Mad Hatter…

About 3 years after John Brooks, sr. died, (1815), we find that Dinah* Smith Brooks, my 4x great grandmother is now married to a gentleman by name of Robert Little. They married about 1817, and had one child that we are aware of, Jane Ann Little, who was born about a year later.

Robert had arrived in Albany, not long before he married Dinah1, and he was at least 10 years older than her2, maybe even more. To support his new family of: wife, daughter and 5 step-children, Robert made his living as a hatter, an occupation he was in for at least 6 years in Albany, (and maybe even longer if he was in the trade before he moved to Albany). By 1824 he had quit the hatting trade and now he was making living as a grocer.

The last time we find Dinah and Robert living together is in the 1826 Albany directory, there is no entry for them in 1827-1829, and the next time we see Dinah (1830 census), she is living with her children and working as a tailoress. There is no sign of Robert.

However, I do know that Robert died 27 Dec 1845, because Dinah mentions it in her application for a pension from her first husband’s military service. The interesting thing about what she said though, is that he died in the city’s almshouse.

I have no clue why the two were no longer sharing an abode. Dinah kept the Little surname until she died, so I don’t know if they had divorced, or if she had just kicked him out. No clue. But I can speculate about possible reasons for why they might have no longer been living together and it is Robert’s occupation as a hatter that might have had something to do with it.

Here is an image of hatters at their job in the 1800s.3

For at least six years and maybe longer, Robert was making hats. An occupation that was extremely dangerous at this time, because of prolonged exposure to mercury vapors that was an occupational hazard.

The felting of animal fur for hats was a popular construction method, this felting required the use of mercuric nitrate to treat the animal fur. This treatment removed the fur from the skin, and felted it so that it could then be formed into the shape needed to construct the hat.

The vapors from mercury are very toxic, and workrooms were never properly vented which is why we had the illness that we know as ‘mad hatters disease’, or ‘hatter’s shakes,’ and the famous expression ‘mad as a hatter.’

The symptoms of this illness manifest as: red cheeks, fingers, and toes; bleeding from the mouth and ears; rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure; intense sweating; loss of hair, teeth, and nails; blindness and loss of hearing; impaired memory; lack of coordination; disturbed speech patterns; trembling and sputtering; and birth defects. Hat makers often acted loopy, or excessively shy one moment and highly irritable the next. All-in-all not a very healthy occupation.

It is possible that these symptoms manifested in Robert in some way or another and contributed to the demise of their marriage. He might have had other problems too, but again we would only be guessing. For his own health and sanity it was a good thing that he changed his trade to that of a grocer, but the change didn’t appear to help, as by 1830 Dinah and Robert’s marriage was kaput.

By the time Robert died in 1845, in an almshouse, he was anywhere from 70 years of age and older. I can not find him in directories after 1826. So maybe he ended up in the almshouse or an asylum by 1830 and spent the rest of his years there. Which might be why Dinah appears to have never divorced him.

Even though Robert is not related to me by blood, he did have a daughter with my grans so he is family. It makes me sad that he died in an almshouse, his family having abandoned him. But I can only speculate on the family dynamics at the time, and there might have been a very good reason for the split. I surely would love to know that story.

Tea anyone?

*Today I am using Dinah, we see her name as both Dinah and Diane in various records.

1. He doesn’t show up in Albany directories until 1818 and according to his daughter’s 1870 census entry, he was foreign born, but according to 1880 census he was born in New York.
2. According to 1820 census for Robert Little he was 45+ and Diana was about 33/34, which we know from her pension application file.
3. Image pulled from Wikipedia entry regarding mad hatter disease.

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