A December in Duxbury, 1841

Letter by William P. Webster  Jan. 1, 1842 Gift of John and Polly Nash

Letter by William P. Webster
Jan. 1, 1842
Gift of John and Polly Nash

I have many “favorite” letters at the Drew Archival Library, but one, written on New Year’s Day, 1842, by a young teacher named William Pingrey Webster, is the holiday-themed correspondence I like best.  It is interesting for many reasons – it is witty, tells of seasonal happenings and mentions some Duxbury folk by name, but perhaps the reason I place it so high on my list of wonderful letters is because William wrote it on an extremely large piece of 28” x 40” paper, filling every bit of it. In a time when postage was paid by the recipient, we can only imagine the joke that was played on William’s unsuspecting brother, Walter R. Webster, when the large missive was delivered to his Plymouth, NH home.   William’s sense of humor is sprinkled throughout the letter, some allusions we understand and some short-hand comments are clearly inside jokes between the brothers that we cannot possible decipher.

William P. Webster was born in 1817 in Bridgewater, NH to Walter Raleigh Webster and Betsy Pingrey. When he was twenty-two years old he did what so many educated young men did during that time, he set out to become a teacher. Being an educator in the 1830’s and 40’s in America was often a temporary, itinerant job for men. It was something they did prior to establishing themselves in a more lucrative and, as teaching younger children increasingly became the domain of women, more masculine career.  Men in their late teens and early twenties would often arrive in a town and advertise for pupils or go door to door looking for families that had children in need of tutoring. In the case

Certificate issued by Town of Duxbury, 1839 stating William P. Webster is qualified to teach.

Certificate issued by Town of Duxbury, 1839 stating William P. Webster is qualified to teach.

of William P. Webster, he was hired by the town of Duxbury to teach in one of its public school districts in 1839. Interestingly, at the time of this letter, he had just started a new position at a school that had “been used to a Democratic form of government heretofore .” My guess is that he took over the Point School, the home of the first Student Government, after its former teacher, Edmund Gifford, had moved on [see Journal of the Point School].  The boys in his class were rambunctious and rang the bell hard enough crack it, but teaching did have its advantages, for William was able to “get acquainted with all the ‘pretty’ girls.”

Pilgrim Hall, c. 1870

Pilgrim Hall, c. 1870

In his spare time William was quite busy. From the vivid descriptions of his activities during the month of December we really get a glimpse of a typical South Shore holiday season during the antebellum period.  On December 22nd, he and his friend, Inman (also a teacher in Duxbury), took a two hour sleigh ride with friends to Plymouth to enjoy the festivities surrounding  Forefather’s Day, the anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims.[1]  All the men met at Pilgrim Hall, “a very large room full of Indian antiquities and all the old ‘trumpery’ that the Pilgrims brought with them” and proceeded, escorted by the Standish Guards, to the Unitarian Church. There they heard a rousing speech on the “foremothers” by Joseph R. Chandler, Esq. of Philadelphia. Dining at Pilgrim Hall following the ceremony cost $2, a price too rich for William. He and Inman went to the Pilgrim House[2] instead where they ate turkey. A ball that evening was also far too costly for the young teacher – at $3 a ticket he had to turn down a young Plymouth lady who invited him, noting to his brother, “tis a trouble to be poor.” A dancing party the same evening in his own neighborhood probably took some of the sting out of his straitened circumstances.

The following Saturday evening, William attended the Christmas celebration at the Universalist church on Washington Street in Duxbury which was “’jock full’ and very neatly trimmed with evergreen.”[3] Religion was a bit more fluid during this period and members of various Protestant denominations would frequent each other’s meetings. A particularly good visiting minister at any church was always an event not to be missed no matter what your affiliation. William went half the time to the Unitarian Church and the other half to the Universalists – where he could also see Methodists.

Washington Street, Duxbury with Seth Sprague, Jr. House, c. 1870.

