Sarah N. Randolph: Last Words of General George Wythe Randolph
Last Words of Gen. G. W. R. by S. N. R.
[. . .] April 4th. 1867.
Uncle George having refused positively to let any one sit up with him, I told Aunt Mary (his wife) that I could not leave her alone with him while he was so ill and would sleep on an easy chair in the parlour, so the door being open between that room and hers, she could call me should he be taken suddenly worse in the night. Having passed two nights in this way I was awakened at three o clock in the morning of the 3d by the sound of his dreadful breathing and the next moment heard Aunt Mary call me to go for Wilson, who was sleeping in the next room. Wilson came in and told me he thought Uncle George dying. I went up stairs to wake the rest of the family and on getting back to Uncle G’s room found him as I thought, strangling, but he recovered his breath and gasped out, thinking he was dying ‘Oh blessed hour,’ Aunt Mary asked me if I knew that hymn “I would see Jesus’ I replied no, and asked why she did not repeat to him a verse from his favourite Psalm the 23d: ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I cant, you do it.’ I knelt close beside the head of his bed and repeated slowly the verse beginning ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. his face lit up at once with the sweetest smile, and he said “Dear Sarah thank you’ I repeated two hymns to him & several times while I was doing it he smiled and nodded his head. He said he had no fear and then gasped out, ‘This is delightful positive enjoyment nothing to do now but drop off to sleep” He asked for Sister Jane and Brother Jeff” they came in just then and Aunt Mary putting Mother’s hand into his, told him it was Sister Jane’s hand, “Ah dear Sister,” he said ‘This is just as I wished to die’ All this while his breathing was frightful and the rattling in his throat so bad that it was difficult to catch his words ‘Dear dear Brother Jeff’ he said, and on Father’s leaning down to him, he said ‘Trust in Jesus, and you will die as happily as I do: ‘See how a Christian can die’, he said ‘could there be a happier death?’ Once and with a countenance which shone as if reflecting a heavenly light, he said in a distinct voice ‘I see Jesus’ and then added with emphasis “visibly’ and the valley has lost its terrors! Dear Monticello, and my dear mother soon I shall be with her, Margaret, Patsy Cary-anne and others of our family gone before.
‘Wilson darling boy,’ he said as Wilson felt his pulse “Get religious, it is Jesus, who gives me this happy death” As Carry took his hand, he said ‘Dear Carry’, and to Mary “Darling niece, and always has been”. then added, ‘You are dear’ and turning to Aunt Mary, ‘But last and dearest of all my wife,—Wife meet me in heaven”.
He gasped out then messages of love for his sisters, mentioning each, “Dearest love to my dear, dear Ben, dear fellow, and to dear Sally, to dear Margaret and Robert Carter too, my good friends: Love to Mr Ruffin My love to all my Richmond friends.” We then named many friends to whom he left messages of love—His breathing sounded horribly and he seemed to fear that we should think him suffering and several times said “I am not suffering, not a pain, my only fear this is not death: Wilson it will not be long, will it?” On Wilson’s feeling his pulse and saying doubtfully “Uncle George, I thought so’ he cried out “Oh dont disappoint me.” Someone suggested brandy for him and he said ‘For God sake no nothing
Some one suggested brandy for him and he said, ‘For God’s sake, no, nothing to prolong life.’ He expressed great regret at feeling his strength reviving and said he would have it all to go over again (alluding to his suffering, which he said at first was very great) that having so many deathbed scenes was getting to be absurd and he did not like to keep us all up—He refused the brandy and bouillon which Wilson offered him, until assured that it would not prolong life only make him more comfortable. ‘As my friends’ he said ‘you should do nothing to prolong my life—Then stretching his head back on the pillow exclaimed “What a constitution, and what strength!’ As the morning light stole into the room he asked if the day was good, and seemed pleased when told it was bright and sunny ‘I shall be carried to Monticello’ he said ‘when the birds are singing and the leaves are budding out” ‘Did I remember to send my love to the Keans, Masons, Harrisons, and to Margaret and Edward, give it to them I love them all, Mr Kean was always so kind to me and to Nellie and dear kind Mr Harrison my especial love. I fear I shall precede him but a short time—My love to the Taylors—those girls have been very kind Molly you must hunt up some little keepsakes for Margaret. Hearing that Tom was in the next room he said “Let Tom come in and added ‘when he chooses of course.’ Tom entered, and he shook hands with him and said, I am glad to see you once more Tom you must give my love to Charlotte Then when Tom leant on the bed and took his hand again he wanted to know what had brought him down so soon and said “Tom these good people here have brought me back to life again’ Tom told him how glad he was Uncle Ben had gotten down to see him two days before. ‘Ah yes’ he said, ‘dear, dear Ben’ how it rejoiced my heart to be here and hear the sound of the dear fellow’s voice, though I could not talk to him ‘Tom’ he said after a pause. ‘you are religious” “Yes” Aunt Mary said, ‘Tom, you know is a communicant.’ ‘Yes,’ he replied ‘but that you know is nothing unless he communes with the heart. There are as many christians out of the Church as in it. Religion is a thing of the heart and not of the head. I hope my dear good brother Jeff did not take amiss what I said to him this morning on the subject, but I have thought so constantly of his religious feelings and it causes me great trouble. You girls and your dear mother must do all you can to approach him on the subject” Tom said ‘Uncle George I have thought often of that too but it is a very difficult thing.” ‘I know how difficult it is’ he replied, ‘great tact is required to approach him on the subject, but a suitable book left so he could pick it up, or any thing to convince his reason. That is too noble a spirit not to be dedicated to the Saviour. ‘His reason must be addressed, you cant move him as you can some by getting up a religious fervour. His reason must be convinced, mine had to be too.” Aunt Mary said ‘Mention some book you would think suitable.’ “Well,’ he replied ‘you know with me the book of books is Paley’s Evidences with annotations by Archbishop Whately. That is so dear. Twenty five years ago’, he continued, ‘I lay ill in this very room, almost on this very spot, I and those around me thought I was dying. I determined then to examine the Christian religion—I did do it thoroughly as I would have done a law case, and now lie here this morning a witness to its truth and its power.”
He said we must not be kept away from our duties, and that Lewis must not let him keep him from his business. Lewis then knelt down beside his bed, and took his hand, and aunt Mary said ‘you have more important things to say to Lewis.’ ‘Lewis,” he said, ‘is going to examine for himself—he is a good fellow, and there is much in him.’ Then shaking his finger playfully in his face, he said ‘Lewis, do not be content to be a Hercules there were wiser men.’ After a pause he continued ‘Lewis as I was telling your aunt Mary the other night the fulfilment of the 22nd psalm is in itself a proof of the truth of the Christian Religion. In the first [p]art David speaks about himself and then it is evident he does not clearly understand who the individual is about whom he is prophesying. Whose death it is that he is describing, but it is the Saviour, you see the flouting in the face on the cross, that was done by the Jews, the casting of lots for his vesture, and parting his garments among them that was done by their enemies, the Roman soldiers, foreigners.’ He complained of tingling in his shin and said he supposed it came from some obstruction in his circulation beginning. While they were rubbing his feet and hands he seemed to think they might be shocked at his emaciation, and stretching his head again back on the pillow he said, ‘Soon I shall put off this vile body and put on a glorified body, then what does it matter about the emaciation of this one, I am done with it. He repeated his regrets at not having died early in the morning, and said he would have it all to go over again, that suffering and may do away with all these agreeable impressions. My love to dear CaryAnne and Tom Peyton and to [. . .] Mary repeated the first lines of ‘Vital spark of Heavenly flame’ ‘Yes’ he said ‘by Pope.’ ‘it is very beautiful’ ‘To think’ he said, after a silence of some time ‘how near the end of my sufferings I am. No more weeks and months of living death, and you too Molly, will soon be relieved of your cares and troubles about me. For two years you have been to me servant, nurse, friend, everything; what would I have done without you.’ After a little he smiled and said ‘I cannot help being reminded of that anecdote of Charles II how he apologized to his courtiers for taking so long to die and keeping them all standing—I will break you all down you must go about your customary duties. A letter which had come the day before from general Joe Johnston asking him to answer for him some questions about orders given Gen J when he was Secretary of War, was mentioned to him He said it was important to Gen J for him to answer them and with his usual precision and distinctness he dictated the answers to aunt Mary.—After a little he smiled and said In speaking to Tom about Father’s religion he said ‘It is not given to us to know who shall be saved, and who shall not and he is so good, so much heart, so much liberality and kindness, so generous to a large connection; he has always been a true friend and his house a home to many of them.” He then tried to quote some lines from Pope describing a Christian, but could not; later in the day he remembered them and repeated them distinctly. Before in the morning he had said ‘Well I suppose now I may say that I have been up to the gates of death I have nothing to regret but leaving friends many of whom however I shall meet again. Once after a long pause he sighed and said, ‘Poor dear brother Jeff I am thinking of him all the time—You girls must do all you can—I have told Tom to approach him on the subject of religion. On seeing me enter the room once during the day he said ‘Come Sally and sit beside me I want to talk to you.” I took his hand and lent on his bed and he said ‘You must go on cultivating your mind. you have a good deal of [. . .] that way, I want you to take care of your aunt Mary, be a daughter to her. she loves you as such.’ ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘I feel that way to her and your house has always been a happy home to me.’ ‘Well’ he said ‘I always wanted tried to make it so for you. Continue now to cultivate and improve your mind—you will be repaid for it—do not stop—then should your old age be lonely you will have a solace. Dont sink into vacuity.
