A History of the Emery Family and The Property
The Emery family first settled this property in 1635. John Emery, Sr. was the son of John and Agnes (Northend) Emery. He was born in the village of Romsey, Hampshire, a short distance from the port of Southampton on the south coast of England. He was baptized, probably within a day or two of his birth, at Saint Mary’s Abbey, Romsey, on September 29, 1598. He married Alice Grantham on July 26, 1620, in Whiteparish, Wiltshire, a few miles across the country border. It was in Romsey that John and his brother, Anthony, became master carpenters and cabinetmakers, a skill for which they became widely known in the New World.
England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, like the rest of Europe, was caught up in the great religious debates of the age. One of the results of this religious ferment in England was the period known as The Great Migration. Beginning about 1620 and continuing until the time of the English Civil War and the establishment of the commonwealth (1649-1660), English Protestants, unhappy with the religious settlement that established Anglicanism, looked for other homes where they could practice their religion. The first fruit of this migration was Plimouth Plantation, which was established on the shore of Massachusetts Bay in 1620. During the next thirty years, several thousand people made the arduous voyage across the Atlantic looking for a new home. The Emery family was one of many who made this journey from England to the New World. John, his wife, Alice, and their children, John, Jr. and Anna (1632-1687) sailed from Southampton on the ship James. Also on board were John’s brother, Anthony, and his wife and children. The ship left Southampton on April 3, 1635, and arrived in Boston eight weeks later on June 3.
The new arrivals found Boston a crowded village with all the best land already occupied. To deal with this situation, Newtowne (now Cambridge) had been founded in 1632, and by 1635 new settlements had begun to spring up in Connecticut and further north along the coast of Massachusetts. One of these new settlements was Newbury, situated on the Parker River, not far from Ipswich (about ten miles east of West Newbury). It was to Newbury that the two brothers brought their families in the summer of 1635. John and Anthony’s sister, Eleanor, would follow her brothers to the New World a few years later. Anthony and his family did not remain in Newbury for long, moving first to Dover, New Hampshire, and later to what is now Kittery, Maine.
At first these new settlements worked on a communal basis. Small home lots were granted to individuals so that they could build a house and barn and maintain a kitchen garden. All shared in the hard work of clearing, planting and harvesting the common fields that surround the new town. As more land was cleared and the supply of food was more stable, larger land grants were made to individuals. John Emery received his first grant of half an acre in the village of Newbury.
John Emery, Sr. was a remarkable man. He and his brother, Anthony, plus some of John’s sons and grandsons were skilled carpenters and cabinetmakers, and furniture attributed to the Emerys can be found today in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. (The Emerys worked with wood during the winters and were farmers the rest of the year.) John was made a freeman of the town on June 2, 1641. This status implied both civic and ecclesiastical authority. Only full members of the local church could become freemen, and only freemen were allowed to take a full role in civic affairs. Once he had been admitted to membership in the church, other duties followed. In 1661 he was elected a selectman (one of those responsible for managing town affairs). In 1666 he was appointed fence viewer, a task much like that of a modern surveyor. That same year he was appointed to the grand jury. In 1672 he was appointed a juror and four years later was one of those appointed to carry votes from Newbury to Salem. But John did not always stay on the right side of the law. On March 16, 1663, he was brought before the Court at Ipswich for the crime of entertaining Quakers. The Court records tell us that “two men Quakers were entertained very kindly to bed and table & John Emmerie shok [them] by ye hand and bid [them] welcome.” It was further recorded by the Court “that the witness heard John Emery and his wife say that he had entertained Quakers and that he would not put them from his house and used argument for the lawfulness of it.” By his own admission, he was found guilty and fined four pounds, the court costs and fees for entertaining strangers. In May of that year, John petitioned the General Court, asking that his fine be remitted. His petition was signed by the selectmen of Newbury along with fifty citizens, but the General Court refused to remit the fine.
