Documenting Duxbury’s Black Heritage: 35 Pine Hill Lane

On May 17, 1843, Mary Cushman wrote her husband, Capt. David Cushman, “Mr. W is building a new house for Black Bill & Frank (by the way, Frank has got him a wife) it stands or rather it is going to stand back of the Widow Peterson’s.” The house Mary Cushman was referring to is the double house at 35 Pine Hill Lane. 

35 Pine Hill Lane, Duxbury, MA. Built by Gershom B. Weston in 1843

“Mr. W” was Gershom Bradford Weston, easily one of the wealthiest men town. He was the son of Ezra “King Caesar” Weston, II and in 1843 was the co-owner of the Weston fleet of merchant vessels, along with his two brothers. Gershom’s estate was on St. George Street and included a grand house that would one day be known as the Wright Estate (torn down in the 1960s to make was for Duxbury High School). Weston employed a number of staff, including African Americans, Bill Sherburne (coach driver) and Frank Pride. It was for them that he built a house on his property. The house remained as part of the Weston and later, Wright, estates before being separated out in the mid-20th century.

Frank Pride, c. 1890

Frank Pride, Jr. (1818-1896) was born in Salem, MA, the son of Frank Pride, a sailor from Kingston, and Mary Munson of Salem. On April 2, 1843 he married his first wife, Ann Benson of Framingham – it is Ann that Mary Cushman is referring to in her letter. Although no death record has been found for her, she must have passed prior to 1849, when Frank married his second wife, an Irish immigrant named Bridget Galvin. Frank and Bridget later purchased their own cottage on Powder Point Ave. There is only one account that mentions the Pride’s interracial marriage, in a reminiscence of her childhood in Duxbury, Mary Chilton Steele wrote, “the strangeness of a marriage between a white woman and a colored man never seemed to have received comment or notice.” They had no children. Frank appears as a farmer or farm laborer on most census records.

William H. Sherburne (1814-1862) was born in Charlestown,MA. In 1843 he was already married to Hannah Fuller (1821-1845) and his second child was on the way. Hannah was another member of Duxbury’s black community- she was the daughter of David Fuller and Hannah Williams. Prior to her marriage she had worked for the Ford family, the owners of Ford’s Store, where she helped take care of their children. After William and Hannah married, they built their own home own home at 1112 Tremont Street, but sold that property in 1842. Sadly, Hannah died in 1845 of consumption at age 23, leaving William with two little daughters, Hannah and Ann. She is buried behind what was then the Methodist Church on Washington Street. Her epitaph reads, “my husband and my children dear, I now can leave without a tear.” William remarried in 1849, perhaps a cousin of his first wife, Mary Ann Williams, and had three more children. 

A sad occurrence happened to the Sherburne family in 1856 (they may not longer have been living at 35 Pine Hill at the time). According to Ruth Ann Ford, “[Hannah] married William [Sherburne] the black coachman of Gershom B. Weston who lived not far away. She lived several years then died of consumption, like so many of her people, leaving two little children. It is sad to remember the dreadful fate of the little girl who was burned to death, having been left in the house with a fire by a step mother whom we feared was not kind to these children. This little Annie is sorrowful remembrance to me as I watched her lingering between life and death in her agony.”

The Boston Herald reported on Friday, Feb. 1, 1856,
“On Monday night about 10 o’clock, Miss Sherburne, daughter of W. H. Sherburne, of Duxbury, after retiring for the night got up and went to the closet for some food, and while there accidentaly caught her night clothes on fire and was burnt so badly, that she died about six hours.” 

It is quite possible that David Fuller (1788-1870), the father of the aforementioned Hannah Fuller Sherburne, also resided for a time at 35 Pine Hill. The 1850 Cenus Record shows him living next door to Gershom B. Weston, which would have been the right location for the house. David Fuller (1788-1870) was married to his third wife, Sylvia Prince, at that point. There is more to be said about Sylvia Prince in a future post.


The Story of Hagar Randall

The following is a first-hand account of the life of Hagar Randall (c. 1810-1895), an enslaved woman from Virginia. Not being able to read or write, she dictated her story while visiting the family of Frederick Newman Knapp in Plymouth, MA. The hand-written transcript is in the Drew Archival Library, along with a photograph of her daughters, Jerry and Dick Randall.

Dick (seated) and Jerry Randall, c. 1869.
Photographer: G. P. Critcherson, Worcester, MA.

My old mistress of all was Cockburn. I was born in Springfield, VA. My mother didn’t die til the time of the war. Where did she live? Oh, yes, Newport. Ann Powell was my new mistress.[1] I guess my mother was born in Springfield. My father belonged to the Masons. His name was Jackson. When I was 19 we moved. Nancy Cockburn had a friend just as Miss Perkins is to Miss Sally[2]– and that friend was Nancy Triplet. Nancy [Cockburn] set us all free when she died. Dr. Triplet and Bailey Tyler and Judge Dade broke the will. Tyler left Springfield on Saturday to go to Leesburg. He got as far as his farm, Shelter Farm, and started next A.M. Got one foot in the stirrup and fell back dead. Dade didn’t die till next fall. After the will was broke we all was gathered up and sent to Alexandria to Joe Bruin’s jail.[3] I wouldn’t like to describe it to you. It was more like hell than any other place. I stayed in Joe Bruin’s jail 8 weeks. Harry was not with us.[4] Seven children were with me – Mary Ellen, Dick, Jerry, Rachel and Peter, Artemis, Frances – she was the oldest child. Next oldest to Frances died and next oldest died. I raised seven, lost six. Seven were in jail. I was cooking for Joe Bruin all day. They wouldn’t let me out with the children, afraid I’d run away. I slept in jail every night. Dr. Powell bought me out of jail. Joe told me if I would go to Powell three children could go with me and he would keep the other two and wouldn’t separate them [Dick and Jerry]. I took Mary Ellen, Rachel and Peter. I had a very good life. I lived splendid but they took my children. 

