Thursday, April 07, 2016

Mary Howard Rizer and her men: Dr. Henry W. Jay

Note: This post is related to two earlier ones --- "The tribulation of Dr. Joseph Jay, Civil War surgeon," published on April 2, dealing with Mary Howard Rizer's brother-in-law; and "Interpreting the Jay family burial plot," published on April 4. Most of those mentioned in these posts are buried in Lot 2, Block 4, Old Division of the Chariton Cemetery.


When Mary Howard Rizer died unexpectedly in Chicago during 1905 at the age of 61 she was 20 years into her third marriage --- to one of Chariton's most prominent citizens, Benjamin Franklin Bates, builder of the Bates House hotel. Because of the modest manner in which her grave in the Chariton Cemetery was marked, however, she has careened through eternity almost anonymously. Even her Find A Grave memorial features images of a tombstone that isn't hers.

Although Mary certainly would have been entitled to burial on the Bates lot, which contains the "Bates Lady," one of the cemetery's most distinctive monuments, she chose instead to be buried on the Jay family lot with her two previous husbands, Dr. Henry W. Jay (left) and Capt. William L. Robison, and her father, Michael Rizer. The simple (top) stone erected for her there matches other modest stones on the lot --- perhaps reflecting the Quaker sensibilities of the Jay family --- and identifies her only by her initials, "M.H.B," for Mary Howard Bates.

Mary was a Virginian by birth, born Aug. 30, 1843, at Romney in Hampshire County (now West Virginia). About 1853, she moved west to Sigourney in Keokuk County, Iowa, with her parents, Eliza C. (Howard) and Michael Mizer. Her father was by trade a carpenter. And on Oct. 19, 1859, when she was 17, Mary married Dr. Henry W. Jay, a young physician, at Sigourney.

Henry, born July 17, 1834, in Randolph County, Indiana, had come west to Henry County, Iowa, with his parents, Evan and Hannah (May) Jay, and older siblings in 1840. Although of an old Quaker family, Evan had been disowned by his meeting in 1827 and Hannah apparently was dismissed for marrying contrary to the discipline of her meeting when they wed, perhaps later that year.

Evan prospered in Iowa as a farmer and also dabbled in politics, serving in both the Iowa Territorial Legislature and the newly formed Iowa State Legislature from Henry County and also running as a Whig for the position of state treasurer. Henry was their fourth son, two and a half years older than his brother, Joseph R., born in Randolph County on Jan. 8, 1837.

Both Henry and Joseph trained as physicians at Rush Medical College in Chicago, then returned to Iowa to practice. Joseph married Lucy Collins in Fairfield, Jefferson County, on Oct. 20, 1859, the day after Henry and Mary were wed in Sigourney.

Henry and Mary apparently traveled west immediately after their marriage to Red Oak in Montgomery County, Iowa, where he established a practice. Mary's mother, Eliza, reportedly died at Sigourney on Feb. 10, 1860, and her father, Michael --- now at loose ends --- joined his daughter and son-in-law at Red Oak later that year. Also during late 1860, Henry's parents came west from Henry County.

Evan Jay's death at Red Oak during January of 1861, however, seems to have upset plans the extended family may have had to settle there permanently. Henry and Mary headed east --- to Chariton, where his brother, Joseph R., had established a medical practice the previous year. Their only child, Charles Fremont Jay, was born at Chariton on Dec. 6, 1861.

The next year, on Sept. 16, Henry enlisted for service in the 34th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Assigned to Company S, he was commissioned captain and named assistant regimental surgeon. He served honorably throughout the war, was mustered out on Feb. 2, 1865, as the war was winding down and returned home to his wife and child in Chariton.

By this time, his health had been impaired by tuberculosis, generally called "consumption" at the time. None the less, he resumed his practice, opening a drug store on the square (a common practice for physicians of the day) under the name H.W. Jay & Co. He also received an appointment from the U.S. Commissioner of Pensions as examining surgeon and as such was called upon to certify the medical conditions of men from Lucas County who had been disabled in full or part during the late war.

Among Henry Jay's postwar patients in Chariton was his brother, Dr. (now Major) Joseph R. Jay, sent home to Chariton from Mississippi --- where he had continued to serve after the end of the war ---  during October of 1865 suffering from acute dysentery. Henry was among attending physicians who signed regular reports on Joseph's condition forwarded to his commanding officers that fall as his medical leave was extended in 20-day increments.

Little could be done for Joseph, however, and he lingered until July 28, 1866, when he died --- and became the first burial on the Jay family lot.

During the year that followed his brother's death, Henry's health deteriorated; and on Dec. 16, 1868, he died at the age of 34. The Chariton Democrat of Dec. 24 reported only that, "Dr. H.W. Jay, an old citizen of this place, died last Friday morning."

Nearly 150 years have passed since Henry Jay's death and the inscription in raised lettering across the top of his modest white marble headstone has literally washed away. It seems to have read, "Dr. H.W. Jay." The initials "H.W.J." still are clearly evident on his foot stone, however --- and that is where the Grand Army of the Republic flag holder that commemorates his service is located.

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