Dan Huntington's Aaron Willard Grandfather Clock

A beautiful grandfather clock stands in the front hall of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum. It is made of cherry, mahogany, and brass, and stands 92 inches tall. Purchased by Dan Huntington in 1800, before his marriage to Elizabeth Whiting Phelps, this Aaron Willard clock arrived at Forty Acres with Dan in 1817.

On New Year's Day 1801, Dan was married to Elizabeth Whiting Phelps in the Long Room of Forty Acres. Dan and Betsy lived in Litchfield, Connecticut with their children until 1809. Dan then moved his family to Middletown, where he was a Reverend at the First Congregational Church and ran a boarding school out of their home. In 1817, Dan moved his family to Forty Acres and took over management of his wife’s family farm. Dan’s Aaron Willard grandfather clock was one of the possessions included in the move.

Aaron Willard was a prominent member of the most famous clock making family in early America. Aaron and his brother Simon traveled to Boston to participate in the Revolutionary War. After the war, the brothers returned to their hometown of Grafton and set up a very successful clockmaking business. At the height of its production, Aaron’s shop employed all of the artisans required to make a single clock. Aaron Willard’s style and craftsmanship became the high standard that similar clocks were measured against.

John Higginson Huntington

John Huntington, pictured on vacation in Germany.

John Huntington, pictured on vacation in Germany.

Though the Porter-Phelps-Huntington legacy is deeply rooted in Hadley, many family members relocated to places around the world. Some moved across the country, motivated by work and opportunity. Others found themselves in a new place as a result of marriage. John Huntington, the son of James Lincoln and Sarah Huntington found himself stepping off of a plane at Heathrow airport in 1946. After 30 years of upbringing, work, and education in New England, London was to be his new home.

Recently, the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation acquired a collection of John Huntington’s personal papers and photos, donated by his son, Benjamin. The acquisition has given us insight into the life of the 20th century expatriate, touching upon his career, family life, and time spent fighting in WWII. From photographs taken during his army leave in North Africa to telegrams received on the day of his daughter’s birth, the items have helped establish a more cohesive history of the more recent generations of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington family.

John Huntington, 4th in from the left, wrote for the Advocate while at Harvard.

John Huntington, 4th in from the left, wrote for the Advocate while at Harvard.

Born in Boston in 1916, John had an eventful adolescence. As a child, he attended the Dexter School in Brookline, MA and the William Penn Charter School in Germantown, Pennsylvania. At eighteen, he made his way to Phillips Exeter Academy in NH, where he became involved in theater and journalism. These interests prefaced his studies at Harvard University, where he graduated in 1940 with a degree in English.  

In the wake of World War II, John tried to join the U.S military. He was rejected, however, and given a 4F classification as a result of an emergency throat operation as a child. In John’s own words, “To be rejected was a bitter pill to swallow, a bitterness to last a lifetime”. “(1)  His only option to serve was to join the American Field Service as  an ambulance driver with the British Eighth Army, traveling from El Alamein to Tripoli in North Africa. This experience became his firs t major introduction to Britain.

John’s uncle, Constant Davis Huntington, moved to London in 1905 to head G.P. Putnam’s Sons Publishers. Constant likely created the final bridge for John to officially move to England, offering him a job at the publishing company in the 1940’s. After a short stint of teaching and working at a Chicago-based newspaper, John turned down further work at Milton Academy and traveled to London. A year later, John married Kathleen Margaret Chadburn, an English physician. Together, they had four children: Anne Chadburn, Peter, Paul, and Benjamin.

John and his wife, Katherine Margaret Chadburn

John and his wife, Katherine Margaret Chadburn

"A Bean from Boston" engraving of John Huntington

"A Bean from Boston" engraving of John Huntington

In the 1970’s, John came out of retirement to work as an editor for The American, a newspaper published for Americans living in the U.K. He eventually began writing a column called “Sharps and Flats,” a biweekly publication capturing his best memories of life as an expatriate American in England. The column began in 1981 and continued until John’s death in 1987. In one piece, John comically referred to himself as “an escaped bean from Boston.” This quote eventually became the inspiration behind the title of his posthumously published book, “A Bean From Boston”, a compilation of his best pieces from “Sharps and Flats”.  

