The Boston Brahmin

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
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Workmen Preparing Construction on Beacon Hill the desired home of the Boston Brahmins.
The hill was cut down to allow homes to be built.
(circa 1811)

In his 1861 novel “Elsie Venner”, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr. first used this descriptive term when he characterized “Boston’s aristocracy as the ‘Brahmin Caste of New England . . . they believed destiny had set them apart to create a shining city on a hill. And they embraced the values of their Puritan forebears: hard work, thrift, culture and education”. {1} The Brahmins were the elite of the city that many saw as the birthplace of American independence. Some families arrived wealthy on the shores of Boston in the 17th century and some made their fortunes as merchants and financiers. Many of the descendants from the Boston Brahmins were able to pay a substitute when the war began; however many enlisted, served, lived and died.

As Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr., was finishing his novel his eldest son Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. left Harvard during his senior year to enlist in the war. He rose in the ranks and left the Army in the fall of 1864 as a Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Massachusetts. When he realized the war would soon end he enrolled back to Harvard and the rest of his life is a supreme story.​

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Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. (1841–1935)
Benjamin W Crowninshield (1837–1892)

Fellow Boston Brahmin Benjamin William Crownshield was also a graduate of Harvard and while attending the school he became a good friend with fellow student William Henry Fitzhugh Lee. They were so close that when Rooney Lee left Harvard Crowninshield wrote in his diary on June 24, 1857:​

“going into town to a supper at Parker's given in honor of Lee, Jones, Lowndes
all of whom are going to leave the college.”
{2}

When the Civil War began Crowninshield enlisted with the First Massachusetts Cavalry as a lieutenant. By August of 1864 he was a major and served as an aide-de-camp to General Philip Sheridan. His most remarkable service to his country was in June of 1863 while Crowninshield was serving as a provost marshal. A prisoner had been captured at his home while he was recovering from a severe injury he had received while fighting the battle of Brandy Station. It was a meeting of two former college friends and as Crowinshield’s son would later state it was:​

“a truly embarrassing position for both of them, with Lee rejecting any of the privileges
[that] Crowninshield tried to bestow upon him.”
{5}

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Theodore Lyman III (1833–1897)

Theodore Lyman comes from a long line of Boston Brahmins. His grandfather made his fortune in shipping. Lyman was a 1855 graduate from Harvard. In 1856 he met this future Civil War general and a friendship was formed. Lyman was researching starfish in Florida, and Lieutenant Meade was overseeing the construction of lighthouses. At the start of the war, Lyman and his wife was journeying through Europe, however when he returned in May of 1863, he joined the staff of General George Meade as an aide-de-camp until the end of the war.​

Boston Brahmin Go Off to War

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Charles Francis Adams Jr. (1835–1915)
John Francis Appleton (1838–1870)
Rev. Delmar Rial Lowell (1844–1912)

Brevet Brigadier General - Charles Francis Adams - great-grandson to President John Adams & grandson of President John Quincy Adams. He survived the war

Brevet Brigadier General - John F Appleton - graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine commanded the 12th Maine and after the war he suffered from ill health and served as an attorney in Maine until his death in 1870 at 32 years of age.

From the Boston “Lowell” family, Delmar Lowell fought in the Civil War and was wounded at Sailor’s Run, Virginia on April 6, 1865 - at age twenty he lost his right arm from the shoulder due to an amputation. ​

Not All Men with Boston Brahmin Blood Came Home

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John Sedgwick (1813–1864) Died Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
Charles Russell Lowell III (1835–1864) Died Battle of Cedar Creek

Robert Gould Shaw (1837–1863) Died 2nd Battle of Fort Wagner


Even into the 20th Century it was said of the Boston Elite


“The Brahmins still lived on the water side of Beacon Street
or the sunny side of Commonwealth Avenue,
they still dined at two and had ‘tea’ at six, . . .held four receptions a year,
escaped the Egyptian heat of summer by moving to the North Shore;
sent their sons to Harvard and their dead to Mt. Auburn.”
{1}





Sources
1. https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/brief-history-boston-brahmin/
2. “A Diarist in the Class of 1858”, Harvard Gazette (Harvard University)
3. https://ia802606.us.archive.org/33/items/memoirsofwarof6102putn/memoirsofwarof6102putn.pd
All Pictures in the Public Domain
 
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lupaglupa

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Years ago I read the diary of a young woman from a Brahmin family - it was fascinating to see the life they led and all the people she knew. There was nothing particularly unusual about her or her life but the diary painted a wonderful picture of what her world was like in that particular time.
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Interesting, thanks.

