Martha Macomb Dinsmore (1797 – 1859)
Martha Keturah Macomb was born on September 9, 1797 in New York City, to Alexander and Jane Rucker Macomb. She was the fourteenth living child of Alexander, and the fifth of Jane, his second wife. Her parents eventually moved to Georgetown, D.C. and Martha, or “Patty” or “Matty” as she was alternately called, made long visits to friends and relatives in New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia. Her strong religious faith can be seen in the collection of Episcopalian books in the house with friendly notes on the front inside covers.
James Dinsmore met Martha while she was staying with a relative in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the mid-1820s and the couple was married at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Burlington, New Jersey on May 13, 1829. She was thirty-one at the time and her new husband was thirty-eight. After a wedding trip to Yellow Springs, near Dayton, Ohio, Martha remained in Cincinnati with Silas and Mary Disnmoor and it was there that she gave birth to her first child whom she named for her favorite maternal aunt, Isabella Ramsay Dinsmore.
Once in the isolated atmosphere of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, Martha made a few friends with her distant neighbors, but she spent most of her time on Bayou Black, the name James chose for the plantation. In 1833, Martha gave birth to a second daughter, named for her good friend, Julia Stockton, and she had a third daughter two years later, Susan Bell, named after James’ mother. A letter from an acquaintance in Lexington, Kentucky, congratulating her on the birth of a son, was dated January 1, 1840. While this may have been a misunderstanding on the writer’s part, the fact that the acquaintance was a doctor and that he had seen Martha the previous fall tends to support our conclusion that she gave birth to a son who died in infancy.
Due to the rural character of southern plantation life and the fact that she had no living sons, Martha was in complete control of her children’s education. She must have bragged about Julia and Isabella to her mother, because Jane Macomb replied that she was “very happy in the accounts you give of your dear daughters[,] they must be prodigies for their age.” Although girls were not supposed to tax their minds too much, Jane believed that her daughter could “give them all the tuition that is necessary for their age – & it must be a source of great pleasure & amusement to you – & I have no doubt they will improve more than if they were at school.” Because of her own background, Martha believed that girls should have a well-rounded education, not so different from how boys were educated.
When James decided to sell the plantation in Louisiana and move to Kentucky, Martha was not afraid to criticize his decision, telling him that a neighbor thought it was a mistake to get out of the sugar business. Perhaps because of her education, her marriage was more of a partnership than is usually considered the case. In Kentucky, Martha sometimes ventured to Cincinnati to visit friends, but more often stayed home or contented herself with visits to Silas Dinsmore and his wife, Mary, who lived a mile away in Belleview Bottoms. Over the years she welcomed many people to stay with her family, including a young friend from Philadelphia, Isabella Hill, who stayed for about forty years. Martha also gladly took in her niece, Susan Goodrich, who along with her brother, B. F. Goodrich, was orphaned in 1849.
Heartbroken at her youngest daughter’s, Susan’s, death in 1851, Martha outlived her by only eight years. Julia later wrote about her mother, “Her prayer was granted: she did not wish to live till old age.” On August 17, 1859, seven days after her eldest daughter, Isabella, married Martha’s nephew, Charles Flandrau, she died.