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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Goodbye To Two Good Ones

Publisher Patrick announced the passing of our mutual friend Jeff Carnes in the last edition of LaGaceta, and I want to add to that.  Jeff – and his longtime companion, Edith Stewart, the retired lobbyist for Hillsborough County – have been wonderful longtime friends.  Hubby first met him when both participated in the labor movement, Jeff as a unionized firefighter and Hubby as an activist with United Faculty of Florida.  (Yes, Hubby did have a Harvard doctorate in philosophy, but his favorite pastime was playing poker with blue-collar guys.) 


Jeff earned a law degree and represented unions in many cases, but he never lost his fire-fighting edge.  He and Edith regularly came to our Christmas parties, and one year he saved us from disaster.  For some reason, a candle that my mother had bought at her church bazaar exploded; I didn't know it until someone went into the bathroom where it was and screamed loudly.  I had no idea what to do and was similarly screaming when Jeff appeared on the scene.


He calmly analyzed the situation, asked for towels, wet them, and then moved them up against the flames that were climbing towards the ceiling.  The fire soon was extinguished, and Hubby rewarded Jeff with another beer.  He was absolutely methodical in his approach, and I don't know what would have happened without him.  I shall miss Jeff -- and especially because this week also is the first anniversary of Hubby's death, my heart goes out to Edith.


We lost Elaine Fantle Shimberg recently, too.  I didn't know her nearly as well as I knew Jeff Carnes, but we had a lot of mutual friends and our similarities as authors and liberal Democrats gave us a lot in common.  Another story:  My sister also was named Elaine – and she bought her wedding dress in the store that the Fantle family owned in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1953.  I saw in Elaine Shimberg's obituary that she was 84, and my sister was 86 when she died last October.  Sis read and enjoyed Elaine Shimberg's autobiography, as did I.  I wish so much that I could call Sis and tell her to greet the other Elaine.




Last week, I left what one of my friends called a "cliffhanger" with Martha Pelham and her infant daughter bereaved here in Tampa when her husband died in Pensacola in 1826.  Peter Pelham had been assigned to Fort Brooke, which was created just the previous year at the strategic point where the Hillsborough River meets Tampa Bay.  Its chief purpose was to prevent Seminoles from returning to their homes further north.


Martha, of course, was largely unaware of this militarism.  Just 19 years old, she had lived her whole life as a Philadelphia Quaker, but accepted ex-communication for the sin of marrying a professional soldier.  As a young widow in the wilderness of Florida, however, she had no choice except to return home.  Her family was more tolerant than her church, and they would welcome Martha and Marianna. 


It took a while to obtain transportation, but about three months after Peter's death, she and little Marianna sailed north.  Their ship sprang a leak off the coast of North Carolina; the cargo hold filled with water; and they were in danger of sinking before the leak was plugged.  More terror followed near New York, as an extremely bad storm with high winds and waves meant that they had to stay at sea for five days because it was too dangerous to dock.  After that, it was uncomfortable stage coach back south to Philadelphia.


On this long and difficult journey, she was assisted by a young lieutenant, Julius Catlin, who was returning from duty in the Arkansas Territory.  In an era when it was not only taboo, but even dangerous, for a woman to travel without male escort, an officer at Fort Brooke asked Catlin to protect her from the expected sexual harassment.  (No word for that back then.)  His letter called Martha "a lady of no common stamp.., well cultivated and refined.  Her disposition is tempered by all the virtues which serve to render the other sex so accessory to our happiness."


Her widowed mother had decided to give up the Philadelphia boarding house where Martha and Peter had met and instead built a school for girls in western New York.  It was an immediate success, with some fifty boarding students soon enrolled.  Martha taught painting and writing there, but she did not like teaching, nor the rural location.  "Aurora," she wrote, "is not Philadelphia – not by a jugful!"


