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The Jacksons of Newton Massachusetts Family History


Jackson Family History and Stories

The Jacksons and Their Homestead

The Jackson family associated with the Homestead on Washington Street is one of several who can trace their descent back to two brothers who were among the first settlers on the south side of the Charles River in Cambridge: John, who bought his first piece of land near the Brighton line in 1639, and Edward, who followed three years later. It is with Edward's descendants through his son, Sebas, that we trace the history of the Jackson family in Newton, which was once a part of Cambridge, and the Jackson Homestead.

Edward was born in the East End of London and, like his father before him, was a nail-maker. He amassed a substantial fortune so that soon after arriving in New England he as able to buy a house with several acres of land in what is now Newton Corner. This was the first of many transactions that would, in time, make him the largest land owner in the town.

Edward was married twice: to Frances, who apparently died shortly after they arrived, and to the widow Elizabeth Oliver. Sebas was Edward's last child by Frances, and is said to have been born on the journey out, hence his name, a corruption of "Seaborn." Edward gave much of his property to his children during his life time. Among these gifts, which were confirmed in his will, was one of a house and 150 acres to Sebas.

According to Francis Jackson's History of Newton (1854)

That house was eighteen feet by twenty-two, with two stories, and stood on the same spot now occupied by the mansion of William Jackson Esq., a cold water man, who continues to draw from the old well, a pure fountain, which has served seven generations, and is not the worse for wear. The old house was built about 1670, and enlarged before 1690, which increased its length to thirty-nine feet. It was demolished in 1809, having withstood the tempest of about one hundred and forty years.

It was Major Timothy Jackson (1756--1814), the great-grandson of Sebas, who demolished the old house and built what is known today as The Jackson Homestead. After Timothy's death, his son William (1783-1855) and second wife Mary Bennett, came to live in the Homestead. The last of their fourteen children died in 1906. Descendants lived there through the 1920s after which the house was rented for a number of years to a dentist, Dr. Roland Barrette. In December 1949, Frances Hatch Middendorf, one of William's granddaughters, gave the house to the City of Newton and with the help of the City and the devotion of generations of volunteers, the Homestead became a museum. Accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1992, it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in the year 2000.

Jackson Family Stories, by Louisa Bell Paushter
Given at the Jackson Family Reunion, July 22, 2000.

One of the best things about spending time at the Homestead has been learning about the lives of my ancestors. Today, I will share six of the most interesting stories I’ve learned. They are about many facets of the Jacksons’ lives, including the rail road, abolition, charity, women’s rights, the Revolutionary War, and temperance. I think you’ll find that our ancestors were middle class folks of their times, doing their best to do what was right.

One of my main sources of information is the "Annals of the Homestead," written by Ellen Jackson in 1894. She says she wanted future generations to know "part of the interesting events, and memories that cling around the Old Homestead, like mosses on an old tree".

The First Story: How the Suppression of Alcohol Led to the Development of the Rail Road in Newton.

William Jackson lived in the Homestead from 1820 until his death in 1855. You can see his photo in the Jackson Room. William was President of the Newton Female Academy. He was also on the Board of Selectmen, on the School Committee, Deacon of two churches, and a member of the Board of Congress.

A good part of William’s biography is spent on the formation of his Temperance Society. In 1812 he attended the first meeting of the formation of a Society for the suppression of Intemperance. Now, you may not know what that means. Well, the principal object of the Society was the Reformation of Drunkards. However, it did not require abstinence among its members, and it did not work.

Around the same time, he was Chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Newton. Among his duties was to approve persons who were to be licensed to sell alcohol, otherwise known as Ardent Spirits. Each year an approval form had to be signed by the Selectmen. This form licensed all of the drinking establishments that had been licensed the previous year, saying that they conformed to the laws. Before he signed, he diligently inspected all the establishments and found that all were in daily violation of the laws! William refused to sign. So no license was obtained! People were incensed because every other year the approval form had been signed, without any inspection, including by his own father. Never the less, the Selectmen authorized William to go to Concord to ask the Court to make an alteration in the approval form.

The Court said that if he would say that the establishments conformed with the laws that they would grant the license. But he could not say that because he had already told the Court that it was false, and he could not lie. So, that year no drinking establishments were licensed in Newton. Needless to say, people were not happy.

