The Fire That Burned the Weston Dynasty

Letter written by Samuel L. Winsor to his brother in 1850 describing the fire at the Weston house.  The letter was recently acquired by the Drew Archival Library

Letter written by Samuel L. Winsor to his brother in 1850 describing the fire at the Weston house. The letter was recently acquired by the Drew Archival Library

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

Just after midnight on March 29,1850 an Irish servant in the employ of Gerhsom Bradford Weston awoke to the smell of smoke. After giving an alarm, she, along with the large Weston clan, ran from the house in their nightclothes and watched in horror as the quickly moving blaze burned the stately home on Harmony Street (today’s St. George St.). Despite the best efforts of the volunteer bucket brigade, almost nothing could be saved of the contents of the house – portraits, jewelry, furnishings, and even $4,000 in cash were all lost within a few short hours. The total loss reported by Weston’s secretary, William Ellison, was $55,000 ($1.7 million today).

Two letters at the Drew Archival Library recount the fire. One, written by Louisa Bradford Thomas, the Weston’s neighbor at 4 Cedar Street, gives an eye-witness account of the “melancholy spectacle” to her niece, Isabel Kent. The Weston family, turned out of the house without so much as stockings on their feet, made their way to a friend’s house and sent a note to Louisa Thomas for clothing, which she was able to supply. According to Mrs. Thomas, the family lost “the accumulation of thirty years, from all parts of Europe, besides portraits & treasures.” The other letter, only recently acquired by the Drew Archival Library, was written by Samuel L. Winsor to his brother, Capt. Daniel L. Winsor. It gives particulars gleaned from speaking to William Ellison about what transpired on the night of the fire. He records the only items saved from the blaze were “the piano, sofas, front door, 1 carpet and 1 painting.” Both letters refer to the fact that the house was uninsured, but Winsor gives added detail, i.e. “no insurance on the house or on furniture! Never was insured…Boston & Country offices had heretofore refused to insure on account of so many fireplaces.” Perhaps most amazing to Winsor was the loss of “gold watches on the stands – 4 of them in the house.”

Had the fire happened at a different time, perhaps a few years earlier when the great Weston shipbuilding firm begun by Ezra “King Caesar” Weston I in 1764 was still one of the most profitable and recognized in the world, the loss would not have been so catastrophic. But for Gershom Bradford Weston, the eldest son of Duxbury’s second “King Caesar,” Ezra Weston II, the house and its contents now represented almost the entirety of his net-worth.   Typical of the later generations of great merchant wealth, G. B. Weston did not produce income, instead he spent it to promote worthy causes, such as abolition and temperance, and to advance his political career. Also perhaps a bit too typically, he did not see the need to curtail his expenditures once the bulk of his inheritance had been reduced to ashes. He moved his family to temporary quarters in Boston and began the rebuilding of his estate – even larger than before. To pay for the new house he borrowed heavily from his younger brother, Alden B. Weston, and allowed him to hold the mortgage.

During the 1850’s and into the 1860’s Gershom Bradford Weston may have felt the pinch of his reduced circumstances, but to the outside world nothing had changed. He continued to be active in local and state politics, and even ran as the Free Soil Party candidate for the Congress in 1852. In 1860 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War he tirelessly worked to recruit men from Duxbury to serve in the Union Army and was instrumental in seeing that Duxbury soldiers received the bounties that were due them.

wright estate001

Mansion rebuilt by Gershom Bradford Weston, later owned by the Wright family. It was torn down in the late 1960s

Despite his unflagging political and social career, financial troubles were on the horizon. In October, 1864 Weston mortgaged the entirety of his personal property to his son Alfred for $3,288.50 with the understanding that all property would remain in the hands of Gershom Bradford Weston and he had the right to purchase it back within five years. Included in the inventory are his horses, Charley and Poppit, a variety of carriages and buggies, livestock, and home furnishings. Nothing in the inventory is as elegant as the descriptions of those items lost in the fire 14 years earlier – there is only one gold watch this time. The following month Weston wrote out an inventory of his real estate holdings under the heading “Judgment for the sum of $11,755.54, Executed 30 Nov 1864.” But the biggest financial reversal came in 1867 when, after years of estrangement and litigation, his brother Alden called in the mortgage on the Harmony Street property. Once again Gershom Bradford Weston found himself turned out of his mansion – only this time there was no hope of getting it back.

