Today’s sketch is unusual for me in that Lidian is not my direct ancestor, but I find her so fascinating I have to write about her! Lydia Jackson was born Plymouth, Massachusetts on 20 September 1802 to Charles and Lucy (Cotton) Jackson. She is my 2nd cousin six times removed on my grandfather Arthur Washburn Ellis Davis’ side of the family. She is a descendant of Abraham 1 Jackson and Remember Morton. I wrote about the couple here.
By the time Lydia was orphaned at age sixteen she had already lost two siblings. She then went to boarding school and lived with relatives. Her surviving siblings were Lucy and Charles, the latter became a well-known physician. Lydia was particularly close to her sister Lucy, whose husband abandoned her and their two children. Lydia’s family was part of Plymouth society. She received a formal education, even learning German. Her father was a ship owner involved in foreign trade. The Jackson family lived in downtown Plymouth with the harbor in view from their large home. At nineteen Lydia was ill with scarlet fever and took mercury-containing calomel. She continued to have health troubles for the rest of her life, often described in a vague manner.
Lydia married, as his second wife, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous essayist, philosopher, lecturer, abolitionist, poet, and Transcendentalist on 14 September 1835. They were married at her childhood Plymouth home, the Edward Winslow House, which is currently the headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
Lydia attended two of Emerson’s lectures in Plymouth, meeting him at a social gathering afterward. Emerson was quite taken with her and soon proposed by letter. Even though she had experienced a vision where she married Emerson, she did not jump at the chance to marry him and had to think it over. She was happy with her life and freedom as a single woman in Plymouth and was reluctant to leave her beloved hometown to live in Concord. She took some of her furniture from her house and her son Edward wrote that she bought tulips and roses from Plymouth to plant in her Concord garden.
|Emerson House Concord Source: RalphWaldoEmersonHouse.org
Despite her fragile health and late marriage for the times (she was nearly 33) Lydia and Emerson had four children: Waldo (who died of scarlet fever at age five), Ellen, Edith, and Edward. Ellen did not marry, helping her father in his work and being a constant companion to her elderly mother. Ellen died at age 69. Edith married, had eight children, and lived to 87. Edward Waldo was a Harvard educated doctor who married, had seven children, and lived to 85. You can view a photo of her holding her son Edward here: https://concordlibrary.org/special-collections/emerson-celebration/Em_Con_72
Her daughter Ellen wrote of her mother: “In her fifty-seven years of life in Concord she had never taken root there, she was always a sojourner, her home was Plymouth, a never-dying flame of love for Plymouth burned in her heart and burst forth in praises of its people, stories of its glorious founding, reminiscences of its peaceful ways, its social life, and an enthusiastic observance of Forefather’s Day…of every movement of Plymouth, though only heard-of she felt herself a part. This was not willful, it was hardly conscious, purely natural.”
Emerson suggested she change her name to Lidian and had pet names for her as well— Queenie and Asia. Even though he implored her to call him Waldo, she elected to address him as Mr. Emerson but would often address letters to him as “Dear Husband.” In their Concord home, they entertained such luminaries as Henry David Thoreau, the Alcotts, Margaret Fuller, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Emerson’s Concord home is open to the public in season.
In 1861 Lidian casually mentions in a letter that she attended a party after one of Waldo’s lectures where she met Senator / abolitionist Charles Sumner and Julia Ward Howe who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Lidian was particularly close with Thoreau who lived with them for a time. Thoreau wrote that she was like a sister to him, so she must have been devastated when he died of consumption at age 44. Amy Belden Brown's historical fiction (the latter being a key word) Mr. Emerson’s Wife presents the two having an affair which seems highly unlikely and that the she and Emerson did not have the best of marriages. Her letters to her husband are very warm. She wrote beautifully, including this in a letter to her husband: “It fell on the heart of your wife like the small rain on the tender grass.”
