Obituary: Mrs Electra Semmes Colston

As printed in Confederate Veteran, Vol. XXXIII, No. 8, August 1925.

Mrs Electra Semmes Colston
by Armante Finlay

On the morning of June 3, 1925, a long life of patriotic devotion and unselfish sacrifice came to an end with the death of Mrs. Electra Semmes Colston, eldest daughter of Raphael and Ann Spencer Semmes. She died at her home in Battle`s Wharf, Ala. just across the bay from Mobile, the city where the greater part of her life of nearly eighty-three years had been spent.

Mrs. Colston came of distinguished ancestry dating back to Colonial and Revolutionary days. Her father was an officer in the United States navy and had served with distinction in the war with Mexico. When the War between the States came on, he cast in his lot with his beloved South and. first as the commander of the gallant Confederate vessel , the Alabama, and later as rear aadmiral of the gunboat fleet at Richmond, Raphael Semmes wrote his name high in the imperishable scroll of fame.

But long before the Southern Cross had flashed its brilliant course across the Southern skies, Captain Semmes had proved himself not only a gallant officer, but a scholar of distinction, and he took into his own hand the education of his children during the long periods when his duty afforded the opportunity to be at home with his family. The brilliant mind of his eldest daughter was a fertile field for the seeds of knowledge sown under his expert guidance, as was evident in later years when fate made it necessary for her, a young widow with two baby boys, to become a breadwinner. Her record as a teacher in the Barton Academy, the girls` high school of Mobile has never been surpassed. For forty years she instilled into successive generations of young girls those lofty aspirations, that thirst for knowledge, that fine patriotism that so filled her own heart, mind, and soul. For well over a quarter of a century she was principal of the school, and her teachers, as well as pupils, found her a loyal and devoted friend as well as peerless leader.

Electra Semmes was born at Pensacola, Fla., January 29, 1843, her father being then stationed at the Pensacola Navy Yard. She was the third in a family of six children. two older brothers, Spencer and Oliver J. Semmes, were officers in the Confederate army, the former a captain of cavalry, the latter a major of artillery. The younger brother, Raphael Semmes, was too young for service at the beginning of the war, but towards its close he ran away from home and served as powder monkey on a Confederate vessel. The three brothers are dead, and only two sisters survive her - Mrs. C. B. Bryan, who was Miss Anna Semmes, and Mrs. Luke E. Wright (Miss Katherine Semmes), both of Memphis, Tenn.

A year before the close of the war, Miss Electra Semmes was married to Capt. Pendleton Colston of Louisville, Ky., a Confederate officer, and a little over three years later she was a young widow with two little boys, one of them a baby of six months. Through her devotion and unselfish bearing of life`s burdens, her children found in her both father and mother. She made her home with her parents in Mobile, and after the death of Admiral Semmes, some ten years after losing her husband, she and her mother continued in the old home, which was the rallying point for all patriotic movements.

Despite the strenuous work as a teacher and duties incident to rearing her boys, Mrs Colston found time to keep up the literary work she so loved, and she was a valuable member of a number of literary clubs. Her reading was extensive, her knowledge of current affairs was great, and her interest in all that had to do with her city, State or country was unflagging. In the patriotic societies she was counted among the leaders, and she held the love and loyalty of all with whom she was associated. She was a member of the Colonial Dames, and of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but memories of the days when her beloved father trod the deck of his gallant little ship, when her brothers and husband were fighting with the army of the gray, burned with a fire as steady as her love for the South, so it was to the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association and to the Daughters of the Confederacy that she gave unstintedly of her time and her genius for organization and successful endeavour. For many years she was president of the Memorial Association, sharing in the work of caring for, and decorating the graves of the Confederate dead in Magnolia Cemetary; and she organized the first Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Mobile, and, in tribute to her, it was called the Electra Semmes Colston Chapter, and she was made its Life President.

The same type of loyal devotion that she gave to her family and her country she manifested towards her Church. A consistent and earnest member of the Roman Catholic Church, she founf time in the midst of a full and busy life to help the poor and the unfortunate, and was an active member of the board in charge of the girls` orphanage.

Death came to her after a long period of ill health, which had forced her to give up her active life. Both of her sons had died, and after the death fo her brother, Judge Oliver J. Semmes, she and a beloved daughter, the widow of her younger con, made their home in Battle`s Wharf. With a devotion as touching as that of Ruth to Naomi,Mrs. Colston ministered to her mother-in-law in her declining years.

All Mobile paid tribute to her memory.The funeral services were held in the Catholic Cathedral, with Bishop Allen officiating; uniformed members of the Raphael Semmes Camp of Confederate Veterans attended, in a body, as did members of the patriotic societies to which she belonged. The church was filled with sorrowing friends from every walk of life, among them two or three generations of the girls who had loved her as their wise and kindly teacher.

In a grave in the Catholic Cemetary in Mobile sleeps all that is mortal of a woman whose life typified all that is best and noblest in the women of the Old South, land of heroic women, as well as heroic men; but in whose far realms, where the saints rest from their labours, a soul that was faithful unto death has reaped its reward of eternal life. A true Daughter of the Confederacy has passed on to eternal and higher service, leavibng behind her sweet memories, fragrant as the magnolias and jasmine on the land that gave her birth, the land she served and loved throughout her long and beautiful life.

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