a sound mind disposing memory Considering the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time thereof do make my this my last will and testament in manner following first I will to my beloved wife all my real and personal estate as long as she lives for her support. Second I will to my son Milton Smith one hundred and Sixty acres of land it being the south west quarter of Section nine Town [sic] four Range eight east at his mothers death I also will to my son Milton Smith fifty acres of land it being in the west part of the South east quarter of section nine town four Range eight eight [sic] by him giving Eliza [sic] Smith one hundred dollars as soon as he gets possession I also have given to my four daughters that is married all that I was able to give them namely Minerva and Evaline, Louisa and Juliann. I also give to my daughter Elzina Smith the mare I now own at my death to have and to hold the same forever in testimony whereof I have set my hand seal this thirteenth day of April in the year of our Lord One Thousant Eight Hundred and sixth Seven.
(signed) Robert Smith

The Smith house, the setting for Our Little Old Lady, is (or was) just northeast of Deputy on the road to Paris. Robertson relatives call it "the Uncle Will Steward place." John Steward lived there in the 1940s and Brisco Huff for a time after that. Myron Phillips says the Smith house "is brick made from the hillside north of the house and it was lived in [in the late 1970s], but a tornado damaged the roof. The owner, Rayburn Huff, started to repair it but never did." Myron said that, by 1986, a thicket had surrounded the unoccupied house.

LOUISE SMITH became the "Little Old Lady" of daughter Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd's book. She is said to have been born in Kentucky, and her name is often given as Louisa. She married Walter Hoyt by 1867. He was from Vermont, but was living in Indiana then. The Hoyts were well-known abolitionists and Walter's brother Lyman Hoyt founded Eleutherian College in Indiana. Louisa is said to have been youngest of the sisters, to have married one of her school teachers -- presumably surnamed Hoyt -- and to have spent her adult life in Canada, Iowa and New York City before settling in Iowa. Walter Hoyt and longtime friend John Borland opened a manufacturing business of some sort in Iowa. The family is associated with Iowa City and Plum Grove. Louisa and Walter had four children. The oldest was Addie and the youngest was Eleanor. Walter died in 1869. The Hoyt family's affluence and social connections enabled Louisa to raise the children in relative luxury. Samuel Kirkwood, Iowa's Civil War governor, lived just down the street. Many years later she married Borland, but he died six months later.

Please see the other attachment for photos of the Smith house, which is, or was, just east of Deputy on the road to Paris, to the north. The colored photo, showing the TV antenna, was taken in the late 1970s. The date of the black and white is unknown. Be sure also to see the title page for the Brainerd book.

Smith House

Our Little Old Lady

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Smith Genealogy


The Smith family adopted John Thomas Phillips in 1831. As he spent 10 of his formative years with the Smiths, he obviously came to know them better than his blood relatives, even better than sisters Betsy and Martha and brother Isaac, all of whom grew up in Indiana. John's grandson Wilbur Phillips referred to three of the Smith daughters as "Aunt Julia Robertson," "Aunt Elzina Whitsitt" and "Aunt Evelyn Robertson," but went on to point out that they were related to him through the Stewarts. (Elzina also had married another relative, Joseph Whitsitt.) Wilbur does refer to "Uncle Robin Smith," but, again, Robin's sister had married Wilbur's great grandfather Stewart. Aside from these references and the family tradition that the Smiths raised John as a son, there seems to be no indication of how he felt about them. We can say only that certain things didn't happen: Robin didn't mention John in his will and, although foster brothers and sisters often marry, John didn't marry one of the Smith girls. But the latter fact reveals neither that John loved the Smith girls as real sisters or that he didn't like them. It would seem reasonable, though, that he lived out his life with special closeness to one or more of the Smith children. For that reason, here's further information about them.

