Women’s Suffrage and How it Affected the Lives of Unmarried Women in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Born in 1848 to Hannah Dane Sargent and Bishop Frederic Dan Huntington, Arria Sargent Huntington was the eldest of her five siblings. As a member of the fifth generation of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington family, Arria would have spent her summers at “Forty Acres” when she was growing up in Syracuse. As an adult, Arria devoted much of her time to philanthropy, she founded The Shelter for Homeless Women and Girls, the Working Girls Club, and was involved in many other organizations. Arria was the first woman elected to public office in Syracuse where she would serve on the New York State Board of Education from 1897 to 1903 (two decades before women even had the vote). Despite having numerous suitors, Arria would never marry. While uncommon at the time for a woman to choose to remain unmarried, Marla R. Miller writes about a woman from the late eighteenth-century, Rebecca Dickinson, who also chose to remain unmarried despite being proposed to. In her book, Rebecca Dickinson: Independence for a New England Woman, Miller writes,

“In late eighteenth-century New England being unmarried did not necessarily mean having liberty or feeling free. On the contrary, women without husbands were dependent on others—usually fathers, brother, or nephews—who would decide their fate.”

In addition to the lack of independence Dickinson would have experienced, she also writes in her journal about feeling lonely: “…this lonely habitation where there is no voice nor nothing but one old odd being.” (August 20, 1787) She later writes about “those lonesome death-like thoughts” and describes her house as “a tomb.” Although Dickinson had a successful career as a skilled craftswoman and at times writes about the joys of remaining unmarried, these quotes from her journal paint her as the stereotypical lonely ‘old maid’ that Miller discusses in her work. However, when we look at Arria’s life, the image we see is one of success and independence.

While Dickinson lived during the late eighteenth-century, Arria wasn’t born until the mid-nineteenth-century, so what was happening at this time to enable an unmarried woman like Arria to be so successful and independent while just half a century earlier, women like Dickinson didn’t have control over their own lives? The answer lies in the 1840s when women’s suffrage began to gather support. While Dickinson died in 1815 and would not have been around to experience the growth of women’s suffrage, Arria was born in 1848 and would have grown up in the middle of this blossoming social movement. 54 years after Dickinson’s death, and just 21 years after Arria’s birth, the first national suffrage organization was established in 1869; the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Arria died in 1921 and just barely saw the 19th Amendment ratified, but she lived at a time when women’s independence and equality was the focus of the American public. Therefore, while remaining unmarried for Dickinson meant she didn’t have control over her own fate, as Miller argues, Arria was able to succeed in a society where women were able to make such choices and still maintain their independence. 



Baratta, R Catherine. Arria Sargent Huntington's curriculum vitae (created by Dr. Baratta as a class handout). 1999 

Miller, Marla R. Rebecca Dickinson: Independence for a New England Woman (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2014).

Huntington, Arria S. Under a Colonial Roof-Tree: Fireside Chronicles of Early New England. Syracuse: Woolcott’s Bookshop, 1905.

“Obituary of Arria S. Huntington” from the Provincetown Journal. Sunday, June 9th, 1996.

Elizabeth Whiting Phelps’ Engraved “Button Box”


Nestled in the Georgian style window seat in the northeast bedchamber, Elizabeth Whiting “Betsy” Phelps’ “button box,” similar to a sewing kit, is out on display. It was made between 1750 and 1800 and gifted to Elizabeth sometime before she married Dan Huntington in 1801. Elizabeth participated in the local sewing society and also taught  the practical skill to her daughters. As she mentions in a letter to her son Edward in 1841, “Bethia, who is sewing at my side, sends her love to you…” Today, visitors can see a sampler sewn by Bethia on display in the house.

The small wooden box is made in the Shaker style which can be recognized by the single strips of wood with tapered ends that form the sides of the cover and box. The Shaker community emigrated to North America in the 1770s and carried their tenets of humility and honesty into their craftsmanship. They developed a style that did not “deceive” through ornamentation and veneers, but revealed nails, seams, and sites of attachment with a focus on proportion and simplicity. 

It is likely the Huntington family continued to use the button box for several succeeding generations. Hanging out from the lid, two spools connect to silk thread stored inside. Engraving on the spools indicate that the thread sourced from Belding Corticelli Richardson, a popular high-quality manufacturing company whose precursors held an early factory in Northampton, MA, but did not establish this title until the 1920s. Such personalized objects would have held a particular value within the family collections.


“Belding Brothers & Company, Silk Manufacturers — Alvah N. Belding Memorial Library.” Accessed July 1, 2019, https://www.belding.michlibrary.org/about-us/our-history/belding-brothers-company-silk-manufacturers.html.

Elizabeth Whiting Phelps Huntington, “Elizabeth Huntington to Frederic Dan Huntington, Mar. 29th, 1845,” Global Valley, accessed July 2, 2019, https://www.ats.amherst.edu/globalvalley/items/show/79.

