A slice of life

George Bruce Upton George Bruce Upton (1804-1874). NEHGS Collection

For as long as I’ve had my present office on the Society’s third floor, I’ve looked through my open door at a portrait of George Bruce Upton (1804–1874), the Society’s vice president between 1866 and 1874. I will confess that my eye did not linger over Mr. Upton’s portrait, as the representation does not appeal to me; on the other hand, immersed as I was this winter in my sabbatical project, once I noticed his nameplate I realized that Mr. Upton and his family appear frequently in the Gray diary:[1]

Manchester, Massachusetts, Friday, 20 July 1860: Nellie Gordon[2] invited Mary[3] and me to drive yest[erday] p.m. It cleared off finely, and we drove to Mr. Upton’s at Beverly – happily for Mary, Nellie Upton[4] was at home. Mrs. U.[5] was driving, but Mr. U. took us round the woods and to the bowling alley – a thing I had never seen before – so he insisted on my making my first bowl there, which I did most successfully, knocking down the 10 men in 2 rolls!

Manchester, Saturday, 28 July 1860: The young people had a delightful day at Mr. Upton’s, until Mary lost my little mosaic pin from her collar. She knew I prized it very highly, dear old “grandma Jackson’s”[6] bridal present to me. It was foolish in me to have put it in her collar, but the carriage was at the door and her pin up stairs – I knew this had a good clasp – and so I let it go. She lost it after the bath there and it spoiled the rest of her visit, poor child!

Boston, Sunday, 17 March 1861: Yesterday the boys took great pains to model a snow man in the front yard – and built a fort which he was supposed to guard. In the evening when Nelly Upton went out to go home she came back at once with the news that he was decapitated! This was a great grief – but I gave them permission to build another head on him – and to-day he forces a smile from every passer by.

Boston, Friday, 16 January 1863: Frank[7] escorted Mary and I to Mary Upton’s[8] bridal reception on Wednesday last – Sam[9] was not well enough to go. It was very crowded & hot – a handsome supper & plenty of flowers. The bride looked very lovely, though her dress a high-necked, long-sleeved white Moiré antique would have been very trying to most people.

Boston, Wednesday, 9 December 1863: Frank went to Mrs. J.A. Lowell’s[10] ball on Thursday last. His first ball; and he about the youngest man there – he knew some of the ladies – but did not dance; he and some [Harvard] classmates amused themselves till one o’clock looking on. F.C. escorted Lily Upton[11] down to supper – and came home soon after, having to be up early next morning for Cambridge. He looked very well in his handsome dress-suit – his first appearance in a dress coat! But how every thing costs, now-a-days – that suit cost $50!!

Boston, Thursday, 31 March 1864: The fourth day of this long storm. We were to have taken tea with Mrs. Dixwell,[12] but Arthur[13] is threatened with measles, so we could not go; Mary takes tea with Nellie Upton instead, who starts for Europe next Saturday...

I have had painful letters to read and answer to-day, a bootless duty, which must be discharged according to truth & conscience, and is sure to do more harm than good, giving offense which rankles long, and often cuts deep – for one’s own views and impressions however conscientiously thought out, do not necessarily recommend themselves to others as we grope about, and how little we know ourselves or others.

Boston, Sunday, 16 September 1866: Nelly Upton made us a long call yesterday – and talked a good deal about her sister Mary Young’s[14] death, and of the poor little delicate baby she left. Mr. Upton has bought a large farm in S. Framingham – among the hills, with a pond, a river, and a brook – this will be their future summer home.

Mrs. Upton cannot bear the sea-air, and so we shall have them no more at Beverly. The operation on her eyes … happily proved successful, and she can now use them carefully.

A later reference, to George B. Upton’s son Bruce and step-granddaughter, appears in 1873:

Boston, Saturday, 18 January 1873: Genevieve Rivers, step-daughter to Mr. G. Bruce Upton,[15] ran away with an Irish journeyman cabinet maker, at Milton, a week ago. She professed Romanism, after breaking her engagement with an English Methodist parson years ago; and interested herself in the Romish Sunday school at M. and there became acquainted with this man. His father we hear was a gentleman by birth in the old country, who ran away with a “maid of low degree,” the mother of this man, who is said to be very handsome. All sorts of horrid stories are afloat about the matter, which is distressing & disgraceful enough in itself…


[1] From the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, NEHGS.

[2] A daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Charles Gordon of Boston; Mrs. Gordon was an Upham, a family connection of the Grays.

[3] The diarist’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923).

[4] The Uptons’ youngest daughter.

[5] Ann Coffin Hussey (1807–1881) was married to George Bruce Upton 1826–74. In 1860, the Uptons lived at 60 Bowdoin Street, across from the Grays at 1 Beacon Hill Place.

[6] Susan Kemper (1758-1846) married Dr. David Jackson of Philadelphia; several of her relatives lived in Boston.

[7] The diarist’s eldest son, Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904).

[8] Mary Upton (1839–1866) married Alexander Young on 14 January.

[9] Mrs. Gray’s second son, Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926).

[10] Elizabeth Cabot Putnam (1807–1881) married John Amory Lowell as his second wife in 1829.

[11] Mary and Nellie Upton’s sister Elizabeth Upton.

[12] Elizabeth Ingersoll Bowditch (1823–1888) married John James Dixwell in 1846.

[13] Arthur Dixwell (1853–1924).

[14] See entry for 16 January 1863.

[15] Geraldine Ipolyte Russell (1819–1885) was married to George Rivers 1839-54 and to George Bruce Upton (Jr.) in 1858.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward