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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Saturday, January 09, 2021

How Natty Martyn Grew Up

Last September, we got a passing glimpse of fifteen-year-old Natty Martyn, youngest son of the minister in Northborough in 1756.

Natty had a bad sore, and his family had begun to despair for him. The Rev. John Martyn took his son to Dr. Ebenezer Dexter in the neighboring town of Middleborough, and he recovered.

Natty Martyn’s father was a Harvard graduate, though he didn’t go into the ministry until fifteen years after graduating. In the early 1760s the family also hosted the retired Harvard Hebrew instructor Judah Monis, who had married Natty’s maternal aunt. But neither Natty nor his older brothers went to college.

Instead, Nathaniel Martyn became a physician, training in the field like most other country doctors of the time. He set up a practice in the town of Harvard, where his father had been the first town clerk and filled other offices in the 1730s. The doctor was assigned “ye Sixth Seat Below” at the Harvard meetinghouse.

On 23 Dec 1765, the twenty-four-year-old Dr. Martyn married twenty-year-old Anna Townsend of Bolton. Their first child, named Michael after one of his paternal uncles, arrived in September, but died within two weeks.

In his diary for 16 June 1767, the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of Westborough recorded that he “rode by the way of Dr. Martyns to see him—and the fine Farms at Still River Corner.” Martyn had bought the large farmhouse built in 1749 by Moses Haskell. The Massachusetts Historical Commission called this property “One of Still River’s earliest and largest farms.” The house still stands on Still River Road, as shown above, though altered considerably for use as a Benedictine chapel.

When Parkman visited, Anna Martyn was expecting another child. The couple had two before the end of the decade:
  • Pamela, born 24 Aug 1767.
  • Nathaniel, baptized 13 Aug 1769.
There was at least one other member of the household. In May 1767, the selectmen of Harvard signed a printed form for Boston’s Overseers of the Poor certifying that Dr. Nathaniel Martyn was “a Man of sober Life and Conversation; and in such Circumstances, that we can recommend him as a fit Person to bind an Apprentice to.” On 19 November, those officials indentured a boy named Ebenezer Dumaresque to the doctor. Ebenezer was to come of age on 25 Nov 1781, meaning he was six years old when he moved out to Harvard, most likely to work as a household servant.

Sometime in 1769, it appears from real estate records, Dr. Martyn sold his property in Harvard to Peter Green, a younger physician from the Harvard class of 1766. The Martyn family moved to Bolton, Anna’s home town.

On 16 Aug 1770, the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman wrote in his diary:
Dined at Mr. Harringtons, who acquainted me with the proceedings at Bolton and with Mr. Goss’s present Case under Confinement to his Bed, by Lameness. N.B. Dr. Wait has the Care of him. The brief Story of Dr. Wait. Called at Mr. Josh. Townsends by reason of what has occurred lately relative to Dr. Nat. Martyn, who has lately absconded. His wife and two Children at Mr. Townsends.
Anna Martyn was back home in her father’s house. And Dr. Nathaniel Martyn was nowhere to be found.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

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