When she sent Mary Ellen off the fat was in the fire. I told her [Mrs. Powell] I never would xxx her again as long as I lived. I used to go and sit and talk with her nights. If Dr. Powell had lived, Mary Ellen would not have been sent off. [she was sold for $900 and sent to sent to Louisiana]. She made as Mary was going to Fauquier to learn to cook. I used to dream and I always see her traveling. I made up my mind I’d ask Mrs. Powell so I went and said,  “What you done with Mary Ellen?” “Why didn’t you ask Mr. Taylor I guess he knows where she is.” Her son Llewellyn said “why didn’t you tell Aunt Hagar where Mary Ellen is?” “Well,” said Mrs. Powell, “Mary Ellen got to cussing and swearing.” Said I, “That’s one of Shackleford’s lies, you might as well as told us.” I knew it was a lie. “If you had sold Mary Ellen, why didn’t you tell me?” I’ve been to church and been to church to see if old Kingsford could preach anything why one woman should take another woman’s child. Do you think so you think I could take your child and sell it? She pulled her bonnet over her face and went out as if crying and I prayed to God Mary Ellen could die. I prayed Mrs. Powell might die. I told her everything right to her face for I wanted her to sell me.

Me and Tip would quarrel but me and Tip was first rate. When Tip was shut up I carried him things. He was a miserable bad boy but always my favorite, good to me. Mary went down south and stayed twelve years. 

You know when Fremont was running I knew who was running for President[5] I cared about freedom ever since I knew anything. I’ve heard talk about freedom ever since I can remember. Them that owned slaves they weren’t going to set and talk about freedom. My old master was abolitionist – Dr. Powell he didn’t believe in selling. I know by the club he belonged to. They’d all go together. There was always something dropping and you could pick it up. When Fremont wasn’t elected we was dreadful sorry. Mrs. Kitty Powell, Ann’s mother, would tell you anything. When old Abraham L was elected all was expected. I took for granted if the war came on we’d be free. The first gun that was fired I knew it – first gun on Fort Sumter. Little Fanny came and said, “Aunt Hagar the war’s begun, the war’s begun.” I was getting breakfast, I ran out and said, “Hush, it ain’t.” Every paper that came I tried to find out who was elected. Miss Ann went off and left not a soul but me. My children were sent off to Miss Emily. Harry and I lived in a little house and Miss Ann left everything in my care. 

Bull Run Battle began about 10 o’clock, 6 or 7 soldiers came to see if I could give them a dinner. By and by we heard a cannon firing and they said they believed they was going to fight that day. I give them a dinner they day. I got all kinds of vegetables in the garden. I made two great big chicken pies – damson pies, damson tarts. Oh Lord I was afraid for the soldiers that night. A great storm came on and one poor fellow who had been sick couldn’t eat nothing but boiled eggs. Very nice men looked like fellows that had been raised at home. One said, “Aunty, they’re fighting up here and if we are ordered off you must follow us.” I was feeding people all the next day, a great big pot of coffee all the time on the stove. The first day I saw soldiers was when Col. Ellsworth was killed.[6]“If you have come to kill me, kill me right here.” I was sitting one day when I saw a lot of soldiers, they came right up and I said that. 

Miss Powell said she must sell Mary Ellen to give Bob his education and she wasn’t going to draw her money out of the bank to educate Bob.[7]

The house was a contraband camp. I liked the soldiers but I was always afraid of ‘em such a mass of men and I didn’t see no women. I’d like to see Charley Clough, he was a gentleman and never lost it soldiering. Just as I was born a colored lady and through all the traveling round I has always been a colored lady. 

Peter’s mistress carried him to Leesburg and he ran away and joined the Union soldiers. I told him to xx xx like the Lord directed me what to tell him. 

I went to see Lincoln after he was dead. I walked on muskets that day and laid my hand on his face and when he was reelected, I went up and sat in Lincoln’s chair. I sat in President’s seat that day.

Your kitchen Mrs. Knapp was the first place I went in after the war.

“Hagar’s gal’s come” Uncle Harry in Mrs. K’s door. Mary Ellen knowed she was sold from Alexandria. When she came from the south she inquired for me. She was gone two years then I got a letter, Fanny came and said there was a letter from Mary Ellen. After the war I knew nothing about her til she come to find me.

After leaving the Powell’s home in Alexandria, Hagar worked for the family of Rev. Frederick Newman Knapp in Washington, DC. Knapp was an administrator in the United States Sanitary Commission. Hagar’s daughter’s, Jerry and Dick Randall, made their way to Washington, DC just as Mary Ellen did. Their story is described more fully below in Gershom Bradford’s letter.

After the war, the Knapp family moved for a brief time to Sutton, MA. Jerry Randall remained with them. It was here that she married George Lyles, also a former slave and employee of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

The Lyles’ home at 174 Court Street, Plymouth, MA

By 1870, George and Jerry Lyles had moved to Plymouth, MA and purchased a small house at 174 Court Street. Their home was not far from the Knapp’s newly established Knapp School for Boys. Although Hagar and Harry Randall remained in Washington, DC, once widowed, Hagar spent time in Plymouth as well. She is part of the Lyles household in the 1880 US Census.

The Lyles raised five children. Jerry died in 1902; George Lyles in 1922.

