Eliza Crocker Boardman
It was a sign of their times that Eliza would not be recognized for her contributions to being a power Deaf couple. Believed to be the first time a Deaf man and woman married in the United States, her contribution as a role model for others can not be underestimated. To say the least she was a solid supporter of Laurent whom would not have been as successful without their relationship.
Here we will develop a better picture of Eliza and her contributions.
Eliza Boardman Clerc circa 1880
Eliza and Victoria Clerc from
the William Peale Portraits 1820
Eliza Boardman Clerc at Laurent
Clerc Memorial 1874
In the spring of 2022 I had the chance to be at the Cogswell Heritage House at the American School for the Deaf. While there visiting Jean Linderman, curator, I had the chance to me an interesting graduate student from the University of California at Riverside, Marissa Adriana Hull. Marissa was unlike many of the Clerc visitors who focused on Laurent's contributions to Deaf society in America. She was there researching the lives of Eliza Boardman Clerc and Sophie Fowler.
Marissa promised a thesis work for her Master of Arts in History that focused on Eliza and this June 2022 we saw the release of her efforts, "A Case Study of Intersections of Gender and Disability in the Nineteenth Century United States".
Bravo Marissa for getting us started!
THE WEDDING DIARIES
I had an opportunity to do some exploration into the wedding of Eliza and Laurent. My interest was peaked by a framed photograph that hung for years in our house. On the back of it was a handwritten note detailing the marriage of the couple.
This discovery led to some posts on Laurent Clerc Who?
LAURENT AND ELIZA: POWER COUPLE?
Recently someone on our page asked why I had referred to Laurent and Eliza as a “power couple”. My first thought was that it just seemed to be an easy description. Of course that is not an adequate answer so I thought about it a little more.
In Laurent’s obituary in the Montreal Witness they commented, as was often done, that Laurent and Eliza were the first married Deaf couple in America. Seems hard to believe. Could that be true? If so, it would mean that they were a remarkable example for the Deaf at ASD, in Hartford and in America once it got out.
When I went to school and while I struggled taking in all that knowledge, I remember that what most impacted me were the few teachers that seemed to be willing to impart some sort of wisdom on me. As a young person I was looking for role models for behavior outside of the kids that I hung out with on my street. These teachers were somebody I could emulate.
Imagine Laurent arrives in Hartford, to teach students that might only have had the opportunity to learn from hearing teachers, in small or isolated groups or not at all. Then there is this dandy looking man, dressed to the nines from over the ocean, Paris no less! I have to believe that it is and was him as a role model, mentor and teacher, the whole package, that was a great influence on his students. Then he marries Eliza, the first Deaf marriage. What an example, what a power couple?
Just my thoughts, what do you all think? Laurent
THOMAS GALLAUDET A NO SHOW?
In case you missed it. Rene has answered our earlier "The Wedding Diaries" question about why Thomas H. Gallaudet was not the best man at Laurent's and Eliza's wedding in Cohoes Falls, NY. Considering what buds they were you would think it was a no brainier. But it turns out that Thomas did not support Laurent's marriage to a Deaf woman, believing that two Deaf adults would have Deaf children. First, what is wrong with that? And would not there have been CODA's in America by then? Not to be a Thomas basher here but come on Thomas, Laurent was in love! We Clerc's are happy that Laurent was his own man!
Also, Thomas married a Deaf woman two years later!
Hermann Bleecker, Esq. made the grade as one of Laurent's grooms. Who was he? While he is mentioned in several accounts or the same accounts of the wedding, there is scare little about him on the Internet!
There was a large and prosperous Bleecker family that has a street named after them in Manhattan. The family came from Dutch immigrants from the very beginnings of New York and the City. There were many prominent bankers, land owners, politicians and seemed to be one of the great families of New England at the time.
The Bleecker family has significant ties to the Albany, New York area, just down the road from Cohoes Falls, N.Y. Could that be the connection. The Bleecker family, being so prominent kept very good records of their family and Hermann does not appear to date in them.
Having not yet found another reference to Hermann we wonder still if he came from this family and was he a student or a teacher at ASD with Laurent and Lewis?
Wait, Wait! Guess what. I think I found our man Bleecker. There is an H. Bleecker from Albany, New York that gave a "subscription" of $15 ($296.63 in 2021 dollars) to the Asylum.
We already know that the Bleecker family were big players in Albany, once the mayors, politicians in the state legislature and their names are on several buildings to this day.
Laurent, humble teacher of the Deaf, hanging with some of the prominent families and well connected.
Where was Thomas Gallaudet on May 3rd, 1819? Was he at Laurent and Eliza's wedding in Cohoes Falls, NY? What punch did the Prescotts serve at the reception in their home after the ceremony?
