Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Give Me a Name and I’ll Tell You a Story

 

As a historian, I have a great love for names and the stories they can tell. Even the most common names can tell a wonderful story. Take for example this image, of a young lady named Smith, taken about the time of the Civil War:

Carte de visite of S. Adelaide Smith, Mount Vernon, Maine. (Author’s Collection)

This type of photograph is known as a carte de visite, and they were very popular during the Civil War era. Invented in the mid-1850s, an individual photo of this type could be had for as little as twenty-five cents, making them wildly popular and very affordable for just about everyone. Untold numbers of these images were produced and, fortunately for photograph collectors, many of them survive to this day.

I recently picked up this carte de visite, and in the course of my research into it found that the lady’s full name was Susan Adelaide Smith, and she was born on July 25, 1837, in Mount Vernon, Maine. I looked her up on the 1860 US Census and found her living in Mount Vernon with her parents, Nathan and Irena Smith, and her siblings Marine, Hiram, Albion, Addia, Louisa, Albina, and Sarah. (1860 U.S. Census, Mount Vernon, Kennebec, Maine, page 621)

Enumeration of the Smith Family of Mount Vernon, Maine, on the 1860 U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)

On March 23, 1865, Susan married Benjamin F. Robinson, a Civil War Veteran who had served in Company F, 6th Kansas Cavalry. He was a native of Mount Vernon but had moved to Kansas before the war. Soon after the nuptials, Benjamin took his bride to Kansas, and the couple settled in Saline County.

Illustration of Benjamin F. Robinson, husband of Susan Adeline Robinson. (The Salina Semi-Weekly Journal, August 10, 1909.)

One of the Robinsons’ new neighbors was a former slave named Larry Lapsley, who escaped from bondage in Texas during the Civil War. He had made an epic trek which took him through Confederate-controlled Indian Territory before reaching the Union lines in Kansas. The Robinsons befriended Lapsley and became close friends with the former slave. Fortunately, Lapsley was persuaded to tell the story of how he escaped from captivity, and it was published in the Kansas Historical Quarterly under the title, “The Story of a Kansas Freedman.” (Kansas Historical Quarterly, Volume 11, #4, November 1942)

Lapsley related in the article how he was “taught to read by Mrs. B.F. Robinson, the wife of his nearest neighbor, in the kitchen of her home. She held there what is considered the first school in Liberty township. Larry’s favorite paper was the Police Gazette, to which he was a subscriber for many years. Mrs. Robinson protested that it was too vulgar for him to read but he always argued that it didn’t hurt him and couldn’t possible hurt anyone else because it came in a wrapper and no one else could see the pictures.”

When Larry Lapsley died in December 1897, he was buried in the Gypsum Hill Cemetery in Salina, Kansas. He had never married, and he left his farm, worth about $3,500, to the Robinsons. Benjamin F. Robinson died August 5, 1909, at the age of 77, and Susan Robinson died on May 18, 1919. They are buried in the Gypsum Hill Cemetery as well, next to their good friend Larry Lapsley.

On Larry Lapsley’s tombstone is carved the following phrase, and I think it must have been picked out by Lapsley himself, for he is truly someone that knew the value of freedom:

“If the Son there-
fore shall make
you free, ye shall
be free indeed.”

Larry Lapsley’s Grave in Gypsum Hill Cemetery (Findagrave.com)

If anyone would like to read the remarkable story of Larry Lapsley’s journey to freedom, the article has been transcribed and put online – it can be found here.

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There are 12 comments.

  1. The Reticulator Member

    Fascinating find! That’s the sort of thing I like to turn into a bicycle destination, if only to pay my respects at the cemetery.

    • #1
    • July 18, 2019, at 1:23 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    Indeed. That’s a good one.

    • #2
    • July 18, 2019, at 3:00 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. Full Size Tabby Member

    Jeff Giambrone:Larry Lapsley’s Grave in Gypsum Hill Cemetery (Findagrave.com)

    If anyone would like to read the remarkable story of Larry Lapsley’s journey to freedom, the article has been transcribed and put online – it can be found here: https://www.kshs.org/p/the-story-of-a-kansas-freedman/12923

    The linked story of Larry Lapsley is fascinating – particularly the first part that provides a rather matter-of-fact recitation of life as a slave, not a sensationalized story written by someone with an agenda. 

