Through the early 1860s the country was consumed by war, that great test of whether, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal could long endure. In a war notable for advanced weaponry and crude medical practices, hundreds of thousands of soldiers died particularly horrible deaths serving this lofty ideal. These years were crucial ones in another respect—they nurtured a group of people who after the war would constitute perhaps the most formidable single generation of capitalists in the history of the world.
Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, Henry M. Flagler, Philip Armour, the list went on-all of them had been born during the 1830s, the same decade as the lone woman who belongs among their ranks in terms of the financial power she wielded—Hetty Green. They all were in their twenties or early thirties when the war broke out. Their greatest feats lay years ahead of them. In the decades to come, they would transform the landscape and the American (and the world’s) way of living to such an extent that their names still are synonymous with capitalism. They would build steel mills and railroads and mass production factories. The financiers among them would lend money and arrange multimillion-dollar deals on a scale never seen or even imagined before. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this particular generation created the modern world, or, at least, laid down its blueprints.
Yet even the most ardent capitalist must wince at their methods. The free markets they espoused were often in reality rigged markets that they freely exploited. If they were brilliant and industrious, they were not above manipulation, swindle, and fraud. The toughness and vision of the railroad builders unified a vast nation by giving it a swift means of moving from one coast to the other. Rail tycoons even gave us the concept of standardized time, unheard of until railroad schedules made it necessary for two towns located hundreds of miles apart to keep the same clocks. But the railroad builders also enriched themselves, obscenely, through enormous giveaways of public lands wherever they laid their tracks. They thanked the government for this largesse by setting up shell corporations with such names as Credit Mobilier, and Contract and Finance Company, which bilked taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars in overcharges on construction.
The railroad builders and industrialists treated their workers abysmally, offering low wages in exchange for long hours and terrible working conditions. Andrew Carnegie was off vacationing in Scotland in 1892 when workers in his Pennsylvania mills struck for a modest increase in wages. Carnegie’s lieutenants lost no time calling in Pinkerton men, the private security force, resulting in chaos and bloodshed that became known as the Battle of Homestead. Among J. P. Morgan’s vast holdings were anthracite coal mines, whose fat profits added to his millions. Morgan’s underpaid workforce included boys of eleven or twelve, too young to go into the mines, who earned the colorful nickname “red tips” because they sorted jagged pieces of coal with their bare hands until their fingers bled.
When the Civil War broke out, these budding world-beaters were already demonstrating the combination of intelligence, ruthlessness, opportunism, and greed that would mark their careers. For all of their professed patriotism, they found ways to avoid the fighting. As a teenager in Pittsburgh, Carnegie had written glowing letters to relatives in his native Scotland, extolling the freedom, equality, and opportunity in his adopted country. Yet when war threatened that nation’s very existence, the twenty-six-year-old Carnegie paid a substitute to do his fighting for him. He spent some time in the War Department but really concentrated on amassing the fortune in oil, iron, and, finally, steel that would make him one of the richest men in America. John D. Rockefeller’s younger brother, Frank, served with distinction and was twice wounded during the war. Twenty-two-year-old John, citing the needs of his growing mercantile business, bought his way out of the fighting.
Philip Armour, born in 1834, sent a substitute off to war, then concentrated on building an empire in meatpacking and grain. Armour demonstrated his patriotic fervor by selling pork futures short to a country that had endured several years of scarce provisions. Predicting that pork prices would drop as the war wound down, Armour found buyers willing to commit to paying what seemed like a bargain rate of $30 to $40 per barrel at an agreed-upon future date. When the price plummeted as he had predicted, Armour bought barrels of pork for around $18, then turned around and sold them to the committed buyers for a net profit of around $2 million.
A young J. P. Morgan, born into privilege as heir to a financial dynasty established by his grandfather and father, would seem to have had an especially large stake in fighting to ensure the survival of the United States. Yet he, too, paid someone else to dodge bullets for him. Twenty-three years old when the war started, Morgan demonstrated his patriotism by selling useless rifles to the Union. He provided the financial backing as his associate, Arthur Eastman, purchased five thousand old, defective carbine rifles for $3.50 at auction from the government. They sold the rifles back to the government for $22 apiece—a neat profit of $18.50 per rifle. When soldiers began to fire them, the rifles sometimes exploded, costing the unfortunate soldier his thumb. When the swindle became public, Morgan not only failed to show remorse or shame for his actions, he sued the government for the balance of the payment, and won. A contract, after all, was a contract.
