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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Diary of 1873 tells of a smitten young man

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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Competition found in attempt to woo farmer’s daughter

Several years ago, Kirsten Llamas, the great-great-great-granddaughter of David Creighton, one of the earlier settlers in the Vacaville area, shared some of her family’s diaries and letters with me.

Among the documents are two sets of diaries. One diary belonged to David Creighton’s youngest daughter, Mary Melissa Creighton, covering the years 1874 and 1875. The second, more extensive diary was compiled by Thomas Jefferson Mize, covering the years 1873 through 1875 and 1878.

Mary’s diary has been condensed and annotated by great-granddaughter, Josephine Albrecht Farmer. Thomas Jefferson Mize wrote long and detailed entries; his diary was excerpted and edited by his grandson, Edward T. Mize.

The Creighton family - David; his wife, Jane; son, Samuel; and daughters, Eleanor (Nell), Isabella (Bell), Sarah-Jane (Sade), Martha Elizabeth (Matt), Lucretia Cathryn (Lu or Lou), and Mary Melissa - had come to Vacaville from Troy, Iowa, in 1862. David’s friend, Josiah Allison, was instrumental in bringing the family to the area.

During the time the Creighton family lived in Troy, they befriended the Mize family. The Mize family in turn was closely related to the family of Frank Briggs, who had married Sade Creighton in December 1875.

Two Mize sons, Fleming Davis Mize and Jones Mize, eventually made their way west to Vacaville to settle here, followed in 1873 by their brother, Thomas Jefferson, also known as “TJ” or Jeff.

Jeff arrived in Vacaville in late April of 1873. Born on Feb. 15, 1847, in Troy, Iowa, he was now 26 years old. A few weeks after his arrival, he and his two brothers went out to the Creighton farm for a first visit.

Eleven years had passed since Jeff had last seen the Creighton family. During that time, Mary, who was born in Troy on Dec. 27, 1855, had grown from a small child to a lovely 18-year-old woman.

Jeff described his first visit on Sunday, May 4, 1873. He was interested in young Mary from his first meeting:

“We three went to see Mr. Creighton’s family. Had a pleasant visit. Good, pleasant people. Mary Creighton is quite a handsome and lovely looking lady. The sight of her made me feel at home; for I saw in her that which responded to my own nature, and I felt satisfied while my eyes rest upon her. ... She has a beautiful form and face and looked good to me. I was taken at first sight and began mentally to prepare for a siege to win.”

Two weeks later, Jeff returned for a second visit. His first feelings of attraction to Mary quickly grew. On Sunday, May 18, he wrote:

“Davis and I went to Mr. Creighton’s in a buggy. Sade (Sarah Jane) accompanied us from Mr. C. Farmer’s to his home. All except Mr. C. had gone to church but returned soon after our arrival. ... Davis Mize took Sade C. to Silveyville and left me at Mr. Creighton’s where I staid overnight. Lou (Lucretia), Mary and I had a real pleasant visit after all others had withdrawn. ... I lost no time in working into M’s good graces. We three sat very close together to look at pictures and I used all hypnotic powers I had. Mary is a handsome and lovely girl and as bright as she is handsome. Everything is as neat and trim as can be about her and she is pleasant company. The impression she makes upon my mind and has made from our first visit is very favorable. ... and if she is not very careful I shall cause the other young men to stand aside.”

Jeff was a good diarist who recorded many details of life in 1875. In retrospect, these entries afford us a glimpse of everyday customs, attitudes and lifestyle.

Staying overnight allowed him to see family members, not just at their Sunday best, but also occupied with the normal workload.

On Monday, May 19, he wrote:

“I am still at C’s. Today is washday. I am glad I happened to be here today, for I have an opportunity of seeing Mary over the washtub. It does not detract from her good appearance the least mite, having a calico dress on and sleeves above the elbows, and she is as happy at her work as she is in the room entertaining company.”

Dress code played an important role. No matter how hard women labored during the day, they were impeccably dressed when going out or while receiving visitors at home. It speaks of a certain familiarity that Mary allowed him to see her in her calico work dress, showing her bare arms.

Jeff ‘s following entry also listed some of the desirable attributes for a young woman of the time, including his observation of her tiny feet.

“She is five ft. & 3 in. in height standing in her shoes; fair complexion; light hair; blue eyes. Slightly dimpled chin and when she smiles, which she does often, a small dimple in either cheek is discernible, showing that she has a pleasant, mirthful disposition. She has a lovely voice, a melodious tone, a musical ear; can play the piano, accordion, Jew’s harp, and can whistle well. She has a fine graceful form, grace and beauty in every movement. A nice little foot which from appearance seems to be within a 2 1/2 shoe. She has rosy lips and is a regular beauty with a loving heart.”

Unfortunately, Mary’s diary does not start until the following year, so that we have no record how she felt about these first visits. Jeff on the other hand seemed clearly smitten and determined to befriend her.

He quickly became a regular guest in the Creighton household, making himself useful wherever he could. On Thursday, May 22, he once again stayed overnight.

“I picked some cherries and seeded them for Mrs. C. in the morn. Made a couple of button holes in a dress for Mrs. C.” Jeff seemed to have been quite familiar with a needle; his diary repeatedly recounts that he sewed, hemmed or made ruffles for dresses.

Trying to woo Mary remained his foremost goal, not always an easy task. “In the evening (of May 22) one of the neighbors, Jim Davis, came to C’s for their horse to work to the Station. He took the horse and soon again appeared with his cousin, a lady Davis, with him. The seating was all arranged to suit him but not according to my notion of affairs. Lou C. and I were to sit in the back seat with his cousin, while he took Mary with him. They both seemed happy.”

He concluded his entry “I will keep my eye on that Jim Davis. He may and he may not have a pre-emption claim older than mine but I’ll give him a lively run.”

The group went to Vacaville, where they left Mary “at Mr. Chandler’s to give a music lesson.” Mary was already an accomplished musician who was beginning to earn some income through teaching music.

Jeff’ received an offer to teach school on May 23, 1873, with a salary of $70 for the rest of the school year. With employment secured, he hoped “to have a home of my own that I may take to myself, if circumstances permit, the fair and lovely young maiden Miss Mary Creighton to make home beautiful and to be my true and loving wife. But it is said that she has a lover. What if she has? Opposition is the life of trade and rivalry makes love’s roots shoot the deeper. ... Lover or no lover, I shall take my chance whether I win or lose. She is worth all effort.”

I will continue the story of Jeff Mize’s courtship in my next column. I would like to thank Kirsten Llamas for allowing me to excerpt from the diaries.