    • #3
    • July 18, 2019, at 3:16 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    I have a large Ancestry file of about 4500 people going back in one instance to 1600s Delaware.

    My mother was 40 the year I was born and her father was 49 when she was born. He was born in 1849, so he was 12 when the Civil War began. I have a copy of a Daguerrotype of him and his sister at age about 5

    and a tintype of him as a young man.

    That latter is about 1870 or so. He is to the right . Thus, there are only three generations between me and the Civil War.

    • #4
    • July 18, 2019, at 4:09 PM PST
    • 12 likes
  5. kylez Member

    Last year I discovered a picture taken in Massachusetts in 1921 of 5 generations, 4 of whom are direct ancestors to me. My mom’s grandmother holding her first child (great-uncle to me), her mother, grandfather, and great-grandmother. Unfortunately, I can’t make out much of their faces as this was in a newspaper and very poor quality or aged very badly by the time it was digitized. 

    I’m wondering if perhaps I could get a copy of the photo from the paper’s archives, but being almost 100 years old what are the chances they would have it?

     

    • #5
    • July 18, 2019, at 5:40 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. kylez Member

    My people married young so the great-grandmother, 4 greats to me, was only about 5 years older than Michael Kennedy’s grandpa. 

    An article describes her coming into Adams, MA with her family as a “pink-cheeked child,” which instantly reminded me of my little sister’s rosy cheeks. 

    • #6
    • July 18, 2019, at 5:46 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. The Reticulator Member

    kylez (View Comment):

    Last year I discovered a picture taken in Massachusetts in 1921 of 5 generations, 4 of whom are direct ancestors to me. My mom’s grandmother holding her first child (great-uncle to me), her mother, grandfather, and great-grandmother. Unfortunately, I can’t make out much of their faces as this was in a newspaper and very poor quality or aged very badly by the time it was digitized.

    I’m wondering if perhaps I could get a copy of the photo from the paper’s archives, but being almost 100 years old what are the chances they would have it?

     

    It should be possible to track down information as to whether the original newspaper exists, and where. Original photo would be a lot less likely.

    • #7
    • July 18, 2019, at 5:58 PM PST
    • Like
  8. The Reticulator Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):
    My mother was 40 the year I was born and her father was 49 when she was born. He was born in 1849, so he was 12 when the Civil War began.

    Well, that beats Mrs R’s story by a good 12 years. She had a grandfather who was born during the American Civil War, though he still lived in Germany at the time. Her mother was almost 40 when she was born, and her father was 48, and I think it’s her mother’s father who goes back to the early 1860s

    • #8
    • July 18, 2019, at 6:01 PM PST
    • Like
  9. Arahant Member

    kylez (View Comment):
    I’m wondering if perhaps I could get a copy of the photo from the paper’s archives, but being almost 100 years old what are the chances they would have it?

    It’s possible.

    • #9
    • July 18, 2019, at 6:38 PM PST
    • Like
  10. EJHill Podcaster

    kylezI’m wondering if perhaps I could get a copy of the photo from the paper’s archives, but being almost 100 years old what are the chances they would have it?

    Depends on the newspaper. Is it still in operation?

    • #10
    • July 18, 2019, at 9:32 PM PST
    • Like
  11. kylez Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    kylez: I’m wondering if perhaps I could get a copy of the photo from the paper’s archives, but being almost 100 years old what are the chances they would have it?

    Depends on the newspaper. Is it still in operation?

    Yes, North Adams Transcript.

    I just now found that the copy on another site, Newspapers.com, is somewhat better. 

    • #11
    • July 18, 2019, at 11:00 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    My mother was born in 1898 and died in 2001. She lived in three centuries. Had a good time, too.

    1925 in Los Angeles. She had great stories. She danced with Victor McLaughlan. Her high point.

    • #12
    • July 19, 2019, at 8:08 AM PST
    • 9 likes