Eliza Keys

Eliza Frances Keys, 1853-1949

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:

Beulah & Eliza (Keys) Jackson - Christmas 1939-18 Eliza (Keys) Jackson & others - undated-38 Eliza Frances (Keys) Jackson- older - undated-11 Eliza Frances Keys - CDV - undated-11
Beulah & Eliza (Keys) Jackson - Christmas 1939-18.jpg Eliza (Keys) Jackson & others - undated-38.jpg Eliza Frances (Keys) Jackson- older - undated-11.jpg Eliza Frances Keys - CDV - undated-11.jpg
Eliza Frances Keys - undated-18 Eliza Francis Keys Jackson - taken by C Beebe - from negative - 1947-22 Eliza Keys & Cora Belden (her cousin) - tintype - undated-15 Eliza Keys - tintype - undated-12
Eliza Frances Keys - undated-18.jpg Eliza Francis Keys Jackson - taken by C Beebe - from negative - 1947-22.jpg Eliza Keys & Cora Belden (her cousin) - tintype - undated-15.jpg Eliza Keys - tintype - undated-12.jpg
Eliza Keys - tintype - undated-15 Eliza Keys - tintype - undated-18 Eliza Keys - undated - 2-15 Eliza Keys - undated - 2-18
Eliza Keys - tintype - undated-15.jpg Eliza Keys - tintype - undated-18.jpg Eliza Keys - undated - 2-15.jpg Eliza Keys - undated - 2-18.jpg
Eliza Keys - undated-18 Great Grandmother Eliza Jackson at picnic at Cheese Factory - probably her last-04 Horace Nelson Keys & Eliza Frances Keys - tintype - undated-18 Keys Family Picnic - Lizzie Jackson & Bertha Livingston-23
Eliza Keys - undated-18.jpg Great Grandmother Eliza Jackson at picnic at Cheese Factory - probably her last-04.jpg Horace Nelson Keys & Eliza Frances Keys - tintype - undated-18.jpg Keys Family Picnic - Lizzie Jackson & Bertha Livingston-23.jpg
Wilma, Myra, Eliza & Chester Jackson - undated-04      
Wilma, Myra, Eliza & Chester Jackson - undated-04.jpg

(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 ruminations.

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 character:

  • 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 handwritten pages.)

  • 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 sentimental expressions.

  • Another deeply felt letter from Chester, dated June 23, 1880.  Chester was clearly feeling the effects of their separation.  Followed by another on June 29.

  • Lizzie married Chester Eliphalet Jackson on April 15, 1881, in Holley, NY.  Their wedding invitation.  They returned to Antigua, where Lizzie bore them three daughters, Myra (1882), Wilma (1884) and Beulah (1885).

  • Here's what appears to be Lizzie's first letter to parents in Holley from Antigua, describing living conditions and indicating happiness for being there.

    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 end. 

  • 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, presented previously.

  • 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 going."

    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.

Richard Bates's recollection:

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 to blacks.

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.

  • Letter from Lizzie to Emily in January 1934:

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.

Purely family-centric stuff, but what grandmother would write a grandchild about this sort of thing these days?

Richard Bates's comments:

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 problem.

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 house plant.

Grandma Jackson would only know this "dirt" if, and as, Mother told it to her.

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 condemnation.

  • Lizzie wrote Emily a card in January 1938:

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 Beebe. 

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):

    Dearest Nanna,

    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.

    Happy Birthday, 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 concurs:

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 certificate.

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 here.

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 read 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:

Home Up Chester Eliphalet Jackson CEJ Forebears Eliza Frances Keys EFK Forebears