James Henry Tagg and Sarah Lepine Chichester were married 130 years ago today, 27 December 1883 in Brooklyn. James, a compositor and typesetter, and Sadie, were both from families that made their way to Brooklyn from Manhattan’s Lower East Side and before that, England and Amityville, NY. Whether the families knew each other decades earlier in Manhattan is hard to say but it is likely based on the proximity the families were to one another in Manhattan’s 13th Ward.
My great-great-grandparents, James and Sadie, eventually left Brooklyn for Flushing, Queens, where their only child, Leroy, would meet his future wife. With their removal to Queens, my father’s side left Brooklyn behind forever. His family settled on Long Island and merged with other families living in Nassau and Suffolk counties. (My Brooklyn roots were quickly rekindled when my mother’s Italian grandparents settled in Williamsburg during the Ellis Island immigration wave.)
A year before they married, James wrote a letter to Sadie in an autograph book she received for Christmas in 1880. The book still exists (an indexing and research project for 2014) and his letter has survived, though the rose James included on the page obviously has not. The letter is from a sermon by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, a Brooklynite Methodist minister known as the “People’s Preacher.” (Rev. Beecher’s sister, if you recognize his surname, was Harriet Beecher Stowe.) The poetic nuance of the sermon is quintessential 19th century. The sermon has a melancholy tone. My theory is that Sadie was still mourning her grandmother, who passed away the previous fall and James was holding out a hand of love, friendship and solidarity.
– Sadie –
“As a rose after a shower, bent down by tear drops, waits for a passing breeze or a kindly hand to shake its branches, that, lightened, it may stand once more upon its stem, so one who is bowed down for affliction longs for a friend to lift him out of his sorrow, and bid him once to rejoice. Happy is the man who has that in his soul which acts upon the dejected like April airs upon violet roots.” – James Henry Tagg