To My Children

After recuperating from a wound suffered during the Saratoga Campaign at his home in Hingham, Massachusetts, Major General  Benjamin Lincoln of the Continental Army was well enough to rejoin George Washington in New York in early August 1778.  Although he did not yet know it, he would be given the command of the Southern Division of the Continental Army in September 1778.  He would not be home again for any period of time for five years.

When General Lincoln left Hingham, his wife Mary was recovering from smallpox.  His eldest son, Benjamin, Jr., was 22 and away from home, studying the law.  Six children were at home:  Molly, 20; Elizabeth, 19; Sarah, 17; Theodore, 15; Martin, 9; and Hannah, 5.  Molly, the oldest daughter, who is referenced in this letter, was intellectually disabled and lived with her parents throughout her adult life.

On July 28, 1778, en route to New York, the General penned this letter to his children:

My Children:

The ill health of some of you, joined to my great hurry, prevented my making some general observations to you relative to your future conduct before I left home—some of which are of the greatest importance.

In the first place you will never forget your God—the duty you owe to him as your creator, preserver and best benefactor.   The duty you owe to your neighbor and to your selves you will learn from divine revelation, which you will attentively study, and the example of our dear redeemer.

I must mention to you the peculiar state of your mother whose cares and burdens are greatly increased by my absence. I need not urge; I am sure your own feelings will always suggest to you the propriety of your lessening her cares, lightening her burden, and treating her with every mark of tenderness, duty. and respect.  Never wound her by doing a wrong action. You may safely confide in her advice.

I must in the next place recommend to your constant notice your sister Molly. Consider who made you to differ.  You owe her every attention.  Make her life as happy as in your power. Some are made strong to bear the infirmities of the weak.

You will love each other.  Those of you who are grown up will counsel those who are not. Never set an ill example before the little ones.  Encourage them to every act of goodness, charity, and benevolence by precept and example.

As our happiness is connected with the happiness of those about you, always watch over yourselves; let your deportment at all times be such, if possible, that even the malicious shall be constrained to acknowledge its fitness.

I am in haste, must close ,but cannot do it without saying again remember your God, love your fellow creatures, injure no person.

I am, with every wish for your present and future happiness, your affectionate father,

B. Lincoln

 

A Letter from Home: Easterly Winds and Death

Old letters open a window to the past. There isn’t a genealogist or historian who doesn’t yearn for them. And for good reason: letters carry the voices of our ancestors, they tell us a story. They illuminate our history.

One such letter, written on May 1, 1830 by Hingham resident Benjamin Thomas, Jr., to his uncle Martin Cushing in Maine, contains “sorrowful” news. It relates the death of Martin’s older brother Adna, who died the day before. The story it tells is of working conditions, medical knowledge, and a community caring for its own.

By way of background, Martin and Adna, sons of Isaac and Mary Cushing, were born in Hingham in 1788 and 1785, respectively. Descended from Matthew, the first Cushing to settle in town, they grew up in Hingham Centre, working on the family farm and in the sawmill. As adults, they entered the trades: Adna became a stonemason, Martin a bricklayer. In 1810, Adna married Sarah Leavitt and built a house at what is now 63 Pleasant Street; within a decade, he had moved his family to Leominster. Martin married Susan Thomas and moved to Maine.

In the letter, Benjamin recounts the facts of Adna’s death. He does not indulge in emotion or offer sympathy. From it, we learn that, in the winter of 1830, Adna worked indoors as a stone mason and that “the dust gave him a bad cough.” We learn that spring brought bad weather: there were “3 weeks of easterly winds and mist, by which [Adna] took a bad cold.” We learn that at the tail end of April, while working on a job in Charlestown, Adna fell violently ill and died. We learn he “labored” within days of his death.

When he died, his body “was brought to Hingham by a sail boat,” and “he was buried from M. & F. Burrs house” on the day of his death.