Elizabeth Whiting Phelps Huntington, “Elizabeth Huntington to Edward Huntington, Dec. 13th, 1841,” Global Valley, accessed July 2, 2019, https://www.ats.amherst.edu/globalvalley/items/show/34.

Vincent, Author: Nicholas C. “Shaker Furniture | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed June 30, 2019. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shak/hd_shak.htm.

Happy Fourth of July!

Every year, the Fourth of July recognizes the United States’ Declaration of Independence from England. Although people mark the day with fireworks and parades, Elizabeth Porter Phelps’ diary does not contain an entry from July 4th, 1776. However, selections from her diary illustrate the material experience of frontier life during the war, as well as her anti-Loyalist leanings, which were remarkable for a gentry family like her own.

Collis, The Huntington Family Railroad Tycoon

When walking up the central stairwary of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, it’s impossible to miss the prodigious oil portrait on the left wall. With a width of twenty-seven inches and a height of thirty-five inches, the painting depicts a man with white hair, beard, and mustache. His light features are a stark contrast against the dark black suit jacket and hat which blend into the dark background. At a glance, there is no doubt that the painting is of someone significant.   

The man in the painting is Collis Potter Huntington, also known as one of the Railroad Tycoons. Collis is the second cousin once-removed of Dan Huntington. Both are direct relatives of Samuel Huntington, a signer of the Declaration of Independence as governor of Connecticut and the previous President of the Continental Congress. According to the museum’s inventory card, the painting was commissioned by Collis’ sister, Ellen Huntington Gates (a hymnist and poet), while she was in Paris. It is unclear who the artist was, however, there is a photograph in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution that was most likely used by the artist to copy and create the painting.

Collis was an entrepreneur that was partially responsible for the success of the Central Pacific Railroad. Huntington worked alongside his fellow magnates Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins Jr., and Charles Crocker. Together, they were popularly known as the “Big Four” or “The Associates”. The four collectively invested in Theodore Judah’s engineering design, the Central Pacific Railroad (1861), which then became the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, allowing for the Central Pacific to move east from California. The tracks were created at a very rapid rate and at a very low pay wage towards the thousands of Chinese laborers in order to rival the Union Pacific Railroad’s thousands of Irish laborers. (Learn more about the Chinese and Irish laborers’ history here: http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/railroads.html )

( Click to view full screen) Map of the central portion of the United States showing the lines of the proposed Pacific railroads, via the Library of Congress.

The railroad, initially, started from both sides of the country. The Union Pacific Railroad started in Omaha, Nebraska in 1865 and headed westward. The Central Pacific Railroad began laying down track in Sacramento, California in 1863 heading east. Their trek was incredibly foreboding because they had to go through the Sierra Nevada mountains, which included using a great number of explosives. The Union Pacific was mostly composed of Irish laborers and Civil War veterans, and they were often battling Native American tribes throughout the Rocky Mountains. Both tracks met in Promontory, Utah in May of 1869 and added up to be nearly 1,800 miles long. From there, the railroad had expanded, and the Southern Pacific Company acted as a holding company, before merging with the Central Pacific in 1959.

In addition to the railroad business, Collis helped to develop the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, as well as forming Newport News into an independent city. The famed Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California was created in his honor by his nephew, Henry E. Huntington. His step-son, Archer M. Huntington, created the Hispanic Society of America in Manhattan, New York.

If you are interested in reading more about this story, as there is so much more to tell, please check out the sources below.



- The Huntington Family in America: Third Supplement to the Genealogical Memoir of 1915. Huntington Family Association, 1971.

- “Collection Inventory.” Collis Potter Huntington Papers, Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research Center, library.syr.edu/digital/guides/h/huntington_cp.htm.

Union Pacific Railroad at Council Bluffs, Iowa, dated March 7, 1864 (38th Congress, 1st Session SENATE Ex. Doc. No. 27).

- Howard, Robert The Great Iron Trail. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1962. pg. 222

- “Immigration, Railroads, and the West.” Open Collections Program: Contagion, The Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia, 1793, ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/railroads.html.

- “Map of the Central Portion of the United States Showing the Lines of the Proposed Pacific Railroads.” Apple Computers: This Month in Business History (Business Reference Services, Library of Congress), Victor, www.loc.gov/resource/g3701p.rr000150/?r=0.131,0.002,0.643,0.309,0.

General Lincoln's Parquet Tea Caddy

Tea has been a prominent custom since the mid-seventeenth century[1]. In the colonial era it developed as an important commodity, a political chess piece, and a symbol of prestige in society. The colonial tea table would not be complete without tea pots, teaspoons, lemon forks, infusers, sugar bowls, creamers, jam jars, saucers, and more. [2] All of these components and accessories were crucial to the tradition of tea, which was required for young colonists to become respected adults in society.