In what could be considered a cruel twist of fate, Weston rented a house just on the edge of his former estate (21 Pine Hill Ave.). He therefore had a front row seat as he watched the new and fantastically wealthy owners, George and Georgianna Wright, take possession of it. When word reached his Boston friends that the house Weston was renting was to be sold, forcing him to move yet again, they took up a collection and purchased the property – putting the house in his wife’s name to keep it from the creditors.  Gershom Bradford Weston died in 1869 at the age of 70. When his brother Alden died in 1880, the original Weston mansion (today known as the King Caesar House), the final vestige of the once great Weston dynasty, was sold and turned into the Powder Point School for Boys.

Sources:

Browne, Patrick T.J. King Caesar of Duxbury: Exploring the World of Ezra Weston, Shipbuilder & Merchant. Duxbury, MA: Duxbury Rural & Historical Society. 2006.

Weston, Edmund Brownell. In Memorium: My Father and My Mother Hon. Gershom Bradford Weston, Deborah Brownell Weston of Duxbury, Massachusetts. Providence, RI. 1916.

Louisa B. Thomas Letter in Bradford Family Collection, DAL.MSS.024, Drew Archival Library

Samuel L. Winsor Letter (1850), DAL.SMS.068, Drew Archival Library

Financial papers, Alden B. Weston Collection, Drew Archival Library, DAL.MSS.056

Date Board House Files, Capt. George Peterson House, 1801, Drew Archival Library

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Duxbury High School Interns Catalog Three New Collections

Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of working with and mentoring Duxbury High School interns.  Each semester two to four students come daily to the Drew Archives and assist in the cataloging of collections.  I am pleased to have been able to add three new finding aids here because of their hard work during the internship program – the diary of Martha (Hammett) Blanchard, the Keen Family Collection, and a letter by William P. Webster.

Meaghan Marohn, a Duxbury High School senior, cataloged the diary of Martha (Hammett) Blanchard, a summer resident of Duxbury.  The diary was written in 1922 when Martha Blanchard 71 years old.  It contains daily entries describing the weather, visits with friends, special outings, holidays and household chores.  Of special note is the entry  on Aug. 22 when lightening struck the Myles Standish Monument in Duxbury, knocking the statue’s head and torso to the ground.  The diary gives an idea of what the typical day of  a woman in 1922 would look like.  The diary was donated by Rebecca Chin, a descendent of Martha Blanchard.

Nick Blair, also a senior at Duxbury High School, assisted in the cataloging of the Keen Family Collection.  This collection was donated last year by Janet Peterson and it contains some of the oldest documents we have at the Drew Archival Library – two 17th century deeds.  The Keen family lived in the Ashdod section of town and their property is part of Camp Wing today.

Senior Josh West cataloged the letter of a young Duxbury teacher, William P. Webster, from 1842.  This entertaining letter was written to William’s brother, Walter, and tells of lyceum lectures, holiday  celebrations and even a Forefather’s Day dinner in Plymouth.  The letter is interesting in another way – it was written on an unusually large piece of paper as somewhat of a joke.  Webster clearly had a sense of humor.  The letter was donated by John and Polly Nash.

In addition to the Finding Aids prepared by Duxbury High School students, Simmons College intern, Emily Carta, worked diligently on the Wilde Family Collection.  Dr. James Wilde was one of Duxbury’s two 19th century doctors.  He lived on St. George Street, just a short walk down the street from the Drew Archives.  What we discovered during the processing of the collection was the Dr. Wilde’s daughters are as noteworthy as their father.  Kate Wilde was a suffragette and editor of the Woman’s Journal in Boston.  Lucy Beal Wilde was equally active in the social movements of her day.  The collection was donated by Dawn Wilde whose husband was a direct descendent of Dr. Wilde.

This semester three students are working on a number of interesting collections that will be added here when completed.

