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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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Priscilla Hobart’s “happiest portion of her life”

Yesterday’s posting left Priscilla (Thomas Watson) Lothrop and the Rev. Noah Hobart reunited more than two decades after they had broken off their engagement because he was an indebted schoolteacher and she was being courted by a rich man. In the intervening years both had married, she twice. Both had become parents and then been widowed. Her Plymouth husbands had left her wealthy. He was established as the Congregationalist minister in Fairfield, Connecticut.

But when Noah came to ask Priscilla to marry him at last, she told him she’d promised her second husband she wouldn’t marry as long as his mother was alive—and presumably needing care. Priscilla’s great-grandson Benjamin Marston Watson continues the story:
Noah, disappointed, set out for home with a heavy heart & having reach’d Hingham, call’d on ye Revd. M’r [Daniel] Shute, who invited him to stop & preach ye Thursday lecture for him; to wch. he assented. After ye lecture was over, as they were going home, they met a traveller on horseback, of whom Mr. Shute enquired “where he was from?” — He answered “from Plymouth;” when they further enquired “if there was any news?”

He answered, “nothing particular, except that old Madam Lothrop died last night.”

Noah’s face brightened up on this announcement, & he turned his face again towards Plymouth; and without being able to state any intervening particulars, we know that in three weeks from that time, Priscilla married her third husband in ye person of her first lover, & was settled at Fairfield as “ye minister’s help-meet,” & ye wife of ye Revd. Noah Hobart.
The couple married in 1758, when he was in his early fifties and she in her late forties. What Watson wrote about their marriage is notable in that he was a descendant of Priscilla’s first husband:
The life of Priscilla at Fairfield was tranquil and happy; & it is said that she sometimes confessed to her children, in her old age, they being also ye children of her other husbands, that ye period she lived with Noah was ye happiest portion of her life. She had no children by M’r Hobart . . . Priscilla, however, was destined to be a widow for ye third time, as ye Revd. Noah Hobart died at Fairfield in ye year 1773, & left her in possession of his homestead there. . . .

After ye death of M’r Hobart, Priscilla remained at Fairfield, occupying his house & receiving ye manifestations of ye affection and respect of his late Parish for a period of six years, until July, 1779, when ye whole village of Fairfield was burned by ye English troops under ye command of Govr. [William] Tryon. Being now houseless she returned to Plymouth, & occupied ye house in wch. she had lived with her second husband, Mr [Isaac] Lothrop. . . .

In ye year 1786, when I was a child of about 6 years old, being on a visit to Plymouth with my Father, I well recollect visiting her, & being by her most cordially received & welcom’d, as ye first of her great-grand-children whom she had seen, & as a token of her satisfaction, & for a memorial of herself, she gave me a pair of gold sleevebuttons, as a keepsake. She was at this time 80 years old, her mental & corporeal faculties in perfection. Her carriage was exceedingly upright. Her person was small and well formed, she not exceeding in height 5 feet, 1 or 2 inches. Her countenance was animated & expressive & gave decidedly ye impression of having been handsome. . . . She lived until 1796, nearly 10 years after this interview, & died in June of that year, aged 90 years.
Other records indicate that Priscilla Thomas had been born in 1709, and was thus only in her late eighties when she died. Still, she’d enjoyed an impressively long and active life. And she’d married her first love at last. (A detail of her gravestone is above, courtesy of Sandra Lennox and Find-a-Grave.)


Of Graveyards and Things said...

Thanks for posting this interesting series.

Although Benjamin Marston Watson neglected to reflect that Priscilla's great wealth, in large part, came from the fact that she was a slaveowner, bringing a number of slaves, both adults and children, with her from each of her marriages. In 1731, Flora, "a Negro woman servant belonging to Mrs. Priscilla Watson" married Dolphin, "a Negro man servant belonging to [Priscilla's uncle] Nathaniel Thomas Jr.". Dolphin was eventually sold to or inherited by Priscilla (Thomas) Lothrop, and together Dolphin and Flora had at least 7 children in the Lothrop household, at least one of whom adopted the surname Hobart after Priscilla's third marriage to Noah Hobart.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for that addition. It's valuable to know that while Priscilla (Thomas Watson Lothrop) Hobart was deciding on suitors, there were other people in her household with their own dramas and stories, and without her choices.