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Sunday, August 13, 2006

1870s Vacaville courtship leads to marriage

Sabine Goerke-Shrode


Jeff and Mary wed, but she dies of TB just 4 years later

This column will finish the story of TJ “Jeff” Mize and Mary Creighton and their courtship during the years 1874 and 1875.

I am fascinated by the insight into their daily lives that their diaries provide. Research books on the Victorian era portray a society with strict rules and values. Young women in particular were protected and guarded; dress and manners identified the person’s social strata.

Mary’s life shows much more freedom. Granted, she needs her father’s permission to accept a working position at Professor Merriman’s Vacaville Peoples School, and her parents had the authority to refuse permission for her to become engaged or even to communicate with a young man they disliked.

Both Jeff’s and Mary’s diaries show daily lives filled with chores. Mary describes tasks ranging from house cleaning to washing dishes to picking and canning fruit. Her comments about being caught at such tasks dressed in work clothes illustrate the great emphasis society at the time put on correct dress.

Mary certainly cared about her clothes. They were either sewn at home - the family owned one of the early sewing machines - or taken to one of the local dressmakers. Fashion had moved away from the wide hoop skirt of the Civil War era to tightly fitting bodices and skirts with a bustle in the back, decorated with yards of ruffles. Mary mentioned that sewing often took place in the evenings, with Jeff able to help sew ruffles, make buttonholes and hem yards and yards of hemline.

I was intrigued by the amount of freedom the two young people were allowed in their courtship.

Occasionally, one of Mary’s sisters played chaperon. Jeff noted on Nov. 22, 1874: “[Sister] Lue started to go but we asked her to remain. She sat by the stove & read while Mary & I were seated at the piano. I put my arms around Mary & drew her to me. She put her head against my shoulder & thus we talked to each other in a low tone that Lue might not be disturbed in her reading “

Yet those long solitary evenings “swinging on the gate” speak of much more leeway than one would expect.

Mary’s emotional struggles of deciding whether she loved John McMahan or Jeff Mize, or whether she wanted to marry either, appear familiar today as they did then. One forgets how young Mary really was - she turned 19 on Dec. 27, 1874.

After long discussions about their relationships, Jeff’s diary indicated that he proposed to Mary on Nov. 25,1874.

“I asked her if she remembered the first time I ever put my arms around her. She said she did & stated the time & the circumstances & said that she loved me then more than she had ever loved another & that she is very happy that affairs have come out as they have, for she loves me with all her heart now & trusts that some day before very long she will be my wife. I told her wish should be gratified as soon as I was so situated that I could be with her in a suitable place. She said it would make but little difference to her where we should live so we could be together. At ten o’clock we parted for the night happier than ever before from the fact that we now thoroughly understand each other.”

For the last 18 months, Jeff had been a frequent presence in the Creighton household. Mary’s parents, David and Jane Creighton, must have been aware of Jeff’s feelings toward their youngest daughter. Yet surprisingly, neither Jeff nor Mary mentioned asking for permission for their engagement, nor did they seem to have informed her parents of this momentous step.

The couple prepared for an early June wedding. Sewing a variety of clothes and household items increased. In March, Mary mentioned working on a pink dress.

Yet on May 19, 1875, Jeff wrote in his diary: “Mrs. C. states thru Mary that I have not yet asked for Mary to be my wife. ‘And never will’ was the sum of my answer. It caused a little unpleasantness. M. is of age & can speak for herself. I ask no odds of any. All was lovely before retiring, tears cease.”

No further explanation follows, but the following entries reinforce the impression that the young couple had not asked for her parent’s consent.

On Tuesday, May 25, Jeff applied for a marriage license. “Called on Mr. Weir. Borrowed his horse. Went to Suisun for License. Went into Clerk’s office. Said, ‘Good morning. Are you the County Clerk?’ ‘No, but I am a deputy.’ ‘Do you spin out a License for people to hook on?’ ‘Yes, Sir.’ ‘Please spin one for T. J. Mize and Mary Creighton.’ ‘All right.’ I swore, and he set seal & gave issue. Gave him $2.50. He said a dol, was for Recorder’s fee.”

Matters came to a head on Thursday, May 27, a week before the planned wedding.

“Mrs. C. said Mr. C. told her this eve that if something is not said to him before next Wednesday he will not come into the room during the ceremony. She says he considers himself slighted because Mary & I have not made a confidant of him. I told her I had not intended to mistreat any one and had nothing to say. She said the other boys all asked for the girls (the other daughters). I made no reply.”

The following day, Jeff finally approached David Creighton officially.

“Told Mr. C. this morn, ‘I am not to teach the Ulatis School but expect to teach the Penia school. Cannot make quite so much money but will manage to live. Mary & I expect to mary next Wednesday. Mary will continue her music class & I will teach. We will board at Brown’s till we can do better. We have not intended to slight or mistreat you in not telling when we were going away. I supposed you knew all about it. We want your approval.’ ‘Tis all right,’ he said. ‘If I had objected, you’d have heard from me long ago.’ I told him I regretted but one thing: that was I had no home to take her to. He said that didn’t matter - there is no use putting off. ‘Tis better to have things settled & work together.”

