I found an article about one of my ancestors about three years ago and was very intrigued by it. I knew I would write a story about it at some point, I just had to find the right time. But it seems that there never is a right time when writing about an ancestor’s suicide.
So even though it doesn’t feel like the right time, it does feel like the time to write it. At least that’s what I’m doing. The ancestor I’m talking about is John Stanbrough, my great great great grandfather. Obviously I didn’t know him, but I do think about him from time to time. There is no photo of him that I know of, even though he did live into the time of photography. At the time of his birth in 1820, photography was not around. But during his 57 years of living, it had developed quite a bit.
Let me tell you about my connection to him. I am the son of Betty Lou Bucklin Landry. Her father was Fred Bucklin, who was the son of Addie May Hine Bucklin. Addie was the daughter of Susan Stanbrough Hine. Sue was the third daughter and sixth child of John Stanbrough & Lydia Mills Stanbrough. There was an older half brother by her father’s first wife. She also had six younger siblings.
John Stanbrough was born November 18, 1820, in Clinton County, Ohio. He was a Quaker. For a genealogist, that is a good thing because it means that there are lots of records for that person and their ancestors. The Stanbrough or Stanborough family had been in the US for many generations. They started out in New York and moved on to Tennessee. Our line went on to Ohio and then to Indiana around 1830. Grandma Sue brought our line down to Louisiana in 1894.
John married Lydia Hunt in 1838. They had one son together in 1839 and then Lydia died in 1842. Not long after that, John met another Lydia. This one had the last name of Mills. They were married on Sept. 20, 1843. If you added up the children I mentioned earlier, you’d know that they had a dozen children together over about a 20 year period.
Then in 1873, just 10 years after the birth of their last child, Lydia died at the age of 50. The Noblesville, Indiana, newspaper article incorrectly gives her age at death as 45. This was the second Lydia that he had lost. And she was an “estimable lady.”
Later that year, Sue Stanbrough married George Hine and they started a family. Addie May was born on Sept. 23, 1876, in Noblesville, so there were some happy things going on for John at the time. He must have gotten lonely again (even with several children in his house), because he decided to get married again in 1877. He married the widow Margaret Hollis Embree on June 3. She was 16 years younger and she had six children of her own.
I had seen a lot of this information before three years ago when I first saw the transcription of the newspaper article about John Stanbrough’s death. I wonder if his friends and neighbors were surprised like I was to see this information about a suicide? What would make a recently married man feel that this was the choice he should make?
The article gives a few clues. John took an overdose of morphine. He was able to get grains of morphia without any question from a doctor. He was taking quinine because he suffered from ague. This condition of recurring severe chills and fever and him taking quinine point to malaria, which is usually accompanied by pain in the bones and joints. Chronic pain is not an easy thing to deal with. Yet this was not cited as a possible cause for his “rash act.”
The article does talk about John leaving a message as to how to dispose of his personal effects. They suspected that his reasons for the action were marital “infelicity” and financial problems. They point out that he only married his wife seven months ago, that she had six children, and that they didn’t get along particularly well. Yet she, also, was an “estimable” woman.
I’m sure this hit Grandma Sue quite hard. She was living in the same town at the time and her younger siblings were in the house when all of the commotion was going on. It was a traumatic time for the Stanbrough household of 1877 Noblesville. I’m sure it was not John’s intention to traumatize his family. All he could probably see was the pain and problems that he was experiencing. He likely thought that they’d be better off without him.
A thought that nobody else likely agreed with.