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n 1830, Washington, D.C., was a city of about twenty thousand people and the capital of a rapidly developing nation. Fortunately for Thomas, Elizabeth, and their five children —Elizabeth (Eliza), Jessie, Randolph, Sarah, and Susan— they lived in a brick house that was generous enough to accommodate their large family and the many servants needed to run such a household. In truth, the Bentons had three homes, as Jessie wrote in Year: “the winter home in Washington, which was ‘ours’; that in St. Louis, which was ‘our father’s home’; and that of our grandfather in Virginia, which was my mother’s dearly loved home, and my birthplace as well as hers.” Over the years the family spent time in all three, but it was the home in St. Louis that prepared Jessie for her life on the frontier. As she wrote: From the broad gallery of my father’s house in St. Louis there was always to be seen in my earlier days a kaleidoscopic variety of figures ; the lower class of French . . . long files of Indians stepping silently by, the squaws and babies bringing up the rear—real Indians in real Indian dress . . . any number of clergy; hunters and trappers in fringed deerskins; army officers in worn uniforms going by on horseback. Missouri was still very much a primitive, western region, and St. Louis had a distinctive French quality. This is not surprising, since Missouri was part of the Louisiana Territory that had be6 CHAPTER 2 Jessie Meets John m I longed to France only a few decades earlier. Jessie, describing the city in several of her writings, wrote that houses often were built in the French manner, with large garden courtyards; the French language was prevalent; and some French social customs were observed. “Growing up in its midst,” she wrote of St. Louis, “I felt at home in all French domestic ideas when I lived in France.” Jessie’s life was not always idyllic, and at times reality intruded. At age eight, while visiting St. Louis, she witnessed an outbreak of cholera that struck the frontier city. The epidemic was traumatic for adults, but especially so for the children. She described what happened in Souvenirs: “At first we were only told we were not to go to school. Then, we were to play only with each other in our own grounds and no more little friends visited us or we them. The friends who came to my father on the long gallery were as many as ever, but they and he himself no longer had any pleasant leisure, but were quick and busy in coming and going and all looked grave.” Those people that could escape St. Louis did so, seeking safety from the disease. The Benton family did not. They stayed. Jessie continued: “In this condition of universal alarm, when nearly all who could, fled from the town, even clergymen deserting their churches, my father thought it right for him to stay and give the encouragement and example of his presence. With his courage and sense of duty this was easy, but it must have been hard to him to risk my mother and all of us children.” Not only did the Bentons remain in the stricken city, but their house became a “‘diet kitchen;’ good soups, preparations of rice, and well-filtered and purified water . . . became the occupation of the house.” Decontaminated water was essential during this time of infection , and children like Jessie became involved in making the drinking water clean: All the water was brought in large barrels from the river and poured bucket by bucket, into great jars of red earthenware, some of them five feet high. These jars had their own large cool 7 / JESSIE MEETS JOHN room paved with glazed red brick and level with the street. The jars of drinking water and for cooking were clarified of the mud of the river by alum and blanched almonds, and then filtered. So much was needed now that even we children were useful in this sort of work. It was a difficult time. The Bentons fortunately avoided the fate of many who fell victim to the cholera epidemic; even though Jessie’s mother and a devoted servant did become ill, both eventually recovered. Jessie’s trips to her ancestral homes had a profound effect on her, as she reflected years later when she wrote the dedication to her husband’s book Memoirs of My Life: “I was bred up in...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826265074
Related ISBN
9780826216281
MARC Record
OCLC
1080551730
Pages
141
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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