The Photo Albums from Clarence Rodgers Burgin’s Youth

I mentioned that the early Burgins took few photographs, but by the time my grandfather, Clarence Rodgers Burgin was in knee pants, that had changed. These are some of the pictures of his youth and very early adulthood.

I’ve erred way on the side of inclusion.

There’s a spirit here, a mood, a sense of life as their family lived it, that comes through in a wonderful way when you just see them all in series.


OK, Have fun. (They seem to have.)


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An Early Biography of Clarence Burgin

The biographical article below, which I found only recently, has done much – in my mind – to shed light on the early life of my great-grandfather, Clarence Burgin.

Clarence Burgin’s father, Thomas, was an upholsterer, and his father before him, John, was at first a gold wire drawer (I still have to look that one up), and later a victualer.

He was the first person in his family to be born in this country. I strongly doubt he started life with much money, but he seems to have had hustle, and in America, that counts for a lot…



Clarence Burgin, c.1910


The original:



Biographical review, containing life sketches of leading citizens of Norfolk County, Massachusetts

by Biographical Review Publishing Company, Boston, 1898

CLARENCE BURGIN, a prominent and able young business man of Quincy, Mass., and the treasurer of the Quincy Savings Bank, was born October 27, 1865, in Rutland, Vt. He is the son of Mr. Thomas Burgin and Mrs. Jane Scudder Burgin, both of London, England. In 1870 the family moved from Rutland to Springfield, Mass.


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A Few 19th Century Burgin Photographic Portraits

There are only a handful of extant photographs of the first and second generations of the Burgin family in America, as they would have appeared in the late 19th century. These shown below are all the ones I know about.

Perhaps, given their somewhat limited financial means, Thomas and Jane Burgin and their children viewed formal portraiture as a rare luxury, and personal photography as little more than a curiosity– a technical and possibly expensive hobby.

All that would change, though, in fairly short order.

By the time Clarence Burgin and Minnie Morton Rodgers had been married a decade, in the early days of the 20th century, the family was using cameras with a vengeance: amply documenting adolescent acrobatics on the lawn, picnics, neighborhood friends, and camping trips. Who would’ve thought? Burgins as early adopters!

In a week or so, I’ll have a post devoted to those albums. For now, though, the first few portraits…





Clockwise from left, the immigrants Thomas and Jane Skudder Burgin, (probably) Clarence Burgin as a youth, Minnie Morton Rodgers in her wedding gown, and lastly, Minnie Morton Rodgers, much as my grandfather would’ve known her growing up…  He once told me he would playfully take her hand and invoking a popular dance at the time, ask, “Minnie won’t you shimmy with me?” He loved the story.


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“Everybody’s June:” Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence

There is a great phrase, “keeping a person’s memory green.” It’s basically an expression for the hopefully ongoing process of telling stories about a person who has died, talking about the things they believed in, using the funny expressions they liked, more or less just passing on a little of what made them them. Whatever may happen after we die, if people are keeping our memory green, some version of our spirit lives on.

I asked Lee Albright to compose a small piece about her mother, Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence, because, in her everyday conversation and comments, Lee has devoted an enormous part of her life energy to keeping her mother’s memory green… She didn’t send me a finished piece of writing, but  rather a series of notes on slips of paper, stacked together.

The following is a compilation that I cobbled together from those notes. When I showed it to her, she said it didn’t sound like her voice, but to “leave it in.”

Take that as a caveat of sorts.


Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence by G Cox

Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence; oil on canvas; c. 1950s; by Gardner Cox




Langdon, you asked me to put together some thoughts and memories of my mother and so I shall… reminding you that these thoughts are simply my experiences and remembrances and are perhaps different from those of my brothers or others who knew my mother well.

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John Langdon Brandegee

John Langdon Brandegee, Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence’s brother, died December 4, 1964, at the age of 56. He left no children, and a year and a half later, my father— rather than continuing the then-five generation tradition of first-born sons being named James Lawrence— gave me his uncle’s name, Langdon, instead. He wanted to ensure that the memory of the man would live on.

Langdon Brandegee was an enigmatic individual who I suspect was poorly understood by most of those around him, throughout his life. His sister was the exception to this; she probably understood him better than anyone. The two were very close.


John Langdon Brandegee (the girl in the pictures is his sister, Martina Louise Brandegee)


My father has described him as an unusually shrewd judge of character, which in turn led him to be distrustful of many, but also to hold enormous love and affection for a lucky few. I have heard some beautiful stories over the years of the goodness he could show people when he had decided they were “all right.”

His career of choice was finance, specifically the management of the large fortune left him and his sister, and he succeeded by almost any measure that could be applied. Under his canny eye, the money with which he had been entrusted was protected and indeed grew significantly.

I wish I could have had the chance to meet him, and talk a little. One of the things I would like to ask him is, if he had his life to live over again, would he choose a different career? Would he live where he lived, and do what he did, or would he make a break with the past and try something completely new?

He once told my father when they were talking about my father’s future life as a doctor, to get out of America, go to Africa, and practice bush medicine. That comment speaks volumes.

He died alone at his home in Jamaica Plain. I’ve wondered about the time leading up to his death. What had life become for him? What was he thinking? How did he depart this world? What had he learned, and where might his soul, if indeed any of us have souls, have traveled next?

There may be some clues to at least the first two of these questions in his will. In that document, he left one quarter of his considerable estate to the American Leprosy Foundation, three quarters to Deerfield Academy, honoring an old promise, and his furniture to his niece and nephews.



John Langdon Brandegee


Rediscovering Both a Painting and a Face: Martina Louisa (Condict) Brandegee, by Cecilia Beaux c. 1903

They say there are several deaths. The death of your body. The death of the last person who could remember you when you were alive. And, the last moment anyone speaks your name.

I think we could add to this list, perhaps near but not at the end, the death that occurs when your actual appearance is forgotten.

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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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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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