Ruth Robertson, who lived in Deputy into the 1980s, provided the key to the actual identities of the characters in Our Little Old Lady: The characters Robin and Nellie King were, of course, Robin and Nellie Smith. Real-life daughter Louise was the "Little Old Lady," and her daughter was Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd. Mrs. Robertson said the Smiths had four daughters and a son. She identified the girls as Julia, Evaline, Elzina and Louise. The book mentions only two of Louise's sisters as "Peggy" and "Bess." Milton, the son, was called Joe in the book. Mrs. Robertson adds: "The boy who was the subject of the last chapter, "The Christmas Present," was John T. Phillips, whom Uncle Robin and Aunt Nellie reared to manhood."

There's some confusion about the Smith daughters that perhaps could be solved by consulting the original will and the 1840 and '50 censuses. Here is what's known about the Smith children:

SELENA SMITH was born in 1811 and died in 1826. Nothing was known of her until 1986, when Myron Phillips had Eleanor's tombstone reset. He discovered a fallen stone nearby, partly covered with grass; it is the only known record of Selena.

MINERVA SMITH seems to have been forgotten by Mrs. Robertson and Mrs. Weatherbee. Minerva isn't mentioned in family accounts but is mentioned in her father's will. She married before 1867. Perhaps she was the Minerva Smith who married John Gasaway on March 17, 1836 in Jefferson County. He was a preacher, performing marriages there and in Jennings County. He apparently was the man who performed the ceremony for John T. and Emeline.

ELZINA SMITH was born about 1822. She didn't marry until she was at least 38, then married Joseph Wright Whitsitt, who'd already had 15 children. He was born June 7, 1815 and had earlier married Elvira Foster. Besides their 15 children, he'd taken grandson Mort Spear to raise in 1865. Joseph died in 1892 and is said to be buried in Wesley Cemetery. He is not listed in the published records, though. Wilbur Phillips called Elzina "Aunt Elzina Whitsitt." Mrs. Weatherbee says Elzina married a boy from Kentucky but she apparently confused Elzina with a sister. Elzina's husband, Joseph Whitsitt, was no "boy."

EVALINE SMITH was born December 29, 1823. Her name is sometimes given as Evalina or Evelyn, but her tombstone is inscribed "Evaline." She married James Dowen (or Down) Robertson on Sept. 5, 1850. James had been born February 24, 1811. He and Evaline had a son who was a doctor, perhaps because of one of those tragic family epidemics that decimated this family. The doctor is variously identified as "Wilbur" and "David W.," so it seems likely he was David Wilbur. The 1860 census of Graham township shows James Robertson was born about 1820 and that he and Evaline had a daughter Margaret about 1855, a son Robert about 1857 and a daughter Mary late in 1859 or early in 1860. Also in their home were young men named Melville, born in 1841, and Dempster, born about 1842. There's confusion whether they were surnamed Robertson or Smith. All were born in Indiana. Published records taken from Robertson Cemetery tombstones show Evaline and James had: Asbury Robertson, who was born July 25, 1852 and died August 17, 1853; Maggie W., born February 5, 1855 and died January 26, 1861; Robert M., born May 8, 1852 and died January 12, 1861; and Mary Ann, born October 20, 1839 and died January 8, 1861. Robert's dates don't jibe but the family obviously lost three children in January 1861. Evaline and James also had a son Ellsworth, according to Ellsworth's granddaughter, Mrs. Weatherbee. James died May 1, 1886. A stone about 15 feet high marks his grave in Pisgah Cemetery. Evaline died Mary 31, 1906. Her name and dates are on the reverse side of James' stone.

MILTON L. SMITH was born about 1827. He married Martha Jane Deputy on December 7, 1850. The 1860 census of Graham twp. shows Milton L. Smith, 33, farmer; Martha J., 34; Mary E., 7; Albert, 5; Robert, 70; Eleanor, 71; and Elzina, 38. The census notes that all where born in Indiana, except Robert and Eleanor, who were born in Kentucky. Milton inherited most of his father's property in 1875 but moved to Kansas.

