Donn Haven Lathrop
In 1652, the poet John Milton wrote in his Sonnet XV; On His Blindness, that "they also serve, who stand and wait." Although she was neither watch- nor clockmaker, Lucy Amy Miller is included in this series of vignettes on Women in Horology as one of those who "stood and waited." She first appeared as a statistic in the 1830 census in Springfield, Vermont as: F, 15-20; 1, and in the 1840 census, again: F, 20-30; 1. No name, just a number. Regardless of her early numerical anonymity, we know that in 1840 she was 22 years old, the daughter of Levi and Lois (Sherman) Miller of Springfield, born in 1818 in Portland, Maine. Her mother was a native of Vermont, and her father of Massachusetts. Her grandfather, James Harrington Miller, in his own turn, had moved to Vermont in 1798. Very little can be found concerning her life during the intervening years. The obituary of a daughter noted that she was a school teacher; the assumption can be made that she probably "fitted herself as a teacher" in her teens, as did many of the young women of that era. In 1841, when she was 23, her anonymity disappeared abruptly. She married a 76 year old man, and bore him five children. Ten years later she was committed to the asylum in Concord, New Hampshire, from which, two years later, she was released to the custody of her father, who had travelled from Wisconsin to take her home. Given the commonality of the surname, Miller, she was very difficult to track down, but some parts of her life have been reconstructed.
After moving to Charlestown, New Hampshire, in the early 1780's, an orphan who had just completed his clockmaker's apprenticeship in Worcester, Massachusetts, Stephen Hassam had ingratiated himself with the social establishment in Charlestown through his marriage to Theodosia Hastings, whose pedigree included three of the families who had settled early Charlestown. Through 54 years of marriage and five children, the family prospered financially. Stephen's life in Charlestown was an expression of his various skills and his achievements as a clockmaker, builder, and tavern keeper. For some reason, in 1816 he began to spell his surname Hasham. He built, and with his son Stephen Danforth, ran the Eagle Hotel, a favorite stopping point for travellers from the south and east who were going to Canada. Regardless of his success, he had a"Peck's bad boy" attitude in his dealings with people and the authorities. His wife seemed to be able to tone down many of his off-the-wall antics, avert the wrath of the conservative social upper crust in the town, and keep him productively at work. After her death, in March, 1841, after 54 years of marriage and five children, Stephen's world began to unravel. Remembered as a small and feisty man, he probably thought it was just beginning. He was, after all, only 76. Probably within days, he was across the Connecticut River in Springfield, paying court to Lucy Amy Miller, the school-teacher who was all of 23.
Stephen and Lucy published their marriage intentions on 21 July, 1841, just over four months after he had buried his first wife. Lucy's mother and father, pillars of the Baptist church in Springfield, evidently objected strenuously when their daughter accepted a proposal of marriage from Stephen, a tavernkeeper and professed atheist of Charlestown, a few miles away on the east bank of the Connecticut River. After Stephen had promised to buy Lucy the "biggest Bible a team of oxen and cart could draw", they were married a month later, on the 19th of August, 1841, in Springfield, and with an evidently happy disregard for his age and the differential in their ages, the couple set about producing their own heirs: John Ferdinand, born 1842; Flora J., born 5 October, 1844; Winfield Scott, born 19 September, 1847; Caroline (Carrie) Phœbe, born 19 September, 1849; and finally Emily, born August, 1851--when Stephen was 86! Stephen's older children, except for Stephen Danforth, his second son by his first wife, all left town in about 1842. Lucy's mother, father, and brothers in 1849 joined 20,000 other Vermonters who had emigrated to Wisconsin and points West. Everyone else in Charlestown and Springfield gossiped.
Perhaps because of the evident public disapproval of Stephen's revitalizing (to him) May/December marriage, and the loss of the buffering effect of his socially prominent first wife, the new family's financial fortunes continued a downward spiral that had really begun with the depression of 1837. Stephen had taken out several sizeable loans, and by 1847 had mortgaged his Eagle Hotel (Lucy signed away her dower rights to the hotel), and then had to contend with many personal debts that creditors brought before the courts, one after another. Stephen's attitude toward law suits was simply to ignore court notices. Fines imposed by the courts and the resulting auctions of property to satisfy his debts reduced him to poverty. The foundation of the House of Hasham was slowly crumbling away while the outside was being repainted.
The fragile financial situation didn't lend itself to peace of mind at home. Lucy was evidently at the end of her rope trying to deal with the needs of a houseful of young children, all very close in age, not to mention the demands of the still lively Stephen. The Congregationalist minister's wife (Mrs. J. DeForest Richards) eventually took pity on her and went often to help her with the children. A neighbor, Ellen Fletcher, noted in her Remembrances of Charlestown her memory of Stephen's attitude in the situation: "The minister's wife was a rather homely woman, but the more she helped, the better she looked, until one day Stephen said to her, "It seems to me that you have grown handsome"."