Meanwhile, she and Julius Catlin corresponded.  He was the brother of famed painter George Catlin, and Julius also intended to follow that profession.  He declared his love for Martha, but neither family approved of marriage until he was more financially stable.  Exactly two years after the death of Peter Pelham, however, Julius Catlin was sketching a waterfall when he slipped and drowned.  He was buried in Rochester "with no friends or family at his funeral."


Martha apparently was so attractive that she soon had another suitor.  David Wright, a Philadelphia native with Quaker and anti-slavery leanings, was an aspiring lawyer, and they married in 1829.  Marianna was five years old at the time, and Martha would go on to have six more children.  Although their first years were financially hard, David eventually was very successful, even arguing a dozen cases before the US Supreme Court. 


It didn't hurt that their next-door neighbor in Auburn, New York, was William Seward, who would be secretary of state under Abraham Lincoln.  Seward was such an ardent abolitionist that he even gave a farm to Harriet Tubman.  Tubman used this as a refuge for former slaves, and Martha's later letters are full of references to their frequent visits with each other.




The paternal grandparents of her oldest daughter, however, were Kentucky slave owners.  They reached out to the young Marianna, then in boarding school, via Peter Pelham's brother, who was in Philadelphia on business in connection with his job as surveyor general of the Arkansas Territory.  The Pelhams wanted Marianna to visit, but David and Martha decided that at 15, she was too young.  A few years later, however, they did allow her to go to Kentucky, and Martha herself visited twice in the 1850s, the decade prior to the Civil War.


Despite their opposing views on political issues, the families became so close that Martha even named one of her sons William Pelham Wright.  Called Willy, he fought for the Union in the Civil War.  Many of Marianna's paternal family, however, fought for the South, including one who was briefly the Confederate governor of the New Mexico Territory. 


The most famous was John, who became known as "Gallant Pelham" when he dramatically died in Virginia early in the war.  Sadly, he had not really wanted to join the Confederacy:  he was in his last year at West Point and was one of the last two Southerners to leave the US academy.  Despite their avowals of liberty, the Confederate government drafted him.  John Pelham visited the Wrights on his way south and shared his ambivalence about the war.  Just months later, he was dead.




Martha's son, William Pelham Wright, survived the war, but only because his family carefully nursed him.  He was shot in the chest at Gettysburg, and his lung injuries meant that he had to sit upright for months lest he drown in his own blood.  When he finally was well enough to return home, young Willy Wright – like many war veterans -- found himself adrift.  He didn't want to join his father's law firm nor manage the family farms nor do anything useful.


Famed abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe had a similar problem with her son Charley, who became an alcoholic during the war.  Although the book on Martha Wright doesn't mention the similarity, both families found their solution in Florida.  The Stowes and the Wrights each bought land on the St. Johns River near Jacksonville, and members of both well-known abolitionist families lived at least part-time in this politically unwelcoming place.  Jacksonville, indeed, had been so rebellious that the Union army conquered and re-conquered it four times. 


Nor did the average Floridian share the values of these idealistic Yankees.  Martha told of a conversation she had with a man who refused to send his children to the school created by well-intended Northern women:  "Me and my wife had no eddication, nor any of my gals, but I would rather they never would have any, than to go to school with niggers!"


Willy married a niece of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and he sufficiently reflected his mother's feminism that he did not object when she refused to use the "obey" in traditional vows.  Flora and Willy Wright made Florida their permanent home; he even founded Florida's Harvard Club.  Both Martha and especially David (who outlived her by two decades) loved visiting in winter.  He bragged to his northern New York neighbors about "the "six-pound flounder he caught in the St. Johns, the bananas he ate from the tree, and the ripe tomatoes he picked on the day before Christmas."


If you are interested in delving more deeply into this topic, there is a book on the Beecher family in Florida, some of whom were politically powerful during Reconstruction.  There's also a book by a female physician from Massachusetts who worked in north Florida during the Civil War.  Her line that I remember most clearly is, "it's about time for the annual invasion of Jacksonville."


Finally, as I think I said last week, I cannot get vaccinated until I'm off of the antibiotics from my recent surgeries, and so I feel isolated and lonely.  Please e-mail me.



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