JULIA A. SMITH was born about 1834. On December 30, 1852, she married William F. Robertson, brother of James. He was about 13 years older than she. They had a daughter Laura about 1859, a son Ed and apparently had a stepdaughter named Elzina Crawford, but the latter is questionable. Julia's husband probably was the W.F. Robertson buried in Robertson Cemetery. His dates were March 2, 1821 to October 9, 1892. There seems to be no inscription for Julia, but the stone next to W.F.'s is broken. Also buried there is Laura, who is noted as a daughter of Wm F. & Julia A. She was born August 4, 1859 and died September 3, 1860.

LOUISE SMITH became the "Little Old Lady" of daughter Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd's book. She is said to have been born in Kentucky, and her name is often given as Louisa. She married Walter Hoyt by 1867. He was from Vermont, but was living in Indiana then. The Hoyts were well-known abolitionists and Walter's brother Lyman Hoyt founded Eleutherian College in Indiana. Louisa is said to have been youngest of the sisters, to have married one of her school teachers -- presumably surnamed Hoyt -- and to have spent her adult life in Canada, Iowa and New York City before settling in Iowa. Walter Hoyt and longtime friend John Borland opened a manufacturing business of some sort in Iowa. The family is associated with Iowa City and Plum Grove. Louisa and Walter had four children. The oldest was Addie and the youngest was Eleanor. Walter died in 1869. The Hoyt family's affluence and social connections enabled Louisa to raise the children in relative luxury. Samuel Kirkwood, Iowa's Civil War governor, lived just down the street. Many years later she married Borland, but he died six months later.

This ends the generation's discussion of the Smiths. It will be continued in the next generation.


Data on the Smiths and Robertsons is confusing and the following is an approximation only. I will have to go back to sources on Mary. Myron says Mary Ann Robertson was born October 20, 1859, not '39. This seems to make sense.
(Mary Ann Robertson apparently was Evaline's stepdaughter. She was born October 20, 1839, died January 8, 1861 and is buried in Robertson Cemetery near Deputy.)

(Melville Robertson was born in 1841. He apparently was Evaline's stepson. He apparently was the college student who hid the horses during the Morgan raid. He served in a Union regiment during the Civil War and was captured. He kept a diary during his imprisonment in Andersonville prison in Georgia, where he died in 1865. Myron Phillips says that Lucy, Eleanor and Rose Robertson had the diary until they died. Melville might be buried in Pisgah Cemetery.)

ASBURY ROBERTSON was born July 25, 1852 and died August 17, 1853. He is buried in Robertson Cemetery near Deputy. (Evaline Smith, Robin)

MARGARET W. ROBERTSON was born February 5, 1855. She was called "Maggie." She died January 26, 1861. She is buried in Robertson Cemetery near Deputy. (Evaline Smith, Robin)

MARY ROBERTSON was born late in 1859 or early in 1860 in Indiana. (Evaline Smith, Robin)

ROBERT M. ROBERTSON was born May 8, 1857 and died January 12, 1861. He is buried in Robertson Cemetery near Deputy. (Evaline Smith, Robin)

DAVID WILBUR ROBERTSON was born in 1862. He was a doctor in the Deputy area all his life and was Myron Phillips' family doctor. He died in 1958. (Evaline Smith, Robin)

ELLSWORTH ROBERTSON is remembered as the "Colonel." He was Mrs. Weatherbee's grandfather. (Evaline Smith, Robin)

MARY E. SMITH was born about 1853. (Milton, Robin)

ALBERT SMITH was born about 1855. (Milton, Robin)

LAURA ROBERTSON was born August 4, 1859 and died September 3, 1860. (Julia Smith, Robin)

ED ROBERTSON. (Julia Smith, Robin)

ELEANOR HOYT, born in 1868, was Louisa's youngest child. After college, she became a reporter, then an editor, for the New York Sun. She married Mr. Brainerd and became a popular author. Among many other things, she wrote the aforementioned Our Little Old Lady. One of her works was filmed as How Can You, Jane? in 1918. Mary Pickford was the star, and William Desmond Taylor directed. Eleanor died in 1942. (Louise Smith, Robin.)

This ends the Smith information for this generation.

Our Little Old Lady talks about "Sally Lunn," which is a bread product. Here's a link to a site that tells more: