Friday, April 24, 2015

Lost into the Sea - The Tragic Story of Agnes Jaycoax

Cypress Point, 1908
I took a trip down the coast of California recently. While I was there admiring the scenery, I thought of a story I began researching a few years back. I had started to work on it, but sat it aside to finish at a later time due to my busy schedule.

The story was of a Sacramento school teacher named Agnes Jaycoax. I had first heard about her on a website where someone mentioned that her death seemed suspicious. It was also thrown around that perhaps she had committed suicide and that her death was not an accident as the papers said. I really wanted to get down to the facts of the story but became side tracked with other investigations and every day life, and so Agnes' story was shelved temporarily.

So as I mentioned above, while on a trip down the coast I started thinking about Agnes again and decided that now was the time to write her story, finally.

Who Was Agnes Jaycoax?

Agnes Jaycoax was born Agnes L. Stevenson, in New York on June 12, 1846. The Census records I found for 1850, show Agnes (age 4) living with Susannah (age 38), Elizabeth (age 48), Mary (age 50) and Head of Household, James Stevenson (age 70) who was a physician.  Their neighbors were also named "Stevenson," so it is safe to assume they were related. There is no roles listed in the Census so we are not sure how any of them are related to Agnes, although Elizabeth is buried near Agnes at Sacramento City Cemetery, so I believe she was Agnes' mother.

Agnes and Charles Edward Jaycoax (sometimes spelled Jaycox) were married at some point in the late 1860's.  The Census records show they lived in Placerville, where Charles worked as a landscaper and painter. Agnes worked as a school teacher in the basement of the old Methodist church on Main Street. On December 1, 1869, Agnes gave birth to a son, Burgess Bonte Jaycoax. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Sheldon, California. It was in Sheldon that baby Burgess grew very ill and later passed away from "brain congestion," on August 11, 1872. He was only 2 years, 8 months and 11 days old.

It appears that after the death of their son, Agnes and Charles' marriage fell apart. Charles went back to El Dorado County while Agnes chose to move to Sacramento. The 1874 Sacramento Directory shows Agnes as a "grammar school teacher" and living on the West Side of 7th Street in between K and L Streets. By 1876, Agnes was living between 10th and 11th streets on  I Street.

Losing her child must have devastated her, although I believe that keeping busy with the children she taught at school may have been the best thing to keep her spirits up. In fact, she was loved by her pupils so much that they bestowed the greatest gift, a golden watch as a token of their love and appreciation for their teacher. The feeling was mutual for Agnes. In fact, the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper proves this when she published a message to her students thanking them for such a wonderful gift.

Sac Daily Union, 5/16/1874

On March 9, 1876 the 6th District Court gave Agnes a divorce decree from Charles. Agnes continued her teaching in Sacramento, later being promoted to Vice Principal at Sacramento City High School in June of the same year. Only 30 years old, divorced and now a Vice Principal of a high school,  it seemed that her life was on its way to become even greater. Sadly this was not the case.

Tragedy Strikes

On the night of July 3, 1876, after visiting friends on the coast at Cypress Point near Monterey, Agnes reached the end of the line. Eye witness accounts claimed that she had ran out onto the rocks and was blissfully taking in the beautiful scenery when sudden waves struck her causing her to lose her balance, and falling into the cold waters.

One of the members of the group was quoted with this statement:

"Mrs. Jaycoax, venturing out too far on the rocks, was washed to sea by the waves.  I was not in sight of her at the time, When I reached the embankment she was already floating. We watched the body till it disappeared from sight. Mr. Jacks took off some of his clothes, but being assured that it was sure death to undertake her rescue, desisted....The party consisted of four ladies, two gentleman, and a boy, all of whom, except myself, saw her swept away. I was told that the second wave swept her off, and that she made little or no outcry. The body floated off and finally disappeared alltogether."--- Sac Daily Union, July 14, 1876

Honestly, I think they should have let Mr. Jacks go in after her. A gentlemen risks his life for another, and I wonder if that haunted him the rest of his life that he allowed the group to stop him from what he was compelled to do? Yes, he may have lost his life in the process but he would have died knowing he was doing the right thing, trying to save another person. I have often wondered just what type of friends they really were to Agnes, knowing she fell in and yet no one attempted to go in after her?

It took some time but Agnes' body washed up at the mouth of the Salinas River, 15 miles north of where she had fell into the sea.  The son of property owner, Mr. Keating discovered Agnes' body on July 6th. Her body appeared to be in good condition for a corpse, with the only mark noticed being on her knee. Another thing that Mr. Keating noticed was that she had on her person, a golden watch. I believe this was the same watch that her students had gifted her in 1874.  Mr. Keating, along with Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Williamson, retrieved the body and brought it to town where it was properly identified and returned to Sacramento for burial.

Agnes' mother had died earlier that year, and so Agnes was then buried next to her mother and her infant son, Burgess, who had died just four years earlier. The headstone that sits on top of Agnes' grave was donated by her students who raised the money to have it placed there. The scroll on a small marker cites her name and age, as well as date of death. On the top sits a dove holding an olive branch. The dove symbolizes peace, while the branch symbolizes Agnes' untimely or premature death.


When I was out at the beach recently, not too far from where Agnes died, I witnessed the same beauty Agnes witnessed over a century earlier. I was compelled by joy and overtaken by the sheer beauty of nature and the sea, that I ran out to the waves myself. I could understand how she felt just moments leading up to her death. I am sure she had no idea how dangerous it actually was, being so close to the water. Standing on those rocks, as those waves slowly crept in, perhaps around high tide, she just was too close and lost her balance.

Did she kill herself? I don't think so. Do I think her death could have been prevented? Yes. I think her friends gave up to easily and that cost Agnes her life. I wonder what those people in that group thought of themselves after that tragic day. Did they feel bad? Did they move on with their lives, and never give it a second thought? From the way it appeared in the papers, the only one who seemed truly concerned was Mr. Jacks.  Was he her male suitor? Did he care for her? So many questions, and not enough answers.

I believe that although Agnes faced many hardships in her life: the loss of a child, a failed marriage, the death of her mother, she also experienced great joys. She was needed by her students, by the school and by all those who looked to her as an anchor of security, knowledge and stability. Her own words published in the newspaper just two years earlier said it all by showing she liked to focus on what the future held for her, and her incentive to get there. That watch represented great memories of the past and for the future. She had that on her when she died. It just doesn't seem logical to me that she would purposely end her life, then and there, at that time.

If you ever stop by the Historic Sacramento City Cemetery, please stop by Agnes' grave in Section 63. Remember her as the dedicated teacher, the mother who suffered the loss of her own baby, the daughter who lost her mother and remember that tragic day she lost her own life, into the sea.

Rest In Peace, Agnes!


(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)


Family Search
Sacramento City Directories
U.S. Census
Great Register
Sac Daily Union
3/10/1876, 8/15/1872, 5/16/1874, 7/14/1876
Marysville Daily Appeal

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.