Besides John Jr. and Anna, John and Alice likely had other children, but the records only indicate one other child born to them – a daughter with the unusual name of Ebenezer, born on September 16, 1648. Like many Puritans, the Emerys looked to Holy Scripture in naming their children, and so out of a sense of thankfulness they named her Ebenezer meaning “the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). John and Alice were obviously thankful to God that they had survived the first few years in the New World, years that must have been full of hardship, want and danger. John’s wife, Alice, died a few months after giving birth to Ebenezer, and he remarried on October 29, 1650. His second wife, Mary Shatswell, was the widow of John Webster. Two years later, Mary gave birth to a son, Jonathan. John Emery, Sr. died on November 3, 1683. The inventory taken later in the month showed that he left his heirs an estate valued at the considerable sum of 263 pounds, 11 shillings. Obviously, John had done well in the New World! John’s second wife, Mary, died April 28, 1694.
Part of the land grant John, Sr. received from the town of Newbury was located along the Artichoke River (which adjoins our property just beyond the cluster of hermitages). In 1642 he gave this land to his son, John, Jr., who combined it with another forty acres of land he purchased from Archelaus Woodman for the sum of thirty pounds. These eighty acres of land today form the bulk of the property on which Emery House stands. In addition, on March 3, 1679, “the town of [Newbury] granted John Emery, jun., twelve acres of land on the west side of [the] Artichoke River, provided he build and maintain a corn mill to grind the town’s corn from time to time and to build it within one year and a half after the date thereof.” This new mill on the banks of the Artichoke River was needed as the population of Newbury expanded into what was then called Second Parish, which today is known as West Newbury. The mill remained in the Emery family until 1761 when Jonathan Bagley of Amesbury purchased it from Stephen Emery, the grandson of John Emery, Jr. The mill, now called Curzon Mill, still stands at the east end of Emery Lane, on the other side of the Artichoke River, and is visible from the refectory of Emery House and by walking across the wooden bridge. The Artichoke River was named for the Jerusalem artichokes which grew along its banks. They were a staple of the local Indian diet and were adapted into Anglo-American cookery as well. The root when cooked tastes like a European artichoke, but the plants are not related.
Like his father, John Emery, Jr. had been born in Romsey, Hampshire, England. He was born on June 12, 1628. He turned seven years old a few days after his family arrived in Boston in 1635. He was admitted to membership in the church and made a freeman on May 30, 1660. In the years following he served in a number of civic capacities, including selectman (1670-1673) and juror (1675-1676). He also held a commission in the local militia as a sergeant.
On October 2, 1648, John married Mary Webster, the daughter of John and Mary (Shatswell) Webster. (John’s father would, in just over two years, marry his widowed mother-in-law.) John, Jr. and Mary had thirteen children between 1652, when their eldest, Mary, was born, and 1681, when Josiah arrived. Of these, eight were girls and five were boys, and all lived to marry had have children of their own. John died on August 3, 1693, and his wife on February 3, 1709.
The next generation to reside on the Artichoke River farm was John, Jr. and Mary’s son, Stephen Emery, Sr. (1666-1747) and his wife Ruth Jaques (1672-1764). Stephen’s occupation is listed as “millwright and planter” in various town documents. It was their son, Stephen, Jr. (1710-1795) who built what we now call Emery House in 1746. Both Stephen, Sr. and his wife, Ruth, as well as Stephen, Jr. and his wife Hannah Rolfe (1708-1779) are buried in Sawyer’s Hill Burying Ground, which is located near the entrance of Maudslay State Park. Their grave markers remain standing today, and with some perseverance you can still make out the inscription on them. Stephen, Jr. received a commission in the local militia as an ensign (1749) and later a colonel (1777). His commission as a colonel hangs in the original kitchen at Emery House (what is now the entry parlor) together with that of his son Nathaniel’s commission as a captain (1772).
