Adams and Slocum Family Papers

The New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences
Library Manuscripts and Archives Division

By Valerie Wingfield, Manuscripts Librarian

Part 1: The Adams and Slocum Family Papers

Papers, dated 1809 to 1867, offer a glimpse into the lives of the Adams and Slocum families that were intertwined in Medway, Massachusetts, during the nineteenth century. This very small collection measures only .3 linear ft., but the letters are an engaging read. The connection between the Adams and Slocum families was through the marriage of Charlotte Adams (d.1871) to Christopher Slocum (d.1861). Charlotte Adams was one of three daughters of Anna (1760-1854) and Titus Adams (b.1758). The other children were Susan (d.1839), and Levina/Lavina (?) (b-d?). Susan Adams was the recipient of eighteen letters from family and friends, from the years, 1809 to 1834 relating to daily life in nineteenth century Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Adams outgoing letters were few. In one of her letters, dated March 22, 182[ ], Susan Adams inquired about the status of her friend Olive Stevans of Fishkill Landing, Mattewan, New York. Adams, writing from Medway, inquires as to how her friend was faring after leaving Medway. The news in the letter was grim.

"This has been an unusual dying season. 12 from this parish have been summoned to the eternal world since the commencement of this year." The news does not get any better. Adams informs Stevans, "Your parrents [sic] have been sick this past winter. Your father had a short run of fever, he is no[t] able to work. Your mother is comfortable. She moved the first of December into the house with me..." Adams continues that there were two women who come over to assist with the care of Stevans' mother. Adams also counsels Stevans to be prepared to accept that fact that her mother may die--her mother already has. Another subject raised was Adams desire to visit Stevans in Fishkill, New York.

Who was this Susan Adams? Scant biographical information exists in the collection about the Adams sisters. What can be learnt immediately about Susan Adams was culled from the letters that she received. Based on her addresses, Adams lived her adult life in and around the Boston area. Whilst one is unable to determine the length of time Adams spent in each town or community, she was living in Watertown in 1809, Medway in 1812, Boston in 1816, Roxbury in 1817, and back to Boston for the years 1818 to 1819. Based on the incoming letters to Adams, her prime residence was in Medway from 1820 to 1830. Boston eventually became her last place of residence.

The question to be asked: Why did Susan Adams move so frequently during her lifetime? This answer may be gleaned from the correspondence sent to her. Adams, as many women from poor to modest backgrounds, worked for a living. She was unmarried, so there was not a spouse's income to depend upon. Adams earned her living as a seamstress and housekeeper. Domestic skills such as sewing, weaving and spinning were thematic in some of the letters to Adams from her women friends. One of Adams sisters worked (at least for a time) as a weaver. Adams' sister, Levina Adams Thayer (married to Cephus Thayer) wove to support the family income. Levina wrote to her sister in 1809 that she prefers weaving to any other work.

One of Adams' friends, Myra Ware, mentions spinning in her letter dated September 3, 1812. The last letter, dated June 23, 1833, to Susan Adams in the collection was from Esther [Slocum-Pennell] living in Providence, Rhode Island. Slocum-Pennell, the sister of Christopher Slocum, was an art teacher in Medway; her letter indicates that Adams was unemployed and that her friend was making inquiries in Providence as to finding a position of housekeeper for Susan Adams. Slocum-Pennell also mentioned that a milliner might furnish her with business but this woman had given up her shop. As to what capacity Adams would have been employed as a housekeeper or milliner was unclear. The letter indicates that Adams' friend regarded her skills highly. Adams' death was the subject of a letter from Abba L. Wight, postmarked from Boston dated January 29, 1839. Wight informs Charlotte and her husband Christopher Slocum of Susan's death. According to Wight's letter, "a physician, he said she was gone nothing could save her, he said she died of a disease of the heart…". Wight continued, "The folks are now engaged laying her out." One should not overlook the Adams-Slocum letters in the collection. Charlotte Adams-Slocum and her husband, Christopher Slocum, were the recipients of letters from 1814 through 1867.

