Imprinted on My Heart: The Unrequited Love of Sarah Freeman Sampson

The Drew Archives recently acquired the letter of Sarah F. Sampson to Jacob Smith, Jr. (1836) DAL.SMS.063

The Drew Archives recently acquired the letter of Sarah F. Sampson to Jacob Smith, Jr. (1836) DAL.SMS.063

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

At 9pm on the night of September 11, 1836, Sarah F. Sampson sat in her bedroom and wrote one last love letter to her cousin Jacob Smith, Jr. It was Jacob’s 25th birthday but she did not mention the occasion in her letter, perhaps she had forgotten. What she did mention, repeatedly, was her devotion to him. This could not have been an easy thing to write, as Jacob was due to marry Persis “Ann” Weston, another cousin, in less than a month. At no point did Sarah implore Jacob not to marry, she even wished him well, but it is clear she would rather he had chosen her.

Sarah Freeman Sampson was born in Duxbury on March 1, 1813 in the cape-style home her father, Martin Sampson, had built in 1807 (today’s 57 South Station Ave.). Sarah’s mother died within months of her birth, leaving her father to care for her as well as her two siblings, ages 3 and 5. Not surprisingly, Martin chose to remarry rather quickly, and it was through Martin Sampson’s second wife, Sarah Smith, that Sarah F. would become related to the recipient of her letter. Jacob Smith, Jr. was Sarah Smith’s nephew. Not that their paths wouldn’t have crossed without this connection – Sarah’s house was only a stone’s throw to Jacob’s, he living at what is today 251 Harrison Street. But, the inevitable family gatherings must have made the two much more aware of each other. And young Jacob Smith was certainly someone to notice. By 1836 he was already first mate on his father’s brig, Globe. He had gone to sea when he was only eight, celebrating his ninth birthday in Malaga, Spain. According to one source, at age eleven he had been paraded in front of Russian nobility in St. Petersburg as the first American child they had ever seen. While many Duxbury sailors could tell tales of far away places to impress the ladies, Jacob had the advantage of being young, wealthy and having great prospects. His father, Capt. Jacob Smith, Sr., was an important member of the town who not only owned a number of Duxbury properties, but also a large farm in Marshfield. Is it any wonder that Sarah F.Sampson was smitten?

How Jacob received his cousin’s letter, or whether he returned her sentiments, is impossible to know. Sarah’s letter does indicate she had received an equally private one from him so there may have been complicated feelings on both sides. Regardless, he went ahead with his wedding to Persis Ann Weston in October, 1836. Persis, or Ann, as she was called, was the niece of his step-mother (like Sarah Sampson, Jacob had lost his own mother when he was very young). Married life did not keep him at home, at least not initially. As the captain of his own vessel, Jacob traveled around Cape Horn and up the western seaboard in 1837, trading with the natives for sable furs which he sold back in New England. In 1838 he was in London to see the coronation of Queen Victoria. At the age of thirty, having been aboard a ship more often than not, he retired from the sea and moved to Westford, MA. There he owned an historic tavern, became a gentleman farmer and was active in local politics – he served as a Selectman during all four years of the Civil War. He died in 1898, the oldest man in Westford at the time, leaving behind his wife, Ann, and two daughters – Miss Clara A. Smith and Mrs. Louisa D. Young. A son, Henry, had died in a tragic rail road accident at the age of 21 in 1863.

Lest you feel too badly for Sarah F. Sampson, let me assure you she married well and had a happy life (or as happy as we can surmise from the scant information left to us). In 1840 her heart was mended enough to accept the proposal of a very successful dry goods merchant from Medford named Jonas Coburn. Together they had five children: Sarah Louise (b. 1841), Charles F. (b. 1843), George M. (b. 1846), Frank (b. 1853) and William (b. 1854). All lived to adulthood but William who died at age 4. The Coburns were very active in civic affairs and were substantial members of the community. As a memorial to their parents, the children of Jonas and Sarah had a stained glass window installed in the First Parish Church in Medford that can still be seen today.

During the summer months Sarah would bring her family to Duxbury and stay with her unmarried sister, Hannah, in her childhood home. After Hannah Sampson’s death in 1882, the house was left to Sarah and her children who retained the property as a summer residence into the 20th century.  Sarah Freeman Sampson Coburn died in Medford, MA in 1890, at age 77.

The following is a transcription of the letter Sarah penned late at night to “the one person I really did love.”

