Wednesday, March 4, 2015

149. Elizabeth Elcan (1805-1823)

A student named Elizabeth Elcan is listed in the student rolls for the Mordecai school.  She was there from mid-1815 to September 1818, when she left the school in ill-health.  The adult names attached to her account are Lionel (or Lion) Elcan and Christopher Hunt.  The Elcans and Mordecais were friends even before 10-year-old "Betsey" appeared in Warrenton.  Elizabeth Elcan is also the first Mordecai student whose story reached her present-day kin through me.  In the early 1990s when I was working on my dissertation, Carl Coleman Rosen got in touch by letter (remember, this was before most folks had email).  He had heard of my interest in the school and wondered if I knew anything about Betsey.  I did!  He included a page about her in his family history, 244 Years of Elcan Family History (self-published, 1994).

So here are some details about Betsey Elcan.  She was born in 1805, the daughter of Lion Elcan (1750-1833) and Elizabeth Hooper Elcan.  She was the second-youngest of their nine children, born between 1788 and 1811. Their father was born in Prussia, and the family lived in Buckingham County, Virginia.  When she was ten, she was brought to the Mordecai school by her sister Sally (Ellen to Samuel, 25 June 1815, Mordecai Family Papers at the Southern Historical Collection), where she stayed until she was 13. 

In 1821, Betsey visited the Mordecais at Spring Farm with her sister Sally, Mrs. Christopher Hunt. The report of her health wasn't good:  "Betsey has grown, and is very pretty.  She is in deep decline, and looks almost as delicate as her amiable sister...I never felt anything so touching as her manner on Sunday night.  She had a spasm, and lay perfectly insensible on the bed, and while her hands were forcibly contracted, with a countenance as mild as an angel, in the softest tone of voice, she repeated those lines from the Universal prayer beginning 'teach me to feel'...Betsey came out her and stayed several days, she does not like a city life much..." (Ellen to Caroline, 20 September 1821, Jacob Mordecai Papers at Duke)

Two years later, she died, age 18, after a long illness; four of her siblings also died before age 30, and none of the nine Elcans lived to see age 55 (Their parents lived to be 88 and 68.)  Presumably some of them occupy the unmarked graves at the family's cemetery, at their former estate, Elk Hall.

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