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1841 - 1873



     Your great-grandfather was born at Middletown Point
September 24th 1841.  In his young manhood Captain John
must have been an ardent theatre-goer for, instead of
one of the customary family names, he chose for his
first-born the name of the most famous actor of his day,
Edwin Forrest.  Later, on one of his trips to New York,
young Ed visited this popular idol in his dressing room
after the play, had quite a talk with him, and was given
an autographed steel engraving inscribed - "To my name-
sake, Edwin Forrest Disbrow."  As a boy I saw this por-
trait but after mother's death it disappeared as did so many
other things so it cannot grace this book.
     Edwin's father, still Captain of the Schooner Jersey
Blue, often took the boy with him to New York during the
summer vacations, and still later he went as a regular
member of the crew, upon which circumstances was blamed
the fact that he early developed what was then known as
"rheumatic fever," the almost invariable indication of a
bad heart condition.  The daguerreotype opposite shows
him at sixteen or seventeen, a nautical cap which Mother
says was fur, cocked jauntily over one eye, his pon-
derous gold watch chain draped artfully across the fore-
ground, and a cigar in his mouth - very obviously proud
and pleased with himself.
     Even after the War these runs continued with the
sloop John Travers for a while as this little business
card attests.  Notice the hastily-scribbled message on
the back.  We shall never know why Capt. John thought it
best to telegraph Lou; at that date the "magnetic tele-
graph" was not used lightly.  "Lou," of course is my
     However, my mother has no real memories of the very
early years - only hearsay.  It would appear Edwin was
popular and a good mixer for when we do have definite in-

EDWIN FORREST DISBROW formation on him he is a member of the Odd Fellows, the Masons, the Templars, and some very vigorous Temperance Society. He was also a member of the local Volunteer Fire Company which, even as in our own small towns now, was a sort of young men's club. Then, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, he met the girl who was to be his future wife, Louisa Lane, daughter by an earlier mar- riage of a Mrs. Higgins who kept a little stationery and "Notions" shop on Main Street. "Grandma Higgins" seems to have impressed herself on everyone who knew her. Dad often referred to her with obvious admiration and so did uncle Henry; they knew her later in Ocean Beach. She was born Jane Louise Fergus- on in New York City in December 1816, the year after Waterloo. One of her most vivid memories, and she had many, was of being held up by her father at the age of nine so she could look over the heads of the madly cheer- ing crowd and see the Marquis de Lafayette coming down Broadway in an open barouche when he revisited America in 1825. Another story was of the great Ball given in honor of Black Hawk in 1833 when she was seventeen. Young Jane Louise was strikingly handsome, with her very defin- itely high cheek bones and straight black hair. The great Indian Warrior Chief kept following her with his eyes about the ball room and finally grunted - "She make- um fine squaw." She married her first husband Lane in the late thir- ties, their first child David, whose "Life of Nelson" is in my library, being born December 29th 1839. In 1841 they moved "out west," as she called it, to Rochester by way of the Erie Canal having, naturally, various adven- tures on the way. Just how long they stayed there I do not know, but they had returned to New York City when 80
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW Louisa Lane, Ed's bride-to-be, was born on September 2nd 1845. But let us hasten back to Matawan. Now it seems that one of Mary Denyse's daughters, not Tamiroo the mother of Nicholas Morgan Disbrow Con- over but her sister Olinski Emmons, taught dressmaking to those of the village belles who cared to learn. Louisa Lane was one of these pupils and it was at the Emmons house that she met Olinski's cousin, young Ed Disbrow. But this romance had hardly started when the Civil War broke out. Middletown Point in those days appears to have been a hot-bed of Copperheads, as witness William Wallace's letter in the Dr. Stephen Disbrow appendix, Mother tells of how one of Mary Denyse's sons hid in an attic while the draft officers vainly searched for him. Eloise Dis- brow says - "Rebels we were and will remain in our orig- inal sort of way. The Thorne incident in old John D's day is suggestive of our family attitude toward the slavery question. We voted against Lincoln, thought the slaves should not be freed without some remuneration to the owners, and then lustily damned the South for seceding and fought it fang and claw! My Uncle Rem Lefferts Dis- brow was a surgeon through the gory affair. He carried no gun so every time the bullets started pinging, he dis- mounted and led his horse behind a tree, there to await a more auspicious time for continuing his progress. He said it was purely a matter of patriotism - the Army had too few surgeons and good horses to spare." Edwin discovered, when he tried to get into the ex- citement that he had a very bad heart. It was not till May 1864 that the opportunity came to join the Army of the Potomac as a "sutler;" the modern equivalent of which would be a cross between a canteen operator and the Q.M. Corps. He appears to have spent most of the War in 81
