August 8, 2011

Soapy Smith's grandmother: Ellen Stimpson Peniston

(Click image to enlarge)

Ellen Stimpson Peniston was born in 1802. During her life she was known as the "Belle of Virginia" and "the Flower of Georgia." Unfortunately for her grandchild, Jefferson R. Smith II (alias "Soapy") she passed away in 1860 before his birth. Had she lived longer perhaps she might have been able to lead young Jefferson along a different path in life.

Ellen married Dr. Ira Ellis Smith on December 6, 1821 in Petersburg, Virginia. She gave Ira a total of 11 children.

Around 1821, Ira and Ellen moved their home to Wilkes County, Georgia, later known as Oglethorpe County, where they lived for about seven years.

On March 25, 1828, the state of Georgia held a land grant lottery for the sale of land ceded to the state in a treaty with the Creek Indians. Ira won the right to purchase land in the Sixth district of Coweta County, named for the large Coweta Indian population in the region. The land purchased was seven miles beyond the settlement of Newnan and the Smith’s were one of the first families to reside there.

Thankfully, family members saved some of the early letters written by Ellen. Following are two examples written in 1820 from Virginia.

Family member, Ellen Rafeedie, sent me the following copies in which Ellen S. Peniston is corresponding with her brother, Anthony Peniston, a physician in New Orleans, Louisiana. He co-founded the School of Medicine in New Orleans, which later became the Tulane University. His portrait hangs in Founders Hall. and Peniston Street in New Orleans was named in his honor. Online, I found a medical journal (in french)  from 1854 located at the Louisiana State University (1 Vol. Location: M:20  -  For further information see online catalog. Mss. 339).

February 3d, 1820

Dear brother

Feeling sensibly your neglect I had almost determined on the same course of conduct but my friendship conquered that inclination, and I cannot resist the pleasure of writing though I am apprehensive that either the letter or the writer (or perhaps both) will be deemed by you unworthy of your notice. Although this conclusion is deeply mortifying, and the general tenour of your past conduct should forbid such a suspicion, the sincerity and ardour of my love, produce fears as to the perpetuity of your affection and lead me to draw from your silence the most painful inference. My mind is busied and agitated with a thousand conjectures as to the cause of offence which I may possibly have given you, but the most scrupulous and impartial retrospection of my past conduct, does not furnish me with a single instance in which I can accuse myself of having deviated from the strictest rules of a sisters duty. I entreat you not to leave me in that painful suspense attendant on your silence, but either inform me by letter in what manner I have offended you, or convey to me the assurance that my fears are groundless and that I still share some portion of your fondness.

Nothing of moment has occured since you left us. I have boarded Mary C with a lady who is capable of attending to the morals as well as deportment, Mrs Gary of Prince George. She goes to school to Mr. Branch who is sufficiently learned, as yet, she being backward in her education.

I have had the pleasure of hearing from you indirectly. The place of your residence is well known, and I am sorry you did not explain yourself explicitly, ere you left us, as you have been very much censured in this abode of friends, for the mystery which accompanied you altho' I am not acquainted with your affairs I am perfectly assured you always act from motives perfectly consistent with propriety.

Samuel has left his school and friters away his time in the street not regarding any advice which is given him by me. The other children are well. Mr. Burke will hand you this he has met with a powerful friend in Boiling Robinson, who will no doubt, advance him considerably in his literary carreer. To hear of your prosperity and celebrity in your profession is the first wish of my heart and tho' tossed about by the rude billows of adversity, I still have a sheltering port in your affection, for I cannot bids you the injustice to believe you are selfish enough to forget those whom nature and religion bids us love and cherish - it was reported you died in New York in an Oyster house. Oh! the Poisonous breath of calumny vice vegetates more luxuriantly here than in any other place I have ever known, and a knowledge of the malignity of some of our dear Petersburg friends accounts for these reports. You will perceive that in one paragraph of my letter I have taken the sisterly liberty of admonishing, and is not dread greater in use than an astronomer would receive for remarking a small spot on the brilliant orb of the sun.

Mrs A compliments and best wishes believe me to be ever yours

Ellen S. Peniston

In the next letter Ellen has married Dr. Ira.

Mount Laurel
Dec. 24, 1821

Dear brother

Months have roll'd [sic] by, hours of anxiety have suceeded [sic] each other, with out a single line to relieve my solicitude. I wrote in answer to the letter enclosed to Mr. Sproner, but imagine you never received it, any other conclusion would be too mortifying and so then is the mood soothing to affection, I adopt it with the friends he has of the truth. How many prayers do I offer up to that throne of devine [sic] mercy, for your safety and protection. Through the toil some and diversified scenes of precarious existance [sic], no selfish [illegible] can erase my anxiety, or cause me to forget the brother, my early love, the friend who supported me through the thorny path of adversity, and lighten'd [sic] the bursting heart of sorrows devoted child. Can I forget your assiduousness to tranquilize my feelings under every affliction? or cease to be grateful for the many tender proofs I have experienced, of your steady and underacting love. Rembrance [sic] cherishes them in my bosom and gratitude shall perpetuate them -

The important era in the eventful life of your sister has pass'd [sic]. I am married!!!! The marriage was solemnized at Mr. Akins before a large and brilliant assemblage of ladies and gentlemen, the 6th of this month. I am united to a man of worth, one who is universally belov'd [sic], and, whose merits an envious world is willing to acknowledge. Dr. Smith of Dinwiddie, he is a partner of Dr. Peter Haraway and as that is the case, we reside at his house in [illegible] before we commence house hunting. Mary Catherine is with us. All our brothers are well. Samuel causes me more sorrow than any thing in the world. He is in Petersburg, but has no home. He has been refused board every where he appli'd [sic] and he is too lazy to think of any alternative himself and too headstrong to listen to my advice. if you do not send for him disgrace and ruin will attend him, for you are the only person who can manage him at all. I deliver'd [sic] your letter safe to Mrs. M, who has never condescended to speak easily to me who she [illegible sentence]
business and she spends in fashion and folly, his hard earnings, as soon as she can grasp at them - her mother has lately died, but the dear propensity can not be still'd [sic], not even by the hand of Death! It is astonishing to me how a mother can be so blind to the interests of her children, or a wife so destitute of affection for her husband! You will gratify me more than I can express, by sending me your miniature by the first opportunity - tis not impracticable and the pleasure of gazing on your features, though still and inanimate, will convey to your sister's bosom the most delightful emotions - a willing gaze on it and fancy, I see in the delicate combinations of that face the irradiations of your brilliant understanding and almost think the lips parting to give me a smile of love. Write to me brother. I entrust you to torture me no longer, By your neglect or deepen the wound it has already occasion'd [sic]. How shall I find words to express how warmly and affectionately I am your
sister, and friend.
Ellen S. Smith

August 2, 2011
May 23, 2011
May 22, 2011
April 16, 2010 

Ellen Stimpson Peniston: pp 19-21.

1891: Soapy’s Denver auction house is gutted by fire.

Jeff Smith


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