Their wedding was planned for June 2. Mary noted the night before a bit wistfully: “Stayed at home all day and sewed. Took a bath at night and went to bed with the girls for the last time.”

The wedding took place at the Creighton home with but a few invited guests. Jeff and Mary left that afternoon for San Francisco where they spent the first days of their honeymoon.

Mary noted on June 2: ” My wedding day. Everybody just as pleasant as could be. The Company went with us to the station. We reached San Francisco at ten minutes past 10 o’clock. Went to the Ross House. Waited late for the trunk, I went to sleep on the lounge. Jeff is better than I ever imagined. So Happy.”

As usual, Jeff wrote more elaborately. “At home in a.m. preparing for the occasion. Had an early dinner. Hi & Frank Briggs came soon after 12 n. At about 2 o’c. p.m. all were ready & Mary Creighton & I joined hands to satisfy the requirements of Law while Mr. Robt. McCulloch pronounced us husband & wife. All passed lovely till Lou kissed Mary, then Liza Dunn & Frank Briggs followed suit. Lou knew the understanding was to have no kissing. I was somewhat riled. Five couples ac.(companied) us to Vaca. Stopped at Russ House, San F. Offered Mr. C. $20, would not take it.”

The following day, the couple spent in San Francisco. Mary noted: “Stayed in the room most of the day. Went out shopping in the afternoon. Went to the theatre at night. Saw John (her ex-fianc ) in the gallery.”

Jeff also recorded some of the expenses of the trip. “Still at Russ House having a good time. Went out shopping a little. Went to the Alhambra in eve. Piece played in Italian & we did not understand it. (Tickets to San Francisco $5. 50 Wednesday + Bus fare $1.00 & Transfer 5 , Total $7.50.) Extras $2.25. Theater tickets $4.00. Total for W&T $13.75.”

The couple continued to Litton Springs and Cloverdale on June 8 - “Hotel bill & hat for Mary-former $2.50, latter $2.50” - visited the well-known geyser, spent time with relatives, picnicked and in general had a good time.

On Monday, June 21, they returned by boat to Vallejo, where David Creighton picked them up.

The following day, they settled into a rented room at Brown hotel. Boarding cost was $5 per week. A new boarder is mentioned arriving on Aug. 7, possibly somebody not to the couple’s liking.

That same day, Jeff set out to rent a house from Mr. Gray.

They purchased furniture the following Monday. “Called on Mr. Curitan after returning from school & engaged a bed & bedstead for 16 dols, 2 pillows five dols, bowl, pitcher & wash stand for $2.50, mirror 2.50, dishes etc 5.25. Total Dr.(draft) to Curitan: $3l.25.”

They moved on Aug. 9, according to Mary: “Looked at the house after supper and packed our trunk. Packed up all I could. Hemmed my sheets and pillow cases. We moved at night. Went to the hotel for breakfast as the stove was not up. We did morning exercises in school. Went to visit Maggie and hemmed a tablecloth and towels. Washed windows and cleaned a little. Worked at straightening up the house all day. Jeff scrubbed the floor, put down the carpet and made me two cupboards beside numerous other deeds of note.”

Barely three weeks later, the young couple moved again. Neither diary gives an explanation, although Mary noted that the new house looked so dreary, “I almost had the blues.”

Getting used to each other and the new move frayed tempers somewhat. Both their diaries note an incident on Sept. 6. Mary said: “Gave lessons, Came home and cooked supper. Dirty dishrag caused some trouble.” Jeff noted: “A little domestic Hell this eve at home. I made a suggestion in the kitchen of the use of a little soap.”

Setting up the house took a lot of work according to Mary. “Sewed carpet at night. Patched the carpet together and put some of it down. Washed windows and cleaned the house up generally. Walked out to Father’s (to use the sewing machine). Made the curtain for the wardrobe, commenced hemming the ruffling for window curtains; hemmer broke.”

The following week, she and her sisters: “Went into Vallejo with the girls and had our pictures taken and went to Mrs. Farmer’s for dinner. Had my tooth filled in the evening. Stayed overnight at Mr. Farmer’s

By late November, Mary’s diary records her feeling not too well, such as on Nov. 28 : “Sunday. Breakfast at 12 o’clock. Stayed at home all day, pretty sick.”

On Dec. 4: “Made four pumpkin pies and a cake. Felt pretty well. Jeff and I took a walk just after church. Helped to get breakfast and felt pretty well in the morn, not so well through the day. Done up the work in the morning. Was pretty sick for a while”

And on Dec.12: “In bed most of the day. Jeff got me some vermifuge (worm medicine). I took some but threw it all up”

Their son Ralph Creighton Mize was born the following Aug. 3, 1876. He would remain their only child. Sadly, Mary died of tuberculosis four years later, on Aug. 11, 1880.

I would like to thank Kirsten Llamas, a descendant of David Creighton, for her permission to use the diaries and photos of the Creighton family.