Jacob Smith, Jr. Chief Mate of the Brig Globe, Boston
Duxbury Sept. 11, 1836

Coz Jacob,

I received your letter last Saturday & was not a little surprised at its contents. You say that you heard I was keeping school & Mr. Lovell often called & stopped after school. What do you mean? I entreat of you Jacob to answer this the moment you have read it & tell me where you got your information. I now call upon you as a friend to listen impartially to a fair statement of facts. In the first place I have neither seen or heard from a Lovell since last winter, & in the second place, Mr. Lovell never was the chosen object of my affection, I liked him as a friend but I did not love him as – I can think it but I can’t say it. No Jacob there never was but one person that I thought I really did love. You undoubtedly know who I have reference too. I have loved, shall ever love him. But that love will never be returned, another will have that privilege (in other words does have) it is a privilege indeed!!! Let him go, but he carries with him the most devoted affections of one who never knew love till she saw him & who will never know – I will stop where I am for I have already said too much. But you know me too well I shall therefore entrust this to your honour, as I have done heretofore. As it was your request I have kept your letter private & I now ask the same of you. Don’t you show it at your peril for I have written it from the impulse of the moment. A few more brief sentences & I will close. Mr. Stetson & the will be Mrs. Stetson returned last night. I have not yet seen Martha, but I saw Mr. Stetson to day & dined with him. He says you are the some old six pence or I believe it is now “2 & 6 pence.” By the way I saw Sarah Loring last Sunday, but did not speak with her. Martha R. has just gone from here in all her beauty. She wished to be remembered to you. She is a friend if ever there was one. I would not part with her for all the girls there are in Duxbury. I forgot to mention that I have a letter from cousin N. F. Frothingham to day, he writes he is coming down in a few days. I shall be happy to see him & I think I should like to see you a few moments (or so) as Aunt Shere says & taken a dish of sociability. By the way have you forgotten the day that G. M. Richardson & myself spent at your house? I have not. It is imprinted on my [heart] in indelible

Portion of Sarah F. Sampson Letter

Portion of Sarah F. Sampson Letter

characters. Hark!! The clock is striking 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Oh Dear me I must draw this  protracted scrawl to a close. When I first began it was past nine & I thought I would just write a few lines & ask for an explanation of your letter, which I beg you will favour me with, on the reception of this. Jacob you must excuse the writing, [editing] & orthography of this letter for I am positively half asleep. Pardon me for not previously mentioning the name of Ann. Heaven smile on you both & bless you, may your cup of happiness be ever full even to overflowing. May no cloud interrupt the sunshine of your days, & when at last you are called to part from her here, may you be reunited in that world “where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest” is the sincerest wish of

Your aff cousin
S. F. Sampson

In two minutes more I am tucked up in bed fast asleep

N.B. & P.S.
I am so sleepy that I cannot possibly read this over. If I have written anything improper I beg of you to excuse it & take it from whence it came.
Good night
Sarah
Answer this full of news
Love to all

Note: Mr. Lovell is a mystery at this time but some of the other names a known. Mr. and Mrs. Stetson are Jacob Smith’s brother-in-law, Samuel Stetson, and sister, Martha. Samuel Stetson was a lawyer and the couple lived on Tremont Street.
G. M. Richardson was most likely part of the Richardson family that owned a large estate adjacent to Sarah F. Sampson’s house. The estate was once owned by George Partridge, one of Duxbury’s most prominent citizens and inherited by George P. Richardson. Martha R may be Martha Richardson (b. 1815).
N.F. Frothingham is Nathaniel F. Frothingham of Charlestown, MA whose mother was Joanna Sampson of Duxbury. He married Margaret T. Smith, the daughter of Capt. Benjamin Smith and cousin to both Jacob Smith, Jr and Sarah F. Sampson. It is interesting to note that Frothingham married Margaret on Sept. 30, 1836, just 19 days after this letter was written.

Sources:
Drew Archival Library, House Date board Files – Martin Sampson House and Daniel Bradford House
Drew Archival Library, Capt. Jacob Smith Collection
Find A Grave, Jacob Smith, Jr, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=124241863
Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, http://www.uumedford.org/history.html
Leading manufacturers and merchants of eastern Massachusetts: historical and descriptive review of the industrial enterprises of Bristol, Plymouth, Norfolk, and Middlesex Counties (Google eBook)

Author Greg Grandin coming to Drew Archives, March 29th at 3pm

From the acclaimed author of Fordlandia, comes the story of a remarkable slave rebellion that illuminates America’s struggle with slavery and freedom during the Age of Revolution and beyond. Greg Grandin visited the DRHS Drew Archives in doing research for his book, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World, utilizing the Captain Amasa and Samuel Delano Collection. Join us to hear about this project, which is so intricately connected to Duxbury’s history. Read the New York Times Review of The Empire of Necessity.

One morning in 1805, off a remote island in the South Pacific, Captain Amasa Delano, a New England seal hunter originally from Duxbury, climbed aboard a distressed Spanish ship carrying scores of West Africans he thought were slaves. The West Africans, having earlier seized control of the vessel and slaughtered most of the crew, were staging an elaborate ruse and acting as if they were humble servants. When Delano, an idealistic, anti-slavery republican, finally realized the deception, he responded with explosive violence.so closely connected to Duxbury history.

Drawing on research on four continents, The Empire of Necessity explores the multiple forces that culminated in this extraordinary event—an event that already inspired Herman Melville’s masterpiece Benito Cereno. Now historian Greg Grandin, with the gripping storytelling that was praised in Fordlandia, uses the dramatic happenings of that day to map a new transnational history of slavery in the Americas, capturing the clash of peoples, economies, and faiths that was the New World in the early 1800s.

