Last year I did a series of posts about what became of Mary Wills, daughter of George and Mary Wills, who was born in November 1829 in Wolverton, Buckinghamshire; met and married William Slaymaker in Blisworth, Northamptonshire; and then lived in Northampton, before moving with her husband and children to the US in 1870. They settled in Jersey City, New Jersey (click here for some historic images of the city). They changed their surname to Sargent before leaving England. I’ve no idea why they picked that surname. Slaymaker sounds okay to me. According to Family Facts for Slaymaker at Ancestry, it’s an occupational name for a maker of slays. Altered form of German Schleiermacher, an occupational name for a maker or shawls or scarves, from Middle High German sleier ‘scarf’, ‘shawl’, ‘veil’ + macher ‘maker’. Surname Database has its own thoughts on the matter—-perhaps, makers of shoes or sleighs.
I always felt badly for her, being dragged away from her family in England at age 41 at her husband’s insistence, he wanting to make his fortune during post-Civil War reconstruction. At least that is what my great grandmother (Mary’s daughter) passed down. Husband William’s business affairs failed miserably and the family was on public assistance for a while. She also allegedly gave birth to 12 children over the course of her somewhat brief life, including 2 sets of twins, my great grandmother being one of them (her twin died). I presume that all those births happened when Mary was still living in England. The four of the twelve children who survived–Samuel, Elizabeth, William, and Sadie–emigrated to the US with her.
I’d always wondered how Mary died, because she was only in the US for seven years before she passed away. Well, today my answer arrived in the mail. The death record sent along to me by the NJ Dept. of Health Archives. And though lots of scenarios had played out in my mind with regards to a cause of death, I’d never thought of this: “stomach cancer, encephaloid variety.” My heart goes out even more to Mary; this must have been a very painful illness. There was no cure. According to a medical dictionary, encephaloid cancer is a very malignant form of cancer that manifests itself as a tumor of brain-like consistency. Encephaloid means “resembling the brain.”
Prior to June 1, 1878, individual certificates were not issued by the state of NJ, so Mary’s record appears in the ledger format used from May 1848 until May 1878.
Date of Death: 6 December 1877
Name of Deceased: Mary C. Wills
Occupation: none given
Place of Death: 96 Chestnut Ave.
Place of Birth: England
Names of Parents: George Wills and Mary C.
Cause of Death: Cancer of the stomach; Encephaloid family
I’d hoped the record would indicate a place of burial, but unfortunately it does not. On a positive note, her name appears with the middle initial “C.”—perhaps for “Capon,” her mother’s maiden name. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a middle initial for her.
The ledger format reveals so much about “life and death” in Jersey City in 1877. Listed are lots of infants and babies taken by meningitis, convulsions, cholera, diptheria, hydrocephalus, bronchitis,and asthenia (lack of body strength). A 16-year-old laborer died of a fractured skull from an injury working for the railroad, a 40-year-old mother died of exhaustion after “instrumental delivery,” other adults died of phthisis (per Merriam-Webster’s: a progressively wasting or consumptive condition; especially : pulmonary tuberculosis), uterine cancer, typhoid, and asthenia. Only one person on the list, a 79-year-old laborer from Germany, died of “old age.”