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


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

The Cost of Edward and William Ellison

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

In 1820 young William (1811-1858) and Edward Ellison (1813-1866) of Boston tragically lost both of their parents and two of their siblings to “spotted fever” (possibly typhus).  Their older brother, James, while greatly concerned with their wellfare, was ill-equipped to care for the boys.  Luckily, William and Edward were part of a much larger family consisting of numerous aunts, uncles and grandparents.  One such aunt was Sarah Alden  (Hickling) Bradford, the wife of Capt. Gershom Bradford, living in Duxbury.  The Bradfords had four daughters but no sons.  An arrangment was made whereby the Ellison boys would be cared for by their aunt Sarah while their room and board would be paid for by their grandmother, Elizabeth Hodson Hickling, possibly out of the estate of their parents.  Their legal guardian, however, was a man by the name of Mr. James.

By all contemporary accounts both Sarah and Gershom Bradford were the best of folks and most likely cared for their young charges well, even “adopting” Edward.  Although, in a letter from elder brother James Ellison, we get the impression that William was a handful.

In the Bradford Family Collection we also have Sarah Bradford’s household account book that sheds some light on what it cost to raise and educate her two charges..

  • Excerpts from Sarah Alden Bradford’s Account Book:

Wiliam and Edward to S.B. Paid Dec. 26, 1820.

20 cents for mending shoes

8 cents for mending shoes

7 cents for mending shoes

25 cents for pulling a tooth

25 cents for too writing books

11.37 1/2 for suit of clothes each

25 cents for writing books

1 dollar for school book and quills

1 pair of shoes 1.58 cents

1 pair of shoes 1.50 cents…

1821 William and Edward went to Boston October 4 returned October 21.  Rec’d part pay for their board 63 dollars, dito 25 dollars…

  • Letter written in 1825 by James Ellison to his Aunt Sally [Sarah Alden Bradford] concerning William, then age 14:

Boston, March 26, 1825

Dear Aunt,

I received your letter on Thursday when I immediately went to Waltham to see Grandmother [Elizabeth Hodson Hickling], after having read your letter to her, she seamed very much pleased with the idea of William’s going into Mr. Weston’s store .  I have also had a long interview with Mr. James, he highly approves of it.  He is very anxious to have William go with Mr. Weston, provided he is such a man, as I, knowing him, took the liberty of representing him, to be – he is very anxious to know what the terms are.  You say they are good, in a note received from him this morning he says ” I have concluded to let Mr. Weston send his terms first & then propose ours if he does not grant enough – If we propose too much at first, he may go back.  Let him write to me.”  He seems to be desirous that William’s Interest should be promoted as far as possible.  And from that reason, he wishes Mr. Weston to forward him his terms, so that hereafter, if any thing should happen, he may produce them, to show that he has done his duty as a Guardian.  You will please act in conformity if it meets your views.  In my own opinion, there could nothing be done now for William than this, if he behaves himself and applies himself to his business, it will result finally greatly to his advantage. If he should want any thing & I can be of any service in making him a good man, do not hesitate to write me & fail not, Dear Aunt, in impressing upon him the importance of keeping his mind employed all the time – lay before him, that he is now about learning that which according to his attention to, will render him a good or miserable man.  In a store there are great temptations to a young beginner that better boys than he have been ruined merely by idleness & by listening to language of those, whom retail shops particularily collects, but it is useless for me to say much, for I know that out of respect to the memory of my dear Mother, you will impress him with the Importance of good behavior & industry, but being a Brother, it is totally impossible for me to be silent on a subject which so deeply interests him.  If he goes with Mr. Weston, which I hope he will, I shall take his proportion (if agreeable to all concerned) of the rent and deposit it in the Savings Bank, because it will be of great advantage to him at some future day, when he might be in great want of it…

James Ellison

William Ellison married Almeda Partridge of Duxbury in 1834.  The couple had  three children: Peleg Sprague, who would later change his name to William, (b. 1835) ; Elizabeth H. (b. 1838) and Laura B. (b. 1840).  His descendent was William “Bill” Ellison, one of the great benefactors of the town of Duxbury in the 20th century.

Edward Ellison moved to Bangor, ME and was involved in the tin trade.  He married the widow Lucy Mills Milikin in 1839.  The couple had four daughters: Mary, Sarah, Almeda and Helen.

Duxbury & The Old Manse

The Old Manse

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

Today I was fortunate enough to spend the day in Concord touring some of my favorite places – The Old Manse, Orchard House and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  For those of you who don’t know, Duxbury has a strong connection to Concord and the Transcendentalists.  Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, the one-time owner and resident of the Old Manse (and landlord of Nathaniel Hawthorne) was the daughter of Gamaliel Bradford and niece of Gershom Bradford.  Gamaiel and Gershom were married to sisters (Elizabeth and Sarah Hickling) making their children 1st cousins twice over.  Our Bradford Family Collection contains correspondence between these cousins.

Gamaliel Bradford built the beautiful yellow federal-style home on Tremont Street and his brother, Gershom, built his more modest home directly across the street (the Gershom Bradford House is currently owned by the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society).  As a girl, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley lived right here in Duxbury. When Gamaliel and his family moved to Boston, the cousins continued to visit each other throughout their lives.

If you have never been to the Old Manse, it is certainly worth the trip.  I would also urge you to visit the Gershom Bradford House to see another chapter in this amazing woman’s life.