The British government began taxing tea in the 1760’s with the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767. These acts and the colonists’ reactions built up to a climax of smuggling and outrage, which developed into the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773. As a result of the agitation over the taxes, we became a nation of prominent coffee and chocolate drinkers.

Pictured here, is a tea caddy that belonged to General Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810). The hand-made parquet wood box holds two tea tins and a middle tin for sugar cones. Previous to the invention of sugar cubes, sugar would come in small coned shapes. This explains the sugar tongs, placed above the tins in the photographs. The tongs were used to cut amounts of sugar from the cone and to place them in a hot cup of tea.

Caddies often came with the purchase of tea, but they came quite handy for those that travelled as much as General Lincoln. This caddy is most likely from England, who took the inspiration from Chinese canisters made of silver, ivory, lacquer, and tortoise shell.[3] The English typically made caddies from different types of wood (such as rosewood, satinwood, and mahogany) that were placed in elaborate or delicate designs.

At the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, tea is still an ongoing tradition every Saturday afternoon for our “Perfect Spot of Teas”. Often times, afternoon teas were for company and conversation with the accompaniment of live music. Locals would travel to Forty Acres ever since its construction in 1752, and Elizabeth Porter Phelps would often invite ten to fifteen couples to tea at least once a week. We still continue this tradition in 2018, with Earl Gray tea and pastries and live music!

William Cowper, an English poet and hymnodist, perfectly described the importance and the outlook of tea in his poem titled The Winter Evening as such: “the bubbling and loud-hissing urn / Throws up a steamy column, and the cups, / That cheer but not inebriate”.[4]


[1] Tea has been a custom well before the seventeenth century, especially in the Eastern Hemisphere where most tea originates from. Due to the focus of this piece being of Europe, I mention the seventeenth century to reference the tradition in Europe and England.

[2] Dolores Snyder, Tea Time Entertaining: A Collection of Tea Themes & Recipes (Dolores W. Snyder, 2004), 26.

[3] Ibid., 33. 

[4] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44037/the-task-book-iv-the-winter-evening

1809 Prussian Potsdam Musket

In the 1799 kitchen, a 19th century musket stands by the door that leads to the back veranda. Made of walnut and brass, the musket measures 76 inches overall with a 41.25 inch barrel and a 15.25 inch triangular bayonet. A number of visitors have asked questions of when or where this musket was used, or whether it would have been brought back by a Civil War veteran in the Porter-Phelps-Huntington family. Because of these inquiries, I grew curious about its origins.

The inventory card for the musket (X025) indicates a date range from 1800 to 1850. Based on a quote from Frederic Dan Huntington (1819-1904) it also “dates from the War of 1812… was changed from a flintlock…[and] is a Hadley Militia musket.” There are also incised numbers and initials along it’s base. To interpret the numbers and to understand the history of this musket, I contacted Alexander MacKenzie, Curator of the Springfield Armory.

The serial numbers tell this musket’s story. MacKenzie identified it as a Potsdam Musket, from the 1809 Prussian infantry. Just above the musket’s trigger, “F/Saarn” is incised on a brass plate. There are also incisions on either side of the butt plate: “233/L.W.B. 36./E” on one side and “94398/1909/1830” on the other. 1830 is the year it was made in the Prussian Royal Arms Factory in Saarn, Rhineland [1]. 233 would have been the tracking or rack number [2] and L.W.B stands for the Landwehr Regiment, where it was used.

As indicated on the inventory card, it was originally a flintlock [3]. MacKenzie described that it was most likely converted to percussion ignition around 1840. Many of the older models, like the Potsdam musket, were not in use in Europe by the 1860’s and would have been sold to countries that were in desperate need of arms. The Union Army during the Civil War bought nearly 126,000 of these muskets in the first few years of the war and, according to MacKenzie, to keep them out of the hands of the Confederate Army.

It is possible that this musket was used in the early Civil War and brought back to the house by a family veteran. The Union Army, by this time, however, was replacing these models by more modern fire arms from Springfield and Connecticut. After 1861, Potsdam muskets were sold as surplus military relics in North America. It is possible that this musket would have been purchased as a surplus item with the bayonet.

While the musket still stands guard at the very back of the house, its complete provenance remains a conundrum.



Pam, David, (1998). The Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield & Its Workers. Enfield: Published by the author. ISBN 0-9532271-0-3.

Alexander MacKenzie, Curator, The Springfield Armory. https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467122740

"Prussian Model 1809 “’Potsdam’ Musket”. Horse Soldier. Accessed June 18, 2018. http://www.horsesoldier.com/products/firearms/longarms/9824.


[1] "Pattern 1809 Prussian Musket - The Battle of Waterloo." Royal Armouries Collections. Accessed July 01, 2018. https://collections.royalarmouries.org/battle-of-waterloo/arms-and-armour/type/rac-narrative-272.html.

[2] A racking number was a quick way for the armorer to check for organizational purposes. Weapons had identification numbers to match a number placed in its corresponding location.

