Captain and Eliza O. Perkins had three children, Mary Hancock, Edward, and Lutie. Before the Mexican War, the Perkins family had been stationed at Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island in Charleston's harbor, and Eliza forged many lasting friendships with the other officer's wives she met there. Capt. Perkins died sometime shortly before December 1851, and his widow moved to St. Louis, which might have been where they lived prior to their stint on Sullivan's Island. Eliza was Catholic, and St. Louis had a thriving, established Catholic community. She sent Mary to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, where the young girl refined her many accomplishments, including French and music. In addition to the piano and guitar, Mary also played the harp. Edward was attending St. Louis University in 1860, and that same year, Eliza's niece, Rosa Murdock, came to live with her. Eliza also corresponded with two nephews, Jonathan and David Hancock, as well as her relations the Worthingtons, who lived in Rushville.
Col. Martin Burke had been at Fort Moultrie when the Perkins were there, and after the death of Capt. Perkins, Burke remained friendly with his family. Eliza married Burke in the first few months of 1861. Burke, a career military man born in Maryland, had been transferred to the 3rd artillery in 1823, and served with that unit during the war with Mexico and the Civil War. He was named Brevet Brigadier General 13 March 1865 for faithful service to his country. Shortly after the marriage, the family was posted up at Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn, where Mary might have met her future husband.
Mary followed in her mother's footsteps and married a military man -- John Dawes O'Connell, a second lieutenant in the 2nd U. S. Infantry who served as a Captain of the 14th Infantry during the Civil War, and was made Brevet Colonel 13 March 1865 for gallant and meritorious service during the war. After the war, O'Connell, now a Major in the 17th Infantry, served in the garrison at San Francisco Harbor and then on frontier duty at Ft. Yuma. While there, John and Mary's son Eddie died, and he was buried in Los Angeles. They returned to the east, settling in New York in early 1867 with their son Johnny. Although the letters cease, it is known that O'Connell died that September.