Eliza Frances Keys,
Eliza (known familiarly as
"Lizzie") Frances Keys presents a history a good deal less
detailed and certainly less rich than her husband,
Chester Jackson. Born into a
large family in Holley, NY, she was ninth of eleven children of
her father's second marriage (his first having yielded three
half-siblings to Lizzie). We have her daughter Wilma's
biography, written from Lizzie's recollections in 1935-36,
which provides details of her life and family until her marriage
to Chester. After her marriage, although by all accounts a
strongly-willed individual who impressed all who met her, she
nevertheless had nowhere near the broader impact of her husband,
and left much less of a paper trail.
Eliza's photographs mostly
predate her wedding, and here are all that we have:
(The third photo in row 2
above is worthy of a brief digression: the other woman is
Cora Belden (née Morgan), whose husband Amos was both a
photographer of some talent located near Holley and a direct
descendant of lead Pilgrim, Miles (or Myles) Standish.)
Several of Lizzie's letters
are found among those saved by Emily, although few of them
contain substance worth reproducing here. Unlike her
husband, other than the letters Lizzie independently wrote
nothing. She took no photographs (and, in fact, was
notorious for wanting not to be photographed -- she scratched
out her face in class portraits of students she taught in
Cleveland prior to 1881). She may have kept a diary in
early years, but the one examined contained nothing but youthful
Following is what we have,
either written by her, to her, or about her (some material noted
here also appears on Chester's pages -- because there is less of
it, historical documents are intermixed with correspondence).
Some of the material may seem to be of interest to family only,
but much of it begins to form a picture of this woman's
We have two copies of
the program for the 9th Annual Meeting of the Orleans County
Sunday School Teachers' Association, held at the
Presbyterian Church in Holley, NY, on Tuesday, May 30, 1871,
that lists "Lizzie Keys" as Organist.
In March 1879, after he
became engaged to Lizzie, Chester returned to Antigua to
resume his Consul position.
He kept a journal during the voyage, which he also
directed to Eliza and sent to her upon his arrival.
The journal contains long and informative entries regarding
Chester's thoughts on his forthcoming marriage, the roles of
husband and wife, and much else is unburdened to Lizzie that
could not be squeezed into a simple letter (You may view
a second version of the journal which includes the
Lizzie began a
journal herself, the first page dated March 29, 1879.
The first section, in Lizzie's hand (and very, very faint --
I've done what I can to make the handwriting legible, but
it's not especially easy to read -- in fact in its original
form it's impossible), is her record of quotations that must
have appealed to her. The quotations range from Henry Ward
Beecher to Longfellow to Confucius to Mark Twain, and
beyond. Like I say, a window into her mind. I recommend
viewing those portions at 100% enlargement.
Then, on p. 14, comes her transcription of a piece entitled
"The Petrified Fern," without attribution. A little
research, however, shows it was written by Mary Bolles Branch
(1840-1922) and shows at least a glimmer of interest in
evolution, or at least paleontology:
In a valley, centuries ago,
Grew a little fern-leaf, green and slender,
Veining delicate and fibres tender;
Waving when the wind crept down so low;
Rushes tall, and moss, and grass grew round it,
Playful sunbeams darted in and found it,
Drops of dew stole in by night, and crowned it,
But no foot of man e'er trod that way;
Earth was young and keeping holiday.
Monster fishes swam the silent main,
Stately forests waved their giant branches,
Mountains hurled their snowy avalanches,
Mammoth creatures stalked across the plain;
Nature revelled in grand mysteries;
But the little fern was not of these,
Did not number with the hills and trees,
Only grew and waved its wild sweet way,
No one came to note it day by day.
Earth, one time, put on a frolic mood,
Heaved the rocks and changed the mighty motion
Of the deep, strong currents of the ocean;
Moved the plain and shook the haughty wood,
Crushed the little fern in soft moist clay,
Covered it, and hid it safe away.
Oh the long, long centuries since that day!
Oh the agony, oh life's bitter cost,
Since that useless little fern was lost!
Useless! Lost! There came a thoughtful man
Searching Nature's secrets, far and deep;
From a fissure in a rocky steep
He withdrew a stone, o'er which there ran
Fairy pencillings, a quaint design,
Veinings, leafage, fibres clear and fine,
And the fern's life lay in every line!
