Edith C Tyrrell, alias Edith St Clair, was George Washington Oakley’s housekeeper after his second wife was taken to the Machias Poor House and Insane Asylumn. Records list that she moved in about 1889 and was living with George as his wife. Their relationship caused enough of a stir that the couple moved to Omaha for several years and ran an inn. George’s family broke up, many of the children remaining in Olean, New York while their father moved to Omaha. Needless to say the Oakley family did not approve of George’s new relationship or behavior.
After George died in 1916 Edith applied for his widow’s pension. The most brutal and detailed account of Edith’s life prior to her relationship with George was written by T. F. Dennis, law clerk for the Department of the Interior:
To the Chief of the Board of Trustees,
Herewithin are returned to you the papers in the claim above cited, which have been referred to this Division for opinion as to lawful widowhood.
The claim has received special examination under the instructions of the Board, and from the testimony so procured, together with the evidence filed in the brief, it appears that this claimant was ceremonially married to the soldier, July 19, 1891 in the State of New York, and that the parties continued to live in that State in the relation of husband and wife from the date of marriage until the date of soldier’s death, June 2, 1916.
It further appears that this claimant had a somewhat checkered career in her early life; that she was more or less immoral, and sustained a relation with one Thomas E Harbottle, who was the father of an illegitimate child born to her; that she evidently lived with other men, and eventually with the soldier from about 1889, and that the relation she sustained with the soldier subsisted principally in Omaha, Nebraska, where they went from the State of New York, evidently to avoid the consequence of a relation of that character in that State, as at that time the soldier had a lawful wife living and undivorced. They however, returned to the State of New York in 1891, and the soldier and the claimant entered into their ceremonial marriage as above stated, on July 19th of that year; and it is evident , both from the claimant’s statement and from the testimony of the case, that she was legally competent to contract marriage with the soldier at the date of her ceremonial marriage to him.
On the part of the soldier, it is shown that he was first married to one Maria Bartlett, in 1866, and that said marriage was dissolved through Maria’s death, September 18, 1881. It further appears that about three months after the death of Maria he began to live with on Elizabeth Canfield, and it is represented the he was married to her in the State of Pennsylvania, and the testimony further shows the he continued to live with said Elizabeth until 1887, when she became insane, and was confined in the County Poor House, where she continued as an inmate evidently until her death. That said Elizabeth was held in restraint until her death is clearly evident, but the specific date has not been determined, nor is it possible to do so, for the reasons stated by the special examiner, in that the records of the institution where she was confined were not properly kept during the period of her confinement, and none of her relatives appear to have been enough interested in her welfare to make any inquiry whether she was dead or alive, or the date of her death, if deceased. The preponderance of the evidence, however, leads to the conclusions that said Elizabeth is dead, and that she died either in February 1890, of February 1891, prior to the soldier’s marriage to the claimant.
Further, we have no direct evidence showing the fact of the soldier’s marriage to Elizabeth, or its validity if entered into, and it is doubtful whether we could legally presume an impediment by reason of the relation he sustained with her, even had she survived his marriage to the claimant. It is competent, however, under the facts and circumstances in the case to assume that said Elizabeth died as a fact prior to the soldier’s marriage to the claimant; and as the latter marriage subsisted until the soldier’s death, the claimant became his lawful widow upon that event, following in this conclusion the decision of the Department in O’Brien, (12 P.D., 32)
T. F. Dennison, Law Clerk
Members of the family were interviewed as to the details surrounding George’s second and third wife in order to provide Edith, the third wife, with the Civil War widows pension. Lewis Scott Oakley, son of George Washington Oakley, responded to the request for information on his stepmother’s hospitalization and death with this letter:
Bradford, Pa. March 22nd 1918
Dear Sir, Lizzie Oakley, father’s second wife became insane the second week of March 1887 and was taken to the Hospital located at Machias N.Y. the time of her death and what became of her body I am not able to say as our home was broken up at that time. By searching the records of the old hospital you may be able to find the information you wish. I remain yours.
L. S. Oakley
307 Jackson Ave., Bradford, PA
My great grandfather, George Clair Oakley, responded to the request for information with this letter:
Bradford, Pa. March 19, 1918
Mr. N. B. Miller
Dear Sir, I cannot give you any definite information as to the death of my stepmother, Lizzie Oakley, as I left home when I was 9 years old in 1886 and I was told by my father in the spring of 1887 the he had taken her to Machias to the insane asylum where she died later. I do not know the date. This is all I know about it so will close. Yours Truly
G. C. Oakley
53 Summer St., Bradford, PA
George Washington’s son Fred Zacharias writes of his stepmother:
Cuylerville, New York, March 20 1918
Mr. N. B. Miller
Dear Sir, In reply to the letter of yours dated March 16, 1918 will say that Mrs. Lizzie Oakley was taken to the County Farm at Machias some time in April, 1887 as a demented person where she died sometime about the 15th of February 1891. I saw the letter written by the Postmaster to my father writing of her death. She was buried there as my father was not in circumstances to take care of the body. I am not sure as to the day of the month it has been so long ago it has gone from me. Yours,
Fred Z Oakley
Letters were sent to Canada requesting information on the location of Edith’s siblings so that they too could be interviewed…..
Stay tuned for Part III….