“What utter madness it seems”

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Continuing my occasional series on the month of May in Regina Shober Gray’s diary,[1] I thought it might be interesting to look at the first five years after the end of the Civil War. One can generally guess where Mrs. Gray will be at any given moment, but the year 1866 breaks the pattern, and we find the diarist visiting her cousins in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia, Wednesday, 23 May 1866: We had a very successful day at Tom K’s.[2] and enjoyed our visit, spite of its unavoidable fatigue. It is a very pretty farming country there – low rolling hills – and from every summit the river winding away through wood and wold. He came up yest’y mg. to escort us down, though we assured him it was quite unnecessary – we would find our own way &c.

When here we offered to release him of the whole matter if he wished to remain in town on acct. of this news of disastrous financial panic in Eng’.d, received by telegraph from Halifax. The great banking house of Overend Gurney & Co have failed for from 12 to 15 millions of pounds sterling – having a capital of 5 million; also for an immense [sum] the house of Peto, Betts & Co. – the Sir Morton Peto who was here last year about the Great Pacific railroad. Of course such disasters involve numbers – and ramify into widespread distress. Tom thinks it will not cause much stringency here & that we can afford to send out very large shipments of specie for weeks to come, to help English houses in tiding over the strain…

A tremendous fire in New York night before last – burnt to the ground the Opera House and several other costly public buildings. Another of John [Shober]’s old friends has dropped off – Washington Keith, a jovial genial man of the world, full of humor & a very popular man among his friends – his worst enemy, himself – poor fellow. He married our old schoolmate & friend Annie Penrose. His health has been broken for some time – he has lived fast!

Boston, Friday, 24 May 1867: The Fredonia[3] came in Tuesday p.m. By this time my sister Susan[4] is probably the wife of that Dr. Davies – what utter madness it seems. Every one who knows the parties is shocked at the match – so incongruous and unsuitable does it seem. How can we explain such a delusion? Ah, me! we can only try to hope for the best.

It seems that no Catholic priest there will marry them, because marriage is a sacrament with them, and heretics are excluded – so they must wait for a government war-ship from Eng. or America to drop in there, with a chaplain on board, which may happen any day – or may not for a year to come; or else they must get the resident chaplain from St. Michaels to come to Fayal for the express purpose of performing this ceremony; and having heard that he had resigned there, and was shortly to return to England, they have sent for him to come by next mail steamer, which would bring him to Fayal about May 22d – when they would be married at once. So probably it is now an irrevocable fate – God grant a happy one!

But we have lost our sister. She will never summon courage to brave the voyage home – and I for one shall never go there. I hope now, she will never get the letters I wrote urging all the terrible objections we found to this ineligible match – or if they reach her that she will be content not to read my comments and pleadings, for they will be too late to do any good and will only affect her painfully – & perhaps angrily – wounding & irritating as advice that runs counter to one’s wishes is very apt to. Poor thing! my heart weeps over her day & night. Thank God, this trial came not while John and our darling Lizzie[5] could be agonized over it – I think it would have killed them!

Sunday, 24 May 1868: Steady east winds & rains since my last entry [on 8 May] – except a few hours on two afternoons, which deluded us with summer promises and soft south winds, only to fall back ignobly into the raw north easters and heavy rains, which have been the chronic state of this most backward of springs. Ned[6] & Regie[7] went off in a gleam of treacherous sunshine on Friday p.m to Marion, intending a fortnight’s stay. We expect them home tomorrow, disgusted with two days unmanageable rains. Next Saturday we hope Sam & Morris[8] will go there too for a week – they are both poorly for nearly three weeks past.

Since my last entry I have had a most suffering attack of inflammation – was confined to bed for 10 days, in real torments, which were allayed only by inhaling ether for the worst, and by laudanum for the general state. I have had no illness so serious since the fall poor Charles Adams[9] died, when Morris was a baby of 6 months, nearly 12 years ago…

Mr. Henry Wainwright,[10] Rebecca’s father, died on Thursday May 14th at 1 a.m. – a merciful release – his mind was utterly gone, his very instincts were deadened – he [had] hardly spoken voluntarily for months. His life was a burden to himself and a distress to his friends; but they watched over him & caressed him with a tenderness that was really beautiful to see – and it must be an inexpressible comfort to them now. He sank very rapidly at the last…

Sunday, 23 May 1869: Nearly into the summer months, & only one really summer like day yet. We are still wearing winter underclothing, and the air is raw & chilly – and having given up fires, I sit in a woollen shawl. Vegetation is very backward – but the young green is beautiful everywhere.