So, I think, God hides some souls away,
Sweetly to surprise us the last day.
Chester Jackson enters on p. 16, with his distinct
handwriting, and we find nine pages of "Some West Indian
Negro Proverbs." In dialect! Unclear whether written
during his Antigua residency or after.
"One finger can't catch louse."
"Parson christen his own picknee first."
"Rain never fall at one man door."
and much, much more.
Chester's letter of January 18, 1880 (thus before their
wedding), written from Antigua to Eliza in Holley, with
deeply felt letter from Chester, dated June 23, 1880.
Chester was clearly feeling the effects of their separation.
another on June 29.
Chester Eliphalet Jackson on April 15, 1881, in Holley,
wedding invitation. They returned to Antigua,
where Lizzie bore them three daughters, Myra (1882), Wilma
(1884) and Beulah (1885).
Here's what appears to
Lizzie's first letter to parents in Holley from Antigua,
describing living conditions and indicating happiness for
If you wish, I think I've made the letter readable, although
as you will see the first and last pages are a bit
difficult, since they are written on one and the same page!
I don't think I've ever seen the technique before, and it's
rather a crude form of steganography.
Fortunately, for those who do not wish to decipher the
letter, it is one instance where Emily Haynes intervened for
us and wrote out an accurate transcription. Her handwriting
is totally legible, so I've included those two pages at the
Lizzie first returned to
Holley in 1883, infant Myra in arms. Chester wrote her
from his post in Antigua, a
long letter dated June 23. It contains none of the
passion of his pre-marital writing. The letter implies
she will remain in Holley through December, and he would
join her for parts of the last three months. Assuming
this came to pass, given that Wilma was born in Antigua in
August 1884, she likely was conceived in Holley.
We have a long gap
between 1883 and the next meaningful document in 1924, shown
next. Much of that time is adequately filled by
Chester Jackson's biography,
Chester Jackson writing
Emily July 9, 1924 (she was camping at Indian River):
"Can't think of any news only that the Klan is to have a
meeting here evening of the 10th this week. Ma says she is
The KKK's activity in the north (and even certain redneck
areas of Michigan) has long been known, but this is the
first I've heard of activity in or near Ovid.
However, a search turns up this: Arthur Hornbui Bell became
Grand Dragon of the New Jersey KKK about this time. He was
married to Leah Hamlin. Leah died in 1951 and is buried in
Ovid. Leah was about ten years younger than Grandma. I've
not been able to ferret out her Ovid connection, but perhaps
there was something in 1924 that brought the Klan to Ovid.
I remember being in
the car in Ovid at about age 5 when a man in a white
robe and peaked cap was directing traffic -- of which
there was none. Father, the driver, sniffed that it was
the Ku Klux Klan. An ordinary man named "Shinaberry"
was said to be the local head, but of course, membership
was secret and concealed. If Grandma attended the
meeting, I'm sure it was because of curiosity rather
than sympathy with the cause. (She took me to a
temperance meeting at church once to expose me to the
silliness; we walked out in front of the whole
congregation when they circulated a pledge never to
touch the demon rum.)
After all, we lost
relatives on both sides in the war to end slavery. Our
parents looked down on African-Americans, made fun of
them, found the sitcom "Amos and Andy" hilarious, but
they were appalled by hatred of blacks and lynchings.
It was a time when
"nice" people looked down on many groups: Irish,
Polish, Hungarian, the poor, the unlettered, union
members, factory workers, Catholics and -- on college
campuses -- Jews. (I wasn't exposed to that last
prejudice until I got to the UofM -- it wasn't apparent
to me at [Michigan State College].) "Looking down" did
not equate with violence: that was the redneck response
Grandma Amanda Bates
"discovered" Mary Bethune who was trying to run a school
for black children in Daytona and contributed to her
cause. The North was Republican, the party of Lincoln,
and stood up for the downtrodden. The South was solidly
Democratic and tried to suppress them. Times have
changed, as has my political orientation.
It is hard to
conceive how far public attitudes have improved just in
my one lifetime. I'm sure there is still room for
improvement but white Anglo-Saxons merit praise for the
progress made to date and automobile unions under Walter
Reuther merit a share.