He asked if the day was the fourth ‘No’ Carry said, ‘the third’ ‘Many a time’ he said ‘have I been on the road this day, going to Buckingham Court—That [and] on the fourth I sent my love did I not to dear Margaret and Robert. Yes Robert was always a good friend to me’ He turned to aunt Mary and said ‘It is a great satisfaction to me not to leave you dependent You will be dependent for nothing except affection and that you will get from my family, I leave you to them. When my breathing gets bad again dont let any one lean over me. My sinking spells generally begin about 12, dont they? Wilson must watch me and at the least sign of nervousness give me an anodyne. He had better put a little laudanum in the brandy. Where is Wilson?’ Some one replied, ‘asleep’ ‘What a sleepy headed fellow he is,’ he said He never liked Wilson to be out of his sight and trusted himself entirely to him never making the least objection to doing what he advised. He repeated the first line of ‘I would not live alway.’ Aunt Mary finished the verse when he said ‘The sentiments of that hymn are not proper—The world was given us by God to use and not to abuse after we are done with it.’ ‘Rejoice Molly’ he at one time said ‘you ought all to rejoice with me that I am so near my end’. I have now been to often up to the gates of death that the road is familiar to me. I know the way and have no fears. Seeing aunt Mary leaning her head on her hand he said ‘Dont droop Mary, you must all be quiet and bear this with composure. Of course we must regret parting, but this is so temporary. At 12 he began to get worse and to take anodynes and said ‘My Father’s will be done, not mine but I wish He had willed to take me this morning.’ For weeks although desiring death he seemed to have a nervous presentiment that he would have some great agony to undergo when dying. This was fearfully realized for himself and his friends by a violent convulsion which came on about half past one. Springing suddenly bolt upright in bed, the next moment he would have thrown himself out if had not Tom and Wilson been beside him and it required all their strength and aunt Mary’s to hold him. So great was his agony that he cried out ‘kill me, kill me’. Yet even then he did not lose his consciousness When he quieted a little Wilson told me to kneel close beside him and repeat something to him to distract his thoughts from himself but as soon as I began he shook his head and motioned with his hand for me to stop. Brandy relieved him and he repeatedly asked for it. He rallied and talked, occasionally feeling his pulse and expressing great dread of his strength returning and of having another spasm, said if Wilson found one coming on he must stupify him with brandy. He kissed aunt Mary’s hand and after a little asked her to kiss him. His mind was never once dimmed His sleep and breathing grew more calm Once feeling his pulse he exclaimed in a tone of great regret ‘Wilson, assure me that I am dying.’ ‘I think you are Uncle George’ said Wilson. ‘God bless you’ he said most fervently when Wilson gave him the last anodyne. He and aunt Mary were sitting together at the head of the bed. He drank the anodyne and then patted Wilson several times in the most caressing way, on his head and joining his and aunt Mary’s hands pressed them with his own and said ‘Two such nurses and such good treatment’ He said he felt perfectly comfortable, not a pain. He said to Wilson in the sweetest gentlest tone ‘What do you want me to do now? do you want me to sleep? I can sleep.’ ‘Yes’ said Wilson, ‘sleep.’ He did sleep and from that sleep awakened into a better world. We all sat around during that last hours sleep watching [. . .] his every breath with an intense anxiety, fearing each moment he might wake up in a convulsion till at last we found those long drawn breaths were growing shorter and shorter. He breathed his last a little after sunset lying on his side with his face resting so naturally on one hand. Once during the day aunt Mary had asked him if when he said ‘I see Jesus’ he was quoting a hymn beginning with that line ‘No’ he said distinctly ‘I meant that I saw Him Himself.’