Civil War Love Letters: Jessie Love Stuart, Lewis B. Stuart Jr., and the Letters

30, March 2015

This is the last post in our series. All of the letters have been compiled into a book, My Dear Molly: The Civil War Letters of Captain James Love, which is available now. You can hear Molly Kodner talk about the project at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 7, at the Museum.

photo of Jessie Love Stuart from the 1930sJessie Love Stuart, ca. 1930s. Courtesy of Steve Stuart.

Jessie W. Love was born March 23, 1871, the third of James and Molly’s four children. On February 20, 1895, in a small ceremony in the parlor of her parents’ home at 1818 Wash Street, Jessie married Lewis B. Stuart. He was born in St. Louis in 1870, the son of John L. and Mary Stuart. Lewis’s grandfather, James Stewart (he changed the spelling of his last name when he came to America from Scotland, but his son John L. retained the original spelling), arrived in St. Louis in 1866 and established the firm of James Stewart & Co., engineers and contractors. The firm had projects all over the country, including a power house at Niagara Falls, and in 1894 had contracts totaling $1.5 million. In 1880, John L. Stuart, his wife, Mary, and their five children, including Lewis, lived at 2600 Wash Street, just a few blocks from James and Molly. As an adult, Lewis worked for his family’s firm. In May 1896, Lewis and Jessie had their first son, Lyall. Two years later, when the family was living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while Lewis led construction of the county courthouse, their second son, Lewis B. Stuart Jr., was born on March 14, 1898. Sadly, Lewis B. Stuart Sr. died in a train accident on October 11, 1899, at the age of 29, while supervising a construction project in Owego, New York.

Molly Love playing with her grandson Lewis Stuart Jr. in 1905.

Lewis B. Stuart Jr. lived with his grandmother Eliza “Molly” Love for many years. Photograph, ca. 1905. Courtesy of Steve Stuart.

After the death of her husband, Jessie brought her two young sons back to St. Louis. In the 1900 census, they are listed as living with Jessie’s father-in-law, John L. Stuart, at 5346 Maple Avenue. The following year, Jessie and her sons moved in with James and Molly at 5714 Maple Avenue. In his reminiscences, Lewis Jr. recalled that his first memories were of his life at that house, watching delivery trucks and wagons from the front porch and listening to his Grandfather Love’s war stories. Lewis attended Dozier School through the eighth grade and then Soldan High School. His studies at Princeton University were interrupted by World War I. He enlisted with the Marine Corps Air Service but never served overseas. After graduating from Princeton University, Lewis began his career at Ralston Purina. He was a longtime friend of Donald Danforth, son of the company’s founder, William H. Danforth. Lewis started in the production department and eventually became executive vice president of the company.

Lewis B. Stuart, Jr., enlisted with the Marine Corps Air Service during World War I.James’s grandson Lewis B. Stuart Jr. enlisted with the Marine Corps Air Service during World War I. World War I Biography and Service Records of Enlisted Persons from St. Louis City and County Collection, Missouri Historical Society.

In the mid-1930s, Jessie moved out of St. Louis with Lewis and his family to 22 Fair Oaks Drive in Ladue, a suburb in St. Louis County. Fortunately, the family moved James’s letters with them. At some point, Lewis had someone make typed copies of all of James’s original handwritten letters. In November 1949, Jessie donated 20 of James’s letters to the Missouri Historical Society, and in August 1965, her son Lewis donated the rest of the letters. These letters have been part of the Archives collections ever since, certainly used many times over the years by people researching the Civil War.

In 1997, after graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in history, I started as an intern in the Archives department at the Missouri Historical Society. My job was to help Dennis Northcott, one of the archivists, compile a guide to the Civil War manuscripts in the Archives. I read letters, diaries, and other papers of various Civil War soldiers, researched the soldier and the content, and wrote a brief biographical sketch and general description of the documents. During college, I had focused primarily on 20th-century American history. For some reason, I always thought the 19th century was so boring. As I read these first-person accounts of the war, I realized that I had been completely wrong. I had just been reading the wrong sources. During the course of the project, Dennis asked me to write a description for the James E. Love Papers, and I was hooked, not only on the idea of becoming an archivist, but on these letters and this couple, James and Molly. James had such an extraordinary life before the war, and he wrote such wonderfully descriptive letters about his war experiences. Of course, he also wrote deeply emotional, romantic letters to his “dearest Molly.” I was a young, single woman with the same name, which obviously contributed to my profound interest in these letters. The first time I read them, I was convinced that these letters, out of all the many Civil War collections that I read, needed to be shared somehow with a wider audience.

By 2011, I was a full-time associate archivist at the Missouri Historical Society, and the Civil War Love Letters project became a reality. To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, we started posting the text of each letter, 150 years after James wrote it, on our website. I began to do more in-depth research into the content of the letters, and James and Molly’s genealogy, including their ancestors and descendants. Through my research, I discovered links between a few of my parents’ friends and James and Molly’s descendants.

Lewis Stuart Jr. in the 1970s.Lewis Stuart Jr. in the 1970s. Courtesy of Steve Stuart.

First, when I found the obituary for Lewis B. Stuart Jr., who died in 1985, I learned that he had been a member of Ladue Chapel, a Presbyterian church in St. Louis. I knew that my parents’ dear friend Marie Oetting was also a member of that church, and when we asked, she had known him and had fond memories.

Shortly after learning of this connection, I had the great pleasure of getting in touch with James and Molly’s great-great-grandson, Steve Stuart, who has supported this project from the beginning. He kindly sent scans from the reminiscences of his grandfather, Lewis B. Stuart Jr. In these pages, while explaining his friendship with Donald Danforth and the trips he took with Donald and William H. Danforth, Lewis mentioned seeing Gordon Philpott. I could not believe my eyes! My parents are great friends with the son of Gordon Philpott.

The discovery of these two connections was amazing enough, but the third link was astounding. Several of the photographs in the James E. Love Papers are copies of originals in the care of Dr. Arthur Love from Brisbane, Australia. He is a direct descendant of James’s uncle Robert Love, who went to Australia around the same time as James, in the 1850s, and remained in the country. In order to use the images on our website, I had to contact Dr. Love to request permission. Around this same time, my parents were on vacation in Florida and saw their friend Dr. Ian Lavery, who was originally from Australia. My dad met Dr. Lavery in the mid-1970s when both were doing a medical fellowship in Cleveland, Ohio. During their visit in Florida, my dad mentioned my project and that I had contacted Dr. Love. To my surprise, Dr. Lavery and Dr. Love had gone to school together in Australia!

These links across time and geography only deepened my dedication to James and Molly, and this project. I hope people have enjoyed reading these letters and getting to know James and Molly as much as I have. More important, I hope I have honored the lives and memory of James, an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life, and his dearest Molly.     

—Molly Kodner, Archivist