Washington Street, Duxbury with Seth Sprague, Jr. House, c. 1870.

Temperance meetings took up much of William’s time during December. The Temperance movement was quite popular in Duxbury with between 400-500 members of the local chapter. Included in this number were at least half a dozen sea captains who gave up drink. According to William, these “old topers will come out and sign the pledge and tell their experience, then we cheer them – I never enjoyed myself better in any meetings.”  Seth Sprague, Jr., one of the most substantial men in town and a Massachusetts State Senator, never missed a meeting. It must have been somewhat embarrassing for William to have purveyors of spirits in his immediate family – both his brother and father operated the Webster Tavern in Bridgewater, NH. They would have had a hard time with the business in Duxbury, as William advised them, “alcohol does not show his head here, if he does they pounce upon him.”

William was also a member the Duxbury Lyceum, also known as the Debating Society of Duxbury. The Lyceum was formed in 1832 by a group of mostly young men and women who gathered together to argue popular topics of the day. During December 1841, the little group considered the questions, “Ought parents to choose the partners for their children” (William spoke in the affirmative); “Is there anything improper on a ladies making a proposition to a gentleman for marriage,” (William supported the negative); and, “Are early marriages advisable” (William would have spoken for the affirmative if it had not been too cold to attend). Much of his arguments were definitely made with a bit of tongue in cheek.  In addition to his debating, he attended a singing school held two evenings a week.

William was looking forward to 1842. He already had an invitations to dine with  Capt. George P. Richardson, a wealthy retired sea captain, and also to share a clam dinner with his old roommate. His days of being a “pedagogue” were numbered as he was planning to “set a pole and let it fall and then follow it.” He ends his letter with “wishing you all a new happy new year – please remember me to all that take the pains to enquire.”

Now, it is incumbent upon me to tell you what became of our humorous friend. I debated whether to write this article without mentioning William’s future and let you all believe that his pole pointed toward a long life filled with many more holidays. But, I knew there would be at least a few among you who would be unsatisfied with that, so I will tell you what became of him. William’s death came just two years after this letter was written, when he was a mere 27 years old. He died of consumption (tuberculosis), a disease that was far too common in the  19th and early 20th centuries and took many lives. He is buried in the Webster Cross cemetery in Bridgewater, NH.  But, I prefer not to dwell on that and would rather image our young jokester as he was on New Year’s day in 1842, bent over a overly large piece of paper, chuckling to himself as he recounted his December in Duxbury.

 

[1] Forefather’s Day is still celebrated in Plymouth by the Pilgrim Society/Pilgrim Hall Museum and the Old Colony Club. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forefathers’_Day and http://historicaldigression.com/2014/12/22/forefathers-day-salute-plymouth/

[2] Pilgrim House was a hotel on the corner of Main and Middle Streets in downtown Plymouth established by Danville Bryant in 1834. It burned on June 20, 1846. At the time of William Webster’s turkey dinner, the hotel was owned by Francis J. Goddard. In 1856 Union Hall was built on the site.

[3] See A Christmas Romance in Duxbury for more history on the local Unitarian Church.

A Christmas Romance In Duxbury

Rebecca Frazar, Jr. House (1829). 56 St. George Street, Duxbury

Rebecca Frazar, Jr. House (1829).
56 St. George Street, Duxbury

While everyone is familiar with the fabled courtship of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, there is an equally enchanting (and truer) love story that took place in Duxbury. This is really a tale in two parts, so while I promise you there will be a romance before the end of this blog, I am obligated to set the stage with a bit of history.