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW the vicinity of Norfolk on his uncle's barge Corn Ex- change; first on the Potomac and then later at City Point on the Elizabeth, across the river from Gilmerton where, years later, I was to spend a miserable winter. While here he wrote regularly to Louisa Lane. The earlier letters have disappeared although I remember my grandmother reading me incidents from some of the missing ones when I was a child. I still remember vividly the story of the pet monkey who got into the ink while grand- father was writing and who then, when he scolded the little creature, dashed out of the hut onto the ice of the frozen Potomac, where it sat shivering and chatter- ing while he remorsefully tried to coax it back. On February 14th 1865 he sent Louisa a most gorge- ous valentine which you have seen in its frame at Ma's. The extract which follows is from a letter written a month later, on March 19th - "How slow the time passes. It seems more than ten months since I saw your smiling face - I mean the origi- nal. I see your Card (photograph) even now while I am writing because it stands within two inches of this pa- per. Whenever I sit down I always take that card out of my breast pocket and look and wonder what my dear Lou is thinking. I have thought about you so much that I for- get everything else. Now even today I was lying on my bed, looking up at the ceiling and wondering what you were thinking, and I forgot I had a Segar in my hand and I burnt a great hole in my brand new blanket. Too bad, was it not?" While our Edwin lay gazing so pensively at the ceil- ing of his hut while tender visions of his Louisa formed in the smoke clouds of his Segar, the Union and Confed- erate Armies were locked in the final death grapple; but such trivialities do not intrude themselves into these 82
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW letters. Nor into this poem which Aunt Lou tore into small pieces, thinking it perhaps too revealing; not, I'm sure because she thought it bad verse. To My Lou How slowly passes time away When thou art, dearest, far from me Each lonely hour seems like a day Compared with those I spent with thee; And tho' the ..... of cheerfulness Is imaged on each seen and br.... Yet still they fail my heart to bless For thou art absent from me now. Occasionally I meet bright eyes That flash electric into mine, And cheeks and lips of ruby dyes And tones that seem almost divine. But still they rouse no feeling chord To vibrate sweetly in the heart, Since each light glance & gentle word Does fail to charm while we're apart Though morning with its golden sheen Bedews the vales and green-wood hills And Merry Minstrels cheer the scene With Musick's soft and lute-tones thrills; They make no echo sweet to me, For each soft note and Matin lay Breathed on the air must saddened be Whilst thou remainest far from me. And only when in slumber sweet A dreamy vision haunts my brain In raptured bliss thy form I meet And twine my arms with thine again. But Oh! ..... the Mystic spell That binds me to thy fond embrace Bursts with emotion's thrilling swell And leaves behind no lasting trace. ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... Swift on my airy pinions soar And hasten soon the happy day When we shall meet to part no more. Composed by E.F. Disbrow on Barge Corn Exchange, City Point, Va. 83
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW You see Aunt Lou was completely successful in destroying the last stanza, all but the concluding three lines. Two weeks after our first letter, Petersburg had fallen and the Confederates were in full retreat, the last of the men in gray withdrawing from the city on April 4th. On the 7th Edwin writes to Mrs. Higgins, his prospective mother-in-law - "It is now eleven months that I have been down here. When I left home I had no idea of staying so long as I have but, since I have been here I have done so well that my Uncle cannot spare me until the Army gets settled again, which I hope will be soon because I am very anx- ious to see my dear friends whom I left so unexpectedly. Yet I hope the delay is all for the best. I expected to have come North a month ago because it was reported that all the Sutlers and Purveyors were to leave the Army; but I see it is not so with the Purveyors because our tent is with the Army yet which, at last accounts, was 30 miles beyond Petersburg and I am left alone here in charge of the Goods and of course cannot leave untill they get settled once more. On the 5th I took a trip to Petersburg and across the Battle Ground where the thickest of the Fight raged, and I was surprised to see such strong fortifications on both sides. The Rebel lines (No Offense) were the stron- ger of the two but they were not so well (neatly) built as the Union lines were. After passing through the field, I followed the track of the Army to the City, and although it was shelled considerable in the lower part of town, it was otherwise uninjured with the exceptions of a few fac- tories that were Burnt by their troops before leaving. After walking through the streets some time, I went into a yard and laid down on the grass to rest and, look- 84
