original portrait owned by author
I come from a long line of strong, independent and determined Irish women named Elizabeth. Elizabeth Jamison Martin Little, my 2nd great grandmother, was one such woman as her portrait drawn around 1870 clearly shows. Her story records where Life can lead us through adventures, trials and joys and how we persevere. Her spirit remains with all of her Elizabeth namesakes. What follows is not an actual letter but a creative presentation of what Elizabeth may have written to her daughter the day before she died, based on research, family stories and some conjecture.
15 August 1898
My dearest daughter Ella,
I write to you on my deathbed wanting to give you encouragement through your difficult times raising five children with sweet Elizabeth only being four and Lewis, a staunch Lutheran German for a husband. I have not talked much about my life with you, but perhaps learning more about your loving mother will give you courage and joy to carry-on.
I was born in 1832 in the quaint town of Dromore in County Down in the north of Ireland to Joseph and Elizabeth Martin, she was always called Betsy and was born to George and Elizabeth Jamison in Dromore and attended church with her family in the Church of Ireland Cathedral. Many of your ancestors are buried there. We were weavers working hard from sunup to sundown and moving around County Down for my Da to have work. In 1836, when we lived in Dromara just south of Dromore my mother passed away when I was only four and my Da married Mary Adair in the Presbyterian Church there. He may have first married her to take care of me and my two brothers, Thomas and George. We were all so very young. But as I got older I experienced the deep love that developed between them. I was then blessed with 3 more siblings, Joseph, Mary Jane and John.
Did you know that you were named after me and my mother and grandmother? We are a long line of Elizabeths. I’m so glad that you continued this with our dear Elizabeth. Perhaps one of her daughters will also be an Elizabeth. [Ella’s daughter Elizabeth did indeed name one of her daughters, Elizabeth, my mother, and the name continued through two more generations to me and my daughter; only ending because my daughter did not have a daughter.]
Dromore, Down (public domain)
Surviving the Great Famine, unlike many of our friends, neighbors and family, we moved back to Dromore, actually it was the little hamlet of Lisnacurran just north of Dromore. One day in 1856 while at Fair Day in Dromore I met your father David Little. Da had brought some of his weaving to sell and our horse needed new shoes. I went to the blacksmiths with Da and when I set eyes on David I knew he was the one for me.David and his Da Andrew ran the blacksmith’s. I didn’t care that he was a two years younger than me. I was known as Spinster Martin because I just had not met the right man to marry. So I was ready to marry for love and to get rid of that ridiculous name. Fortunately, David was taken with me too, I think, although our marriage might have started out for convenience. He and your Uncle Thomas had gone to America a year before and come back to get the family. For whatever reason, we were married a month later on 1 October 1856 in the Banbridge Presbyterian Church which is on the Banbridge Road in Dromore. My dear friend Jane Magee and David’s friend Robert Morrison were our witnesses. It was a very simple wedding, but I treasure the memories.
Life was very busy the next few weeks as we prepared to go to America. We sailed with about 460 others on the De Witt Clinton from Liverpool, England, it’s Master being Edward Funk, and safely arrived in Castle Garden in New York City on the 17th of November. Other families weren’t so fortunate as two babies died while we crossed the Atlantic. We slept in the lower deck but spent most of the time on top since our weather was quite pleasant. My goodness but it amazed me how busy Liverpool was, the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, and how very different America is! Of course, now I’m a proud United States citizen, but it took awhile to fit into the way of life here. Thank goodness other Ulster Irish were already here and welcomed us with open arms into their group. We didn’t lose touch with our family back in Ireland and received letters while still living in New York City. One came on Friday, November 21 soon after we arrived which was wonderful!
My Da and family moved onto western Maryland and were among the first settlers of our dear town, Oakland. Da and my brothers opened the livery. Do you remember the fun we had at the dances they held in the stable from time to time? It was grand to hear and dance to the old music with your uncles and cousins playing the Lambeg drums, fiddles and spoons. Your Auntie Mary truly had an amazing voice and so do you.
permission by David Jones, Martin cousin
Your Da and I stayed in New York State for a few years. We were first to have moved with your Granddad Martin but your Da saw an advertisement for a better paying job working on the Erie Canal. We started out in Ithaca where your Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle James were born. Your Da helped with the construction of a canal on the southern end of the Cayuga Lake which attached to the great Erie one. Once that was completed, he got a job with the Watertown & Rome Railroad and we moved onto Watertown, Jamestown and New Hartford. Your uncles George and Joseph were born along the way. It was difficult for me to raise my family with moving so many times in just a few years and I convinced your Da to move to Oakland. Thank goodness those years are now a blur to me. They were hard times.
We arrived in Oakland during the summer of 1863. It was wonderful to be back with my family! David, your Da, settled into a very respectful life and got a job with my family’s livery. We quickly became members of the Old Stone Church teaching Sunday School and your Da became an elder. He also became a member of I.O.O.F. Shealtiel Lodge, No. 122 and was an officer in 1881on the finance committee. Plus he joined the Knights of Hibernia. I understand that normally this group is for those who are Catholic, but not in Oakland. In 1879 he was elected Town Commissioner. Such a far cry from our early days in Dromore. Being a proud United States citizen, he did sign-up with the Union during the Civil War, but he never fought. Battles were fought near us though and being afraid that our valuables would be stolen, we hid the silver and the like under the front porch. We didn’t fear the Rebs as some Union soldiers camped out in our yard. We enjoyed feeding and entertaining them, although some of them were a bit rowdy.
In 1876 we purchased for one hundred and twenty-five dollars the home in which I now lay here in Brandt’s Addition. We had to travel to Meyersdale [Somerset County, Pennsylvania] to sign the papers. What a lovely wagon drive that was. These mountains are so beautiful and remind me a wee bit of the Mourne back home.
sweet town. Oakland , Maryland 1906 (public domain)
Your Da was well-loved by all in Oakland. Do you remember that he had over 300 attend his funeral? Such comfort it gave us in our time of bereavement. The Odd Fellows and the Knights of Hibernia officiated his memorial with our Presbyterian family circle. Many returned here, as you may recall, laden with food and a good Irish party spirit to send David on his way. I could go on and on about your Da, what a fine man he was, but I started this letter to give you encouragement. After reading of my life, you now know what challenges I faced. When husbands are busy with work, church and civic duties, we women are beset with raising our children nearly all on our own. You’re lucky that you have not had to move as much as me! Seems most of my life, I moved from home to home without a chance to settle in one place for too long, until we came here to our
I know that you will do fine without me and continue raising wonderful children. I am so very proud of you and them. I wish that I could be here for you, but God is calling me home.
With my never ending affection,
My life has been quite similar to Elizabeth’s, moving around quite a bit and raising my daughter nearly on my own. Elizabeth has been and remains an inspiration to me when I face Life’s challenges. I hope that her story will encourage you as well.
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