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Chapter 1: Ancestry.

The Sumner family is of English origin. The name was at first Summoner or Somner,—the title of officers whose duty it was to summon parties into courts. Roger Sumner died at Bicester, in the county of Oxford, and was buried in the church of St. Edburg, Dec. 4, 1608. William, his only son and heir, from whom descended Charles Sumner, in the seventh generation, was baptized in St. Edburg, Jan. 27, 1604-5. About 1635, he came, with his wife Mary and his three sons, William, Roger, and George, to Dorchester,1 Massachusetts, and became the founder of an American family, now widely spread.

Many of the first settlers of Dorchester were from the southwestern counties of England. They arrived in 1630, less than ten years after the settlement of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. They were attracted to the particular site by the salt-marsh, which lay along the bay and the Neponset River. This furnished an immediate supply of hay, and dispensed with the necessity of clearing at once large tracts of forest land. Among them were expert fishermen, who were pleased to find at hand this means of support. The territory which they selected for their new home presented one of the fairest of landscapes,— diversified with upland and meadow, the Blue Hills and the river.

At first, the organization of the settlement was imperfect. In 1633, a local government was organized; and the next year the town sent delegates to the first general court or legislature. The community was still in its infancy, when William Sumner joined [2] it. Two children were born to him after his arrival. The early records show that he entered actively on his duties as a citizen. He became at once a grantee of land. ‘He was made a freeman in 1637; admitted to the church in 1652; was for twelve years a deputy to the general court; a selectman twenty-three years, nearly half the time, from 1637 to 1688; was a rater for five years, and a commissioner “to try and issue small causes” for nine years, from 1663 to 1671 inclusive. In 1645, he was “appointed one of a committee for building a new meeting-house,” and in 1663 was chosen “clerk of ye training band.” ’

Roger, the second son2 of the emigrant ancestor, was baptized at Bicester, Aug. 8, 1632. Marrying Mary Josselyn, of Lancaster, he had seven children. In 1660, he removed from Dorchester to Lancaster, ‘that he might, with other Christians at Lancaster, join together for the gathering of a church;’ but, after the destruction of that town by the Indians, he removed to Milton (set off from Dorchester and incorporated in 1662), where he became the deacon of the first church, and died in 1698. His fourth son, William, who was born about 1673, had, for his seventh child, Seth, who was born in 1710, and became, by two marriages, the father of thirteen children. By the first marriage he had Seth, the grandfather of Major-General Edwin V. Sumner, who was an officer of the regular army, served in the Mexican War, commanded in Kansas during a part of the controversy between the free-state and the pro-slavery men, and bore a distinguished part in the war of the Rebellion. By the second marriage3 he had Job, his ninth child, who was the father of Charles Pinckney Sumner, and the grandfather of Charles Sumner.4

The Sumners who remained in Dorchester and Milton during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were generally farmers, [3] owning considerable estates in fee-simple, and blessed beyond the usual measure with large families of children.

The Jacob or Jacobs family,—the maternal ancestors of Charles Sumner,—begins with Nicholas Jacob, who came to this country from Hingham, England, in 1633, settled in Watertown, and removed two years later to Hingham.5 His son John was the father of David, the grandfather of Joshua, and the great-grandfather of David, Sr., who was born in Scituate in 1729, and died in 1808. David Jacob, Sr., the grandfather of Relief Jacob, who became the wife of Charles Pinckney Sumner, owned ample estates, held public offices, and served on the Committee of Public Safety in the Revolution. The house, which he built and used for an inn, is now the residence of Rev. Robert L. Killam. It is situated in the part of Hanover known as Assinippi. His son David, Jr., who was born in Hanover in 1763, married Hannah Hersey,6 of Hingham, and died in 1799, at the age of thirty-six. His home was but a short distance from his father's, and its site is now occupied by the residence of Perez Simmons. The first child of David, Jr., and Hannah (Hersey) Jacob was Hannah R., who died in 1877. Their second was Relief, who was born, Feb. 29, 1785, and became the mother of Charles Sumner. The Jacob family were generally farmers, residing in Hingham, Scituate, South Scituate, and Hanover. They were marked by good sense and steady habits, and some of them discharged important civic trusts.


The grandfather of Charles Sumner.

Job Sumner was born in Milton, April 23, 1754. The house on Brush Hill, Milton, in which he was born is the home of one of [4] his nephews, being near the residence of the Hon. James M. Robbins. His father died in 1771, leaving a widow and twelve children; and, two years later, Thomas Vose was appointed his guardian. Job was employed, after his father's death, upon the farm of Daniel Vose7 of that town; and one day, when eighteen years of age, he made known, with some emphasis, his purpose to abandon that occupation and to obtain a liberal education. When twenty years old, he joined the Freshman Class of Harvard College. He entered in November, 1774, not being sufficiently qualified in the preparatory studies to enter in July, at the time of the regular examination for admission.

It appears by the records of the college on the fourth of that month, that ‘Job Sumner of Milton, having applied for admission to Harvard College, after examination had, voted that upon condition that he pay into the college the sum of £ 6, to comply with the second law of the first chapter of the college laws, he be admitted into the present Freshman Class.’

His most distinguished classmate was Nathan Dane, who reported in Congress the ordinance of 1787 for the government of the North-west Territory, by which a vast domain was saved to freedom. Rev. Samuel Langdon had become president of the college, July 18, 1774. Immediately after the battle of Lexington (April 19, 1775), Cambridge became the Headquarters of the troops for the siege of Boston, then held by the British. The students were ordered to leave the buildings, which were turned into barracks. The institution was temporarily removed to Concord. Washington arrived, July 2; and on the next day took command of the patriot army under the ancient elm which still attracts many a pilgrim. Sumner did not follow his teachers to Concord, but, in May, joined the army at Cambridge, with the rank of an ensign. He had already acquired some knowledge of the drill in a college company, called the ‘Marti-Mercurian Band,’ which existed in the years 1770-87,8 and was afterwards revived as the Harvard Washington Corps.

The good soldier, though his text-books had been for ever laid [5] aside, was kindly remembered by his college. On June 13, 1777, it was ‘voted that all the charges in Sumner's quarterly bills, since the end of the first quarter in the year 1775, be abated, as he has been engaged in the army ever since the commencement of the war, though he never appeared to give up his relation to the college.’

Again, July 7, 1785, two years after Independence was acknowledged, it was voted by the President and Fellows (present the President, Governor Bowdoin, Mr. Lowell, Dr. Harvard, Dr. Lathrop, and the Treasurer), that ‘Major Job Sumner, who was admitted into the University A. D. 1774, and who entered the service of his country in the army, by leave from the late President, early in the contest between Great Britain and the United States of America, and who, during the war, behaved with reputation as a man and as an officer, be admitted to the degree of Master of Arts at the next commencement, and have his name inserted in the class to which he belonged.’ This vote alone entitled him to registration with his class in the catalogues of the alumni.

He served as lieutenant in Moses Draper's company of Thomas Gardner's Massachusetts regiment at Bunker Hill,9 and in Bond's (25th) regiment at the siege of Boston and the invasion of Canada; was commissioned captain in the Second Massachusetts regiment, April 7, 1779, to date from July 1, 1776 (commission signed by John Jay, President of Congress); captain in the Third (Greaton's) Massachusetts regiment, Sept. 29, 1779, to date from Jan. 1, 1777; and again, Sept. 16, 1782, to date from Jan. 1, 1777; and major, March 4, 1783, to date from Oct. 1, 1782. His several commissions are preserved.