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW ing through the clover, I saw several sheres with four leaves so I plucked several for luck and am sending you one for a relic. When I left the City I came to watch the very first train that has left there for City Point since last June. My health is in first rate condition but I am sorry to hear that your mother... etc." The next letter is addressed to Miss Louisa Lane, No 38 Lush Street, Newark, N.J. and is dated April 19th, 1865. Note that it has no mention of Lee's surrender at Appomattox on April 9th, nor of Lincoln's assassination on April 14th. That may mean that the news was being with- held from the troops for the moment but this scarcely seems likely. It may have all been in a previous letter now lost. Petersburg, Wednesday Dear Lou: April 19th, 1865. I am tonight at the above city. Tomorrow I will start for Burksville. All of our goods are off and I am to travel, on the caps from the Front to this place to keep the Tent in goods. But direct your letters to the Barge as I told you in my last two letters. I cannot tell when I will be home but I hope the time is not far distant. There is no danger in travelling so I hope you will not be worried about me because I will be careful on your account. The time of his return North was indeed not far dis- tant for on May 4th 1865 Louisa Lane and Edwin Forrest Disbrow were married at her mother's home at 38 Lush St. and had posed for the pictures which face this page as well as those which hang, in their oval frames, in Ma's living room. Cousin Mary Fay was among the guests. When I showed her the pictures in 1944 - she was 91 years old 85
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW at the time - she went into raptures over Louisa's wed- ding dress which she remembered from that day nearly eighty years before, described the material, the colors, the buttons, how it was made. How long the honeymoon they had or where they went I do not know but it must have been brief for on June 20th he is back with the troops and we find him writing - Camp 1st Div., 1st Brigade, 6th Corps., My dear Wife: Tuesday, June 20th '65. This being the first time since my arrival in Camp that I have had the opportunity to write to you, I will try now to let you know where I am. I suppose there is a letter in Washington for me but I cannot tell when I will be able to get it so, when you answer this, you can tell me what was in the last one you wrote. I cannot tell how long I will be here but as soon as I can give you any information about it I will do so. I am sorry to have to be away from you so soon after I was able to call you mine, but I sincerely hope it is all for the best. I would send for you to come to Wash- ington and stay but I could not get Board for One (and Room) for less than thirteen Dolls per Week and even then I would not be able to be with you every evening, so I thought I would put up with this inconvenience and save a little money for the future when I hope we may live together happy. It is now raining very hard but I hope it will not last long. I came out here Monday morning. My Uncle is to go to Ohio this morning but I do not think he went. I suppose you begin to think it is time I came home. Well, I wish I could.... It is now raining so hard that I must stop. There is two Negroes carrying Water out of our tent. I do not 86
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW know where we will sleep tonight but never mind, I will take care of myself. Direct reply to - Edwin F. Disbrow Kirkwood House Washington, D.C. It was probably not too long after this last letter that he returned permanently from the Wars. The bride and groom set up their own home in a tiny house on Maid- en Lane not too far in from Main Street in what will henceforth be known as Matawan - the name was changed from Middletown Point in that very year. Their little home was some distance from the big house, further down the lane toward the Creek, where John Nicholas lived. And there, on March 2nd 1866 my mother Jane Lydia was born. She was followed December 21st 1867 by Joseph Forrest. Edwin was now working at the carriage factory as an upholsterer while Louisa was busy with her growing family, varied with at least one visit to her mother in Newark as the following letter attests. Matawan, July 20th, 1869. Mrs. Edwin F. Disbrow, No 38 Lush Street, Newark, N.J. Dear Wife: I received your expected letter this evening and by your request I will answer immediately. I am glad to hear that you and the little ones are well & that Joe and Jennie have not begun to cough yet. I also hope you will all enjoy your visit. I am very well & have worked every day since you have been gone except a quarter of the day yesterday because I was summoned on a Jury.... All the folks are well at the house. Lib and Ed are over; they came Saturday and will return tomorrow.... 87
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW The first morning I slept home I had to go to work without my breakfast. Last night I had to sleep on the sofa & tonight Ed and myself will sleep together in our bed because Mrs. Hartley is there. So you can see the effects of being a grass widower. But never mind, Lou, I can stand it. You try & enjoy yourself & the children and when you get your visit out I think I will be very glad to see you all. Yet I do not want you to think I am writing for you to come home, for I am not. I want you to stay as long as you feel like it. Lou, I wish if you possibly could get time (if you do not come home this week) to make me a shirt before you come & I will pay you for it when you do come (Ahem!)... If you go on an excursion dont go on a Boat & try & leave somebody to take care of the children. I send my hours mostly in the house a-writing up the Fire Books. I was out all day Sunday. I wash and comb here three times a day. The windows have not been done since you left. But I must close & go look for some girl to stay with tonight. (Ahem!) Good Night, with love to all & a kiss to the little ones. I remain, as ever, your loving Husband Ed. On April 2nd of the following year, 1870, Aunt Edna Louise was born. But this happy little family was not long to remain intact. In the autumn of that same year, when he was nearly three, little Joe developed membran- ous croup and on the 4th of November he died. Years lat- er, when I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me of little Joe, so many incidents she had remembered from so brief a life. Even what happened three years later 88