[3] Flintlock and Percussion Ignition: The flintlock ignition creates a spark made by the contact of flint and steel, called a frizzen. When the trigger was pulled, the flint would strike the steel creating a spark igniting the powder. Percussion ignition caps were “a system for utilizing fulminating salts to fire powder, and further specified as one of the chief advantages of his system that it prevented any escape of gas through the touch-hole”.

. http://americansocietyofarmscollectors.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/B019_Bedford.pdf., http://sportsmansvintagepress.com/read-free/book-pistol-revolver-table-contents/caplock-pistols-the-percussion-system/.

Canton ware Platter

The china cabinet, with the platter below (Accession Number C014.C)

The china cabinet, with the platter below (Accession Number C014.C)

Below the stocked china cabinet in the dining room at Forty Acres sits a heavy platter, sturdy yet embellished with delicate blue designs and scenes. It is octagonal, with a thick blue cross-hatched band and a scalloped edge that envelopes a tranquil landscape with boats, pagodas, islands, and soft waves. This piece entered the possession of the Stearns family some time before 1820, and would have originated in Guangzhou, China, the country’s one port open to trade with the West and the center of porcelain manufacturing and exports. The landscape scene would have involved the work of many hands—the painted designs were completed assembly-line style, with each artist adding one aspect of shading or line before passing on the porcelain. This platter belonged to the Stearns, the family of museum founder Dr. James Lincoln Huntington’s grandmother, Lucy Gellineau Stearns. The Stearns were from Salem, one of the largest hubs of porcelain trade outside of New York. Given the platter’s dating to the early 19th century, it most likely would have been purchased by William Stearns and Sarah White Sprague, Dr. Huntington’s great-great-grandparents. The Stearns were a merchant family; William Stearns (1754-1819) was an apothecary and grocer. In the late 18th  and early 19th centuries in New England, Canton ware such as this platter was both ubiquitous and accessible, especially as factories were established in England and the Netherlands to produce cheaper pieces in the Canton style that would be purchased by families like the Stearns. These cities on the Eastern coast began receiving mass quantities of Canton ware in the early 19th century, around when the platter came into the family’s possession, so much so that cargo ships counted the porcelain as part of the weight of the ship itself.

Lucy Gellineau Stearns, (1828-1916)

Lucy Gellineau Stearns, (1828-1916)


This demand for Canton ware in New England blossomed partially out of the status that the imported pieces symbolized, as well as the exoticized nature of the content of the scenes they featured. This platter features the typical content of Canton ware-- shan shui (hills and streams), showing pagodas, rivers, boats, fishermen, walled pleasure gardens that bordered mansions. For families like the Stearns and Huntingtons, these tranquil scenes were their only exposure to Chinese culture-- by the time Chinese migration to the United States began in the mid 19th century, the popularity of Canton ware had already died down. However, these stylized landscapes reflected the Western imagination’s conception of China rather than the country’s reality of political and social turmoil at the time. This craze of “orientalism” and its idealized, alluring vision of China went hand in hand with the West’s ‘dominating, restructuring, and having authority” over the country itself (Haddad 55). Thus, the foreign fantasy of the shan shui scenes depicted on the platter at Forty Acres represents the lack of awareness of China and its politics at the time that prevailed in the West—the destructive role of England in the Opium Wars, for example. However, the American perception of China as an exotic mystery eventually faded. As the intellectual and economic barriers between the West and China eroded over the course of the 19th century, the demand for Canton ware diminished. This platter remains as a relic of the Stearns and Huntington’s family’s interaction with a romanticized myth of China.

Canton ware platter (Accession Number C014.C)

Canton ware platter (Accession Number C014.C)



Cooney Frelinghuysen, Alice and Clare Le Corbeiller. “Chinese Export Porcelain.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 60, no. 3, 2003, pp. 1-60.

Haddad, John. “Imagined Journeys to Distant Cathay: Constructing China with Ceramics, 1780-1920.” Winterthur Portfolio, vol. 41, no. 1, 2007, pp. 53-80.

Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers, on deposit at Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

Stearns and Sprague Family Papers, MSS 192, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.

For further reading on the Stearns family, see:

Heath, Douglas L. and Alison C. Simon, "The Lost Mill Village of Middlesex Fells," History Press, 2017. ISBN 9781 4671 36679.

Gilder Cornelia Brooke. Edith Wharton's Lenox. The History Press. Charleston, South Carolina. 2017

Thorsen, Linda Jean. "The Merchants' Manufacturer: The Barrett Family's Dyeing Businesses in Massachusetts and New York, 1790-1850" Thesis. Harvard University, May 2015.

