Friday, April 08, 2016

Mary Howard Rizer and her men: Michael Rizer

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


The death of Dr. Henry W. Jay at age 34 on Dec. 16, 1868, of tuberculosis, left Mary Howard (Rizer) Jay a widow at age 25 with a 7-year-old-son, Charles F. Jay, to support. But she was not alone in Chariton. About 1865, her widowed father, Michael Rizer, had joined the Jay family in Lucas County and gone to work in his chosen profession, that of skilled carpenter.

Michael, whose  parents were Matthias and Mary (Michael) Rizer, was born 24 December 1813 in James County, Virginia; had married Eliza Catharine Howard in Virginia ca. 1842; and by 1853 had settled in Sigourney, Keokuk County, Iowa, with their daughter, Mary Howard Rizer (born in Hampshire County, Virginia, 30 August 1843).

Mary married Henry W. Jay at Sigourney on Oct. 19, 1859, when she was 17; and late the following winter, on Feb. 10, 1860, her mother died at Sigourney, leaving Michael at loose ends. Later that year, he joined his daughter and son-in-law at Red Oak in Montgomery County, then seems to have returned to Sigourney after they settled in Chariton.

At some point during 1868 or early 1869, perhaps while living in Lucas County but working in Monroe, Michael met a widow some 20 years his junior, Elizabeth (Burnett) Shoemaker, whose husband, Stephen, had died during January of 1868, reportedly at Cheyenne, Wyoming. They were married in Monroe County on Sept. 23, 1869, when he was 55 and she was 37.

Michael brought Eliza home to Chariton with her two children, Samuel Shoemaker, age 16, and Alice Shoemaker, age 14.

Michael seems to have been a highly respected carpenter --- his work on the 1875 Gasser Block, still standing on the south side of Chariton's Square, was singled out for special attention in The Chariton Patriot of Dec. 29, 1875. He also was an active member of First Methodist Church as was his daughter, Mary, and grandson, Charles F. Jay.

Michael reportedly died during 1890 in Chariton, although his death was not recorded officially nor have I been able to find a death notice or obituary in surviving issues of Chariton newspapers. He would have been about 77 at the time.

Mary, by this time married to Benjam F. Bates, buried her father on the Jay family lot in the Chariton Cemetery, immediately south of her first husband, Henry W. Jay, and her second, Capt. William L. Robison.

The tombstone that she erected, like others on the lot including her own, is not informative. It contains only the name "M. Riser" in raised but eroded lettering across its top and that has led to some confusion over the years about who is buried here. The fact that "Rizer" is spelled "Riser" on the stone doesn't help.

After her husband's death, Eliza Rizer joined her daughter, Alice (Johnson), in Monett, Missouri --- where she had settled some years earlier --- and died there during November of 1890 of meningitis.

Although Michael's simple tombstone is somewhat confusing, he does have another and far grander memorial in Chariton --- one of the panels in the giant arched west window of First United Methodist church (top).

Daughter Mary's third husband, Benjamin Franklin Bates, served on the Building Committee for  this fine building, built during 1899 and 1900. Charles F. Jay, her son and Michael's grandson, was by this time a prosperous farmer in Nebraska. And it seems likely that Mary and/or B.F. Bates suggested that a commemorative window in the new church would be a good way to memorialize his grandfather.

Whatever the case, Charles donated this window in memory of Michael.

But even here, use of just the initial "M." rather than Michael's full name doesn't make it exactly clear more than a century later exactly who the window commemorates.

But now you know, so the next time you're sitting in church --- look up and remember Michael Rizer, master carpenter.

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