She Who Shall Be Nameless

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My ancestor hunt led me to both Salt Lake City and Boston, where I talked to all the cousins 1 could find—Augusta Adams Cobb has hundreds of descendants—and went over all available family data. I come from a long line of string-saving New Englanders, and among the things they saved besides string were all the letters they ever got, diaries, snapshots, report cards, diplomas, locks of hair, calling cards, dance programs, ticket stubs, menus, valentines, baby teeth, and obituaries. My own supply of these relic’s is ample, but since Augusta Adams Cobb is four generations removed from me, there was little chance that anything ol hers would find its way down to me. In Salt Lake City, I was shown some of her drawing-room furniture, elegantly carved out of packing boxes by a German Mormon immigrant; and her portrait (clone from the same daguerreotype that we used to keep in our breakfront drawer), hanging in the Pioneer Museum. Jn Boston I found her referred to in an old diary, kept in 1849 by her eldest daughter, Mary Eli/abeth (my greatgrandmother), who stayed in Boston. Mary Elizabeth was not an exciting diarist (“Snowed. Went to church … Rain in afternoon. To the druggist for oil of cloves. Worked on my bonnet.”) and I got more information from what she did not say than from what she said. There were a number of entries like these: “When f saw my clear friend Lulu’s sweet mother, so loving and devoted to her children, I thought of —————and could scarce keep back the tears.” “Last night 1 dreamed of Her Who Shall Be Nameless.”

There were occasional references in the diary to “Ma.” The word was always set in quotation marks. ” ‘Ma’ did not come clown to breakfast, but tarried in bed, as usual.” “I had a disagreeable talk with ‘Ma,’ and resolved somehow to bear the future in silence.” A check of family vital statistics revealed that Henry Cobb took a second wife, Cordelia Dana, a few years after Augusta’s decampment. I gathered, from the diary, that there was little love lost between “Ma” and her stepdaughter, Mary Elizabeth, and my mother was able to confirm this. “From what I always heard, those Cobb children were mean to the new mother. They’d leave her sitting in the corner on a straight chair, while Mary Elizabeth, as eldest daughter, took her mother’s place by the fire.” I set down “Ma” in my mind as a mousy little creature, until one of my cousins supplied me with a different version of the story. “I always understood that Great-grandpa Cobb was in love with that woman for years, and that was what drove Augusta oft!” (“Ma” comes out of her corner; her cheeks grow pink, her hair curly, and she begins to smile a sly little smile.)

I finally despaired of ever really knowing why Augusta married Young, but I now had three possibilities to choose from: Either she was so devout a Mormon that for her the word of the Prophet, Joseph Smith, was an order; or she was in love with Brigham Young; or her life in Boston was, for whatever reason, so unbearable to her that she felt she must leave, but could not do so without male protection (“… let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach”). Of course, to her Boston family and friends, Brigham Young’s protection was no better than Beelzebub’s, but then, they did not believe in the Mormon religion, and Augusta, indisputably, did.

But all of this is conjecture. Augusta’s Boston family rejected her so utterly that, except for the dim daguerreotype, no trace of her remained. In 1900, Augusta’s daughter, Charlotte, the daughter who had gone with her as a child to Salt Lake City, returned to Boston and attempted to call on one of her cousins. When she rang the bell and identified herself, the cousin exclaimed, “We wrote you oft the family tree fifty years ago! Goodbye!” and banged the door in her face. In Boston, the city founded by nonconformists, it would appear that not conforming was punishable by Casting into Outer Darkness.

The few bare facts I shall ever know about Augusta’s westward odyssey are contained in Brigham Young’s diary, which I was shown when I visited Salt Lake City. The diary shows that Young spent the summer of 1843 in the eastern states, proselytizing and gathering funds for the building of a temple at Nauvoo, Illinois, which was the center of Mormonism before the trek to Utah. From September 5 to 29, he was preaching in Boston and vicinity. He then returned to Nauvoo, travelling by the most expeditious route, which was: train to Albany; canal boat to Lake Erie; lake steamer to Cleveland; canal boat to Beaver, Pennsylvania; Ohio riverboat to Cincinnati and Louisville; Mississippi riverboat to St. Louis and Nauvoo. He made this entry in his diary on the twelfth of October: “Arrived Cincinnati. The river was low and we lay on a sand bar. Sister Cobb had a child very sick. It died in Cincinnati. She had it put in a tin box and took it with her.” (This must have been the youngest of Augusta’s seven children.)