John Huntington’s experiences are forever preserved and shared through his word. His wit and charm shine through in “Sharps and Flats” and offer the onlooker a small window into the life of an intelligent, good-humored man. His travels across the world mirrored the experiences of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. His desire to write and to document added countless papers to the collection of those before him. Despite spending many years away from the United States, it is clear that he had a connection to Forty Acres far beyond simple ancestry. Documents, photographs, letters and objects strengthen the collection and further our understanding of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington family. With acquisitions like this, the foundation is able to present a clearer and more thorough narrative of the people that lived here and the experiences they shared.

John Huntington and his family in front of "Forty Acres"

John Huntington and his family in front of "Forty Acres"

Catharine Sargent Huntington

 Catharine Sargent Huntington was a prominent actress, activist, and Boston society member. The only daughter of George Putnam Huntington and Lilly St. Agnam Barrett Huntington to survive past infancy, Catharine was born on December 29, 1887 in Ashfield, Massachusetts and grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire. With the help of her donation of the North Garden, Catharine’s brother Dr. James Lincoln Huntington donated the house and grounds of Forty Acres to create the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation.

As a young adult, Catharine lived at Cedar Square, Roxbury with her aunt Kate Sumner and attended private school in the Boston area. After graduating from Radcliffe College, Catharine went on to help found the Boston Stage Society. Catharine was associated with many theaters including the Peabody Playhouse, the Brattle Theater, the Tributary Theater, and the Poet's Theater.

While living in Boston, at the age of forty, Catharine was arrested for protesting the death-sentence of Sacco and Vanzetti. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born US anarchists who were wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of a guard and a paymaster during the armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in April1920. Catharine was one of the one-hundred-and-fifty-six people arrested for sauntering and loitering in August 1927 as part of the Sacco and Vanzetti “Death Watch.” Catharine appealed her $10 fine, which was double that of one-hundred other members of the “Death Watch.” A Boston Globe article from August 24, 1927 titled "Death Watch” To Make Test Case, includes the following:

 “Miss Huntington, whose address is 66 Pickney St, said her family had been here for 300 years and read a statement maintaining she had a right to protest as she did.”

In December, Catharine went to trial with seven other members of the “Death Watch.” Among the other members prosecuted were American trade union organizer and Socialist Party leader Powers Hapgood, American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the great American novelist Jon Dos Passos.

After her involvement in the “Death Watch,” Catharine continued to surround herself with theatre and activism. In 1938, she founded the New England Repertory Theater on Joy Street in Boston. Catharine owned and operated the Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf from 1940 to 1973. This structure replaced the original playhouse that existed from 1915 to 1924. In 1965, at the age of seventy-eight, Catharine was awarded the Rodgers and Hammerstein award for "having done the most in the Boston area for the American theater." On her 97th birthday, she was recognized by Gov. Michael Dukakis and the Massachusetts Legislature for her contributions to American theater. Catharine Sargent Huntington’s passionate life continues to influence and inspire those interested in theatre and justice in the Boston area and beyond. 

For more information about Catharine Sargent Huntington, visit the Finding Aid to the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers here, see a photograph of her wearing Elizabeth Pitkin Porter's wedding dress here,  and read the articles from the 1927 Boston Globe below. 


The Laughing Audience

A small, easily overlooked piece of art hangs on the wall of the Northeast bedchamber. The frame holds a hand-colored engraving made by the 18th century printmaker and noted satirist, William Hogarth. “The Laughing Audience”, originally printed in 1790, depicts a group of men and women attending a theatre performance. Three separate social classes at the event are shown; the orchestral members, the nobles, and the general public. Each group is shown with distinctly separate reactions, thus explaining the title of the piece. The print originally belonged to Charles Bulfinch, whose son Stephen married Charles’ Phelps’ granddaughter, Caroline Phelps.

