She was once a by-word for her beauty, with “a curious kind of popularity, more like that of a French princess in her hereditary province, in whom her people claimed a sort of ownership, than the simple admiration of republicans for a fair being highly favored of fortune. If a child had a pet kitten or a bird of remarkable beauty, it was fondly named ‘Sallie Ward.’ If a farmer rejoiced in the possession of a young lamb or heifer which he wanted to praise to the utmost degree of comparison, he would recommend it as ‘a perfect “Sallie Ward.”’ She was the ideal of all that was pure, and sacred to young people who saw her only at a distance in her father’s carriage, or walking, attended, or at church.”
Sallie Ward Lawrence Hunt Armstrong Downs, to give her her full array of names, was one of the most famous of the antebellum belles, the prototype of a beauty that, a generation later, would be captured by the still and then the moving picture camera. Continue reading “A perfect ‘Sallie Ward’”→
It’s always interesting when research projects overlap – and in unexpected ways. In working on a new genealogy of the Samuel Lawrence family of Groton, Massachusetts, I’ve encountered a man I covered in my 2013 book on the descendants of Nathaniel Saltonstall of Haverhill, Massachusetts. What makes the resonance even greater is that earlier members of both the Whitney and Saltonstall families appear in the Regina Shober Gray diary, and there is even a marriage between a Saltonstall cousin and one of Mrs. Gray’s sons. Continue reading Synchronicity→
[Author’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 October 2014. NERFC continues to add members and to increase the number of fellowships granted, so I urge doctoral candidates and freelance scholars to consider applying for one in the 2019–2020 cycle. Completed applications are due at midnight on Friday, 1 February 2019.]
When I became Editor-in-Chief at NEHGS in June 2013, one of the new initiatives Ryan Woods and I discussed was a blog for the Society. Current and former colleagues worked with me to establish the blog’s purpose and name, and – in time – got me set up on WordPress. (Two years later, when I was on a sabbatical, three current and former colleagues managed the blog in my absence.) So Vita Brevis has been a cooperative venture from the beginning, relying on the energy and commitment of the NEHGS staff and some dedicated outside contributors to produce fresh content. Continue reading Vita Brevis turns five→
I’m not sure when I first realized that, in addition to my direct ancestors’ propensity for marrying their cousins, I had collateral relatives who were wont to marry into the same families. The examples are extensive enough that it might take a couple of posts to cover the territory, so for this one I will look at my paternal grandfather’s Steward relatives – I can think of four instances without too much trouble!
My great-great-great-grandfather John Steward of Goshen, New York (1777–1854) was married twice, first to a neighbor, Martha Jackson, and then to Mary Isabella Young of Philadelphia. By his first wife, John had five children, four of whom lived to grow up and marry; poor Mary Isabella had just one survivor among her children. Continue reading Kissing cousins→
The third and final entry in the Regina Shober Gray diary on the death of her sister Lizzie turns from private grief to the public response to the news.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 13 December 1865: We think now that Lizzie began weeks ago to realize or at least to fear her sickness was a mortal one. While we continued to hope her exhaustion was largely due to nervous depression and would pass off with the nausea, she was sadly conscious of the inward sapping of the springs of life, and her thoughts instinctively dwelt upon ideas of death & burial. She roused from a doze some weeks since, and said “I have had a vision – you will laugh at me, and say it was a dream – but I saw Wesley & Joseph” (my brother’s two men-servants) “come along the entry and into the room with the tressels which were used for John, and set them down here, saying, ‘They must be ready for Miss Lizzie.’”
The Society’s Treat Rotunda was the setting Saturday for Gary Boyd Roberts’s seminar marking the publication of his new book, The Royal Descents of 900 Immigrants to the American Colonies, Québec, or the United States. More than thirty participants thronged the room to hear Gary’s reflections on new scholarship on Americans of royal descent; for the first time in the series, this volume also includes information on the royal lines of French-Canadians. The day concluded with a round table session featuring some of the scholars with whom Gary has collaborated in amassing his growing collection of notable Americans of royal descent. Continue reading Noble contributions→
[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 23 February 2017.]
As I complete publishing excerpts from the 1865 volume, the final year in what I hope will be a single-volume account of the Civil War in the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, it seems like a good time to revisit a Gray diary primer from 2017.
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). Continue reading ICYMI: Boston riches→
The death of the diarist’s sister Lizzie Shober fills pages in her manuscript diary. Here, in the second installment (of three), Mrs. Gray gathers memories and impressions of her sister’s recent deathbed:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Tuesday, 12 December 1865: On Wednesday, Nov. 30, 1864, we laid our dear brother John in the quiet church yard at St. James the less. He died on Sunday the 27th. Just one year from that sad day, the darling of all our hearts, my sister Lizzie, lay at the last gasp apparently – and though she rallied for a few days of inexpressible comfort to us all, she too left us on Friday Dec 1st and was laid by his side, on just such a soft Indian summer [day] as we had for him, on Monday, Dec. 4th, 1865. She was so wasted and altered that I can not realize yet, that it was our bright cheery Lizzie we left there.
It was Suffering & Death we laid in the cold dark tomb, not our darling; even the profile was unnatural, all the sweet smiling lines, drawn & rigid – and the plain hair, parted back like a child’s, and cut short, for its length & weight distressed her so, looked so unlike the rich full puffs, every wave of which caught such a rich golden auburn glow, upon its lovely chestnut brown. Continue reading ‘Aching hearts’→