Sarah Alexander Cunningham Helps Me Solve A Mystery

Do you remember Sarah Alexander Cunningham?  I wrote about her  before, but she only figured very briefly in a LawtonFest post.  No matter if you don’t remember.  We’re all going to be best friends forever very soon.

Step back into time to the 1970’s.  I know for a fact that the time frame is before 1976, because that’s when Sarah Alexander Cunningham died.  She lived a few doors down from Sugar’s grandmother on Taylor Street in Savannah.

Sarah Alexander Cunningham asked Sugar’s grandmother for Sugar to call on her, so he did.  He did not know who she was, but he did his duty, and she presented him with two candlesticks.  He supposes today that she told him the story of the candlesticks and why she wanted him to have them, but he wasn’t listening.  Bad Sugar.

So now we fast forward into time, and Sugar still has the candlesticks but no story.  We set out to try to figure out who Sarah Alexander Cunningham was, and, folks, you will begin to understand the importance of who she was and how she helped me solve a mystery from beyond the grave.

I reviewed my LawtonFest, Part 5 post, and saw that Sarah Alexander Cunningham’s mother was Nora.  That’s Nora Lawton, y’all.  And from our excursion to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library to view the A. R. Lawton Family Papers in the Southern Historical Collection, we had learned that Nora’s parents were Alexander Robert and Sarah Alexander Lawton.  And Alexander Robert Lawton and Sugar’s great-grandfather William Seabrook Lawton were *BROTHERS*, and their father was Alexander James Lawton.  Perhaps you’ve noticed there are lots of “Alexanders” in this family set-up, both as a first name and last name.

*****

There’s a weird phenomenon on my blog.  Everyone wants to know more about Corinne Elliott Lawton.  She has a magnificent marker in Bonaventure Cemetery, and, in an effort to learn more about her, I found her obituary, which is really not an obituary at all, but a funeral invitation.

Really, every day I get hits on the blog from folks just like you using the search term, “Corinne Elliott Lawton”.  Lots of times “Corinne” or “Elliott” is misspelled, but they still find me.  As of today, my all-time most popular post is about Corinne, and it has 1,706 views.  The 2nd most popular post has 890 views.  That’s almost half of number one.

Why are they looking for Corinne?

Because there is a popular cemetery tour, and her story is one of the highlights of the tour.  Her story says that she committed suicide by drowning in the river just beyond where she is buried.  There are other accounts on the internet of similar tone, and the embellishments are bizarre.

That her family was forcing her to marry someone she didn’t love.

That she loved someone beneath her station.

That she drowned herself on her wedding day, wearing her wedding gown.

OK, y’all.  Please stop.  Because these stories are not true.  Sarah Alexander Cunningham led me to the real story.

*****

We went to a Lawton family reunion a few weeks ago.  There were some serious researchers there.  I asked several, “Have you ever heard of Corinne Elliott Lawton?”  They all looked blank, and shook their heads.  No one had heard of her, and this is a big, widespread family reunion.  The reason that no one in the family association seems to know of her is because her father, A. R. Lawton left South Carolina and moved to Savannah, and his descendants don’t attend the family reunions.

*****

Sarah Alexander Cunningham, 1887-1976.  She donated her collection of family letters, photos, diaries, etc. to the Georgia Historical Society.

Did I say diaries?  Did I say that her mother was Nora Lawton Cunningham, Corinne’s sister?  Did I say that Nora, Corinne, Louise, and Alexander Jr.’s mother was Sarah Alexander Lawton, and did I say that she kept diaries?

*****

A trip to the Georgia Historical Society yesterday led me to the diaries.  You are allowed to take photos with a digital camera without flash, which I did.  You are not allowed to publish the images on the internet, so I won’t.  I signed a piece of paper that said I wouldn’t.  I did, however, transcribe the diary pages that referred to Corinne’s illness and subsequent death.  The following is from the Sarah Alexander Cunningham collection of family papers, MS 194, Box 2, Diary 1876-1884.

(Page 67)

January, 1877

Monday 8th.  This is the list

of the people that have called

for business at this door this morn-

ing, before half past twelve.

1.  A woman to ask for ivy for Mr. (?)

R. Cohen’s office.

2.  Mr. Ludden to fix the piano.

3.  Mr. Locke to fix the clock.

4.  Mrs. Cooper came to know if I am

ready for her to sew.