The following sketch of Major Sumner is combined from two manuscript sketches left by his son, with some abridgment:—

On the 21st of April, 1776, the regiments under Colonels Greaton, Patterson, Bond, and Poor were sent, after the evacuation of Boston by the British, to succor the remnants of Montgomery's army, then hard pressed and on their retreat from Canada. In one of these regiments Sumner was a lieutenant,— healthful, active, and intelligent. By the invitation of his general officers, Schuyler and Arnold, he was induced to quit for a while his station in the line and enter the flotilla of gunboats, which those generals found it necessary to equip on Lake Champlain.10 In this service, in which he was appointed captain, July 1, 1776, by General Arnold, he distinguished himself as commander of one of the armed vessels. On this account, by recommendation of the Board of War, which reported that in this service he had, ‘in several actions, behaved with great spirit and good conduct,’ Congress voted, April 7, 1779, that he have a commission as captain in the army, to rank as such from July 1, 1776.11

Captain Sumner was placed at the head of a company of light infantry. He was attached to the division of the army, whose Headquarters were at or near West Point. His company was frequently, for weeks and months together, some miles in advance of the division, either up or down the North River, in some exposed position, at Verplanck's Point, Fishkill, or Peekskill. His command involved constant activity.

While serving under General Heath, he was impressed with the characteristic difference between that officer and General Arnold, under whom he had served on the northern frontier in 1776. He said to General Heath, one day, that he hoped at some time to see more of the hazards of war, and to meet them on a larger theatre. The general, who was a prudent rather than an adventurous officer, replied: ‘I am placed here to retain the fortress of West Point, and not to seek battles. You have as exposed a duty as can be assigned to you,—the separate command of a company at an advanced post. If the officers of such posts are known to relax in their vigilance, we may expect a general battle very soon; which I hope you will have no share in bringing on. If my division enjoys an unusual exemption from the clash of arms, it is what I want; and I am thankful that I have such active and faithful outposts.’

For some days Sumner had charge of the guard of Major Andre, while he was under arrest and sentence of death; held frequent conversations with him, and conceived sincere respect for that unfortunate officer.

Lieutenant-Colonel (afterwards General) William Hull commanded a detachment of light infantry, cavalry, and artillery, which guarded New York in the autumn of 1783, during the evacuation of the city by the British troops. Major Sumner [7] was his second in command.12 The force was necessary for the protection of the city while the British soldiers and partisans were embarking in the ships, and the former proprietors were resuming possession of their homes.13

The command of the detachment, during the evacuation and for some time afterwards, devolved largely upon Major Sumner. General Washington, Dec. 4, 1783, immediately after taking leave of his officers at Fraunces' Tavern, passed through this battalion of light infantry, and received from it the last military salute of the Revolutionary army.

One regiment, formed from the disbanded army, was continued in service at West Point a few months after the discharge of the rest. In this regiment, Colonel Henry Jackson was first in rank, Lieutenant-Colonel William Hull the second, Major Caleb Gibbs the third, and Major Sumner the fourth. On July 1, 1784, his military career finally closed.

Major Sumner was about five feet and ten inches in height, rather stout in person, and walked rapidly, bending forward and seemingly intent on some errand. He was quick in observation, frank in his intercourse with men, and liable to be deceived. He adapted himself readily to society of various kinds, and was widely acquainted with persons of every grade in the army. He was fond of a soldier's life, and never repined at its hardships. He had an ear and voice for music, and delighted in hunting-songs and marches rather than in psalmody. ‘He enjoyed books,’ we are told, ‘such as military dictionaries, State constitutions, Shakspeare, “ Don Quixote,” and Smith's “ Wealth of Nations.” ’ One or more of these were the companions of his travels, and all of them he owned. Two relics of his handwriting remain,— copies of lines of poetry, one from Home's ‘Douglass,’ and the other, Othello's apology.

In the autumn of 1785, he was appointed by Congress a commissioner for settling the accounts between the Confederation and the State of Georgia. He remained in that State until his [8] death, with occasional visits to his friends in New York and Boston, and his relatives in Milton. When in Massachusetts, he was usually the guest of Daniel Vose, at whose house in Milton he had lived before he entered college.

In 1787, Governor John Hancock appointed him a justice of the peace,—a distinction then less common than now.

