A Portrait of Family Life

While of course Abbott Lawrence accomplished an enormous amount in business, and in civic life, and even international relations, he was also a husband and father. Here, as an assemblage of cut silhouettes, is a hint of his life at home, at No. 5 Park Street.

It is an image I enjoy immensely.

 

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“The Family of Abbott Lawrence, In Their Library, 5 Park Street, Boston” by Auguste Amant Constant Fiddle Edouart, from Wax portraits and silhouettes, Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America, 1915

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Memorial to Abbott Lawrence Appearing in the NEHGS Register

The following account, dating from 1866, represents the most succinct telling of the life of Abbott Lawrence that I could find. For a longer, but slightly more relaxed read, see H.A. Hill’s Memoir of Abbot Lawrence.

 

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NEW ENGLAND

HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL REGISTER.

VOL. X.                     OCTOBER. 1866.                                NO. 4.

MEMOIR OF THE HONORABLE ABBOTT LAWRENCE, LL.D.

THERE is something far more instructive in the lives of men who have been practically useful than in those of warriors and theoretical philosophers. Abbott Lawrence belonged to the former class. It is a great mistake in young readers to suppose that biography has no interest unless its subject has led armies, or suffered incredible hardships in some service which could never have been of any benefit to the world. The cultivated mind will turn from these to those of men who have really been benefactors to their own race, and will find their interest to increase in their perusal, in proportion as that mind becomes susceptible of what is truly great and of lasting importance.

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A Tribute to Abbott Lawrence From His Great-Great-Grandson

The following was written by James Lawrence (1907-1995) and appeared in his wife’s, Frances Weeks Lawrence’s, handwritten genealogy of the Lawrences.

 

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Portrait of Abbott Lawrence, from a Geo. Saunders miniature

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Abbott Lawrence 1792‑1855 was an ancestor worthy of knowing, and with this in mind this briefest of sketches is offered to his descendants by one of his great-great-grandsons.

For Abbott Lawrence carved a position for himself in the history of 19th century Boston and New England such as few if any others achieved. He possessed energy, initiative, and unusual business acumen, but beyond that he had a tireless sense of public duty, as well as great personal charm of manner and speech which made him a most persuasive advocate and splendid citizen.

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The Old Burying Ground and the Groton Cemetery

Our earliest Groton ancestors, i.e. Lawrences, Tarbells, Parkers, and others who preceded Samuel and Susanna Lawrence, are interred in the Old Burying Ground in the center of town. (Many of the graves are worn and illegible, but  Samuel Abbott Green compiled an interesting book of the headstone inscriptions there, Epitaphs from the Old Burying Ground in Groton, Massachusetts.) The Old Burying Ground is located here.

 

 

Our more “recent” kin, recent by New England standards, starting with Samuel and Susanna Lawrence, are buried in the Groton Cemetery, a little further towards the outskirts of town.

 

Both of these places are well worth the trip.

William Lawrence on His Grandmother, Susanna Lawrence

This next passage, which closes out the material on Samuel and Susanna Lawrence, is devoted exclusively to Susanna. I have always thought she would have to have been an amazing woman. She managed a household with a husband away at war; was herself a currier for secret correspondence; delivered and raised 9 children in a pre-vaccination/ pre-antibiotic era with one child dying in his teen years and the other eight surviving to adulthood; and lived to the somewhat extraordinary age of 89.

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from Extracts From The Diary And Correspondence of Amos Lawrence, by William R. Lawrence, M.D., Boston, 1855

Of his mother Mr. Lawrence [Amos–LSL] always spoke in the strongest terms of veneration and love, and in many of his letters are found messages of affection, such as could have emanated only from a heart overflowing with filial gratitude. Her form bending over their bed in silent prayer, at the hour of twilight, when she was about leaving them for the night, is still among the earliest recollections of her children.

She was a woman well fitted to train a family for the troubled times in which she lived. To the kindest affections and sympathies she united energy and decision, and in her household enforced that strict and unhesitating obedience, which she considered as the foundation of all success in the education of children. Her hands were never idle, as may be supposed, when it is remembered that in those days, throughout New England, in addition to the cares of a farming establishment, much of the material for clothing was manufactured by the inmates of the family. Many hours each day she passed at the hand‑loom, and the hum of the almost obsolete spinning‑wheel even now comes across the memory like the remembrance of a pleasant but half‑forgotten melody.

