The diarist Regina Shober Gray began the Civil War with mixed feelings about the new American president; by late 1864 she had no doubts about his integrity or his importance to the nation.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 6 November 1864: Mr. Foote gave us a good discourse on the distinction to be held between religious form & religious formalism, and illustrated his meaning by an eloquent allusion the love for our country’s flag – which is after all naught in itself but a piece of coloured bunting, our love for which in times of peace and prosperity is but a form of words, a mode of thought, used to sound the periods of a fourth of July nation. But when war and peril assail its sacred folds, it becomes to us the emblem of all man holds most dear on earth – the holy emblem of all the great ideas for which true men are ready to suffer & die now, as were the martyrs of old. Continue reading ‘True as the needle to the pole’→
By the fall of 1864, hints of the ultimate outcome of the American Civil War could be discerned. For Regina Shober Gray, the period was also marked by worry about her family members’ health; she looked for consolation to the minister of King’s Chapel, and did not always find it.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 23 October 1864: A splendid autumn day – Mary & Frank [Gray] are at church and the younger boys I have just sent off for a walk – they are none of them right well. It is distressing to see the healths run down, as soon as school begins; and yet we do not let them over work there; and if we keep them away from school the time hangs so very heavy on their hands… Continue reading ‘All honour & respect’→
It was late one summer, sometime toward the end of the last century, when I received the call. The voice on the other end of the line was that of a woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Her name was Barbara, and she was pleading with me to “come and get these things.”[i]
Now Barbara wasn’t just anybody to me. She was our “go-to” family historian from the 1960s well into the early 1990s. Cousin Barbara (my grandfather’s paternal first cousin) was the one to call when some question about the family’s facts or folklore arose. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “I don’t know the answer. You need to call Barbara…” To this day I still rely heavily on Barbara’s original and painstakingly completed research. Continue reading That which we inherit→
The Jeremiah Lee Mansion is located in the beautiful seaside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Jeremiah Lee – a merchant and ship owner, and one of the wealthiest men in the American colonies – built his mansion several years before the start of the American Revolution. This architectural and historic gem has survived largely unchanged from when it was built. A tour of the mansion offers visitors not only a glimpse into life in the mid-1770s, but also an understanding of what Lee, a true patriot, was willing to risk for the cause of freedom. Continue reading The Jeremiah Lee Mansion→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
After a summer holiday in Manchester, the Grays were back in Boston. The engagement of a family friend reminded Mrs. Gray of some of the undercurrents which must have swirled unnoticed about her own engagement in 1844:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 11 September 1864: A dull lowering day has settled into a steady rain – so we shall probably not get out to “The Pines” tomorrow, as proposed, to dine – for which I am sorry. I want to go myself, and I want Sue [Shober] to see the place & house. I hear it is handsome and commodious enough within, to amply compensate its outward unsightliness – which is saying a good word for its accommodations certainly, as externally the house does not satisfy the eye at all. Continue reading ‘A very serious thing indeed!’→
Growing up, I remember having two huge old family bibles in the house. They were in terrible condition with detached covers, loose pages, and other damage. My mother said they had been that way since she was a teenager. The bibles had been missing for some time but finally resurfaced a couple of years ago. I was able to find a book restorer who did an amazing job repairing the family heirlooms.
Both bibles were published in the late 1800s and had been kept by my great-grandmother, Helen (McKenna) Dickinson, who died when I was in college. One bible was clearly owned by Helen’s in-laws, John and Carrie (Luke) Dickinson. It contains birth, marriage and death records of both the Dickinsons and the Lukes. Continue reading Identifying a family bible→
I was recently enlisted to help my boyfriend clean out his mother’s basement; while not the most exciting of tasks, it actually led to an interesting historical discovery. Throughout this process we came across the usual repertoire of items that eventually made their way into a long-term storage area: unused kitchen appliances, tools and craft supplies, as well as old toys and keepsakes. However, in moving things around, one object in particular caught my attention. It was a large framed photo of a building. Continue reading A Boston blueprint→
Certain diaries, and their authors, become short-hand for a time and place: Samuel Pepys’s diary of seventeenth-century London, for example, or Anne Frank’s diary of wartime Amsterdam. The diaries of Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong are often invoked to cover the first half of the nineteenth century in New York; for the Civil War years, readers turn to Mary Boykin (Miller) Chesnut’s Diary from Dixie (1905). Although rich in literary resources, Boston lacks such a diary for the mid-Victorian period. Boston men and women of the period wrote enduring works of fiction and non-fiction, but for this generation no Boston diarist has emerged to capture the tone of the times. Continue reading Boston riches→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
As in 1860, the Gray family planned to spend the hot summer months of 1864 in Manchester, north of Boston. In the meantime, there was a grand society wedding to attend; Dr. Gray had a fainting spell following an afternoon party; and the news of the sinking of the Alabama made for serious reflection.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 24 June 1864: We have secured rooms at Chase’s, quite near Mrs. Richards’s cottage in Manchester, which will be very pleasant for Mary [Gray] & Elise [Richards]. The house accommodates only our party – a decided advantage – and they take us for $52,00cts a week – very reasonable as board goes now. I hope they won’t starve us on it! Continue reading ‘A great thing for Ned Boit’→
In attempting to prove Revolutionary War service for a man from Norwich, Connecticut, who did not show up in any militia lists, pension records, war memorials, etc., I turned to the subject of privateering. According to the DAR Genealogy Guidelines, “privateers were privately owned, armed trading vessels, commissioned or issued letters of marque from either the Continental Congress or from individual provisional government[s] (sometimes by both) to capture enemy ships and goods. The bounty or prize was divided by the officers and seamen and the governing body that authorized the privateering. Bounties made privateering very profitable and provided much needed supplies to the American forces. The Continental Congress officially authorized privateering for the war on 23 March 1776, although some states had already initiated privateering prior to that date.”
Norwich, located at the head of the Thames River, was a center for ship-building; the largest shipping firm in Norwich was Howland & Coit. Vessels traveled down the river and then sailed from New London harbor. Continue reading Revolutionary privateering→