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Examiner
  • Kay Hoflander: Genealogy, arsenic and old lace

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  • “Every family tree has some sap in it.” – unknown
    I guess you could say I was never into genealogy that much, although my mother was passionate about it and researched our ancestors with fervor for more than 20 years.
    Funny how time changes us though. Now, I rather like it. We all think we came over on the Mayflower and own a castle in Scotland, right?
    Sooner or later, most of us start to shake our family tree for one reason or another and hope no lemons, nuts or bad apples fall out.
    In my case, I found more than a little sap.
    My research began because my sister found an old picture of our great-great grandfather and sent it to my brother. Curious, he began researching one Louis Ferree Carothers, a captain in the Union Army, who was born on Nov. 14, 1816, and left this life on July 13, 1871.
    We assumed that our mother surely wrote more about him in her family history, “The Kreek-Carothers Family,” compiled in 1983. My copy was somewhere in a box in the basement, left there untouched all this time.
    Eventually, I found it and discovered some relatives that made me swell with pride.
    And sure enough, I found that the Carothers family (also spelled Carruthers or Caruthers) did indeed hale from Scotland, although originally from France.
    And yes, they once owned a castle.
    I learned that the Carruthers Castle is located somewhere near Dumfriershire, Scotland, but is now in ruins.
    Then, I found two more Carruthers Castles, one called Lochmaben and the other Comlongon Castle, this one with a lady ghost.
    Shaking the family tree was getting better and better.
    I began to wonder if we had a king hiding in that tree somewhere and decided it was worth a deeper look.
    Who said genealogy was not fun? Me, I think.
    Never mind that, starting with my great-great grandfather, Lewis Ferree, I traced his roots past the Revolutionary War to our common ancestor, Capt. John Carothers, a judge and member of the General Assembly. John was born in 1739 and died on his plantation in East Pennsborough Township, Cumberland County, Pa., on Feb. 26, 1798.
    The circumstances of his death, however, were far from ordinary.
    Instead, what I discovered buried within my mother’s stacks of notes and genealogical files, was a chilling tale of double murder, a story filled with insane jealousy, arsenic and, yes, lace.
    If you are interested, here is the shortened version.
    It seems as though a young girl named Sarah Clark (nicknamed Sally) came to live with the John Douglas family, who were friends and neighbors of John and Mary Carothers, my ancestors.
    Page 2 of 2 - Sarah “contracted a strong attachment” for Mr. Douglas’s son, who was at that time paying attention to Miss Ann Caruthers, daughter of John and Mary.
    Are you with me so far?
    Overcome with her infatuation (what we would describe today as “fatal attraction”), Sarah “determined to destroy the life of Ann Carothers and gain the object of her affections.”
    Following her clever and sinister plan, she hired on as a servant in the Carothers house and “bided her time.” She wore servant’s attire, a dark dress trimmed in white lace.
    The historical account reads: “Having no ill will against the family, she desired to poison only Ann Carothers, and with this in view, she purchased some arsenic. With no suitable opportunity offering, she grew desperate and put the arsenic in a pot of leaven.”
    I am sure you guessed it by now; the family all ate the bread and became sick.
    Capt. John Carothers died quickly, followed soon afterward by his wife, Mary. Andrew Carothers, Ann’s brother, lived but was crippled for life.
    Ann Carothers, the intended victim, survived and never married.
    Sarah, aka Sally, was tried, convicted as a murderess witch and hanged at Carlisle, Pa., or so the story goes.
    Incidentally, I did not find any Mayflower passengers or kings in my mother’s genealogy tales.
    Just murder, she wrote.

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