Hard Hearted Hannah Hathaway:”I do not give or bequeath anything…”

When most people get down to making a will, they do it to protect and provide for dear ones, and to acknowledge family members, friends, and others who gave special meaning to life. Most wills affirm bonds of love and provide comfort to the living. Some make a point of doing the opposite, like the one made by this 67-year-old Massachusetts woman  in November 1823:

I Hannah Hathaway singlewoman of Berkley… do not give or bequeath anything to my sister Welthea Ruggles. I also do not give nor bequeath anything to my three brothers viz: Gilbert Hathaway, Calvin Hathaway and Luther Hathaway. I do not give nor bequeath anything to the children of my two brothers viz: Ebenezer Hathaway and Shadrach Hathaway…

 I do not give nor bequeath to the following children of my sister Tryphena Crane viz: Weltha Nichols, Tryphena Hathaway, Nathaniel Crane, Henry Crane, Phebe Babbitt, Abi Babbitt, Hannah Crane, Lydia Babbitt, Rebekah Nichols. and James Crane.

Yikes. It wasn’t enough to name beneficiaries and leave the rest to speculation; Hannah Hathaway wanted her survivors to know she had disinherited them deliberately. And considering this was, literally, a deathbed testament, it’s difficult to not to conclude… the woman was a bitch on wheels.

To play devil’s advocate, in an attempt to soften the impression, we must consider Hannah’s religious training. It would have been more along the lines of God is angry with you,  than God loves you. It’s just possible that Hannah saw the public disgrace of her family members as her Christian duty. Okay, I don’t buy it, either.

So back to the big question: What offense could be so terrible to Hannah that it pushed every sibling, and virtually every one of their children beyond forgiveness?

If the Hathaways had been heretics or murderers or thieves… except they weren’t. The Hathaways were an ancient clan and respected members of their communities. So we come down to the ways intimate family relationships go sideways.

Hannah and her sisters (and brothers) were of the revolutionary generation. They lived the shattering transition from governance by royal decree to national independence.  Born in July 1756 at Freetown, Massachusetts to Ebenezer and Wealtha (Gilbert) Hathaway, she was the baby among the couple’s eight children. Her father, Ebenezer, inherited vast tracts of  land [1] , he farmed and was invested in local businesses. Though cash flow would have been unreliable as the vicissitudes of life affected everyone, the Hathaways were comfortable.[2]

–>The eldest was Gilbert Hathaway, born in 1745/6. He married three times and produced 14 children. The census for 1790 and 1800 show him next door to his parents’ home. The year after that, however, Gilbert sold his land in Freetown in preparation for relocation. The 1810 census shows him in Livermore, Maine. where he died in 1829.

–>Gilbert’s twin sister, Tryphena Hathaway, married Benjamin Crane of Berkley in 1763. He appears to have been a ship captain, and the couple had 13 little Cranes. Benjamin died in 1810 and Tryphena followed in 1812.

–>Ebenezer Hathaway, Jr. came along in 1748 and married a distant cousin, Mary Hathaway, with whom he had 7 children. The first three children were born in Freetown, and the younger ones in Burton, New Brunswick, where Ebenezer died in 1811.

–>Hannah’s other sister, Welthy [3] Hathaway was born in 1750, married Richard Ruggles with whom she had 8 children, the first in Freetown, the others in Nova Scotia. Welthy was living in Annapolis, Nova Scotia when Hannah made her will, and died the year after her in 1824.

–>Shadrach Hathaway was born in 1752 and married Hannah Chase of Berkley. This pair only had time for 4 children, because Shadrach died in a British camp on Long Island, NY in 1780.

–>Calvin and Luther Hathaway, another set of twins, were born before Hannah, in 1754. Their history has been difficult to track. Calvin may have died in 1823 and Luther in 1833 at Cornwallis in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia.

This family profile provides a few plausible reasons for Hannah’s bitterness. One obvious contrast is that all her siblings married and had children.

Then, with the exception of the deceased Shadrach and Tryphena, all had moved from Freetown, and not just across the town line (as Hanna had done), but into the wilds of Maine, and across the national border into Canada.