In 1823 Rebecca Frazar, a descendent of the above mentioned John and Priscilla, inherited $9,000 from her friend and employer, George Partridge. Rebecca had acted as housekeeper, hostess and occasional business agent for Partridge and, as such, shared his home for thirty years.[1] George Partridge was one of the leading figures in Duxbury and had a strong belief in education. In addition to his bequest to Rebecca, he left $10,000 to the town for the establishment of a school (Partridge Academy was built with these funds in 1844). Perhaps it is not surprising that Rebecca, having been George’s companion for so long, also had a keen interest in education. In 1829, at the age of sixty, she used her inheritance to build a house in which she opened a private school. This house, located at 56 St. George Street, is one of the only “date boarded” houses in Duxbury attributed solely to a woman. Rebecca Frazar died in 1840 and the house was given to her niece, Abigail Weston, who allowed the school to continue until Partridge Academy was built. In 1842, Mary Rice, a young woman from Boston who had recently returned from her time as a tutor in the South, was hired to take over as teacher.

During this same period, a new church was organized in Duxbury – in 1825 a Universalist congregation was formed by 67 members of the community. They built their church on Washington Street, approximately where the parking lot to the 1803 Winsor House Inn is today. Despite having some prominent parishioners on its roles, the Universalist church was not prosperous and had an onerous time paying its ministers. In 1843 it hired a young reverend by the name of Daniel P. Livermore “providing that we can raise money enough to pay him for his services.”[3] Eventually they voted to offer him $7 for each Sunday he preached, rather than giving him a yearly salary.

And now we come to the romance portion.livermore003

On a cold Christmas Eve in 1844  Mary Rice, the young teacher from Rebecca Frazar’s school, was making her way home. She had been a bit downcast all during the day, wondering “what was the meaning of life?”[4] She had hoped that a long walk would clear her mind but she still felt troubled. Although she had passed by the Unitarian and Methodist meeting houses, both open for the holiday, she did not stop to enter. Instead she continued on her way, ultimately coming to the Universalist Society’s door on Washington Street. Mary was not familiar with the Universalists, other than to believe their liberality bordered on the unseemly – a reputation that was wholly undeserved, but quite common. She could hear singing coming from within, however, and it sounded welcoming to her tired soul.  So it was with both trepidation and curiosity that, when the sexton held the door for her, she went inside.

livermore004Holding forth from the pulpit was the twenty-five year old minister, Daniel P. Livermore – I can’t say whether he was handsome, but Mary described him as “blond in complexion, with a good voice and a simple, earnest, pre-possessing manner.”[5] After the sermon she met the Rev. Livermore at the door as parishioners filed out into the moonlit night. She found that he “knew me by sight and by name, although we had not met before.” She asked to borrow his sermon, which he kindly lent her. He then offered her the use of his library at his home on Powder Point (only two doors down from her own home) in order to learn more about the Universalist faith.  Though the two met frequently in the following months, Mary did not seem to think Daniel was falling in love with her. She, of course, was wrong. Within the year the couple were engaged and then married on May, 7, 1845. The timing was perfect; Partridge Academy, the dream of George Partridge, had finally opened, allowing the new Mrs. Livermore to transfer her students to good hands. Her family was not very enthusiastic with her choice of a husband at first, but they eventually came around.

Mary Livermore’s Story of My Life; or The Sunshine and Shadow of Seventy Years, which describes her meeting and courtship with Daniel, was published in 1897. If you have never read it, I encourage you to do so – or at least the chapters about Duxbury (22 and 23). It has great descriptions of the town during the 1840’s and the people who lived here.  In case you were wondering, the Livermores went on to have an eventful life together. From Duxbury, they moved to Fall River, MA and from there to Chicago. Both were active in the abolition and temperance movements. During the Civil War Mary worked tirelessly for the Chicago branch of the United States Sanitary Commission. In addition to The Story of My Life, Mary Livermore also penned My Story of the War. Daniel and Mary were married for more than fifty years and had three children.

And a final two notes: Partridge Academy remained the High School for the town of Duxbury until 1926. It burned in 1933 and the new Town Hall was built on the site. Partridge’s legacy lives on, however, in the scholarships given out annually by the Partridge Fund.

