Sunday, February 2, 2014

130., 131., 132. The Donaldsons (Eliza, Isabella, and Joanna)

Three Donaldson sisters attended the Mordecai school from Fayetteville, all three the daughters of Robert Donaldson, but John McMillan is listed as paying their tuition:

Eliza Donaldson (1803-1825) was at the school for seven sessions total--1812-1813, and again 1816-1817; the first time with her older sister Isabella, the second time with her sister Joanna.  She was ill with tuberculosis when she married Thomas Hooper in 1825, and died a few months later, age 22.  Eliza's sister-in-law, briefly, was another Mordecai alumna, Margaret Broadfoot Hooper.

Isabella Donaldson (1797-1887) was at the school for two sessions in 1812.

Joanna Donaldson (1806-1876) was at the school for three sessions, 1816-1817.

As the details already given suggest, even in 1996 I had found a lot of information about these girls.  Eliza Donaldson Hooper stayed with her former teacher Rachel Mordecai Lazarus in Wilmington during her final illness.  Isabella Donaldson (the eldest sister to attend the school) was a lifelong friend to the Mordecais, especially to Julia Judith Mordecai. Caroline mentions Isabella Donaldson in an 1842 letter to the writer Maria Edgeworth, and Isabella wrote to inquire if Ellen was interested in a governess job with a neighboring family that same year.  Joanna Donaldson enjoyed a visit from the Mordecai women in 1842, when her husband Oliver Bronson was unwell.  It's clear that the Mordecais considered the Donaldsons admirable, unlike a lot of their students' families:
[Julia] is happy to be with me, but she cannot find anything in the society of Wilmington to compensate for the delightfully rational hours spent with the Donaldson family.  I wish they resided here, such intercourse is enviable, & preferring it as we do, how seldom has it been our lot to taste the enjoyment. (Rachel to Ellen, 18 January 1824, in the Mordecai Family Papers, SHC)

I may say with truth whenever I have visited Mr. Donaldson's family I have left it with the most delightful sensation of calm tranquility I ever experienced in any society.  I believe you know Mr & Mrs. D were from home but Isabella & James were there... (Ellen to Caroline, 18 July 1832, Jacob Mordecai Papers, Duke)
So there were letters and visits, long after the school years.   Their brother Robert Jr. was a prominent banker and arts patron in New York, which offers another window into their later lives.

Isabella Donaldson's gravesite
in Duchess County, New York
via FindaGrave

Robert Donaldson Sr. was a wealthy Scottish merchant, part of a community of prosperous Scots in Fayetteville.  He died in July 1808, and his wife Sarah Henderson soon followed. 

Joanna Donaldson Bronson was only two when her father died; she was ten when she went to the Mordecai school with her older sister Eliza (who was thirteen at the time).  Joanna moved to New York with her brother Robert.  In 1833 she married Dr. Oliver Bronson, from a wealthy family in banking and insurance.  They had a sons Isaac (1835-1872) (who was with the Union Army during the Civil War), Oliver Jr. (1837-1918), Willett, and Robert.  A niece described Joanna as "a beauty in her youth---Black waving hair, beautiful grey eyes and much color of complexion --- very gay and very entertaining. She became very deaf (in her old age) but was so agreeable that everyone sought her society."  Dr. Bronson stopped practicing medicine and became superintendent of schools, eventually moving to Reconstruction-era St. Augustine, Florida as a school administrator.  The Bronsons were benefactors of a missionary society, a girls' school, the American Tract Society, and an "Asylum for Respectable Aged Indigent Females."  Their house in the Hudson Valley is now a national historic landmark.  Joanna was widowed in summer 1875 and died in early 1876, age 69.

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