It’s funny how items from collections, coming from different donors and eras, occasionally overlap. Last year, Doug Brockhouse and his wife of St. Louis donated a set of papers related to the Weir family of Muhlenberg County. The collection revolves around a prosperous agricultural and merchant family that exerted quite an influence in nineteenth and early-twentieth century Greenville. The collection includes a noteworthy travel account of James Weir’s trip from South Carolina to Tennessee in 1798-1799, ante bellum and Civil War correspondence, and Edward R. Weir Sr.’s declaration of Muhlenberg County’s support of the Union. The collection also contains a little over thirty photographs, chiefly of the Weir family and allied families. One of the latter is of Edward Rumsey Wing (shown here), who was a cousin of Edward R. Weir, Jr.
Edward Rumsey Wing was born in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1843 to Samuel M. Wing and Emily (Weir) Wing. He became a lawyer and at the age of 29 was named the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, at the time the youngest ambassador ever appointed. He served for four years before he died on 5 October 1874 in Quito while still in service. Interestingly, through his wife Louise Scott, Wing was related to the Green family of Grayson County. The Manuscripts unit in Library Special Collections owns a significant collection of Green family papers. In this collection are several letters that Wing wrote to Green and Scott family members back in Kentucky.
In one of those letters Rumsey, as he was called, wrote about an 1870 earthquake that he and Louise experienced in Quito. With the skills of a poet, Wing described the event: “It was ten o‘clock and Louise had gone to sleep on a sofa over a ‘Cornhill Magazine’ while I was lying on the bed reading a law book and deeply interested, which I presume kept me from fully appreciating the situation at the first shiver of the earth I could still hear voices in the street and then a heavy heel went clanging by over the resonating sidewalk. The white light of the moonlight enwrapped the houses and the hill and [provided a] silvery kiss on our windows. All at once there was a sudden silence that I now remember first attracted my attention, & the very night seemed to hold its breath as if waiting, listening, terror-stricken at the coming shock. The next moment it struck me that the bed curtains were stirred as if by a strong wind. Still I did not think of the dreaded ‘temblor’ until in a flash I heard groans, screams and prayers issuing from every direction – our own servants running across the courtyard with loud outcries for “El Senor Ministre’ – and the bed trembled as if in the grasp of some fierce giant.”
“I recall then the queer jingle of the windows,” Wing continued, “and their latches, & springing up felt the room with its ‘six foot’ walls reeling like a beaten ship at sea. Glancing from the window at the moonlit street I could see many people on their knees & many prostrate on their faces, praying most fervently, whilst loud above all other sounds, I could distinctly catch the cry of ‘El Temblor, El Temblor.’” After a contemplative night, Wing summarized his reaction to the event: “The most disagreeable thing in connection with an earthquake like a battle is really ‘after it is over.’ Then one begins to realize what an infinitesimal atom he is, and not only himself but all men and all nations and all the ambitions of life and all the absorbing interests which we so untiringly & eagerly pursue, — in the face of these tremendous convulsions. These terrible forces of nature, these awful agencies, so bitterly dreaded and so little understood, & of their supreme ruler and controller…Why should helpless man be thus made the unwilling sport of misfortune – or of superior power & wisdom & goodness?”