In early 1851 the full force of the years of stress hit home. That spring, Lucy Hasham's reason snapped. She must have created a considerable disturbance in the neighborhood; that June fifteen of Charlestown's leading citizens, including her immediate neighbors and the new owner of the Eagle Hotel petitioned the court "that Lucy Hasham...is an insane person, whom it is dangerous to be permitted to be at large, and that the said Stephen is either unable or neglects to make proper provision for her safekeeping to the great annoyance and danger to the neighborhood." The court adjudged her insane and committed her to the Asylum for the Insane in West Concord, New Hampshire. Later that same year the town Selectmen petitioned the court that the 87-year old Stephen "by excessive drinking and idleness does so waste, spend, and lessen his estate, and does so neglect to attend to any useful calling or business for which he is capable, as thereby to expose himself and his family to want and suffering...exposing said Town of Charlestown to expense..." etc. To charge him with drunkenness in a town where the taverns outnumbered the churches, and strong drink was the normal course of affairs for the poor and the rich and powerful alike was outright hypocrisy. Tax records and account books of the mid-1800's confirm that liquor was a staple, and that an inordinate amount (by current standards) was sold and consumed each year. Indeed, it was quite common for the minister of a church to have a glass--sometimes two--of rum placed upon his pulpit Sunday mornings to ease him through his sermon, and when the minister called on members of his flock during the week, he was always given the best sherry! An 1800 sketch of Charlestown's Main Street shows the church with two taverns as neighbors.
It was obvious by now that Lucy's husband was deeply in debt and that there was the strong likelihood that the elderly Stephen and his five young children would become a drain on public funds. The selectmen were out to grab what remained of his property. In November the court reduced the charges to 'spendthrift', and appointed a guardian. The next month Stephen's only living son of his first marriage died at the age of 54 of undocumented causes. Stephen's remaining estate was liquidated at public auction (Lucy's guardian, Benjamin Challis, had already signed away her remaining dower rights) in the spring of 1852, and nearly all of the proceeds went to pay off over 50 creditors, some of them his own children.
Sixty five years later, the House of Hasham had fallen in upon itself: The young wife and mother had gone mad, her children were thrown on the mercy of friends, relatives, and the Overseer of the Poor; the old husband was judged incompetent and stripped of his possessions, and his oldest son and heir-apparent was dead in his prime. It is really tempting to try to weave the sleazy fabric of a soap opera plot with the threads of these events, but that will be left to your imagination.
Lucy spent nearly two years in the asylum in West Concord. She was released in April, 1853, to the custody of her father who had come east to take her home. The costs of her confinement, and the cost of her trip--all of $40.15!--to Wisconsin were added to her husband's long list of debts, as were his legal fees and the expenses incurred by his guardian.
Lucy's five children were placed with various families in Charlestown, possibly through a 'vendue of the poor', a process whereby someone would place a bid for the care of an indigent person for the coming year. The lowest bidder (who was paid by the town) would then be responsible for the 'care' of that person for the next year. In most cases, because the bidder was either looking for easy extra money, or someone who could be put to work, being 'bid out' was not usually a pleasant experience. In the 1860 census, her 18-year old son, John Ferdinand, listed as a farmer, was living with Moses and Amanda Putnam, who were in their sixties. Thirteen year-old Winfield Scott was living with another elderly couple, Samuel and Maria Allison. Her daughters, 16-year old Flora and 11-year old Caroline Phœbe, as well as 96-year old Stephen, were living with Levi Willard, a nephew of her husband's first wife. Emily, the youngest, may have been in the same household, but all we know of her is that she died in 1854, a year after her mother left for Wisconsin. Of Emily's death, Ellen Fletcher wrote:
"When one of his [Stephen's] daughters died he put the body into a box and took it on a wheelbarrow to the cemetery to place it in the family tomb. Built of brick with earth on the top, it was down two steps to get inside. He unlocked the door and went inside to sweep the floor, when the door swung to behind him, with no handle on the inside. At length a passerby seeing the box on the wheelbarrow stopped to investigate and let the old man out. There was no funeral service held over the child--he said she was dead as the devil anyway."
The Hasham tomb in Charlestown, one of the items auctioned in the 1852 dispersal of Stephen's estate, is the final resting place for a small coffin--that of an "unknown child." I think I know who she is.
Eight years later, in August, 1862, Lucy's oldest son, John Ferdinand, enlisted as a private in the 14th Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers of the Union Army during the War between the States. He died of typhoid fever in July, 1863, in Washington, DC, while his Regiment was standing guard duty in that city, and is buried next to his father in Charlestown. Flora married Charles Burnham of Springfield, Vermont, in March, 1866, but died there in childbirth in February, 1868. Winfield Scott enlisted in August, 1864 in the 5th New Hampshire Infantry, and was mustered out on the 28th of June, 1865. He married (probably in the late 1870's) in Langdon, New Hampshire, a Miss Addie Jones, of Unity, New Hampshire. They later moved to Claremont, New Hampshire, where he died. His son, Robert E., lived in Claremont until his death in 1942, and appears to have been the last of the male Hassam/Hasham line to live in New Hampshire. Caroline Phœbe married Eugene A. Randall of Springfield, Vermont, in August, 1868. She later lived in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. In the latter state, she lived in Claremont and Charlestown, where she died at the age of 92, in July, 1942. At her death, she was considered to be one of the last two 'real' Daughters of the American Revolution, on the basis that her father had assisted the Revolutionary forces by carrying water to the soldiers of the Copp's Hill battery (a cannon emplacement) during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Oddly enough, that battery was manned by British soldiers and equipped with British cannons.
