Jacob H. Bates, Sr., was a painter from Cambridge, Mass., and a member of a tragic family. Beginning with the death of his daughter, Mary (Mrs. Horatio C.) Meriam in 1834, the Bates' sustained a long series of tragic deaths and misfortunes. After surviving a deep period of grief over the loss of his wife, for example, Horatio Meriam was plagued by financial problems for at least the next fifteen years, withstanding the assaults of rapacious creditors and the continual embarrassment of an inability to pay.
This alone would have chagrined most families, but things descended to further depths when Jacobs' other daughter, Elizabeth Palmer, contracted an ailment in 1840. In the hopes that a change in climate might improve her health, Elizabeth and her mother decided to venture to Florida, but unfortunately, they chose to depart in December and thus ran afoul of the full range of winter obstacles, from heavy snow to mud to rough seas. The arduous journey proved to be more than a match for the frail Elizabeth, who died shortly after reaching St. Augustine in January or February, 1841. Her children, George and Maria, seem to have inherited a tendency toward infirmity: George seems to have suffered from some respiratory complaint, and at one point Maria had a serious leg injury.