What the letter doesn’t tell us is that Adna was only 44 years old when he died. It doesn’t say how his wife and children learned of his death. Knowing he was buried the day he died, we understand that he was in the ground before most people knew he was dead. We see that immediately following his death a group of friends or co-workers carried his body from Charlestown to Hingham by sailboat. We know the news was rushed to Hingham Centre, and that the Fearing Burrs opened their home for an unexpected funeral. We realize that, in a matter of hours, a coffin was acquired, a gravedigger found, and a minister fetched. We are left to imagine the ripples of grief that spread across the villages and towns as friends and family heard the news.

Martin died seven years after his brother and is buried in Maine. How the letter survived is not clear as his widow is believed to have remarried and moved west, but it was handed down through the Cushing family. Thanks to the letter, we have a better idea of what it was like to live in Hingham in 1830.

Endnotes

Benjamin Thomas Jr. (1799-1854) was a nephew of Susan (Thomas) Cushing, Martin Cushing’s wife. He was the son of her brother, a gunsmith who lived in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III (Genealogical), 1893. Pub. by the Town.

A copy of the letter from Benjamin Thomas Jr. to Martin Cushing was shared with me by researcher Margie von Marenholtz.

Adna Cushing (1785-1830) and Martin Cushing (1788-1837) were two of Deacon Isaac and Mary (Jones) Cushing’s seven children.

The Capt. Adna Cushing house at 63 Pleasant Street was built in 1811, according to the Hingham Historical Commission, Inventory of Historic, Architectural and Archaeological Assets. On Adna’s move to Leomister, see Cushing, James Stevenson. The genealogy of the Cushing family, an account of the ancestors and descendants of Matthew Cushing, who came to America in 1638.1905. Montreal, The Perrault Printing Co.

On M. & F. Burr’s house: Fearing Burr Sr. (1778-1866) had a store and home in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III. Ibid. Adna is buried with his parents and his wife in Hingham Centre Cemetery. Note: His gravestone says he was 45 years old when he died; he was 44, in his 45th year.

Martin Cushing died 20 May 1837. “Maine Deaths and Burials, 1841-1910,” database, FamilySearch, Feb. 2018.

Isaac Sprague, Botanical Illustrator

The Old Ordinary, our 1688 house museum, opens on June 13, 2017 and, for a second season, you can come see our Old Ordinary Summer Exhibit, “Isaac Sprague and American Botany.” While the exhibit devotes significant attention to Isaac Sprague’s Hingham roots and continuing connections with our town, it also addresses his prolific career as a botanical illustrator which is the source of his lasting fame.

coffee plantIn the 1840s Sprague left Hingham and moved to Cambridge, where he worked with influential botanists, including John Torrey (1796-1873) and Torrey’s pupil, Harvard professor Asa Gray (1810-1888), who is often referred to as a “father of American botany.”  In the mid-19th century, American botany was undergoing a period of intense growth and development into an academic discipline seeking a unified understanding of North American plant life that would match the highest standards of then-current European scholarship and complexity.  An important part of this process was the publication of complete and authoritative works describing the plant life of this continent—with clear, detailed, and accurate illustrations.  Sprague’s talents were ideal for the task.

2011.0.271Sprague first produced the illustrations for Asa Gray’s 1845 Lowell lectures at Harvard and then assisted with several comprehensive botanical volumes over the course of the 1840s and 1850s. His illustrations were scientific tools first and aesthetic objects second:  Sprague considered himself to be a naturalist or delineator rather than describing himself as an artist. In the preface to his 1848 work Genera of the Plants of the United States, Professor Gray described “the scientific insight and careful investigations of Mr. Sprague, as well as . . . his skill and accuracy in delineation.”  In his private correspondence, he reported that Sprague was studying botany and the natural sciences, underscoring the technical knowledge the work required.

Sprague contributed plates and engravings to over 40 works of botanical, horticultural and naturalist interest over this part of his career. The writers with whom he worked included not only Torrey and Asa Gray but also William Oakes (1799-1848), George Emerson (1797-1881), George Goodale (1839-1923), and others.  (The illustrations in this blog post are plates from George Emerson’s 1838 Trees and Shrubs of New England.)

