Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part V – A Word about “Dearest Cousin Lizzie”

The oldest letter I have that was written by Jane Williamson is dated October 8, 1842, seven months before she came to Lac qui Parle. The letter is written to Jane’s cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, who was living in Belpre, Ohio in Washington County, to the northeast of West Union in Adams County, Ohio, where Jane lived. Jane made no mention of any thoughts she may have had about moving to Minnesota in a few months but shared news of family and friends whom Elizabeth knew. No letters have been found from Jane’s time at Lac qui Parle but I have seven letters written to or from Jane during the years at Kaposia.

Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth over the course of their lives. This letter, from 1851, is typical of Jane's handwriting. It is not unusual for the letters to included added comments in the margins because paper was precious. Some writers even turned the page upside down and wrote in a new direction between the lines.

Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth over the course of their lives. This letter, from 1851, is typical of Jane’s handwriting. It is not unusual for the letters to include added comments in the margins because paper was precious. Some writers even turned the page upside down and wrote in a new direction between the lines.

Two of Jane’s most prolific correspondents were her cousin Elizabeth and her friend, Nancy Hunter Aiton, a fellow missionary. Nancy’s story will be told in a future Dakota Soul Sisters post but this is a good time to tell Elizabeth’s story since she and Jane corresponded until at least February 12, 1883, which is the last letter from Jane that I have in my collection.

Elizabeth, or Lizzie, as Jane often called her, was born to Jane’s paternal aunt, Anne Williamson Means, and her husband, Colonel John Means. They had come to Ohio in 1819 to free their 24 slaves just as Anne’s brother, William Williamson, had done in 1805. Elizabeth was Anne and John Means’ oldest child and was twenty years old when the family moved to Ohio. She was four years older than her cousin Jane Williamson but the girls formed an immediate and strong friendship that lasted until Elizabeth’s death on February 28, 1889, at the age of 90.

Elizabeth married Dr. William McCreary Voris in West Union, Ohio, on April 24, 1827. They lived on the corner of Main and Market Streets in West Union and William was an elder in William Williamson’s Presbyterian Church. Their first daughter, Anne, was born in 1828, followed by twins, Margaret and Theodosia, who both died in infancy in 1831. Their next child, born in 1832, was named Elizabeth after her mother.

Jane was teaching in Adams County on June 8, 1835, when she was informed of the death of Dr. William Voris, who had succumbed to cholera while on a trip to Cincinnati. It fell to Jane to go to Elizabeth and inform her of her husband’s death. Elizabeth was seven months pregnant at the time. The History of Adams County records part of the story: “At first she [Jane] told her that Dr. Voris had been very sick in Cincinnati. As cholera was prevalent there, the wife at once divined the truth and swooned way. She went from one swoon into another, and Miss Williamson, in order to terminate her swoons, went out and brought in her two little girls, one seven and the other three years of age, and leading one by each hand, asked her if there not two good reasons for her to live and to work for.”[1]

Elizabeth Means Voris buried her husband William in the cemetery at the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, OH in 1835. William was a prominent physician who was only 33 years old when he died of cholera. Two years later, Elizabeth buried her father in the same cemetery and then in 1840, her mother passed away and was buried here as well. She had also lost twin daughters in 1831. The Manchester cemetery had fallen into ruins over time but was fully restored and indexed about ten years ago.

Elizabeth Means Voris buried her husband William in the cemetery at the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, Ohio, in 1835. William was a prominent physician who was only 33 years old when he died of cholera. Two years later, Elizabeth buried her father in the same cemetery and then in 1840, her mother passed away and was buried here as well. She had also lost twin daughters in 1831. The Manchester cemetery fell into ruins over time but was fully restored and indexed about ten years ago.

Elizabeth grieved terribly for six weeks and then gave birth to another daughter, Margaret Jane Williamson Voris, on August 1, 1835, honoring her friendship with Jane in her little girl’s middle name. She took her daughters and moved back into her parents’ home where she and Jane continued to care for each other as cousins and close friends. Elizabeth’s father died in 1837 and her youngest brother, Hugh Means, took over the family home with his wife, Esther Ellison Means. Elizabeth’s mother, Jane’s aunt Anne, passed away in 1840. Then on August 31, 1842, Elizabeth married Rev. Dyer Burgess, a noted abolitionist preacher who had been pastor at the West Union Presbyterian Church from 1820-1829, after William Williamson’s tenure there.

