Eliza McTeer

Author: Genevieve Wallace


“I would rather go to prison, than return to the school,” Eliza McTeer said to a police officer a few days after Thanksgiving in 1863.

Pencils found by the Boston Archeology team at the ISFG site. Eliza wrote with a pencil like this at the ISFG, perhaps even these very same pencils. From what we know about her, she did it begrudgingly. (Image Courtesy of Boston City Archeology Program)

Pencils found by the Boston Archeology team at the ISFG site. Eliza wrote with a pencil like this at the ISFG, perhaps even these very same pencils. From what we know about her, she did it begrudgingly.
(Courtesy of Boston City Archeology Program)

15-year-old Eliza had been living at the Industrial School for Girls off and on for the past five years, and after her fourth family assignment in two years, she had had enough. On Thanksgiving, she had been given permission from Mrs. Wiswell, who she had been living with, to go into Boston. She had been out with a boy from Brighton until 11pm, after which time Mrs. Wiswell found her “disorderly and impudent,” and called a manager from the school to complain. Eliza spoke with the manager, and was presumably told to go back to Mrs. Wiswell’s. Mrs. Wiswell informed the manager that Eliza had not returned, at which point a police officer was sent to find her.

The police officer had told Eliza that he could not charge her for anything, and she was returned to the school for further consideration. After likely discussing the matter at length, the House of Refuge (what we would now call juvenile hall) was her next best option, and it was voted by the school that she should be placed there. However, at the same time, the manager learned from Eliza’s mother, Agnes, that she wanted her daughter to come home. The school made a reference check on Agnes’ character, and she was found, “not a desirable person to take care of a young girl,” however under the circumstances she was permitted to return home.

Agnes is the one who brought Eliza to the school, but their journey began much earlier. Agnes was born in Scotland in 1824, and lived in Canada for at least a few years while she had Eliza, who was born in Quebec. Agnes was married to Hugh McTeer (Eliza’s father) and then he deserted her and their 7 or 8 children. A September 8, 1855 article from the Boston Herald confirms this story. The article is titled, “Cruel Desertion of a Wife” and describes Hugh as “surprised by the sudden entrance of a woman and eight children into his domicile” and that he has “left for parts unknown.” The wife and child were reported in “destitute circumstances” and that without help they would surely be shipped back to Canada.

“Cruel Desertion of a Wife” newspaper article from an 1855 issue of the Boston Herald. (Courtesy of geneaologybank.com)

“Cruel Desertion of a Wife” newspaper article from an 1855 issue of the Boston Herald.
(Courtesy of geneaologybank.com)

Hugh was a grocer in 1855; a January 1, 1855 report in the Daily Atlas noted that the store of Hugh McTeer, on the corner of Sea and East Street, was robbed of $40 worth of goods. One has to wonder if the robbery, managing a business, and providing for such a large family proved too much for Hugh and this triggered his desertion. There is no way to know for sure, however, this is not the last that is seen of Hugh.

Only five McTeer children show up in the records, all younger brothers and sisters of Eliza. Fanny and Maggie, born in 1854 and 1855, Hugh jr., born in 1849, and John, born in 1853. By 1870, Agnes and Hugh sr. were living together again with some of their children. Fanny lived with them as a student, Hugh jr. as a soldier, and John as a clerk. Nothing is known about Eliza’s whereabouts at this point, however one can speculate.

Eliza was likely living with her first husband, Mr. Mitchell, in 1870. Eliza was married twice, however no record is found of her first marriage. All that is known is that her first husband was a Mr. Mitchell, since Eliza’s name is Elizabeth Mitchell when she married a clerk named Charles H. Jarvis on July 9, 1877. Nothing more is known about Charles, except that his marriage to Eliza was also his second.

Eliza died in the house of corrections with the alias Frank Day.

Elizabeth Jarvis’ death record. She died in the house of corrections with the alias Frank Day. (Courtesy of Ancestry.com)

Elizabeth Jarvis’ death record. She died in the house of corrections with the alias Frank Day.
(Courtesy of Ancestry.com)

Eventually, Eliza did go to jail. After a year of marriage to Charles, Eliza died in the Boston House of Corrections from heart disease. In the death record, a curious notation comes under the name of Elizabeth Jarvis-“alias Frank Day.” Who is Frank Day? Why does she have an alias?

Unfortunately, there are no definite answers. However, Eliza was charged for adultery in May of 1878, and began her nine month sentence at the house of corrections the following June. Was Frank Day her partner in adultry? She passed away in February 1879, at the very end of her sentence. The following description from the school’s secretary records will have to suffice for her obituary, “nothing worse was known of the girl than that she was bold in seeking the society of young men, and wild and noisy in the street.”

Sources Consulted (Click Here)

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