Charles Bulfinch, born in 1763, is most known for his famous architectural works, including the Boston State House and the United States Capitol Rotunda. Caroline and Stephen’s daughter, Ellen Bullfinch, eventually gave the print to her cousin Constant Davis Huntington, who donated it to the museum.

Epes Sargent VI

Portrait of Epes Sargent by Chester A. Harding dating from 1830-40.

Portrait of Epes Sargent by Chester A. Harding dating from 1830-40.

This portrait, housed in the dining room of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, is of Epes Sargent VI (1813-1880).  In 1828 Epes was introduced to Russian culture when he sailed to Russia with his father, Captain Epes Sargent V. This early exposure to travel would influence Sargent throughout his life, particularly in his involvement in the literary arts. Sargent wrote about his travels through Russia in the literary journal he founded on his return to Boston Latin School.

Sargent would become the editor of several publications including the Boston Daily Advertiser, New York Mirror, and the Boston Evening Transcript. In addition to his editorial work, Sargent was a published poet and playwright. Many of his plays focus on European culture and historical events including his plays The Bride of Genoa and Velasco: A Tragedy in Five Acts

Sargent was very involved with important literary figures of the time. He and Nathaniel Hawthorne sent letters to one another and  Sargent shared some of his poems with Hawthorne. In response to Sargent’s poem, “Adelaide's Triumph,” Hawthorne wrote that it was “perfect” and “brought tears into my eyes, though I am as hard-hearted as a grindstone.”

Later in life Sargent became an advocate for the spiritualist movement, a practice employing mediums as vessels to communicate with spirits of the dead. Sargent hosted séances and published books on spiritualism including The Scientific Basis of Spiritualism and The Proof Palpable of Immortality

Epes Sargent was the half-brother of Hannah Dane Sargent, the wife of Frederic Dan Huntington. His half-sister and her husband were the 4th generation of the family to reside at Forty Acres.

A Quote from Arria Sargent Huntington

Arria Sargent Huntington was the daughter of Hannah Dane Sargent and Fredric Dan Huntington. Her book, Under a Colonial Roof-Tree: Fireside Chronicles of Early New England, was completed in 1891. Throughout the one hundred and sixty four pages, Arria shares historical details and descriptions of both her family and the area surrounding her family’s home, Forty Acres. On page six, Arria describes the founding of Hadley and what the settlers found when they reached the area. She writes, 

A mountain chain rises here abruptly from the meadow-land, closing in the rich interval. The Connecticut, in its southward course, before entering the narrow opening between opposite peaks, takes a sweep through a broad basin, which, long before the memory of man, was washed by alluvial deposits. Natural terraces rise from the bank to wooded highlands east and west. Even when encircled by primeval forest, this open valley must have had its own charm for those who recalled the peaceful scenery of Old England.

Arria’s poetic words demonstrate her admiration of the natural beauty that her ancestors settled. Her description of Hadley ties together many points in the land’s history, from the prehistoric glaciers, to the old growth forests. This passage also unites the experiences of all people who have seen Hadley, from the first people to inhabit the land, to those who remember “Old England,” to Arria’s own generation, and even visitors to the Pioneer Valley today. While the landscape of Hadley has certainly changed, its beauty continues to impress those who are able to experience it.

Ruth Huntington Sessions

In 1936, Ruth Huntington Sessions finished her memoir, “Sixty Odd”. The book tells of Ruth’s childhood in Boston, Syracuse, and most importantly, at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Home. At the time of publication, Ruth was 77 years old, living in her home now known as the Sessions House at Smith College. She opened up the home at the turn of the 20th century for students, soon to become a loved and respected house-mother for her boarders. Her work in Hadley and Northampton encapsulated much of who Ruth was: a woman deeply concerned with the care and well-being of those around her.

