Earlier in March I wrote about the New Madrid earthquakes – the 1811-1812 quakes, shocks and after shocks that devastated the area where Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee meet. The Mississippi River changed course, the land changed and lakes were made where there were none before. A letter written by Eliza Bryan gives the most memorable account of the earthquake and is included in that former post. In other descriptions several people described one or another of the earthquakes that occurred during that year-long period, but only Eliza describes and compares all three main events. Her account was written four years after the the quakes began.
From Mary Sue Anton’s New Madrid A Mississippi River Town in History and Legend, ‘On March 22, 1816, Eliza wrote to her friend, itinerant preacher Reverend Lorenzo Dow, about the quakes. The time lapse between the earthquakes and Eliza’s letter does not diminish the detail of her description, the voice of an educated person. Her words continue to provide inspiration for many a budding writer’s essays on the New Madrid earthquakes.’ Dinah Martin, Eliza’s mother, was also a well-educated woman. She first married Azor Rees, Eliza’s father, and after his death married David Gray. Four years later in 1804, she divorced Gray for cruelty. In Miss Anton’s book she says, ‘Dinah Gray was a remarkable woman not only for her divorce, but, wrote the Reverend Flint: “She had a wonderful library, was perfectly acquainted with Plato, spoke of him as familiarly as a school boy does of Washington, had all the great ancients, their exploits, and respective merits, entirely at command.”‘ Eliza Bryan was evidently educated as thoroughly as her mother.
Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth Bryan, born Chester Co., Pennsylvania, May 10, 1780, died August 10, 1866, aged 86 years, three months. Hunter-Dawson Cemetery, New Madrid, New Madrid County, Missouri.
Even though Eliza is famous for her letter about the earthquake, not as much is known about her life. She was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Azor and Dinah Martin Rees. The family moved to Kentucky then to New Madrid, Missouri about May 1793. Eliza married a Mr. Bryan, but his first name is lost to us. He served as a surgeon in the American army and died early in life. At the time of the quakes Eliza was a 34-year-old widow. She and her husband had one son, Frederick.
His wife was named Margaret.
Not only did Eliza Bryan survive the earthquakes of 1811-1812, but she also survived the Civil War. During March of 1862, when the Union army came to New Madrid, many fled the small town. 82-year-old Eliza was probably among them. She died four years after the war.
The Hunter-Dawson cemetery is a small, family cemetery, for the two families listed. I’ve often wondered why Eliza was buried there – was she a friend of the family? Most likely we will never know, but at least we know the final resting place of the woman who wrote most about the famous earthquakes.
Categories: Family Stories