Letter from Gershom Bradford, III to Duxbury Town Historian Dorothy Wentworth, September 27, 1971

Quite in contrast with the foregoing is the recent death in Plymouth of my friend of 50 years, a fine Negro, James Chester Lyle. He was 90 and his mother was a slave! I remember her, Jerry Lyle…The Randall family was owned by a doctor in Alexandria, VA. The old doctor would never allow a slave to be sold, but he died and his wife, ambitious and in need of money steeled herself and sold off several of the children.[8] The father was a free man. My uncle, Rev. Frederick Knapp afterwards got the mother, Aunt Hagar Randall, to tell him the story as he wrote it down. I have it. There were two girls about eleven who were put on the Auction Block, but Bruin, the auctioneer, or broker, decided that he would take these girls himself. He sent one of them down on his farm in Fauquier County. There, as the Civil War was on, the girls would drive the horses and cattle into the swamps whenever either of the armies came near.

At wars end they went down to the RR track and burned matches for the night train, got aboard and reached their old home in Alexandria. Everything was changed; they walked aimlessly until a man stopped them.

“Ain’t you Hagar Randall’s girls?”

“Yes, where is she?”

They were told that she was with a Knapp family in Washington (just back of the present Smithsonian Institute is now). They made their way over, were united with their mother and some of the children. There was not room in the house so they built a shanty in the back yard. To the Knapps they were known as the Contrabands.[9]

Mr. Knapp, after he had closed up his business with the Sanitary Commission, was called to Yonkers, Sutton and then to Plymouth in the 1870s. They brought one or both of those girls, Dick and Jerry – Dick being a girl. I never knew what became of Dick. Rachel, another sister, became the cook for friends of Mamie’s family. She spent most of her life with the Bonds.

In “The Home” of the Sanitary Commission, a convalescent hospital for soldiers preparing to go home, Aunt Charlotte, in her last service, was the matron.[10] Her right hand man, a Negro named George Lyle. He was devoted to her. In time, he made his way to Plymouth and later married Jerry [Randall]. When George came to Aunt Charlotte’s funeral at the Old house, I was standing by him when he tied his horse to a tree. He said that this was one of his saddest days. Jerry cooked dinner at the Knapp’s when General Grant visited Plymouth at the initiative of Mr. Knapp, who had him many times in the war.

“Chester,” her son, always was ready to help when we or the Knapps were in need of his services. Once in about 1921 I had an old car that needed repair. Chester and I worked on it all day. At five it was running. I asked him what I owed him. He hesitated saying, “I hate to take money from a Bradford or a Knapp.” When I felt badly on one trip North and not feeling like driving back, the Knapps got hold of Chester and he drove us down. So you will understand why I sent flowers to Plymouth.

Aunt Hagar’s story is deep in pathos. She showed no hate towards her mistress’ actions, not ranting against her. In fact, at times she seemed to feel sorry for her. It is a moving story…

1. Ann Maria (Powell) Powell (1800-1885), born in Leesburg, VA to Cuthbert Powell and Catherine Simms. She grew up on a grand estate called Llangollen. In 1820, she married her first cousin. Dr. William Leven Powell (1797-1853). He was a physician, a graduate of the Medical College at the University of Pennsylvania.

2. Sarah Perkins was a long-time family friend to the Knapps. She often lived and traveled with them..

3. Joseph Bruin’s Slave Jail was a two-story brick building located in Alexandria, VA.

4. Harry Randall, Hagar’s husband and the father of her children. According to some, he was born a free man. However, in a deposition taken during the Civil War regarding a stolen horse, Hagar explained that she and Harry were married according to the “custom of colored people in Virginia who were slaves. His master gave him permission to visit me and my master consented.” Together they had 13 children. Harry Randall appears in the 1870 US Census with Hagar, born c. 1790 in Virginia.

5. The John C. Fremont presidential campaign was in 1856. He was the first Republican candidate.

6. Elmer E. Ellsworth (1837-1861) was the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. He was killed while removing the Confederate flag from the Marshall House Inn in Alexandria, VA. 

7. Dr. Robert Conrad Powell (1838-1890). Began college at the University of Pennsylvania , but left when the Civil War began.  After the war was a graduate of the Medical Dept of the University of Baltimore, 1869.

8. The narrative of Hagar Randall says that she and three of her children (Mary Ellen, Rachel and Peter) were sold to Dr. Powell after the death of her original owner, Nancy Cockburn. Dick and Jerry were sold away from her at Joseph Bruin’s Slave Auction house. Two other children, Artemis and Frances, died at Bruin’s.

9. Contrabands was a term used to describe escaped slaves during the Civil War. 

10. Charlotte Bradford (1813-1893). Born in Duxbury to Capt. Gershom Bradford and Sally Hickling. Her life as a nurse is highlighted in her home, DRHS’ Bradford House Museum, 981 Tremont Street, Duxbury, MA. See also previous posts in this blog.

Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper


Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper, DAL.SMS.038

A small, very fragile book entitled “Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper” (c. 1750) is part of the collection of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Drew Archives. Its eight pages were once sewn together, but time and use has frayed the paper, loosening the book’s delicate binding. The title refers to a diphtheria epidemic that swept through southeastern Massachusetts in the mid-18thcentury. It was authored by Elkanah Parris (1728-1813) and copied by Duxbury resident, Reuben Peterson, Sr. (1710-1795).