The Universalist Congregation on Washington Street dissolved sometime after 1846.  The land and building were sold in 1866 – the church was moved, possibly to Norwell.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 

 

[1] Dorothy Wentworth, “History of the Partridge Farm and House,” 1978. Drew Archival Library.

[3] Copy of the Records of the First Universalist Society of Duxbury, 1825-1846., the original of this book is at the Archives of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library at Harvard Divinity School.

[4] Mary Livermore, Story of My Life, (Hartford: A.D. Worthington & Co.,1897) 386.

[5] Ibid. 388.

Annie Laurie Williams – Red Cross Nurse

Annie Laurie Williams, 1914

Annie Laurie Williams, 1914

On this Veterans Day it was difficult to choose a subject from the many stories of service to our country by Duxbury’s men and women. Much has been written about our brave soldiers, so I thought I would shed light on a woman, Annie Laurie Williams. Williams was a dedicated Red Cross nurse who served in the Eastern European theater at the end of the first World War.

Medal awarded to Annie Laurie Williams by King Peter of Serbia.

Medal awarded to Annie Laurie Williams by King Peter of Serbia. Collection of Duxbury Rural & Historical Society

She was born in Rhinebeck, NY in 1879 but spent thirty-nine years in Duxbury so I think we can claim her as one of our own. When WWI broke out, Williams was already an established aid worker. She had served as matron on Ellis Island and as a nurse in its hospital. [1] Nothing she had witnessed helping the immigrant poor in New York, however, would have prepared her for the hardships she faced in war torn Europe. In 1919 she was literally sent to Siberia to assist with refugee children displaced by the Russian Revolution. While there she lived in a box car apartment and experienced temperatures 73 degrees below zero.  In Omsk, a town in southwestern Siberia, she had a run in with a Russian soldier whom she punched in the jaw twice when he attempted to enter a railroad car of female refugees. [2]  Williams came home to the US in 1920, but returned to Europe the following year to assist with orphan relief in war ravaged Serbia, establishing clinics and nursing  children.  For these efforts she was awarded a medal of the Order of St. Sava by the Serbian king, Peter.  During her Red Cross tenure she also received a medal of merit by the Serbian Red Cross and a silver belt buckle from Russian Cossaks.

Award given to Annie Laurie Williams from Serbian Red Cross, 1920

Award from Serbian Red Cross, 1920. Annie Laurie William Collection, Drew Archival Library

In 1922 she settled down to a quiet life Duxbury – census records show her renting for a time on both Washington and Harrison Streets. She worked as the school nurse for many years and also taught basic first-aid. Each year she rode in in the 4th of July parade and was an honored participant in Duxbury’s Tercentenary celebration in 1937. The Drew Archives has a wonderful album she created of photographs and memorabilia from this year-long event.   Annie Laurie Williams died in 1961, at the age of 82, in the Jones River Nursing Home in Kingston. She is buried in the Mayflower Cemetery.

The Duxbury Rural & Historical Society gives thanks to all the men and women who have served our country.

 

 

 

[1] Annie L. Williams Obituary from Duxbury Clipper, Feb. 2, 1961

[2] http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/04/21/red-cross-nurse-throws-down-with-russian-bully/ accessed Nov. 11, 2014.

More on the Bradford Cookbook

Lucia Alden Bradford (1807-1893).

Lucia Alden Bradford (1807-1893).

I have mentioned the19th century cookbook (c. 1860-1890) created by Lucia Alden Bradford and her sisters [1] in this blog before, but I couldn’t resist bringing it out once again. It is such a wonderful piece of history – a compilation of popular recipes copied from a variety of sources, including neighbors and the Ladies Almanac. The book is meticulously laid out, with chapters for Cakes and Puddings, Meats, Vegetables and “other useful Receipts of various kinds.” There is even an index.  I can only imagine the creation of this little book was a labor of love – gathering and organizing the many snippets of paper and magazine clippings that had accumulated over a lifetime.  When a recipe originated with a friend, her name is properly given.  The writing is mostly in Lucia’s neat and recognizable penmanship. Some recipes were obviously added later and these are written in the loose scrawl of a hand that had seen almost ninety years of use.