In later years, Morgan, Carnegie, and Rockefeller would embark on a spectacular spree of philanthropy, building museums, libraries, and universities that still bear their names. In doing so they would prove remarkably successful in transforming their names from symbols of ruthlessness and greed into symbols of benefaction, artistic taste, and concern for the public good. While it is true that Hetty would never turn her millions into libraries or universities, it is also true that she never bilked the government out of tens of millions of dollars, or called out the Pinkerton boys to rough up underpaid immigrant laborers. And, during those formative years of the early 1860s, she sold neither defective carbines nor overpriced barrels of pork. During these years her ruthlessness, such as it was, played out on a more personal scale. Her efforts to get control of the family fortune, which she saw as her natural right, meant focusing on one rich aunt.
In the summer of 1860, a few months after her mother’s death, Hetty approached Sylvia with a proposition. They should prepare mutual wills. Hetty would hold on to Sylvia’s will and Sylvia, Hetty’s. Sylvia had already written a will a decade earlier, when Hetty was sixteen, leaving two-thirds of her estate to Abby, or, if Abby was dead, to Hetty. According to that will, the money set aside for Abby or Hetty would be placed in a trust fund handled by appointed trustees. Hetty would have a steady income, but little practical control over the money. The purpose of a trust fund, of course, is to prevent an heir from frittering away an inheritance. There is irony in the name since a trust fund’s fundamental message is a lack of trust in the financial abilities and wisdom of the beneficiary. In the nineteenth century, when women were presumed to have no head for money or numbers, trust funds were created for them almost as a matter of course. But a young woman weaned on the financial papers, who started her own bank account at eight, and who stashed away money given to her to buy dresses, was no ditzy heiress. Hetty wanted control of what was coming to her.
Sylvia resisted the idea. She was angry at Hetty for her behavior toward the servants, for hectoring her over the house addition. Her fortune was all she had—she wished to see a sizeable chunk go to New Bedford charities. At last, Aunt Sylvia’s willpower began to crumble. She agreed to compose a new will, if only to buy some peace for herself. Hetty drew up her own will first. It bequeathed half of her estate outright to any children she might have at the time of her death, with the other half to be placed in a trust to be maintained by New Bedford businessmen Edward Mandell, Abner Davis, and Benjamin Irish. In case Hetty should die without children, all of her estate would go to the Home for Children in New Bedford. This bequest, a rare gesture of public charity on Hetty’s part, was obviously included to mollify Aunt Sylvia (the Home for Children was one of her favorite charities). Hetty’s will included no provision for Aunt Sylvia, who hardly needed Hetty’s money.
On September 19, 1860, Hetty asked Peleg Howland, a storekeeper and relative of Sylvia’s and Hetty’s, along with two other townsmen, to witness the signing. They did so at Peleg How-land’s home.
Hetty turned her attention to the more crucial matter of Sylvia’s will, in which she “gives and bequeaths unto niece Hetty Howland Robinson all of my real and personal estate, goods and chattels of every description including Round Hill farm and everything thereon, house on the corner of Water and School and First and everything on and belonging land and buildings to her the said Hetty H. Robinson and her children and assigns forever.” In case of Hetty’s death, Sylvia’s money would go to the charities named in the 1850 will. Sylvia’s new will was written in Hetty’s handwriting. Hetty later testified in court that Sylvia told her exactly what to write. “I wrote it down on a slate, at her direction, by her direction, and then, after it was perfectly satisfactory, I copied it.”
Once the will was complete, Sylvia’s resolve stiffened again. To Hetty’s irritation and dismay, Sylvia refused to sign the document.
“I can’t, I’m not able,” Sylvia protested one day, according to Electa Montague.
“Then you never will be able,” Hetty shot back. “You can do it now as well as ever.”
Hetty pleaded. She was alternately harsh and obsequious. But Sylvia, withered and ill and nervous, had found her gumption. She refused to sign. Later, when Sylvia was sleeping, Hetty coolly informed Electa that she, Hetty, would prevail. She said, “I never set out for anything that I don’t conquer.”
Hetty finally won out, by threatening not to leave New Bedford until Sylvia signed the will. On a cold, gloomy January afternoon in New Bedford, Hetty sent servant Frederick Brownell to the home of Kezia R. Price, a widow who had known Aunt Sylvia all of her life. Brownell asked Mrs. Price to come to Sylvia’s home around 4 P.M. to sign a paper. Electa would serve as a second witness. The third was Peleg Howland.
