1899 Death of Captain Neill W. Ray told by his wife Laura
This letter written by Laura Pearson Ray came to us from our Grandmother who passed away in 1986. Our
Grandmother, Margaret McLauchlin Ray Baker, was a niece of Laura and Neill Ray. This among other family
documents was stored in her attic at 109 South 3rd St, Florala, AL. The house faces Lake Jackson and is
across the street from the newly designated Lake Jackson Wetlands Park. The material could have come
from the estate of her father, Martin Luther Ray (Neill's brother), or the estate of William Christopher
McLauchlin. W.C. McLauchlin married Neill and Luther's sister, Margaret Ray (Maggie or Aunt Mag). Both
lived in Florala, AL and both died in 1920. Their wives (Mag and Martha Alef Smith Ray) preceded them in
death in 1919.
This letter was contained in a box that my brother, Charles C. Baker, retrieved from my Grandmother's possessions
when she died. They were then stored in his attic. Even though the material was in my Grandmother's attic, it was
extremely hard to get to which is most likely the reason that it was left alone all those years by her numerous
grandchildren. Only a small hatch in the top of a high closet allowed access to the attic which required a step
ladder to get to. The specific contents of the box were mostly unknown until this last year (2007-8) when Barbara
and I made a more determined effort to find out what it contained. We were never too enthusiastic about going through
the box because by far most of the documents were what we considered boring ledgers and business records. But among the
letters was this account by Laura Ray of the death of her much beloved husband, Capt Neill W. Ray. Max T. Baker, Iowa
June 20, 2008
Morganton, August 16th, 1899
Dear dear Sister,
What can I say, and yet my heart is over flowing to tell you of every word and look of him we will see
no more this side the 'City of Peace.'
We had taken a trip North, had been home ten days, he seemed so well and was fixing his business so that
we could go to Morganton and avoid the dreadful hot weather we had in Fayetteville. One evening just two weeks
to the day he died Don [about 11 yrs of age] went over to his office to walk home with him. They both went up
to Mr. Horne's [probably present day Horne's Deli on Hay Street - circa 1885] and drank a Coco-Cola. He told
me he felt perfectly well till he turned the corner at *the old Kyle store and a pain in his heart came over
him. Don was with him, they got home and I wanted to send for the Dr., but he told me he hoped it would pass
off, and drank a cup of coffee. The pain still continued and I sent for Dr. Marsh. He came and told us it was
indigestion and made out a prescription. I gave as directed. He suffered all night and I sent for the Dr. again
at 3 o'clock, but he was not in. Next morning he seemed better. His bowels were moved and I felt as if his danger
was over. He began to have a little fever, then never more that 2 degrees, but he was so lifeless, no will. The
weather was fearful and he felt the heat so much. He seemed to long for the mountains. "I'd get better if I could
only get cool. I wish I was in Morganton." I know he told me that a dozen times. The two weeks he was in the house
it was so hot he could not stay in bed and sat up most of the time. He suffered with shortness of breath, "great
oppression" as he expressed it.
Sunday night he sat on the front porch and talked to Don, and at Don's bedtime he knelt at Capt's knee and they
prayed together, and Capt. read the 23rd Psalm. He told me to sing low and sweet "My Faith Looks Up to Thee", Now
Father maker of earthly bliss ... He sang two lines of the first but could not go on. We sat out till quiet late
before we went in. (it was so hot) he had a dreadful night; up and down, could not get breath. At sun up he revived,
would be dressed. We talked. I bathed him in whiskey as I had been doing two or three times a day. He drank a cup of
coffee. Dr. came and told us he was better, no fever, condition normal. After he went out Capt. shook his head, "He
has not got it. My trouble is here", and put his hand on his breast. "I'll send for Highsmith." Then I told him, "Oh,
no, they have talked together." "You must take this paper over town and get it fixed. I want it fixed today." It seemed
to trouble him and I went out and told Sophy and Don they must come in and on no condition leave the room till I got back.
"I'm so weak" he remarked. "Give me something to get a little stronger." I made him a julep mint, and almost ran over to
Thornton's with the paper. When I came back he was still in the chair. I told him Dr. thought he had taken **malk (?).
"Yes, I know."
Don wanted the ice from [the] julep. He told ***Sophy to wash it and give it to him. "Donald, some people take this
because they love it, but I did it to get strength." Two or three more sweet words and he fell back. Sophy ran for Dr.
"Are you in pain?" "Great oppression." With one hand in Donald's and one in mine he left us and met Sister Annie.
Your letter came Sunday. He talked so sweetly of you all out on the back porch. [He] was so glad Will had employment.
So sorry you did not feel stronger. Talked to Donald about Longstreet, and when he was a boy. "I must write to Mag just
as soon as I get a little stronger."Oh, dear sister, I can't write anymore now. I love you and long to be near you because
you are a part of him. Love to dear Uncle 'C' & all at Bro. Martins. I'll write Martin soon. Pray for me and Donald, pray
that he may grow up to be just like his noble, pure father. Can't think now, will write when I can. Sissie and Malinda both
promise to write you. Let them know at Bro M. God bless you, L
*This may be the old Kyle Store on Green Street (Fayetteville, NC). James Kyle, b 1795 Ireland was a merchant in Cross Creek Township as late as 1870.
James Kyle 43, dry goods dealer was Neill's next-door-neighbor in 1880.
**Laura may have meant 'Malic acid which is a naturally occurring compound that plays a role in the complex process of deriving the energy currency that runs the body from food.
***Sophia Brown b 1858, black, was Neill and Laura's cook (1880 Census of Cumberland). Contact Myrtle Bridges
Back to Letters of Cumberland County, NC
Back to Messages From A Hidden Past