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW did not seem to dull the hurt. But the little family had no inkling of what was so soon to happen. Of this brief happy period mother writes "I remember so little of our childhood in the `little house in the lane' - further down Maiden Lane the hill sloped sharply to Matawan Creek where we bathed and where at Ness's Wharf, the John Travers docked. Across from our tiny house were the `wood ranks' (pronounced wood yanks) - a vacant lot bordered by ranks of cord-wood - where every summer came an itinerant show under tents; and to me its most fascinating attraction was the long, glass-covered case with its sluggish boa constrictor. On one or two occasions I courageously drew near enough to gaze alone and saw the Thing lazily undulating and lapping out its soft-looking forked tongue. But the su- preme moment came in the afternoons at three. A buxom damsel would then nonchalantly take it out and drape it about her shoulders - with due effect on the gaping by- standers. Another exciting incident was when, on an unannoun- ced date a roving photographer would drive into town with his studio on wheels and, since it was a rare opportunity to have one's picture taken, a thriving business in tin- types would ensue. Some of these tin-types are the only record we have of our dearest friends. Incidents in life with my father are very indistinct. I remember him as a very young appearing, always kind, and deeply interested in his little ones - evidenced by the many toys he made for us with his own hands - and in our first steps in education. At the age when small chil- dren learn their ABC's, he taught us to say them backward, and out first text books were china plates bordered with the alphabet. At five I was admitted to Miss Grant's private 89
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW school of about a dozen little girls, and the bright spot of that was recess time, playing with the others on a back lawn bordered by currant and gooseberry bushes." There must have been a bridge nearby to the little house on Maiden Lane for I remember Grandma telling me that when little Jennie first heard thunder rolling, she asked - "Is that God's horses crossing the bridge?" Alas, Gentyl Reader, you have probably never heard the sound of a team of horses dragging a heavy wagon at a trot across an old wooden bridge - no horses - no iron- tired heavy wheels - no old wooden bridge - what a sad thought. It was nearly three full years before death struck again at the little house on the lane. On the 4th of July 1873 John Nicholas, who was now court bailiff, had occasion to go to the horse races at Monmouth Park near Eatontown - on official business, the family say. He asked Ed to accompany him, for moral support, no doubt. The two drove down together behind the old mare Nellie, in the open-top buggy, got caught in a terrific thunder- storm, and were thoroughly drenched. Ed had apparently been none too well for some time and now he developed a severe cold which he could not throw off. Two weeks later, coming home from the carriage shop, he saw two dogs fighting, rushed in and separated them, and collapsed on the curb with a heart attack. He died on July 30th. The editorial style of a small town paper of the per- iod may be of interest; this from the Matawan Journal. "Almost the entire life of this man was spent in the village of his birth, and his walk and character have been such as to command the respect of all who knew him. He was a favorite for official position, and was an ac- tive member of the Knickerbocker Lodge I.O.O.F., an ac- 90
EDWIN FORREST DISBROW ceptable brother in Aberdeen Lodge F. & A.M., Secretary of Washington Fire Company #1 of Matawan, and was one of the most useful members of the Sons of Temperance, was a mem- ber of the Ray of Hope Lodge I.O.G.T. of Jacksonville, walking there almost every week to attend the meetings. For over a year there had been an apparent failing in his physical strength, and an ulcerated throat and a dry, hacking cough gave token that the disease was steal- ing its insidious march upon him. The condition of his throat made it difficult for him to take nourishing food and for about a week before his death, there was an evi- dent failure of consciousness and this increased until a little before six on the morning of July 30th, when he passed the stream that separates this world from the im- mortal. The immediate cause of his death was an enlargement and valvular derangement of the heart, producing a grad- ual poisoning of arterial with venous blood." So that was the way it was. He was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Matawan, beneath a stone upon which is carved - "A Man ever Faithful." 91

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Last updated September 20, 1995.

Todd L. Sherman (genealogy at alachuaskywarn dot org)
© Copyright 1995/1996/1997 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.