Rising temperatures in the US presidential race seem a good excuse to complete the story of the Claflin sisters.
The slightly wilder Lady Tennesee Celeste Cook, known as Tennie C, was also regarded as the better-looking. It was her picture which featured on the elixir bottles sold at fairs in the midwest where she worked as a clairvoyant and sold Miss Tennessee’s Magnetic Elixir for Beautifying the Complexion.
She is said to have married a John James Bortle in 1861 in Sycamore, Illinois and divorced him weeks later. Around that time she was said to have run a brothel, albeit without any evidence (except that at the time mediums, like actresses, were thought to only be a single step above prostitutes).
A campaigner for women’s rights, like her sister, Tennie C ran for Congress in New York. She held the controversial belief that women could serve in the military and was elected colonel of a ‘coloured’ National Guard Regiment.
After she and her sister decamped to England following a little trouble over the will of Cornelius Vanderbilt – the pair were thought to have been bought off by the family for $100,000 – she married Sir Francis Cook, later 1st Viscount of Monserrate, in 1885. Through her ability to communicate with the afterlife she was able to tell him that his first wife approved of the union.
This did not please one Mrs Holland, who had met Sir Francis on Richmond station in 1870 and in 1894 sued him for breach of an agreement to maintain her for life in return for not suing for a breach of promise.
It shows the care needed in drafting these agreements, because on the second morning of the case Mrs Holland’s barrister threw in his hand, accepting that letters written by the naughty baronet could not amount to a promise to pay.
Tennie C died in 1923, aged around 78. She and Cook are buried in West Norwood Cemetery, south London.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor