'Generosity and magnanimity of character'

Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
In this diary entry Mrs. Gray [1] depicts some of the economic forces on an upper-class Boston family, one dependent on the largesse of wealthier family members. Her brother John Bedford Shober had died in November, survived by Mrs. Gray, several unmarried sisters, and a younger brother:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 18 December 1864: The business firm will go on at present under the old title – “Shober & Co.” – though Antony Kimber being the elder of the surviving partners has the right to insist on the appearance of his name, if he choose to – more especially as he is the more experienced business man, and largest capitalist of the two.

Dear John’s will was just what we all knew beforehand – all the property but $10,000 left to his devoted sister Mary,[2] expressly left in trust for the use of his unmarried sisters,[3] to keep up an affluent home for them; this has been for years the darling object of his life. He spoke to me about [it] long since saying I must not feel hurt or think him wanting in affection toward me or mine – but he had no more to leave than would support them as they were accustomed to live, and they had nobody to depend on but him; it would eventually come to his nieces & nephews, my children inheriting their full share &c &c. – hoped Dr. G. and I would not misunderstand it &c.

Dear fellow – I knew it had been for years his main earthly aim, to lay up enough to leave his beloved sisters a home – and should not have harbored a wounded thought about it even if had he never explained himself thus to me. I am perfectly satisfied – and only rejoice for him and for the girls, that he had the comfort of knowing he had attained that dear wish of [his] heart – the power to leave them not only in independent but in affluent circumstances. His prosperity will be about $120,000 ― which in addition to the $30,000 from father,[4] and the $10,000 from Grandma Bedford[5] will make them very easy. They will keep up the carriage probably – certainly for the present.

It is a great relief to the anxieties attendant upon our own very limited income, to know that our children will from various family sources probably inherit enough to give them all a better start in life and an easier career than their parents have had. Not that we have wanted in comfort – but we should have, but for the kindness and liberality of the successful members of our family. And there lies the burden & weight. My husband & I would ask nothing better in worldly matters than to live as comfortably as we do, on an income of our own.

Could he have had the professional success in lucrative practice that he deserves and has naturally longed for, we could have lived, as we do now economically, without being indebted to any one. But as it is, we owe even our moderate comforts to the assistance of friends – and there’s where the shoe pinches! Strange to say it did not pinch with me till lately, either, much. I do not value money for its own sake at all, and it always seemed to me so natural, that the richer members of a family should help the poorer. It was so exactly what I should, in like circumstances, ... have thought it hard to be refused the privilege of doing, that I never thought of feeling oppressed by the obligation.

Perhaps it was a want of proper pride in me – but even now I can not feel, but that it requires at least as much generosity and magnanimity of character to be always the unenvying obliged as [to be] the liberal giver. I only feel now that there are one or two from whom I can no longer accept the old assistance in the old frank free spirit; and I hope earnestly it will not be offered again. I should choke to take it. So much for the power of a few accidental words, which I can never forget – I harbor no unkindness toward any, but they[6] shook the old affectionate trusting confidence into fragments – I cannot gather it up again.

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entry from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Mary Morris Shober (1816–1873).

[3] Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865), Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?), and Sarah Morris Shober (1825–1917).

[4] Mrs. Gray’s father Samuel Lieberkuhn Shober (1789–1847) was married to Mary Ann Bedford 1813–28 and to Lucy Hall Bradlee in 1830.

[5] The diarist’s maternal grandmother Mary Ann (Phelps) Bedford.

[6] Perhaps Dr. Gray’s siblings Frederic Gray (1815–1877) and Ellen Gray (1830–1921).

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