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)

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.

200 Years Ago Today…well, yesterday

Capt. Gershom Bradford (Martha’s Vineyard) to his wife, Sarah Hickling Bradford (Duxbury, MA), November 14, 1812.


The largest collection by far held at the Drew Archival Library is that of the Bradford Family.  It spans 200 years, has hundreds of letters, photographs, shipping papers, journals, etc, etc.  It is the go-to collection here when I need to know anything about Duxbury history – each generation of the family was heavily involved in social movements, town politics and, dare I say it, gossip.  So, when I thought it might be fun to scan something from 200 years ago today, I immediately went to see what a Bradford had to say.  The following is a brief love letter Captain Gershom Bradford (1774-1844) penned to his wife, Sarah Hickling Bradford (1772-1861), before heading to Boston aboard the brig Patriot.  The Captain was away quite a bit as a master mariner during their early marriage.  At the time of this letter Sarah would have been pregnant with their fourth daughter, Charlotte (the Civil War nurse).

You will notice the “B-” written atop the scanned image.  Much of the Bradford correspondence was graded by descendent, also named Gershom Bradford. The B- might seem a poor grade for such a lovely little note but, given the length and topics of other letters, it was probably a fair assessment in his eyes.

Martha’s Vineyard

November 14th, 1812

Holmes-hole

Dear Wife,

I arrived here yesterday and was at great mind this morning to have set out and come to Duxbury and spend Saturday night with you and back again tomorrow but thinking there might be a fair wind before I got back and if so Mr. [Samuel] Frazar might look cross at your handsome face for entreeing [sic] me away from my duty so on the whole concluded best to remain onboard and make my self as merry as posable [sic] but at best that is very dull when absent from you tell the little girls that father is coming with a proper good smaking [sic] kiss for them and one for mother [page torn] goodnight may pleasant dreams attend my love and be realized

Yours, Gershom Bradford

John Southworth of the 18th Massachusetts

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

Letter from John Southworth, Hall’s Hill, Virginia, Camp Barnes, January 7, 1864.

“Cheer up Emma, it will all seem better when he comes home…”

                      – Harriet J. Fish to Emma Cushing Paulding, July 15, 1861

On a late summer day in 1861, 17 year old John Southworth of Duxbury was mustered into the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, Company E.  He was not alone, accompanying him were a number of young men from town, including his brother, 20 year old Walter.  John and Walter, like many in Duxbury at the time, were shoemakers.  The glory days of Duxbury’s shipbuilding era was a generation past and many took to making shoes, or cordwaining, as an occupation.  John’s father, James, was alternately listed as a farmer or shoemaker in the US Census Records, indicating that the Southworths owned a sustainable farm in Duxbury but required the additional income shoemaking could provide.

The Southworths belonged to a large network of families that had lived in Duxbury since its founding.  When John marched off to war he left behind his parents, James and Lucy, as well as a number of siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.  One such relation was young Emma Cushing Paulding (b. 1843), the daughter of one of the last successful shipbuilders in town, William Paulding.  As first cousins living in a small town, Emma and John had grown up together and it is through their Civil War correspondence that we are able to glimpse the kind, wistful and serious-minded man John Southworth was.

As a member of the 18th Massachusetts, John Southworth’s tenure was three years, during which he witnessed many of the most notable battles of the Civil War, including Gettysburg.  His letters describe the cold, miserable conditions men on the picket lines had to endure, the long marches without any rest, and the fear of facing battle.  In one letter he described the suicide of a fellow soldier who was so desolate he would rather die than face another day of war.  John also writes of coming home and his wish to see his parents, to go on a sleigh ride and to attend dances once again.  Through his letters it is obvious he and his cousin Emma shared a familiarity and friendship, and perhaps, although they were cousins, a bit of romance.  Many of John’s correspondents had left off writing him and he was always grateful to receive word from Emma.

