"Aunt Liz" - Elizabeth Fairfax

Elizabeth FairfaxThe following is some information from books and articles that we have found regarding Elizabeth Fairfax.

"Aunt Liz was a Civil War nurse who followed the Iowa regiments during the War and came north to Clinton afterward and spent over 40 years being an exemplary “poor person” in our community — selling pencils, soap, matches and other small items, as she toured this town between 1865 and her lonely death in 1908. Once, she had saved money for a trip to a Civil War commemorative encampment and the local businessmen made up her shortfall. Liz wrote back a delightful letter of thank you, which is still in existence at the Clinton County Historical Museum.

Elizabeth Fairfax died seemingly penniless in her humble apartment near the downtown in May of that year. Only a few people ever knew that she managed to put some children through college, and she left behind a nice bequest by saving her pennies and leading a simple life. All her clothes were laid out for burial when they found her, along with final instructions. She was laid to rest with military honors amongst the Civil War deceased in Springdale Cemetery." (Clinton Herald, By Gary Herrity Jun 18, 2009)

In the 1911 history by Patrick Wolfe, it says on page 155:
"Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church, of Clinton, was organized in August, 1868. Its building site is on the corner of Third avenue and Third street. The present membership of this church is sixty. Its charter members were as follows: Mrs. Lucy Dozier, Peter Thompson, Mrs. George Benson, Elizabeth Fairfax, Nancy Jane Van Duzee, George Benson, Thomas Gains, John Monroe, William Van Duzee, Sr., William Van Duzee, Jr."

Aunt Liz Fairfax is also mentioned in the 1946 history book by Estelle Le Prevost Youle on page 57.

This is from the Clinton Herald, Wednesday, 22 April 1908. It is very hard to read.


Body of "Aunt Liz" Fairfax, Well Known Colored Woman, Found by the Clinton Police Tuesday.
Came North with Soldiers of Twenty-sixth After the Civil War, and Had Lived in Clinton Since the Post Bellum Days.

A face familiar on Clinton's streets for many a long year will be seen no more the cheery voice will be missed. Aunt Liz Fairfax, the old colored woman who came north with the Twenty-sixth Iowa regiment at the close of the civil war and who had since made her home in Clitnon is dead at her cottage home ?17 Third avenue.
Aunt Liz enjoyed a wide acquaintance in Clinton and had many friends among the white folks who heard with regret of her sad death, alone in her little home near the foot of Third avenue. The aged woman was last seen on Saturday night. Sunday morning she was not in her accustomed place at the African Methodist Episcopal church, and the minister and church goers wondered why Aunt Liz, who never missed a Christmas or Easter service in particular, was absent. No one saw her Monday or Tuesday, so toward evening yesterday some of the colored people who live near by told the police of this circumstance. Night Captain Oster went to Aunt Liz's cottage, which he found to locked. He forced open the door and found the old colored woman dead in bed. The body reposed in the attitude of sleep, the head resting on a pillow, and one hand lying carelessly beneath her cheek, indicating that death came swiftly and painlessly to the poor old woman, a calm and quiet crossing to the brighter shore of which she so often spoke in making her daily rounds of Clinton disposing of the wares and trifles from which she derived a livelihood.
Aunt Liz was a type of true southern Negro, uncouth and uneducated, but of undoubted kindness of heart and whose honesty of purpose and sincerity in the endeavor to live an upright life cannot be questioned. She was patriotic almost to the degree of fanaticism and never was happier than when decked out in her most gorgeous raiment, she hobnobbed with the old old boy of the sixties or trudged with them on Memorial Day processions. She often attended the national encapments of the Grand Army, and never failed to be present at any patriotic gathering or reunion of veterans within her power of attainment.
Aunt Liz had a somewhat picturesque army career. It is often related of her that she was an army nurse and served in that capacity throughout the Civil war. This however is denied by some of the Clinton veterans who say that the good old soul, when a girl, became a sort of camp servant among union troops down around Vicksburg and drifted northward with the regiment when the was was over. That her connection with the army in camp and afield gave frequent opportunity to assist in nursing the sick and wounded, and to this extent she was an army nurse, but was never regularly employed by the government in such service.
The old colored woman lived a happy enough life. She has a daughter, a Mrs. Smith in Evanston, who came to Clinton today in response to a message telling of her death, with whom she spent months at a time. This was usually in the cold season. With the advent of spring, Aunt Liz would appear with her basket of matches or showing gum and her cheerful "God bless you honey" again was heard. On warm summer afternoonss she would saunter riverward with an immense ???? sun shade, a basket of lunch and a fishing pole that projected into limitless space and though the fish bit or though they didn't, Aunt Liz sat contentedly in the bank crooning an old plantation song, or looking backward to the stirring times when Abraham Lincoln emancipated her people. She was about 70 years of age, according to the best judgement of her friends, having no positive records of her birth.
Coroner Kellogg will conduct an inquisition this evening and has impanelled the following jury, all colored men: William Allen, George Lecky and William Emerson.

