Last Words

In my previous post I described the enjoyment Emily (Price) Casbon derived from keeping bees and extracting their honey. Today’s post looks at what might have been Emily’s defining characteristic: her Christian faith.

Emily was the wife of Jesse Casbon (1843–1934), who with his father Thomas, mother Emma, two brothers and one sister (born after their arrival in America), emigrated in 1846 from Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, England, first to Wayne County, Ohio, and then in the 1860s to Porter County, Indiana. Jesse and Emily had four daughters: Maud Elma, Anna Mae, Lillian, and Edna.

On April 25, 1893, Emily wrote a letter to her sister Catherine “Kate” (Price) Winslow, who was possibly living in Kansas at the time. John Casbon found a handwritten copy of the letter when he recently sorted through mementos belonging to Anna Mae (Casbon) Fleming, Emily’s daughter and John’s grandmother.

The copied letter has two explanatory notes at the top. One says, “Copy of Ma’s last letter, written the day before she died.” The other says “She made a mistake in her date. It was Apr. 25, as May 1st her body was at rest in the cemetery.”[1] I’m not sure who made the copy – I can’t tell if it’s Anna’s handwriting.

Photograph of handwritten copy of letter written by Emily Casbon, 25 Apr 1893 (Click on image to enlarge)

Here is my transcription of the letter.

Dear Sister Kate,-

You think I have forgotten you, but I have not. I just got around from another attack of Grippe, the Dr. called it Am very weak yet.

O! How hard it is to give up to die, and then be compelled to come back to the old life and gather up the broken and tangled mass of thread which our nerveliss hand so gladly let fall. I do not know how you feel, but I welcome death with a joyous heart and gladly lay all cares aside to welcome it. After all it is but a passing from darkness into light The transition may be blinding for our tired eyes for a time, but we shall rest, have sweet peace. What a blessed thought. Then shall we receive the new sight which failith not. Our tired eyes shall be bright, for shall we not see the great white throne and gather with the redeemed to sing the praise of the Lamb, and last, but not least, we shall

[p. 2] see the dear Redeemer of this wicked world and realize the depth of his love for us.

These are beautiful and restful thoughts, but how to intermingle them with every day life, every little trial which beset our sensitive hearts, for the human heart when compared with the golden harps we often hear played very much resemble each other when touched by the master hand, produces sweetest harmony. But let a rude or careless hand attempt to produce the simplest cords, and discord is the result.

Further more, the human heart will shut its self up so closely when a thoughtless or cruel hand may pierce its tender membranes that one would never dream of the beauties within.

But sister mine, I am not writing on this subject exclusively. So we will leave room for others and abler pens than mine.

Maud graduates next month. Annie is having the work to do, while I am sick. Maud, Jesse and Annie are going over to (line cut off) …

[p. 3] Maud will get her graduating dress and will feel so relieved when the whole thing is over.

I have not seen Mary for a long time. Netta was here to see me not long ago. And now, dear sister, how are you getting along. Has John sent Daisy to you yet. I have tried every avenue to help you. So far have failed. Do you hear from Uncle Henry? I have tried to interest him in your behalf.

Well, good night and God bless you.

Your loving sister

Emily Casbon
Valparaiso, Ind
Box 924

Besides her sister Kate, the addressee of the letter, Emily mentions several people. They are:

  • Maud – Emily’s eldest daughter, age 20, preparing to graduate from Valparaiso
    High School
  • Annie – Emily’s second daughter, age 16
  • Jesse – Emily’s husband
  • Mary – Emily and Kate’s sister, Mary Jane, married to Godfrey Nimon
  • Netta – Emily and Kate’s sister, Annette, married to John Arnold
  • John – unknown, unless this refers to John Arnold
  • Daisy – Kate’s daughter, apparently not living with her at the time
  • Uncle Henry – unknown

Emily’s letter tells us that she has been ill with Grippe – a lay term for influenza.[2] She seems to be recovering but is still very weak. She must have suffered a serious relapse – perhaps pneumonia – to have died suddenly the next day.

Apparently, she had come close to death in the days preceding the letter, since she talks about giving up to die and then coming “back to the old life.”

Her letter is a testimonial of a deep and abiding faith. She has clearly accepted and even welcomes death “with a joyous heart” as a passage to a new life. Her language is filled with biblical metaphor. This tells us much about Emily and how she approached life. Although many might have shared her faith, I doubt that many could have expressed it with as much confidence.

After giving witness to her faith, she writes a little bit about her immediate family, and then inquires about Kate’s well-being. It’s apparent that Kate has been going through some kind of personal difficulty. The letter does not say what the difficulty is, but I suspect it is related to Kate’s marriage. Kate married Harrison Winslow when she was 16 years old.[3] Shortly afterwards, they moved to Kansas, where they had (at least) three children, one of whom was Daisy, mentioned in the letter. Sometime between 1885 and 1900, Kate and Harrison were divorced and living in different states.[4]

It’s amazing to me that Emily could have written such a profound and lengthy letter one day before her death. It must have been important to her to keep in touch with her distant sister. Having already been close to the brink, I don’t think she realized that her life would end so quickly.

We are lucky to have so much information about Emily. Clearly, she was a woman who loved life, but because of her faith did not fear death. This is also reflected in her obituary.[5]

Click on image to enlarge

With that we’ll say farewell to Emily. It has been nice making her acquaintance!

[1] Emily Casbon (Valparaiso, Indiana), to “Dear Sister Kate,” photograph of handcopied letter, 1 May 1893 (with note stating correct date was 25 Apr 1893); privately held by Jon Casbon. Given to Jon by John N. Casbon, 2018.
[2] George M. Gould, B.A., M.D., A New Medical Dictionary: Including All the Words and Phrases Used in Medicine, with their Proper Pronunciation and Definitions (Philadephia: P. Blakiston, Son & Co., 1890), p. 211, “Influenza”; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100140156 : accessed 13 September 2018).
[3] “Michigan Marriages, 1868-1925”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NQWF-V93 : 15 May 2018), Harrison Winslow & Catharine Price, 30 Dec 1868, New Buffalo, Berrien County; citing Secretary of State. Department of Vital Records, Lansing.
[4] 1900 U.S. Census, Woods County, Oklahoma Territory, population schedule, Waynocka Twp., enumeration district 242, sheet 3A, p. 136 (stamped), dwelling 56, family 58, Harrison Winslow; imaged as “United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DTKQ-VLX?i=4&cc=1325221 : accessed 13 September 2018), Oklahoma Territory > Woods > ED 242 Waynoka Township (east half) > image 5 of 14; citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1344.
[5] “Death of Mrs. Jesse Casbon,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Porter County Vidette, 4 May 1893, page no. unknown; photocopy, privately held by Jon Casbon, 2018. Handwritten note gives publication and date.

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