J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, July 15, 2019

The Life of Sarah Fayerweather

In 1756 Thomas Fayerweather (1724-1805), a wealthy Boston merchant, married Sarah Hubbard. She was a daughter of the treasurer of Harvard College, born in 1730. Her portrait by Robert Feke, now owned by Historic New England, appears here.

According to Boston town records, that wedding took place on 26 June. The Sarah Fayerweather cookbook I described yesterday is dated exactly eight years later. That date provides a link between it and this particular Sarah Fayerweather, and suggests that the book might have been an anniversary gift.

The Fayerweathers had four children baptized at the Old South Meeting-House between 1757 and 1769. Though they never seem to have joined that church, Douglas Winiarski wrote about the prayers they requested here.

Thomas Fayerweather had business ties in other American ports as well as London and the Caribbean, well documented in his surviving correspondence. His investments included some slaving voyages and some genteel smuggling. Fayerweather’s political profile seems invisible, however; after 1769 he apparently spent much of his time in rural Oxford, away from tumultuous Boston.

Sarah Fayerweather oversaw her kitchens, but she almost certainly had servants do the work there. On 2 Apr 1770 Thomas hired out “five black men-servants” named Cato, Charleston, Jack, Prince, and Boston, perhaps because he didn’t need them out in the country. Unfortunately, Thomas Fayerweather doesn’t appear on Massachusetts’s 1771 tax list for either Boston or Oxford, so we don’t have the details of his property then.

In the fall of 1774, as Massachusetts militarized after the “Powder Alarm,” Thomas Fayerweather made a deal with George Ruggles of Cambridge, a Jamaican merchant who had married into the Vassall family. The two men swapped houses.

Ruggles got a new house inside Boston, protected by the British army. The Fayerweathers gained a mansion and farm on the Watertown road in Cambridge, next to the estate of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver. Oliver was gone, along with most of the other Loyalists from that part of town. That’s why that home on the “Tory Row” part of what’s now Brattle Street is known as the Ruggles-Fayerweather House.

When the war started, it appears the Fayerweathers again moved out to Oxford, leaving their Cambridge house empty. Early in June 1775, Gen. Israel Putnam took Lt. Col. Experience Storrs of Connecticut out there and told him to use it as barracks. On 8 June, Storrs wrote in his journal:
Mr. Fairweather came home last night out of humor as they tell me. No wonder, his house filled up with soldiers, and perhaps his interest suffers as it really must. Sent for me, yet appears to act the part of a gentleman.
By the end of the summer, the Fayerweathers’ house was being used as an army hospital. But after the siege the family got their Cambridge property back, and they maintained their wealthy lifestyle. Sarah Fayerweather died in 1804, her husband Thomas a year later, leaving a fortune of $64,000.

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