William ended up calling a meeting of all the people in Newton who did not drink, a total of 4 people. They formed a Temperance Society, that strictly enforced abstaining from alcohol, and distributed fliers to every head of family in Newton. The meetings grew, but they were met with sneers, rebukes and condemnation. William made a convincing speech and then held monthly meetings for the town. In an odd turn of events, soon the majority of the voters were voting with them! Rummies and Rumsellers were ashamed and did not do well in their business.

At one meeting, William convinced the men that they needed to put their money somewhere, since they were not spending it on alcohol. They voted that a Savings Institution be instituted. William was President of this Bank for much of his life.

They found that after a year there was not enough to say about Temperance every month, so they converted their society into a Lyceum making Temperance the leading subject, but opening it up to other discussion, including the survey for a Rail Road from Boston to Albany, New York. William had the foresight to take this on as well, and made a convincing speech which he says made "pretty thorough Rail Road men of all the members of our Society". He gave several speeches and wrote articles for many Massachusetts newspapers. He ended up appointed to the General Agency of the railroad and totally got out of his candle business. There was much discussion of putting the railroad through our neighboring town of Waltham. William used his influence to put it right in front of his house, and to introduce a regular and frequent passenger service between Boston and Newton in 1844. He was among the first to anticipate the effect of this on land values and real estate development in Newton. Newton became one of the first rail road suburbs. He and his brother timothy built several subdivisions, including one right behind the homestead. They always included parks, making Newton the green city that it is today.

As you can see, William’s interest in the railroad was brought about by an accident. Because his organization against drinking expanded their topics of interest, he happened to develop interest in railroads, and strongly affected what Newton is today.

The second story: How Charity Begins at Home

This story is a wonderful example of how one person can make a difference. I would like to read you the story as Ellen Jackson told it:

"In a household where the heads of the family were both generous and kind, there could not fail to be a constant daily charity to those needing it. But in 1878 was began a large and continued philanthropic work, organized and kept in motion by the continuous and systematic efforts of Mouse [Ellen’s sister Cornelia}. It is called the Santa Claus Agency, and is at its height at Christmas. Like most great enterprises, it had a small beginning. A few weeks before Christmas, in 1878, she was walking in a part of Newton where the people are mostly poor, and found one family of many children who looked not forward with any pleasure to Christmas, as Santa Claus had never found them. Mouse wrote an article for the Newton Journal appealing to those children who would be [overwhelmed] with gifts to send some of their abundance they already had, that these and many other poor children might not be forgotten, and she would be Santa Claus agent.

Her appeal was heeded, and she had many gifts to gladden the hearts of the little people. She then wrote a cute story of Santa Claus’ visits to the children." The next year it was printed in a pamphlet and sent out, resulting in a generous contribution for the poor. "The nursery of the homestead was given up to the toys and comforts that might come in for the poor, and it is always filled to overflowing by Christmas. Two days before, six or eight young lady friends come in and pack them all in baskets, labeled for the family to which they are to go. Beside the toys, there are stockings, mittens, hoods, clothes, candy, nuts, fancy crackers, in lace bags. The day before Christmas, the Expressman takes them to their destination, making glad more than one hundred poor children. A few years after this joyful charity was begun, Mrs. Charles Lord commenced the excellent charity of furnishing shoes for the poor, collecting them from those who had an abundance, and also a sum of money to have them repaired. She soon joined her good work to Mouse, and the week after Christmas all the poor children would come to the "homestead" to be fitted to shoes there were besides the second-hand shoes, cases of new ones and rubbers. Ten or a dozen ladies would be gathered in the large old kitchen to fit the children, and many a heart-rendering case would be there."

"Report for Christmas, 1897:

108 children made happy by receiving toys, books, candy, clothing, etc.
138 prs. Of boots given 
113 pairs of stockings given 
98 handkerchiefs 
96 articles [of] wearing apparel 
112 books 

During the year 39 families have been helped with clothing, fuel, and groceries 
294 articles of clothing 
113 prs. of boots."

Story Three: A Compilation of Three Abolition Tales

My first tale is about the Underground Railroad.

We often talk of the Homestead as being a stop on the Underground Railroad. Because it was too dangerous to write down anything about the railroad, it is unusual to have any documentation about the stations. Our Homestead is lucky that Ellen wrote down one story that I would like to share with you.

"One night, between twelve and one o’clock, I well remember, father was awakened by pebbles thrown against his window. He rose, asked what was wanted. Mr. Bowditch replied, it was he with a runaway slave whom he wished father to hide until morning, and then help him on his way to Canada, for his master was in Boston looking for him. Father took him in and next morning carried him fifteen miles to a Station where he could take a car for Canada. He could not have safely left by any Boston station."

