A Christmas Romance In Duxbury

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

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

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

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

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

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

And now we come to the romance portion.livermore003

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

[5] Ibid. 388.

Amasa Delano’s Ghost

ship in a stormCarolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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