And then, Chester
writing Myra and Beulah on July 10, 1924, in an account that
buttresses RCB's account above:
This evening Ma &
neighbor Miss Hozel [?] are gone down to hear or snoop
around the meeting place of the Ku Klux Klan who are in
conclave with public invited to hear one of their
national speakers tell the people all about the
institutions of the K.K.K.s.
Your mother [Wilma]
is just recovering from a spell of nervous indigestion
and why not. She fed the three Bateses three times last
week -- Sunday night luncheon, Wednesday night by
invitation and Thursday night on their return from
Lansing. Harold and Nora work on your father's
sympathies for grandfather then they slide in hanging on
to his coat tails. Don't write any of this home as it
is a sore subject.
Richard has done some growling over delivering papers
alone since Jack broke his finger. He doesn't seem to
lose weight doing it. His face is like a big rosy apple
and always ready to smile. Barbara seems to be enjoying
herself. She stays in bed until noon, then reads love
stories and attends the movies the latter part of the
day. That part of the program is most agreeable but the
pint of milk and orange juice are only drunk when
compelled to, so your mother tells us. I can't
understand her not putting up a fight to regain her
health. She wants to go back to A.A. again in Feb., but
with her habits of old I'm afraid she will not hold out
to the end of the year.
stuff, but what grandmother would write a grandchild about
this sort of thing these days?
These notes may
merit some explaining: Harold and Nora were paid to
take care of father LaMott in his dotage in his home in
Elsie. Apparently the three of them came to dinner in
Ovid three times in one week. At least, Mother didn't
have her incontinent father-in-law in her home as some
do. She suffered from migraines ("nervous indigestion")
which she related to entertaining Bates relatives who
frequently came by from all over central Michigan for
free dental care and then stayed for a meal. For ten
years, Mother cooked three meals a day, seven days a
week for six people so these occasions should not have
created unaccustomed stress. Having to work for the
Bates relatives -- especially Uncle Harold -- was the
Barbara was home to
recover from viral pneumonia, attributed by her family
to fast living in Ann Arbor. Well, she did go into
Detroit to sing with a dance band on occasion. Once
home, Mother decided to put her on the straight narrow
path to include orange juice and milk to "build her
up". Mother, herself, was never known to drink a glass
of milk (although she used a lot of cream in her
cooking) and Barbara, almost 20 and a University
sophomore, resisted being told what to do. At one
point, a glass of milk got poured slyly onto a poor
would only know this "dirt" if, and as, Mother told it
A few weeks after
this letter, Father drove Mother and Barbara to Florida
to recuperate in the sun and they mended their fences.
Several weeks later he drove Grandma Jackson down to
Florida to bring them back.
And yes, a
13-year-old boy who has to get up at 5:45 seven mornings
a week to cover a six-mile paper route in January
Michigan weather might merit more sympathy than
We are so thankful
to be alive and able to send these simple greetings.
You know I will be eighty five on April 27. And I hope
you may have as many birthdays as I have had -- that is
if you are able to retain your faculties and not be a
burden to your friends. When I look about me and see so
many of my acquaintances younger than I unable to enjoy
life or be companionable with those around them I am
extremely thankful that it [is] as well with me as it
is. You have inherited longevity on both sides of
the house so it behooves you to live temperately and
be good to that fine little body given you if you would
have a happy old age. [My emphasis.]
Lizzie wrote Emily
September 24, 1943, to tell her of the unexpected
rediscovery of the gold thimble that Emily had accidentally
lost as a child, twenty or more years previously. The
thimble had been given her as a wedding gift by cousin Ed
Some time ago, Emily
told my wife, Patricia, the story of and showed her this
gold thimble engraved "Lizzie." The letter linked to above
reads in relevant part:
Can you remember
back twenty years or a little more of being up to
Grammas one morning when the aunts and Gramma were
sitting around the dining room table sewing and little
Emily wanted to do likewise but had no thimble. Then
Gramma went upstairs and produced a gold thimble -- a
wedding present from two Beebe boy cousins. Of course
little Emily was delighted and sewed like the grown
ups. After a while when tired of sewing the Aunts
chased little Emily out doors around the lilac bushes
east of the house and when they returned the thimble was
missing and we all searched and searched for many days
but with no success. One day this week Margot Sheldon
while playing near the hedge in the Lowe yard picked up
the missing thimble and gave it to her mother who
cleaned it and saw the name "Lizzie" engraved on it.
