“Aunt Lois feels Carrie’s death more and more every day.”

Clarissa Goodell, September 6, 1866

Like most families in the nineteenth century, the Goodells experienced the premature deaths of family members, including Lavinia’s two year old niece Harriet Frost, an unnamed infant nephew,  and her twenty-three year old cousin Amanda Goodell. In 1866, Lavinia lost another cousin, thirty-seven year old Caroline Smith Ellsworth.

Caroline Smith Ellsworth

Carrie was born in 1829, the only child of Lavinia’s mother’s sister, Lois Cady, and her husband, Roswell Smith, the author of textbooks on grammar, geography, and arithmetic. In 1854, Carrie married Oliver Chaffee Ellsworth, a Boston publisher whose paternal grandfather was Oliver Ellsworth, the third Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and whose maternal grandfather was Noah Webster. The couple had one son, William Webster Ellsworth, born in 1855. Willie Ellsworth was the same age as, and a frequent correspondent of, Lavinia’s eldest nephew, William Goodell Frost.

As a young child, Willie Ellsworth suffered from some sort of paralysis. He spent time recuperating with his grandparents in Hartford, Connecticut. His grandmother reported:

We thought his recovery doubtful at one time but a kind Providence saw faith to spare his precious life. We have great cause for gratitude. He keeps me busy I can assure you, is full of mischief, into everything, is a roguish little fellow but it does us good to see him running about for he really had no use of his limbs all winter.  

Carrie Ellsworth died on July 31, 1866. We do not know the cause of her death. Her mother was inconsolable. Lavinia’s mother wrote:

Aunt Lois says she is a heartbroken woman, feels her loss more and more every day. I’m afraid it will wear her out. Her great consolation is that Carrie is a glorified spirit in heaven, washed in her Savior’s blood, and made perfect in His righteousness and her great desire is to be ready when her Master calls.

The following month, Lavinia’s mother wrote again: “Aunt Lois … says it is a dreadful blow that she never can get over. Her darling Carrie. O,  my heart bleeds for her. Sister says she wants to send Maria something that Caroline has worn. Sarah [Thomas] thinks under clothes would be most acceptable to Maria. I thought perhaps a dress would be best, but anything that was Carrie’s.”  

In January 1867, Lavinia’s sister Maria reported that she had received a package. “I have had a great present from Aunt Lois of a beautiful winter dress that was Carrie’s, some underclothes, and some things for Nelson that will be very useful next summer. I was not expecting anything more than some trifle for a keepsake.” A month later Maria enclosed in a letter to Lavinia a small swatch of Carrie’s dress.

Maria Frost’s February 25, 1867 letter to Lavinia Goodell

Perhaps the dress looked something like this:

Late 1860s dress

Sadly, Carrie’s family seemed to have a falling out with her widower. Several months after Carrie died, Oliver Ellsworth declined to publish one of his father-in-law’s textbooks, which caused considerable disappointment. When Oliver married again in the summer of 1868, the family was not particularly enamored of his new bride. Lavinia’s mother wrote:

Mr. Ellsworth is to be married next month. I expect it will almost break Aunt Lois’s heart to see that Miss Janvrin takes her darling Carrie’s place as she was not a favorite of hers or Carrie’s. Everybody has their troubles. I hope Mr. Ellsworth will have a monument erected for Carrie before he is married. If he doesn’t Aunt Lois will immediately after. He told Lois he was looking around to see about one.  

Oliver Ellsworth’s second wife apparently died in childbirth in 1870, along with their son. He married a third time – to Miss Janvrin’s sister – and had another son, who lived until 1944.

Sources consulted: Clarissa Goodell’s letters to Lavinia Goodell (September 6, 1866; October 13, 1866; November 2, 1866); undated letter from Lois Smith to Clarissa Goodell; Maria Frost’s letters to Lavinia Goodell (January 14, 1867; February 25, 1867; July 23, 1868); Wisconsin Magazine of History, No. 96, Volume 3, (Spring 2013); Photo of Caroline Smith Ellsworth courtesy of Beverly Wright.

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