Diphtheria, known in colonial times as “throat distemper,” is one of the childhood diseases we, very thankfully, have a vaccine for today. It affects the throat, making it difficult to breath. A horrific epidemic of diphtheria raged across New England in 1735-1736 taking thousands of lives, mostly children. The author of our poem was 12-years old at that time, so his “Rhime” refers to a later epidemic. He specifically mentions seven local towns:

“On every quarter of Bridgewater
With Pembroke & Kingston
It is among both old and young
A sweeping of them down

Its made great raks in Halifax
Through Raynham it did go
And then began upon Plympton
With Duxbury also

And it doth seize hard on all these
A cutting fellows down
But it hath been the hardest in
Bridgewater and Kingston”

Parris could have been writing of the throat distemper that struck in the summer of 1748. Kingston, MA truly was hard hit – at least eleven young people died within a few weeks, including five of Benjamin and Zerish Bradford’s children. But, the disease also reared its head again in 1750. By the 1760s Elkanah had moved to western Massachusetts so it is unlikely the poem refers to any illness after that time.

Because neither a cause nor a cure were known, Parris ascribed sin and a turning away from God’s law as the reason the disaster had befallen the community. He wrote, “For a disease on us doth seize / God’s anger it denotes / For this disease the Lord doth please / To send into our throats.” The remedy was a return to a more pious life.


Final page with name of Reuben Peterson and “Elkeny Parish”

Elkanah Parris (or, Elkeny Parish, as Peterson wrote it), was born in Pembroke, MA to Thomas Parris and Hannah Gannet. He married Grace Mott in Scituate in 1761 and moved to Williamstown, MA shortly thereafter. He eventually settled in Danby, VT where he died at age 84. It is curious that Reuben Peterson, Sr. took the time to painstakingly transcribe the poem. None of his ten children died from the disease, although perhaps they were stricken and recovered. Or, perhaps the illness was so prevalent he felt compelled to make his own copy of Parris’ verse. Reuben Peterson, Sr. married Rebecca Simmons and is the progenitor to a long-line of Duxbury Petersons. He died at age 85 and is buried in Mayflower Cemetery, Duxbury.

Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper

Come lend an ear & you shall hear
What hath been done of late
How God doth frown his judgement down
Which doth not yet abate

& now I lend I pray attend
Unto what I shal say
For God’s judgments abroad is sent
And spreadeth every way

For a disease on us doth seaze
God’s anger it denots
For this disease the Lord doth please
To send into our throats

This distemper now doth enter
Into our inwards parts
& it doth seaze where God doth please
and pierce the tender heart 

The doctors join with one desine
And study day and night
To find its course & learn its sorce
Tis far beyond their sight

Let us submit to God in it
And bless the taking hand
Consider he gave them to the
And none can him withstand

For Job of old how did he hold
A strange integraty
Though he was speared from end to end
Yet bore it patiently

None can withstand his holy hand
No not the strongest one
Nor the richest stand in least
For he God alone

We must obey what God doth say
When he says we must die
In joy or pain we must remain
To all eternity

God doth not spare the young and fare
Though they be stronge and brave
Youthful delits and beauty brights
Now rooting in the grave

A mournful sound that doth abound
These seven towns do cry
In sorrows deep parents do weep
Because their children die

On every quarter of Bridgewater
With Pembroke & Kingstown
It is among both old and young
A sweeping of them down

Its made great raks in Halifax
Through Rainham it did go
And then began upon Plymton
With Duxbury also

And it doth seaze hard on all these
A cuting fellows down
But it hath been the hardest in
Bridgewater and Kingstown

Come dread and fear what you do hear
What God the Lord hath don
For you don’t know how soon youl
Go the way that they have gone

The young and spry do often die
While they are in their prime
God orders so man cannot know
His true appointed time

Tis not the worst that do die first
As people do surmise
Nor do the best live the longest
But fools die with the wise

Now man can see how frail we be
The wise cannot find it
God ends our days in many ways
As he alone sees fit

Small cords and veins in us remain
On which mans life doth lie
When with the stroke the heart is broke
How suddenly we die

Without Gods leav we cannot breath
For he doth give us breath
He giveth ease to home please
Or bringeth unto Deth

But God doth say all the great day
We all shall rise again
All saints say he shall blessed be
From sickness and from pain

The life of man is but a span
And prime will fade away
Therfore repent before its spent
And learn to read and pray

It is needless for us to dress
A carcase for the worm
Or to prepare find gold to wear
Upon uncertain terms

Do not be sure despise pore
Since God hath chosen these 
And rich in faith the Seriphins saith
Shall have eternal ease

You that as helth enjoy your wealth
Can little think or know
The misery and poverty
Poor people undergo

The poor mans cry goes up on high
To heaven it shall reach
But God the Lord will not regard
A person of the rich

Do not oppress the fatherless
To widows have regard
For such as are afflicted here
Are chosen of the Lord

You that oppress the fatherless
Transgress God’s holy law
For they shall cry to God on high
And he shall plead their caus

For if so be God plead with the spent
For these under his rod
Your arguements shall soon be
For who can plead with God

Render to all boath great and small
Sufficient honnour due
Dount lauf all thoes that none bore close
Since God made them and you

Who doth fulfill his holy will
Whose anger now stepars
Whose grate judgments I now send
With bitter groans and tears

When God doth call tall cedars fall
Ye they be strong and great
Thearfor repent with one concent
Before it be too late

This sore sickness seemeth endless
We know not when twill stop
With drouth & derth upon the Earth
Our fields are dryed up

Our children die our fields go dry
The Drouth hath not yet seas
A sore judgement the Lord hath
Sent upon both man and beast

I pray you now consider how
Young people die away
And lend an ear with Godly
Fear to what these judgments say

Judgements at hand upon the land
Now in these better days
Which is a call to one and all
To think upon their ways

