Sunday, September 4, 2011

Happy 169th Birthday, Anna Gustava Johnson Cottam (1842-1899)!

Anna Cramer's grandmother

I'm named after my grandma, and she was named after her grandma, this Swedish pioneer Anna Gustava Engelbrektsson/Johnson Cottam.
Anna Gustava grew up in Sweden, the fifth of seven children.  Last names were at that time given in a patronymic system, which meant that in Sweden, Anna’s last name was “Engelbrektsson” (child of Engelbrekt) but coming to America that was changed to “Johnson” (child of John). Her family’s parish church burned down in 1870, and tragically ancestral records were destroyed.  Family legend suggests that they were related to King Gustav of Sweden (which could be based on Anna’s middle name, Gustava).

Anna joined the Church and sailed to Utah with her brother, Samuel Johnson, who was returning from a mission to Sweden (coincidentally on the same ship as Gayle’s ancestor Clara James).  Anna emigrated right around the time her father died, leaving her widowed mother behind in Sweden.  

Once in Utah, Anna found work as a maid and a cook for Captain Hooper, a prominent Utah politician.  He was in his sixties at the time and had recently returned from serving as a congressional delegate.  He told his friend John Cottam Junior, “I have a fine girl who is my cook.  She would make you a good wife.”  

A marriage was arranged, and Anna became John Cottam’s fourth wife.  She first gave birth to twins, but one (a daughter) died. Her fourth child was named Charlotte after John’s maternal second cousin, actress Lotta Crabtree, but John called her "Lady" ever since his pronouncement at her birth, “This is my little lady.” 
Anna with her children, Lottie in center
John was away in San Francisco for two years during the polygamy raids, and the family managed the household without him. He returned and gave himself up to the authorities, and was then jailed for six months. The family visited the penitentiary weekly to take him provisions, and some of his inmate friends made fans, wooden toys, and dolls for the children. On Christmas, John’s wives made him a three-layer Christmas fruitcake with a candy angel and lovebirds on top, and delivered it to the prison. It was bitter cold, and Anna drove their old white horse with hot rocks in the wagon, but she froze her hands and feet and never quite recovered. His other wife Mary afterward dreamed that all was not well and John opened the lid with disgust, and the next week when Anna went to visit and asked how he enjoyed Christmas, John said he had had a skeleton of a turkey and some rotten apples—the guards had taken his box and given him scraps. Many years later John recognized a beggar on the street as the guard who had taken his Christmas box, and gave him some coins.  

Anna was known as an herbalist, but she herself suffered ill health, including an epidemic of typhoid fever, and died of Bright’s disease (a kidney condition) when Charlotte was only thirteen. Charlotte remembered her father’s wives were all kind to each other, and Anna would often say, “Children, you must be very thoughtful and kind to Aunt [plural wife].”

I would give her a trip to an herbal store to stock up on some remedies.

1 comment:

  1. I'd give her a really warm coat, gloves, and boots.