The Funeral Thursday
The funeral of Aunt Liz Fairfax will be held tomorrow afternoon with services at the A. M. E. church.
The Grand Army men have interested themselves in the funeral and Commander George Drake of General N. B. Baker post G. A. R. has appointed the bearers of the pall. They will be three white and three colored men as follows: George Drake, M. W. Bannister and Dr. R. S. Rathbun, William Allen, W. H. Richardson and William Emerson.
Commander Drake has issued the following notice to the veterans:
"All old soldiers and members of the Grand Army who can are required to meet at the A. M. E. church, corner of Third avenue and Third street at 2 o'clock p. m. tomorrow to attend the funeral of Elizabeth Fairfax, commonly known as "Aunt Lizzie."
By request of George Drake, Commander Gen. N. B. Baker, Post 88, G. A. R.

This is from the Clinton Daily Herald, 24 April 1908


Veterans of the Civil War Turn Out to Pay Tribute of Respect to the Memory of Aged Colored Woman
Funeral Services Held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church Thursday Afternoon, Followed by Interment in Springdale

"Aunt Lizzie" Fairfax the friend of old soldiers, was honored by the veterans of Clinton yesterday when three of their number assisted in bearing her pall and scores of the members of General N. B. Baker post assembled at the African Methodist Episcopal church on Third street to pay a last tribute of respect to her memory.
The church was filled almost to its capacity, and there were many white folks present. The obsequies were in charge of the Rev. William Miller, a Davenport colored minister.
Commander George Drake, M. W. Bannister and Dr. R. S. Rathbun were the Grand Army men, who, with three of the colored friends of the deceased, carried her coffin from the hearse to the grave yesterday, and lowered it to its final resting place on a sunny hillside in Springdale. The service was a very impressive one. The casket was covered with flowers, the offering of the G. A. R. and friends of the aged colored woman who was for so many years a resident of Clinton.

Remembered Long Time Promise.
An interesting incident of the funeral was the rendition of a beautiful vocal number, "The Great White Throne" by Professor W. A. McArthur.
More than ten years ago Aunt Liz heard Mr. McArthur sing the song, which is one of his own composition, in some Clinton church. The music and words impressed her greatly, and she took advantage of the first opportunity to ask Mr. McArthur to sing it at her funeral when she had crossed the dark river. This promis he gave half jokingly and then forgot all about the matter.
But when the Clinton voclist heard of the old colored woman's death he recalled his promis and yesterday afternoon he was at the church of the colored people when Aunt Liz's remains were brought for the last time into the church she had so often visited in the long term of years she was a member of the church society, and he sang "The Great White Throne," as he had sung it ten years ago when the old colored woman had been touched by its sweetness.

Was Prepared for Death.
Aunt Liz Fairfax had made careful preparation for her death. In her cottage home on Front street was found a box containing a shroud and other clothing for the grave together with about $200 in gold and silver. A note had been placed in the box requesting that she be buried in the clothing contained therein. Every article was carefully folded and arranged. It is needless to say that the wishes of the aged colored woman were respected to the letter, and she was laid away to rest in the garments she herself had provided for the purpose.

Tombstone Elicit Look Into History

The following was written by Mike Kearney for the Clinton Herald 01 June 2018

"Jay A. McCann from Marshalltown and I are working to replace the illegible tombstones marking the final resting place for soldiers in the Civil War section of Springdale Cemetery. Eleven have been replaced so far. Six more are ordered and others are in the works. The replacements are granite which should withstand our Midwest winters a lot better than the soft limestone that was originally used.