Come let us pray both night
& day that this disease may sease
that God may send helth in the
land and let us die in peace

Let all good men learn their
Children to serve the Lord on high
And out of love sharply reprove
Remember old Elie

Elis children ware wicked men
And he restrained them not
So he and they died in one day
When God’s anger was hot

Children honnour your dear father
And mother in the Lord
And God will be kind unto thee
The scriptures doth record

Be sure you give ear unto
Your father more than Gold
In any wise do not despise
Your mother when she is old

The scriptures saith whose cuseth
His father more or less
His lamp no doubt shall be put out
In obscure darkness

Children obay what parents say
For this is well pleasing
Unto the lord who will afford
His children any thing

Good Elisha went on his way
Bethel he was bound to
Little children mocked him
Go up thou bald head go

But in Gods name he cursed them
For their great ill manners
So God prepared too raging bars
Which tear these wicked sinners

God cutteth short their wicked sport
That do despise good men
Don’t mock nor xx sense God cuts short
All such wicked children

Let us begin to flee from sin
Since by it Adam fell
Lest God sends deth & stop our breth
And sink us down to Hell

Liv to Gods xx in youthful days
In studying of his word
For youth and prime is the best
Time to fear and serve the Lord

Be sure to take care to live in prase
That virtue may not sease
And spend your days in wisdom ways
For all her path are pease

Satan will say you may delay
Till pleasures are all past
And then come in & so may sin
All happiness at last

But he that obeys what satan says
Till pleasures are all past
May well expect for his next
To dwell in hell at last

Those that have been a slave to sin
And never did refrain
Will find it hard to serve the Lord
When they return again

Do not delay another day
Least God should cut you down
Death may be sent in a moment
To sink you under ground

And then in hell your soul may dwell
With all your sinful friends
You may be sent in a moment
To fire with an end

Where wrath & crys will be on us
With burnings flaims of fire
Charning & cries that shall arise
Under his wrath and ire

Come read & pray every day
And grow in grace and truth
And fear the Lord & read his word
While you are in your youth

When you die your soul will fly
To God upon the throne
To God above that lives in Love
Among his holy ones

When all your fears & all your tears
Shall be wiped away
With lasting praise that never delays
But lasteth night and day

When night and day is past away
We all shall raised be
Where for more cares and fleshly snares
Shall never come on thee

In holy and trew delits
Where there shall be no night
Which is a place of truth & rest
For God shall be [torn page]


Written by Reuben Peterson
Whose author was Elkeny Parish

This little book if hearin you do look
You will confess its truth
The Lord to fear and love most dear
While thou are in your youth

Aunt Sarah Mac: Duxbury’s Cantankerous Poetess


Carte de visite of Aunt Sarah Mac, c. 1851

You did not want to get on the wrong side of Sarah McFarland (or McFarlin). She had a biting wit which she often delivered, on the spot, in rhyme. Despite her occasional caustic outbursts, however, she was a respected and much loved member of the community.  The memory of both her poems and good deeds far outlived her – making her a Duxbury icon for generations.

Aunt Sarah Mac, as she was widely known, was born in 1739 to William McFarland and Sarah Peterson. She received a public school education, such that is was for girls of the time, and proceeded to become a teacher herself. She remained unmarried and occupied a small house in the Millbrook area of town (near the corner Tremont and Alden Streets). As an older woman she was recognizable to all by her red cloak and black bonnet. To supplement her meagre income, she sold eggs, berries and milk from her cow, Blossom. She also often helped neighbors with the housekeeping and child care. In 1829 poverty forced her into the Alms House where she later died in 1831, at the age of 91.

She must have been exceptionally adept at the English language because she boasted that she could “answer every question put to her in rhyme.”[1] Anecdotes of her life and her poetry were resurrected in 1851 in Sarah Macs Budget, a newspaper issued as a vehicle to raise money for a monument to Rev. John Allyn, the town’s former minister. Its six pages, edited by Mrs. Ann Porter, the wife of Duxbury’s town doctor, John Porter, contained Sarah’s writing as well as reminiscences from those who still recalled her.  The Drew Archival Library has copies of the paper as well as Sarah’s original compositions in her own hand.

sarah mac poetry002

Page of Sarah Mcfarland’s poetry, c. 1824

The following are a few examples of her poems:

When she was caught picking cranberries on private property she responded:

I am on old woman, seventy-one,
Cranberry law has just begun – 
Men make laws but I don’t mind ’em
I pick cranberries where I find ’em

When asked to live with a married man who had separated from his wife, she retorted:

To tell you the truth, I’m not like Ruth
Who’s gone to live with Sam Darling
If you expect to have me, disappointed you’ll be,
As long as I’m Sarah Macfarlin.
For be it known, I’d rather live alone
All the days of my life,
Than to have a man, if I know that I can
Who has got another wife
You’ve had a virtuous bride and you’ve set
her aside
And I think you’re a simple man –
But since it is so, it is best you should know,
You may get another if you can.

