Archive:History of the Town of Townsend, Massachusetts

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Sawtell, Ithamar B., History of the Town of Townsend, Middlesex County, Massachusetts: from the grant of Hathorn's farm, 1676-1878 (Fitchburg, MA: The Author, 1878).

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Shadrack Whitney, son of Jonathan Whitney, and brother of Amos, the giver of the Townsend parsonage, was born in Watertown, in 1698. He was in Townsend before it was chartered, in 1732. The Groton records contain his marriage: "Jan. 5, 1731-2, Shadrack Whitney of ye North Town to Prudence Lawrence." He was rather a prominent man, and served on several committees, appointed by the proprietors, to lay out and

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apportion the undivided lands equally among them. He lived in that part of the town, which was left in Mason, by the running of the province line. It appears that in 1753, he had "a house and barn, and about twenty acres cleared and fenced, and a young orchard,"* in that town. He owned lands in Mason, Townsend and Groton. In August, 1733, the Townsend proprietors held a meeting "at ye publick meeting house," the principal object of which was "To see if ye said proprietors think it convenient to grant a recompense (to Ephraim Sawtell) for any land which may be flowed by erecting a dam upon Squannoocook River, near ye house of John Patt in order to Sett upp mills for the benefit of said Proprietors." A grant of land was awarded to said Sawtell, at that meeting. The following record, in connection with that vote is here presented: —

"The Subfcriberf whofe namef are underwritten (being diffatisfied With the Vote of ye Proprietorf in granting an Equivolent for Landf which may be flowed af afore Said) have Decented againft ye proceedingf of faid vote.

Ebenezer Wyman, Samuel Kendal,

Amos Whitney, Jasher Wyman,

Shadrach Whitney.

Atteft: Jasher Wyman, Proprietors' Clerk."

Sometime in the latter part of his life, he moved from Mason to Groton, where, on the twentieth of July, 1764, he made his will, which was proved, approved and allowed, on the fourteenth of the following August. After making several bequests to relatives and friends, he gave the town of Groton forty pounds, to be put upon interest

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  • Hill's History of Mason, page 41.

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"in such a way and manner as they shall think lit, so that the interest thereof may be improved and applied to the support of the ordained minister of the town of Groton, from time to time, forever hereafter."

The Whitneys, from that time to the present, have been noted for their liberal donations, both to religious and scientific objects. As in the flowage case cited, they have always done their own thinking, and were always ready to place themselves squarely on record.

Levi Whitney was the eldest son of Daniel Whitney, who was brother of Shadrack. He was born (probably) in Shrewsbury, December 5, 1739. He came to Townsend about the time he arrived at majority. He married, first, Rebecca Clark, daughter of Deacon Samuel Clark, December 19, 1764.

Their children were:

Amos, b. Feb. 11, 1766; d. Oct. 2, 1854.

Asa, b. -----, 1767; d. Feb. — , 1851.

Sarah, b. -----, 1769; m. Eleazer Flint, of Reading, May 3, 1791.

Aaron, b. -----, ----; married and lived for a while in Milford, N. H.; afterwards he removed to the State of Maine, where he died. Tradition says he was a large and powerful man, six and one-half feet in height.

Sibyl, b. -----, ---; m. Cyrus Smith, of New Ipswich, N. H.

Sewell, b. -----, ---; had no family. He was drowned by being accidentally knocked from the deck of a sloop at Lansingburg, N. Y.

The father of this family married, second, Mrs. Lydia ( Randall) Price, the widow of Major Henry

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Price, the first deputy grand master of Masons in America. They had one daughter:

Rebecca, b. July 29, 1781; m. Benjamin Wallace, of Townsend, Sept. 18, 1799. They have descendants, at present, in this town.

During the revolutionary war, Levi Whitney was an officer in the commissary department, with the rank of lieutenant. He was a man of much mechanical ingenuity, and a manufacturer of agricultural tools. His children were all born in Townsend.

Amos Whitney, the son of Levi, married Anna Brown, of Concord, August 16, 1789. He was in the coopering business, at Chelmsford, now Middlesex Village, where he lived and where he acquired a large property in that trade. He died October 2, 1854.

Their children were

Amos, b. -----, 1790; d. Oct. 19, 1873.

Sewell, b. -----; died young.

Asa Whitney, the son of Levi, married Mary Wallace, February 25, 1790. He was a blacksmith and resided in this town. He died December 27, 185 1, aged eighty-four years; she died February 11, 1846.

Their children were:

Polly, b. May 29, 1790; m. James French, of Henniker, N. H.

Asa, b. Dec. i, 1791.

Samuel, b. Feb. 27, 1794; d. at Waltham, Nov. —-, 1870.

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Sewell, b. March i8, 1796; d. Oct. 26, 1818.

Rebecca, b. Nov. 4, 1797; d. Sept. i, 1800.

Sarah, b. May 3, 1800; m. George Hartwell, d. Sept. 28, 1829.

Levi, b. March 19, 1802; resides in Cleveland, Ohio.

