At Last … A Recognition of Poet Carlotta Perry
In 1850, Watertown, Wisconsin was a bustling, growing community. This was the “West” to those on the well established eastern seaboard. Hardy pioneers were staking out the new town which would vie for state capitol and boast the first kindergarten in the country.
But growth didn’t come without hardship, and diseases like cholera often wiped out whole families. Watertown didn’t escape this fate and on the corner of Jefferson and Second streets in a brick house built by a Vermont settler of Quaker descent, William Reuben Perry, age 48 died after being ill with cholera for 30 hours, followed in death by Elizabeth “Betsey” Kimball, aged 71, after an illness of 16 hours as reported by the local paper, the Democratic State Register.
Charlotte Augusta Perry was 11 years old that day in August when she, her two sisters, and her mother watched both her father and her grandmother die of Cholera. The family had been in Watertown for seven years making them some of the first settlers. William is remembered in his obituary as a trusted and respected citizen and “zealous in the cause of education.” The mother and three daughters buried him beneath a white marble headstone in the Watertown Cemetery located on the site of an Indian burial ground.
It is tempting for us to think of past generations so used to death or so different from us that they went quickly on with life and forgot loss and trouble. But the higher frequency of death in years past did not dull the pain and sorrow nor lessen the depth of sadness.
Standing today on the empty corner of Jefferson and Second Street in Watertown, we may wonder about the grief and fear that must have been felt so deeply there all those years ago. But we can move beyond wondering and know more intimately the lives that loved, wept and laughed on that corner when we read the poetry of Carlotta Perry who, in 1850, was that eleven year old girl, Charlotte Augusta.