At that time, many slaves were escaping into Canada. When they arrived at the Homestead, they were destitute. A sewing circle used to meet at the Homestead to make clothes for them. Some of the cloth that these women sewed was used in draping the public buildings in Boston at the funeral ceremonies of the late President Lincoln. Ellen was the first President of the sewing circle, which became the Freedman’s Aid Society. Ellen was the representative of the Society at the graduation exercises at Hampton Institute in 1878. She formed a firm friendship with General Armstrong, President of Hampton Institute, and with Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee, both of whom were entertained at the Homestead more than once".

My second tale is the story of Ellen’s brother Edward who was involved in the first year of the Civil War.

"He (Edward d1882) was one of the home guard of St. Louis. One Sabbath day, he saw three soldiers harassing and abusing a colored man. He ordered them to desist; when one of them caught up a stick and struck him on the head, crushing his skull and nearly killing him. He was ever after blind in one eye, lost his sense of smelling, - also at times he lost consciousness."

My third abolition tale is well documented in the Abolition Room in the Children’s Gallery.

It is about Francis Jackson, brother of William Jackson, and Lewis Hayden, a former slave living in Boston. Francis was treasurer of the Vigilance Committee. Lewis Hayden was a committee member and a friend of Francis’. Hayden let fugitives who were being hunted stay in his house. He kept two kegs of gunpowder in the basement and said he would blow up the building if any slave-owner tried to kidnap a fugitive hiding there. Francis Jackson bought their house in 1853, possibly to help cover up Hayden’s underground activities.

Story Four: The Revolutionary War: If you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Timothy, William’s father, fought in the Revolutionary War. He was one of the minutemen who fought off the British in Lexington and Concord. In 1776, he sailed out from Salem. The British attacked and he was wounded in the neck by a musket ball. The British captured his boat and he was put in a prison ship in NY harbor. After six month of torture, his captors put him, and nine other prisoners, on a thirty-six-man crew of an armed English ship convoy guarding ships to England and back. In London he was put on a ship in the Thames and then transferred to a whip bound for Lisbon. When he returned from Lisbon, he was put on a ship bound for the West Indies. He was treated cruelly and was determined to escape.

During a rainy night in Antigua, he escaped by swimming ashore in a storm and tried to return to Boston on a ship. The first ship changed its course to Ireland and he ended up on a pilot boat, which took him to North Carolina. On the ship he took from there to Boston, he was captured again and taken to New York to be put in a prison ship, and escaped again. He almost reached American lines when he was captured by Hessian troops and sent to a New York prison for another grueling six months. Later that year he was exchanged and passed over to the American army in a state of destitution. He was two hundred miles from home, without any money. Luckily he ran into a man from Newton who lent him enough money to get him home. He arrived home after trying and trying to escape and being gone for almost two years. He spent a few months in the army in Rhode Island and then settled as a farmer at the Homestead.

As an aside to this story… While Timothy was trying to get home, his sisters raised sheep, spun yarn, wove cloth and ran the farm while he was in the war. Lucy Jackson, his oldest sister, has a chapter of the DAR named after her located in Newton.

Story 5:

My fifth story is about Women’s Rights. It is called:

Tragedy Leads to Activism.

Francis was an ardent supporter of women’s rights. His daughter, Eliza Eddy, had lost her children when her husband seized their two young daughters and took them to Europe without her consent. This episode prompted Jackson to support women’s rights. His first action was an anonymous gift of $5,000 to the women’s rights cause and other reforms.

He primarily showed his support through financial gifts in his will. The first thing he did was to give 1/3 of residue of his estate to Edmund in trust for his daughter. He stated, "The whole net income there of shall be paid semi-annually to my daughter, Eliza Eddy, during her natural life, for her sole and separate use, free from the control or interference of any husband she may have."

The second gift was $5,000 to Wendell Phillips, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony. It was "to secure passage of laws granting women, whether married or unmarried, the right to vote, to hold office, to hold, manage and devise property, and all other civil rights enjoyed by men…My desire is that they may become a permanent organization, until the rights of women shall be established equal with those of men". He would be distressed to know that his will was contested by his heirs and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1867 that since "women’s rights" were not an organized charity, the will was void and the $5,000 should go to the heirs.