Many of the letters were sent to their residence in West Medway. (This group of letters, as stated, contains the letter of Wight informing the Slocums of Susan Adams' death.) One interesting one to Chrisopher Slocum was an anxious letter from his sister Esther of Northbridge, on January 18, 1840, regarding the disaster of the steamboat Lexington. She mentions a brother by an initial L-she was fearful that he may have been aboard the steamship.

[Historical note: The steamship Lexington serviced New York City and Providence, Rhode Island, beginning in June 1834. On the evening crossing from New York, January 13, 1840, a fire broke out about seven-thirty in the evening. The fire was first spotted in the aft-in the end only four people out of one hundred and fifteen survived.]

Christopher Slocum also received some interesting letters penned by the Reverend Lewis Pennell, the husband of Esther Slocum-Pennell from 1840 to 1841. Pennell's letters span a broad range of subjects such as a request to design a place for his ministry, the pregnancy of his sister, health concerns and other issues.

Part 2: Susan Adams and her son Rodolphus - By Sue Cooper, Medway MA

Adams Family History

Henry Adams arrived in Boston from England in 1632. His son Edward settled in Medfield. Edward’s son married Deborah Partridge in 1682 and their son Eleazer was born in Medway in 1687, assisted with the incorporation of West Medway, was a Selectman for 8 years, and a Baptist who was jailed for not paying the Parish Tax. His son Eleazer was a farmer in Holliston and in September 1775 died with his wife and 3 of his sons. One of his surviving sons, Titus, fought in the American Revolution in 1775, returned home and married Anne Johnson in 1779, and settled in Barre, MA to farm. Susan Adams was born in Barre in 1790, the 5th of 8 children.

In 1798, Titus Adams sold his land in Barre, and in 1800 returned to the Holliston area where his last child Thomas Jefferson Adams was born (1801). In 1808 Titus died, leaving his wife Anna with 6 children: Anna 23 years, Levi 21 years, Susan 20 years, Charlotte 15 years, Eleazer 13 years, and Thomas 4 years. The following years were eventful for the fatherless family. Daughter Anna died in 1811 in an accident. Levi married in 1814, died in 1819, his wife dying in 1820, leaving a son who died in 1826.

Daughter Lavinia married Cephas Thayer of Medway in 1813, who started 2 businesses in West Medway, damming Chicken Brook to power factories on both sides of the Hartford Dedham Turnpike.

Charlotte married Christopher Slocum of Medway in 1818, who served the Town as Selectman, School Committee member, small claims Judge, and auditor, continually during his 72 years.

Susan, a singlewoman living in Boston, gave birth to a son in 1814. Susan and her son Rodolphus lived in Boston during 1814-1816. Letters from family and friends show concern:

"where are you and Rodolphus?"

"my unfortunate friend, I want to know where you and Rodolphus are"

"if that base unfeeling man supplies you with any necessary for yourself and child"

Her brother in law Cephas Thayer wrote to Susan from Medway in 1814: "Rodolphus stockings are not quite done…do write as soon as you can and let us know where you and Rodolphus are now, or come and tell us yourself"

In 1816 Rodolphus was given away, and a letter from sister Charlotte shows that Susan is worried: "I cannot think why you are dissatisfied about Rodolphus. I can hardly believe that the people with whom he lives are unkind". But in 1818, Newell Fuller in Boston, wrote to Cephas Thayer that Susan and Rodolphus were in good health, and making future plans.

In 1820 Susan wrote her sister Lavinia to ask their mother Anna Adams to take Rodolphus. "Levinia, I have only time to write a few lines to tell you that I am well and want to know how you all do and want to know if mother thinks of sending for Rodolphus and when, for Mrs Chapelaise cannot keep him any longer for they have not any place for him to sleep. If mother does not intend to send for him I must get him another place"

The 1820 census listed a boy under the age of 10 living with Grandmother Anna (Rodolphus?), and a woman 30 years old (Susan?) living with Charlotte and Christopher Slocum, who built a house on the corner of High and Main Streets across from the Congregational Church. Letters for Susan dated 1820 thru 1824 were left at Slocums store at 1 Milford Street.