Lidian was religious, spiritual, and intellectual and was involved in many social issues. She was a member of the Anti-Slavery Society, advocated for women’s suffrage, Native American rights, and the humane treatment of animals, being a founding member of the Massachusetts Prevention of the Cruelty of Animals and vice president of the Concord branch. She could not even bear for rats in the house to be mistreated and was secretly feeding one the rest of the family was trying to do away with! The horse that pulled their carriage was so used to her bringing him treats, that it proved difficult to get him to stand still when she was trying to get into the carriage. It surprised me that Waldo wrote in his journal that “Queenie” had a gift for cursing and swearing! Her daughter Ellen said they all got used to her screaming when she was startled or shaken.
She did not always agree with her husband’s ideas as she was more conservative in her religious beliefs and was critical of Transcendental extremes. She was known as a devoted wife to her high-profile husband, a loving mother, a strong-minded independent woman with a sense of humor, and a welcoming hostess.
Her letters to her children show her affection toward them but also her interest in their education. She wrote about Wordsworth’s poem Tintern to her daughter Ellen: “It will tell you the beauty of fine scenery blesses us not only at the time we are viewing it but forever; that it becomes, as it were, a part of our being.”
To her son Edward she suggests he follow Goethe’s advice, which she paraphrases: “the senses and imagination become dulled by the routine of life, so it is important to read at least a page every day of some wise book or view art or hear good music.” I love this woman!
Her daughter Ellen wrote a biography about Lidian stating that “she is quite as wonderful as he,” referring to her father. The biography wasn’t published in Ellen’s lifetime, but she would read parts of it at gatherings. Perhaps she felt plenty was known about her famous father and she wanted her amazing mother to be remembered as well. Lidian gave the appearance of beauty as she was an excellent dresser and was regal in stature with a graceful walk from 20 years of dancing lessons. She was known for her verbal eloquence and enjoyed a good debate. She was fond of listening to lectures and voiced her own beliefs at the Alcott’s School of Philosophy gatherings. She liked high-quality clothing for herself and her children, but never embraced the latest fashion if she didn’t consider it flattering. She enjoyed nice household furnishings and kept an organized household. Although she liked some finer things, she was frugal overall in her spending habits. She loved gardening, kept chickens, and adored cats. She didn’t like to sew but she was an able artist and created embroidery designs. She craved fresh air and kept windows open year round.
Her daughter Edith added a section to Ellen’s book that includes: “I found it one of her most charming traits that her faith was so deep and secure that she was always ready with comfort—for every one…” She wrote that her mother was upset by the ill treatment received from a family for whom a young Irish girl worked. She spoke with a lawyer to make sure the law was on her side and found relatives for the girl to live with in Philadelphia.
|Lidan Emerson later in life Source: Wikipedia
Lidian Jackson Emerson died in Concord on 13 November 1892, at the age of 90. She died quietly at home with her daughter Ellen by her side. She is buried at on Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord next to her husband who died ten years earlier.
Front of her stone, decorated with tulips:
Wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Daughter of Charles & Lucy Cotton Jackson
Born September 20th 1802 close by
Plymouth Rock as she loved to remember
Died November 13th 1892 in Concord
Back of her stone:
In her youth an unusual sense of
the Divine Presence was granted her
and she retained through life
the impress of that high Communion.
To her children she seemed in her
native ascendancy and unquestioning
courage a Queen, a Flower in
elegance and delicacy
The love and care for her husband and
children was her first earthly interest
but with overflowing compassion
her heart went out to the slave, the sick
and the dumb creation.* She remembered
Them that were in bonds as bound with them.
*I would think this word should be creatures.
|Source: Findagrave.com Kristi Martin
Sources about Lidian, the first two used to write this sketch:
Ellen Tucker Emerson, Life of Lidian Jackson Emerson, 1980
Delores Bird Carpenter, Editor, The Selected Letters of Lidian Jackson Emerson, 1987
Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony It’s History & People 1620-1691
Amy Belding Brown, Mr. Emerson’s Wife, 2006 (historical fiction)