Before Major Sumner entered upon his duties as commissioner, he was publicly presented by the Governor of Georgia to the General Assembly. Shortly before his death, he is said to have been voted for as Governor of that State in the General Assembly, and to have failed of success by only a few votes. He maintained there an expensive style of living, keeping his horse and servant, and enjoying the best and most fashionable company. He became embarrassed by improvident loans to his friends at home and in the South. From 1784 to 1789, poverty and debt prevailed. In a letter from Savannah, of July 16, 1788, he says: ‘There never was a man, under such fair prospects as I had three years ago, so dreadfully cut up. I have been robbed by almost every man I have put any confidence in. They have taken all.’ His last visit to Boston was in the summer of 1788. It was then observed that his health had been impaired by his southern residence. Early in September, 1789, having lately experienced a severe attack of a fever, from the effects of which he had but imperfectly recovered, he embarked on board a vessel bound from Savannah to New York. While at sea, he was poisoned, we are told, by eating of a dolphin, caught off the copper banks of Cape Hatteras. The vessel made a rapid passage to New York, reaching there on the 14th, and he was taken on shore without delay. He was already in the height of a fever, and bereft of reason; and he died on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 16, at the age of thirty-five. He was buried the next day with the respect due to his memory. His funeral was attended by the Vice-President (John Adams), the Secretary of War (Henry Knox), and the Senators and Representatives in Congress from Massachusetts.14 His pall was upheld by eight officers of the late army: General Webb, and Colonels Bauman, Walker, Hamilton, Willet, Platt, Smith, and White. The hearse was preceded by a regiment of artillery and the Society of the Cincinnati.15 [9]

The tombstone of Major Sumner is in the centre of St. Paul's Churchyard, on Broadway. It is by the side of that of Major John Lucas of the Georgia line, who died the month preceding. Both stones,—lying horizontally, with hardly any space between them, and the two closing lines of poetry running across from one to the other,—were doubtless erected by the Society of the Cincinnati. That of Major Sumner gives his age incorrectly,—it being thirty-five instead of thirty-three.

The inscriptions are as follows:—

this tomb
is erected to the memory
of
Major John Lucas,
of the Georgia line of the army
of the Revolution,
and
Treasurer of the society of
the Cincinnati of that State.

he bore
A severe and lingering Decay
with that Fortitude
which ever marked his character
as A soldier,
and
died in this city on Tuesday
the 18TH August, 1789,
aged 33 years.

Alike in arms they ranged
Alike in turn to Death

and
this tomb contains the remains
of
Major Job Sumner,
of
the Massachusetts line
of
the same army,
who,
having supported an Unblemished
character through life
as
the soldier, citizen, and friend,
died in this city,
after A short illness,
Universally regretted by his
acquaintances,
on the 16TH day of Sept., 1789,
aged 33 years.

the Glorious Field,
the victors yeild.

In 1799, Charles Pinckney Sumner sought information as to the tomb from a correspondent in New York. In 1829, at his request, his son Charles visited the yard and wrote, with a rough sketch, an account of its site, condition, and surroundings. The father caused it, soon after, to be repaired, through the good offices of his friend, Colonel Josiah H. Vose.

Major Sumner's estate was valued at about $12,000. It consisted chiefly of land-warrants, one of which was for forty-six hundred acres, and of securities of the United States and of the State of Georgia, which had risen in value with the adoption of the National Constitution. The most interesting items of the inventory were a Shakspeare in eight volumes, Smith's ‘Wealth of Nations,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘Junius,’ ‘Adventures of Ferdinand [10] Count Fathom,’ ‘Boswell's Tour,’ ‘Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson,’ and a ‘History of England.’ Among other books left by him was Lord Chesterfield's ‘Letters to his Son.’

His traits of character appear quite clearly in his son's manuscript records and the traditions of his birthplace. He was a man of genuine courage, adventurous spirit, and capacity for affairs; generous with his money, and faithful in all trusts. He took life merrily, and rejected the severity of the Puritan standards. His love of knowledge was attested in his youth by his seeking a liberal education without the direction of a parent or guardian, and in his manhood by his solicitude for the careful training of his son.