Unfortunately, John Southworth did not survive the War. He died in Andersonville Prison in Georgia during the summer of 1864.  In his last letter to Emma, written on April 10th, only a few short months before his death he wrote the following:

“You say I don’t think enough of myself, ah yes I do Emma, I think I am as good as anybody…But I don’t know as I am good enough to go with a girl.  I think they are a higher grade of human beings than men.  They don’t take part in the abominable, diabolical war.  I can’t say anything bad enough about it…I’m afraid of shot and shell, I have had too many of them sing around my head already and I never want to hear another one fired at them, don’t know how dreadful they sound.”

Although John did not make it home, his brother Walter did, marrying a local girl named Emma Chandler and raising a family in Duxbury.  As for Emma, a few years after the War, she married George Bartlett Bates of Kingston, MA and had five children.  She died in 1930 at the age of 87.

John Southworth alludes to a diary he kept as a soldier.  We can only suppose it was lost while he was a prisoner.  The six letters that Emma Paulding kept, however, allow us to know John Southworth and his experience, if only a bit.  The letters were transcribed by Dylan Kornberg as part of his Duxbury High School internship program and are available by clicking the Emma C. Paulding Papers link to the right under Small Collections.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society’s Duxbury in the Civil War blog site (www.duxburyinthecivilwar.wordpress.com) in May 2011.  In light of the Southworth letters being featured on the Library of Congress’ National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collection’s Documentary Heritage of the Civil War I thought I would repost it.

4th of July – 1850 Style

Letter from Eugene Sampson to Daniel Sampson, June 21, 1850

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

Apparently, “boys will be boys” even in 1850.

In preparation for a bang up 4th of July celebration in old Duxbury, a group of teenage boys were soliciting funds to purchase a keg of powder in Boston.  The plan was to ship the keg to Duxbury and  “make that cannon behind Swift’s Shop ring.”  The price of the keg and shipping was $3.00 and any contribution, no matter how small, was welcome.

The young man behind the scheme was Eugene Sampson (1833-1901), the nephew of one the wealthiest and most influential men in town, Hon. Seth Sprague.  In 1849, at the age of 16, Eugene left his home in Duxbury to board at 31 Somerset Street in Boston.  He was employed in the counting rooms of Sprague, Soule & Co (dealers in grindstones and plasters) located at No. 7  T Wharf.

Somerset Street, Boston in 1860 from Boston Public Library’s collection.

Eugene often wrote to his Duxbury cousin, Daniel Sampson (1832-1893), of his life in the city and inquire about friends at home – especially the girls. He also described all there was to see and do.  The California gold rush was on and Boston was bustling with young men (many from Duxbury) heading west.  Gene would typically get to bed at two o’clock in the morning and sleep until past breakfast.

Eventually, Eugene slowed down and became a much more respectable member of Boston society. In 1857 he married Martha Gilbert of Dorchester. The couple had five daughters.  Census records indicate he became the treasurer of a cotton mill.  His cousin, Daniel, became a ship’s captain and married Ada Gifford of Boston.

The Drew Archives have 5 entertaining letters from Gene, a.k.a “Stinking Pork” to his cousin, Daniel, a.k.a. “Fud.”  The following describes the 4th of July plans:

Boston, June 21st 1850

Fud,

We are trying to get money enough to buy a keg of Powder which will take $3.00 to pay freight and all.  Two of us have subscribed $1.75 and if you will contribute any where between 12 ½ cts and $1 it will be gratefully received, we will make that old cannon behind Swift’s shop ring.  If you think that you will contribute any thing, you can let me know by Monday’s mail and pay me when I go home.  Do not say any thing about it to anybody else.  Ichabod Sampson sent me $1 towards it but you must not let him know that I wrote to you or that you have heard any thing about it.  Be sure and answer Monday and not wait any longer because we must get all that we are going to before Thursday.  Now be sure and write Monday no matter how small you put in it will help us along, the larger the better.

 Nothing new to write,

Hot as the Devil here

 From your friend

Eugene

 If you know of any body else that would give anything why you may ask them, but I had rather you would say nothing about it.  Direct the letter to the care of Sprague Soule.

I would love to know what became of the keg of powder and the boys’ Fourth of July celebration.  I am certain it went off without a hitch…I mean really, what could possibly go wrong?