A week of Preparations for the Huntington Family Thanksgiving

Theodore G. Huntington

Theodore G. Huntington

Theodore Huntington, the eighth child of Dan and Elizabeth Huntington's eleven, was born March 18, 1813 in Middletown, Connecticut. At the age of three, he moved with the family to Hadley. Shortly before his death in 1885, Theodore wrote a collection of reminisences he called "Sketches of Family Life in Hadley". Below are excerpts from his writings describing the extravagant Huntington Family Thanksgiving and its week-long   preparations. 



“Monday was devoted, of course, to the weekly washing and nothing must interfere with that. Tuesday was the great day for the making of pies of which there were from thirty to fifty baked in the great oven that crackled and roared right merrily in anticipation [of the rich medley that was being made ready for its capacious maw.” (34)


1799 Kitchen


"Two kinds of apple pies, two of pumpkin, rice and cranberry made out the standard list to which additions were sometimes made. Then in our younger days we children had each a patty of his own. These were made in tins of various shapes of which was had our choice, as well as of the material of which our respective pies should be composed.” (34)

1797 kitchen.jpg

1797 Kitchen


“Wednesday was devoted to chicken pies and raised cake. The making of the latter was a critical operation. If I mistake not it was begun on Monday. I believe the conditions must be quite exact to have the yeast perform its work perfectly in the rich conglomerated mass. In due time the cake is finished. The chicken pies are kept in the oven so as to have them still not at the supper. The two turkeys have been made ready for the spit; the kitchen cleared of every vestige of the great carnival that has resigned for the last two days and there is a profound pause for an hour or two before the scene opens.” (34)

DINING ROOM 2 (1).jpg

Dining Room


"I remember once quite a sensation was produced in the little crowd because brother Theophilus lost his balance and for want of a chair to break his fall, sat down on one of the smoking hot pies! After cooling and sorting, the precious delicacies were put away into the large closets in the front entry of hall which the foot of tho small boy was not permitted to profune. “(34)

“There was still a more primitive way of roasting turkey and one which was resorted to sometimes when our family was at the largest. Room was made at one end of the ample fireplace and the turkey was suspended by the legs from the ceiling where was a contrivance to keep the string turning, and of course, with it the turkey. On the hearth was a dish to catch the drippings and with then the meat was occasionally basted. The thing is accomplished much more easily now, but at an expense I imagine in the quality of the work. “ (35) 



To read more of Theodore's recollections, follow the top link below to his sketches as well as the link to Theodore at the Amherst Archives in the bottom link!

 Sketches by Theodore G. Huntington of the Family and Life in Hadley, written in letters to H.F. Quincy.


Charles (Moses) Porter Phelps (1772-1857)

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Charles (Moses) Porter Phelps was born August 8, 1772 to Charles Phelps and Elizabeth Porter, starting the third generation to have lived at Forty Acres. He spent his childhood at the family homestead in Hadley, leaving in the Spring of 1780, when only seven years old, to live and attend school in Northampton. Charles and Elizabeth were intent on Porter (nicknamed at the time) succeeding to Harvard. In 1784, Porter continued his education in Hatfield where he lived and studied at Reverend Joseph Lyman’s, a grammar school emphasizing the study of Latin and Greek. A week after his fifteenth birthday, Porter set off for Cambridge to enroll at Harvard College. There he diligently kept an account book following his father’s admonitions, also recording the latest urban fashion and pastimes taking place in Boston. He corresponded with his parents and siblings thorough letters, influencing his sisters Betsey and Thankful with the extravagance of fashion and material items in Cambridge. The archives hold a letter in which Betsey references her new silk stockings that Porter bought for her – the same stockings which Jane Austin had written her sister about, lamenting her inability to afford such luxury just four years earlier (Carlisle 131). Porter also sent Betsey a mandola for her to practice music, this instrument still sits on the sofa in the Long Room of the museum today.

While at Harvard, Porter was greatly influenced by the philosophers and theologians who expressed ideas for the liberation of the Calvinist Congregation and writers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau. This thinking amongst other things, may have caused Porter to switch his belief to the new Unitarian Philosophy in the early 19th century.  Porter graduated Harvard second in his class in 1791 and changed his name to the more formal Charles Porter Phelps.  Upon being awarded his master’s degree (also from Harvard) he gave a valedictorian speech in fluent Latin. Although today this would have been seen as a grand accomplishment calling for admiration, no mention of praise is seen in diaries or letters from the family. From Charles and Elizabeth’s Calvinist perspective, admiration of that sort would have been discouraged. Looking at Calvinism from today’s point of view we can suspect this admiration would have been seen as encouraging vanity. In his autobiography, Porter writes of his sensitive struggle with self doubt. A struggle that carried on throughout his life. He writes, 

This shrinking section has attended me thro life—and tho it may sometime have been productive of good, yet, having so often become its victim, I have no doubt that on the whole, it has proved baneful and disastrous. [i] 

Could this self doubt have been an after effect of the lack of approval and emotional support from his Calvinist parents?