Perhaps, less obvious is that the burden of caring for aging and infirm parents fell to unmarried daughters, a duty, all caregivers know, can be isolating and onerous. While Ebenezer Hathaway, the father, died in 1791, when Hannah was just 35.  However, Wealtha, the mother, appears to have (briefly) outlived Hannah.

Did Hannah envy married life and parenthood? Had she, perhaps, lost her own life’s love? 

Did Hannah resent that her siblings moved away, leaving her alone with her mother?

Was Hannah a great patriot who branded her Loyalist leaning siblings traitors?

Was Hannah simply a crank who fashioned her last official act into an epic pay-back?

The answer is certainly some combination of all the above,  – with a generous dollop of unknowns lost to time. Yet we must factor in the favored ones, for Hannah Hathaway deemed two people on Earth worthy of her treasure:

 I do give and bequeath to Celia French, wife of Capt. Samuel French, Jr, my bed and bed furniture… Lastly I give and bequeath all the rest residue and remainder of my personal estate…to Adoniram Crane, Esq. 

Despite the unfamiliar surname, Celia French was Hannah’s niece, – the only good one among 50 of her siblings’ progeny! Celia was the daughter of Benjamin and Tryphena (Hathaway) Crane. Born in 1781, Celia married Samuel French in 1800, and had nine children of her own. She must have been very special to stay in the good graces of her prickly Aunt Hannah.

It turns out that Adoniram Crane (1780-1854) was related, also, Hannah’s great-nephew. A colonel of the local militia, public servant, politician [3], and church-going, family man, Adoniram Crane was a paragon in the eyes of Victorian era chroniclers. He was a respected public school teacher for three decades, and an “eminent singer.” Crane founded the Beethoven Society whose singers performed widely, and was in demand across three counties, as a voice coach. Enoch Sanford in his History of the the town of Berkley, Massachusetts (1872) describes him like this,

He was a man of dignified and commanding personal appearance, an excellent town officer, and as a singer he was well known in this and the neighboring towns as well for the great compass of his voice, his fine musical taste, and the correctness of his ear.

While the man was justly admired for his talent and accomplishments, this other sentence from Sanford’s  history, somehow, brought  Hannah to mind…

Col. Adoniram Crane was an eminent teacher, who, however, used great severity in discipline, and which tended rather to harden than soften the rough spirits he had to deal with.

Apparently, over 30 years, Adoniram Crane’s punishments had so deeply scarred so many students, that 20 years after he died, that line survived the book’s final edit.

And that got me to thinking that Hannah Hathaway chose to endow Adoniram Crane because he was a man after her own heart.

 

Notes:

[1] The Hathaway clan [also spelled Hathway and Hatheway] was among the area’s first white settlers.

[2] In 1790, Ebenezer Hathaway, Hannah’s father, provided his unmarried daughter with an income of her own, gifting her with his half of a gristmill operation.

[3] Welthy was named for her mother, “Wealtha” and this surprisingly popular name is found spelled many ways (Welthea, Welthe, etc.).

[4] Clear evidence for Calvin and Luther Hathaway has been devilishly difficult to find, but clues indicate that both brothers did marry and at least one of them had children.

[5] Adoniram’s political career took off after Hannah’s death. It appears he was not a drinker, for he was known as a “temperance man,” that movement which would eventually lead to national liquor Prohibition (1919-1933).

Sources:

Ancestry.com Collections: Massachusetts Town and Vital Records; Abstracts from Bristol County Probate Records; United States Census

GenealogyBank.com Newspapers: New-Bedford Mercury, New Bedford, MA (1838, 1841); The Boston Traveler, Boston, MA; Norfolk Advertiser, Dedham, MA (1835)

Archive.org Texts: History of the town of Berkley, Mass: including sketches of the lives of the two first ministers, Rev. Samuel Tobey, and Rev. Thomas Andros, whose united ministry continued ninety-one years; Sanford, Enoch (1872)

National Humanities Center: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/livingrev/religion/religion.htm

Religious Revivals and Revivalism in 1830s New England; http://www.teachushistory.org/second-great-awakening-age-reform/articles/religious-revivals-revivalism-1830s-new-england

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