In late 1877, the Sedalia Democrat reported a “demonic deed” perpetrated in Sedalia in a cabin located on West Morgan Street between North Osage Avenue and North Ohio Avenue, about four blocks north of the Garrison House on Pacific Street. The cabin belonged to Eliza Nurse, a black widow with three children — a 10-year-old boy, an 8-year-old girl, and a 5-year-old boy. She children who supported her family by doing laundry, washing and ironing other people’s clothing.
Ms. Nurse had come to Sedalia in 1873. She was able over the next four years to purchase a small shanty cabin owned by Mr. Cam Sneed that sat on a lot said to be owned by Sedalia resident Doctor Eddy. Eddy had a bad reputation in Sedalia as a “voodoo doctor.” Most of Sedalia’s black community had a “deadly fear” of him.
Eddy had come to Sedalia in 1876, claiming to have been a guide and translator for Dr. David Livingston, the renowned British physician, explorer, and missionary. He quickly developed a reputation in Sedalia not only for practicing voodoo but also for a variety of crimes. He lived with a 17-year-old young man.
Shortly after Ms. Nurse purchased the cabin, Doctor Eddy notified Ms. Nurse, claiming that he owned the land on which the cabin sat, and thus owned the cabin. She decided to have the cabin moved to a lot adjoining the doctor’s land. She had the cabin moved and with the help of her children and her sister “got the cabin to where it could be lived in comfortably.” Doctor Eddy then purchased that lot. He said he wanted the cabin and no matter where she moved it, he would buy the property so he could have it.
The next day, Ms. Nurse left her children with her sister and went to do laundry for one of her clients in East Sedalia. She finished the laundry at a late hour and chose to spend the night with her employer.
Ms. Robinson left the fire in the cookstove extinguished, turned the kerosene lamp down, and put the children to bed. She then left to attend church.
Shortly before 8 p.m., the cabin began to burn. Ten-year-old John woke and tried to use water in a bucket to put out the fire. The water was frozen. He then noticed how quickly the fire was spreading and tried to wake his brother and sister. They were unresponsive and the fire continued to spread. John escaped with slight burns.
The cabin was completely destroyed, and the two children burned. A group of neighbors gathered around, crying and praying. By this time, Ms. Nurse had arrived from East Sedalia, and her “heart-rending sobs” filled the air. Her sorrow at the death of two of her children and her relief at John’s life brought contradictory cries of “grief and pleasure.”
Members in the crowd immediately accused Doctor Eddy of starting the fire and set out to find him. They returned shortly with the doctor’s young and now terrified house guest.
Next week’s column continues the story of this “damnable deed.”