Tuesday, February 22, 2011

William and Mary Mead Rex. Part 4. In St. Louis, Missouri.

Continued from Part 3 here.

Passenger James Sherlock Cantwell wrote that on November 23rd they arranged for passage on the steamer “Pontiac” No. 2 [Pontiac seems more likely than steamer Poufine No 2 as named in the earlier post], with Captain Warden, to transport them up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri. The James Pennell passengers “arrived in St. Louis at about 7 o’clock p.m.” on December 3, 1850.

According to passenger Sarah B. Layton’s account, “It was a cold, rainy day when we landed; we knew no one, and no one seemed to know us. We were as pilgrims in the promised land, without home or shelter.” Brother Cutler’s account details his search for housing, and the ill health he suffered.

Where the Rex family found housing upon their arrival in St. Louis, is unknown. The family’s history claims that William, “who was a baker in his native land, established himself in that business and did very well.”

Their little girl, Florence Celeste, died on July 20, 1851, six months after they arrived in St. Louis.

Passenger Sarah Layton was plagued by an illness in July of 1851 that she described in her autobiography, “One very hot day in July, as I was about to eat my dinner, I began shaking violently, and did not know what was the matter. Soon a fever developed, and I then realized that I had chills and fever. Every day I would have a spell until I became very weak. Many a night I never closed my eyes. One time I felt a little better and was left alone to do some work while Sister Layton was away to see her father, who was sick. I got a pan and went to get some flour from the barrel, and that was the last that I knew that day. When Brother and Sister Layton returned they found me in an unconscious condition, and everything just as they had left it in the morning. I had torn my clothing into strings and pulled my hair, but knew nothing of it. I had the best of care that could be had, but could get no relief as long as I lived in St. Louis.” --from “Autobiography of Sarah B. Layton,” Woman’s Exponent 29:18-19 (February 15 and March 1, 1901) pp. 86-87.

William Rex, husband and father, died the following Spring on April 4, 1852, from a “serious malady.” A few weeks later Mary gave birth to their seventh child, Willard. On June 17, 1853 Willard died, age 1 year, 1 month, and 2 days.

Mary attempted to carry on her deceased husband’s baking business. Her lack of experience forced her to sell the business and find other work to support her family. She did nursing and was considered gifted in the care of the sick.

Her boys, Thomas, William, Charles, and Alfred were resourceful and tried every available means to help support their mother. They swam the Mississippi River and gathered drift wood for fuel, selling the excess. “They did errands of all kinds. At one time William [my great grandfather 1844-1927] and Alfred had a contract as lamp lighters for the City of St. Louis. William used to say that the poem The Old Lamp Lighter [by Robert Louis Stephenson, 1850–1894] was a story of what they did. He often told of how they went about the streets with a torch and ladder to light the gas lamps.” There is a nice sketch and information about early lamplighters like Mary’s boys here.

The Old Lamp Lighter
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

(To be continued.)

Great granddaughters Winnie Rex Andrus and Flora Rex Lamborn traveled to St. Louis, Missouri in 1997. They visited the cemetery and located the gravesite of their great grandfather. Family members joined their effort to place this gravestone in the cemetery.


  1. There are Randolph Rex descendants living in the St. Louis area right now. I hope they have visited this gravesite.
    Thank you for the copies Sarah B's journal. I really enjoyed reading them

  2. Thank you Flora Lee. I'd overlooked including the cemetery address. Wouldn't it be nice if one of those descendants looked up the gravestone, snapped a picture and sent it to me?
    Bellefontaine Cemetery
    4947 Florissant Ave.
    St. Louis, MO 63115-1496