Amos Lawrence on His Father, Samuel Lawrence

The following passage relates some more of the stories and memories Amos Lawrence told specifically  regarding his father, Samuel. You may notice a few of the sentences describing Samuel’s military service, and his early days with Susanna, are almost verbatim duplicates of previously posted material. In point of fact, the paragraphs here below were written first, by about thirty years.  Despite the repetition, I thought they were still worth including. The flavor of this piece is just a bit different, and Samuel’s exhortation to his sons, that they should use the talents entrusted to them, is advice every child should take to heart, in any age.

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from Extracts From The Diary And Correspondence of Amos Lawrence, by William R. Lawrence, M.D., Boston, 1855

 

My father belonged to a company of minute‑men in Groton, at the commencement of the Revolution. On the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, when the news reached town that the British troops were on the road from Boston, General Prescott, who was neighbor, came towards the house on horseback, at rapid speed, and cried out, “Samuel, notify your men: the British are coming.” My father mounted the general’s horse, rode a distance of seven miles, notified the men of his circuit, and was back again at his father’s house in forty minutes. In three hours the company was ready to march, and on the next day (the 20th) reached Cambridge. My father was in the battle of Bunker Hill; received a bullet through his cap, which cut his hair from front to rear; received a spent grape‑shot upon his arm, without breaking the bone; and lost a large number of men. His veteran captain Farwell was shot through the body, was taken up for dead, and was so reported by the man who was directed to carry him off. This report brought back the captain’s voice, and he exclaimed, with his utmost power, “It aint true; don’t let my poor wife hear of this; I shall live to see my country free.” And so it turned out. This good man, who had served at the capture of Cape Breton in 1745, again in 1755, and now on Bunker Hill in 1775, is connected with everything interesting in my early days. The bullet was extracted, and remains, as a memento, with his descendants.

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William Lawrence on the War, His Grandparents’ Wedding, and the Family They Raised

In the Introduction to this project, I wrote about having the realization…

…that people whose names have almost been forgotten, or have been forgotten, were as real as I am in all respects…

If there’s one line, one phrase, that sums up my entire motivation to do this work, to gather in all this information, and take so much time and effort and life energy to make it available to others, so that these stories can live and be passed on, it is this idea. “People whose names have almost been forgotten, or have been forgotten, were as real as I am in all respects…”

As real as I am.

I’ve often wondered if, as our lives unfold, we don’t go through a very early period of more or less secretly believing that all of those around us – mother, father, siblings, neighbors, cousins –  exist as actors in some sort of play for our benefit and our benefit alone. Then, as we add neurons and synaptic connections and gain experience, we move on to a stage where we somewhat grudgingly acknowledge that while others might be real, the time period in which we find our young selves is in fact the only time that has ever existed, that there is just the present, this present, and all pieces of evidence to the contrary, i.e. history, art, culture, language, are more or less elaborate fictions that have been thought up as embellishments to our current period. (A mentality not dissimilar to the way creationists explain away the fossil record as being placed in the ground by God, but I digress.) And then, in this “unfolding” of our consciousnesses, if we’re lucky, we enter a phase in our development, where we connect with the truth, not intellectually but viscerally, that we and every other person we know, have ever known, will ever know, are only the latest chapter of humanity’s broad narrative arc; the last few ticks of a clock whose hands have been circling for eons.

As I said, this is just  something I’ve wondered. Perhaps a child psychologist, or a pediatric neurologist, would say all the above is hogwash. I have no idea. But when I think back on my own earliest days, it feels true.

As for the last phase, connecting with the reality of other people in other times, for me there was no one single  “Aha!” moment; there were several.

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Family Memories of Samuel and Susanna Lawrence

 

The following is the complete text of A Minute Man, by Mary Fosdick. Fosdick, was the daughter of Sarah Lawrence (Woodbury) Fosdick, daughter of Mary (Lawrence) Woodbury, daughter of Samuel and Susanna (Parker) Lawrence. I have included this in its entirety because, in spite of its children’s-book-like tone, and obvious license where dialogue is concerned, it as close as we will ever get to an actual oral history of our family during the Revolutionary War and the earliest days of the new United States.