I checked John Sedgwick's wiki bio and didn't see anything there that indicated Boston Brahmin. What's the basis for his inclusion in the OP?
 
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DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
I checked John Sedgwick's wiki bio and didn't see anything there that indicated Boston Brahmin.
The original list was in Wikipedia:

“Major General Robert Sedgwick (1611-1656), immigrant, Commander of the Massachusetts Bay Colony forces; Hon. Theodore Sedgwick (1716-1757), 4th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives; Henry Dwight Sedgwick I (1785-1831); Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick (1813-1864), Union Army General.”

I checked my notes and the way I traced it: General John Sedgwick’s grandfather was John Sedgwick (1716-1761) brother of Theodore Sedgwick (1746–1813) born in Connecticut but served as Senator from Massachusetts - 4th Speaker of the House. Their grandfather (maybe great) I lose count was General Robert Sedgwick arrived in 1636 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. ​

http://www.bowincars.org/mediawiki-1.6.12/extensions/Fetch.php?topic=Boston_Brahmin

Not all Boston Brahmin’s were born in Boston - they had connections to Boston High Society. For example: John Francis Appleton was born in Bangor Maine, his father was a member of the Maine Supreme Court the Appleton line contains Jane Means Appleton Pierce wife of Franklin Pierce 14th President of the United States & the wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Frances Appleton (she died when either she fell into a candle of dropped a candle and was burned to death).​
 
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Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
The original list was in Wikipedia:

“Major General Robert Sedgwick (1611-1656), immigrant, Commander of the Massachusetts Bay Colony forces; Hon. Theodore Sedgwick (1716-1757), 4th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives; Henry Dwight Sedgwick I (1785-1831); Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick (1813-1864), Union Army General.”

I checked my notes and the way I traced it: General John Sedgwick’s grandfather was John Sedgwick (1716-1761) brother of Theodore Sedgwick (1746–1813) born in Connecticut but served as Senator from Massachusetts - 4th Speaker of the House. Their grandfather (maybe great) I lose count was General Robert Sedgwick arrived in 1636 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. ​

http://www.bowincars.org/mediawiki-1.6.12/extensions/Fetch.php?topic=Boston_Brahmin

Not all Boston Brahmin’s were born in Boston - they had connections to Boston High Society. For example: John Francis Appleton was born in Bangor Maine, his father was a member of the Maine Supreme Court the Appleton line contains Jane Means Appleton Pierce wife of Franklin Pierce 14th President of the United States & the wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Frances Appleton (she died when either she fell into a candle of dropped a candle and was burned to death).​

Ah, I see. I never knew that Sedgwick had these connections to Puritan New England. I guess there must have been serious family money there somewhere.

Also interesting that Robert Gould Shaw is in this group. Apparently one of the reasons that Shaw is so celebrated today is that he is kind of a hero favorite son of Harvard, whose influential alumni have long promoted him as an exemplar of of New England virtue.
 
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DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Also interesting that Robert Gould Shaw is in this group.
Just another interesting tidbit in regards to Robert Gould Shaw - his mother-in-law’s maiden name was: Elizabeth Sedgwick Kneeland Haggerty (1813-1888). Shaw was a Brahmin from both his paternal and maternal line. His mother’s maiden name was Sturgis and her family made their fortune as merchants and through the paternal line the Shaw family had inherited their wealth from a paternal grandfather and his namesake Robert Gould (1775–1853). They also made a fortune as merchants all from the Boston area.

Shaw’s wife Anna Kneeland Haggerty was from New York and her parents sold their New York property to a George (Hale) & Sarah Morgan and the Sturgis name creeps back into the Morgan family when J.P. Morgan marries Amelia Sturgis. She died from tuberculosis four months after their wedding. J.P. Morgan remarried and one of his sons John (1867-1943) and he named his son Henry Sturgis (1900-1982).
 

Fairfield

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
One of my favorite Bostonians was Isabella Stewart Gardner ("Mrs. Jack"). Born into money and NY society, she married into Boston society--and, without an acceptable background, was given a very hard time. The story I love is that one day a man came to her door, collecting money for the Boston Charitable Eye & Ear Hospital. Mrs. Gardner is said to have replied that she didn't think that there was a charitable eye or ear in the entire city! 🤣
 
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