Archive:A Family Sketch

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Collier, Arthur Luke, A Family Sketch (1951).

[p. 3]


[p. 167]


This girl was a half-sister of my grandmother Foster, having the same mother - Phebe Lamos Lang Breasha. Eleanora, known to us as Aunt Nellie, was born November 4, 1841 in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Her mother Phebe was married in Boston by Reverend Sebastian Streeter on January 13, 1839, to John Breasha, twenty years older. It is rather an odd coincidence that Phebe, once the wife of John Lang of Curacao, West Indies, was now married to John Breasha, also from the same island. Were the two Johns friendly on the island, did they come to the States together, or did they meet again years later? Did the second John admire Phebe for some time, stepping in eventually when given the opportunity? What a story one could educe - two men from the same distant place, in the days before the airplane. No one knows the answers to these questions and I shall not elaborate upon a fact which actually happened and is verified by records on file, but you can draw your own conclusions.

When she was a member of the choir at Tremont Temple, Boston.

[p. 168]

Eleanora sang in the choir of Tremont Temple where she met Myron W. Whitney, basso soloist in 1857, and a music teacher. On May 4, 1859, Myron, aged 22, and Eleanora, aged 18, were married. (A record filed in Boston shows they filed marriage intentions in Boston on May 4, 1859, and were married the same day.) Myron, a native of Ashby, Massachusetts, was born September 6, 1835, to William and Fannie Whitney.

Myron was not really interested in music until he was twenty years old, at which time he studied under E. H. Frost, a well-known teacher of the day. It is said that Eleanora persuaded Myron to study more intently and she continued teaching to help finance his vocal lessons. At twenty-four Myron was basso soloist with Handel & Haydn Society and soon thereafter decided to study in Europe, where he studied the Italian method in Florence under the celebrated Vannunicini; later going to London to study oratorio with Randeggar.

In 1871 Myron returned to England for a second time to sing in the principal cities there, "with his beautifully cultivated voice" as so aptly stated by his son, William L. Myron travelled with the Thomas Orchestra for a season, returning to England again. Oratorio and concert work occupied him for some time, receiving five hundred dollars for each concert, and I understand he was in great demand. It has often been said that he had the greatest bass voice of his time. On the back of a sheet of music composed by Anna C. Lee and published in 1875, I noticed a list of "M. W. Whitney's Songs", as follows:

The Trooper (Bb) Plumpton 5
Young Mountaineer (Ab) Randegger 5
Down deep within the cellar (F) Oxenford 5
Loyal Death (Ab) Stainer 5
A message from the deep (Eb) Berger 5
A name in the sand (A) Tours 5
Hostess' Daughter (Bb) Balfe 5
Caliph's Daughter (Bb) Halley 5
Faith and Courage (C) Hayes 5
Mariner (G) Diehi 5
Solitude (GMin) Tours 5
Jilted (A) Stainer 5
A mariner's home is the sea (F) Randegger 5
Our country firmly stands (F) Whitney 5

Apparently these songs must have been some of his favorites, to be listed by the publishers under his name.

[p. 169]

His beautifuI bass voice was known world-wide.

[p. 170]

Myron was finally persuaded to enter operatic work and a short while later he joined the Ideal Opera Company, which enterprise became very successful due essentially to his own efforts and his world-wide reputation. Eleanora, who was a very fine penman, always accompanied her husband on his various trips abroad and her letters to her children "Willie" and "Gertie" were charming and most entertaining. Sometimes she would scold "Willie" for his reported misbehavior and then relent and "pray God to take care of him". One time she wrote: "Why don't you use thinner paper, and then you could use only one stamp instead of two." Undoubtedly she wished to teach her children thriftiness. Myron was a great artist and a favorite of Queen Victoria, often singing for her at Command Performances.

Eleanora was not only handsome but she was a very brilliant woman as well. In England while Myron was engaged in concert work on a Continental tour, she enrolled in a mechanical drawing class sponsored by Queen Victoria. Eleanora was the only woman in the class of men but her mechanical drawings won her the first prize, a gold watch chain which was donated and presented to her by the Queen, and which is still in the possession of a member of the family today. Later in life Eleanora dabbled some in stocks and would often ask my father for advice about the market.

Myron and Eleanora had three splendid children - William L., Myron, Jr., and Gertrude - the sons followed their father and had his musical ability.

A woman of charm and beauty, and wife of a famous singer.

[p. 171]

Eleanora was very fond of my grandmother, her half-sister, and this feeling was shared by her son, William L. She often allowed her children, William and Gertrude, to go by horsecar to visit Aunt Lizzie in Chelsea. One day in front of the Foster home, grandmother heard William say to his sister: "I wonder what kind of victuals they have in this house". Grandmother probably told the story to her sister and William always referred to it with much glee. It is said that when William was a small boy, it was his task each week end to take the pot of beans to the community oven on Boston Common every Friday afternoon. Will would put the beanpot on a long paddle and push it way into the oven to be baked all night. It was his duty to arise a half hour earlier than the family, go to the Common, wait in line for his turn to remove his pot of beans to take home for Saturday morning breakfast.

About to participate in his
favorite sport.
William L. was born in 1861 on Summer Street in Boston. He had a 1ovely voice but when it gave out, he turned to teaching and established an International School at one time. Later he joined the staff of the New England Conservatory of Music where he remained until his death in January of 1950 at the age of eighty-eight years, and a total of ninety pupils per week. At the time of his death a Herald newspaper clipping stated: "He was the most beloved singing teacher Boston had ever known". William was the most sought after instructor at the Conservatory and his loss to the school was very great. Many of his pupils are famous; one of them is Eleanor Steber, who sings both on radio and television today. William studied in Italy under the same instructor who taught his father.

