Aunt Jane’s garden

Jane Charlotte Stott (1820-1904)

Five years ago, through a generous cousin, I came across some delightful information about the family of Jonathan Stott. I knew that he and his wife Julia Cooper Bennet had two sons: Charles Henry, our ancestor, and Francis Horatio, who went off to sea on the clipper ship Sea Witch before being recalled to the family business. After Jonathan’s death these two brothers formed the firm of C.H. & F.H. Stott Woolen Mills, and later hired a young bookkeeper named John Magoun Pearson. 

Now I learn that there were also three daughters. Two of them, Mary Elizabeth and Julia Matilda, died within days of each other in 1823. They were 5 and 3 years old, respectively. But the third daughter, Jane Charlotte, lived a long and evidently happy life. She was our grandmother’s great-aunt. She never married; rather, she stayed home, gardened, and had a strong influence on generations and dozens upon dozens of nieces, nephews, grand-nieces & grand-nephews. One of them, Lella Seeley, wrote this lovely piece about her aunt’s garden in Stottville.

Aunt Jane’s Garden

by Lella Seely

She was of English stock. Her father, my great grandfather Jonathan, had run away from his English home at seventeen and enlisted in the First Warwickshire Regiment of Foot, one of the oldest regiments in the English army – first organized in 1674. He fought under the Duke of Wellington in the campaigns on the Spanish Peninsula and in France, and after Napoleon’s defeat sailed with his regiment for service in Canada.

On a raid across the border into the United States he was taken prisoner and sent to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, eventually turning up in the Hudson River Valley where he spent the rest of his long life.

His eldest daughter was my great-aunt Jane who, unmarried, lived always in their village home. Her garden in the rear of the white frame house was laid out like an English garden with herbs, fruit trees and all the old-fashioned flowers: lemon verbena, bee-balm, Solomon’s seal, heliotrope, lavender, mignonette, sweet geranium, forget-me-nots, Shakespeare’s list of flowers could all be found in its grass-bordered beds. I remember in particular one stunning rose, the slip of which had come from England – a dark, dark velvety crimson beauty named George the fourth, so fragrant that its sweetness enveloped you as you stepped into this minor Eden.

The garden held an octogon shaped Summer-house where afternoon tea was served on special occasions. For a child to be invited to eat the wafer thin slices of bread and butter and the pink and white iced tea cakes was a wonderful treat.

Aunt Jane worked in her garden many hours a day, and she did this as long as I can remember. Coming through the house and stepping out onto the back porch, her sunbonnet might be seen as she bent tenderly over the heliotrope and mignonette, or she might be seen standing erect, directing John, her faithful gardener. Always she wore in the garden an old pair of green kid gloves, pinked at the wrists.

As a child I listened to my mother tell of her sometimes fruitless search to find a shop in New York that carried green kid gloves – for in the early nineteen hundreds green kid gloves were as scarce as the proverbial hen’s teeth. But, somehow or other, Auntie’s green gloves were there when she needed a new pair.

All the family united for supper on the day that the night-blooming cereus was expected to unfold its white blossoms – and what a supper it was! Aunt Jane’s cook – Mrs. Goodenough by name, though always “Goody” to the children, – gave us golden brown waffles, home-churned sweet butter, bowls of red strawberries, huge pitchers of milk and cream so thick it had to be spooned out. After this feast we all repaired to the back porch to watch nature’s movie.

There was also the century plant. When it blossomed, as it did in my childhood, not only the family but friends from miles around drove over in surries and buggies to see the great sight. (How simple were our pleasures before the days of telephones, movies and automobiles. How satisfying!)

Aunt Jane’s house was as fascinating as her garden. Cool and dark on the hottest days, it smelled of lavender and pot pourri of rose leaves. On the back parlor mantelpiece were bowls of wax fruit under glass, and there were marble-topped tables and shining horse-hair covered sofas and chairs.

During the winter months when snow blanketed her garden, Aunt Jane sat at her sewing table and made charming little pin cushions out of bits of old velvet and silk, each with a tiny china doll on top. These were highly prized by her many great-nieces and the writer still has one of pale blue velvet, topped by a china cherub.

An ardent church woman, great-aunt Jane gave the Christmas tree in all its glory each year to the local church, together with a present for each child in Sunday School. I remember fresh oranges being distributed to the children long before the days of refrigerated fruit cars and have since wondered how she had them at Christmas time.

Erect in thought, great-aunt Jane always stood and sat erect. Her full skirts touching the floor, I must have been a fairly big girl before I realized that Auntie had feet and legs as I did – though she never used them for running. Indeed, I never remember seeing her hurry. She was an avid reader – Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope – and her taste in poetry ran to Wordsworth, Hood, Lord Byron, rather than to Longfellow and Whittier. The Bible had an honored place in her home. Though she never moralized, she lived its teachings.

As a child it was always a joy to visit Aunt Jane, but it was not until many years later that I appreciated the unique opportunity I had had of knowing and loving a true Victorian lady.

This account was written by Lella Seeley (1887-1968), the daughter of Janet Lathrop Stott Durant, recalling the garden maintained by Jane Charlotte Stott (1820-1904), eldest daughter of Jonathan Stott. From Eugenie Durant 3/12/2012

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