Tag Archives: genealogy

The Sculptor’s Mother

I’ve been working my way through all of the artists who were born or lived in Salem since I began this blog so many years ago, but one very notable and successful artist whom I have yet to cover is the sculptor John Rogers (1829-1904), chiefly because I don’t really care for his work. They have not aged well, but the “Rogers Groups” were important expressions of American material culture in the later nineteenth century: often Rogers is referred to as the Normal Rockwell of sculptors, and plaster castings of his best-selling works, depicting sentimental scenes of a young couple about to proclaim their marriage vows before a country parson and a convivial games of checkers “up at the farm,” sold thousands of copies for $15.00 each from 1860 to 1890. Even though Rogers studied in Paris like so many aspiring American artists, he firmly rejected the neoclassical sculptural style of his teachers—-and his time—in favor of a more accessible “vernacular” approach. He wanted to be a successful, popular artist more than an artist: he told his mother so, many times, in letters we can read at the New York Historical Society. The mother of John Rogers was Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers (1805-1877), and she is really my interest and my focus; but I can only get to her through him. And my interest in her started with a dress, the beautiful, ethereal, dress seemingly spun from air and mica (but really Indian muslin and silver) which she wore to her wedding reception in 1827.

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20191031_153222Indian Muslin and silver wedding reception dress of Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers, 1827, Peabody Essex Museum (Gift of Miss Jeannie Dupee, 1979).

This dress is in the stunning new Asian Export gallery of the Peabody Essex Museum. Since its opening about six weeks ago, I have snuck into see it (and several other things) about three or four times: I’m obsessed with it (and several other things)!  The dress is beautiful, but I feel a connection to Sarah largely through her younger sister, Mary Jane Derby (Peabody), who was an artist and the author of a hand-written and -bound journal composed for her grandchildren which a lovely lady from Maine bought at a yard sale and sent to me: I know that I should turn this little book over to her family, or an archive, but I’ve held on to it simply because I cherish it. In the journal, Mary Jane writes about her wonderful childhood in the large mansion on Washington Street that she depicts in one her most alluring paintings. This is the mansion to which Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers would return after her marriage to John Rogers of Boston, and the birthplace of her son John Rogers (Jr.) in 1829.

744px-Mary_Jane_Derby_-_Pickman-Derby_House,_70_Washington_Street,_Salem,_Massachusetts_-_44.84_-_Detroit_Institute_of_Arts

Pickman Derby House 70 Wash

margaret2

Sara Rogers Salem Literary and Commercial Observer June 9 1827

Mary Ellen Derby, the Pickman-Derby Mansion at 70 Washington Street, c. 1825; Detroit Institute of Arts; a Moulton-Erickson Photograph from the 1880s, Cornell University Library—the house was demolished in 1914 for the present Masonic building; The Margaret, co-owned by Mary Jane’s and Sarah Ellen’s father John Derby, was one of the first American ships to reach Japan, in 1801, Old-time Ships of Salem, Essex Institute, 1917; The Rogers wedding announcement in the Salem Literary and Commercial Observer, June 9, 1827.

Mary Jane and Sarah Ellen Derby seem to have had a perfect Salem childhood growing up in this mansion during Salem’s most prosperous period, the granddaughters of Salem’s most prosperous merchant, Elias Hasket Derby, and the daughters of John Derby, Esq, part-owner of The Margaret, one of the first American ships (and THE first Salem ship) to dock in Japan. I’m so dazzled by her childhood (and her dress) that I make the cardinal historical mistake when I look at the post-marriage life of Sarah Ellen: I judge this life by my own standards and perspectives, rather than hers. By all accounts Sarah and her husband had a happy marriage (they had eight children, after all, of whom John Jr. was the second-eldest) but their lives together don’t seem to have been as comfortable as her Salem life. Despite his Harvard degree and Boston Brahmin pedigree, John Sr. was not a very good businessmanshortly after John Jr.’s birth in 1829 the young family was off to Cincinnati where Mr. Rogers attempted to establish a sawmill (and where Mary Jane met her husband, the Reverend Ephraim Peabody, while visiting her older sister) after this failed it was back to (western) Massachusetts for a silkworm enterprise, which also failed after a few years. There was a brief stint in New Hampshire, and then the (now much larger) Rogers family settled in Roxbury, with John Sr. taking up a post (a political appointment?) at the Boston Custom House which he held for the rest of his life. There was no Harvard for John Jr.: he was briefly established in a Boston apprenticeship before he ran off in pursuit of an artistic career. Perhaps this background explains his entrepreneurial attitude towards that career. All of this makes me feel sorry for Sarah: all those moves,, all those children! Did she have any help? Did she look back at her wedding reception dress and think: how did I get here?  But I’m just projecting my own feelings on to her: she had a large and by all accounts happy family and a successful son who addressed all of his letters to that family to her, at its center, or heart (and it looks like despite all of those children, she still might have been able to fit into that dress).

Rogers Sarah

Sarah Rogers NYHS

Sarah Rogers Checkers

Checkers photograph Essex Institute

Rogers Marketing

Sarah Ellen Derby Rogers and her family, New York Historical Society Rogers Collection and the archived online exhibit John Rogers: American Stories where you can see more photographs, get more context, and read letters from John to Sarah; Checkers at the Farm—the second most popular work of Rogers—Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of John Rogers and Son; photograph of “Checkers”, Smithsonian via Essex Institute Lantern slide: E24240; Advertisement for “Checkers”, Harper’s Weekly 3 (March 18, 1876): 235.


