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Janet Hollister

(1833-1881)

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At a Glance

Janet Hollister’s family was one of the most prominent in the very prosperous coastal town of New Bern, NC.

Story

Janet Taylor Hollister was born into one of the most prosperous and distinguished families in the thriving port city of New Bern, NC, and was one of several young ladies of prominent families to be sent from New Bern to Hillsborough to attend the Burwell School. All of her New Bern schoolmates at the Burwell School lived their lives in New Bern or at least in North Carolina, but Janet’s life took her far from her childhood home.

Janet was the only daughter of William Hollister, originally from Connecticut, who became a very wealthy merchant and ship-owner. William Hollister built a handsome and large home in New Bern for his second wife, Janet Taylor, and there they raised their two children. In honor of the origins of the Hollister name, he planted a holly tree at each side of the entrance. (Janet’s girlhood home remained in the family for generations and is now owned by the Tryon Palace Foundation, awaiting restoration.)

Janet Taylor, our student’s mother, was the daughter of another of New Bern’s most renowned and established merchants, Isaac Taylor. He was said to have sailed his own merchant ship from Scotland to North Carolina to make his fortune. He also built an impressive house in New Bern which is standing today.

Janet Taylor married William Hollister in 1829, and had two children, Janet Taylor Hollister, the future Burwell student, and William Hollister, Jr. Young Janet, apparently called “Net,” attended the Burwell School in the late 1840’s; by 1850 she was attending the Mount Holly Female Seminary in Mount Holly, New Jersey. We do not know how long she attended this academy, but she eventually returned to New Bern.

In 1855 Janet married the Rev. Thomas G. Wall, who had arrived in New Bern in 1854 as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church, of which William Hollister was a Trustee and founding member. Thomas Wall, originally from Nova Scotia, was a graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Divinity School. He was therefore in New Jersey at the same time as Janet, but whether they met there is unknown. Rev. Wall began his pastoral career in Winchester, Virginia before arriving in New Bern.

The Wall’s first child, George Barry Wall, was born October 31, 1855; news of this event reached Mrs. Burwell through her correspondence with “Net.” Mrs. Burwell was very fond of the kind and congenial young woman, and baby George is mentioned in Mrs. Burwell’s letters to her daughter. Mrs. Burwell mentions with great sympathy the news that Janet was suffering from a facial tic and paralysis, “St. Vitus’ Dance.” Presumably that affliction passed, as in 1857 Thomas took Janet (and probably George) on a tour of Europe, leaving his pulpit in the care of a pastor who agreed to “supply” the church. The Walls were gone almost a year, during which time their fraternal twins, Janet Taylor Wall and William Hollister Wall, were born in Saxony, Germany.

By the 1860 census the couple were living in New Bern and had four children: George, the twins, and Edward Colfax Wall. There was to be one more child, Margaret, born about 1862.

With the Civil War looming, Thomas took his family north in 1862, having applied to end his pastorate in 1861. He “conducted a female school” for some years in New Jersey and preached at a nearby church in Tenafly, NJ. In 1878 he became the Superintendent and Chaplain of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. In the 1880 US Census the Wall family were listed living at 70th Street and Madison Avenue, New York City. Their daughters Janet and Margaret were living with the couple at that time.

It is not known what relationship the Wall family maintained with Janet’s family in New Bern after the Civil War. A family history of the Hollisters of New Bern shows that the names “Janet Taylor” and “William Hollister” were bestowed on baby girls and boys through several generations.

Janet Hollister Wall died on September 15, 1881; her death was reported the next day in the New York Times obituaries. No cause of death was mentioned; Janet was only 48 years old. Although she died a relatively young woman, Janet was at least spared the horror and heartbreak that struck her family the following year, when her son George was mortally shot by his young wife.

George Wall was apparently a promising young lawyer, having graduated from Columbia Law School in 1877 and admitted to the New York Bar. He saw a Broadway chorus girl in a theatrical review and was smitten; he wooed and married the young “burlesque actress” Lizzie McCall in the spring of 1881; they set up housekeeping in New-Utrecht, Long Island, NY. It may or may not be a “cause and effect” that Janet died only a few months after her son’s marriage to a woman that she would probably have considered completely unsuitable.

The marriage was a tumultuous one, and on February 26, 1882, during an argument, Lizzie Wall grabbed a pistol that her husband kept loaded and cocked on a table, and it fired. The bullet lodged in his neck and bone fragments partially severed his spinal cord. George lived for several days, cared for at his father’s hospital, and was quoted after his death by his father, at the Coroner’s inquest, as saying of Lizzie, “She has now done at once what she has been doing by inches.” The young woman was reported to be hysterical with grief and horror at the results of her impetuous act.

Despite George Wall’s deathbed statements that the shooting was intentional, the coroner ruled the death an accident, as several friends of George Wall testified that he insisted on keeping his gun out on a table, fully loaded and cocked, despite their warnings that this was a dangerous practice. Lizzie, the “self-made widow,” went on to marry again, divorce, and to continue her career in the theater, even appearing in an early film.

Janet’s husband Thomas Wall also went on to marry again (although his second wife’s name is unknown) and to continue in his work at Presbyterian Hospital. Among his many accomplishments was the initiation of an ambulance service for the hospital. As his age advanced, Rev. Wall served only as chaplain, and it was in that capacity that his death was described in the New York Times of January 12, 1902. Rev. Wall was summoned to the hospital to perform a marriage ceremony at the bedside of a gravely ill man who was to undergo “last chance” surgery the following day. His young fiancé had begged to be allowed to marry her intended, and Rev. Wall conducted an emotional ceremony at the man’s bedside. After the ceremony, “the white-haired chaplain” walked into a nearby ward to speak to a patient and collapsed of heart failure. He died some moments later.

Thomas Wall, Janet Hollister Wall, and their sons George, William, and Edward are buried at historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York City [1] [2] [5]. Issue 3, 1896 [3]. New York City [4]. Obituaries, Sept. 16, 1881 [6]. "The Wall Shooting," New York Times, NYC, March 15, 1882 [6]. "Chaplain Wall Dies After a Wedding," New York Times, January 12, 1902, NYC [6].

Biographical Data

Important Dates

Historic Green-Wood
Janet Hollister was born January 25, 1833. She died September 15, 1881, and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Kings County, NY [7].

Places of Residence

Schools Attended

Relatives

References

  1. United States Census of 1850.
  2. M.A. Burwell Letters, Historic Hillsborough Commission, Hillsborough, NC.
  3. History of the Presbyterian Church in New Bern, N.C..
  4. United States Census of 1880.
  5. http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/p15012coll1&CISOPTR=5904&REC=7
  6. New York Times.
  7. Historic Green-Wood, A National Historic Landmark

    http://www.green-wood.com

  8. www.picturehistory.com