The Day Sarah Died, March 26, 1863

The Day Sarah Died

March 26, 1863 was a Thursday like any other in Fall River.  As the Civil War raged on, inside #12 Ferry Street, not far from the waterfront, twelve year old Emma Borden would experience the saddest day a daughter would know – the loss of her mother.  Emma’s little sister, Lizzie, not quite three years old, most likely was not taken into the sick room where Sarah Anthony Morse counted down her last hours .  She was 39 years old. The effect of the long suffering and decline of Sarah Borden as witnessed by the twelve- year -old Emma Borden would resonate for a lifetime. It is not hard to image why Emma resented her father marrying not long after her mother was laid to rest and her extreme dislike of Abby Gray, her new stepmother in 1865. 

A very young Sarah Anthony Morse painting in the style of the era

Sarah was no stranger to sorrow and early death.  Born on September 19, 1823 in Somerset, Sarah was most likely named after her father’s sister Sarah who died at age 22 or possibly her grandmother, Sarah Vinnicum Morse.  Sarah’s  mother, Rhoda Morrisson, married Anthony Daney Morse on November 10, 1822 . Sarah was born within the year.  As years passed, the family grew, as Victorian families often did, increasing with many children, several of whom died young.  Sarah’s sister Hannah died at age 15, a brother Frederick Augustus passed away at age 3, .and an infant brother, Orin, less than a year old.  

Most probably Sarah’s wedding portrait

It is said that Sarah’s marriage to Andrew Jackson Borden on Christmas Day 1846 was a happy one and a true love match.  Sarah was 23. Her mother, Rhoda was missing at the wedding, she had died in January of 1843 at the age of 42. The couple lived in the house on Ferry Street for a time with Andrew’s sister Lurana and her husband Hiram Harrington.  Emma was born in February of 1851 and so the couple began their family after four years of marriage.  It was not until May 3, 1856 that Sarah gave birth to another baby girl, Alice Esther who would not survive to reach her second birthday. Whether it was congenital hydrocephalus or that condition derived from illness or accident, little Alice succumbed on March 10, 1858.  The death report refers to the condition as dropsy of the brain. One can only imagine the devastation of the loss on the family.  

Alice Esther’s report of cause of death
#12 Ferry St., Fall River

After the death of Alice, the health of Sarah declined with the development of uterine congestion, a relatively unusual condition affecting women of child-bearing age, especially after the birth of more than one child and worsens in the late stages of pregnancy.  It is hard to diagnose and causes sharp pains in the abdomen, pooling of blood in the veins, bulging veins and poor circulation resulting in a heaviness, difficulty walking, and it can affects other systems in the body. Deep Vein Thrombosis , a blood clot, can be associated with untreated uterine congestion. Today there are treatments for the condition:  hormone therapy, vein surgery, hysterectomy and other treatments. The painkiller of choice in the 1850s-60s was laudanum, or tincture of opium in alcohol.  By the 1870s morphine became the pain reliever of choice. Many became addicted to the medications used.  

Sarah and young Emma circa 1853

On July 19, 1860, a third daughter, Lizzie Andrew Borden was born.  One wonders if her father was disappointed not to have a son to carry on the family businesses.  He may also have realized childbearing was dangerous for his wife and that Lizzie should be the last child.  She was given his name as Sarah had been given her father’s first name, Anthony. 

In the well-known photograph of Sarah holding little Emma who appears perhaps 2-3 years old, one finds Sarah looking unwell. Lizzie would know the loss of her mother not even three years after her birth .  Sadly, Lizzie would not have the memories of her mother that Emma could claim.

Sarah’s father remarried Hannah Chase after Rhoda died in 1843 and moved in the 1860s out to Macoupin. Illinois. The couple had children of their own, and Anthony died on the 4th of July, 1878 in the town of Girard. It is doubtful Lizzie and Emma ever saw much if anything of their grandfather Morse. They never knew their grandmother. 

Headstone of Anthony Morse in Macoupin Cemetery, Ilinois courtesy of Find-a-Grave

In June of 1865, Andrew Borden married Abby Durfee Gray.  In 1872 the family moved into 92 Second Street.  Lizzie was 12, Emma was 21. The rest is history. Today Sarah rests for eternity by the side of her husband in Oak Grove Cemetery, mercifully never knowing what would happen in 1892.




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