A Love Letter to Islesboro by Elizabeth Prescott Lawrence

Just before her marriage, likely mid-1907, Libby Lawrence published this piece on the island – and the community – off the Maine coast that she had known so well during her childhood.

Yes, this was, in one sense, the same timeless H&G fare. But scattered amongst the references to society bigwigs and grandes dames, and their Ozymandias-like desire to leave behind at least a trace, there are little pieces of poetry.

Taken together, they actually reveal something… not so much about Islesboro, rather, about the heart of the author.

An excerpt:

“At night the water is here very smooth and still, like a black mirror studded with diamonds; for the stars are clearly reflected in its glassy surface, and around it the fir trees rise in a thick wall as if to protect their jewels.” –p.21

Have a read…

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Elizabeth Prescott (Lawrence) Emmons: “Aunt Libby”

Who gets remembered, and how? Who tends, not just our graves, but our reputations?

When I was really young, and we were misbehaving at dinner, we would sometimes hear mention of an “Aunt Libby” who used to, so the story went, after a long meal, dance on the table. Some accounts were…shall we say…more risqué than others.

In those moments, the mental picture this conjured made us laugh, but no one ever asked much more about her. A silly, old, dead relative.

Other times, other stories. Some of these had to do with “boys at Groton,” and the like.

When someone told me it was her residence in which the Sargent portraits of James and Caroline Estelle Lawrence had burned, the information was imparted with a knowing look.

And, of course, she died without children and – therefore – grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So who, on these occasions, would be there to defend her?

It occurred to me, maybe fifteen years ago, as I tried to really assemble all this family history material, that there were no pictures of her. I had never seen even one, which was funny. Funny– meaning odd.

Was there a reason for this, or just coincidence?

Puzzled and curious, I started to look and here is what I found.

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Marion Lee (Peabody) Lawrence

The following was sent to me by Marion Stegner, her namesake. Presumably the eulogy from her very unexpected  service.



It is hard to believe that Marion Lawrence has passed from among us, for no one was ever more imbued with energy and the zest of life than she. Even in her teens she was a leader in everything and no girl was more admired and beloved by her contemporaries. Ideally married, she carried out to the full every pleasant duty of family life, and was utterly devoted to every interest of her husband and her children. Unlike many wives, however, she was not content to let her activities stop there. She soon became sought after as a valuable adviser or executive in many different fields. During the World War she was chairman of the canteen service of the Red Cross in Boston, a work which took most of her waking hours for over a year and a half. She was a director of the Milton Hospital and the Community Health Association of Boston and chairman of the ladies’ visiting committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital, and in addition to these and other continuing activities she was constantly called upon for every sort of temporary service.

It would seem that for a woman so preoccupied but little time would he left for the cultivation of her friends, but it is precisely here that she most shone. Her house was a Mecca for young and old, and was never too full to take in an unexpected friend or two for a night or a week. When a college classmate of one of her sons was severely injured, it was she who attended to the emergency operation that was necessary and took him to her house for a long convalescence; and when any of her friends were suffering from bereavement or other trouble she was the first to arrive with understanding sympathy and constructive helpfulness. Particularly noticeable was her hospitality at “The Homestead” in Groton where her mother’s family had lived for generations, a place which she loved more than any other spot on earth and which she endeared to a multitude of friends.

For a long time she had known that she was suffering from a disease that would prove mortal, but no one around her had any inkling of the fact. She had pursued her work and her play with unabated energy and good cheer until within two days of her death, which came after an acute illness that was mercifully short and painless. No soldier ever marched more gallantly up to the last firing line than did she.

By her generosity, her sympathy, her quick action wherever action was needed, and by her sparking personality, which was like a burst of breezy sunshine wherever she appeared, she will always live on in the hearts of all who knew her, and of no one could Lowell’s words be more appropriately written:

Who gives of himself with his alms feeds three— Himself, his hungering neighbor and me.



Dec 1935

Sports Teams at Groton School, c. 1894-6

I came across these on eBay a couple of years ago, and snapped them up for literally a few dollars. I bought them because they show my great-grandfather, James Lawrence (1878-1969) and his friends and classmates at Groton, as they appeared in their youth.

Looking at them, I can’t help but be reminded of the wonderful scene in Dead Poets Society in which the main character, John Keating, played by Robin Williams, offers to his students the following timeless advice:

They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?… Carpe… Hear it?… Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.


Groton School yearbook photos 1894-1896 00004

Groton School football team, 1894

Thomson, Lawrence, Hare, Craighead, Higginson, Cutting, Haughton, Sargent, Hooker, Diblee, Burden, Griswold

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James Lawrence ‘01, “Mr. Grand”

These are just some notes I’ve put together—perhaps someday they will be an essay. But in the meantime, he is owed a place here…


No man can be summed up in a few lines. With that in mind, a few biographical facts, and some random recollections of friends follow.

President of his class at Harvard for four years, Harvard varsity football in 1899 and 1900, varsity crew 1899 and 1901.

Upon leaving college, he entered the office of George Mixter, banker and note broker, at 28 State Street, Boston.”–R. M. Lawrence, The Descendants of Major Samuel Lawrence.

Became a cotton merchant, first with George H. McFadden, then as a Boston partner of McFadden-Sands, and from 1931 on, senior partner of James Lawrence and Co.–Obituary, unknown newspaper, March, 1969.

Chief Marshall of his 25th Reunion at Harvard.

