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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Here We Go Again! It's Worse than "Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?"

The identity of the woman named Amanda Ruggles, sister of T. Edward Ruggles,  remained a mystery.  Did she die on September 29, 1863, as Laura's diary told us? Or was she a late-comer to St. Helena, arriving, according to Harriot Murray Ruggles, on Christmas Day, 1864? Since returning from the dead is not a reasonable explanation, there had to be something more.

I turned to genealogy for the answers. Let's start with the identity of T[homas] Edwin Ruggles. He was born in 1838 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the youngest child of Philarman and Eliza P. Ruggles.  The 1850 census shows T. Edwin, age 12, living at home with his parents and three older sisters--Eliza Ann, age 27, Amanda R., age 23, and Mary A., age 19. Massachusetts Death Records show that Mary A. died in 1858, so she was gone before the events of the 1860s. That leaves two older sisters. 

Then came the first clue: Sister Eliza Ann Ruggles shows up as having died on 29 September, 1863, in Massachusetts. That's the date of the first mystery Amanda's death in South Carolina, but the diary shows that after the body was placed in a coffin, brother T. Edwin traveled  back to Massachusetts. And there was the clincher:  The diary reads, "Mr. Ruggles went North today.  ELISA was to have gone with him."That explains why the death is listed there.  

The real Amanda did not die until 1888. What's happening in the records?  For that we have to go back to T. Edwin Ruggles, who married Harriot W. Murray, Ellen Murray's sister, on September 13, 1866. So now we have the connection between the two families. And it has become clear that the woman who died was not Amanda, but her older sister Eliza. But the remaining question is still, who got the name wrong when writing about that 1863 death?

Back we go to the question of who copied the diary! The 1863 death was a traumatic experience for Laura. She wrote about it in agonizing detail.  She had trained as a doctor and used all her medical knowledge, sitting up with "Amanda" night after night, but it was not enough to save her life. Laura was also aware that everyone on the island knew that she and "Amanda" did not get along. She feared that she would be blamed for her death. Given those facts, she was not likely to have gotten the name wrong in her diary. 

Now, one of the conventions in the diary is the use of names like Miss R. and Miss A., rather than the first names. That worked well until you had a Miss R[uggles] and a Miss R[ice] in the same story, as happened here. Much earlier in Laura's diary, she had referred to Miss Ruggles as "Amanda" and talked of their quarrels over the quality of "Amanda's" teaching  If someone else copied the diary, that copier may have decided to substitute the first names for the original abbreviations. And once the name appeared, readers would accept as fact, as I did.

But if it was Ellen who did the copying, wouldn't she have known the name? Yes, but . . . the copying was done in 1901 or later, some 40 years after the events, and details, as we all know from experience, tend to get lost in that long a time break.

Here's what I think happened. I envision Ellen turning to her sister Harriot's memory for help, with the question of "What was the name of T. Edwin's sister?" Harriot should know; after all, she's married to him. BUT, she did not know the first "Amanda." That young woman died on September 29, 1863. Harriot arrived in St. Helena on November 9, 1863. The two never met. Harriot only knew the Ruggles sister who came to St. Helena in 1864. So her quick answer to the question would have been "Amanda." And that's the record that has come down to us in the diary. Wouldn't Ellen have eventually caught the error herself when the second Amanda appeared? Not necessarily. The handwritten copy of the diary ends in May1864. The second Amanda did not arrive until Christmas of that year, so Ellen (or another copier) would not have been reminded of her existence.

So there's a major error in The Road to Frogmore. I can go back and change it in an updated edition, which I will probably do at some future point. However, for the moment, I am satisfied to have solved another piece of the puzzle.

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