Moving ahead slightly more than a century, we learn a great deal about the Emery family from 1894-1896 from a journal kept by Sarah Emery. In 1875 we are introduced to the Reverend Samuel Moody Emery, a graduate of Harvard College and the (Episcopal) General Theological Seminary in New York City. Samuel Emery also received an honorary D.D. from Trinity College in 1858. Samuel was likely the first family member to convert to Anglicanism. He was a “Tractarian,” an Anglo-catholic revival beginning in the 1830s in the Church of England that, during his day, prevailed at General Seminary. Upon his retirement, Samuel moved with his family to live at the family homestead here in West Newbury after forty years of parish ministry in Connecticut. The Emerys had six children, five daughters and a son, none of whom married or left home Sam, their son, after Harvard and training at the Massachusetts College of Dentistry, was a dentist in Newburyport. Following their father’s death in 1883, Sarah, the eldest sister, took charge of managing the farm, with her younger sisters, Mary Elizabeth, Frances Louisa and Georgiana assisting. By the time of the journal, the Emery s also had a hired man, Joe, and young woman, Theresa, to work for them.
Judging from the picture of their life given by Sarah’s journal, they led a frugal existence, growing or making much of what they needed and earning money by selling cream and barrels of apples from their large orchard of Baldwins, Russets, and Greenings. During these years their farm income probably never exceeded $2,000 a year. And despite the advantages of education and access to technological improvements, their lives were tied to the seasons and the land much as their ancestors’ lives had been. From spring plowing and planting until the last crops were harvested in the fall, each day was filled with the domestic activities that made up New England farm life a hundred years ago. Much of it they called “women’s work”: the round of washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking and sewing demanded by their household. But there was also outside work in the gardens, barnyard chores, helping with the haying and apple picking. In the winter months when the temperature plunged below zero and stayed there for days on end, keeping warm preoccupied them day and night. During such rigid weather Sarah confessed the only way she could sleep in her unheated chamber was to share a bed pile one foot high with “comfortables” with her sister Lizzie and the family cat.
But there was also an almost daily round of calling and tea with neighbors. Philip and Daisy Marquand and their young son, John, often stopped by as did old Miss Curzon, their neighbors across the Artichoke river. Afternoons when they were now receiving company, the Emerys were out in the carriage calling on friends in the village, especially the sick and elderly. And their social life increased considerably when the “summer people” arrived: relatives and friends who came for extended visits and whom the Emerys entertained with dinners, lawn parties, tennis games, chowder suppers on the banks of the Merrimack river and excursions to Plum Island. One summer their distant cousin Julia Chester Emery an early spokesperson for the concerns of women in the Episcopal Church and the founder of the ECW (Episcopal Church Women) organization, honored them with a visit. Sarah also notes in her journal that her youngest sister Georgiana entertained groups of fellow artists with sketching parties along the river and at the old burying ground, or was at work in her studio, and on one occasion took her “designs” to Boston in hopes of selling them to a wallpaper company.
And if the seasons determined their lives, so did the liturgical year permeate their existence. Sarah notes church attendance (theirs and that of their hired help), feast days and the quality of preaching she heard. During these years the family either attended Saint James’, Amesbury, across the river, or Saint Paul’s, Newburyport. (Before there was Saint Paul’s, there was Queen’s Chapel, a pre-Revolutionary foundation. It was located near where the Emery sisters are buried. Queen’s Chapel and King’s Chapel, Boston, were the earliest Anglican Churches in Puritan Massachusetts.) On other occasions the Emery family would take the horsecars into Haverhill to attend Trinity Church with their cousins. On one of these times Sarah notes, “March 10, 1895: ‘Went to Trinity Church, Haverhill, and heard Rev. Fr. Fields from Saint John the Evangelist, Bowdoin Street, Boston. He was an earnest and forcible preacher. Text from the Gospel of the day – about the woman of Canaan.” When the weather prevented them from attending church, the Emerys had prayers at home. One March the family gathered in the parlor in the evenings to read aloud H. P. Liddon’s new biography of Dr. Pusey. Whenever an opportunity arose they also showed concern for the poor in their neighborhood. Later, generations of local children would learn from Georgiana’s lively Sunday School classes not only their first Bible stories, but also to sing and dance and draw.