Joel, b. June 8, 1807; resides in Winchester.

The father of this family was an upright, hard-working man, but possessed of little financial ability. These sons and daughters were all born on Nissequassick Hill.

Asa Whitney, oldest son of Asa, married Clarinda Williams, at Watertown, Jefferson County, New York, on the twenty-second day of August, 1815. She was the daughter of Ralph Williams, of Groton, Connecticut.

Their children were:

William Wallace, b. Sept. 1, 1817; unmarried; died in Cuba, Nov. 17, 1847. He was a civil engineer.

George, b. Oct. 17, 1819; married ; has one daughter. Resides in Philadelphia.

Mary Jane, b. Nov. 8, 1831; m. John H. Redfield, Aug. 16, 1843, then of New York, now of Philadelphia. Has four children.

Daniel Lyman, b. Feb. — , 1824; died in infancy.

Eliza, b. Jan 25, 1826; m. Rev. M. A. DeWolfe Howe, June 9, 1857. Has three children.

John Randall, b. Oct. 21, 1828; married, and has seven children. Resides in Philadelphia.

James Shields, b. Dec. 2, 1830; married, and has four children. Resides in Philadelphia.

These sons and daughters were all born at Brownville, New York. Asa Whitney, the father of this family, at the age of thirteen years sought employment in Boston;

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after some months returned home, and, after attending school for a time, returned to his father's blacksmith shop, and having learned the trade, he went to Swanzey, New Hampshire, where he worked on cotton mill machinery, for two years or more. In 1813, he went to Brattleboro, Vermont, and engaged in the same business, but was burned out and lost all his earnings. Soon afterward he went to Brownville, New York, where he resided several years. For a time he lived at Schenectady, and again at Albany, New York. He was then superintendent of the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad. At one time he held the office of Canal Commissioner. His reputation as a railroad engineer, at one time, was so high that he was consulted on the question of the gauge of the Erie Railroad, then being built. He gave an elaborate opinion in favor of the four feet eight and one-half inch gauge, which, had it been adopted then (as it has been recently), would have saved the railway millions of dollars. From 1842 to 1847, with M. W. Baldwin, he was engaged, in the City of Philadelphia, in the manufacture of locomotives, on an extensive scale. In 1847, he commenced the manufacture of car wheels, and founded the establishment still carried on, at Philadelphia, by the firm of "A. Whitney & Sons." Before his death, this firm manufactured about 75,000 car wheels annually. He was a man of great benevolence, giving liberally through life, and at his death he left by his will $50,000 to found a chair of dynamical engineering, in the University of Pennsylvania, and about $40,000 to other charitable purposes. He left a princely fortune to his family, and was probably the only millionaire among the sons of

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Townsend. He died at Philadelphia, June 4, 1874. His widow is still living (1878).

Samuel Whitney, brother of Asa, married Polly Wallace, September 30, 1813.

Their children were:

Mary, b. ----- -----; m. ----- Shattuck.

Samuel b. ----- -----.

Wallace, b. ----- -----; m. Mary A. Brooks, 1844. He is a machinist.

Harriet, b. ----- -----.

This man is noticed on page 251 of this book, as the inventor of the planing machine, now used extensively. He possessed a great amount of inventive and mechanical skill, but was deficient in matters of business. He moved to Waltham, where he died, in November, 1870.

Sewell Whitney, another brother, never married. He died October 26, 1818, aged twenty-two. He was the only one of the family who worked on wood, the others being disciples of Tubal Cain. He made bowls, bottles, and trays. His gallon bottles were made of poplar, one piece of wood, turned inside and outside, while the wood was green. Seasoned heads of the same wood were then put in and when dried, they were air-tight. Many a thirsty haymaker has been refreshed from these hoopless samples of woodenware.

Amos Whitney, the son of Amos and Anna (Brown) Whitney, born 1790, never married. He was a man of exemplary character, without being particularly enterprising. In 1854, his father died, and left him a large

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amount of wealth which was acquired in the coopering business. His pecuniary means were ample without this additional inheritance. He left a will at his decease, devising about $20,000 to his relatives, $2,500 to the "Old Ladies Home," a charitable institution, at Lowell, and made Tufts College the residuary legatee. The amount of his wealth, at his death, was over $50,000. He died at Middlesex Village, October 19, 1873.

There is not a person, at present, by the name of Whitney, among the inhabitants of Townsend. A granddaughter of Lydia (Price) Whitney, the widow Rebecca (Wallace) Simonds, a few of her descendants and the descendants of the late Benjamin Wallace, are the only persons claiming the least relationship to the descendants of Levi Whitney, the ancestor of the people by that name formerly in Townsend. No record of the birth of any of the Whitney families herein described, can be found in the town records. The family bibles and moss-covered gravestones have sacredly preserved what few dates are here presented, concerning the births and deaths of these inventors and philanthropists, their children, and those whom they loved.


Copyright © 2017, Robert L. Ward and the Whitney Research Group.

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