Hetty instructed Peleg to arrive at four, before tea. But Howland, a man of set habits, didn’t relish facing whatever Hetty had in mind on an empty stomach. He went home to tea first. Back at the house, tension built as the little assembly waited for the final witness. Sylvia, waiting in her upstairs bedroom, was wracked with nerves over the prospect of signing her fortune away. Hetty, agitated because she had waited so long for this moment, looked impatiently out the window for signs of the old man.
At 6 P.M., with no sign of Peleg, Electa helped Sylvia down the stairs to tea. She ate little, and very slowly, as Electa stood patiently by. After a time, she signaled to Electa, who helped her away from the all-but-untouched plate, and slowly back upstairs.
At his own house, Peleg Howland calmly finished his tea, either unaware of or unconcerned with the consternation that his delay was causing. It was dark when he arrived at the house on Eighth Street. The little entourage made its way up to Aunt Sylvias bedroom, where she sat in the gloomy glow of an oil lamp.
Aunt Sylvia was visibly agitated, Mrs. Brown recalled. “Her health was very poor. I don’t know if she was more agitated than common, but we said nothing to her because she was so feeble and weak.”
There was a table in the room. Electa fetched a pen and ink from a drawer.
Peleg Howland cut the silence. “What is this I’m going to sign to?”
Hetty said, “A will.”
Sylvia said nothing. Electa pushed Aunt Sylvia’s chair, with Aunt Sylvia in it, toward the table. Hetty placed the will before her. Sylvia paused, took a breath, then, with her feeble, trembling hand, signed her name. Peleg Howland went next, then Mrs. Brown, and, finally, Electa.
The scene following the signing was as uncomfortable as that which preceded it. This odd assortment of people stayed only as long as politeness dictated, then dispersed.
With this goal accomplished, Hetty started to worry in earnest. When she was away in New York, what would prevent Sylvia from drawing up an entirely new will? She returned to New York, regretting every mile she put between herself and New Bedford, for with each mile she made it easier, she imagined, for others to exert their influence over her aunt.
Her fears, as it turned out, were well placed. About the time Hetty returned to New York, a new rival for influence over Sylvia entered the scene in the form of a remarkably attentive physician named William A. Gordon. Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1808, Dr. Gordon had graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School and, after nine years of practicing in the town of Taunton, had hung out his shingle in New Bedford. After his first few visits with Sylvia, he gradually began to focus more and more of his attention on her, until she for all intents and purposes became his sole patient, and his sole source of income.
Dr. Gordon, who had a wife and daughters in New Bedford, allayed Sylvia’s neediness and fear of loneliness by spending most of his time at her side. During one stretch of thirteen weeks while Sylvia was at Round Hill, Dr. Gordon remained at the farm around the clock.
There is little doubt that Dr. Gordon provided a great comfort to Aunt Sylvia. “I have heard her say that he had done everything for her comfort, and that she could never think of having another physician,” Eliza Brown, the night nurse, later recalled. The doctor designed special pillows to ease the pain in her twisted spine. He built a special sedan chair in which she could be carried around the house. He designed a bedstead with a spring lounge, so that Sylvia could be raised or lowered into bed without being lifted manually. He closely monitored her diet, and prescribed a regular regimen of swimming to ease her pain. As their relationship intensified, Sylvia began seeking his advice on other matters—including her finances. All the while, he was administering laudanum, a powerful and widely prescribed medicine of the time, whose principal ingredient was opium.
Dr. Gordon always claimed that any advice he gave to Sylvia came at her request. There is undoubtedly truth to this assertion. But it is also clear that Sylvia was susceptible to the influences of stronger people, even under the best of circumstances. In this case, the stronger individual was a physician offering relief from her pain and comfort from her fears, and also prescribing pain-deadening medicine. Whatever the underlying nature of the relationship, Hetty clearly had a new rival, and this time it was not a maid or servant. Hetty seethed from a couple of hundred miles away as Dr. Gordon became an ever-larger part of Sylvia’s life.