Greg Grandin is the author of Fordlandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, as well as Empire’s Workshop and The Blood of Guatemala. A professor of history at New York University and a recipient of fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, Grandin has served on the UN Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War and has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, New Statesman, and the New York Times. Admission: $5.

Books are available at Westwinds Bookshop, Duxbury. Westwinds is generously offering a 20% discount on the hardcover version.

Anyone interested in Greg Grandin’s book should also put Feb. 8th on their calendar: the DRHS is conducting a book-and-collections club “Beyond Words” featuring Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. Check out the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Events Calendar for more details.

Greg Grandin, the author of Empire of Necessity, will be coming to speak at the Drew Archives. Grandin utilized the Captain Amasa and Samuel Delano Collection when researching the life of Amasa Delano for his new book.

First Hand Account of USSC’s Role at Gettysburg

Frederick Newman Knapp

Frederick Newman Knapp (1821-1889)

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

The Drew Archives is very fortunate to house the large Bradford Family Collection – a collection that, I may have mentioned once or twice before, contains thousands of items and spans over two hundred years. A goodly portion of this collection relates to the Civil War – a number of the family fought or were involved in some way, including, of course, the army nurse and diarist, Charlotte Bradford. The collection also contains letters from another key Civil War figure – Frederick Newman Knapp, the Special Relief administrator for the USSC in Washington, DC.  Knapp was not only Charlotte’s boss while she was a Transport Ship nurse and the matron of the Sanitary Commission’s Home for Soldiers, he was also her niece’s husband. We are lucky to have his papers here, especially those that directly relate to his work in the USSC.

The following is a letter by Knapp in Frederick City, MD to his parents in Walpole, NH, written almost two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg. Knapp was in charge of seeing supplies made their way to the battlefield and ensuring that the army had what it need to care for the wounded. It is remarkable in its detail as Knapp recounts the confusion in orchestrating such a large-scale relief effort. For any scholar of the Sanitary Commission, this letter sheds light on a little discussed aspect of the USSC’s overall operations and certainly brings to life one of its most faithful servants. As the transcriber of this letter, however, I have to say that Knapp’s writing is challenging. He has perhaps the worst penmanship of any of the 19th century figures in the Drew Archives. He was an educator for most of his life but obviously was not concerned with having a “good hand.” If you would like to know more about his life, a recent article in Historical Digressions gives a nice overview.

Frederick City, July 16, 1863

Portion of letter written by Knapp to his parents on Sanitary Commission letterhead.

Portion of letter written by Knapp to his parents on Sanitary Commission letterhead. Annotations in pen were made by Knapp’s nephew, Gershom Bradford.

Dear Father and Mother,
All well. This has been a busy week with me or a busy ten days. Nothing like it since the York River work when we had to fit out Hospital Transports at a days notice. The work has been to get supplies of all sorts with least possible delay to Gettysburg, all then to Frederick: at Gettysburg to meet terrible needs: at Frederick to be prepared for what might be even greater needs in case of a battle which might come off at any moment at Hagerstown or in the region of which Frederick would be the safe base of supply. In getting stores and Relief Agents to Gettysburg we had to meet the difficulty of getting a blocked Rail Road – single track with cars by hundreds loaded with wounded in the one direction and supplies for 20,000 men in the other – so that we not merely had to meet immediate needs but keep a supply, if possible, of two days ahead. The result has been most gratifying & successful, and repaid all labor two hundred fold. “Special Orders” & special messengers and teams by turnpike – and supercargoes and constant personal presence at points of shipping goods have secured results which I felt at first could not be made. Not a train left Baltimore for Gettysburg for some days that did not take from 25 to 300 cars of our supplies – estimate only by tons – a number of entire carloads direct from Philadelphia or Boston transferred from Phila Road to the Northern Central Road (thence by branch road to Gettysburg) but most of the supplies carted from across Baltimore to Central R.R. Depot – 100 or 200 tons at a time. Then beside the general supplies there were the answering the requirements of Special demands by telegram & letter from Dr. Douglas at Gettysburg – such as “send me 1000 loaves of bread – 40 barrels fresh crackers – ten relief agents, six carpenters, six cooks – 100 yds oil silk –and entire outfit for first class Relief Station – including tents, stoves, supplies, etc. – all by first train up from Baltimore if possible.” We have every day for a week sent to Gettysburg (and one time 2 loads daily) an “arctic car” load of fresh supplies ½ ton each of poultry, mutton, butter, fresh vegetables, etc, etc. Some days two (2) car loads – until at last a telegram from Gettysburg cried “hold, enough” (except the arctic supplies). Meantime horses and wagons & saddle horses & harnesses, etc. etc. had to be selected & bought & drivers & wagon-masters selected and bought and started off (in last week I bought & fitted out the nine wagons & 18 wagon horses & five saddle horses). Then came the necessity to send goods to Frederick in anticipation of a great battle in this region – Mr. Olmsted went to Frederick and immediately telegraphed “push on supplies with all possible dispatch by every means in your possession.” So new telegrams to Philadelphia & N. York & Boston had to be sent telling what we wanted via one car load a day for each place besides express loads. These supplies arriving had to be carted over to the Frederick Station, loaded – disentangled from [?] stores and got through – all the material for first class Relief Station including tents, etc. etc. cooks & men got & sent – with wagons & horses, etc. Meantime bills had to be paid and all the agents at work kept straight…Since Monday week we have received there at Baltimore between 80 & 90 telegrams all to be attended to and I have made purchases of horses, wagons & supplies in sums from one dollar to 500 amounting in total to $18,000 – and kept it all straight. So you can see why I haven’t written you any long letters – and though it has involved so much work I can assure you I have enjoyed it greatly and was never better in my life…Josiah Bellows is recovering at the cars which bring the wounded from Gettysburg to Baltimore – a wagon & two [unreadable] & 3 or 4 others in each train to give the water & care for them. We also take all these cars at Baltimore and purge them & put fresh straw, etc. & water & ice & crackers, etc. This we do by special request of Major [unreadable] staff in charge of transporting the wounded. I bought fifty water coolers (for ice) in one day for the cars.