Active as director and trustee of many charitable, civic, and business enterprises, including Groton School, the Boston Safe Deposit & Trust Co., and the Boston Lying-In Hospital.–Obituary, unknown newspaper, March, 1969.

Called “Mr. Grand” by one of his grandchildren and the name stuck.

(Note, the Roman numeral designations for all subsequent James Lawrences stem from him, and are based on the number of James Lawrences alive in 1970-1971. My brother James, born in ’70, who goes by “IV”, is actually the sixth overall. His son, James, who goes by “Jack,” is the seventh.)

Mr. Grand was tough. In his youth, he used to sleep in the unheated Groton rooms, through the winter, with only a sheet over him. He later said that if you didn’t move a muscle, the air over your body would form almost a protective, insulating layer between your body and the cold. Frequently, he would leave the window open, while water in a drinking glass froze, and snow blew in. This is not a tall tale. Many have corroborated it.

After his death, his son, James Lawrence, Jr. (1907-1995), my grandfather, wrote a brief memorial for him, and had it printed with a red cover. It is a loving tribute. If you find it, sit down for a good read on this fabulous man.  A sample follows:



“James Lawrence” by Maria Di Carpenetto Lawrence


[Referring to the bust above]…the sculpture does not reveal that he was in all other respects, as well, the handsomest of men. Six feet three inches in his prime (he used to mutter with a twinkle in his eye that somewhere along the way he had lost an inch or two) he never ceased to hold himself like a young oak. Sitting in the library at Lower Faulkner with him night after night, I would steal a glance towards him occasionally to note  admiringly how straight he sat. Kipling could well have had him in mind when he spoke of [a] man’s being ‘like a lance at rest.’ Father was… always… not just some of the time.

–James Lawrence, Jr.


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Groton, MA c. 1888: The Caroline Estelle Mudge Lawrence Photo Album

Somewhere around 1887 or so, possibly earlier, Caroline Estelle Mudge Lawrence familiarized herself with the then-still-arcane process of photography and, to my reckoning, did something which for the time was quite unusual: she took pictures. Of her land. Her neighbors’ land. Animals she and others owned. Her husband, her children, her friends. Domestic life, well before the turn of the last century. It was, in a phrase, a thoroughly modern thing to do, and it was way, way ahead of its time.

Here, for the sake of preservation, and for the fun of seeing the daily reality of a family approximately 130 years ago, is the album…

(A brief editorial note: these are going up un-captioned. I’ll try to get names, places, etc. attached ASAP.–LSL)


The Lost Sargents: ‘Recovering’ the Destroyed Portraits of Mr. And Mrs. James Lawrence

In 1881, the American artist John Singer Sargent painted dual portraits of husband and wife, James and Caroline Estelle Mudge Lawrence.

Much to many people’s everlasting grief, however, in 1939, both paintings were destroyed in a fire in Aunt Libby’s [Elizabeth Prescott Lawrence Emmons’] apartment.

For most of my life, it was my understanding that any substantive idea of what those paintings might have looked like had been lost, along with the originals, in the flames.

Over the last year, though, I have found two photographic reproductions of Estelle’s portrait, and one of James’  portrait. After some truly sparing and minimalist work in Photoshop, I offer them both below.

The best image of Estelle’s portrait came from a .pdf of an old Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog which had featured the painting: Memorial Exhibition of the Work of John Singer Sargent (January 4 through February 14, 1926). You can see a copy of it here; scroll to Plate 6.

The background, by the way, was described by contemporary viewers as being a brilliant red. Looking at the monotone image below, I can almost see the cadmium in my mind’s eye.



John Singer Sargent
Mrs James Lawrence
61 x 45.7 cm
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated upper right: John S. Sargent 1881
Destroyed by fire at Hingham, Massachusetts, Nov 21, 1938


The image of James’ portrait came from a photograph taken by Estelle herself. It was easily discernible on the far wall in an interior shot of the Lawrence Homestead at Groton.



John Singer Sargent
Mr James Lawrence
Exact dimensions unknown
c. 1881
Oil on canvas
Destroyed by fire at Hingham, Massachusetts, Nov 21, 1938


(Post Script: the newspaper article on the fire that destroyed the paintings can be accessed here, and here.–LSL)

Gertrude (Lawrence) Peabody

Gertrude Peabody’s memory was virtually erased from our family’s oral history, for reasons that can be only guessed at, and restoring a sense of who she was has been difficult. The scraps that follow represent all the fragments I have been able to assemble. Perhaps someone will turn up a collection of her letters, or some other trove, and someday we will have a chance to know her a bit better…


There is a wonderful sepia photograph, retouched with pastel, of Gertrude Lawrence Peabody in the dining room at Dark Harbor. It belongs to Lee Albright. It shows the same strong face and jaw so admired in Grandfather [James Lawrence 1907-1995—LSL].

Gertrude Lawrence Peabody for WORD file

Lee told me, in August, 2001, that she had often looked at the portrait and wondered how Gertrude had died, since she was only 28. She said that Grandfather had often wondered the same thing. This piqued my interest, and I then began the process of looking into not only how this woman died, but who she was while she was alive.

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The Founding of Lawrence, MA

I found the following in a book on the history of textiles, and as per Uncle Johnny’s [John Endicott Lawrence, Sr.] feeling that this was “an event that merits close scrutiny,” I have enclosed here the first part of that account.



Lawrence Machine Shop, Lawrence, MA



The history of the foundation and development of Lawrence bears close analogy to that of Lowell, save that one man instead of several conceived the enterprise and carried on the preliminary work necessary to its successful start.

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