Her poetry also recognized deeper social issues, such as progress and the role of women. After visiting the new woolen factory in Duxbury she composed the following:

On the First Factory in the Town of Duxbury
And the only one I shall ever see
King Solomon says there was no new thing done,
Not in his day under the sun;
But if he was to come here, and take a full view.
Then he would avert there was something new.
Every generation grows wiser and wiser,
Except here and there a sordid old miser;
Sirs! I like this new way of carding and spinning;
It is a brave thing to favor the women –
And it is a thing that men ought to do;
Had it not been for the women, there would have been none of you.
And the Factory again, when I went to see them spin,
I may say with the Queen of Sheba of old,
That the half of your wisdom never was told;
You exceed Solomon in all his glory,
And I think I have told you a very true story;
And now, I suppose, very glad you would be,
If you had as many women as he :
But if they should come here to help you spin yarn,
I hope you’ll take care that you do them no harm;
For the very first yarn that ever was spun,
By weak hearted women it was then done;
Though they had not found out such a wonderful way,
To spin so may skeins in a day –
Yet, every woman she did her part,
To spin a covering for the Ark
You have another aim in view, as I do suppose.
You are spinning to have new to make yourselves clothes.
You do very well, sirs, they say to the least,
So, I wish you all prosperity and peace;
And it is my sincere desire,
That your factory may not take fire,
As some have done of late,
Which is a loss to the whole State –

Her will demonstrates she could be as kind as she was cantankerous. A portion reads as follows:

August the 24th AD 1824 BE IT KNOWN unto all Men whom it may concern that whereas I Sarah Mackfarland now of Duxbury having arrived at the age of eighty four the third day of last June and expect to die very soon have thought fit to leave these lines was my last will that ever may be found after my Body is laid under the ground and it is my will that my funeral may attended at the Meetinghouse and that I be buried as near the grave of my dear mother as may be room found. Now I shall dispose of my property…by virtue of this will give my under bed a straw bed with all the bed clothes and my wearing clothes to those Single Women in Duxbury Almshouse every woman that has no husband shall have an equal share and after my lawful debts and funeral charges are paid out of the purchase of my Household Stuff if there is anything left to the overplus if there be any I freely give to the Reverend Doctor John Allen my minister.

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Sarah McFarland’s headstone in Mayflower Cemetery, Duxbury, MA

There were no funds at the time of her death to place a marker at her grave in Duxbury’s Mayflower Cemetery. Years later, some of her former pupils, including Capt. Gershom Bradford of our Bradford House Museum, erected a stone in her honor.









[1] “Sarah Mac,” Duxbury Clipper Anniversary Issue, May 8, 1975.

Fanny Lee: Girl Soldier in the Civil War

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Letter written by Fanny Lee, Bradford Family Collection

Fanny Lee, whose real name was Fannie E. Chamberlain, was one of the hundreds of women who enlisted to fight in the Civil War. She was 18 when she disguised herself as a boy and joined the 6th Ohio Cavalry alongside her cousin, George. She would have seen action in Virginia during the winter of 1863-1864.

It is unclear how she was discovered, or even her full story. Fanny seemed to be an expert at subterfuge. She told Charlotte and Lucia Bradford, nurses from Duxbury, that she was Fanny Lee, a war widow with no friends. They seemed to believe she was forced to leave the Army once her ruse was discovered. Lucia wrote in her notes, “a young woman taken from the army is sent here by the Provost Marshall.” However,  The Daily Ohio Statesman, a Columbus, OH, newspaper, claimed “she announced herself, disgusted with life as a trooper.” Whether she left of her own accord or was accidentally discovered, she was ill at the time and needed care. Not able to be treated at an all-male Union Army Hospital, she was sent to the United States Sanitary Commission’s Home for Wives and Mothers. It was here she met matron Charlotte Bradford and her sister, Lucia.

Fanny wanted to become a nurse and continue to serve her country, but the US Army wanted nothing more to do with a woman who had so “unsexed herself.” Once well enough to travel, she returned to Ohio. Shortly thereafter, Charlotte received a letter from her former patient. Fanny, with her hair growing out, had traded in her soldiers uniform for good and married John J. Butts in Summit, Ohio on July 28, 1864.

In her letter she wrote, “The soldier girl is now a soldier for life in the Brigade of

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Excerpt from Fanny’s (Fannie) Letter

The full transcription follows:

[illegible] Summit Co Ohio
August 20th 1864

Dear Friend

I wrote to you soon after I returned but receiving no answer I came to the conclusion that you had not received it I wrote twice to Mrs. Doresay before I received an answer. I have just received one form her in which she says it is the first time she has heard from me. I am now married to a young man of my acquaintance here I will send you a paper with my…[missing page]

…in the man for whom I procured a discharge is my cousin. I have often thought of you dear friend and of your sister and the many kind friends in Washington. I feel that I am greatly indebted to the Sanitary Commission and the kind people connected with it.

I have lost all my hair and the new has come out to about a inch long it is so very dark so almost as it was colored all the time of my masquerade in soldier attire. The weather is considerable cooler here then in Washington. I am very anxious to hear from you please write all the news I would like to know if any body was there to see me after I went away. Has Mrs. Vassar been there if there is any letters there for me please send them to my present address.

I hope you will write soon and not wait as long as I have it was not my fault for I wrote to you before I wrote six or seven letters and sent them to the Post-Office by a boy and I think now that he never mailed them at all. I am in better health than I was when I left Washington. Give my love to your sister and remember me to all my acquaintances there. Tell Mr. Wood that I never shall forget their kindness, do not forget to remember me to Valentine. I must now close my letter hoping it will find you all well as it leaves me. From you war loving friend.

Fanny E. Butts

P.S. You see that Lee was only an assumed name. You will see by the paper what my real name is.

Yours Truly
Fannie Lee

The soldier girl is now a soldier for life in the Brigade of Matrimony. Do you have as much fun or noise there as when I was there I suppose Mrs. Cornwall was glad to get rid of me.


Parker F. Soule: Three Years a Cowboy

Letter from Parker F. Soule to his brother, Winthrop P. Soule, soon after arriving in Denver, Co. Oct. 19, 1882.