Mary Shober[11] has decided to sell her house in Walnut St. [in Philadelphia]. She cannot live there alone, and the house & furniture depreciates year by year, under the careless usage of transient tenants. Everyone advises her to sell. It is a sad thing to us, dismantling the home John & Lizzie [Shober] took such pleasure in filling up – and a sad feeling that there is no longer a family home in our native place, for us; but it is the best thing to be done. The furniture, pictures &c &c must be stored till Sallie[12] finds a house in Pottsville to suit them…

Sunday, 29 May 1870: …Mary [Gray][13] went to Mr. Putnam’s this morn’g & H.G.P. walked home with her; their manner is so frankly friendly, that I feel I am unnecessarily anxious – & I do not want to make constraint in a pleasant intimacy, by interposing – but in Boston society that sort of frank friendship only is not understood as it is farther south – and I know people have commented on it here – and comments linking two names as engaged or about to be are disadvantageous to both parties, where there is no thought or wish on either side to be engaged!

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. All entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Mrs. Gray’s first cousin Thomas Kimber (1825–1890).

[3] The bark Fredonia traveled between Fayal and Boston. Mrs. Gray’s two youngest sisters had sailed on the Fredonia for a rest cure in the Azores.

[4] Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?) had just married Dr. John Davies, a widower with grown children whom the Shober family deplored.

[5] Mrs. Gray’s siblings John Bedford Shober (1814–1864) and Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865).

[6] The diarist’s  nephew Edward Gray (1851–1907).

[7] Mrs. Gray’s son Reginald Gray (1853–1904).

[8] The diarist’s sons Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926) and Morris Gray (1856–1931).

[9] Her sister Sue’s fiancé Charles Frederick Adams Jr. (1824–1856).

[10] Henry Wainwright (1796–1868), whose sister Lucretia married Mrs. Gray’s stepmother’s brother, thus situating him within the larger circle of the diarist’s family. Rebecca Parker Wainwright (1820–1902) was Mrs. Gray’s close friend.

[11] Mrs. Gray’s older sister Mary Morris Shober (1816–1873).

[12] The diarist’s youngest sister Sarah Morris Shober (1825–1917), who married the Rev. William Phillips Lewis of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in 1868.

[13] Mrs. Gray’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923); she never married. H.G.P. was probably Henry Goddard Pickering (1848–1926).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

7 thoughts on ““What utter madness it seems”

    1. For a variety of reasons, Virginia, many of them gone into elsewhere in the diary: his age, his relative lack of wealth, his residence in Fayal meaning that Sue Shober would probably never return to Philadelphia, etc.

      1. Thank you. I wondered too if religion had anything to do with it as I deduce he was Catholic from her comments.

        1. Your comment reflects religious currents in the mid-1800s, and records validate deep divisions over Catholicism within my family’s history. Originally from Boston, several of my ancestors migrated to Baltimore.

          About 15 years ago, while researching and hoping to resolve conflicting “facts” about family “lines,” I obtained complete copies from Maryland Archives of some of the wills along with probate records for the Sumner, Payson, Steele, and Charles Russell Pearce’s families. The wills make for interesting reading, and one will threatens to “cut off” any descendants who became Catholic.

          The writer’s nieces and a nephew were not only Catholic but also joined the Church’s hierarchy. One, a nun. (Frances Sumner) nursed Confederate soldiers in Vicksburg and by one account barred Union troops from entering a hospital. The nephew who became a priest was on Georgetown’s faculty, and one book names him as part of the original faculty at Holy Cross in Worchester, MA.

          Interestingly, the complete records of Pearce’s wills and probate highlight another controversy of the time: In 1861, Charles Russell Pearce left his fortune to his daughters, Kate Russell Pearce and Elizabeth Vassall Pearce WITHOUT a male “guardian.” His son inherited only what his mother (a Sumner) left him. The will also provided his sister’s maiden and married name, which solved a family mystery as many trees have her married incorrectly.

          The complete copies of wills and probate records were fascinating: the documents highlighted family controversies and sorted a few tangled trees. Anti-Catholic sentiment seemed to be a strong current in some Boston-born Unitarians and Presbyterians families who had left Boston to make their fortune in booming Baltimore in the decade/s before the Civil War.

  1. My Great Grandmother kept a diary, I have only one of them so maybe she only kept that year, 1869. At one point she named a couple who married, just made the simple comment “How Foolish,” the marriage apparently succeeded. The couple are buried together many years later. Have tried to figure out why she would have made any comment, there were others who married listed that year in the Diary with no such comment. But am thinking because the girl was about 10 years younger than the man mentioned and also was a only year older than my Great Grandmother who turned 18 the year of the diary. Perhaps she just felt the girl mentioned was too young. My Great Grandmother never mentions my Great Grandfather in this 1869 Diary so am thinking she had not yet met him. They were married in the year 1879. My beloved maternal Grandfather was one of her sons.

    1. Several of my grandparents did not live together but did not divorce. My 3rd great grandparents split in 1873 but were buried together in the very early 1900’s.

      1. That could be considered and if I ever run across those names again I will see what else is known, they aren’t direct relatives to me. It just was a very short remark that pretty much covered my great grandmother’s feelings in the diary. Not a long explanation and one I thought said almost as much possibly:)

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