Among Dr. Gordon’s nonmedical acts on behalf of Sylvia was to write a letter to Hetty in New York advising her that she was not to visit Aunt Sylvia. No copy of the letter remains—it survives only in the memory and testimony of Electa Montague. However justified the mandate may have seemed to Electa, Fally Brownell, and others, Hetty could interpret such a letter only one way—as the act of an interloper and gold digger seeking to put distance between Aunt Sylvia and her one rightful heir.
And Sylvia’s estate was growing larger and more attractive every day. Sylvia may have disliked her brother-in-law, but she had prospered mightily under Robinson’s financial direction of Isaac Howland Jr. and Company, as well as his decision to get out before the whaling industry collapsed. For doing little besides signing the occasional form or financial statement, Sylvia saw her stake in the company rise from $244,000 in 1846 to $1.4 million by the time Edward began to shut the business down. Her other investments, handled by Thomas Mandell, prospered as well, from $77,000 in value in 1846 to $508,000 in 1863. On top of that, Sylvia owned real estate with a combined value of $75,000, bringing her total worth to a little over $2 million, at a time when her night nurse was happy to take home a dollar each morning.
On a September evening, a year and nine months after Sylvia had signed the will leaving everything to Hetty, Sylvia prepared to sign yet another will, undoing in one stroke of the pen all of Hetty’s schemes. The location this time was Round Hill instead of New Bedford, and Hetty was nowhere to be found, but the scene carried the same Gothic drama as the earlier signing. Sylvia was now much feebler than before. At 9 P.M., as she lay in her bed, Thomas Dawes Eliot, a prominent New Bedford attorney, read to her the provisions of a new will. Eliot, a kindly faced man with flowing gray hair and a long, white beard, read slowly and evenly so that Aunt Sylvia could understand each word. Eliot had drawn up the new will based on directions provided to him by none other than Dr. Gordon. According to the doctor, he had made up his notes based on detailed discussions with Sylvia.
The will, much longer than its predecessor, due mainly to the long list of beneficiaries now included, took some time to read. Sylvia nodded her head as Eliot read. When he was finished, the will was placed on a board and set across Sylvias lap. Although at times she had been too weak even to pick up a pen, Sylvia now was able to sign her name without assistance. She signed each page of the will separately, to avoid any charges later of pages being added in without her knowledge. Then, all the witnesses in the room signed. They included Eliot, Simpson Hart, and Dr. Jacob Bigelow, a prominent Boston physician whom Dr. Gordon had consulted regarding Sylvia’s condition.
The new will was certainly far more catholic in its dispersal of Aunt Sylvia’s estate. She took the opportunity to thank with money those who had cared for her and been her friends. She left money for indigent widows—including some who were strangers to her.
Sylvia left $10,000 each to New Bedford widows Hannah Mc-Cofftry, Hepsa Sherman, Sylvia H. Almy, and Phebe Allen and several other women who were relations or friends. One widow, Elizabeth A. Wood, received $20,000 in the will.
Fally Brownell, the beleaguered housekeeper, was to receive $3,000, on top of the generous gifts Sylvia had already given her to compensate for putting up with Hetty’s tirades. Electa Montague, the loyal nurse and confidante, was to receive $5,000 outright. Eliza Brown, the night nurse, was remembered with $3,000.
For those employees who didn’t get outright payments, Sylvia set up trusts of $10,000 each. The trusts would ensure an income, and ensure that the recipient didn’t waste all of the money foolishly. Aunt Sylvia apparently made the decisions based on her judgment of the personal responsibility of each recipient. Those receiving trusts included Frederick Brownell, her handyman (and husband of Fally), and Pardon Gray, her driver and livery keeper. “I supposed Miss Howland thought she did it all for the best, as I generally spent all the money I made,” Pardon Gray recalled years later. “And I finally concluded myself it was for the best.”
She left money to New Bedford for a variety of works. To an outside observer, this was a particularly enlightened document, compared with the earlier will that left everything to Hetty. Among her general bequests, Sylvia left $20,000 to the New Bedford Orphans’ Home and $50,000 in trust “to be divided among the poor, aged and infirm women of New Bedford.”
The will also called for a total of $200,000 in bequests to the city of New Bedford. These included $100,000 for the city treasury, to be used toward bringing water into the city, for manufacturing purposes. This bequest was particularly prescient, as it anticipated the importance of steam power. “I give this legacy to my city, because I believe that its prosperity depends much upon the establishment and encouragement of manufactures within the city.” The other $100,000 would be given to the city council, half “to promote liberal education” and the other half for enlargement of the New Bedford Free Public Library.