In 1792, Porter headed to Newburyport to study and board under Theophilus Parsons, a prominent lawyer of the 18th century. Interestingly, John Quincy Adams had studied under Theophilus Parsons just four years earlier between 1787 and 1788. As well as being an esteemed lawyer, Parsons was also a strong advocate of the Massachusetts State and federal constitutions. Parsons, with the help of John Hancock, formed three amendments for the Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights. Porter stayed in Newburyport until a few months after the expiration of his clerkship there in January 1795. During his residence he had come to know Sarah Parsons, niece of his mentor Theophilus Parsons. Sarah had lived with her grandmother in Boston and upon her death moved to Newburyport in 1794, bringing the two closer together the months before Porter was admitted to the bar and left to open his own practice in Boston. By 1795, the two were engaged to be married. In June of that year a party was organized for a group of young people from Newburyport to attend an ordination in Haverhill. In his memoirs, Charles confesses that he did not know what controlled his action, but he invited another woman to accompany him—leaving Miss Parsons to try to find a seat with her Uncle’s family. He says, “what demon of folly—or madness—took possession of me I know not...and soon I felt that every attempt to apologize only exasperated the bitterness of the insult.” [ii]. His self-deprecation had caused him to shrink from any public display of his affection for Sarah whom he “most desired to propitiate and honor” [iii]. After the ordination party, Charles and Sarah grew cold to one another, leaving his sisters and mother to grow in fear that he would not find love—his best chance seeming to have gone. In May 1796, Charles Phelps (Sr.) and Elizabeth Phelps visited Boston as Charles (Sr.)  was representing the general court. While there, Elizabeth, upon meeting up with her son expressed a wish to visit an old friend living in Newburyport (knowing well that Sarah would be there). Charles Porter was to do his mother a favor by driving her in his chaise. Could this have been a covert plan by Elizabeth to rekindle the spark her son and Sarah Parsons once had? Porter took his mother’s intrusion happily and resolved to “make a final effort, either to restore myself to her forfeited favor or on the other hand to ensure the extinction of all my hopes by a repeated – and what in this case would inevitably prove to be – an irreversible rejection.” The plan worked successfully and the couple were once again awaiting their betrothal.


            While in Boston, Porter’s parents, Charles (Sr.) and Elizabeth, encouraged him to settle back home in Hadley and Porter felt his law office was not giving him the kind of success that ought to keep him from Forty Acres. In April of 1799, he closed his office and spent that summer helping outline the new renovations his father wanted for Forty Acres to both expand the property and keep his architectural design contemporary.  The family, in hopes of Charles and Sarah moving in after their wedding the following Spring, started work on a third floor for the couple. This renovation is what changed the profile of the house from a pitched roof to a gambrel roof (an architectural design that many elite homes in Boston were favoring at the time). However, after these renovations to Forty Acres in 1799, the couple chose to stay in Boston where Charles formed a business partnership with Edward Rand—leaving the third floor unfished as we see it today. Together Charles and Rand formed a merchant business from No.3 Cadman’s Wharf until the summer of 1801.

In the late afternoon of Saturday June 13th at Dorchester point, just south of Boston, Rand stood, gun raised, in a duel against a Mr. Miller. Supposedly, Miller had challenged Rand on account of a “lady from Rhode Island”. Porter writes, “Rand had the first fire and missed and that then Miller took deliberate aim”[iv]. Porter was called upon to retrieve his partner’s body and helped to bury him in the Granary burying Ground late that night. Everyone directly involved in the duel skipped town, for duels had been illegal acts since 18th century. Porter continued his export business until 1816 when he began his political career as a Boston Representative to the State Legislature. By the end of that year he had received a large profit from his buisness and chose to use the money to build a house on his share of the ancestral Hadley property. This house still stands as Phelps Farm today. To great sorrow, Sarah contracted Typhous fever and passed away on the move to her new home.  Her cousin, Charlotte Parsons came to help a devastated Charles in bringing up his and Sarah’s five children. Porter and Charlotte grew close and married in 1840, parenting four more children—many did not survive youth. Charlotte died in 1830 and in 1833 Porter married for his third time to Elizabeth Judkins. He continued running the family farm he had built for he and Sarah and gained status as a Hadley lawyer and selectman.

Charles Porter Phelps died December 22, 1857 at the age of 85 a man of respect; honored and and trusted by this Hadley Community. He had served ten terms as as Hadley Representative in the legislature and senator of the Hampshire district and was acknowledged by his neighbors as a man of high principle and clear judgment.

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[i] Phelps, Charles (Moses) Porter. Autobiography 1857 (p.19)

[ii] Phelps, Charles (Moses) Porter. Autobiography 1857 (p.17)

[iii] Phelps, Charles (Moses) Porter. Autobiography 1857 (p.20)

[iv] Phelps, Charles (Moses) Porter. Autobiography 1857 (p. 35)



Phelps, Charles (Moses) Porter. Autobiography (1857) Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family     Papers Box 10 Folder 21 Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

Carlisle, Elizabeth Pendergast. Earthbound and Heavenbent: Elizabeth Porter Phelps and Life at Forty Acres, 1747-1817. Scribner, 2004.

