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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Friday, October 16, 2020

Bachelors in Braintree

When Anthony Wibird came to Braintree to be the minister of the north parish in 1755, the congregation offered him £80 a year and £120 as a lump sum in “settlement money” when he married.

Wibird held out instead for £100 a year with no extra help in setting up a household.

We can do the calculation and see that after six years as a bachelor Parson Wibird would be ahead.

Which is not to say the minister didn’t talk about marriage. In fact, that seems to have been a major topic in his conversations when the young lawyer John Adams slept over one Tuesday in January 1759. Adams wrote in his diary:
Met Mr. Wibirt at the Coll’s door, went with him to his Lodgings, slept with him and spent all the next day with him, reading the Reflections on Courtship and Marriage, . . .

In P[arson] Wib[ird] s Company, Something is to be learned, of human Nature, human Life, Love, Court Ship, Marriage. He has spent much of his Life, from his Youth, in Conversation with young and old Persons of both sexes, maried and unmaried, and therefore has his Mind stuffed with Remarks and stories of human Virtues, and Vices, Wisdom and folly, &c. But his Opinion, out of Poetry, Love, Court ship, Mariage, Politicks, War, Beauty, Grace, Decency &c. is not very valuable. His Soul is lost, in a dronish effeminacy. Ide rather be lost in a Whirlwind of Activity, Study, Business, great and good Designs of promoting the Honour, Grandeur, Wealth, Happiness of Mankind.

He says he has not Resolution enough to court a Woman. He wants to find one that will charm, conquer him and rouse his spirit. He is like a Turkey, retiring to Roost. . . .

Wib[ir]t exposes very freely to me his Disposition, the past and present state of his mind, his susceptibility of Impressions from Beauty &c., his Being amourous, and inclined to love, his Want of Resolution to Court, his Regard, fondness, for O., his Intimacy and dalliance with her &c. He has if I mistake not a good many half born Thoughts, of courting O.
“O.” was Adams’s code for the young lady he called “Orlinda”: Hannah Quincy (1736-1826), eldest daughter of Col. Josiah Quincy. [The house the colonel built in 1770 appears above as a stand-in for the family’s previous house.]

Adams himself was beguiled by Hannah Quincy, filling his diary with their dialogues and analyzing how she treated young gentlemen.
She lets us see a face of Ridicule, and Spying, sometimes, inadvertently, tho she looks familiarly, and pleasantly for the most part. She is apparently frank, but really reserved, seemingly pleased, and almost charmed, when she is really laughing with Contempt. Her face and Hart have no Correspondence.

Hannah checks Parson Wibirt with Irony.—It was very sawcy to disturb you, very sawcy Im sure &c.

I am very thankful for these Checks. Good Treatment makes me think I am admired, beloved, and [my] own Vanity will be indulged in me. So I dismiss my Gard and grow weak, silly, vain, conceited, ostentatious. But a Check, a frown, a sneer, a Sarcasm rouses my Spirits, makes me more careful and considerate. . . .

Mr. Wibirt has not an unsuspicious openness of face. You may see in his face, a silly Pain when he hears the Girls, a whispering, and snickering.
For his part, in the summer the parson declared, “Out of H[annah] and E[sther Quincy, her cousin] might be made a very personable Woman but not a great soul.”

Adams likewise began to resent Hannah Quincy’s behavior:
Should have said, H. you was dissatisfied with your situation and desirous of a Husband. In order to get one, you Wheedled Wibirt; you wheedled Lincoln. You gave each of them hints and Encouragement to Court you. But especially you wheedled me. For 6 months past you and I have never been alone together but you have given me broad Hints, that you desired I should court you, &c. &c.
Adams once came close to proposing to “Orlinda,” but he never did. The rival he called “Lincoln”—Dr. Bela Lincoln (1734–1773) of Hingham, brother of Benjamin Lincoln—proposed first. He and Hannah Quincy wed on 1 May 1760.

In his diary Adams assured himself that he’d made a narrow escape, that he didn’t really want to marry “Orlinda” anyhow:
[Jonathan] Sewal and Esther [Quincy] broke in upon H. and me and interrupted a Conversation that would have terminated in a Courtship, which would in spight of the Dr. have terminated in a Marriage, which Marriage might have depressed me to absolute Poverty and obscurity, to the End of my Life. But the Accident seperated us, and gave room for Lincolns addresses, which have delivered me from very dangerous shackles, and left me at Liberty, if I will but mind my studies, of making a Character and a fortune.
A couple of years later, Adams met young Abigail Smith of Weymouth, and they married in 1764. That same year, Adams’s friend Jonathan Sewall married Esther Quincy after a long engagement. Another of their circle, Robert Treat Paine, finally married Sally Cobb in 1770, two months before their first child was born.

TOMORROW: And Parson Wibird?


G. Lovely said...

Something is wrong with the "Reactions" line at the end of this post.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m afraid the “Reactions” haven’t worked consistently for a long time, and they’re out of my control. Blogger just changed more coding behind the scenes, so I’m just trying to learn that new system.