On November 3rd, 1859, Ruth was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Frederic Dan Huntington and Hannah Dane Sargent.  An early aptitude and love for music likely stemmed from her parents; Hannah Dane often played piano in the church and at home for the family, and hymnals were never in short supply with Frederic Dan working as a pastor at Emmanuel Church in Boston. Ruth was the Huntington’s second youngest child, but this did not limit her excellent opportunities for education and travel. She attended private academies in her younger years, and in 1880, began her three year stretch studying piano with Clara Schumann in Germany.

Ruth married Archibald Sessions in 1887 and moved to New York City shortly thereafter, eventually becoming a mother to three children. She became actively involved in social reform at this time. As one of the original founders of the Consumer’s League, she was a leading force behind advocacy of improved factory conditions and child labor laws in the city. As an educated and thoughtful individual, she took time to write during these years as well. As an editor, poet, and author of several short stories and editorial pieces, she often left her publications signed only with her initials, “R.G.H”, as a way of never revealing her gender.

In 1893, Frederic Dan passed Phelps Farm onto Ruth after purchasing it from his cousins. The home became a well-loved summer retreat for Ruth just as the original Porter-Phelps-Huntington home was for much of the family. Her time was spent between Northampton and Hadley for the remainder of her life, where she founded the Children’s Home Association and worked with the Hampshire Bookshop. On December 2nd, 1946, Ruth died at 87 years old. Her legacy is easily found within the museum today, whether by her letters and publications, or pieces of the collection like her Kodak camera.

To learn more about Ruth’s story, please visit the Porter-Phelps-Huntington online finding aid at https://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/amherst/ma30_odd.html. In addition to online resources, many of her publications, letters, and related documents can be found at Amherst College Special Collections, the W.E.B DuBois Library at UMass, or at Smith College. As always, we suggest a tour at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum to capture a glimpse firsthand of life at Forty Acres, just as Ruth experienced it a century ago.

Apostle Pitcher

This octagonal pitcher depicting 8 apostles is one of many which were mass produced in the 19th century. By utilizing a technique employing plaster moulds, these pitchers were made for affordability and durability. Although mass produced, this pitcher maintains a great level of detail. The apostles are placed in Gothic inspired niches done in relief moulding. Each apostles’ garments are clearly defined as well as the welcoming expressions on their bearded faces. The white coloration of the earthenware gives the illusion that the pitcher is carved from marble or made out of porcelain, which are much more costly materials than the salt-glazed earthenware and pewter which it is actually made out of. The apostle pitchers or jugs were one of the most popular relief-moulded pitcher designs and are in the collections of other museums such as the Apostle Jug produced by Charles Meigh & Co. located in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Apparently, James Lincoln Huntington received this pitcher from an old patient and kept it because the pitcher reminded him of the one his Grandmother, Hannah Dane Sargent, used for syrup when he was a child.

A Little Background

After 5 months of construction, the roof to the Porter homestead was raised on May 27th, 1752. The structure, large and imposing, was simply unlike anything else in the area.

Moses Porter, born on January 13th, 1722, grew up in the center of Hadley with his parents, Samuel Porter III and Anna Colton. The Porters were known for their influence in local trade, belonging to the powerful group of seven families known as the River Gods. At the time, these families dominated social, economic, and political hierarchy in the Connecticut River Valley. Samuel Porter died in 1748, leaving Moses Porter the land known locally as “Forty Acres and its skirts”. Moses built his farmstead on this land and it became known as simply “Forty Acres”.

The home was undeniably innovative and reflected his socially advantageous marriage, successful presence in local trade, and respected ancestry. As Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle writes, he truly was a “visionary” in his planning. Upon approaching ‘Forty Acres’ in 1752, one would have immediately noticed the rusticated siding that covered the front three sides of the house. The façade is made of wood, carved and finished to resemble stone blocks. The art of imitation was respected and even praised throughout the 18th century, however, rustication was unheard of on residential buildings at the time, especially in rural Hampshire County. This technique required great skill and reflects Moses’ affluence. George Washington’s Mount Vernon featured rusticated siding but was built five years after Moses Porter’s home.