Must close – I have gone over this to show you the Comm are at work – the Relief they have given at Gettysburg is immense…

Your affectionate son, F.N. Knapp

New Acquisition of Rev. John Allyn’s Sermons

Sermon of Rev. John Allyn, delivered April 1796 in Duxbury.

Sermon of Rev. John Allyn, delivered April 1796 in Duxbury.

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

In a town as old as Duxbury, there are many men and women who can claim a prominent place in its history.  Founders such as John and Priscilla Alden; shipbuilders Ezra “King Caesar” Weston I and II; master mariner and author Amasa Delano; and stage actress Fanny Davenport, are only a few names that come to mind.  However, all towns have their less heralded, though equally significant, citizens and Duxbury is no exception.  Rev. John Allyn (pronounced Alline) falls into this second category.  Rev. Allyn was the minister of the First Parish Church for 45 years, from 1788-1833.  While the majority of his tenure was peaceful, Allyn was part of a controversy at the end of his career that divided the town and had repercussions for decades after his death. Recently the Drew Archival Library received a gift of over fifty of the Rev. Allyn’s sermons from his descendants, Faith Stimson and Emily Sugg.  These sermons will help to illuminate the life of a man who was such an integral part of the community during the early 19th century.

Rev. Allyn was born in Barnstable, MA in 1767 and educated at Harvard College, earning his A.B. in 1785.  He received his A.M. in 1788, the same year he was ordained as Duxbury’s minister. Three years later he married Abigail Bradford.  The couple settled into a lovely home at 1043 Tremont Street, an easy stroll to the First Parish Church. The church to which Rev. Allyn would have walked was not the large Greek Revival structure we see today, but a smaller, squarer building painted a light yellow.  This meeting house, built in 1787, only a year before Allyn’s arrival, was more in keeping with the limited means of the post-Revolutionary Duxbury, a town that had yet to reach its shipbuilding zenith. In addition to his ministerial duties, Allyn ran a school from his home.

The contemporary accounts we have all indicate that Rev. Allyn was kind and a bit eccentric.  It is not hard to imagine him as the disheveled benevolent scholar.  According to his son-in-law, Rev. Convers Francis, Allyn possessed a peculiar imagination and often avoided the “beaten track of thought.” During conversation he loved to “throw his thoughts out in a desultory and startling manner.”[1]  Unfortunately, this often led to him being misconstrued.  He could also be rather unorthodox in his methods, once dressing as a ghost to scare a family, who had disavowed the existence God, back into believing.[2]   The pupils boarding at his school called him uncle and recalled many happy times in Duxbury under his tutelage. They received discipline only from his daughter, Abigail, never from Allyn himself. Perhaps the most famous of his students was a young Abigail May, the mother of Louisa May Alcott.[3]

Despite years of faithful service, Rev. Allyn’s tenure as minister in Duxbury had a final, dark chapter.  Allyn was afflicted with a premature ageing of both is his mind and body.  I am sure a modern-day physician could find a diagnosis based on contemporary evidence, but for the sake of this article, it is enough to say that he found himself incapacitated during much of his later years.  In 1825 Allyn asked that the congregation hire a co-minister to assist him in his duties.  This would allow him to live out his waning years in the community he loved and continue to preach to his flock at least part of the time.  However, it would also force the congregation to pay two salaries. Had his request come a decade earlier, perhaps there would have been no discussion on the matter but a number of changes had occurred that left the First Parish Church and the town divided over this request.