She also set aside large sums for certain individuals. Among these was Thomas Mandell, the partner in the whaling firm, manager of her money, and the designated executor of her will, who would receive $200,000. She provided $100,000 to Edward Robinson, whom she detested—a bequest most likely included to discourage Hetty’s father from trying to break the will. Sylvia, like any other objective observer in September 1863, would have assumed that the hearty, aggressive Robinson would outlive her. And Sylvia had always felt cowed by her brother-in-law. She also provided a $50,000 outright gift to each of the three trustees to the will, one of whom was Dr. William A. Gordon. The gifts were intended “as a token of my esteem and regard.” In addition, the trustees would receive “a reasonable amount”—thousands of additional dollars each year for as long as they handled the estate.
The remaining million dollars—about half of what Hetty had expected to receive—would go into a trust, of which Hetty (after taxes, commissions, trustee’s fees, and other payments) would receive the income. It was enough money to make her a wealthy woman, with around $65,000 a year in income. But if she had any inkling of what was being done in that farmhouse bedroom on that September night, it would have confirmed all of her worst fears. Hetty herself would have no control over the bulk of the money. It’s direction would be in the hands of others—and one of the guiding hands, reaping rewards for himself all the while, would be the detested interloper, Dr. Gordon. Even if the arrangements were entirely Sylvia’s idea, the doctor emerges as a dubious character, if not an outright cad. He was, after all, prescribing mind-altering medication to a dying woman whose last-minute financial decisions stood to make him rich.
And there was another feature of the will guaranteed to infuriate Hetty. Upon Hetty’s death, the remainder of the trust was to be divided among the multitudinous heirs of Gideon Howland Sr., Sylvia’s paternal grandfather.
The breadth of Sylvias new will, promising to scatter manna into so many hands, did more than just increase the number of beneficiaries of her goodwill. It also severely isolated Hetty and even, in a way, put a price on her head. Dozens of people stood to inherit money when Hetty died. Even if Hetty was not aware of Aunt Sylvia’s plans, she was extremely suspicious. Banned from Round Hill, she seethed in New York. Hetty would later claim that she knew nothing of the new will until after Sylvia’s death. According to their agreement, Sylvia had to inform Hetty of the new will, a point that would become a central argument in Hetty’s case to have the will overturned. There is, however, compelling evidence that Hetty soon learned about the existence, if not the details, of the new will.
On August 1, 1864, Edward Robinson wrote to Thomas Mandell a letter that, introduced as evidence in the trial, would severely weaken Hetty’s claims to have been in the dark about Sylvia’s new will:
Hetty has heard from some person confidentially that her Aunt S.A.H. has made another Will. I am indifferent about it myself—strange as it may seem to you. Hetty is much troubled about it—made sick, etc.—If you could without a breach of confidence let me know if you know anything I shall be obliged. I have not hinted to her that I should or had written to you or anyone. One of Hetty’s connections told her, (so Hetty said to me) she had better get or take all her aunt would give her, as no one knew what might happen.
If Edward was indifferent to the existence of Sylvia’s new will, it is safe to say he would have been less so about Sylvia’s next step, which she took four months after he wrote that letter. On November 28, 1864, she signed a codicil to her will. Some of the provisions were unremarkable: trusts of $2,500 to $10,000 were made to a few relatives, and $20,000 toward the establishment of a National Sailors’ Home, to care for indigent seamen. But then the codicil (like the will, dictated to Dr. Gordon) gets interesting. First, it revoked the $100,000 bequest to Robinson, “for reasons which I think sufficient.” Sylvia had never cared for Robinson, but she had been intimidated by him. But she felt increasingly confident in the strength of her will. “I have made it good and strong,” she told a servant one day. “I have made it so strong that Edward M. Robinson cannot break it.”
The primary beneficiary of Sylvia’s codicil was Dr. Gordon. In addition to the $50,000 and perpetual trustee fees awarded in the will, he would now receive an additional $50,000, “in grateful acknowledgment of his professional and other services and kindnesses rendered to me by him.” In addition, Maria Gordon, Dr. Gordon’s wife, would receive $10,000. His daughters would split another $5,000. In all, Dr. Gordon and his family stood to earn $115,000 outright, none of it tied up in the sort of trusteeships that Dr. Gordon and the other trustees would be managing for other heirs. And he would be earning a healthy income besides, simply for acting as a trustee. The man who drafted the codicil was Judge John M. Williams, of Taunton, former chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas—and father-in-law of Dr. William A. Gordon.