She knew that to be my name from hearing Helen Keys call
me Aunt Lizzie so she phoned your mother about it. If
you remember we all agreed not to tell your mother about
the loss so she was ignorant but knew that I had a gold
thimble as a wedding present so phoned me about it and I
explained and now have the thimble looking like new with
no marks to show that it had lain in the dirt for twenty
years or more. I don't think that you went across the
hedge but perhaps were chased to the hedge and threw up
your hands when the thimble flew across.
Lizzie's account accords
with Emily's, who may have been remembering this letter as
much as the actual events.
(I inherited the thimble
as part of Emily's estate.)
Emily's letter to Lizzie
on her 91st birthday (April 1944) (letter saved by Lizzie
and handed down by her to the Myra or Beulah, and thence --
perhaps a bit ironically -- to Emily, who also retained it):
I don't want to let
so memorable a day as your 91st birthday go past,
without telling you how much we all love and think of
you and how glad I am you are able to celebrate, too, in
full possession of your faculties and health. If I know
you, you will spend very little time in reminiscing over
the years, but all your descendants and friends will
surely remember happy and not-to-be-forgotten incidents
in which you played the major part.
I can start back
with being sung to, on your lap, in front of the old
barns (the song was "Little Brown Jug"), and go on from
there, through swipes at the cookie jar, and bread and
honey on the kitchen shelf, and duets at the black
piano, and "Rummy" the first game of cards & at your
direction, and measles and a sty and poison sumac
doctorship, and on and on, through hundreds of scenes
and pictures and happy times, yes, even the sumac was
fun in retrospect. And all these are only a part of
your years, but very precious to me.
This must sound
flowery and high-flown, but it is so difficult to write
of things that are close to your heart.
Nanna, and very much love, from
(No one living knows the
origin of Emily's nickname, "Buster.")
Emily wrote Lizzie, April 26, 1948, congratulating her
on her 95th birthday. I
am sure Emily never thought she (Emily) would actually live five
years longer even than that.
Eliza Jackson died April
7, 1949. The
death certificate lists "cardio renal vascular disease,"
but, at age 95 it was simply old age. Richard Bates
I assure you she
didn't have "cardio-vascular-renal disease" for 15
years. When a reporter asked George Bernard Shaw about
his health at age 90, Shaw barked, "Young man, at my
age, you're either well or dead." One of Grandma's
frequent sayings: "Every time I worry about my heart, I
run up stairs. If I make it to the top, I figure I'm
OK." Another: "I'm so thankful that I have work to do
and that I'm able to do it." She died of being almost
96 years old, but you can't say that on a death
Eliza's younger brother
Horace was a fairly accomplished painter. I know of only a
single surviving painting, however, and that rediscovered quite
by fortuitous coincidence. It presently hangs in what is
known as the "DeCamp House" in Ovid, given to the present owner
by my mother at some point after 1987. The painting is
called "The Four Elements," is done on leather, and was
originally framed by Wilma Bates to hang over the fireplace in
the old Jackson-Bates house in Ovid. I have assembled
photos of the painting taken by its current owner and sent to me
in March 2013, and they may be seen
At this point I'm inserting
the family history equivalent to a non sequitur:
the journal kept by Elizabeth ("Polly") (Cross) DeCamp during
her and her husband's 1903-04 winter sojourn in St. Petersburg,
FL. Polly was mother-in-law of Horace Keys, Eliza's
younger brother. (The journal frequently mentions Horace
and his wife Antha (DeCamp) Keys.) As mentioned in my
preface to the journal, I have no idea how it came to be
included in materials found in Mother's basement, but, once
found, I felt duty-bound to copy (and enhance) it, and it may be
here. It provides a snapshot of the times and
conditions when one wintered in Florida just after the turn of
the last century, and for the DeCamp family I am sure it would
be a priceless heirloom – for us, however, it is largely
purely a curiosity. I've not yet been able to trace a
DeCamp family member to whom to send it.
Finally, handed down to me
and found among keepsakes preserved by my great aunts, this
relic -- a coil of Eliza's hair: