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Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe

Mount Freedom, Morris County, New Jersey, USA
Death 9 Feb 1906 (aged 86–87)
New Jersey, USA
Burial Morristown, Morris County, New Jersey, USA
Memorial ID 143459603 · View Source
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Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1819, Louise Amelia Knapp Smith was the daughter of Moses Smith, an Amherst, Massachusetts native who was the schoolmaster at an academy in Elizabeth. The family returned to Amherst before Moses Smith died in 1832. His wife, the former Lois Lee, passed away five years later, leaving the orphaned 18-year old Louise and her siblings entrusted to the guardianship of Northampton attorney Osmyn Baker. An avid reader, Louise attended a number of “female seminaries,” but finished her education at the Amherst Academy.

Louise was nearly thirty years old when she married Fayette Clapp. He was a young doctor, a Brown graduate, living in Chesterfield, and five years her junior. They were married in Northampton on September 13, 1848. He longed to go west and the discovery of gold in California gave the young couple the excuse they needed. With his older brother Alfred and her younger sister Isabella, they sailed out of New York aboard the Manilla in August of 1849. Five months later, after a trip around the Horn, they were in San Francisco. Sadly, Isabella Smith did not survive the trip and was buried at sea.

Her letters, twenty-three in all, were first published in a California magazine, The Pioneer, between 1854 and 1855. Years later, after her death, they would be compiled and published as a book (The Shirley Letters from California Mines, 1851-52, ed. by Thomas C. Russell, 1922) which many credit as being among the best first-hand accounts of the mining camps. Writer Bret Harte, with whom she was acquainted in California, was influenced by her letters.

After a year and a half in the mining camps, the Clapps returned to San Francisco and, then, split up. Fayette went first to Hawaii, then returned to Massachusetts, and eventually moved west again to Illinois. Louise remained in San Francisco where she taught school for a number of years. They were divorced in 1857 and Louise apparently added the “e” to her name, at that time. In 1878, she retired from teaching and also returned east. In New York City, she wrote and lectured until 1897 when she moved to her native state of New Jersey. Ironically, she rekindled her friendship with Bret Harte’s estranged wife and boarded with Harte’s nieces. It was there that she died in 1906 at the age of 87. (Her niece reported her death date as February 9, the San Francisco Chronicle mistakenly listed it as February 15.)

(Courtesy of "Gold Rush Stories: The Pioneer Valley and the California Gold Rush)

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  • Created by: Catherine Cramer
  • Added: 7 Mar 2015
  • Find A Grave Memorial 143459603
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe (1819–9 Feb 1906), Find A Grave Memorial no. 143459603, citing Evergreen Cemetery, Morristown, Morris County, New Jersey, USA ; Maintained by Catherine Cramer (contributor 47339001) .