Thursday, July 29, 2021

Prince-Osburn house

Today on Facebook I was delighted to see this image of the Prince-Osborn house in its original location on Spring Street:  

Jack Rybicki posted this photo in the Facebook group "You know you grew up in Danvers Massachusetts when......." 

I'm familiar with the house in its current Maple Street location, and recall walking by it when I was young – long before I learned of its history or its relation to my own family.

Here's a story I wrote years ago about my discovery of that history:

In May 1992 my sister Jean and I flew east to visit our hometown for a ceremony commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Salem Village witchcraft tragedy. In preparation for that trip, I decided to investigate the rumor that we were descended from one of the accused witches. I didn't know the name or any details. I pulled out the genealogical papers that my mother had worked on years ago and I looked for ancestors in the Salem area in 1692. I saw a "Sarah Warren, d. in jail 1692" -- a likely prospect. Her married name was Sarah Prince. I searched in many history books about the Salem witchcraft crisis, but didn't find her name. Finally one book had an index entry for Sarah Warren, leading to a single mention that this was the maiden name of Sarah Osborne. Aha! Most of the books had long sections about Sarah Osborne (Osbourne; Osborn). She was one of the first accused and the first to die. My sister and I watched the unveiling of the Danvers Witch Trials Memorial, and saw Sarah's name at the head of the list.

A remarkable discovery (for me and my sister) is that Sarah Osborne's house still stands in Danvers. It was moved once (~1914) from Spring Street to 272 Maple Street. We had passed it on Maple Street hundreds of times, and played with the son of the family that owned it. Never did we know of the interesting history or connection to our family. Our Great Aunt May knew. Her handwriting on the back of a photo of Sarah's house tells the story. But I didn't see that photo until after I had discovered the connection for myself using books in a California library.

Sarah Osborne's land -- "the Prince land" she acquired through marriage and then the death of her first husband -- figures prominently in her story. Her sons later, after Sarah's death, fought in court against Alexander Osborne (their stepfather) to regain title to the Prince family land. I remember my mother walking with me in a small cemetery and pointing out a stone marked John Prince. She said I would have been named John Prince Nichols if I had been a boy! I don't remember hearing that we were related to the Princes. I thought she just liked the sound of that name. NOW I realize that I was walking on the Prince land and that I AM a descendant! That cemetery was near Spring Street (where Sarah's house used to stand). I grew up on another street, Nichols Street, and played often in the woods and fields between Nichols and Spring streets. I have come to realize that the wonderful 35-acre property called "Locust Lawn" was once part of the Prince land. Amazing. I grew up playing on Sarah Osborne's land and knew nothing about her. I hated history in school, and didn't pay much attention to the frequent family stories about ancestors. I doubt, however, that much was said about the unsavory parts of family history. Stories tended to be about the Holyokes, of whom my great aunts were proud. 


 Here's another photo posted by Jack. Its caption provides some details I had not known. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Friday, June 18, 2021


This morning's headline in the newspaper proclaims: "JUNETEENTH BILL SIGNED." This creates a new Federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. 

Tomorrow, June 19th, is the actual anniversary of the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the people enslaved in Texas, bringing FREEDOM!  

Growing up in Danvers, I did not hear the word "Juneteenth" nor did I hear much about slavery. I certainly didn't know the Texas part of the story, with a delay of over two years for the news of slavery's end to reach Texas. History did not interest me then. History lessons in school had bored me, with too many names of long-ago kings, distant battles, and dates to memorize – nothing that meant anything real to me. Even in college I avoided history courses, preferring to focus on math and science, music and language study. Years later, I realized my mistake. History is worth studying. 

Yesterday my daughter gave a presentation as part of a series of Juneteenth events organized by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire. "Finding Our Roots" was the theme. I observed the entire (online) program, and was much impressed.  I intend to catch other parts of the Juneteenth programming this weekend. See full schedule here:

My daughter and I are both reckoning with discoveries about some of our ancestors who had connections to slavery. Her presentation was titled, "Uncovering My Family’s History of Enslavement." For five years she has been researching her father's forebearers in and around Portsmouth, NH, and Kittery, Maine. Among them were ship captains who brought enslaved Africans to New Hampshire, and homeowners who owned enslaved workers. Other ancestors worked in the cotton trade or the sugar trade, accumulating wealth that was built with the labor of enslaved peoples. Seven generations in that family line were thus complicit in continuing/supporting the institution of slavery. 

Meanwhile, on my side of the family I could point to anti-slavery activists, especially abolitionists in Danvers.  But... I did not know until recently that an earlier ancestor – a famous one whose portrait was proudly displayed in the Nichols homestead in Danvers – had enslaved Africans.  

They were named Juba & Bilhah. They were enslaved by Rev. Edward Holyoke; they lived and worked in his home in Wadsworth Hall at Harvard, where he resided while he served as 9th President of Harvard College (1737- 1769).

There is much to learn...

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

My mother

I always think of my mother when I spot the first Lily-of-the-Valley flowers of the season.  She loved the scent and the appearance of these flowers. Conveniently, they tended to arrive at the time of her birthday, May 5.   

And today –right on time– I noticed this first one in our yard.  I wish she could be here to see it!