Rev. Dyer Burgess married Elizabeth Means Voris in 1842. He had fallen in love with her when a young man but she married Dr. Voris and it was not until both she and the reverend lost their spouses that they were married. An avid abolitionist he "was over six feet tall, straight as an Indian, with a haughty courage. He was slightly inclined to corpulency. He had a large head, a high forehead, with heavy arched brows, and a square face with a great deal of determination expressed in it. " (The History of Adams County.)

Rev. Dyer Burgess married Elizabeth Means Voris in 1842. He had fallen in love with her when a young man but she married Dr. Voris and it was not until both she and the reverend lost their spouses that they were married. An avid abolitionist he “was over six feet tall, straight as an Indian, with a haughty courage. He was slightly inclined to corpulency. He had a large head, a high forehead, with heavy arched brows, and a square face with a great deal of determination expressed in it. ” (The History of Adams County.)

The Adams County History records Rev. Burgess’ attraction to Elizabeth:

“About this time the Rev. Burgess formed an attachment for Miss Elizabeth Means, the daughter of Col. John Means. His suit was discouraged by the brothers and the family, as they thought she ought to do better than to marry a poor minister. The matter never came to a proposal, but on the twenty-seventh day of April, 1827, Miss Means married Dr. William M. Voris. This event was entirely unexpected to Mr. Burgess, and struck him like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. At a solemn communion service season the Sunday following, he preached from the text: ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols,’ and he preached with such pathos and depth of feeling that his hearers could not but believe that his idol had been shattered when Miss Means married Dr. Voris.

“On March 19, 1831, he married Miss Isabella Ellison, the daughter of Andrew Ellison. She was a maiden lady of about his own age, and he married her in Cincinnati, where she was making her home with her brother-in-law, Adam McCormick…

“Directly after his marriage to Miss Ellison, which entirely revolutionized his finances, as she was wealthy and willing to spend her money for their joint enjoyment, he returned to West Union, and there built the property now occupied and known as the Palace Hotel, and immediately took possession of it. From that time on, until the death of his wife, the Rev. Burgess had no particular charge, but preached when and where he pleased. He and his wife lived in great state in their then elegant home—as, when completed, it was the finest house in the county. They kept two pews in the Presbyterian Church at West Union, and these they had filled every Sunday- They entertained a great many visitors— usually had their house full of visitors, and especially Mrs. Burgess’ relations. These she invited from far and wide and entertained them for a long period of time…

“His wife died in their home, now the Palace Hotel, in West Union, November 3, 1839. She disposed of her property by last will and testament drawn by Hon. George Collings, father of Judge Henry Collings, of Manchester, Ohio. The will made no provision for Mr. Burgess except to give him two rooms in her house for life, but she had already given him a number of claims which she deemed a suitable provision for him…

“On August 31, 1842, Mr. Burgess was married to Mrs. Elizabeth W. Voris, widow of Dr. William M. Voris, and the daughter of Col. John Means, and who was Mr. Burgess’ first love….She was a noble Christian woman and lived a long life of sincere piety and good deeds. Mrs. Burgess died February 28, 1889, in her ninetieth year, having lived with Mr. Burgess thirty years, and survived him nearly seventeen years.”[2]

Dyer Burgess had moved to Washington County, Ohio, in 1840 and that is where he and Elizabeth began their married life together with Elizabeth’s three daughters who were fourteen, ten and seven years old when Dyer and Elizabeth married. Jane’s letters to Elizabeth are addressed to various locations including Belpre, Constitution and Marietta, Ohio. Jane often stayed with them for weeks at a time during visits home to Ohio. What is perhaps most amazing about Elizabeth’s story is that her family not only kept forty years worth of letters from Jane, but turned them over to the Dawes Memorial Library at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, where they are carefully preserved in the archives.

[1] A History of Adams County, Ohio, by Nelson W. Evans and Emmons B. Stivers, published by E.B. Stivers, West Union, Ohio,  1900, p. 638

[2] Ibid., Passim, pp. 515-520. The Palace Hotel was located on the southeast corner of Mulberry and Market Streets in West Union, Ohio. When the history was written in 1900, it was still in use and was known as the “Anti-Slavery Palace.”

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Elizabeth Means [Voris] Burgess, Jane Smith Williamson, Kaposia Village, Rev. Dyer Burgess, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s