Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Death of Benjamin Franklin Tisdale

  Tucked between the pages of the family bible in Belle Tisdale's trunk were dozens of yellowed newspaper clippings. Most were obituaries or, as they used to call them in New Orleans, death notices. Many of them were carefully attached to the pages with straight pins. One very small clipping read:

B. F. Tisdale Sr.,    
Benjamin Franklin Tisdale Sr. c1870

   We were surprised to read that he had died, not in Louisiana, but in Alabama, just north of Mobile. 

   Dr. James J. Grace mentioned in  the obituary is listed in the 1880 census living in Whistler not far from B. F. Tisdale's sister Mary ElizaTisdale (1810-1882) and her husband Jacob Magee (1812-1883).

   We had visited the Tisdale family plot at Magnolia Cemetery in Baton Rouge and seen the inscriptions on the monument there for B. F. Tisdale and his wife Eliza Pratt Tisdale and assumed he was buried there.

   Another surprise was the discrepancy in the year of death for B. F. Tisdale. We know he died in 1876 from several sources, but the date on the Baton Rouge monument is 1877. Was that inscription added when Eliza died in 1914 and the year of his death almost forgotten?

   Later we found a manuscript by Marion E. Tisdale Jr. online that filled in some of the blanks. He writes that Mary Eliza and her brother Joseph Wade Tisdale helped care for their younger siblings when the family moved from New Bern, North Carolina, to a small plantation on the Tombigbee River in Alabama in 1830. B. F. Tisdale would have been 7 years old then and may have looked up to her as a mother figure. 

   Marion also writes that "...Benjamin Franklin Tisdale had a problem with alcohol and ended up estranged from Eliza and living with his older sister, Mary Tisdale Magee, at the time of his death on June 16, 1876. Before he died, he wrote a letter to Eliza apologizing for deserting his family. We still have a copy of this letter. He was buried in the family cemetery on the farm."  That part of the story did not come down our branch of the family tree.

   B. F. Tisdale left his wife with four children under the age of 15. Eliza Tisdale and the children, Mary, Isabella [Arabella], Frank, William, Olive Lee, and Robert, were enumerated in the 1870 census in Baton Rouge. Marion Eugene and Charles Harry had not been born yet. They are listed as a separate family in the home of her parents William and Bernice Pratt. In 1880 they are listed in Baton Rouge as part of the William Pratt family with children Willie, Lee, Robert, Marion, and Hiram [Harry]. Mary and Belle have both married by then and living with their spouses' families. Frank is living separately in Baton Rouge and working as a clerk in a grocery store.

   The last letters we have from B. F. Tisdale to Frank and to Belle were written in 1874. "Old Bill Pike" was getting ready to close the business where B. F. Tisdale worked. Belle's father sounds angry and depressed. Was he self-medicating with alcohol? It was certainly no more dangerous and probably as effective as most of the remedies used by doctors at that time. W. S. Pike died in January 1875 before he could liquidate his business, but B. F. Tisdale would still have been without a job in a very unfavorable economic time. Did he flee to the home of his beloved sister?

   The story of the Magee farm in Kushla is a fascinating one and I promise to continue it next time with our visit to the Magee Farm and B. F. Tisdale's Alabama grave.