Letter from Parker F. Soule to his brother, Winthrop P. Soule, soon after arriving in Denver, Colorado. Oct. 19, 1882.

In October, 1882 a frail young man named Parker Fernando Soule checked into the St. James Hotel in Denver, Colorado. He was thin, just over 130 pounds, and most likely exhausted from his long and arduous journey from Boston. He had come, like thousands of Easterners before him, to find relief from the debilitating symptoms of tuberculosis. Known at the time as consumption because it slowly seemed to consume its victims, the disease had no known cure. Doctors, believing the arid climate of Colorado would alleviate their patients’ suffering and perhaps prolong their life, prescribed them to go west and rest.

At the time of his diagnosis, Parker was just twenty years old. It appears he was first sent to a sanatorium in New Hampshire, but this must have proved unsuccessful. Prior to that time he had spent most of his life in the towns surrounding Boston. He was born in 1861 to Lawrence P. Soule and Mercie B. Eldridge in Foxboro. His father, a native of Duxbury, MA, soon moved the family to Lawrence, MA where he became a successful mason and contractor. After the Great Fire of 1872 in Boston, Lawrence Soule relocated his family to Cambridge, MA where he could more easily become involved in the rebuilding of the capital city. In 1879 the Soules moved into a substantial brick house at 11 Russell Road in North Cambridge that still stands today and is on the National Historic Register. Parker and his siblings, Winthrop, Laura and Florence (Daisy) had all been well educated and, judging by the number of party invitations they received, quite popular. His illness must have been a shattering blow to this close-knit family.

After only a few days in Denver, Parker traveled to Colorado Springs. He found a place to stay with another Boston family who had moved to the area only the year before. Henry Webster Pope, like Parker, was suffering from consumption. He had brought his wife, son and brother, Abbott, to Colorado Springs and started the Pope Brothers Ranch. Parker wrote his own brother that he was keeping quiet, resting and had gained weight. He was looking to buy a horse for the winter although he thought it best not to try to work for a month or two. By Christmas he was healthy enough to work the “milk run” alongside Abbott Pope and was “feeling first-rate.”

Within eight months of his arrival in Colorado, Parker F. Soule was a new man. The dry western climate had seemingly cured him of tuberculosis. His tan, fit 160-pound frame would have been unrecognizable to his family back home. While he despaired that he had not earned much money, he wrote his brother, “I have secured in a great degree what I am out here for – my health. I never felt better I am sure in my life…” It was at this point that Parker also became a true cowboy. He had herded sheep on the Pope Brothers ranch and found it a distasteful occupation. But herding cattle was another matter altogether. The life suited him perfectly. He went out with the cows by 7am, came home to dinner at noon and then headed back out to “round them up” and bring them back to the corral. Often he was required to “cut out” a wild steer or bull, using his newly acquired riding skills. While out with the herd he would  lie in the grass or read while his pony grazed nearby. His day was usually done by 4:30pm. He also became adept at breaking in wild colts.

Instructions from Selden J. Richards to Parker F. Soule with brands to be found at the South Park Round Up, 1885.

Instructions from Selden J. Richards to Parker F. Soule with brands to be found at the South Park Round Up, 1885.

His talent as a cowboy and his overall health can be judged by his leading the South Park Round up for the Grand County Cattle and Land Company in July of 1885. Cattle at this time were left to graze freely over a vast range, miles wide, during the winter months. Left to their own devises, cattle from various herds would become mixed together. Round ups occurred in the spring or early summer months when the cattle would be separated once again and driven home. Brands allowed cowboys to pick out those cows that belonged to their ranch. Any new calves would be branded at this time as well. The list supplied by Selden J. Richards, Parker’s employer, shows just how many brands needed to be recognized in order to separate individual cattle from a herd of thousands. After the round up, Parker may have gone to find lost cows that had wandered as far as the Blue and Grand Rivers, twenty miles away.

It was during this time that Parker’s older brother, Winthrop, made a visit. The brothers had not seen each other in almost three years. Not only had Parker changed physically but his bearing must have been different as well. The youth that had come out west as an emaciated store clerk was now a hale and hearty cowboy, familiar with riding over rough country and sleeping under the stars. Perhaps forgetting that his brother spent his days behind a desk, Parker at first directed Winthrop to get a saddle, “put on a flannel shirt and an old pair of breeches and come along” to the round up. As though realizing the unsuitability of this request, Parker amended his instructions in the same letter, writing, “the more I think of you going to Fairplay, the less I like the plan…I think the best way will be for you to come to the Springs and to Pope’s Ranch and wait for me …”

Winthrop Soule was impressed enough with what he saw that he seriously considered going into the cattle business with his younger brother. In a letter dated Sept. 21, 1885 from Boston he asked Parker to let him know if the plan was feasible. It was apparently not. Instead, Parker returned to Massachusetts by the end of 1885. The reason for his giving up his life in Colorado is a mystery, although love may have had something to do with it. It is just as well that brothers did not invest in their own ranch. The harsh winter of 1886-1887 caused what is known as the “Big Die-Up” of cattle which killed 90% of the herds, millions of cows. The mild winters experienced during Parker’s time in Colorado had led ranchers to erroneously believe that cattle could survive foraging on their own across the plains during the winter months. When the severe winter left feet of snow on the plains and temperatures well below freezing, the cows starved. Encroaching civilization, overgrazing and an economic downturn also contributed to the collapse of many firms. Ranching, as Parker had known it, became a thing of the past.

Summer homes of Parker F. Soule and Lawrence P. Soule at xxx and xxx Powder Point Ave., Duxbury, MA.

