Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Death, Yellow Fever, and Crime 1878

Death didn't take a holiday and neither did crime during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878.  The Nelson family lost not only their lives during the epidemic but also their jewels.

A.W. Nelson is a bit of a mystery man.  The first evidence of his existence is a marriage record in 1855.  He married Camille Desport in Nashville on January 10 of that year.  Camille's family arrived in New Orleans January 25, 1849 on the J.H. Glidden which had departed from the port of Le Havre, France.  She was listed on the manifest with her father, Egalite Desport age 54, mother Francoise Desport age 47, and a sister, Heloise age 14.  Camille was 21.

The 1870 Census for Shelby County  indicates Dr. Nelson was born about 1821 in Tennessee and gives his occupation as a farmer with property valued at $50,000.  The Memphis City Directory for 1871 lists his occupation as physician.  The census tells us that A.W. and Camille had two children, Juliette (Julie) age 13 and listed as born in Iowa, and Victor age 2, born in Tennessee.  Camille seems to have been an artist of sorts as she entered several needlework items and a painting in the Fair competition in October 1872.  And , if the newspaper report is reliable then Dr. Nelson would have stood out in a crowd as it lists him as "the seven footer."  In addition he was said to be miserly and possessed a large estate which may have been true based on the 1870 census that he was valued at $50,000.

Dr. Nelson was the first die on September 9, 1878.  His son Victor died October 1 and interestingly enough was listed in the Public Ledger for that day as "son of Mrs. Dr. Nelson, colored, Age 12, Trigg Ave." Juliette died October 4 followed by their mother on October 5.   The Nelson family are interred at Elmwood.

At some point during the families illness a nurse named Mr. Hamburger entered their lives.  It is reported that he performed the last rites for Camille, the last of the family to die and that soon afterward Mr. Hamburger was seen "taking unusual luxury" and his conduct "attracted the attention of the police."   A box of jewelry was found in his possession.  He claimed his uncle gave it to him but he finally confessed that it was given to him by the daughter of Dr. Nelson with instructions what to do with the contents.  Hopefully the case went before the magistrate as the article indicated and Mr. Hamburger was duly punished.

The death of Dr. Nelson, the seven-footer, and of his entire family, was mentioned a few days ago.  In
Memphis Daily Appeal
Oct. 8, 1878
the same connection it was mentioned that he was miserly and possessed a large estate.  Whether that be so or not, there is a little story connected with one Hamburger, who gets his comforts through the gratings of the Adams street stationhouse, that may develop something as to the true condition of the man's estate.  Hamburger was one of the nurses, and very officiously performed the last sad rites at the demise of the only remaining member of the family last Saturday.  Yesterday Mr. Hamburger, in company with another of his kind, was seen taking unusual luxury in a hack in company with a couple of colored wenches.  his conduct attracted the attention of the police to the extent that he and his party were pulled, during which there was a mysterious box, which was attempted to be concealed.  This box contained a lot of valuable jewelry, which Hamburger claimed was given by his uncle.  He stuck to the "uncle" story until last night, when he confessed that a daughter of Dr. Nelson ha placed it in his keeping, with written instructions what to do with it.  The instructions were in a book somehow, that the police authorities had taken from him and would not let him get hold of. Esquire Quigley will have an interesting case in Hamburger.
Originally posted in the Memphis Daily Appeal October 8, 1878


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