Genealogical Houses

The practice and study of genealogy is supposed to be about people of course, but some of the genealogical tomes that I have consulted over the years seem to be almost as interested in houses, both family homesteads and the impressive residences of offspring. I’m not over-familiar with genealogical literature (I like a bit more context in my history), so I’m not sure whether this is a unique feature of Salem genealogies or not but many of the nineteenth-century histories of Salem’s venerable families feature plates of houses as well as portraits of the family members who lived in them. The best example, by far, is the weighty genealogy of the Pickering family and its many branches: The Pickering genealogy : being an account of the first three generations of the Pickering family of Salem, Mass., and of the descendants of John and Sarah (Burrill) Pickering, of the third generation by Harrison Ellery and Charles Pickering Bowditch, published in three volumes in 1897. The first volume is a veritable treasure trove of Pickering houses, most of which are still with us, others long gone. The second and third volumes follow the family through the nineteenth century and include lots of photographic portraits but few houses, as if to say we’ve built our houses for generations in true Yankee fashion–or perhaps we don’t like Victorian architecture. It seems to me as if the houses are presented as part of the foundation of the family, its very rootedness, as well as its thrift.

Pickering Houses no longer standing:

Diman House Pickering Genealogy

Haraden House Charter Street

Goodhue House

The James Diman House on Hardy Street, the Jonathan Haraden House on Charter Street, and the Benjamin Goodhue House at 403 Essex Street (I’m not sure of the dates of demolition of any of these houses, but I assume the Goodhue house was consumed by the Great Salem Fire of 1914).

Pickering Houses still standing, with the exception of the Phippen House, all in the vicinity of upper Essex and Chestnut Streets:

Clarke House Pickering Genealogy

Clarke House

Silsbee House Pickering Genealogy

Silsbee House

Cabot House Pickering Genealogy

Cabot House

Barnard House

Pickering Houses

Phippen House 1782

Phippen House

The Clarke, Silsbee, and Barnard Houses on Essex Street, the Pickering double house on Chestnut, and the Phippen House on Hardy and the grounds of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association.


The Mysterious Miss Hodges

For some time, I’ve been curious about a pair of beautiful daguerreotypes by the esteemed Boston photography studio of Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes (1843-1863) featuring a lovely young woman identified only as “Miss Hodges of Salem”. All of the Southworth and Hawes photographic portraits are riveting, but these are particularly so: they are large, whole-plate images, they were insured by the partner photographers, and both were retained by members of the Hawes family long after the dissolution of the partnership. The description for the daguerreotype in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum reads: The Boston partnership of Southworth and Hawes produced the finest portrait daguerreotypes in America for a clientele that included leading political, intellectual, and artistic figures. Nothing is known today about Miss Hodges, but Southworth and Hawes made two costly whole-plate portraits of her for their studio collection, suggesting that she was sufficiently well-known – or sufficiently photogenic – to warrant displaying her likeness in the front-room public gallery.

Miss Hodges MFA

Miss Hodges MET

Miss Hodges of Salem, c. 1850: (1) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (gift of Edward Southworth Hawes in memory of his father Josiah Johnson Hawes); (2) Metropolitan Museum of Art (gift of I. N. Phelps Stokes, Edward S. Hawes, Alice Mary Hawes, and Marion Augusta Hawes, 1937).

So which was it: well-known or photogenic? Well I’m not entirely sure, because Miss Hodges is somewhat mysterious, but I think it is the latter. I think “Miss Hodges of Salem” was Sarah Ellen Hodges, born in 1823 to Joseph Hodges and his wife Elizabeth Shipman Hodges, both of old Salem families. There are a couple of other candidates, but Sarah is my best bet. If she is indeed our Miss Hodges, she never married, and lived with family members and then alone in a boarding house on Bridge Street in Salem from 1883 until her death in 1895. The extended Hodges family was old and prosperous, with a succession of Salem sea captains dating back to the seventeenth century, but Joseph Hodges seems to have been a bit of a black sheep and I think money might have been a problem. His family of seven, including Sarah and her four siblings, moved around every few years according to the Salem city directories: from one old family home to another on lower Essex Street. And then there is this very curious entry in the Genealogical Record of the Hodges Family of New England, Ending December 31, 1894 by Almon D. Hodges (1896):

Joseph Hodges is said to have been so small at birth that he was put into a silver tankard and the cover shut; but he grew to be a very large man, like most of his race. When Gen. Washington visited Salem, Oct. 29, 1789, the babe Joseph (then 13 days old) was held up at the window to see him. Joseph Hodges was a shipmaster in his younger days, but retired early from active business. He met his death through an accident. He was walking on the railroad bridge at the northern end of the tunnel when a train of cars came on the bridge behind him. He was large and heavy and unable to escape by running, so he crouched at the side of the track, but was knocked to the flats below and died a few minutes after he was taken up.

Early retirement? Hit by a train? By sheer coincidence (?) his wife died by accident on the railroad, near the northern end of the tunnel twenty years later, according to Sidney Perley’s History of Salem (Volume III). Have these two railroad deaths–both at the northern end of the tunnel– been confused? I hope so! In any case, there are other hints that the Hodges were at most a tragic family, or at least one that did not adjust very well to Salem’s nineteenth-century transition from commerce to industry. Sarah was the only one who didn’t marry or get out of Salem, and I have no insights into what she might have done with her life. She and her siblings inherited a mere half of a house among them after their mother’s death in 1883, which they quickly sold, and then she appears to have lived alone until her death. The daguerreotypes might have been one of the highlights of her life, if indeed they depict her.

Millard Fillmore Southworth and Hawes

A Daguerreotype of President Millard Fillmore taken at just about the same time as those of Miss Hodges. It is about half the size of hers, and sold for over $10,000 at a 2005 Skinner auction.


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