The Phelps Family of America, and their English Ancestors, with Copies of Wills, Deeds, Letters, and Other Interesting Papers, Coats of Arms and Valuable Records. Volume II Pittsfield, MA: Eagle Publishing Company, 1899.


Search these links to find more about Theophilus Parsons or about John Quincy Adam’s time as his student!



Franklin Lightning Rod: More that just safety?

Running from the ground, up along the north facade and perched on top the gambrel roof is a lightning rod, said to be added during the house's 1799 renovation by Charles Phelps. In the 1920s, engineers coming to the house from the Underwriters Laboratory of Chicago were profoundly impressed by it and stated it must be one of the first true Franklin Rods. They dated it back as early as 1800 or before. The structure is unique in that it holds 3 pointed prongs at the top rather then the usual two. In 1750, Benjamin Franklin created the lightning rod to protect people, buildings, and other structures from the lightning he had recently discovered as electricity. The idea was that the rod would catch the electricity and the wire would safely conduct it past the house, down into the ground, preventing fires.

Franklin advocated for lightning rods that had sharp points whereas his English colleagues, reasoning that sharp points would attract lightning and increase the risk of strikes, thought blunt rods were more favorable. When word of the lightning rods hit the colonies the decision on wether or not to equip a building with one became a political statement. The pointed rods—like those on the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum—expressed support for Franklin’s theories of protecting public buildings as well as the rejection of theories supported by the king who had his house equipped with blunt rods.

The pointed lightning rod soon became a symbol of ingenuity and independence of a young, thriving nation. The family is well known for their progressive thought through the generations. This pieces adds not only historic value to the house but a look at the political statements being taken at the time of the Porter-Phelps family and their involvement.

To find out more about Benjamin Franklin and the development of the Lightning rod visit The Franklin Institute:


To learn about the other house renovations taking place at the time the lighting rod was added, take a look at "Forty Acres: The Story of the Bishop Huntington House" written by James Lincoln Huntington himself! Also available for purchase at the museum!


John Morrison: Indentured Servant, Oranmental Gardener, and Unlikely Family Friend

Today, the layout of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum’s North Garden closely resembles its original eighteenth-century design. At the time of its creation, the North Garden’s design differed from the traditional kitchen garden arrangements that were prevalent throughout colonial Massachusetts. Unlike the typical Hadley kitchen gardens, the North Garden was carefully planned and featured exotic flowers and crops. The unique North Garden was designed and maintained by John Morrison. Morrison arrived in the Colonies as a conscript in the British Army during the Revolutionary War. Upon his arrival to America, he found himself taken as a prisoner of war. He eventually ended up in Hadley, Massachusetts at Forty Acres. It was here that he spent the rest of his life.

Looking from the North Garden towards the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House

Looking from the North Garden towards the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House

In June of 1776, John Morrison and the Seventy-First regiment of Highlanders arrived outside of Boston Harbor. Unaware of the evacuation of Boston by the British Troops, the Highlander’s ships were engaged by American vessels upon their approach to port. After a two-hour navel engagement, the British ships sailed towards Boston were they hoped to find refuge in a British-controlled port. As they sailed closer to port, they were attacked again by the same American vessels from the earlier skirmish. The Highlanders suffered even more casualties and their commander, Lt. Col. Campbell, decided to surrender to the Americans.[1] John Morrison was among the two hundred sixty seven Highlanders taken as prisoners of war.[2] Approximately one year later Morrison arrived at Forty Acres as an indentured servant.

Throughout Massachusetts, the recruitment of local men into militias had put a strain on the available labor force. The shortage of able-bodied farmhands posed a serious set-back to the planting and growing of crops on farms throughout the area. As a result, farmers petitioned the local Committees of Safety for permission to use captured enemy soldiers as labor in their fields.[3] John Morrison was one of the captives sent to supplement the diminishing labor force on farms across Massachusetts. On March 23, 1777 Elizabeth Porter Phelps mentioned in her diary that “one of the Highlanders” whom was captured by her cousin Colonel Porter, was sent to live and work at Forty Acres.

Upon his arrival, John Morrison was initially put to work in the fields. Back home in Scotland, Morrison was an ornamental garden. With his experience, Morrison eventually  was given the responsibility of creating and maintaining the gardens at Forty Acres. Most families in Hadley at the time had gardens but, they were most oftenjust extensions of their vegetable plots. It is likely that the Phelps were the only family in Hadley with their own private gardener. According to Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle, author of Earth Bound and Heavenbent, formal gardens, like Morrison’s, were a rare sight in rural Massachusetts. They were more common in the South. She further claims that Southern gentry often relied on indentured servants to serve as formal gardeners, citing George Washington and his formal gardens.[4] This trend extended to the North as evident by Morrison’s labor at Forty Acres. Prior to Morrison’s tenure at Forty Acres,  Elizabeth had described gardening as sporadic and casual.[5] Morrison’s North Garden was carefully planned; it was laid out in a rectangular shape with four subdivided paths, a circular rose-bed at the center, and was lined by fruit-trees along its sides. The meticulously designed North Garden brought a sense of elegance to the rural landscape that surrounded Forty Acres.

