Letter from Kezia Payne DePelchin at Memphis to her sister, Sallie Payne, September 17 & 23, 1878 [Digital Version]

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DePelchin, Kezia P. (Payne), 1828-1893, Letter from Kezia Payne DePelchin at Memphis to her sister, Sallie Payne, September 17 & 23, 1878 (September 17 & 23, 1878)

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Title: Letter from Kezia Payne DePelchin at Memphis to her sister, Sallie Payne, September 17 & 23, 1878 [Digital Version]
Funding from: Funding for the creation of this digitized text is provided by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Author: DePelchin, Kezia P. (Payne), 1828-1893
Statements of responsibility:
  • Creation of digital images: Center for Digital Scholarship, Rice University
  • Creation of transcription: Amanda York Focke, Asst. Head of Special Collections, Woodson Research Center
  • Conversion to TEI-conformant markup: Amanda York Focke, Asst. Head of Special Collections, Woodson Research Center
  • Parsing and proofing: Fondren Library, Rice University
  • Subject analysis and assignment of taxonomy terms: Melissa Torres
Publisher: Rice University, Houston, Texas
Publication date: 2010-06-07
Identifier: aa00184_05
Availability: This digital text is publicly available via the Americas Digital Archive through the following Creative Commons attribution license: “You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work; to make derivative works; to make commercial use of the work. Under the following conditions: By Attribution. You must give the original author credit. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.”
Digitization: Page images of the original document are included. Images exist as archived TIFF files, JPEG versions for general use, and thumbnail GIFs.
Provenance: This collection was given as a permanent loan from Charles McBrayer of the DePelchin Faith Home in 1973.
Description: 14 handwritten pages, writing from a tenement house, nursing a sick woman until death and caring for the dead woman's child, Arthur.
Source(s): DePelchin, Kezia P. (Payne), 1828-1893, Letter from Kezia Payne DePelchin at Memphis to her sister, Sallie Payne, September 17 & 23, 1878 (September 17 & 23, 1878)
Source Identifier: Kezia Payne DePelchin letters, MS 201, Box 1, letter 5, p. 36-49, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University
Description of the project: This digitized text is part of the Our Americas Archive Partnership (OAAP) project.
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This text has been encoded based on recommendations from Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines. Any comments on editorial decisions for this document are included in footnotes within the document with the author of the note indicated. All digitized texts have been verified against the original document. Quotation marks have been retained. For printed documents: Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved. No corrections or normalizations have been made, except that hyphenated, non-compound words that appear at the end of lines have been closed up to facilitate searching and retrieval. For manuscript documents: Original grammar, punctuation, and spelling have been preserved. We have recorded normalizations using the reg element to facilitate searchability, but these normalizations may not be visible in the reading version of this electronic text
Languages used in the text: English
Text classification
Keywords: Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus
  • Correspondence
Keywords: Library of Congress Subject Headings
  • Yellow fever--Mississippi River Valley--History--19th century
  • Yellow fever--History--United States
  • Disease outbreaks--History--United States
  • Tenement houses--Memphis (Tenn.)
Keywords: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
  • Memphis (inhabited place)


No 5. 36
Sept 17. 1878.

My dear Sister,

I must write just as I have a few minutes. Time is
now eleven at night. Place. third story of a tenement house.—
I last wrote to you just as I left the Church home: on Saturday
last, I was brought here, that day.—My patient, Mrs Calhoon
about 22 years of age: She and her husband were both taken
sick. on Friday morning before daylight. he was sent
to the hospital. and his wife and child. remained here.
A friend of hers is with her. who having lost her husband
ten days ago. is feeling very dejected. but is very kind
and is the first person I have seen. nursing, who did
not belong to some society . and receive pay as nurse.—
The first thing I needed. was a bucket of fresh water.
and found the water had to be brought up from
the yard below, up three flights of stairs, and
of course, slop water taken down the same dis-
tance. This would take too much time from my
patient; therefore I hired a colored girl who rejoices
in the classic name of Tullia, to do that work
for me.—She is reasonable and faithful;


