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Wrongly accused, Sophia L. McLachlan dies of a broken heart at age 14

Located in one of Lunenburg's oldest cemeteries, Hillcrest Cemetery, is the grave of Sophia L. McLachlan. Her gravemarker reads,"Erected by sympathising friends in memory of Sophia L, daughter of Joseph & Lavinia McLachlan who died suddenly September 19, 1879 aged 14 years 6 months. Falsely accused she died of a broken heart. Before her death she referred her accuser to the following texts of scripture Exodus XX.16 Matthew V, VI and VII."

In 1879, 14-year-old Sophia was working as an apprentice dress maker with Mrs. Trask. Mrs. Trask accused Sophia of stealing $10 from her. Sophia was devastated to be accused of such a crime. Her grief worsened when her mother took the word of Mrs. Trask over her own. Sophia became so ill and depressed she was often found lying on her sister's grave. As her condition worsened she became confined to her room at home. A friend insisted a doctor tend to Sophia but he was unable to bring her back to good health. Sophia died suddenly on 19 September 1879 at the age of 14 years and 6 months. A Coroners jury determined that the cause of her death was by "paralysis of the heart brought on by extreme agitation and peculiar circumstances."

Just before she died Sophia had penned a letter to Mrs. Trask stating such things as: "I am near gone - my hand trembles so that I can scarcely write. There will be many a long hour that you may think of this if you have any heart at all. I did not take your money it is a fearful thing to lie. Tell (her accuser) to read for my sake XX Chapter of Exodus 16 Verse, also Matthew Chapters V, VI and VII. I am not afraid to fear death. I know a secret but I ain't going to say anything about it. I can't write anymore." From your friend Sophia L. McLaughlin

Not long after Sophia's death, Mrs. Trask's own son confessed to stealing the $10.

Photo from Find a Grave taken by Loretta Castaldi

Photo from Find a Grave taken by Loretta Castaldi

In the late 1970s, Robert Campbell, a member of the Lunenburg Heritage Society and a skilled amateur photographer, undertook to photograph every surviving pre-1867 gravestone in Hillcrest Cemetery, and all the markers in the smaller Old French Cemetery. He was assisted in his work by fellow heritage society member Ivan Carey. We present here the results of the project.

Hillcrest Cemetery begins at the intersection of Kaulbach and Townsend Streets, extending up the hill and around the Lunenburg Academy property. Owned by the Town of Lunenburg, it is still operational.

SURNAME SHOWS VARIOUS SPELLINGS: During my research I found that there were many different spellings of the family's last name on various documents and resources. Her headstone MCLACHLAN but the inscriptions explaining her story have her signing her name as MCLAUGHLIN. The 1871 Census of Canada spells the family name MCLACHLIN, the 1881 Census of Canada spells it MCLAUGHLIN and the 1891 Census of Canada spells it MCLACHLAN. Her younger sister, Elizabeth's birth certificate spells it MCLAUGHLAN. On her parents' marriage certificate the family surname is spelled MCLAUCHLAN.

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