Lucy literally dropped out of sight in Wisconsin in 1853. Her family had settled and prospered in Porter Township, Rock County, near the southern border of the state. The township no longer appears on our maps, but it was in the vicinity of Janesville. Lucy first resurfaced 36 years later, in a biographical sketch of a younger brother, Jason, with the careful comment that: "his sister Lucy makes her home in Northern Wisconsin."
Fifty-three years later, the death notice of her daughter, Mrs. Caroline Phœbe Randall, appeared in the New York Times. In this notice, the only mention of Lucy was that she had been a school teacher before her marriage. A further search through the Vital Records at the Town Clerk's Office in Charlestown and Springfield, Vermont, yielded no record of a divorce or a separation. No official record of her incarceration in an asylum in Wisconsin could be found. Since her parents were deeply religious, and she seemed to have become the black sheep of the family, the possibility that she had used her training as a schoolteacher to support herself somewhere in the 'north of Wisconsin', as well as the further possibility that she had remarried made the search difficult. Remarriage without a legal divorce wasn't unusual--there are many mid- 1800's records of women doing exactly that regardless of their marital status, usually because of an abusive husband. As a mother who had lost a son in the Civil War, she was eligible for a pension, but her name does not appear in the 1883 listing of war pensioners ordered by the 47th Congress, nor did anyone apply for a pension as a result of his death. The thought arose that she might be hiding, possibly with a career of her own, somewhere in the woods of northern Wisconsin, and perhaps in a much happier situation.
But, the carefully worded "[she] makes her home in Northern Wisconsin" was just a smokescreen.
What really transpired between 1853 and 1889 can only be the subject of speculation. Lucy evidently never regained her reason and had been considered 'an insane person' for all that time. She had been confined in the Dane County Poorhouse, in Verona, Wisconsin, just a few miles northwest of Porter Township--probably within a day's travel from 'home', most likely because her family would not, or could not, admit to her insanity.
Her life could not have been very pleasant. Richard Current, the author of Vol. II of THE HISTORY OF WISCONSIN wrote of the laws on mid-1800's welfare:
"No one could apply for aid before residing for twelve months in the locality..."
so she may have been permitted the 'pleasure' of living at home for a few short months. And for some of those who were on welfare, they were confined with:
"the mentally ill, [who] unless their relatives took care of them at home, were kept in poorhouses or, if violent, in jails. In both places they were exposed to cruel treatment, some of them living in chains and wallowing in their own filth, and they often made themselves a nuisance to other inmates and to the surrounding community."
In Vol. III of THE HISTORY OF WISCONSIN, Robert Nesbit wrote of the conditions prevailing in the poorhouse in neighboring Jefferson County:
"The number of insane is this house is very large. Eleven of them have to be confined in their cells all the time. Some of them are very difficult to take care of, and the task is as disagreeable and revolting as can well be conceived of. Three of them have to be kept on straw, as they will not use beds..."
and quoted an 1873 report on the Dane County Poorhouse which listed the reasons for commitment of its pauper population. Some of them:
"...intemperance forty one; insanity twentyone; idiocy eighteen; blindness two; deaf mutes one; bastardy seven;...old age four."
Lucy was one of the "insanity twentyone". She appears in the 1870 census columns: Lucy Hasham; age 50 (sic ); female; white; birthplace: New Hampshire (sic ). The last column heading is: "Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic." The entry is "Insane". There was a poorhouse in Janesville--next door to 'home', if you will--why was she exiled to the next county? It's a tossup as to whether one poorhouse was better than another--most American poorhouses were, quite bluntly, horrible. In both the 1870 and 1880 census listings she is an inmate of the Dane County Poorhouse in Verona.
Lucy Amy Miller Hasham died in the Dane County Poorhouse, on 5 June, 1905, at the age of 87. For the last 54 years of her long and rather sad life, she had been considered insane. Her death certificate lists her occupation as 'housework', and the cause of her death as 'old age'. Her marital status--or, as it was rather delicately put in those days, her 'condition'--is widowed; her husband had died on 3 February, 1861. In the probable horror of her insanity and during the half-century of her confinement, did she know what had happened to her family? Did she long for an earlier end? Whether or not she did, we will never know. She is buried in grave 59 of the Dane County Asylum Cemetery, one of the many who "stood and waited."