As an aside, Francis wrote a complete, very valuable, History of Newton, including a survey of deeds, homeownership, and biographies. It was so accurate that people who have confirmed his research have only found one error. Without it, we would know much less about Newton. The Homestead has his notebooks that he used for his research.

Story 6: Social Life/Personalities at the Homestead

As you walk around the Homestead, you may try to picture what daily life was like living here, and what the people were like. I would like to share with you some of Ellen’s descriptions of the people and activities. She says,

"You will have already surmised that the Homestead was exceedingly hospitable, notwithstanding the large family and mother’s delicate health. The house was overrun with visitors, and parties, tea drinkings, and dinner parties were often given. Many distinguished people have been familiar within its doors, so that associations glad, as well as sad, crowd its rooms." She notes that there were nine weddings, parties given in honor of in-coming Governors Briggs and Boutwell, Christmas parties, birthdays, nine births, one baptism, and many deaths in the Homestead.

Mary Bennet, Ellen’s mother, died in 1867. Ellen states that the death left "a vacancy made in home and hearts that could never be filled…Though more than thirty years as an invalid, she was always cheerful and in every way a most superior woman. With an affectionate, warm heart, wholly unselfish. Notwithstanding her many children and cares, she at different times took to her home and care three children who needed homes."

Frances, Ellen’s sister "died in consumption, leaving 3 daughters and a baby boy, an incomparable loss to her family. Ever after, some of the children had a home in the "old homestead" first one then another, whichever needed the most brooding and care; and all of them always found a welcome and comfort; and they in return, kept the house lively, bringing their young friends around them."

Ellen calls Timothy "a handsome man, quiet, intelligent and refined."

She describes Sarah as "handsome, gentle, intelligent, religious, highly educated, writing much for periodicals and papers, and published several books."

William, she says, is "fine looking, fresh and hearty, a most affectionate father, husband and son"

Edward, the man who was beaten for defending an African American man, was a "wholly unselfish, affectionate man, his hand ever ready to help, genial and earnest, tall and commanding and full of fun".

She also shows their inner strength with this story:

After William’s death in 1855, the family was left penniless. "From a life of luxury, they were obliged in any and every way that came to them (Mother and three unmarried daughters) to earn money for their support. Mother sewed, Caroline gave music lessons, and also sang in the choir of Park, St. Church, Boston. Ellen gave lessons in painting and sold pictures, and Mouse taught school. The house was filled with boarders, mostly young gentlemen, so an entire change came over their lives and the ways of the ‘old homestead’." The women did what they had to do.


I hope that from these stories, you now know more about your ancestors, and feel some kinship to them, maybe even seeing yourself in some of them. They were achievers of their time. From anti-slavery to women’s rights, from the Revolutionary War to the railroad to charity organizations, they contributed greatly to their community.

I think all the Jacksons who have lived here would be very happy about this gathering, and probably surprised about all the stories I have told. They lived their lives doing the best they could, probably not thinking they were so special. Well, we think they were.

I would like to conclude by sharing some excerpts of a poem called "Jackson Homestead" by Frederick Stanwood Jackson. He was Timothy’s youngest son and wrote it in 1876 at 36 years of age when he was in business in New York.

Jackson Homestead

I Love to remember and let my thoughts wander

To the Days of my boyhood; it seems but a span

To the joys of my youth, to the old Jackson Homestead

To the place which so oft with our voices has rung.

To the orchard behind and the garden before it

(No garden to my eyes has since looked so well)

The green, creeping vine, and the porch that did bear it,

They help make the picture on which I would dwell.

The old house itself, how it thrills me with pleasure

When I think of its halls through which I have run,

Its nooks and its corners, every one I will treasure,

There’s no other such "homestead," no, not in this land.

The ivy still clings to the old "Jackson Homestead,"

In the rooms where we gathered on bright Christmas eve,

It still remains green, as though it had said,

I love the "old homestead," and never will leave.

The old-fashioned furniture, the odd-looking relics,

The different quaint things brought from various climes,

The dread we all had of the quiet old attic,

Where together we children had many good times,

And the songs that we sung that through the house thundered,

The games that we played, shall we ever forget?

Tough things are now plain at which we then wondered.

Green are the memories of those pleasant times yet.

The children I met there are now men and women,

Some we shall see no more, they are dead.

But all were made better by pains that were taken

To make us all happy at "Jackson Homestead"

So long may you stand, thou time-honored mansion,

A landmark for future ages to see;

Tell the man of the future, while you saw his attention,

This was the home of true nobility."


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