There were abundance of quilts. but the Doctor told me
to put a blanket over her. the sick woman begged me to get
her a blanket. none at the Howards. no Stores open. I went to
my hotel. and bought the one of my bed; by 12 midnight
Mrs C. got worse. suffered intense pain. in her
bowels; had watery discharges, I rumaged in an old
closet, found a bottle of laudanaumRegularized:laudanam . gave a
few drops in an enimaRegularized:enema of Starch. I had to repeat
the dose: I applied a poultice of mush. and warm
flannel to her feet. she was relieved, and fell asleep.
when she woke, her headache was gone, but
the red on her cheek was changed to a bright orange. The
Doctor came. and prescribed exactly what I had
done.—only onion poultice instead of mush. If we could
get onions: I found a grocery open. that had some.—
She grew restless. but was rational soon came the
black vomit, in that she read her death was—
rant; “Now I must die” was her exclamation. I tried
to cheer. her. so did her friend, as soon as I could
leave her I went in haste for the Doctor. found
him. quite near. he promised to come immediate-


ly . Strange to say he never came; When I returned she
said I've given my child the last kiss I shall ever
give him: she slept a little. then roused. gave me
a message for her mother. and her husband. She looked
eagerly for the Doctor. The visitor came. he went
and brought a Doctor but it was too late. She
threw up quantities of black vomit. Once she seized
my hand. and kissing it. thanked me for wait-
ing on her. as death drew near. I sent Tullia to
the Howard Office for help.,.as sometimes. the dying got
so very unmanageable.-It was.now nearly dark. and as
evening came on. Little Arthur would creep to the door. and
every time he heard a footstep. utter a little glad cry. then
as only some stranger appeared. or the footstep passed on he
would cry so pitifully; he was watching for his father.
will his father ever come.? who can tell:

This family occupied two upper rooms. therefore. I got Mrs
Phips to take the child into the other room. as soon as the
woman came who was to stay with me; All we could
do now, was to give her water. and watch beside her.—
She died. that night: A short time before death, she


suddenly roused. said I've been praying. God has forgiven one
all my sins; these were the last. rational words. she spoke.
When she was dead. I went to a basket of clothes brought from
the wash that day. selected. a suit. and with the help of the
woman. with one. we laid her out: I opened all the windows
I sent to the Howard Office. by daylight. dismissed the other
nurse; Today I have been to try and find out if Mr
Calhoon is better. cannot hear anything. It is now customary
for a policeman to go round at 5 P.M. and ask if there are any
dead in the houses. because several have gone and died
alone; I thought of sending to the police Station. I did so.
All day we have done what we could to amuse Arthur.—
only we feel so sad ourselves. it is an effort. It is ten
o'clock. a heavy rumbling sound. the wagon stops.
and a man's voice calls. Is this the place where there
is a corpse? 'Yes' I hold a light. and three colored
men come up with a rough coffin. Is it a man
or a woman. they asked. as they proceeded to take
up the body in the sheet. “A woman” I replied
lay her in gently. She's dressed. I laid a while coverlet
in the coffin. it was closed. I had to give them


camphor. and use it myself the smell was fearful; I again
held the light. It was with difficulty they got down the narrow
stairway: The men were quiet, and respectful. but we were all
strangers to her, and to each other, how strange. how solemn was
this lonely funeral. The moon is shining brightly down upon
the stricken City, where so many such scenes are being enacted.
Others are laid away with no loved one to mark. their graves.—
but God knows. Christ who redeemed them. will find
them at the last day; Now the question is. what shall we
do with the child.? The friend I found here. may take the
fever. she is good and kind hearted; but feeble. and I think.
poor; even if the father lives. he will be weak. for
some time. the Orphan asylums are crowded. and many
are sick in them: I must board him somewhere. but my
money will not last long at that rate. I cannot send
a letter to Houston. much more across the Ocean to you:
I see no way left. but to draw money on my ticket as
nurse: This hurts my pride. but if I use it only for the
needy. at least I am blameless. before God;
The visitor has called as usual. this time to see if the
body was removed; I believe some of these Howards never
rest, day or night. and this one Capt. W. S. Anderson is
one of the hardest workers.—The poorer. the more forlorn.


a person is. the more he strives. to ameliorate their condition.
and provide them with comforts in their distress: It is.
now near midnight. I will leave this unfinished. and if
spared will finish at the end of the week. I will lie down
on the pallet beside Mrs Phips for I may be wanted elsewhere

Sept23rd. Before narrating. the events of the last three days.
I will tell you how I have disposed of Arthur. for as you
have little ones of your own. I know your motherly heart will
feel an interest in this little lonely child. now an orphan.—
his father died on Thursday.—and I have also found out
the reason the Doctor did not come was, he was stricken
with the fever. before he could. get there: he now lies
very low; Mrs Phips. said she would remain in the
house with the child at least until she knew what
turn his father took. much of the provision was
hers. she had brought it with her. as she could
not leave the city. Mr Calhoon's brother and his
wife, had died the week before. an uncle of theirs
a resident of Memphis. had left. on the outbreak
of the epidemic. but there was no fuel in the
house. and no money.—I saw in the papers. notices.
of Relief committees. I went to one. but did not.


