Monday, January 16, 2012

79-80. Charlotte and Mary Ann Cameron

Two girls with the surname Cameron are in the rolls for the Mordecai School:

Charlotte Cameron attended the school for four sessions, 1810-1811.
Mary Ann Cameron attended the school for four years, 1814-1818.

I have written a good bit about Mary Ann Cameron's brother Thomas, so her family and her story I know very well. I'll get to that in a moment.

I have no idea who Charlotte Cameron was. She wasn't a sister of Mary Ann's, or a close cousin, and I have no other mentions of her in the Mordecai papers, though she was with them for a longer-than-average time. I have no hometown, no adult's name attached to the account, nothing. That doesn't mean she didn't exist, but it's also just possible that I misread a record--both "Charlotte" and "Cameron" appear in other contexts throughout North Carolina history. I'd have to see the rolls again in person to confirm what I saw almost 20 years ago.

(I did find a Charlotte Cameron, b. c1792, who married Joshua Holt Toomer c1812, which would make sense for an older Mordecai student, to marry a year after she leaves school; but I can't find any stronger evidence to link her to the school. And the Mordecais might have remarked on a recent student's wedding, but there's no mention of Miss Cameron becoming Mrs. Toomer.)

Now, Mary Ann Cameron, on the other hand.... She was born in 1804, the eldest daughter of Duncan Cameron and Rebecca Bennehan Cameron--and thus, born into a lot of property. She struggled at the Mordecai school. Dozens of her report slips and letters to home have been preserved in the Cameron Family Papers at the Southern Historical Collection, and they present a frustrating tale of a child who can't ever be quite neat enough, can't ever pay sufficient attention, to avoid scolding and other petty punishments. She was sent to the foot of the class, and even made to wear a dunce's cap on one occasion, for doing her grammar repetitions poorly. She quarreled with other girls, she wouldn't sing loudly enough in music class, she wasted paint in art class. The list of minor infractions was almost endless. She apologized to her parents, over and over, for the bad reports. She also asked about her younger brothers, and hoped they would write to her--but Thomas (1806-1870) was slow to learn and soon overtaken by their brother Paul (1808-1891).

Mary Ann returned to her family when the Mordecai school was sold in 1818; she was fourteen years old. Rachel Mordecai Lazarus encountered Mary Ann ten years later, and was surprised to find Miss Cameron "improved in appearance," with "genteel manners" and a pleasant singing voice (Rachel Lazarus to Ellen Mordecai, 22 January 1828, Mordecai Family Papers at the Southern Historical Collection, Chapel Hill). Mary Ann lived at home the rest of her life, which was a short one: she died in 1839, age 35, from tuberculosis, a disease that would also claim three of her sisters.

It was while visiting the Cameron plot in a cemetery in Raleigh, in 1995, that I started thinking about the project that became my postdoctoral research--a study of Thomas Cameron, Mary Ann's brother--so, in a way, it was Mary Ann who introduced me to the academic field that became my home (disability history). Glad to have finally reached her in the alphabetical parade of Mordecai students.

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