The 1830 census did not list a boy (Rodolphus would be 16) living with Anna Adams, and Susan was no longer with the Slocoms. In 1832, letters were sent to Susan in Woonsocket, but by 1833 letters went to Susan at Medway again "care of C. Slocum".

Susan Adams died in Boston in 1839 at 48 years of age. She is buried with her parents and siblings in Evergreen Cemetery in Medway. Her gravestone indicates that she "died suddenly of a disease of the heart". On the other side of the stone is written "Rodolphus Her Son Died May 1 1885".

Rodolphus Adams 1814-1885

In 1850, Rodolphus Adams went to California to engage in mining, financed by his Uncle Christopher Slocum. "in California… when arrived there it is signed by us the said Slocumb and the said Adams that I the said Adams shall pursue the business of mining in the best way I can and keep account of my labour at a fair rate for all the time so employed..." Rodolphus other benefactor at that time was his grandmother Anna Adams who left instructions and funds with the trustees of her estate specifically for his benefit. She died in 1854.

In November 1851, Rodolphus was living in New York City and he wrote his Aunt Charlotte in Medway that he was glad that he came to NYC from the west, that he had work, and asked her to send him a coat "so I can spare some money for a better vest and some shirts". He asked her to send it to his workplace at 12th street near 3rd avenue.

Rodolphus and his Aunt Charlotte exchanged letters until her death in 1871. In most of her letters Charlotte included gifts of money and clothing. He never provided a home address.

In the fall of 1854, Rodolphus in New York City was making door plates, safe locks, and night latches. He had a lathe and tools and was working hard to pay for them. He reported to his Aunt Charlotte that the coat he had was not warm enough for winter, and not large enough for underclothes.

In letters of 1868, he told his Aunt Charlotte about troubling heart problems. In 1869, he told her that his health was still poor and that he was unemployed, and that the chances of finding employment that winter were poor. He asked her for clothes "a pair of pants, a vest, a few yards of white flannel". The following month he found employment in a bell hanging business that also supplied locks, bolts, and night latches. Five months later in April 1870, he wrote Charlotte a sad letter in which he worried about the consequences of failure and her opinion of him. Charlotte died in 1871 and left her nephew $100 annually for life.

A New York City Death Certificate states that on May 1, 1885, Rodolphus Adams, bell hanger, died of heart failure at the New York City Asylum on Wards Island. He was 71 years old and alone. The certificate listed mitral valve insufficiency and epilepsy as causes of death.

Sources of Information:

The Adams and Slocum Family Papers
The New York Public Library
Library Manuscripts and Archives Division
New York City, NY

New York City Vital Records
Municipal Archives

The remaining material in the collection includes some of Christopher Slocum's financial and legal papers, 1821-1852, and one volume of the Medway Social Debating Society, 1832-1833. This brief overview of the Adams-Slocum Family Papers should encourage researchers delving into the genealogy and history of Medway, Massachussetts, to consider examining the holdings of the New York Public Library as well as other repositories with collections of New England history. For a history of the Slocum family in New York, see Teunis G. Bergen, Genealogies of the State of New York, Long Island edition, Vol. 2, pp. 246-248. The New York Public Library holds publications relating to the history of Medway, Massachussetts including the following: The New Grant: A history of Medway, prepared by Francis D. Donovan, Medway, Massachusetts, 1976.

Individuals interested in researching the Adams-Slocum Family Papers, should contact The New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division, 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, New York, N.Y., is open Tuesday through Saturday; Tues.-Wed.11:00-5:45, Thurs.-Sat., 10:00-5:45. (212) 930-0801 - The Division web site contains information on access to the Division.

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