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A MINUTE-MAN[1]

By Mary Fosdick

CHAPTER I

Captain Amos Lawrence was an estimable farmer in New England, who was born in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, and at a suitable age married Miss Abigail Abbott. She brought him as part of her dowry various handsome pewter articles, among them several large plates, or platters, on which her initials were stamped or cut, as was the fashion in her day, a handsome hall clock with mahogany case and brass face, and other articles of household furniture; though, as her father was also a farmer, it is not probable that she brought Captain Lawrence very much else beside the bedding which every bride [was] expected to provide. As to her personal attractions I have no means of knowing. Though born in Boston’s neighborhood, Captain Amos Lawrence made his way to Groton, a thriving village farther inland, and there our minute-man was born in the spring of 1754. He was a bright boy, and “did well,” as people said, both as a son and brother at home and as a scholar in school; and when he had exhausted the best educational advantages the place then afforded, he went to work on a small farm, which he took on a mortgage, hoping probably to make it profitable enough to enable him to support a wife. Whether he had in mind the lady whom he afterward married, I am unable to state, but in his twenty-first year he became engaged to a handsome girl, a year younger than himself, whose acquaintance he probably made while visiting his grandparents Lawrence, as her stepfather lived in a town (Concord) adjoining the one in which his mother, Miss Abbott, had been born (Lexington); so we may naturally suppose that he desired to make the farm as successful as possible. His parents had other children, and having given him the benefit of the best educational facilities in Groton, could not afford to do more, though they must have realized that such a boy as he would have been glad to go through college, as at least two of his contemporaries did, and would be an honor to any profession, for he was beloved and respected by his fellow townsmen as few young men of his age were, and was as fond of books as if he had been a rich Tory’s son.

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An Account of Samuel Lawrence’s Military Career, and a Brief Sketch of His Subsequent Civilian Life

The following brief biography is, almost verbatim, taken from Historical Sketches of the Lawrence Family, by Robert Means Lawrence, 1888. I have made only a few edits for the sake of clarity.

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from Robert Means LawrenceHistorical Sketches of the Lawrence Family, 1888

MAJOR SAMUEL LAWRENCE

The third and youngest son of Amos and Abigail Lawrence, and grandson of John of Lexington, was born in Groton, April 24, 1754. His early life was passed on his father’s farm.

Military Career

He was a corporal in one of the Groton companies of minute-men. Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, April 18, 1775, several brass cannon arrived in Groton, having been sent there by a vote of the Committee of Safety of the Provincial Congress.

Tradition says that the minute-men held a meeting that same evening; and that nine of them set out after dark, carrying lighted torches, and, marching during the night, reached Concord very early on Wednesday morning. Having breakfasted, they joined the minute­men of Concord and the adjoining towns, and were participants in the fight at the North Bridge, and in the pursuit of the British troops as far as Lexington or beyond.

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The Lawrence Homestead at Groton

In his book, Historical Sketches of Some Members of the Lawrence Family, Boston, 1888 Robert Means Lawrence describes the location of the three Lawrence homesteads that were home to our family from the 17th century through to the mid-20th century. Keep in mind his references to “current” landmarks are well over a hundred years old, but I have added some notes from Uncle Johnny, John Endicott Lawrence Sr., to make locations a little more researchable.

The first homestead:

The original Homestead at Groton, built by John Lawrence when he came up from Watertown, stood “southwest of Gibbet Hill, a short distance east of the First Parish Meeting House, and near where Love Lane joins the present road to Lowell. This farm has been for many years the property and residence of Joseph F. Hall.” [And, according to John Endicott Lawrence, Sr., was more recently owned by Marion Daniels. —LSL] See Historical Sketches, p.9.

The second homestead:

John’s second son Nathaniel started out married life living in Sudbury with his wife, then moved back to Groton where he lived with his father for about twenty years, before moving in 1683 into his own Homestead, “on the ‘Mill Highway,’ so called, now the road to Ayer, about three-quarters of a mile south of the center of town and near the Indian Hills…. This estate is now the residence of William Peabody.” [According to John Endicott Lawrence, Sr., this land recently belonged to Mrs. Orick Bales. —LSL] In 1694, after a long series of Indian wars, with promise of more to come, Nathaniel moved his family out to Concord, and from there to Charlestown. The farm passed through several hands, until it was purchased again by Amos Lawrence in 1748. Amos’ children, including Samuel were born here, and when Amos died it went to his oldest son, Amos Jr. See Historical Sketches, pp.11-15, 93-94.

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