The Dower of Olive Wadsworth

On a spring day in 1822 young Olive Wadsworth married her distant cousin, Ahira Wadsworth, in Bristol, RI.  Both the bride and groom hailed from Duxbury so it is a bit of a mystery as to why they chose to marry out of state but perhaps Ahira, a merchant, had reason to be in that port.  Olive was 20 years younger than her new husband and must have felt a bit daunted at the prospect of entering his house, already the home of his  children by his first wife, Deborah Sprague, who had died nine years earlier.

The house to which she entered was a lovely two story Colonial located on Washington Street.  It was large and elegant with eight rooms and intricately carved woodwork.  The house was used for both living quarters and as a store.  Life must have been fine for Olive until five years into her marriage when Ahira went bankrupt.  The Wadsworth’s property was seized and sold off.  The house was sold to Capt. Martin Waterman and much of the adjoining land bought by Benjamin Holmes.

When Ahria died in 1867 Olive sued both the Watermans and the Holmes for her dower rights – something she claimed she did not relinquish to creditors in 1827.   An agreement was drawn up between Rufus, son of Benjamin Holmes, and the widowed Olive regarding the land:

The following are the bounds of the Dower of Olive Wadsworth in all the real estate of Rufus Holmes of Duxbury, as agreed upon by the parties Sept. 17th 1867.

To wit.  Begin at the NW corner of Andrew Stetson’s garden in George Partridge’s line; thence, in said line, N 75 1/2 W about forty rods to the corner, then S 12 W, as the fence now runs, Eleven rods & five links to a post & stake, then S 75 1/2 E to a stake by the said Stetson’s garden fence, then by said fence N 12 E eleven rods & five links to the first bound.  And said Holmes is to have a right to enter upon said Dower land to remove, for his own use, all the growing crops, now thereon, and shall furnish a convenient way to said Dower land, to said Olive, if he objects to her passing over his rye now growing on the same.

Ten years later, in 1877, Olive sold off the rights to her small holding to Rufus Holmes for the sum of $25.

Martin Waterman’s widow’s agreement was much more severe.  According to former Duxbury Town Historian, Dorothy Wentworth, “Lydia Waterman, widow of Martin, had to share her home of 40 years with Olive Wadsworth, widow of Ahira.”  The house was literally split in two by an imaginary line running down the center of the house.” The 1880 US Census confirms that Olive did indeed take up residence in the house.

Olive lived a long, and we hope somewhat happy life.  She and Ahira had six children: Harriet, Henry, Horace, Helen, Hamilton and Harrison.  She clearly liked the letter “H” (Ahira’s six children by his first wife have no such naming scheme).   Three of her children, unfortunately, died young.  In her widowed years she lived with her son, Hamilton, who was a shoemaker. She died in Boston in 1883, at the age of 85.

The above transcribed Dower description and the real estate deeds of the Holmes family were recently donated to the Drew Archival Library by Arthur Beane.