In the spring of 1865, Edward Robinson, the hale, blustering fellow whom it seemed might live forever out of simply being too stubborn to die, suddenly fell ill. He held on for a few short months, and died on June 14, 1865.
Hetty had spent so much time worrying about her aunt’s will, in part because she assumed it would be years until she saw much from her father. An inventory made after his death showed an estate of nearly $5.7 million. Of that, only $163,350 remained invested in whaling ships, showing the extent to which he had succeeded in extricating himself from the business that had made him rich. The rest was in stocks, bonds, cash, interest in merchant ships, and outstanding claims considered good. Robinson left virtually his entire estate to his only heir, his daughter. Five months shy of her thirty-first birthday, Hetty Robinson found herself a rich woman.
But there was a catch. Robinson had arranged to leave Hetty a little over $900,000 outright, along with some property in California that he owned. The rest, almost $5 million, would be bound up in a trust, with Hetty as beneficiary, but with two associates of her father’s, Henry A. Barling and Abner Davis, as managers.
On one level, Hetty had little to complain about. The bequest was beyond the imaginings of most Americans of her time, ensuring a life of ease and comfort, should she want that. And, certainly, Robinson was free to distribute the estate as he saw fit. And yet Robinson had been wholly aware of Hetty’s consuming interest in money and finances. She had been his eager student, reading to him, following him around the docks, soaking up any and all of his financial wisdom. Had she been a young man, she would without question have been groomed to take over his money and his business concerns. But she was a woman, and Robinson followed the conventions of the day and kept some 80 percent of his fortune in trust for her, so that she would not fritter it away. Hetty could interpret the will as nothing other than a deep and burning insult. She would carry anger over her father’s will throughout her life, transferring her rage from her father to the men he had selected to administer the trust.
Just two weeks after Robinson was laid to rest next to Abby in New Bedford’s Oak Grove Cemetery, Sylvia took a turn for the worse. She lay in her bed in the house on Eighth Street. Her last days underscored the poignant irony of her life. She was rich—probably the richest woman in town—and her fortunes were steadily increasing as her health declined. In just the last year of her life, she earned some $200,000 from her investments. Yet her physical ailments had confined her travels, outside of the well-worn seven-mile path between New Bedford and Round Hill, to the pages of romance novels. Her closest companions in these final days, however sincere they may have been in their affection for her, were largely her paid staff. Even discounting their financial interest in Sylvia Ann, their affection for her seems to have been quite genuine. Electa Montague, the nurse, recalled after Sylvia’s death: “I regarded her as my sincere friend, and felt to love her, and respect her, and do for her, and would do for her anything in my power to comfort her, and relieve her sufferings and her long confinement.” And yet the sad reality of this arrangement seems to have haunted Sylvia right to her deathbed. Nobody knew better than she that her companions were bought and paid for. A few months before her death, she called Fally Brownell to her bedside and confided, “I have remembered you in my will. I want you to make yourself comfortable with the money I have left you. You will miss me when I am gone, for Hetty will never treat you as I have treated you.” It was not a point that Fally, with memories of being shoved down the stairs, was likely to dispute.
In the days just before her death, she lay in bed in a laudanum-induced haze, courtesy of Dr. Gordon. In the stillness of one evening, Eliza Brown, the night nurse, was at her bedside. Filled suddenly with a fear of being alone, a fear that dogged her all of her life but intensified in her final days, she said to Eliza, “You know that I have given you so much money, and I want you to stay with me as long as I live.”
Eliza could think of nothing to say besides, “Yes, Miss Howland, I will.” Sylvia held on for a few days longer, with Electa or Eliza Brown always by her side. It must have taken some fortitude to serve this mistress, particularly toward the end. If one of them so much as left the room, she would ask nervously where they were going and when they would be back. Dr. Gordon stayed in the next room. Sylvia frequently called for him; other times she simply asked Electa or Eliza to reassure her that he was still nearby, in case she should need him. But for all of her fears, and her desperate need for companionship, nothing could forestall the journey that she would soon have to take all alone. On July 2, Sylvia Ann Howland died. She was so worn down by her inactive life, so frail, so thin, so withered, so unfulfilled—it seems difficult to imagine that she was only fifty-nine years old.