All important questions that demand answers! But wait, there is no mention of THG on the back of our photo? Why did the greatest bromance of the 1800's not result is THG being Laurent's best man?
And who is this Lewis Weld, groom to Laurent, anyway? Lewis Weld was a Yale graduate that came to the American School for the Deaf in 1818 to be employed as an instructor on a 3 year contract. Lewis, 1 year younger then Laurent must have been an engaging man and teacher, as within 1 year he apparently must have become a fast friend of Laurent, enough so to given the important role as groom at Laurent's wedding.
Lewis was no fool and was a mover and shaker in the early days of the Asylum. In 1822 Lewis took over the reins of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf after Laurent whipped it into shape during the 1821-1822 academic year. Lewis remained at the PSD for 8 years. He clearly loved to travel the 23 hours (bikes = horses except when I am fit, then my bike is faster) to court none other than Mary Austin Cogswell, sister of our famous Alice. Lewis and Mary were married in 1828. Lewis returned to West Hartford, to the new school in 1830 to take the reins of ASD with the retirement of non other then Thomas H. Gallaudet himself. Way to score such a nice position Lewis. He held the post for 23 years (1830-1853). He was considered expert in the education of the Deaf and outstanding in his field (sorry, could not resist). The only way to get him out of that position was to die, which he sadly did no December 30, 1853 at 58 years old.
I am sure that Laurent was heartbroken to see his groom and close pass to early. Laurent would live another 16 years or so. Lewis was no slacker during his later years, penning many works including a history of the Laurent and Thomas bromance which lead to the establishment of ASD. You can find his work on the "Internet" if you are so inclined.
But...when did American society decide that multiple grooms was a no no and it was better to relagate other male friends to the role of "usher". Apparently not in 1819! What is this Hermann Bleecker, Esq? More on that later.
THE REVEREND DAVID BULTER?
(I am into diaries). This feature is about the wedding of Laurent Clerc and Elizabeth Crocker Boardman in Cohoes, Falls NY.
We are attempting to understand what happened that lovely May 3rd of 1819. One by one we will explore the alleged wedding ceremony and reception guests.
The Reverend David Butler:
Rev. David Butler was an interesting character. He served in the Connecticut Line of the American Army during the latter months of the Revolution. He was an ordained Episcopal priest or minister who finally came to serve the newly built St. Paul's Church in Troy, New York. We do not yet know why he was chosen to do Laurent and Eliza's wedding but we are hot on the trail.
Laurent was of course a new native of Hartford, CT and did not have any family there. Elizabeth hailed from Bennington,Vermont which is just over the border from New York (approximately 31 miles). So it was clear that the brides family was calling the shots around this wedding. More on that later.
Of note is that he was the father of Clement Moore Butler (1810–1890) who was also an Episcopal clergyman who served as Chaplain of the Senate (1850–1853). On April 1, 1850, he delivered the funeral address for Senator John C. Calhoun. On July 1, 1852, he delivered the funeral address for Henry Clay, Senator, Congressman, and Secretary of State. A mover and shaker for sure.
FAMILY MEMBERS (THE OFFSPRING OF ELIZA AND LAURENT)
While throwing away some photos today I came across a chart of Laurent’s family in America and many of the recent characters we have been exploring or at least referencing. Since some people have asked me about them I will take the time to pass on this information. FYI, all of them were hearing but we suspect that all Laurent and Eliza’s children signed ASL but not sure about their grandchildren…yet.
If you remember, Laurent (December 26, 1785-July 18, 1869) fell for one of his older students, Eliza Crocker Boardman (August 22, 1782-May 17, 1880). They were married on May 3, 1819. Laurent was 34 and Eliza was 27 years old.
This power couple had 6 children. Oldest was Elizabeth Victoria (Vicki) Clerc (March 25, 1820) and she would marry George Webster Beers, my 3x great grandfather. Eliza would go on to teach at the American School for the Deaf.
Helen, their second daughter whom I believe is buried in the family enclosure at Spring Grove Cemetery, lived for just 4 months.
Francis (April 18, 1823-January 30, 1907) our hero of the recent travelogs was the eldest son and as we know became a minister as his vocation.
Charles Michael Clerc (January 13, 1826-October 21, 1852) is also buried in the same enclosure as Laurent and Eliza, having passed away at age 26 years old. Charles had been sent to Lyon to study the silk trade and apparently opened a silk import business in New York City during his short life.
Laurent and Eliza next had twins, Sarah (August 10, 1826-June 26, 1869) who went on to marry a mayor of Hartford. It is sad that Laurent would suffer the loss of his daughter and you have to wonder if his death 3 weeks later was not partially due to grief.
John (August 10, 1826-June 26, 1869) unfortunately did not make it out of young childhood (3) and I would guess is in the family enclosure at Spring Grove.