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, January 06, 2016

Taking the Measure of the Holyoke Family

At Two Nerdy History Girls, Isabella Bradford highlighted a weighty image from Harvard University’s new online collection of colonial materials.

In his almanac for the new year of 1748, thirteen-year-old John Holyoke wrote down the weights of all the members of his family’s household as of 8 January. Here is what that page looked like after it was transcribed and published.

John’s list of weights started with his father, the Rev. Edward Holyoke (1689-1769, shown here), president of Harvard College since 1737, weighing in at 234.5 pounds.

The Holyoke genealogy shows that this was a blended family, formed in 1742. The college president was on his third marriage with several children from the second. His wife Mary had children from her first marriage.

The others John listed were:
  • “Mother”: Mary (Whipple Epes) Holyoke (d. 1790, aged 92 years old). She was actually John’s stepmother.
  • “Peggy”: Margaret Holyoke (1726-1792), who two years later married John Mascarene (1722-1779), later a Customs official in Salem.
  • “Betty Hol[yoke].”: Elizabeth Holyoke (1732-1821), daughter from the president’s first marriage.
  • “John”: The note-taker, nearly fourteen and 93 pounds. He entered Harvard later that year but died five years later.
  • “Sam’l”: Samuel Epes (1733-1760), son of the mother’s first marriage and only 88 pounds. He became a lawyer and died in his twenties. In August 1746 these two boys went into Boston for school, presumably at one of the grammar schools to prepare for college.
  • “Anna”: Also called Nancy Holyoke (1735-1812).
  • “Betty Epes”: Elizabeth Epes, daughter of the mother’s first marriage, born in 1736.
  • “Priscilla”: Priscilla Holyoke (1739-1782).
  • “Mary”: Mary Holyoke (1742-1753), only child of the present marriage, she died five years later.
  • “Deb Foster”: On 4 Oct 1734, Holyoke wrote in his diary, “Deborah Foster came to live with us.” The editor of the family diaries identified her as “the hired girl,” though at 159 pounds she must have been a grown woman. Sometimes her last name was spelled Forster. On 24 July 1750, she went to Marblehead, and a few months later “Deborah Dwelly came to live with us.”
  • “Juba”: An enslaved black servant. On 20 Aug 1744 she took “Johny” into Boston by foot. That moment and her weight seem to be the only time she was mentioned by name in the family diaries.
The president’s oldest son Edward Augustus “Neddy” Holyoke (1728-1829) was no longer in the household. On 22 Aug 1747 he had gone to Ipswich to study medicine from Dr. Thomas Berry.


Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you so much for identifying everyone, John. I knew someone out there in Boston-historical circles would have the answer! I'm adding a link to this in my own blog post.

The exhibition is full of fascinating small discoveries like this - though as is often the case with me, I left wanting to know much more about the people and circumstances tied to the various exhibits. At least now I know more about the Holyoke family.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for highlighting that page. I hadn’t really thought about the Holyoke family before. (They’re a couple of decades early.) But seeing those names made me starting wondering about the experience of a blended family. Especially in Puritan New England, where they used so few female names. Odds were pretty good you’d end up no longer being the only Betty in your family!