Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2. Eliza Adam (1798-1817)

By alphabetical chance, the second student to write about from the Mordecai school is one that we can know a great deal about. But sadly, the reason we know so much is that she didn't live long; she didn't even outlive the school itself.

Eliza Ann Adam of Fayetteville was born in 1798. Her father was Robert Adam (1759-1801), a wealthy Scottish-born merchant, but she was very young when he died. Arriving in 1809, Eliza was one of the first Fayetteville girls at the Mordecai school, an 11-year-old who became a great favorite of the Mordecai family. Samuel Mordecai even called her "his little adopted sister." Solomon Mordecai said of her, "no one that could appreciate the value of an affectionate disposition could feel otherwise than attached."

Eliza's younger sister Margaret joined her at Warrenton in 1812, the year Eliza finished her studies there. In 1813, Eliza was sent to the North to "polish" her manners in Boston. Soon, she was engaged to John Adams Cameron (1788-1838), a UNC alumnus and wounded veteran of the War of 1812, one of the prominent North Carolina Camerons.

This engagement was the beginning of the end for Eliza. She took an overdose of laudanum, apparently in hopes of avoiding the match. But she survived the overdose and the scandal, and the marriage proceeded as planned, taking place on 13 January 1815. In 1816, Eliza Adam Cameron's daughter was born. Eliza's health was further damaged in the pregnancy (and probably by her continuing unhappiness with the marriage). She took a course of mercury and other treatments, but nothing slowed her deteriorating health. When John Cameron's business required a trip to Europe, it was decided that Eliza might benefit from a sea voyage. They arrived at Liverpool, then took another sea journey to Greenock (her father's birthplace on the coast of Scotland).  She stayed with an aunt near Ardrossan, where Eliza Ann Adam Cameron died in 1817, still a teenager. (The Cameron Family Papers from 1817 have several reports of Eliza's final days.) (Edited for clarity after an anonymous comment, 10/30/14)

Her widower, John Adams Cameron, married again the following year. In 1822 he was appointed consul to Brazil. In 1831 he continued his diplomatic career in Veracruz, Mexico. John A. Cameron was appointed to the new US District Court of Florida. Judge Cameron died by drowning when the steamship Pulaski was lost at sea in 1838.

Eliza's only child, Mary Elizabeth Cameron (1815-1845), married Dr. Halcott Pride Jones (1815-1889) in 1838, and had at least four children--the first, Eliza Adams "Lizzie" Jones (1839-1911), named for her long-dead grandmother, the Mordecai student.


  1. What a sad story. I'm from Greenock and researching the life of Robert Adam.

  2. Thanks for writing! I agree, terribly sad story. The next entry is about Eliza's sister Margaret, if that's helpful to your work.

  3. The Fayette Observer 15 November 1939 carries a paragraph about John A Cameron which finishes with the sentence - "His first wife sleeps the sleep of death in ARDROSSAN GRAVEYARD, on the banks of the lovely Clyde." Your narrative above indicates she died at GREENOCK. Are you able to clarify where she is buried? Both towns were busy seaports.

  4. Anonymous, thank you! I think you're right--she may well be buried at Ardrossan. The Camerons arrived at Greenock, but she was staying with an aunt near Ardrossan at the end. I'll make that clearer in the post. This is why I do this blog--other people notice the details I've been taking for granted for almost twenty years.

  5. Thanks for the prompt reply. Unlike Greenockian I'm from Ardrossan. Are you in possession of and able to give the aunt's name and address or maybe the exact date of Eliza's death?

  6. I don't have the aunt's name or the exact date--the aunt's name wouldn't have meant anything to the Mordecais, and they may never even have known the exact date.