I could not tell you my favorite recipe. I am not a great cook and many of the ingredients are foreign to my modern eyes (and taste buds). In many instances there are no cooking directions as we’d expect to find today – no oven settings or baking times. Of course, 19th century hearths and later wood stoves didn’t come with temperature gauges or timers so cooks had to know their own equipment. Other recipes are incredibly explicit, e.g. I feel confident I could cure a ham if I had a freshly slaughtered pig, a smokehouse and about two months.

There is one recipe that stood out from all the others on this rainy day – Coffee. Americans today require their coffee to come at them quickly, waiting for a cup of Joe is a thing of the past. Who under the age of forty even remembers coffee percolating on the stove or could now suffer the more than ten minutes it took for it to boil and brew?  Imagine then, if creating Lucia Bradford’s perfect cup was part of your morning routine:

Coffee recipe from Bradford Cookbook

Coffee recipe from Bradford Cookbook

“For Making Coffee”

Beat an egg – 2 for a large pot & mix it well with the coffee till you have formed a ball – fill the pot with cold water allowing room enough for the ingredients – let it simmer very gently for an hour – do not stir it on any account – just before it is required put the pot on the fire & warm it well, but take care that it does not boil – pour it off gently & you will have a pure & strong extract of the coffee – use white sugar & cream if attainable, if not, boiled milk.

Enjoy!

[1] Lucia Alden Bradford (1807-1893) was the daughter of Capt. Gershom Bradford and Sarah Hickling Bradford. She, along with her three sisters – Maria (1803-1864), Elizabeth (1809-1890) and Charlotte (1813-1893) – was raised and learned to cook in the Bradford House on Tremont Street in Duxbury. Today the house is a museum owned by the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society.

Amasa Delano’s Ghost

ship in a stormHalloween is a perfect time for a supernatural story. This ghostly maritime tale comes directly from the pages of Capt. Amasa Delano’s memoir, A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Delano was born and raised in Duxbury, the son of shipbuilder Samuel Delano, Sr. and Abigail Drew. Although he was a Renaissance man in his day – a shipwright, merchant sailor, explorer and writer, Amasa Delano is perhaps best known to us as the model for a character in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno.

In 1787 Capt. Delano and his crew were aboard the Boston-built ship, Jane, on a voyage to Cork, Ireland and St. Ubes, Portugal. The ship had reputation for being haunted and the sailors were on edge. Delano’s efforts to reason with the men and lessen their fears had been unsuccessful. So, Delano took a novel approach to curing their superstitions:

Accounts of ship Jane in the port of St. Ubes, Portugal. Nov, 1788. From Capt. Amasa and Samuel Delano Collection.

Accounts of ship Jane in the port of St. Ubes, Portugal. Nov, 1788. Capt. Amasa and Samuel Delano Collection.