succeed in getting fuel. These committees. are very good.
they are kept up the same as the Howards. by donations.
and are to supply the wants of the destitute. they issue rations
every. day mostly to colored people. because they cannot leave
the town now; and of course must be fed.—The first time
I saw a crowd around one of the Offices. I did not know
what it was for. I asked a colored woman. what was the
matter.? She said “they're drawing rations, hadn't you
better walk up and get yours.” I replied. “I did not need them”
(but if I had not joined the Howards I expect I should.)
for I could not buy anything to eat. I tried three times.
this last week. to buy bread. could not. The Howards
employ a baker; You must excuse this digres-
sion. but I have to tell you of things just as I see
them; I found a wood and coal yard. bought some
of each, had it taken up. stairs; I felt badly at leaving
her; there was no one living in the house except a
half crazy man, down stairs. the rest were dead or
gone away; when I went back, a singular scene
occurred.—An old black woman. who had brought

the washed clothes. was clamorous. for her money.—
there was a half dollar on the bureau I had. told
Mrs P to give it to her; as I had money.—enough


for our immediate wants; The woman now returned. and insisted on
taking something out of the house for her pay; $1.50 . more. when she found I had
taken the best, to lay Mrs Calhoon out in, She was furious: She turned
to me. “You've took them Clothes. you've got to pay for them.”
I heard a footstep on the Stairs, told her I heard the Visitor
and she would be arrested. She started off, as she said, for
a policeman: but I knew no policeman could make me
settle up the estates of those I nursed; and the footstep
turned out to be the crazy man downstairs. no difference
So we got rid of her.—

I went to the Office: to draw some money. on my ticket,
while there, received a letter. from our friend Mrs S. of Sewanee.
what a comfort in this my lonely exile to know there
was some one in this state who cared enough for
me to write to me.—I here met Mrs Heckle from Houston
awaiting. transportation to Holly Springs; where the fever is
bad; quite a number of nurses are here, from Texas. also
Doctors: one thing, most from Texas are acclimated.
The teachers are pretty well represented. Mr and Mrs Prouden

from Jefferson. Mrs Ridley from Dallas .—besides your
sister who is writing. Experienced nurses. are needed.—
this has been a fearful week.—The Doctors have
blamed the nurses. Some of the Nurses have


cursed the Doctors; meantime, Death holds his grim Carni-
The dead carts are piled higher than ever. and the bell
of Elmwood cemetery. is tapping all day long: Mr Langstaff
the indefatigable President of the Howards is sick: Every
time I call at the office. new faces greet me. as fast as one
Howard is taken down, another takes his place.—

Whilst waiting. the Treasurer Mr Lonsdale. asked me to remain in
the Office until he was at leisure. he thus told me. his
wife was not well that morning. when he left home.
and with voice broken with sobs. spoke of his son, who
had died the week previous; I went with him to
his home; on the way I met Dr Easley. he still looks.
well; and I hear has worked hard. how long before his.
labor is done! I called. at my last place. handed Mrs P.
sufficient to take care of Arthur. for two weeks.—
promised to look for her when I returned: from
the place I was going to; It was a beautiful
residence on Bellvue Avenue.—Mrs L's symtomsRegularized:symptoms
were the very worst; trembling with nervousness.—
the room was obliged to be kept so dark. we could scarcely
see our way about, She was suffering. great pain.—in
her head. Spoke of her children. as I kneeled down
by the low bedstead. I resolved to wait on her as I.


would have had anyone wait on my own precious mother
in my absence.—I rubbed her temples till she fell asleep.—
The Dr. came out. but had no hope. of her; there was a young
lady in the house. who assisted in caring for her. So Mr L had
all the attentions. that love, or money could obtain. Before
night Mrs L brought another nurse, a colored woman. that
we might relieve. each other: In two hours. she Mrs L took a fan-
to me. called me dear child. and seemed as if she
could not bear to have me away from her; I waited on her
faithfully. and willingly. but instead of better, she
grew worse; Towards morning. I felt the other nurse. and
went down to the kitchen : to find. coffee or tea, as
had been ordered but the servant had no very exalted
idea of nurses; and treated us accordingly:. when
she got the chance; there was no coffee or tea there.
I opened a door for fresh air. I felt faint. and
pitched head foremost out of doors; That wakened
me up pretty thoroughly; and scratched. and bruised,
I picked myself up; I was not badly hurt. half
inclined to be angry, half inclined to laugh. I went
up stairs again to my patient;

In the day.—Mrs L.
told me to go to rest. as she was sure I was tired.