Moses also included stylistic aspects of traditional English manner houses in the design. Segmented pediments and flat arches were carved over the windows and entry, that were a Classical motif of the Italian Renaissance commonly used by English architects of the time. A medieval hewn, similar to one found on his father’s home, created more space upstairs. Additionally, a side door was built modeling houses in Southeastern England in the 18th century.

Within the home, Moses worked with an impressive central-hall plan. This feature was often prevalent in prosperous coastal communities, and ‘Forty Acres’ is the first of its kind in the area. In a typical mid-18th century home, central-hearth plans were much more common. With this method, space was built around a single fireplace- efficient, but lacking in privacy and division. Moses, however, had the means to construct a home that had a fireplace in each ground floor room. Masonry was very expensive, and fireplaces increased property taxes. The central-hall plan created the opportunity for a separation of space: formal from working, private from public.  

In Carlisle’s words, “The design of a house is a design for living”. Moses built an impressive and unique home that was more than ample for his family of three and two slaves. The house Moses built has existed through more than 250 years of transition and growth. Upon arrival today, the grand reveal of the estate still invokes that same sense of awe that must have existed in 1752.


Object of the Week: Charles Phelps Jr.'s Ink Stand

This ink Standish- which was the term from the 15th to the 18th century- is crafted from pewter and most likely English or Irish in origin.  In the 1757 Porter inventory it is listed as an “ink case” worth “2d 1/2”.  It most likely belonged to Moses Porter and Charles Phelps, Jr. acquired it through marriage to Moses only child. The stand shows signs of being well-used, as its bottom exhibits multiple repairs and there is an alteration made to the front left section in order to deepen it. The different small compartments would commonly have held wax letter-sealing wafers, an ink well, gum powder called “pounce” which was sprinkled onto paper helping fix the ink, and most likely quills and a letter-opener.


Interesting Feature: Exposed Federalist Wallpaper

Some rooms in the main portion of the museum were wallpapered at the turn of the 20th century. Wallpaper was stripped as time went on, but a remnant of the wallpaper in the Long Room remains above the mantle. It is a Federal-period patterned paper. Federal-style architecture and décor was most popular between the years 1780 and 1830, however, the exact dating of the wallpaper is unknown. Smaller pieces of wallpaper were discovered between the wall and the mantle, but were unfortunately too small to show any other patterns. In 1935, photos of the museum were taken for the Historic American Building Survey, clearly showing the wallpaper in the Long Room. 

Object of the Week: Chippendale Style Bed

All of the objects in the Porter-Phelps-Huntington museum were brought into the house by the six generations of family members who lived here. These objects continued to play a part in the daily lives of the family  even as the generations moved in and out of the home. This is one of their stories.

This bed (c.1740-50), made in the Chippendale style from mahogany and maple woods, became fashionable during Moses and Elizabeth’s first years living in their newly completed home. The Chippendale aesthetic is modeled after a mixture of primarily Gothic, Asian, and French Rococo influences. The mahogany claw-and-ball feet with fluted posts appear only on the footboard of the bed. The headboard, made from maple, is contrastingly simple in design. The bed would have been dressed in heavy draperies covering the headboard, making it unnecessary to reproduce the intricacies of the more visible footboard. The Museum has no original bed curtains from the 18th century, and a summer-time “tester” (a lighter lace canopy) was removed for preservation purposes. The frame is now bare, but it shows the markings of the hangings that had adorned it in the past.  Though the craftsman of the bed is not known, it was likely constructed by a furniture maker in Boston and brought into the home in 1752 upon its completion by Moses Porter.