After the Revolutionary War, John Morrison remained at Forty Acres. He would eventually be considered a member of the extended Phelps Family.[6] Due to his trusted position and his excellent gardening skills, he was able to request that family members purchase specific seeds from Boston for the North Garden. In 1789, Elizabeth Porter Phelps wrote to her brother in Boston, “Mr. Morrison…wishes once more to request you purchase some flower and kitchen garden seeds—of which I send enclosed in a list.” Two years later in 1791, Charles Phelps wrote his son to update him on the status of Morrison’s garden and pass upon his requests for seeds. Phelps wrote, “John has his hotbed at work—and his cucumbers planted.” He continues the letter by requesting his son get “½ ounce Dutch cabbage seed – and ½ ounce early York Cabbage – and send home.”[7] It appears as if, the family greatly appreciated Morrison’s garden and went to great lengths to procure the specific seeds that John requested.

Morrison was obviously a very skilled gardener and while living at Forty Acres his “exclusive business was ornamental gardening.”[8] However, letters between Charles Phelps and Elizabeth Phelps illuminate another side of the ornamental gardener. According to family letters, Morrison was some-what of a notorious drunkard. His relationship with alcohol led to periods of prolonged absences which frustrated family members. He would allegedly skirt his duties at Forty Acres to instead nap on top of Mount Warner—the hilltop at the edge of family’s estate. It was on top of the Mount Warner where he would recover from his bouts of drinking. The secluded area was a great spot for a nap but, it also gave John a vantage point to admire his work in the garden from a distance.[9] The planned and orderly garden, inspired by European-style gardens, would have stood out from the rural New World landscape that surrounded it. Today, if one hikes to the summit of Mount Warner, it is possible to find “John’s Rock”, a boulder which Morrison regularly used to rest his head during his naps.

Morrison lived the rest of his life with the family at Forty Acres and eventually was buried alongside family members in the Old Hadley Cemetery. After Morrison’s death in 1815, Elizabeth Phelps referenced the declining state of the gardens due to Morrison’s absence. She wrote, “…Our gardens look like a forsaken place…[they] look like a desert but a great variety of pretty flowers which if there was anybody to dig the ground and arrange them would appear well…” In 1949, James Lincoln Huntington, the founder of the Museum, reflected on the remains of Morrison’s garden, “The Plan of the old garden can still be traced; the lilac to the left of the flagstones leading to the south door and the bed of lilies-of-the-valley are believed to been planted by him [Morrison]”[10] John Morrison was an unlikely resident of Hadley—brought to Forty Acres as a prisoner of war and indentured servant. However, he is one of the many to have made their home at Forty Acres. His legacy continues today; visitors to the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum are free to explore the North Garden where one can imagine Morrison working to bring a slice of the Old World to rural Hadley.


Morrison's grave located in the Old Hadley Cemetery. The gravestone reads "John Morrison a Scotch Highlander captured with Col. Campbell in Boston harbor June 1770 died in the family of Cha. Phelps Sept. 13 1814 aged about 65"

Morrison's grave located in the Old Hadley Cemetery. The gravestone reads "John Morrison a Scotch Highlander captured with Col. Campbell in Boston harbor June 1770 died in the family of Cha. Phelps Sept. 13 1814 aged about 65"


[1] Lieutenant-Colonel, Campbell to General Howe. June 19, 1776, in American Archives: Documents of the American Revolutionary Period, 1774-1776. http://amarch.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A96048

[2] Thacher, James, and Samuel X. Radbill. 1862. Military journal of the American revolution: from the commencement to the disbanding of the American army : comprising a detailed account of the principal events and battles of the revolution with their exact dates, and a biographical sketch of the most prominent generals. Hartford, Conn: Hurlbut, Williams & Company. 44

[3] Pendergast Carlisle, Elizabeth Pendergast. 2004. Earthbound and Heavenbent: Elizabeth Porter Phelps and life at Forty Acres, 1747 - 1817. New York, NY. 89

[4] Pendergast Carlisle, 177

[5] Pendergast Carlisle, 178

[6] Pendergast Carlisle, 90

[7] AC Archives, PPH Collection Box 4 Folder 5

[8] AC Archives, PPH Collection Box 21 Folder 5

[9] Pendergast Carlisle, 270

[10] Huntington, James Lincoln. Forty Acres: The Story of the Bishop Huntington House. New York: Hastings House. 1949. 12-13



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.