The Second Great Awakening that had been sweeping the country had caused some to leave the Unitarian pews of the First Parish Church for the newly formed Methodist and Universalist churches that had been built Washington Street. The number who left included some of wealthiest men in Duxbury at the time including Hon. Seth Sprague.  This exodus coincided with disestablishment of the Churches of the Standing Order.[4]  Prior to the disestablishment everyone had to pay a tax to support the sanctioned town church whether you were a member or not.  After the disestablishment, men like Sprague were no longer beholden to help fund the First Parish Church, resulting in a loss of revenue. With enough money to spare, a second minster may have incited little comment.  A tighter budget, however, caused many within the church, including a young fledgling politician named Gershom Bradford Weston, to demand the resignation of Allyn and the hiring of a new full-time minister.

Monument to Rev. John Allyn, Mayflower Cemetery, Duxbury, MA.

Monument erected in 1861 to the memory of Rev. John Allyn in Mayflower Cemetery, Duxbury, MA.

What came to pass is not a pretty commentary.  Because Allyn was still so beloved by many the congregation, a co-minister, Rev. Benjamin Kent, was hired to assist him.  Kent moved with his young family into a house built for them at 992 Tremont Street.  But, for the next seven years both Kent and Allyn constantly battled with the faction within the First Parish Church that disagreed with supporting two salaries.  Of the conflict, Sarah Bradford, who was related to Kent and therefore not unbiased, wrote to her daughter, “we are all in trouble, the Parish won’t pay two and we fear Mr. Kent will leave us, every one is for Mr. K but Dr. A won’t quit. I don’t know what we shall do…the Parish is in a sad state…”[5] The fight took a toll on both ministers. By 1833 Kent had been carted off to an insane asylum and Allyn was dead.[6]  Years later, during another controversy within the First Parish Church, Kent wrote a letter from his Roxbury home declaring that Gershom Bradford Weston was the cause of his temporary insanity and Allyn’s death.[7]

Rev. Allyn was buried in the tomb of another prominent Duxbury leader, Hon. George Partridge.  Hiswife and daughter were forced to sell their home and move from town.  In 1861 those who recalled him fondly raised a monument to their former minister and teacher in the Mayflower Cemetery which reads:

To the Memory of John Allyn, D.D.

Who was for 45 years the learned

able, and honored minister of the

Congregational Society in

Duxbury. Born at Barnstable Mass

March 21, 1767 Died at Duxbury

July 19, 1833

 In a succeeding generation some

of those who in early life shared

his kindness, profited by his

counsels and were impressed by

his truthfulness testify their

gratitude and reverence by this

Memorial stone.

 

 


[1] Convers Francis, Memoir of Rev. John Allyn of Duxbury.  See also, Justin Winsor, History of Duxbury (Crosby & Nichols: Boston, MA), 1849 p. 209

[2] “A Ghostly Visit” in Duxbury Budget (Duxbury Rural Society: Duxubry, MA), 1900, p. 20.

[3] Edmund Burke Willson, Memorial of John Clarke Lee (Salem Press; Salem, MA) 1879, p. 10 and Eve LaPlante, Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother (Free Press: New York), 2012, p. 26.

[4] Massachusetts broke the ties between church and state with the disestablishment of the Standing Order in 1833.  However, individual parishes ended the relationship earlier, Duxbury did so in 1828.

[5] Letter from Sarah Bradford to Maria W. Bradford, April 21 [1833], Bradford Family Collection, Drew Archival Library.  Maria W. Bradford’s husband, Claudius Bradford, was Benjamin Kent’s brother-in-law.

[6] Letter from Sarah Bradford to Lucia A. Bradford, May 5, 1833 in Bradford Family Collection, Drew Archival Library, “Mr. Kent has been in the insane hospital now nine days, his insanity came on by degrees until one day before he was carried to the hospital when he was perfectly crazy.”

[7] Letter from Benjamin Kent in Reply of a Committee of the First Parish in Duxbury, Massachusetts to the Public Answer of Hon. Gershom Weston, (Boston: C.C.P. Moody), 1851, p. 41.  Kent also contended that there was no shortage of funds during his ministry to pay two salaries.

The Day the Cable Came to Town

Cable House with trench dug for cable still visible.

Cable House with trench dug for cable still visible. Telegrapher George Green is just visible under the trees in the front of the house. He marked his upper bedroom window with a black dot.

Carolyn Ravenscroft

Many of you are no doubt are familiar with the Landing of the French Atlantic Cable in Duxbury in 1869, but for those of you who have never heard the tale, gather ‘round…

Once upon a time, before smart phones and email, before telecommunications, before even Marconi’s wireless, there was only one way to communicate immediately to those far, far away – cable telegraph lines.  You may not be surprised to learn that Samuel Morse, of “Morse Code” fame developed and patented the first electric telegraph machine in the US in 1837. But, interestingly, the code for transmitting messages could just have easily been called the “Vail Code” since Morse’s assistant, Alfred Vail, was responsible for it, but such is life when you’re not the boss.  By 1861 almost every point in the United States, from California to New York, was connected via wire.  So long Pony Express, hello telegram.

