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May 29, 1836: Birth of Mary Wright Ely

On this day in what would become Duluth in 1836, Mary Wright Ely—said to be the “first white child of English-speaking parents born at Fond du Lac”—was born to Reverend Edmund and Catherine Goulais (Bissel) Ely. Ely’s recorded the event in his diary: “This has been a day of deep interest and anxiety in the family. About 11 o’clock Catharine was delivered of a daughter. Both mother and daughter are doing well.” It would take Catharine, just nineteen at the time, some time time to get back to her diary. (Delia Cook came to Fond du Lac to help teach at the mission school so Catharine could take care of infant Mary.) Catharine was more detailed than her husband: “Mary Wright Ely, born Sabbath May 29th. We think her on the whole a pretty good baby. She does not seem to complain without some reason. She begins to notice more around her & appears pleased when noticed. She snow seven weeks old.” She later wrote of the infant Mary that, “She enjoys sucking rabbit bones and bread. She is likewise fond of hasty pudding. Night before last her father corrected her for crying at night, wanting to be taken up. The child was named for her father’s cousin, Mary Wright, of Rome, New York, who Ely described in letters as a “beloved friend.” When Mary was three years old, she was sent to Rome to be raised by her namesake and her daughters. Ely wrote in his diary that his cousin “kindly offered to take and educate her” and then added simply. “May God go with and protect and bless her.” Read a biography of Reverend Ely here.

Catharine Ely. (Duluth Public Library)