5.  Miss Lavender came about sewing.

6.  Mrs. Floyd came about sewing.

7.  A colored woman to ask for money

to help a very ill woman.

8.  The Doctor to see Nora.

9.  The washerwoman.

10.  Claude Sullivan’s baby to be

admired.

Mrs. Maner called before din-

ner – then Mr. Wade came to dinner.

Before we left the table, Cliff came –

the first time she has been out for

more than two weeks.  Then came Mrs.

Goodwin, Mrs.  Loullard (?), Lucy Hull,

Allie Law, & George & Hattie Hull

and so till tea time – & Wallace.

(Page 68)

We left home last summer

Aug. 17.  On the 11th I had been

taken sick, with an attack wh.  I

now think was a light form of the

epidemic wh. afterwards prevailed.

I had chill, fever, headache & pains

all over.  I treated myself with the

“9 tumblers” (of water, hot & cold alter-

nating) (?) bath of opiate.  I was

up in four days – but weak & feeble

till I left & for some time after.

The fearful epidemic broke an

(?) upon us.  A.R.L. was here

at this time – having returned after

locating us at New Holland.  He

left Aug. 31. & I met him in Atlanta.

Our family spent a month at N.

Holland & went Sept. 21 to Clarksville –

stayed there a month – then went to

Atlanta.  I returned alone to Savh

Nov. 2.  A.R.L. came the next day

from Columbus – David (?), Corinne & Nora

returned, N. from Athens & C. from

Augusta where they have been making

visits.  Lulu went to Screven Co. & only

came home Dec 15.

(Page 69)

I found the house all unprepared

on my return & had a month of toil

to have everything properly cleansed

& fumigated & put in living order.

Nora has had rheumatism, all

this time & been often confined to her

bed & of late has suffered much.

Corinne is just up after 10 days of

sickness from cold.  We have had six

weeks of severe weather.

Al came home the day before

Christmas, bringing Jim Hamilton.

Jim was here a week, & all the time

it poured rain.  Al left Jan. 2.

(Page 70)

Jan. 11.  These are the visitors

we have had today.

Dr. Thomas, Dr. Houston, Mary

Ella Hull, Allie Law, dear Auntie,

Sister Lou, Hattie & Cliff before dinner.

By the time we finished dinner,

Gulie Lawton came, then Belle Maples, Aggie Stod-

dard, Sallie Mills, & Annie Wash.

To tea – Cliff & Geo. Hull.  After tea

Mr. Ryals.

Yesterday we had Bessie Austin,

Mary Stoddard, Lucy Elliott, Bessie,

Mrs. Wilder, Lizzie Harriss, Mary Ella,

Eva Mills, Allie Law, Sallie C,

Hattie Hull.  After tea Capt.

Farley & Mr. Goles (?) (who has just come

to study in the office)

(Page 71)

Friday

Jan. 12th.  Ther. 50o.  weather fair &

warm.  & oppressive in the sun.

The sick ones half sick.  Nora

still in bed, but no pain.

Allie Law, Sallie C., Mary Ella,

Dr. Houston (to drive (?) Corinne), Mrs.

Warfield, Habersham Clay, Mrs.

Green, Annie, Mollie & Minnie,

Page Wilder, Edward Stoddard, Walton

Charlton, Liss (?) Gilmer.

Walton stayed late & I walked

home with her.  Corinne seemed so

tired.

In the evening of Sat. 13, Corinne

went to bed, promising Lulu & me

that she would keep her bed till she

was well.  How that promise was

to be fulfilled, who could have tho’t?

Her sickness seemed so light.

On Sunday I sent for Dr. Houston.

After church many of the family

came in – some to inquire after the

sick ones, some to see Florie Lawton

who arrived Thursday.  Among the

visitors was Wallace Cumming – his

(Page 72)

last visit to us!  Corinne felt

very weak & begged me not to have

her see any visitors – as she could

not talk.  Yet very little seemed

the matter.

All that week she was in bed

& had light fever at times.

Thursday night her aunt Lou

Gilmer stayed & slept in her room,

Lulu being sick.

Friday evening she was very bright

but had a restless night.  I watched

beside her much of the night.

Saturday night I stayed with her.

Then came the days of darkness

which I cannot record.  Their story

is kept by Him who has said:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord

is the death of his saints.”

Wednesday morning, Jan. 24,

at 7:40 A. M. she drew her last

breath.

(Page 73)

Wallace Cumming died.

Tuesday, Feb 6, at 5:20 A. M.

At the break of day, we answered

the doorbell & found George Hull

with his message – “it is all over”.

*****

The previous year in 1876 there was a severe outbreak of yellow fever.  Many Savannahians sojourned to the upcountry to escape the mosquitoes which carried the disease.  It was reported that each outbreak of the fever ended in the fall when the mosquitoes died.  Corinne died in January 1877.  Shouldn’t the mosquitoes have been dead in January?

Sugar and I are here to tell you that we have mosquitoes year-round in this part of the country.  The diary shows the temperatures and the weather.  Warm, wet weather = mosquitoes.

Corinne died at home, in bed, with her family around her.

*****

Thanks to Sarah Alexander Cunningham, we have our answer.  Finally.

Good night, and sleep well, sweet Corinne.

(Many thanks to Joanna Catron at the Gari Melchers Home and Studio who commented on the blog that the stories are untrue and need to be corrected, which caused me to continue to look for the real story.  Joanna is a Lawton scholar, and already had the truth.  For anyone not in the know, Corinne Elliott Lawton’s namesake niece Corinne Mackall married Gari Melchers.)

(Edited 4/23/2014:  I’ve heard from a new reader, Corinne Lawton Jordan, who was named for her grandmother, Corinne Lawton born in 1879, who was in turn named for her cousin, Corinne Elliott Lawton, who died from illness, not tragedy or scandal.)

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11 Responses to “Sarah Alexander Cunningham Helps Me Solve A Mystery”

  1. Corinne Elliott Lawton, Obituary, Savannah Morning News, 1877 | Ruthrawls's Blog Says:

    […] (Edited on 7/10/13)  If you would like to read an account of Corinne’s last days as written by her mother in her diary, click here. […]

    Like

  2. presidentsquartersinn Says:

    Using the SCAD Historic Savannah Project map, the address “135 Perry St.” is 15 West Perry Street, Savannah (overlooking Chippewa Square) — Sandy Traub

    Like

    • ruthrawls Says:

      Hi Sandy, and thanks for commenting! When I googled “15 West Perry Street”, I got a map for “17” West Perry which appears to be the Stoddard-Lawton house. I suppose I should just drive by. This is just going to bug me until I do.

      Like

  3. Steeped in Noble #Savannah Heritage: Presidents’ Quarters Inn | Presidents' Quarters Inn - PR & Innkeeper's Blog Says:

    […] LAWTON MONUMENTS IN BONAVENTURE CEMETERY Perhaps the most notable female sculpture in Bonaventure Cemetery is of Corinne Elliott Lawton, Brigadier-General Lawton’s eldest daughter (September 21, 1846 –  January 24, 1877, at 7:40 a.m.). […]

    Like

  4. Corinne Elliott Lawton: Update, 8/8/2013 | Ruthrawls's Blog Says:

    […] Sarah Alexander Cunningham answers the mystery of Corinne’s death from beyond the grave.  Click here. […]

    Like

  5. The Truth Concerning the Death of Corrine Elliott Lawton @ Certain Point of View Says:

    […] You can read more from Ruth Rawls about Corinne at this link. […]

    Like

  6. Off to the Graveyard, Part 2 | Ruthrawls's Blog Says:

    […] died shortly after the death of Corinne Elliott Lawton, his niece.  You can refresh your memory here.  If you click on the link and read the previous post, you will also see Dr. Houston, Lou Gilmer […]

    Like

  7. The Gold Mine in the Closet: Gulie Lawton Read | Ruthrawls's Blog Says:

    […] can read the mention of Gulie in Sarah Alexander Lawton’s diary by clicking here. When I first read Sarah Alexander Lawton’s diary last year, I didn’t know who Gulie […]

    Like

  8. John Reddan Says:

    My name is John Reddan and I am the director of advancement here at Bethesda Academy. I am curious to learn more about Sarah Cunningham, the Lawton family, and their connections to Bethesda. Any insight, direction, or counsel will be greatly appreciated. Btw, LOVE your blog! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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