As amazing as connecting the vast North American continent by wire was, there was still a more daunting feat to be accomplished, a transatlantic cable.  With a Victorian can-do attitude and an initial $1.5 million in capital, businessman Cyrus F. Field, along a group of backers, set out to make the world a bit smaller. It took five attempts and over ten years before the ship, Great Eastern (read more about the ship), successfully laid a 2,000 mile-long cable across the ocean floor from Ireland, bringing it ashore in Newfoundland in 1866.

Once Great Britain and North America were connected, the French sought to have their own exclusive means of transatlantic communication.  As with the Anglo line, the French Atlantic Telegraphic Company used the now tried and true Great Eastern.  The French cable was approximately 3,500 miles long – beginning in Brest, France it would travel to the “southern edge of the ‘Grand Banks’; thence to the French island of St. Pierre off the south coast of Newfoundland and thence down past Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia to Duxbury.”[1] On June 21, 1869 the Great Eastern, accompanied by the ships Chiltern and Scanderia set out on their voyage. Just over a month later, on July 23, 1869 the cable was landed on Duxbury Beach at Rouse’s Hummock.

Landing of the Cable from Frank Leslie's Illustrated

Landing of the Cable from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated

It was a time of great celebration in Duxbury.  A tent was erected on Abrams Hill with a view of the Hummock. Six hundred guests, including dignitaries from around the state, nation and world converged to wine, dine, listen to speeches and most importantly, to see first hand the wonder of sending and receiving messages from across the sea.  Included in the festivities were Mayor N. B. Shurtleff of Boston and President of the Massachusetts Sentate, George O. Brastow.[2]  Cannons of the Second Massachusetts Light Battery were fired, streamers and flags flew and for a moment the eyes of the world were on this sleepy seaside town.

Map showing the cable route into Duxbury, drawn by telegraph operator George Green, 1869.

Map showing the cable route into Duxbury, drawn by telegraph operator George Green, 1869.

The eventual terminus for the cable was the former Duxbury Bank building on the corner of Washington and St. George Streets.  As you can imagine, the early years of the cable office were quite busy and required trained operators, many of whom, like Englishmen Robert Needham and George Green, immigrated to Duxbury along with the cable. Later, Canadian William Facey, the amateur photographer responsible for one of our most-used photo collections, came to work here. These men became some of Duxbury’s most civic-minded residents. After a few years the French Atlantic Cable Company was brought under the fold of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company and later, in 1911, became Western Union.  Over the years other transatlantic cables took away Duxbury’s prominence and business waned. Duxbury’s cable house closed after WWII.

Today the stately home on the Blue Fish River that once housed the cable office is a private residence.  It is still alternately called the “Bank Building” or the “Cable Office” by folks in town…okay, that’s probably not true, it’s called that by a handful of people, including me, but nobody knows what I’m talking about when I say it.  Now you do.

If you would like to learn more about the French Atlantic Cable, you can visit the Drew Archives and view the Robert Needham Collection (DAL.MSS.043), the French Atlantic Cable Collection (DAL.MSS.044), read telegrapher George Green’s own copy of Landing of French Atlantic Cable with his notes, or see the images in the William Facey Collection online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/drewarchives/sets/72157626060922690/


[1] Franklin K. Hoyt, The French Atlantic Cable 1869, Duxbury Rural & Historical Society, 1982. p. 8

[2] The Landing of the French Atlantic Cable, Boston, Alfred Mudge & Son, 1869.


How Myles Standish Lost His Head

Sculptor John Horrigan with Myles Standish's head, 1930.

The Duxbury Rural & Historical Society recently acquired this photograph of sculptor John Horrigan with Myles Standish’s head, 1930.

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

Myles Standish was known to have a hot temper but it was not until 1922[1] that he truly lost his head.  Shortly after noon on a sultry August day an electrical storm caused lightning to strike the 116-foot monument dedicated to the former military leader of the Pilgrims. The bolt from the sky caused Myles’ head and arm to topple to the ground.

There was no great push to replace his missing granite anatomy so Myles stood headless over Duxbury for four long years.  In 1926, a new head was created by Boston sculptor John Horrigan[2].  Unfortunately the old lightening damaged legs could not support their new addition so back to the quarry it went, along with an order for stronger lower limbs.[3]  Finally, in 1930, an almost completely remade Myles Standish was placed back atop his perch (his outstretched arm and possibly torso are the only remaining parts of the original statue).

While the damage to its statue was catastrophic, the beheading of Myles Standish was only one in a series of misfortunes suffered by the Monument – and some would say it continues to suffer.  The Monument was conceived not by a Duxbury resident but rather by J. Henry Stickney of Baltimore, an admirer of Capt. Standish.  The land atop Captain’s Hill, formerly owned by Standish, was deemed the most appropriate spot to place a memorial. Architect Alden Frink’s design called for a 100′ monument topped with a 14′ statue (with two feet between the parapet and the statue, making it 116′ total). Garnering support and enough money to begin the project, the cornerstone was laid on October 7, 1872, with much fanfare and even Masonic ceremonies, in front of 10,000 onlookers.  But, after an expenditure of $27,000 the monument was still only 72 feet high.  Interest and money waned and it stood half complete until a second wave of donors saw the monument finished in 1898.  When you look at the two shades of granite, you can tell exactly where construction originally halted.

