Just a little scrap of a photo but it is so much more. The lady on the left is Caroline McCollum and to her right is Jane McCollum.
In 1870, Polly McCollum had a house full of people. Jane had married and moved out but 18-yr-old Caroline and 20-yr-old Sarah were still there and they weren’t the only ones.
Polly’s sister Eleanor had moved in. She had bounced around a lot since the death of their parents and had finally given in at Polly’s insistence. At 30, she was in the position to take over the domestic job that Polly had held for years. The family in Sneedville was pleased that Eleanor was able to step in when Polly could no longer do the heavier tasks.
Polly was not in the best of health. Supporting the children after James left had taken its toll. He would occasionally send money but it had never been enough. Her frail body was a testament to the damage arthritis could cause. Although she had ignored it for years, she could no longer do the lifting and heavy cleaning needed. Polly had asked Eleanor to come stay with her but she was an independent woman who didn’t want to be beholding to anyone. Now that Eleanor had a way to share the load, she moved in gratefully.
The two sisters got along well. Eleanor liked the thought of being a part of the McCollum family. Jane was already married and gone when Eleanor arrived but she wasn’t far away. Eleanor adored Jane’s three small children. She didn’t have much time to run and play with them but they loved it when she read to them. Maybe not so much the baby but Andrew and Leoni would curl up with her whenever they had the chance.
Eleanor was also entertained by the girls. Caroline didn’t seem to be interested in finding a man to marry but Sarah was always on the lookout. Eleanor had never married so she found the two attitudes interesting. She had once felt like Sarah but understood Caroline. The three of them had lively discussions about the role of women in the society and Eleanor was of the opinion that women were held back. Caroline was the one who agreed with her most of the time but Sarah just wanted to find a man and get married. Polly didn’t get involved. She had her own opinion of men.
Although Polly was not making money, Eleanor gave her most of what she made. Polly wanted to add to the income and decided to plant tobacco on two acres behind the house. Polly and the girls lived on the river, east of Rhea Hollow. It was still family land that John had been given by John Elijah. To farm the land, Polly needed help so she asked their nearest neighbor Joseph Depew. He didn’t have any children to spare but did mention he had a nephew who was looking for work. Henry Eli Depew came to see her and she liked what she saw. At 20, he was a dependable young man who was willing to work for room and board plus a little spending cash. That was a perfect solution for her.
It is not clear if Polly noticed right away that Sarah also thought it was a good plan. Henry Depew was handsome albeit a little shy. Sarah had grown up around lots of boy cousins was not afraid of Henry. She thought him exceedingly handsome. His short brown hair was neatly combed in place and he kept his mustache trimmed. At 16, she was smitten by the young man.
It was Eleanor who alerted Polly.
“Sarah’s in love.” She told Polly.
“Really?” was Polly’s response. “She’s in love all the time. She falls in love once a week”
“No, really, Sarah is in love with Henry”, Eleanor retorted.
Polly looked at her sister and realized she was serious.
“Sarah’s in love”. She asked.
“Watch her around Henry. Watch her eyes. I don’t think he knows it yet but mark my words, she is going to snag him,” Said Eleanor.
“She’s still a little young”, said Polly.
Eleanor laughed. “You were an old maid of 23. Jane was out of here at 17. Sarah is 16. Mark my words; she and Henry will be married before she is 20.”
“I guess I will need to pay more attention. If you’re right, how long will it take Henry to figure it out?” Polly replied.
Caroline knew. Sarah had informed her that she was going to marry Henry. Like her mother, Caroline was used to Sarah falling in love so she didn’t put much stock in what Sarah said. But as time went on, she noticed the Sarah was not flirting with the other boys any more.
“You are serious about Henry, aren’t you?” Caroline had asked.
“Didn’t I tell you I was going to marry him?” Sarah rolled her eyes. “No one gets it” she exclaimed.
“Okay, don’t get mad. Did you tell Henry? She said.
“You just don’t tell Henry” Sarah replied. “He has to figure it out on his own. I am willing to give him some time before I start pushing but I want to get married by the time I’m 19”
“Well, good luck,” Caroline responded. “That gives the poor guy about two years.”
Sarah looked at her and scowled. “At least I have a guy,“ she said smugly.
“You don’t have a guy at all” Caroline retorted. “You have a dream and it’s certainly not set in stone.”
From the kitchen came Polly’s voice. “Ladies, that’s enough.”
It wasn’t that Caroline was not interested in marriage; she was, in her opinion, a little more selective. There were not many young men who were willing to provide a spouse nicer clothes, a nicer house, or a more upscale life. Caroline did not want to spend her life in Sneedville. She wanted more.
She and Jane had gone round and round on the topic. Jane was a homebody and really didn’t care much about social niceties. The idea of moving up was not something Jane was interested in and didn’t see why Caroline would want more. Caroline didn’t understand why Jane was so content with almost nothing. Jane wore her clothing without ornament. Caroline poured over the most current papers on fashion and jewelry and was always trying to copy it.
So while Sarah finally got Henry to see that he was in love, Caroline kept waiting.
Sarah and Henry married in 1871. True to her word, she was under 20. Caroline was 21 and the last single sister. Eleanor kept telling her that there was nothing wrong with waiting for the right guy. Caroline knew that. She loved that Jane had a bunch of kids and Sarah was happy with her new husband but she still wanted more.
Robert P. Tyler came into Sneedville in 1873. He was a lumber dealer from Rye Cove, Virginia, which was 26 miles away. He came with the special order shutters that John had ordered. It was a surprise for Jane who had wanted real shutters on the house.
Robert dressed well. He had an air about him that spoke of success. Jane and John invited him to stay for dinner and invited Polly, Eleanor, and Caroline. Caroline was immediately taken with the 26 year old lumber dealer. As he spoke about the business, she hung onto every word. She wanted to know about his home town and he told her it was also near the Clinch River. Rye Cove, he said was full of caves to explore. He never tired of exploring.
He seemed to be taken with her too. He asked if he could write to her. She, of course, said yes.
Jane and Polly were amused. Caroline had found her man. She was 24 and they had all but given up on her finding someone suitable or that could meet her standards. She went around quoting him on business and the caves. She was insufferable.
They wrote constantly and in late 1873, she moved to Virginia to live with his family. Polly missed her and although it wasn’t that far away, she didn’t have the money to make the trip or the strength. Caroline sent her a chatty letter in March of 1875 to inform her that she and Robert had had a daughter they had named Ida Belle. This was news to Polly as she hadn’t known that Caroline was pregnant and was sure that her daughter would not have married without telling her.
She wrote back expressing joy about the baby but disappointment that she had not been informed of the wedding. Caroline wrote back to her quickly telling her that the wedding would be in May and that she hadn’t missed it. The baby was a surprise for her and Robert too and they had not planned it. Ida Belle was the most perfect baby and they would be coming to see her after the wedding.
True to her word, Caroline, Robert, and the baby arrived for an extended visit. In fact, the Tyler children spent a lot of time growing up in Sneedville. They got to know all their cousins and in later life, shared some of the fun times they had together in letters. Ida turned out to be the family historian of sorts. Each of her letters described where he siblings were living, how many children they had. She spent a lot of time reminiscing about her mom and Aunt Jane. The letters have been preserved. There was only one problem. Her writing is awful and it is hard to read them and decipher what they say.
This will be finished when I get through the letters to see what else she has to say. It was a surprise to learn that she was born before her parents married and that would have been taboo in those days.
She probably was sent to Virginia to have the baby but that needs a little more research. Would they have accepted her in Sneedville, pregnant and not married?