“She would love to live—very much—she thought of so many things she should love to do”

With ministers, social reformers, and politicians often stopping by the Goodell house, Lavinia certainly grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment. That may partly explain her precociousness. On the downside, little Lavinia did not spend much time playing with children her own age. Her parents were old enough to be her grandparents. Her sole sibling, Maria, was 12 years her senior. And frequent illness kept her from attending the district school. All that changed when cousin Amanda came to stay with the Goodells. To Maria, the visit was so transformative that she devoted a short chapter to Amanda in Lavinia’s biography.

Faux Lavinia, maybe Amanda Goodell?
Amanda Goodell?

Amanda was the daughter  of Samuel and Electa Goodell of Canastota, New York. Samuel was Lavinia’s uncle.  He died when Amanda was about 7.

Amanda was just two years older than Lavinia. Maria described her as “bright and joyous” and “glowing with health, sparkling with fun and mischief, abounding in resources, and filled with artistic devices.” The girls drew pictures. They cut up and remade a perfectly good velvet bonnet (without permission.) They built castles in the snow, a raft that carried them to ports around the globe, and their own little house made from debris and broken earthenware collected from around the neighborhood. Lavinia adored her cousin and gained vitality from her long visit.

Amanda grew into an impressive young lady who succeeded in artistic studies. Maria describes her as having “a rare combination of courage, energy, and genius.” One day, Amanda was driving out when she spotted a little child with her hair waving in the wind. She stopped her horse to speak to the child. After making inquiries and learning that the little girl was motherless, Amanda took her home, and the Canastota Goodells adopted her. [Ancestry.com indicates the adopted child was Elizabeth (Lizzie) Goodell 1856-1942.]

In 1860, when 21-year old Lavinia was working with her father at The Principia, she learned that Amanda had fallen seriously ill with consumption (tuberculosis). By November, she was dying, so Lavinia rushed to visit her. Amanda rallied upon seeing Lavinia. They spent time talking and looking over a book of engravings.

Amanda told Lavinia that “she would love to live—very much. She thought of so many things she should love to do.” She “was humorous and witty at times, and always cheerful.” She spoke calmly of death. She viewed it as “moving from one room to another” and said she was only going to meet her father and sister.  Amanda died at 4:00 p.m. on November 29, 1860, at age 23. Her mother, siblings, and Lavinia were with her at the end. Lavinia said that “she motioned to kiss us all once more and pressed our hand when hers was cold in death and whispered ‘goodbye.'”

Gravestone of Amanda Goodell and her family
Gravestone of Amanda Goodell and her family

Just a few weeks earlier, Amanda had seen a poem called “Over the River,” which described how the angel of death would carry a person over a peaceful river for a sweet meeting with the loved ones who had gone before. She edited it to insert her family’s names and to suit her own case. Lavinia published it in the “Family Miscellany” section of The Principia with the introduction: “The following, slightly varied from the publication in which it was found, by Amanda Goodell, was selected by her as expressive of her feelings just before her decease, and read at her funeral.” Read the complete poem here.

Editorial note: Until recently, many Wisconsinites believed that the photo of the woman above was Lavinia Goodell. As explained in this post, it is actually a photograph of an unknown young woman from the 19th century found among many Goodell family photos. Could it be a treasured photo of Amanda? If you have suggestions on how to track down the identity of the faux Lavinia, please let us know in the comment section below.

Sources consulted: Maria Goodell Frost, Life of Lavinia Goodell; Lavinia Goodell’s letter to Maria Frost, November 30, 1860; “Family Miscellany”, The Principia, Jan. 12, 1861.

1 comment


Thanks for posting Amanda’s version of “Over the River”. It refers to her father and sister who had predeceased her.

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