This heart-wrenching letter—bearing the news of her 17 year-old daughter Martha—was written in May 1863 by Sabina (Shaw) Rowdabaugh (1819-1910) from New Paris, Elkhart county, Indiana. Sabina was married in 1839 to John Rowdabaugh (1814-1894), a cooper when living in Pennsylvania, but afterwards a farmer in Indiana. The couple had four children together—David Rowdabaugh (died an infant in 1840), Elizabeth Ann Rowdabaugh (1841-1923), Solomon Rowdabaugh (1843-1919), and Martha Rowdabaugh (1845-1863).[
Sabina was the daughter of Rev. William Shaw (1787-1826) and Susanna Landis (1787-1869) of Salisbury Heights, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. She wrote the letter to her brother William Cookman Shaw (1817-1909) and his wife Martha Elinor Reisinger (1821-1904) of New Albany, Floyd county, Indiana, where William worked as a tailor. William and Martha’s two oldest boys, Albert Alexander Shaw (1842-1862) and William Cookman Shaw, Jr. (1844-1922) both served in the Civil War. Albert served in Co. E, 23rd Indiana Vols. but died on 16 May 1862 from a gunshot wound to his side received in the fighting at the Battle of Shiloh. William served as the First Sergeant of Co. B (later rising in rank to Major), 38th Indiana Vols.
A small piece of paper attached to the letter by the original pin, simply adds “Martha’s age was 17 years, 9 months, and 29 days.”
[Note: This letter is from the collection of Richard Weiner and is published here by express consent.]
[New Paris, Elkhart county, Indiana]
May 18, 1863
Dear Brother and Sister,
It is with a sad heart I sit down to drop a few lines to you to tell you of our bereavement. Our dear Martha is no more with us. She died the 5th of this month. She left us in great hopes of her eternal happiness. She was eleven days confined to her bed. She had the typhoid fever. Four days before she died, we thought she was dying and we called in the neighbors. She thought so too for she said take the feather pillows away. Then she began to pray and called on us to pray for her. We did so and the Lord blessed her. She rejoiced in God, her Savior. She said, “I see Jesus. O! how bright and beautiful,” and then she revived very much and exhorted all to meet her in Heaven. Then she wanted to be baptized. She said she would live till that could be done.
We sent for Brother [David] Shively ¹ to baptize her. She could not turn herself in bed. We made a bed in the spring wagon and took her to the creek. They carried her in the water in a large chair. She stood it well. The Lord gave her strength that she could help herself in the water. On the way home, she said, “Nobody knows how good I feel.” She had a blister on her stomach at the same time. The doctor was along when she was baptized. She told us not to grieve for her for she was going to meet her little brother in Heaven and all her friends that’s gone before. Oh, you cannot imagine how lost I feel, left entirely alone when John and Solomon is in the fields at work.
I received a letter from sister Ann. It appears poor Mother is still afflicted very much. Her grandchildren is going on one by one and she is still spared. Brother William, I want you to write to your William about Martha’s death as we do not know where he is. I wrote to you a good while ago and never got an answer. Today I am alone. John and Solomon is at Rasor’s helping Noe to plant corn. Rasors is well. ² I should of wrote to [you] sooner but I could not. We have so many letters to write. I can’t get Solomon to write them all so I must write some but it goes hard with me to write as I have not wrote much for a long time for Martha done almost all the writing. I do not feel like writing any more at this time. Pray for us that God may give grace to help in every time of need.
May God bless and save you all with an everlasting salvation is my prayer, — Sabina Rowdabaugh
[to] William and Martha Shaw
¹ Rev. David Shively was a minister in the German Baptist Brethren church (a.k.a. “Dunkards”). To be baptised, they kneel in the water and are dipped forward three times, in recognition of the three persons of the Trinity.
² This is probably Noak Rasor whose farm was in Jackson township, Elkhart county, Indiana, in the 1860s.