Summer homes of Parker F. Soule and Lawrence P. Soule at 236 and 244 Powder Point Ave., Duxbury, MA. Built 1897-1899.

Parker F. Soule was married on February 25, 1886 to Luceba Dorr Kingsley, the daughter of wealthy politician and philanthropist, in Cambridge, MA. Two days later, on his ranch in Colorado Springs, Parker’s former host, Herbert W. Pope, succumbed to the disease that Parker had so fantastically evaded. Parker would not take his second-chance at life for granted. In 1887 he joined his father in business and together, as L. P. Soule and Son, they were responsible for constructing many of the buildings that dotted the Boston city skyline, including the Shawmut National Bank, the First National Bank, the Commonwealth Trust and the Boston Stock Exchange Building. Some of the beautiful Boston Back Bay and Brookline homes of the era were built by them as well. Parker and his first wife had one daughter, Priscilla Bradford Soule (1897-1986). After Luceba’s death, Parker married Julia Ann Whitten in 1904. Together they had Parker F. Soule, Jr. (1907-1975) Lawrence P. Soule, II (1909-1959) and Julianna W. Soule (1912-1969). The family lived at 49 Hawthorne Street in Cambridge but during the summer months they spent time at their vacation compound on Powder Point Avenue in Duxbury, MA on land that Parker’s progenitor, the Pilgrim George Soule, had once owned. Defying all odds, Parker F. Soule lived to be eighty-nine years old, dying in 1950. He is buried along with his family in Mayflower Cemetery in Duxbury.


Letter cited are found in the Parker F. Soule Collection.





News of Lincoln’s Assasination in the Drew Archival Library

New York Herald, April 15, 1865. Bradford Family Collection.

New York Herald, April 15, 1865. Bradford Family Collection.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, April 15, 1865, many American’s awoke to the news that President Lincoln had been shot in Ford’s Theater the night before. In the Drew Archives’ collections we have a number of journals and letters that speak of this tragic event. Some written days after, when the news finally filtered to those far afield. Lincoln’s death was devastating to many Northerners, especially coming so close on the heels of the joyous celebrations following the surrender at Appomattox.

Captain Edward Baker was at sea when the assassination occurred. His journal entry for the April 15th, not surprisingly, makes no mention of the shooting. On April 19th Baker and his crew received papers bearing the news of Lee’s surrender ten days before. Baker wrote, “such glorious news is almost overpowering. My greatest desire, to tell the truth, was to go away by myself and have a long hearty cry, that was the way I was affected.”  After this entry, the pages in this journal were full. His next journal entry begins in a new book and is dated April 24th, 1865:

Capt. Edward Baker diary page, April 1865. Capt. Edward Baker Collection.

Capt. Edward Baker diary page, April 1865. Capt. Edward Baker Collection.

“This day our souls have been harrowed up as seldom in a lifetime, as great national calamities affect people. The “Katahdin” came in with her flag at half mast, and we soon learned that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated!!! Shot through the head, in Ford’s theatre!! Secretary Seward while lying on a sick bed, had his throat cut, but he was no killed…a terrible and overwhelming affair.”

Like Captain Baker, brothers Gershom and Laurence Bradford did not hear of the tragedy on the 15th, but days later. Twenty-three year old Laurence was in the Navy and had spent April 15th in Richmond, VA, witnessing the somber mood of the citizens of that Southern capitol as General Lee rode through the streets. On the 16th Laurence visited Fort Darling and made no mention of the President’s death. It wasn’t until days later that he learned exactly what had occurred:

Journal of Laurence Bradford, Bradford Family Collection

Journal of Laurence Bradford, Bradford Family Collection

“Sailed for Fortress Monroe where we arrived on the morning of the 17th. Carried down orders for every vessel to commence and fire a gun every half hour from sunrise to sunset, in honor of the president.

April 18, 1865 Tuesday. First got the particulars of the president’s death – that he was assassinated by J W Booth in Ford’s theatre Washington.”

Laurence described the scene in Norfolk, VA on April19th, the day of Lincoln’s funeral:

“the city was draped in mourning – everywhere was the grief of the people apparent in sorrow for the death, and in respect for the memory – of this preserver of the Republic. Whose confidence in his abilities and admiration for his character, had twice given him their greatest gift.”

Gershom Bradford, Laurence’s older brother, served in the U. S. Coastal Survey during the Civil War. From April 15th – 18th Gershom was busy repairing vessels and doing other assigned tasks in South Carolina. On the 19th, in Charleston Harbor, he wrote the following mention in his pocket diary:

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Gershom Bradford II Journal, Bradford Family Collection

“Heard of President’s death. Minute guns fired.”

Charlotte Bradford was the Matron of the United States Sanitary Commission’s Home for Wives and Mothers in Washington, DC when she received the news. She did not record events every day, so it is not surprising that it took her over a week before she wrote of Lincoln’s death:

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Diary of Charlotte Bradford (2), Bradford Family Collection

“April 28. The President murdered and buried. I believe there never has been a person so universally lamented. All the black material in the city used in a few hours to drape the houses. Immense crowds to see the body and at the funeral. In N. York there were said to be 150,000 went in to look at the corpse.”

Finally, in a letter dated April 30th, Eden Sampson of Duxbury wrote to his son, Sgt. Horace E. Sampson, of the death of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth:

Excerpt from Eden Sampson Letter, April 30, [1865], Cushman Family Collection

Excerpt from Eden Sampson Letter, April 30, [1865], Cushman Family Collection

“That Damned Scamp of a Booth has come to his end and I am glad he is dead. If he had bin cort alive he wold have cost the Country a pile money so that thing settled up on a square…”