By Jessica Gorman
The Spirit of Science Hill was a publication of the Minden Female College. In 1859, it included the obituary of former student Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver. It reads as follows:
“Died – In Minden, on the 16th ult., Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver. She was born in Pike County, Miss. 1841. Thus, at the early age of eighteen, the silver chord of life was loosened, and many sunny hopes blasted in the morning of existence.
‘She’s gone, forever gone! The king of Terrors lays his rude hands upon her lovely limbs, and blasts her beauty with his breath.’
Besides numerous friends, the deceased has left a devoted husband, a sorrow stricken, widowed mother, and several mourning brothers and sisters to weep her loss. Cease your grief, melancholy husband and fond mother, though nature requires your tears; you should be consoled by the happy thought that your loved one is among the spotless and redeemed in heaven. Disconsolate brothers and sisters, let the hope of meeting her whose loss you deplore, in a better land, comfort you. We, her former classmates and companions would not call her happy spirit from regions of bliss to this world of troubles; though tears unbidden will force their way down our cheeks, and we cannot suppress the sighs – sad tributes – that our hearts pay to her memory.”
Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver was Mary Elizabeth Houston, daughter of James and Elizabeth Houston. She married Jasper N. Oliver on 26 August 1857 in Bossier Parish at the age of sixteen. Although her obituary gives her age as eighteen, she was just seventeen years old, her death occurring only days before her birthday. Her obituary mentions her husband, mother, and siblings. However, it does not mention an additional family member not yet old enough to grieve her loss, her one-month-old daughter, Mary Josephine. Sadly, Mary Josephine also died just six months later. The 1860 United States Census Mortality Schedule reveals her cause of death as chicken pox. Mother and daughter share a headstone and are buried in the old section of the Minden Cemetery.
You may wonder why I chose to write about Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver. It may seem that there isn’t much to tell. Maybe it’s my interest in genealogy or cemeteries, but I think that everybody’s story is important, regardless of the perceived significance of a person. We can learn so much about life and history, and hopefully gain a little bit of perspective about the people who lived in times so different from those we live in today. The stories of everyday, ordinary people help us to connect to the past and reveal its humanity, to realize that history is more than just a collection of facts. The story of Elizabeth and her daughter represents the reality of life in earlier times, of so many lives cut short.
(Jessica Gorman is the Assistant Director and Archivist for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden and is an avid genealogist.)