20 January 2011

Birthday Bio: Lavinia Murdoch Bruce born Jan 20th 1850 -- died March 16th 1886

When Lavinia Murdoch Bruce was born 20 Jan 1850, she was named for her mother, Lavinia Murdoch Thistle, wife of Henry Magruder Bruce, just as I was named for my mother, Lavinia Cresap, who was Lavinia Murdoch Bruce’s granddaughter. I sometimes think of us as the four Lavinias. Today’s birthday bio is for Lavinia #2.

Lavinia #2 was the 5th of 8 Bruce children. When she was born, the eldest ,George Normond Bruce, had already died at 3 years 8 months in 1847.  When she was just 16 months old, her older sister, Sarah Magruder Bruce, also died (aged 6y 4m). Lavinia #1 buried her elder daughter just a month after birthing another child, Henry Clagett Bruce.  And he died a short 11 months later.  In the end, Lavinia #2 was one of 5 surviving siblings.

Losing children wasn’t the only tragedy to hit this family.  Although Dad was a successful lawyer, they lived in Cumberland, Maryland, and Maryland attempted neutrality during the Civil War. This guaranteed armies sweeping back and forth laying waste to the area.  It also guaranteed brothers fighting against brothers. 

Lavinia’s father was a staunch Union man, and one of her uncle's was Col. Robert Bruce, Union.  But her aunt, Elizabeth Bruce, married Col. Walter Gwynn of the Confederacy and they were stuck in the siege of Vicksburg.  After the Civil War, another uncle, Upton Scott Bruce, despite being married and having had 9 children before the war, spent the rest of his life alone in a wild state.  According to Charles E. Hoye in his article on the Bruce Family in "Garrett County History of Pioneer Families" in the "Mountain Democrat" of Oakland, MD September, 1937 Upton Bruce, Jr. "led a half wild life in the woods east of Oakland until some ten years after the Civil War. How or why he came to this condition we do not know, but old residents of Oakland remember that Upton Bruce used to live with Lewis Thompson in winter, his board and clothes supplied by relatives in Cumberland.  But in summer he would go out into the woods, build himself a little shelter and spend the days roaming in the woods; so he lived a harmless but useless life, shy of adult company but willing to talk to the curious boys who sought his retreat and marveled to see his long hair and beard and ragged clothes.  His most faithful friend was Eli Trudy, a former Bruce slave who resided in Oakland after the Civil War.  Old Eli did what he could for "Marse Upton", taking to him newspapers and food at intervals. - So ended the history of the Bruce's at Ryan's Glade."

The emotional effect of the Civil War on Lavinia’s family is impossible to know, but events around her were dramatic. When she was 13, Stonewall Jackson's brigade rode through Cumberland on its way to Gettysburg, and Lavinia's 16 year old brother, Maynadier Thistle Bruce, ran away from his Union supporting father, took a horse and joined the Confederates. He stuck with them, eventually joining McNeil’s Rangers, and afterwards settling in Texas. Many of Maynadier's escapades were written up in Four Years In the Stonewall Brigade, published in 1893 by John O. Casler.

At age 25, on 16 November 1875 in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Cumberland, Lavinia married her 2nd cousin, Robert James Cresap. He had recently buried his first wife and a namesake son. His marriage to Lavinia may have been arranged as was her younger sister's, Grace Neill Bruce's marriage to Martin German which took place in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1885. Both Grace and another sister, Julianna Bruce (who married J. Byers Smith in Lavinia's living room in Cincinnati) moved to San Diego, California and eventually brought their widowed mother, Lavinia #1, to live with them there.  My grandfather bought the family heirlooms from his Aunt Grace in the 1930's.

After their marriage, Lavinia #2 and Robert returned to his home in Cincinnati, Ohio  where they lived for 11 years. They had five children. The first, another Robert Jr., died at 5 months. The 2nd child was our grandfather, Andrew Bruce Cresap. The 3rd, Eloise Josephine Cresap lived into her 40’s but, sadly, died a suicide. Her unhappy marriage to Charles B. Weltner, also was said to have been arranged.  The 4th child of Lavinia and Robert, James Henry Cresap, died at 8.  Lavinia didn’t mourn these two children because she was already dead when they died.  She did not survive the birth of her 5th child. He was a 3rd Robert James Cresap, jr., and he died one day after birth. Lavinia #2 lingered for 4 more days, and died in Cincinnati, Ohio aged 36 years, one month and 25 days.

Grandad missed his mother always, and  when he lived in the Philippines he had a portrait painted of her from the first small photo shown above. The portrait is presently in Orinda at the home of Ida May (Cresap) Sipe.

                                                           Grandad and his mother.

Happy Birthday, Lavinia.


  1. Lavinia #4 - great stuff, and happy belated to Lavinia #2. BTW, I love the new look.

  2. If Upton Bruce saw service in the Civil War, it sounds like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that left him unable to live normally and in the company of others. The syndrome wasn't recognized until after being observed in Vietnam veterans.


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