Moses, however, spent only three years sleeping in this bed, as his life was tragically cut short on September 8th, 1755 while serving as a Captain in the Seven Years War. This left Elizabeth widowed at age 35. At this time, the bed would have been located in the master bedchamber downstairs. But in 1770, Moses and Elizabeth’s only child, Betsy, married Charles Phelps Jr. Now as Mistress and Master of the home, the newlyweds took the downstairs bedchamber and  the Chippendale bed was moved upstairs for Elizabeth. Elizabeth never remarried and lived out the remainder of her life in the home Moses built for her until her death in 1798.


For more information on the Chippendale style and other furniture in the colonies, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chip/hd_chip.htm

And for more on Moses and Elizabeth and the other features of the home, visit the collections pages on the PPH website: http://www.pphmuseum.org/collections/

Words of the week: Elizabeth Pitkin Porter's letter to Moses

While the Porter-Phelps-Huntington house is full of countless objects owned by different generations of the family, what brings the house even more vividly to life are the stories of the people who owned these objects--as captured in their letters, diaries, and other writings. We get a sense of Elizabeth Pitkin Porter’s personality, for instance, in a letter written to her husband Moses Porter on August 9, 1755, while he was stationed in upstate New York during the Seven Years’ War. Her expressive words reveal not only her fondness for her husband, but also the power and pleasure she derived from writing. She confides:

“I am glad to hear that you received my scrawls for I am apt to please my self that you took some delight in reading what I took a maloncolly [sic] satisfaction in writing. I read yours over and over and take more pleasure therein than in any worldly thing. But there is something wanting. I long to see you and to hear that pleasant noise which would refresh me more than wine.”

Tragically, Moses never read Elizabeth’s affectionate words; he was killed defending a British fort from French attack just three days before her letter arrived, and Elizabeth never remarried. However, we are fortunate to have an archival record of their correspondence, because it grants us insight into the nature of their relationship, and into the effects that historical conflicts like the Seven Years’ War had on families’ lives.

For more about Elizabeth Pitkin Porter’s correspondence with her husband Moses, visit our collections page.

Person of the Week: Elizabeth Pitkin Porter

Elizabeth was born in late 1719. A member of the prominent Pitkin family of  East Hartford, CT, she came to Hadley in 1742 after marrying Moses Porter, son of Samuel  Porter III, a wealthy merchant of Western Massachusetts. This marriage significantly strengthened connections between the Porters and Pitkins, who both had long, prosperous histories rooted throughout New England. The Pitkins owned a significant amount of land, both residential and commercial, throughout East Hartford. The family inhabited eight homes along the main street of the city and ran plow lands, a clothier’s shop, and fulling mills at the height of their influence. As Elizabeth Pitkin was the only child of her father’s second wife, she was granted a significant dowry that was brought to the Porter-Phelps-Huntington family upon her marriage to Moses.

She moved with Moses and their young daughter to their newly built homestead, two miles north of the center of Hadley, on December 5th, 1752. However, less than three years later, Elizabeth was left alone in the home, as Moses was a captain in the Hadley militia and was called to take part in the Seven Years War. Left to raise her daughter and run the home by herself, Elizabeth’s days were filled with taxing worry and fear. Sadly, on September 14th, 1755, news of Moses’ death in battle reached the homestead. At only thirty-six years old, Elizabeth found herself a widow and a single mother. Despite these circumstances, the home remained in her name and under her supervision for many years.

Soon after Moses’ death, Elizabeth began to experience serious bouts of depression in her isolation, which ultimately led to a debilitating addiction to laudanum, an opiate painkiller often prescribed to women in the 18th century. Through this hardship, Mrs. Porter managed to stay involved in the community. She, to a certain admirable extent, regularly attended church services, made calls on neighbors and family, and put significant time and effort into raising and educating her daughter. Unfortunately, much is still unknown about Elizabeth. In her later life, she seemed to exist only in the shadowy background of the home, even long after her daughter and son-in-law took over the farm. Her eventual death in 1798 marked the loss of a matriarch, but certainly not the end of a powerful, influential, and extremely important family legacy.

To find out more about Elizabeth and the rest of the family, read “Earthbound and Heavenbent” by Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle.