The Road to Frogmore
has several other couples whose lives and relationships are interesting and sometimes puzzling. Our third example concerns General Rufus Saxton and Tilly Thompson, “the most
beautiful girl on the island.”
General Saxton had an illustrious military career. He was a West Point graduate and was awarded
the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Harper’s Ferry. But for much of the Civil War he was assigned
to Hilton Head, SC, in charge of overseeing the Union’s efforts to deal with
the newly-liberated slaves in the area.
That position put him in sometimes daily contact with Miss Laura Towne,
and for some period of time he seemed to be courting her. She was his guest at the festivities marking
the Emancipation Proclamation, his dance partner, and his favorite
conversationalist. She, of course, had
no interest in marriage, or even in his courtship efforts.
Suddenly in May 1863, Saxton married a girl who was 20 years
his junior and to all appearances an empty-headed flirt recognized as the “most
beautiful girl on St. Helena Island.” Tillie Thompson had come to South
Carolina to accompany her newspaperman brother, who was editor of the Union
newspaper in Beaufort. Now and then she
toyed with the idea of teaching in Miss Towne’s school, but no one took her
seriously until she suddenly became Mrs. Rufus Saxton.
Despite their differences, all evidence suggests that they
lived “happily ever after.”