Standish Monument, c. 1900

Standish Monument, c. 1900

By 1920 the Monument and statue were in disrepair.  Dr. Horton, the President of the Standish Monument Association, sought $10,000 from the State for repairs and landscaping.  According to Thomas Weston’s autobiography, the State could offer no assistance unless it acquired the monument.  After persuading the Association deed the land over, a bill was signed by Gov. Calvin Coolidge, allowing for Massachusetts to become its owner and caretaker. [4]  Thus, when Myles lost his head, the State got the bill.

Today the State still gets the bill, but with so many other pressing responsibilities, the upkeep and opening of the Myles Standish Monument has become a bit overlooked.  Despite this, however,  Myles, with his reconstructed head and body, still stands tall.


[1] “Bolt Beheads Myles Standish Statue on Duxbury Shore,” Boston Sunday Globe, August 27, 1922.  This date has been misreported over the years as 1903, 1920 and 1924.  However the actual storm hit on August 26, 1922, two years after the State of Massachusetts took control of the monument from the town.

[2] S. J. Kelly of Boston designed the original statue.  It was sculpted by Stephano Brignoli and Luigi Limonetta of Bayeno, Italy using granite from Maine.  The Monument was designed by architect Alden Frink.

[3] The lower legs were left at Horrigan Granite Co. in Quincy and later ended up in Halifax.

[4] Excerpt from the autobiography of Thomas Weston in Don H. Ross, “The Mystery of Captain Myles Standish’s Legs”, 2001, p. 12.

The Accounts of Ardelia E. Ripley Hall

Page of Ardelia E. Ripley's Practice Account Book, 1856.

Page of Ardelia E. Ripley’s Practice Account Book, 1856.

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

In 1856 seventeen-year-old Ardelia E.Ripley (1839-1899), the daughter of Samuel E. Ripley and Sarah Cushman[1], was a student at Partridge Academy in Duxbury. Her Common School Book-Keeping Being a Practical System by Single Entry; Designed for the use of Public Schools by Charles Northend (1853) can be found at the Drew Archives. It is a wonderful example of how students learned the art of basic accounting. While we have numerous day-books and journals used by adults of the period, it is unusual to see one that demonstrates the learning process. Practice books are often thrown away long before they make it into an archival collection.

What I find fascinating about the book is what it tells us about society in the 1850’s. Here, in neat script, is a full listing of all the items a person might consider purchasing along with their cost. Duxbury was no longer the prosperous shipbuilding mecca it had once been, but that did not mean its inhabitants didn’t still pine for kid gloves and cashmere. Using her classmates and relations as fictitious “customers” Ardelia itemized a veritable Ante-bellum wish-list. Classmate Frederick Bryant, for example, lavishly spent $6.00 on “1 pair of pantaloons for my hired man” but also more sensibly required coarse salt at 1 ¾ per pound, and even a “white wash brush” for $.63. Girlfriends like Josephine Thomas bought “muslin de laine ($.31 per yard), 2 skeins of silk ($.08).” Ardelia’s young cousin, Walter F. Cushman, required a “silk handkerchief ($.50) and a cravat ($1.50).” Older family acquaintances also made it into her accounts, Capt. George P. Richardson was a regular customer, buying “kid gloves ($.75), 29 yards of carpeting ($21.00), a satin vest ($3.25), 1 yard cambric ($.10) and ½ dozen buttons ($.03)” all in one day. In total Ardelia kept her account book for four months, had eleven customers and over 150 entries with hundreds of line-items. While I have not vetted the prices she ascribed to them, the items themselves are a boon to any researcher interested in knowing what was available to purchase in America at that time.

Ardelia E. Ripley (1839-1899)

Ardelia E. Ripley Hall (1839-1899)

Almost equally as fascinating to me are the people Ardelia Ripley chose to include in her assignment and how they fit into Duxbury history. For example, friend Joseph E. Simmons, who’s name is one of the most prominent in the accounts, would one day die in the Civil War at the Second Battle of Bull Run (see the Duxbury in the Civil War article). Captains George P. Richardson and Daniel L. Winsor were prominent civic leaders. Walter F. Cushman grew up to marry Ardelia’s daughter, Lucie. In 1860, Ardelia herself would marry the keeper of the Gurnet Light House, George H. Hall, and have six children. Her son, Captain Parker J. Hall, was one of the most colorful people to ever live in Duxbury (more on him in a future post).


[1] The home of Samuel E. and Sarah Ripley was described in a 1925 The House Beautiful article entitled “The Little Gray House with the Pale-Green Door: One of the Aristocrats of the Cape Cod House.” Ardelia inherited this house and passed it on to her youngest daughter, Lura Cushman Hall.