In 1899 their great uncle Nathaniel Noyes, who had lived most of his adult life in Baltimore or abroad, died leaving what he assumed was the bulk of his estate, $100,000, to their cousin, Sarah Kittredge. He left the Emerys a sheaf of papers that represented his speculative investments in Baltimore. To everyone’s amazement, the papers furnished title to vast areas of land in Maryland. These tracts had been leased out in the late 18th century for 99 year terms. In the intervening century docks, office buildings and apartment buildings had been built by “tenants.” When a settlement was finally reached the Emerys found themselves millionaires.
The inheritance did not affect the Emery sisters style of living much. They did build a new brick home patterned after their old homestead but nearer the highway so they would not be snowed in during the winter. But they believed their new wealth was theirs in trust to be used to further God’s Kingdom and improve the quality of life in their village. In 1907 they built St. John’s Hall near their home in West Newbury to be used as an Episcopal mission. In 1912 the Bishop of Massachusetts permitted them to build a parish church nearby, All Saints’ Parish, patterned on a medieval church in the English village where the family had originated. They also gave the land for a public library in West Newbury, made substantial contributions to the Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, and provided college loans for many local children.
It was because of their concern for the welfare of poor women and children, what the Episcopal Church at that time called “domestic missions,” that they became acquainted with the Cowley Fathers at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bowdoin Street, Boston, and the Society’s work with the urban poor. While they also supported the charitable work of other religious communities, the Emery family’s deepest ties were with the Society, largely because of their friendship with its Superior at that time, Spence Burton, SSJE. During disruptions caused by the construction of the monastery and chapel in Cambridge in 1936, the Emery sisters offered our novitiate the use of Emery House. Two of our deceased brothers Robert Smith, SSJE and Frederick Gross, SSJE remembered with fondness their summer of farm work at West Newbury that year. Some evenings Georgiana Emery drove over in her carriage to join them for Evensong. During World War II our brother Paul Wessinger, SSJE and other members of the Society had a “victory garden” at Emery House to grow vegetables for the monastery in Cambridge.
The Emery sisters’ friendship with the Society of St. John the Evangelist was abiding and generous. Georgiana Emery, the last of the sisters, died in 1952. She was 92. Since there were no immediate relatives, Miss Emery made a generous bequest to All Saints’, a parish the Emerys had founded in West Newbury (located one-fourth mile to the west on Route 113), and several Episcopal religious communities. However, she left the bulk of her estate to the SSJE to carry out a long-held dream that the land and farmstead, which had been owned by her family for 300 years, would be used for religious purposes. Then in 1985, Ruth Gordon, a friend and neighbor of the SSJE in Cambridge, bequeathed a substantial part of her estate to the SSJE. With this gift we elected to refurbish the Emery family’s main house and to build the Chapel of the Transfiguration as well as seven hermitages. Six of these are dedicated to Bishop John Coburn and Ruth Coburn in thanksgiving for their years of service to the Episcopal Church, and one to Ruth Gordon as a memorial to her friendship and service with the SSJE for over fifty years. The buildings were dedicated in September 1987 and completed in January 1988.
Over the last two decades we have engaged the help of friends and others who have offered their professional expertise on how we might best conserve the woodlands and meadows and make them more accessible for reflective walks and leisure. We have also been blessed by the generosity of many thousands of hours of volunteer labor from friends of the SSJE to chop firewood, clear paths and assist in other ways in our stewardship of the land. The generosity of these friends and so many others pervades much of the beauty of this place. We hope that in your visit to Emery House you will share both in the receiving and giving of this legacy of God’s blessing.