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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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Sampler of Bethiah Hastings

Yesterday Stacey Fraser at the Lexington Historical Society shared an image of a sampler from its collection and thoughts about its political significance.

“This sampler was completed by Bethiah Hastings of Lexington at age 8” in 1774, Fraser wrote. So how did the political boycotts of the era, leading up to the Continental Congress’s Association, affect her family’s ability to find silk thread and steel needles?

I got curious about what else Bethiah experienced. She was the seventh child of Samuel and Lydia (Todd) Hastings, who by that time were in their fifties and forties, respectively. A previous girl named Bethiah had died the year before she was born, and baby Thomas born in 1772 would die in late 1775.

Bethia’s father and her oldest brothers, Isaac and Samuel, Jr., were all members of the Lexington militia. Samuel, Sr., and Isaac were actually lined up on the town common when the British army columns arrived on 19 Apr 1775, the father said to have “stood at the right of the front line.” They survived.

Both men named Samuel Hastings saw duty during the siege of Boston. Samuel, Jr., enlisted in the Continental Army the following year and ended up in Gen. Charles Lee’s life guard before being wounded and captured along with the general. Isaac mobilized during Gen. John Burgoyne’s invasion from Canada and helped to escort the Convention Army of prisoners back to the Boston area.

The paterfamilias Samuel Hastings lived to be 99. His veteran sons also lived well into the nineteenth century.

In contrast, the daughter who made this sampler, Bethiah Hastings, died of consumption in 1786, shortly after turning twenty.

What’s more, within a two-year period all four of the other Hastings children who had survived to adulthood also died of consumption:
  • Lydia (1759-1788)
  • Hephzibah (1762-1789)
  • John (1764-1789)
  • Abigail (1768-1788)
That’s the pattern of unrelenting death that made a few New England families turn to disinterment and corpse-burning in a desperate attempt to ward off the disease, as I discussed earlier this month.

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