“One pleasant evening, as we were running with the trade winds in latitude 25 degrees north, I heard the second mate and some of the people talking about ghosts. Although doubts were expressed of the existence of such personages, yet many were full in the faith that they were common in all ages. It occurred to me that it was a favorable time to show them a ghost, and make one more attempt to cure them of their folly. They were sitting far aft upon the quarter deck. I stepped down the companion way, went to the state room of the chief mate, and asked him to lend me a hand in showing the people a ghost. He readily consented, and we took two mops, lashed the handles together, made them long enough to reach from a cabin window to the top of the tafferel rail, put a bar across at a suitable distance from the mop-head for arms, dressed it with jackets to give it proportion and shape, put a white shirt over the whole, tied a string round the neck leaving the top of the shirt like a hood on the head, the face looking through the opening in the bosom of the shirt, and gave the whole the appearance of a woman, because this was the kind of ghost most generally expected. A string under the arms easily aided the delusion that it was the slender waist of a female. A cabin window was opened, while I took my station in the gang-way to see the people without being seen. The chief mate raised up the ghost so that it might be seen above the ship’s stern. It immediately caught the attention of the men on the quarter deck, and never did I see human beings more frightened than they were. They were struck dumb, fixed immovable with terror, and seemed like so many breathless but gazing petrifactions. The ghost gently rose and again sunk out of sight, till the chief mate was weary with the labour, and withdrew it at a given signal. I remained to hear what would be said. The men remained motionless and speechless for some time. After they recovered themselves a little, one of the boldest broke silence and began to put round the inquiry what it could be. They concluded it was a ghost, and determined to speak to it fi it should appear again. Upon this I went to the chief mate, and he agreed to hold it up once more. I resumed my station, the ghost appeared and one of them made an attempt to speak, but his courage and his voice failed him. Another attempted, and failed. A third, but without success. The sounds were inarticulate and feeble. The question was to be ‘In the name of the hold God, who are you, and what do you want?’ The image was taken down; we undressed it, and restored the mops to their proper shape. I went to bed without permitting the secret to be known. At 12 o’clock at night, the chief mate came to me, and said that the second officer and people were extremely frightened, and wanted to see me on deck. I got up, and went above, where all the crew were collected and filled with anxiety and alarm. I asked them what was the matter. They huddled round me lake a brood of chickens, and said they had seen a ghost. I inquired why they were frightened at that, since their stories taught them at that ghosts were so common, and so many had been seen already, They answered that they had never been sure of having seen any one before, but now they were sure and the evidence was irresistible…Their sufferings were extreme, and I found it difficult to tell them the trick I had played. As they had never been deceived by me in any way before, and as I feared that some embarrassment might be brought on me in return, I determined not to disclose the truth till the end of the voyage…this affair caused me a great deal of anxiety afterward, and did not accomplish the good that I designed by it.” [1]

The Jane did not make it home to Boston. It was shipwrecked off the coast of Cape Cod on December 28, 1788. All hands were saved, but the cargo was completely lost. Delano was left penniless. Perhaps the real ghosts of that haunted ship were teaching Delano a lesson…

[1] Amasa Delano, A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres: Three Voyages Round the World; Together with a Voyage of Survey and Discovery, in the Pacific Ocean and Oriental Islands. 2nd ed. (Boston, 1818), 30-32.

Rare Photos of Boston’s Metropolitan Works, 1893

As our very large Bradford Family Collection continues to be processed, unexpected items come to light.  Today, as I was organizing the many photographs in the collection, I came across an envelope addressed to Laurence Bradford (1842-1909) containing twenty-five images depicting the building of a portion of the early sewage system on Deer Island. Many of the photographs are of the dredging of Shirley Gut.  As a civil engineer, Laurence Bradford worked on the project. He was part of the initial planning phase as early as 1888 and conducted hydrographic surveys around Deer Island.  He was also in charge of building the bulkhead and “of dredging and preparing the channel across the Gut for reception of the sewer pipe.”[1]

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Deer Island, so called because of the deers that swam to safety on its shores when pursued by wolves, is actually no longer an island. It is a peninsula stretching into Boston Harbor from Winthrop. The Shirley Gut that had separated the island from the mainland was filled in by beach erosion during the devastating hurricane of 1938. Today it is home to the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant. In 1893, however, when these photographs were taken, it was still best known for the large gothic-looking Alms House that loomed over the shoreline. The “deserving poor” of Boston began being ferried out to the island in 1853.  In 1896 the Alms House became Deer Island House of Correction (the prison was closed in 1991).

