Washed away – The Terrell tragedy


By: Bob Boldman



The tragedy of the Terrell family was a grim reminder of how fate sometimes plays out in people’s lives. A loving couple in the beginning of their marriage and for whatever reason, they each went their separate ways. In a mere three months of being single, the love that existed for each other would flashback into their lives. They obviously continued to communicate and mend the divide that existed between them. After all, the most precious thing that they shared was three-year-old daughter Doris. The aching heart that William bore being away from his precious daughter, may have been a factor in reuniting with his wife. The combination of losing his daughter and wife, the loneliness of living without both, may have been the deciding factor; for both husband and wife to reunite. None the less they comprised and decided to resume their lives together and be a family again.

The story in the Portsmouth Daily Times of April 15, 1898, referred to as, “Kissed and made up.” According to court records, at the last January (1897) term of court, “Mrs. Jesse Terrell was granted a divorce from her husband William G. Terrell, and at the time each went their way rejoicing. Since then they realized that it is not good to dwell alone, and a few days ago kissed and made up, buried the hatchet and concluding to let bygones be bygones, and last evening was married for the second time, again staring down life’s pathway hand in hand for better or worse.” Together again and maybe a brighter outlook was their destiny. For a short time that was their life, happy and making plans and dreaming of the future. They were on their way it would seem – until that dreadful day in August 1898.

The Portsmouth Daily Times of August 24, 1898, published the shocking headline – “Washed Away,” for the Terrell’s, their worst nightmare was beginning. The newspaper went on to share, “The Child fell from the bow of the shanty boat and was never seen again – a sad case.”

The soon to be three-year-old daughter of the Terrell’s had somehow wandered to the bow of the boat and fell into the water of the Ohio River. Further information was forthcoming from the newspaper. “The child was not quite three years of age, and was the daughter of Wm. Terrell, the (familiarly) known painter. The family moved onto the shanty boat, lying near the foot of Chillicothe Street, Monday morning. Mr. Terrell intended to build a railing around the bow of the boat, but was so busy that he postponed it until (Tuesday) the next day. Tuesday afternoon the little girl was standing on the bow of the boat watching a passing steamboat. Suddenly her father heard a splash and saw the little one had disappeared. He sprang overboard, but the child had passed under the boat and never rose to the surface. The screams of Mrs. Terrell soon attracted a large crowd to the scene and every effort was made to recover the body of the little victim. The search was kept up until quite late, but unsuccessful. The body evidently was washed away and may never be recovered.”

The story continued, “Yesterday afternoon while the search was going on, the rumor was started that the little one was not drowned, but had wandered away. An active search was made along the banks, but nothing came of it.”

The pain and anguish the parents felt must have been tremendous. The last four months were looking up for the couple. They had the storm of divorce and then the repair of their marriage, only to cope with the unthinkable. Days went by and the couple was left to grieve the loss of little Doris. Then on September 9th, a telegram was received at the mayor’s office from J.A. Haerr, corner of Hamilton county, saying: “We have the dead body of a girl about three years old, found in the Ohio River, supposed to be the child that fell from a shanty-boat at Portsmouth last week. What shall be done with (her)?” Marshal Schmitt called on Mrs. Terrell, the mother of the child, to determine the wish of the parents as to the removal of the body. Hamilton county was willing to have the body transferred to Portsmouth. The parents contended that they had no desire for the little one’s body be brought back here. They asked if their daughter could be buried there, as they were contemplating moving to Cincinnati in the near future. The Marshal wired the corner to bury the remains there, marking the grave so that it could be located by the parents at some future time.

Little Doris Terrell was buried in Hamilton county – far from her home in Portsmouth. Was anyone there to mourn and say goodbye as she was being buried, other than the gravediggers? It may well be said that at a lonely cemetery far from here – a man and woman with heads bowed and softly sobbing, had in due course visited the final resting place of their precious little angel, Doris!

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By: Bob Boldman

Reach Bob Boldman at g.boldman5@gmail.com

Reach Bob Boldman at g.boldman5@gmail.com