07 Sep 2015


Lost Capitol Hill: A Widow’s Gold Bracelet

tn shPaging through old newspapers, you often come across classified ads that would not have been out of place in the Agony Column of the London Times, which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had his creation, Sherlock Holmes, describe as

“a chorus of groans, cries, and bleatings! A rag-bag of singular happening! But surely the most valuable hunting ground that was ever given to a student of the unusual.”

Sadly, they usually only give a single glimpse into someone’s tragedy, with nary a follow-up to let us know it all worked out. That is why the two ads I recently found were so fascinating, as they seemed to belong together.

On January 3, 1859, one of the entries under “Lost and Found” of the Washington Evening Star reads “FOUND – On the 26th ultimo, by a little boy, near the Episcopal Church, Navy Yard, a BRACELET. The owner can hear of it by calling at the corner of 3d and L streets east.”

The following day, this message was repeated – right below another ad, which stated “LOST – on the 26th ultimo, between 498 I street and the Second Baptist Church, Navy Yard, a GOLD BRACELET, with a black velvet band. The finder will receive a liberal reward (as it contained the minature [sic] of the loose ‘s [sic] deceased husband) on leaving it at BRUSKE’S Grocery Store, on Garrison street, Navy Yard.”

498 I Street, located between 7th and 8th Streets SE, was indeed the residence of a widow – two, in fact. Jeannie Copeland and Maria Smallwood. Copeland, who also went by Jane, had lost her husband some three years earlier. She was some 70 years old. Smallwood, on the other hand, was still under 40; when exactly, her husband John W had died is uncertain.

The two advertisements as they appeared in the Evening Star 150+ years ago. (LoC)

The two advertisements as they appeared in the Evening Star 150+ years ago. (LoC)

Given the two mistakes that appear in the “lost” announcement, it is hardly surprising that there is a third: There was no such business as Bruske’s grocery. However, George O. Brush is listed in the 1860 directory of having a store at 581 8th, which was close to the corner of 8th and I Streets, and thus just a few steps from 498 I.

Over 150 years later, it is impossible to say whether these two ads do refer to the same bracelet. However, the fact that the day they were lost and found was one and the same, and that the route between 498 I and the Second Baptist Church at the corner of 4th Street and Virginia Avenue does, in fact, lead within a block of Christ Church, as the “Episcopal Church, Navy Yard” is better known as, does give some credence to that notion.

Whether owner and bracelet were ever reunited, and whether the “little boy” ever received his “liberal reward” is not known. Records do show that Copeland died less than 10 years later, and Brush almost exactly three years later. Smallwood then moved into Brush’s old store, operating it as a boarding house. From there, then she disappears into the mists of history that had already swallowed her husband.

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