The Three Perry Sisters

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Ann Eliza Perry, May 29, 1836 – May 23, 1854

Hester Jane Perry, May 22, 1838 – May 23, 1854

Laura Washington Perry, August 17, 1844 – May 23, 1854

Daughters of Rev. H. J. Perry of the Kentucky Conference of the M.E.C.S., who died May 23, 1854, of a burn occasioned by an explosion of burning fluid May 22

When Ritchey and I photographed most of the gravestones in sections M and I of New Providence Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Mercer County, this stone caught my attention immediately.  I knew I had to find more information on this family, and the horrible occurrence that changed their lives forever.  In running a Google search on ‘Rev. H. J. Perry daughters’ it immediately brought up a book, written by the reverend, about the awful explosion that took the lives of three of his daughters.  If you would like to read the book, or download it, click this website.

Hartwell J. Perry, a clergyman, was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, November 1, 1806.  He first married Hester Ann Mays, a daughter of Nelson and Anna Mays.  The couple had two daughters, Ann Eliza, born in Newport, Kentucky, and Hester Jane, born in Cynthiana, and one son who died at birth.  The mother died four months after giving birth to Hester Jane, her youngest.

Shortly after the death of his wife, Reverend Perry married Malvina Craddock, daughter of Jesse and Druscilla Craddock.  Malvina was born September 5, 1823.  Malvina and Hartwell had three children, Laura Washington, born in Newcastle, Kentucky, Malvina Virginia, born in March 1850 in Mercer County, Kentucky, and another child who died at birth.  Malvina died at the young age of 27, June 25, 1850, probably from complications of childbirth.  The tiny infant named for her mother died the next morning, and was buried lying on her mother’s breast, held close for eternity.

Reverend Perry married again, to a young woman named Jerusha.  In 1854 there were the two daughters from his first marriage, Ann Eliza and Hester Jane, daughter Laura, from his second marriage, and a tiny infant, Sarah Belle, whose mother was Jerusha.  This woman must have been a loving mother to all the girls; the book points this out in many ways.

On to the story.  Reverend Perry, his wife Jerusha and baby Sarah, and the older girls’ grandmother, left one morning in the middle of May, on his rounds as minister.  As always, they hated to leave the girls, but since Ann Eliza was eighteen years of age, and they had Matilda, a servant with them, the parents thought the girls would be fine for a few days.  Things went on as usual, until the evening before the parents were set to come home.  Hester prepared the lamp, filling it with fluid (I presume kerosene).  “The can formerly used for filling the lamp was destroyed in the flames that consumed the family’s residence the year before.  She filled the lamp, assisted by Laura.  By some means, we know not certainly how, the fluid took fire.  Perhaps Laura, who held the top of the lamp, with the burning wick, and who was quick and very impulsive in her movements, when she saw the lamp was full aimed to put the top on the lamp before her sister had time to remove the can.  The fluid exploded, with a report like that of a gun, bursting the can and the lamp, and throwing the blazing fluid over all present, enveloping them instantly in flames.”  The girls hands were so badly burned they could not open the back door, but ran through the family room, through the open door and outside.  It was said they were so completely enveloped by flames they looked like pillars of fire.  Neighbors rushed to help, and word was sent to their parents.

By the next morning, when the parents returned, Laura was already dead, her burns being too great.  Ann Eliza and Hester Jane spoke a few words to their father, but soon followed their sister.  With a heavy heart from the entire community, the girls were laid to rest next to Malvina, Laura’s mother, in Providence Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Mercer County, Kentucky.

This sad, sad story was even more vivid to me.  My mother has often told the story of how her mother, my grandmother, Mary Alice Mongtomery Carrico, would prepare the lamps for the evening.  She took newspaper and cleaned the glass chimney, filled the lower portion with oil and trimmed the wick.  One night after doing this she carried the lamp from the kitchen into the living room.  At one point she slipped and fell!  But my grandmother held on to that lamp tightly, and even though she landed on her back on the floor, not one drop of oil slipped.  Grandmother’s awareness of what a dropped lamp could do to her family helped her keep it straight and tall!

Even though it must have been very difficult, Reverend Perry and Jerusha continued through life – although death was not finished with them.  Of his seven children, born through 1854, only baby Sarah Belle still lived.  Four more children were born in the next six years – Lillie, Hartwell J., Keturah G., and Mary D.  By the time the 1870 census was taken only Sarah Belle, Hartwell and Lillie were still alive – and in 1880 only two, Sarah and Hartwell.  By this time Sarah had married E. B. Linney.  They had two children, Maud and Herbert.  Sarah’s parents and brother lived with them.  Hartwell married Jennie, I do not know her last name.

I’m sure the memories of the horrible accident lived with this family for the rest of their lives.  Even now, almost 160 years later, we can mourn these beautiful lives lost, realizing what a tragedy it was – and is.

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2 responses to “The Three Perry Sisters

  1. What a wonderful yet sad story. I love things like this, it brings these people to life, even when they are not known to you personally. I really appreciate all you do, I look forward every day to your posts. Happy Sunday, Phyllis, enjoy the new week.

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