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The markers in Shockoe Hill Cemetery for Robert Hutchison (left) and his third wife, Ellen Photo by Jordan Kyler
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Photo by Jordan Kyler
Near the "Mizpeh" angel of Nannie Eupehmia Caskie in Shockoe Hill Cemetery are two prominent markers. The elements have worn their carvings to near unintelligibility, but enough remains to provide some clues. The largest is for Robert Hutchison of Savannah, Ga. Beside him is Ellen Laura Caskie Hutchison, born in 1836, who died "in Savannah just one week after giving birth to a daughter on Monday 22nd March 1858, Aged 22 years and 16 days." She was the victim, it's elsewhere noted, of puerperal fever, a childbirth infection also known as "The Doctor's Plague," which was often spread by attending physicians in the 18th and early 19th centuries who didn't know about bacterial infection from unclean hands. The memorial "is dedicated by her grateful and sorrowing husband."
The elegiac testimony on her marker survives, though not for much longer, and the passage's heartfelt description emphasizes the distress of her husband and family. "To a gentle and artless disposition," it begins — artless here meaning guileless — "and a trusting loving heart, which rendered her [illegible] one of constant happiness and she united a solidity of judgment, a sincerity and truthfulness of character and strength of principle which secured for her the respect, confidence and affection with all of whom she associated."
Ellen Caskie Hutchison was Robert's third wife and the second Caskie woman he outlived. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on April 5, 1797, and died in May 1861.
In 1820, Hutchison immigrated to Georgia, where he became a prosperous merchant and trans-Atlantic shipper. He owned homes in New York; Newport, R.I.; and Savannah. Like him, brothers James and John Caskie moved from Scotland to Richmond in the early 19th century. Both created wealth out of leafy green: John with tobacco and James via banking.
John Caskie married Martha Jane Norvell. One of their five children, Elizabeth Euphemia, better known euphoniously as Lizzie Caskie, was born on Feb. 15, 1831.
A 1905 Richmond Times-Dispatch article taking pains to explain President Theodore Roosevelt's Richmond kin through James Bulloch, his uncle, explains that Lizzie "met Captain Bulloch … through a family connection who lived in Savannah — one Robert Hutchison. Here is where the intricacy appears. Hutchison was a Scotsman, like the Caskies, and was three times married."
Hutchison first wed on Jan. 12, 1832, joining his fate to that of Corinne Louisa Elliott, the sister of the first husband of Teddy Roosevelt's grandmother. Hutchison in 1835 became a director of the Steamboat Company of Savannah. Corinne, who was born in 1813 in Liberty, Ga., was involved with the Savannah Free-School Society that educated needy children of both genders.
Savannahians of means like the Hutchisons often headed north to escape the heat and mosquitoes. On June 14, 1838, Hutchison and Corinne; their two daughters; and a servant boarded the paddle steamer Pulaski, which was headed for Baltimore.
The sinking of the steamship Home a year earlier during a New York to Charleston, S.C., run had necessitated the construction of a larger, safer vessel based out of Savannah, the headquarters of the Savannah and Charleston Steam Packet Line. This was the Pulaski's fourth voyage. Under the direction of Capt. Davis Dubois, the Pulaski left Charleston for Baltimore with some 131 passengers, 50 of whom were female. Women were quartered on the top deck to take advantage of ocean breezes, and men were housed below.
About 11 p.m. while 30 miles off the North Carolina coast, the starboard boiler exploded, splitting the vessel in two. The bow and stern rose from the water. Eyewitness Rebecca Lamar McLeod described the panicked rush to a few lifeboats and Hutchison carrying "Corinne" — it's unclear whether this was his wife or a daughter — when a rush of wind tore off both a cloak he wore "and the child from his grasp." He retrieved her, but she couldn't lift her head. She had died.
Hutchison and more than 20 people, including three children, clung or tied themselves to a raft of wreckage, hoping not to drown as winds picked up and threw water across them. Hutchison saved a valise out of which he gave dry clothes to a few drenched men. He then lapsed into a staring silence.
The schooner Henry Cameron, out of Philadelphia and heading for Wilmington, N.C., plucked up 77 survivors, but Hutchison's wife, his children and the family's servant were not among them.
Hutchison thereafter wedded Richmonder Mary Edmonia Caskie, sister of Lizzie Caskie. Mary was born in Richmond in 1822 and died of "consumption," a general description for tuberculosis, on July 3, 1852, at the Caskie mansion, located at 1100 E. Clay St. The Hutchisons appear to have had two daughters, Mary and Nannie. But Mary Caskie Hutchison lived just three years, dying in 1851.
Hutchison then married Ellen Caskie. Their daughter, also named Ellen Laura, survived to marry Guiseppe Centaro and have three children. Hutchison kept busy; he was fined in Savannah for not attending jury duty, and he made annual contributions to the African-American Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization. In 1858, he rose to a directorship of the Bank of Georgia. Thereafter, his health faltered. Charles C. Jones Jr., writing to his father on May 14, 1861, related that Hutchison, a childhood friend of the senior Jones, "died last night. For some time he has been suffering from debility and has been looking and feeling badly." The proximate cause of death was "blockage of the intestinal canal." There was a private service, then transportation to Richmond. He went among the Caskies, who'd apparently given him what joy he may have experienced in life.
The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah, as well as Richmond's own Tyler Potterfield.