Introduction: Six Generations at Forty Acres

The Porters and their descendants were more prominent and wealthy than most of their neighbors, but they were not famous in the usual sense. Instead, they are unique because of what they left behind: a house that was continuously occupied by a single family for over 200 years, thousands of letters written between scores of relatives, and hundreds of objects original to the site. From this legacy, many stories can be uncovered, from accounts of early farming and artisanry to slavery and antislavery, religion and social reform. Like all families, their history is also American history.

The Museum is named the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House, but who were the Porters, Phelpses, and Huntingtons?  The house has three names for one interesting reason: instead of passing from father to son, as was customary in early America, the house was owned by women for three generations. Elizabeth Porter passed the house to her daughter, Elizabeth Phelps. Elizabeth Phelps passed it to her daughter, Elizabeth Huntington. In 1855, 103 years after its construction, the house went to a son, Frederic Dan Huntington.

The world changed significantly between 1752, when the house was built, and 1949, when the museum opened to the public. Members of this family witnessed the major wars from the French and Indian War to the Korean War. They experienced the impact of public documents from the Declaration of Independence to the Social Security Act. Their lives, however, also reflect changes in private life, no less important, embodied in new kinds of work, worship, and land use. Forty Acres lets us see how one family participated in their changing community and world.

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