“The desolation of that home could hardly be more complete, and tenderest sympathy with those stricken hearts could not be more universal throughout this entire community” (The Wellington Enterprise, 8-9-1877, pg. 3).
I wrote earlier about stumbling upon a description of John Crabtree’s butcher shop in downtown Wellington, and then finding the location of the building a few days later. Yesterday I was walking through Greenwood Cemetery and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the name “Crabtree” on a large marker. I wanted to determine if it was the same man, and indeed the first plaque I read was for John M. Crabtree, though there were no accompanying dates to further confirm his identity. Looking at the remaining plaques, I realized something startling: three of the other four people named on the memorial died within weeks of each other.
My first thought was that there must have been some kind of epidemic in Wellington at that time. I located obituaries for the Crabtree family, and found that the reality was even more distressing. But it also threw unexpected light on how people came to emigrate to this tiny rural town in the 1800s.
John M. Crabtree was born in 1828 in Nottinghamshire, England, just nineteen days after the birth of Ann Guy Wells, his future wife, in the neighboring town. A few weeks later, Edward F. Wells, Ann’s cousin, was born in nearby Willoughby; the three would be lifelong friends. John learned the trade of being a butcher from his uncle and was a well-respected businessman in his local community by the time Edward Wells decided to leave England for America in 1852. Wells returned home for a visit in 1868, and spoke so positively of the new place he called home–Wellington, Ohio–that the Crabtrees decided to cross the ocean themselves.
They arrived in Wellington in 1870. In the fall of that year, the couple’s eighth and final child, Eddie Wells Crabtree, was born but sadly died at age two and a half. Then, in June of 1877, tragedy struck the family again. This time, it was eighteen-year-old daughter Mary who died of “spinal fever.” The Enterprise reported, “She was severely ill less than a week, being at the tea-table on the Monday evening previous to her death” (7-5-1877, pg. 3).
Just three weeks later, twenty-three-year-old son John, who was living in Cleveland, contracted “dysentery of a typhoid character” and was dead within two weeks. The same issue of the Enterprise that carried his obituary also noted in a separate announcement, “Mrs. John Crabtree is dangerously sick with the same disease of which her son died, and the physicians regard her case as hopeless” (8-2-1877, pg. 3). Ann Wells Crabtree had been attending to her sick son in Cleveland, and accompanied his body home for burial; she took to her bed upon her return to Wellington, “never to rise again.” She died on August 6, 1877 at age forty-nine. “In the short period of six weeks, a daughter, son, and wife have been laid in the grave” (8-9-1877, pg. 3).
The description of Crabtree’s butcher shop, which I included in my previous post, was written in 1879. It indicates that “about two years ago he removed his market to Shelby, but after one year returned to Wellington, again locating on North Main St” (2-6-1879, pg. 3). Perhaps John Crabtree needed a change of scenery after such a devastating blow to his family, but eventually returned to the town in which his friend Edward Wells still resided. In 1890, his only living daughter died of consumption. Hattie Crabtree Murdock was just twenty-nine, and her brief obituary noted that “the end found her ready for the summons, and anxious to meet the sainted mother, brother and sister who have gone before” (4-2-1890, pg. 5).
John Crabtree seems to have tried a fresh start of sorts. In 1893, he married the widow Mary Ann Laundon of Elryia. He was then sixty-five years old. Two years later, he appears for the first time as a property owner and taxpayer in the Wellington Corporation tax records, a quarter-century after moving to the town. (Presumably he rented both his family residence on North Main Street and his shop on Liberty Street, now called West Herrick Avenue.) But when he died in 1901 at age seventy-three, his obituary focused at great length on his old sorrow, and on his struggle to retain religious faith in the face of such overwhelming loss. The remembrance delivered at Crabtree’s funeral by Reverend H. D. Sheldon was reprinted in full in The Wellington Enterprise. Sheldon recalled a conversation he had with the butcher in which he posed the very indelicate question I used as the title of this post; Crabtree’s response was that at times it did feel as if he had been forsaken. “In all his afflictions he was patient, although at times his faith was tried to the point of breaking. His was a Gethsemane experience” (3-27-1901, pg. 4).
Little did I suspect when I came across an amusing description of a butcher shop that I would uncover this life of deep sadness. Nor that I would find another family from England, moving like Joseph and Hannah Turley to a new world of economic opportunity in America. A trip to the cemetery is now like a visit with old friends, but also reminds me of how little I know about Wellington’s past, and how many more friends there are still to meet in the pages of its history.