It appears that William became very ill in Florence and his room-mate's sister, Florence Roberts, nursed him back to health. She was born in Florence, Italy, of English parents and was named after her birthplace. Her father ran a shop there. William felt so grateful to her for saving his life that he asked her to marry him. Some time after her death he married Leta Fulton, fifty years younger and a teacher at the Conservatory. William had a son by his first marriage, Henry; and a son by his second marriage, William, Jr.

[p. 172]

He loved the woods and ponds.
Myron, Jr., married Grace Train, daughter of Admiral Train, and lived mostly in New York and Washington. It is said that Eleanora advised her son Myron, Jr. to use his first earnings of three hundred dollars for the purchase of a Cape Cod house at Sandwich which Myron, Jr., used a great deal. When Myron, Jr. was away on concert tours his parents lived there. The home and all the furnishings were destroyed in the Cape fire a few years ago.

Gertrude married Waldo Hadsell and their son was captain of a successful Columbia University crew.

Myron W. Whitney died September 17, 1910, and his wife Eleanora died on December 20, 1910, in Sandwich, Massachusetts. They summered at Sandwich on the Cape for many years and the family lot is in the cemetery there. Myron was a disciple of Isaac Walton and his fishing companions often were Joe Jefferson (a famous actor) and President Grover Cleveland.

During the height of his success Myron lived on Beacon Hill at #9 Allston Street, Boston. He was first there about 1871 until 1874. For the next three years he was not listed in the Boston Directory; possibly he was on concert work either here or abroad. From 1877 to 1888 he was listed as living at #9 Allston Street. In 1888 he moved to Palfrey Street, Watertown, Massachusetts.


First street to the left on the corner and in the sunlight was the Whitney home for several years during the 1870's and 1880's.

[p. 173]

The Breasha Lot, Garden Cemetery, Chelsea, Mass.
Picture taken May, 1950, but since that time the stones have all been reset.

From left to right are - Joseph Foster (my uncle), ";Father" John Breasha, "Mother"

Phebe Lamos Breasha and Phebe Ann Morgan.

[p. 297]



b 1620 in England d 1692
m Ruth Reynolds


b 1765 d 1841
m Mary Barrett


b 1660 d 1736
m Abigale Hagar
m Elizabeth - - - - -


b 1798 d 1894
m Fannie Lincoln


b 1697 d 1745
m Rebecca Fillebrown


b 1836 d 1910
m Eleanor Breasha
  Myron W., Jr.
o Lizzie Gertrude


b 1730 d 1800
m Sarah Lawrence
  • Harry
  • William
o Irving
o Duane
o Eleanor

Supplementary Data - L


Hills, L. I. The son, Irving Whitney, was a graduate of Columbia) President of his Class 1914 and Captain of the winning 1914 Crew at Poughkeepsie Regatta. Is now Vice Pres. & Gen. Mgr. of F. W. Dodge Co., home in Scarsdale, N. Y. Has two married daughters, Kathryn Kloss and Caryl English. Son Duane lives in Tallahassee, Florida. He is married and has four daughters, one married - June O'Driscoll. The others are Patricia, Suzanne and Nancy. Duane was born in the old Whitney home in Watertown, Mass., is now Asst. State Chemist, Florida Dept. of Agriculture. Graduated from Cornell in 1913 and on its track team. The daughter, Eleanor Gertrude Thornton, lives in Maitland, Florida. She graduated from Bernard and is a well known photographer. Her children are Dade, Irving, and Helen Hadsell Burke of Forestdale, Mass.


I had been asked the connection of the Whitney family with that of the Lincoln family and the result of my research follows. I had heard that the Whitneys, related to the Collier family, were cousins of President Lincoln.

The data on the Lincoln line comes from the genealogy of Samuel Lincoln of Hingham, compiled by Waldo Lincoln, A.B.; and that on the Whitney family from the genealogy of John Whitney of London, who settled in Watertown, Mass., in 1635, compiled by Frederic Clifton Pierce. These family facts are most interesting and worthy of recording in our "Family Sketch".

Between 1635 and 1645 about eight Lincolns from the west of England settled in Hingham, Mass. Three brothers were Samuel, Daniel and Thomas, but their relation to the others is in doubt. Daniel and Thomas died without issue but Samuel had a large family, four of whom were sons. It is the lineage of Samuel, Jr., and Mordecia which concerns the Whitney family. The Lincoln entering the Whitney family was Fannie, daughter of William Lincoln of Hingham, Mass., and Jael Cushing of Ashburnham, Mass. Her husband, William Whitney, lived in Ashby, Mass., all his life from 7 yrs. until his death at the age of 96. Fannie died in her 88th year.

The Whitneys are descended from John Whitney of England who settled in Watertown, Mass., about 1635.

It will be seen that Myron W. Whitney, who married Eleanor Breasha, was a fifth cousin to Pres. Abraham Lincoln through the marriage of his father William to Fannie Lincoln.


The addresses of her grandchildren follow:

Irving Hadsell Church Lane, Scarsdale, N. Y.
Duane Hadsell Tallahassee, Florida
Mrs. Eleanor Thornton Maitland, Florida

Copyright © 2001, 2006, 2010, 2011, Robert L. Ward and the Whitney Research Group

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