1 Annexed to Boston, 1870.

2 From his third son, George, who lived on Brush Hill, Milton, descended, in the fifth generation, Increase Sumner; an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, 1782-97, and the successor of Samuel Adams, in 1797, as governor of the Commonwealth.

3 By the same marriage he had, as his thirteenth and last child, Jesse, who was the father of Harriot, the second wife of Nathan Appleton of Boston, a member of Congress in 1831-33, and again in 1842. It may be noted, that one of Mr. Appleton's daughters, by his first marriage, married Robert J. Mackintosh, who was the son of Sir James, the English publicist and historian; and another married Henry W. Longfellow, the poet.

4 The following are reliable authorities concerning the genealogy of the Sumner Family: ‘Memoir of Increase Sumner,’ Governor of Massachusetts, by his son, William H. Sumner: together with a genealogy of the Sumner Family, prepared by William B. Trask; Boston, 1854. ‘New England Historical and Genealogical Register,’ April, 1854, and October, 1855. ‘History of East Boston,’ by William H. Sumner; Boston, 1858; pp. 278-307 (with a drawing of the St. Edburg Church). ‘History of Dorchester;’ Boston, 1859.

5 For the genealogy of the Jacob family, see ‘History of Hanover,’ by J. S. Barry, pp. 319-335; and for that of the Simmons family, pp. 371-374.

6 She was a descendant of William Hersey, an emigrant from England, who was in Hingham as early as 1635. To him a numerous family, largely still resident in that town, trace their lineage. His great-grandson, Joshua, married a descendant of Governor William Bradford, from whom Charles Sumner is thus descended. Martha Hersey, a sister of Mrs. Relief Sumner's mother, married Elisha Simmons, of Hanover, who died, in 1825, at the age of eighty. The site of his residence is near that of Perez Simmons, but on the opposite side of the way. One of his sons was William Simmons, a graduate of Harvard College, of the class of 1804, a judge of the police court of Boston, and the father of William H. Simmons, a graduate of Harvard College, of the class of 1831, and of Rev. George F. Simmons, of the class of 1832. Judge Simmons and Charles Pinckney Sumner were faithful friends, and their families maintained an intimacy. Joshua Hersey, a brother of Mrs. Relief Sumner's mother, lived on Prospect Street in South Hingham, under Prospect Hill, a well-known landmark. Upon this estate now live his children.

7 At Mr. Vose's house, still standing at the Lower Mills Village in Milton, adjacent to the railway station, were passed, in September, 1774, the Suffolk Resolves, which have been regarded as the earliest organized demonstration for Independence in the American colonies. The centenary of this event was commemorated in this historic house, by proper ceremonies, Sept. 9. 1874.

8 ‘Reminiscences of the Old College Company, or Marti-Mercurian Band,’ in ‘Columbian Centinel,’ Boston, April 2, 1828, by Charles Pinckney Sumner. References to this company and its uniform may be found in ‘The Harvard Book.’ Vol. I pp. 42, 67.

9 Memorials of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, by Francis S. Drake.

10 An [6] account of this flotilla may be found in Marshall's ‘Life of Washington,’ Vol. III. pp. 4-10; Irving's ‘Life of Washington,’ Vol. II. p. 384, ch. XXXIX.

11 Journals of Congress, Vol. V. p. 140.

12 General Hull, in a letter to Charles Pinckney Sumner, dated March 12, 1825, says: ‘Your father was my particular friend, and we served together in those memorable scenes which never will be forgotten. At the close of the war he was my second in command, in a corps of light infantry, whose fortune it was to escort General Washington into New York, take possession of that city, at the time it was evacuated by the British army, and pay the last salutations to our beloved general when he took his final farewell of that army which had followed his fortunes through the trials and dangers of the Revolutionary contest.’

13 Sir Guy Carleton had reported to Washington the suspicion of a plot to plunder the city.

14 The first Congress under the Constitution was then in session in New York.

15 New York Journal and Weekly Register, Sept. 16, 1789: Gazette of the United States, Sept. 19, 1789; Massachusetts Centinel, Sept. 26, 1789

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