Charles Lee Palmer, A Vintage Vignette

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Charles Lee Palmer
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
July 1, 2007

My first encounter with the Palmer family history in Madison was the result of noticing a small, fragmented, and fallen tombstone in the old city cemetery’s center. The inscription on it said “Charles Le(? – stone chipped away), son of O. & L. Palmer”. It also had “Born … 1869”, but the precise date and the death date had been covered by mortar from an earlier “repair” of the broken tombstone. A check of Dorothy Scott Johnson’s book “CEMETERIES OF MADISON COUNTY, ALABAMA, Vol. 1” (1971) revealed that Charles Lee Palmer was born October 6, 1869 and died August 27, 1870. Ron Johnson of the Madison Station Historical Society has expertly repaired the tombstone, and little Charley’s story is told in the edited letter written below by his father Osiah to his uncle Samuel.


Madison Station, Ala. Sept. 14th, 1870


Dear Brother, your letter of … I received yesterday and was very glad to hear from you again and especially to hear you had gotten the letter at Massillon (Ohio) and that you were all well. I am disappointed though to hear that you will not start (to move here) before 24th October. I expected you here by 1st Nov.

The house is all log in two parts, with sort of a hall between the two and stairs up to a good room in one end. It is weather boarded, but not painted, with a large brick chimney on the outside at each end of the house. It has two fireplaces. The sills under the house have decayed and settled in the center. There is not another building of any kind in the place. We have a good well of good water. Also, a good spring branch runs through the place.

There are no coal mines here, but Huntsville has plenty of coal, which can be purchased at Madison’s rail station for $6.23 per ton. Madison is about as large as Greensburg, but has much more business, with 13 stores. Two of them sell drinks, mostly by the quart to freed slaves. I seldom see anyone drunk. There are two churches, two livery stables, two blacksmith shops, and two doctors. The stores all deal in dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes, notions, and one in drugs. We had about two weeks of fine, dry weather, but now it is raining again for three day and nights. I have cut shocks of corn for fodder, and I am going to husk it if the hogs don’t eat it all. The corn is not good, as it was too dry in the Spring for it. The potato crop was good, but not many were planted in the country.

Oh, Sam, you hoped we are all well again. I wish your hopes or wishes would have been answered, but they were not, and our dear little Charley Boy is gone. We buried him on Sunday morning the 28th of August. He died on Saturday morning at 7 o’clock. He took sick on Wednesday with fever and diarrhea from teething. He was 10 months and 21 days old, a very smart and fine-looking child. How hard it was to part with him, but we could not keep him. He is gone, and we cannot recall him. I can’t write anymore now, so will say goodbye. Write soon again.

There are cedar, pine, pear, peach, plum, and apple trees around the house, plus trees that get flowers but no fruit.

Respectfully, Osiah Palmer


While Osiah wrote that Charley died with fever and diarrhea “from teething”, it is possible that his death was caused by spoiled cow’s milk due to lack of refrigeration of those days. Many infants expired at Charley’s age with those symptoms for that reason in those times. It may be that Osiah’s return to Ohio right after his brother Samuel came here was due to Charley’s death being just too much to bear, with the little tombstone being a reminder whenever he went to town.

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