By KELLY SULLIVAN Maria Adalade Stovyer was born on Jan. 19, 1849, in Warwick. Five years earlier, her mother, Ann Maria Hathaway, had married blacksmith Joseph Whipple Stovyer, the only son of Reverend Stovyer. The first child born to them, James, died
Maria Adalade Stovyer was born on Jan. 19, 1849, in Warwick. Five years earlier, her mother, Ann Maria Hathaway, had married blacksmith Joseph Whipple Stovyer, the only son of Reverend Stovyer. The first child born to them, James, died during the summer of 1870 at the age of 25. Ten months later, Joseph died.
Ann and Maria removed to Coventry, where Ann worked as a dressmaker. She took in two female boarders and later hired a housekeeper to help with chores as Maria, who had special needs, had come down with scarlet fever.
The Town Council approved of a $5 per month allowance to Ann on account of her daughter’s disabilities. Then, Ann fell ill as well.
Ann contacted a couple she knew, 54-year-old farmer Robert Yeaw and his wife, Mary, of Cranston. She asked if they might be willing to come and care for her during her illness as well as help care for Maria. As payment, Ann agreed to give them a deed to property she owned.
About a year later, Ann died at the age of 63. The Yeaws had done their best to take care of Maria, but as far as they were concerned, that duty was now over and they appealed to the town of Coventry to take responsibility for the 37-year-old woman. The town refused, so the couple kept Maria for two more months before contacting her aunt, 48-year-old Sarah Tefft.
The Yeaws told Sarah they were going to vacation at the beach, and asked her to take Maria until they returned. Sarah agreed and Maria was left with Sarah and her husband, Franklin, at their Coventry home. The Yeaws never returned.
Sarah was furious when she received a letter from them some time later, mailed from Phoenix. They explained they had consulted a lawyer and that they had no responsibility for Maria. They suggested to Sarah that if she did not want to care for her, she needed to contact the town’s overseer of the poor.
Sarah publicly admonished the Yeaws, accusing them of taking advantage of Ann. According to Sarah, Ann had agreed to include the couple in her will in some capacity but that they’d convinced her to deed her property to them. Sarah charged that Ann hadn’t wanted to give away her property as it assured that Maria would be taken care of. But the Yeaws, she said, wrote up an agreement which Ann signed without reading because she trusted them when they assured her that Maria would be taken care of.
Maria was now a public issue. The Town Asylum of Coventry refused to take her in because her father had come from Warwick. The town of Warwick would not take responsibility for her because her father had not owned property there.
Maria Adalade Stovyer ended up at the Howard Insane Asylum in Cranston; unwanted, abandoned, alone. She died there on Nov. 15, 1892, at the age of 43. She was first buried in the State Farm Cemetery then exhumed a year later and reburied in Greenwood Cemetery in Coventry beside her mother, father and brother.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.