A Book for Governor Andrew

george_livermore_1904_portraitOn August 14, 1862, George Livermore, an historian, rare book collector and abolitionist from Cambridge, gave a lecture at the Massachusetts Historical Society titled “An Historical Research Regarding the Opinions of the Founders of the Republic on Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens and as Soldiers.”  In his lecture, also published that year, Mr. Livermore argued that the Founding Fathers considered black men capable of bearing arms and fighting for independence and therefore they should also be allowed to fight for the Union cause in the Civil War then underway. img_2433

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave President Lincoln a copy of Livermore’s lecture, and it is said that Livermore’s arguments influenced Lincoln when he was drafting the Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862.  A few month’s later, through Sumner’s offices, the pen with which President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation was given to George Livermore.  (It is currently on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society).

john-albion-andrewAlthough Lincoln disappointed Sumner by moving deliberately toward introducing uniformed black soldiers into the Union Army, his administration responded positively when, in January 1863, Massachusetts’ abolitionist war Governor, Hingham’s own John Albion Andrew, lobbied for leave to raise a black regiment.  The Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment was the first to be comprised of black volunteers, from Massachusetts and other states.

Was Governor Andrew at the Massachusetts Historical Society when Mr. Livermore gave his lecture?  Did Sumner or Livermore send Andrew a copy? Either way, it is fitting that one of the books in our collection from Governor Andrews’ library is his copy of “An Historical Research,” making the case for black soldiers and citizens, inscribed for him by the author.

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The Rev. Phebe Hanaford

March is Women’s History Month and a perfect time to talk about the Rev. Phebe Hanaford, a fascinating woman whose connection with Hingham is not widely known.

First Universalist Church and Society, Hingham. 

This photograph from our archives is of the Meeting House of the First Universalist Society in Hingham.  The building remains standing as a private home on North Street—albeit without the wonderful “crown.”  It was built in 1829 by a group of Hingham adherents of Universalism, a liberal Protestant Christian faith which, like Unitarianism, gained adherents in New England as a reaction to the strict Puritanism of the area’s early settlers.  Universalists believed in universal salvation:  that all human souls—not just the Elect—achieve salvation through Christ.  Their liberal theology was matched with liberal social views, and in the mid-19th century, the Universalists were one of the few Protestant denominations to ordain women to the ministry.

Phebe Hanaford, born Phebe Ann Coffin on Nantucket, was the first woman ordained to the ministry of any Christian denomination in Massachusetts–and only the third in the United States. That signal event occurred on February 19, 1868 at the Universalist Meeting House pictured above in Hingham, after Hanaford had served as that church’s pastor for around 18 months.  Sermons were preached by the Rev. Olympia Brown, the first woman minister in the United States and at that time pastor of the Universalist church in Weymouth, and the Rev. John Greenleaf Adams who preached on the text, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bound nor free, there is neither male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Hanaford was popular as the part-time pastor in Hingham.  The Star in the West, a monthly Universalist publication, wrote at the time of her ordination:

Educated in the good old fashioned way, she had the bible from Genesis to Revelation at her tongue’s end; having common sense and a good heart she understood our faith. And when the question about pastoral labor was put [in the examination for ordination], the chairman of the committee of the Hingham society, where she has been preaching for a year, stated she had done it more effectually than any man they had had for the last twenty years!

She stayed in Hingham (while also preaching at the Universalist Church in Waltham) until 1870, commuting by horse and buggy from the Reading home she shared with her husband and two children.  In 1870, she accepted a call to the First Universalist Church and Society at New Haven, taking her children with her but leaving her husband behind.  From then on, in parishes in New Haven and Jersey City, New Jersey, she shared her home with a woman named Ellen Miles.

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Phebe Hanaford

Hanaford had been active in the abolition movement in the 1860s and after the Civil War became an increasingly well-know activist in the women’s suffrage movement.  She lost her pulpit in Jersey City in a controversy that stemmed partially from her outspoken involvement in the suffrage movement but also partially from her then-unorthodox domestic arrangements (contemporary newspaper articles referred to Miles as “the minister’s wife”).  She did not have a parish of her own again, but she wrote and spoke and remained active in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.  In the public sphere, she presided at the funerals of both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  Closer to home, she had the opportunity, unprecedented for a woman of her time, to give the blessing at her son’s ordination to the Congregational ministry and to perform her daughter’s marriage.