I laid down in the next room slept two hours; when I returned to
her; she held out both hands. exclaimed, My child I'm so glad to see
you again; I remained with her. and had my tea brought up stairs
so that I could see her. The Doctor told us; she would die that
night; we all sat up. By morning the silent, unwelcome.
visitant was there: He lingered not beneath the shaded
avenue. he waited not to ask admission. he had been
there a few days before. again he mocks at science.
puts love aside, wealth could not buy bribe him.

for he is the great Reaper. sent by the Master.
After death. I dressed her in white. as I did. my own precious Mother.
Two of the Howards came out and accompanied Mr L to the cemetery. also one lady a neighbor. who was
much afflicted at Mrs L's death. this was the largest
funeral I saw in Memphis; as soon as it was over Mr
L returned to town to his duties in the Howard
Office. those who were devoted had no time to think of
self; The young lady also returned to town. the other
nurse and I remained. as there was an Irish girl a
maid of Mrs Lonsdale's who might take the fever.—
We fumigated the house. on Friday after the funeral—
On Saturday morning. Bridget took the fever.—
I sent to town for orders. got a man to bring
an ambulance to take her to the Infirmary..


It looked too lonesome to let her go alone. I got in with
her. About a block from the house, the horse broke down
had to wait until another one was procured, the poor girl
vomiting, terribly. When we got to the Market Street
Infirmary. Bridget crossed herself and gave thanks
that the church was opposite. its shadow would at
least fall on the house where she was sick; This
faith was a comfort to her. I was glad she had it.
While in town this time I met Mrs Saloi, formerly of
Houston. her husband had just died of heart-
disease: she is now alone in the city; She had some
distance to walk. the man who drove me took her. round
to her place; when I got back. to Mr Lonsdale's
Lizzie the other nurse was frightened. it was
so lonesome; with the superstition natural to
her race. She fancied the place was haunted. She
is enciente and I feared the consequences.—
as she complained of violent headache.—Yester-
day she was so much worse. I got one of the neighbors.
to send to town. and tell Mr Lonsdale.—he is staying
in town with a friend: He pro-cured a man to come
and take charge of his place; he thanked us both
for our attentions to his wife; Mr L is an English-


man. resident of Memphis 30 years; He is a true Christian
and is now. striving to put aside his own sorrow. only to
serve others: as his place in the Howards is an important one.
His residence was 3 miles from town: and in previous Epidem-
ics had escaped. now the whole neighborhood was suf-

The ambulance again brought us into town. and I had
time to go to the Infirmary to see Bridget; She has good
attentions. but is very sick; On crossing the hall.
some one called my name; I looked with amaze-
ment to see Mr Miller. formerly a teacher in Houston.
he was there when I left. Why are you here I asked?
“For the same reason you are, to help my fellowmen.”
he replied. “I run no risk I've had the fever” I said.
He replied. I've lived so long in yellow fever latitude
I hope to escape.—we chatted a little while. over the
news' from Houston. as he left there some time after
I did. I told him where my hotel was. if he needed
my friendship; we parted. Shall we ever meet again?

is a question that now arises every time I bid—good
day to any one much more to one unacclimated: Why is it
that these young men will come. when it is almost
certain death.? Some call it rash. but who censures.


him. or calls him rash. who volunteers to go upon the battle—
field. Then the drum beats, recruits are called for. here are no
gilded trappings. no martial music to stir the blood. A true
heart felt sympathy has brought them: to contend on this
battlefield; For it is not a battle. the enemy is silent but
strong, and subtile. he carries the his ensign is the black
flag. and he gives no quarter. I felt sad as I passed out
I thought of all who had come, hoping to do so much. good. and
had. met, some with scorn instead of gratitude, and
a lowly. oft an unmarked grave; I have thought several
times that God, always willing to save the sinner, took
some of these men who came as nurses, then in their
prime, just when the noblest attributes of their natures.
were called forth. called them at a time when they
were best fitted to enter into the promised rest.—
God is more merciful than man. My letter is already
too long. but each week seems to have a greater burden
of sorrow than its predecessor—

Your affectionate Sister

Rice University
Date: 2010-06-07
Available through the Creative Commons Attribution license