The Opposite of a Love Letter

Portrait of Lloyd Granville Sampson by Cephas Thompson, 1832.

Portrait of Lloyd Granville Sampson by Cephas Thompson, 1832.

I had fully intended to share a love poem or letter today from one of our collections in honor of Valentine’s Day. But what I found instead was simply too good to pass up.  In 1829, when he was just 21 years old, Lloyd Granville Sampson (1808-1838) penned an essay and poem about the joys of being a bachelor.  He obviously could not see 3 years into the future or he would have known he would be leaving the “state of single blessedness” by marrying the lovely Mary Winsor.  I wonder if she had any inkling of his views on marriage?

Sampson cannot be credited with his turn of phrase. The term “Single Blessedness” was used at the time to describe the lives of women who opted out of marriage. There were benefits to being a spinster in the 19th century that often outweighed those of matrimony for sure – a single woman could own her own property, run a business and sign contracts, things a married woman could not do by law. They could also come and go as they pleased and live an independent life, if they had the financial means, of course. There were also the dangers of childbirth and overbearing husbands to consider. So, remaining unattached was an attractive option (think of our fabulous Bradford Sisters of the Bradford House museum).

It seems Sampson was in favor of his own version of single blessedness. Based on his other witty writing we can assume the following is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  I hope you enjoy this very un-Valentine’s day post.

Written in behalf of the fraternity of Bachelors

Know all to whom these presents my come that I am a Bachelor, that I have lived long in a state of “single blessedness” and in that state I shall die.  I know not how happy a matrimonial life may be, yet I know how peaceful is that of a Bachelor. The former may be pleasing, the latter is well known to me to be so.  The double man may avoid many evils, the single man is sure to avoid one.  In short I know of no life so well calculated for the comfort and care of man as a single one, when evening comes and the sun has quietly gone to rest, it is then the state of single blessedness is most dear to me.  Then there is a comfort in running over past events long gone by, and a delight in anticipating the future.  The Bachelor goes to his “round-a-bout” and takes his care, look at him as he sits with his head inclined upon his elbow puffing a friendly cigar, he has not a scolding wife no disobedient child no few cents for milk, no yelping brats to distract and perplex him, but goes to his bed a quietly as the sun faces the west.  True it is the single man will have not long train to follow him to his “last home” no tears from a “better half” to wet the turf which covers his grave – yet for all this I am a Bachelor – the troubles of the double man will come upon him while the single man is at ease and without care.  When the storm beat upon our casements and  the winds whistle round our dwellings, then the troubles of the married man should be recollected.  While the Bachelor sits peacefully by his fire “now and then” disturbing the burning embers with the friendly poker.  The one may experience many anxious hours for a son at sea or for the indisposition of a child, the other is free from all these anxious hours and a deal of leisure to “patch stich [sic] and darn”

A single life the life for me,

How, dearly I do love it,

Free as the air I’ll live & die,

If I leave no heir behind me.

The man without a wife is blest

His life is one continued rest

Free from family, care & strife

He’s merry and happy without a wife

Journal of Adeline Baker now online

The journal of Adeline Baker has been transcribed and is now available under our Journals tab.  

Adeline Baker (1829-1856) grew up in the Crooked Lane neighborhood in North Duxbury, near the Marshfield line.  As a neighbor of Daniel Webster, the great statesman’s death shook her community.  She picked the day of Webster’s funeral to begin her diary: 

October 29th 1852

A more beautiful morn than this could not be desired even by the most fastidious.  And a great event has this day taken place in our own quiet county of Plymouth in our own sister town, Marshfield.  And event which will not only be pondered upon in its minutest details by our whole Nation, but the World will hear of it.

This day, this twenty-ninth of October Eighteen Hundred & Fifty-two, the mortal remains of Daniel Webster have been committed to the silent tomb…”

After such a lofty start, Adeline’s diary settles in to a more simplified tone.  She records her visits, chores and family events. Perhaps the most significant event in her own life came on January 6, 1853, the day she married William N. Jameson.  Weddings were not the extravagant affairs they are today.  Adeline’s entry of that day is rather matter of fact,  “This day has been rather a hurrying time. Jameson came over this afternoon. Daniel and Edward came home tonight. Father and Mother, Daniel, his wife, Edward, Levi, Wallace and Amanda all went to Mrs. Alden’s to see me married.”  The couple moved to Plymouth where Jameson owned a store and Adeline kept up her journal until April, 1854.

Unfortunately, any happiness she had as the wife of a young merchant was short-lived. Jameson died of consumption in 1855 and Adeline returned to her parent’s house. She died the following year at the age of 27.

Adeline Baker’s journal is part of the Capt. Edward Baker Collection (you can read Edward’s Civil War diary on his Facebook page ). Her journal spans almost two years and is wonderful glimpse into the day-to-day life of a young, 19th century woman.