There is one marker that is not like all the others. Rather than a tablet, it is an obelisk. This marks the grave of Lizzie (Elizabeth) Fairfax, (Aunt Lizzie) who is buried there with her son Abraham (Bud). This stone is so badly weathered that it is hard to read without chalking it. Cemetery records show that she died on April 18, 1908 and Abraham died before her on Feb. 27, 1901. The back of a photo taken by an early 20th century Clinton photographer has the following narrative:

“Mrs. Elizabeth Fairfax, A soldier in the late war for the Union. A scout; and as an army nurse took care of sick and wounded soldiers in camps where stationed. Since the war, an old resident of Clinton Iowa, and is well known. For 24 years she kept a laundry, and woven rag carpets for a living. By industry and economy she purchased and is now the owner of a little homestead. She has raised two children. Now advanced in years and feeble in health, she is no longer able to maintain herself by her former occupation. To secure a living she now peddles for a grocery store, and sells her picture. She served her country faithfully and is deserving of support.”

The notice of her death in the Clinton Herald on April 22, 1908 refers to her “cheery voice.” At the time of her death, she lived in her cottage at 117 Third Ave. She hobnobbed with the old boys of the sixties and marched with them in Memorial Day parades. When she could, she attended national encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). One year the national encampment was in Boston. She wanted to participate and spoke with A.G. Smith, the founder and owner of the City National Bank.

She asked him if he could keep her savings in his bank that were required for the trip. He agreed and quickly realized that she would never be able to save enough to finance such a trip. He organized other business people in town who all chipped in enough funds to make the trip possible, such was their regard for her. Articles about her indicated that she was held in a place of reverence in the hearts of her neighbors. On warm summer days, she enjoyed going to the river, fishing and singing old plantation songs and looking back to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

During the Civil War, she was a camp servant and assisted in nursing the sick and wounded although not as an employee of the U.S. government. She was a charter member of the Bethel A.M.E. church in Clinton. When she missed her regular attendance at services, a check of her welfare revealed that she had died two or three days prior. Her funeral services were held at the A.M.E. church. The N.B. Baker post, G.A.R attended as a body.

Three of her pall bearers were black and three were white. Both races were in attendance at the church as well. She carefully prepared for her demise by putting her death shroud and other clothing carefully folded in a box together with about $200 in gold and silver coins. A note in the box specified that she was to be buried in the clothing from the box and these instructions were followed. She had a daughter, Mrs. Mary Smith, who lived in Evanston, Illinois, who came to her funeral. The 1870 census listed her as a resident of Clinton, 31 years of age, born in Tennessee, who was a rug weaver with children; Mary C, 8 years old, born in Mississippi and Abraham, 2 years old born in Iowa.

She and her children were described as mulatto. It is interesting that in “Once Upon a Time” Volume II , Ev Street said she had 11 children. There was no husband listed in the 1870 Census report. At that time she reported no real property and $150 in personal property. In the 1880 census, she was listed as 36 years old while Mary was 18 and Abraham was 12, with no father listed. She apparently aged only four years in a decade. The father of each of the children was described as born in England. Her age indications suggest that she was born between 1839 and 1844. The Iowa Census of 1895 lists her age as 60 and her son Abram as 27. The article on her death that appeared in The Register and Leader from May 10, 1908 says that she was about 75 which would put her birth in 1833. The article that appeared in the Clinton Herald on April 22, 1908 was indistinct. It is difficult to tell if it says 70 or 76.

Her unit, the 26th Iowa Infantry was organized by Milo Smith, the engineer who laid out the route of the railroad from Chicago to the Mississippi and beyond, it was Milo Smith who organized and commanded the 26th Iowa Infantry. A soldier in that unit who was wounded at Vicksburg, where she joined the unit, was James Bulger, after whom Bulger’s Hollow was named. Milo Smith is buried close to the Civil War section. A confederate veteran is buried between them.

It would be hard to find someone in Clinton who has faced as many obstacles in life as she did and still have a cheery face for the public. What an inspiring spirit she had. She was an example for us all.

It would be interesting to know where she was born in Tennessee and if her surname was that of her father or owner. I wonder if her daughter, Mrs. Mary Smith, had children of her own and if Lizzie has descendants today. Since James Bulger was injured at Vicksburg, did she nurse him with his wounds? My great-grandfather’s brother, Michael, got sick at Vicksburg and subsequently died; did she comfort him? I hope that someone in the future can find the answers to these questions. Clinton has its interesting stories and its mysteries."