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

In April, 1893 the Board of Metropolitan Sewerage Commissioners received approval for plans to construct a sewer and siphon across the Shirley Gut between Point Shirley and Deer Island.  The photographs of this work are wonderful. It was obviously no small task to dredge and create this system. The image of the diver, H.W. Phillips, suited up in his primitive (and heavy) equipment, about to don his helmet, with the Alms House in the background, is particularly interesting. Of equal note are the workers and children sitting in the large center section of the siphon.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Laurence Bradford, the son of Rev. Claudius Bradford and Maria Weston Bradford, was one of the owners of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Bradford House, located at 931 Tremont Street, Duxbury.  He inherited the house after his aunts, Lucia and Charlotte Bradford, passed away in 1893 – coincidentally, the same year these photographs were taken.  Laurence and his wife, Hattie Phipps Bradford, used the family homestead only during the summer months. Their sons, Gershom and Edward Bradford, donated the home, its contents and its vast archival collection to the DRHS in 1968.

[1] Letter from H. A. Carson, Chief Engineer of Metropolitan Sewerage Commission to “Whom it May Concern,” Feb. 28, 1894. Bradford Family Collection, Drew Archival Library.

The Photographic Record of the Delano Triplets

Delano Triplets, 1868 Photographer: Baxter & Adams, Chelsea, MA

Delano Triplets, 1868
Photographer: Baxter & Adams, Chelsea, MA

The survival rate of triplets in the mid-19th century was not high – neither for mother nor children. A home-birth with the assistance of the local doctor was dicey at best. Medicine of the day was also woefully inadequate to assist these undersized or premature babies once they were born.  So, it is surprising that Catherine Drew Delano (1833-1919) was able to produce three healthy babies on a cold winter’s day in January, 1868.  The children – two girls and a boy – were Caroline S. Delano (1868-1955), Grace T. Delano (1868-1935) and Benjamin Franklin Delano (1868-1920).  What makes their coming into the world even more special, are the four photographs that follow them from infancy to their teenage years. A remarkable record of their early life.

The triplets were born in Chelsea, MA but they are from Duxbury stock and spent much of their lives here.  Their father, Winslow T. Delano, was the son of Capt. Samuel Delano and the nephew of Capt. Amasa Delano. After a short stint following the California Gold Rush, Winslow returned east and entered is brother’s shipbuilding firm on Lincoln’s Wharf in Boston – B. F. Delano & Co. In 1855 he married Catherine D. Winslow of Duxbury.  Two sets of twins came in quick succession – Fanny and Emily in 1857 and George and Arthur in 1859. In each of these cases, a twin sadly died within three months. When the triplets arrived, therefore, they were greeted not only by their grateful parents, but also only two older siblings.  But, in a cruel twist of fate, while the triplets thrived, it was their father who did not live past three months of their birth. On April 23, 1868 Winslow died of “softening of the brain.”  This diagnosis could indicate a variety of causes, but it was most likely a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only 47 years old.  Catherine was now the widowed mother of five young children.

Delano Triplets, c. 1870 Photographer: M. Chandler [Marshfield, MA]

Delano Triplets, c. 1870
Photographer: M. Chandler [Marshfield, MA]

The 1870 census shows the family having left Chelsea and living on St. George Street in Duxbury next to the home of Catherine’s parents – George Winslow and Hannah Drew Winslow. This move ensured that Catherine had the help of not only her mother and younger sister, Georgianna Winslow, but also of a number of aunts, cousins and friends.  By 1880, however, the family had moved back to Boston and was living at 81 St. Botoloph Street. They divided their time between the city and the seaside, maintaining ownership of their St. George Street property throughout their lives.  The Delanos were active in Duxbury’s civic and social affairs of the day – Caroline S. Delano, also called “Carrie,” was one of the founding members of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society.  Grace and Carrie never married and it does not appear that their brother did either – all are buried in their family’s plot in Duxbury’s Mayflower Cemetery.

Delano Triplets, c. 1888 Photographer: Notman, Boston, MA

Delano Triplets: Carrie, Frank & Grace, c. 1888
Photographer: Notman, Boston, MA

Delano Triplets, c. 1874 Photographer: Unknown

Delano Triplets, c. 1874
Photographer: Unknown