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The Touro house and its owner.

Some of our older Medford residents will remember the old, comfortable-appearing dwelling on South street, which, perhaps a dozen years since, was demolished to make way for the erection of several apartment houses. It faced the river, sat low on the ground, well back from the street, with ample space about it. The main house was L-shaped; in the internal angle was a large square veranda, its roof supported at the outer corner by a massive round column. A peculiar feature of the house was the circular end toward South street, in which was a chimney and fireplaces. [p. 79]

Aside from that of the elder Magoun, it was the only one in old Medford that had any circular construction. It was never painted in color, always white, and its solid appearance, especially its window frames and cornice, showed it to be the work of old-time mechanics who knew their calling. Its walls were weather-boarded with clapboards, well lapped in width and at ends. These extended around the circle also—another proof of the workmen's skill. This house was, a century ago, the summer home of Abraham Touro, a wealthy Boston merchant, who went out from it one morning but never again came to it because of an accident resulting in his death in Boston on October 20, 1822. We have alluded elsewhere in this issue to a ‘Touro—Lafayette episode,’ and now quote from page 493, Brooks' History of Medford.

1825.—Medford has not been a resort for Jews; but it had one who is remembered with interest, Abraham Touro, eminent for his social and generous qualities. When General Lafayette reached Massachusetts, Mr. Touro offered him his noble horse for his entrance into Boston. On the day of that triumphal entry, Mr. Touro was standing in his chaise to catch his first sight of the illustrious visitor, when a sudden start of his horse threw him from his place and broke his leg. The fracture was a very bad one, and the patient grew worse daily. The physicians and surgeons did all they could, and finally assured him that nothing but amputation could save his life. With a Jew's traditionary prejudice against that operation, he firmly answered thus: ‘No! I will never go into heaven with one leg.’

Mr. Brooks made brief mention of his wealth and legacies. We can but wonder what he would think could he read the Medford tax-list today; and also as to his source of information relative to Lafayette, whose first return to this country was in the fall of 1824, two years after Mr. Touro's death.

From the Independent Chronicle and Patriot of Wednesday, October 25, 1822, we quote the following, which may be regarded as authentic:

Died. On Friday afternoon, Abraham Touro, Esq., merchant, [p. 80] aged, abt. 46. While viewing the military parade on the 3d inst. in a chaise, his horse was frightened by the fire of the artillery, and became unmanageable, and Mr. T. in leaping from the chaise fractured his leg so seriously, that notwithstanding the best surgical assistance, a mortification ensued and terminated his life. We learn that among other legacies, he has bequeathed 10,000 dollars to the General Hospital and 15,000 to the synagogue at Newport, at which place his body will be interred.

So it appears that his offer of ‘his noble horse’ to Lafayette for a triumphant entry into Boston (which has been accepted as veritable history since 1855), vanishes; and must be added to the catalogue of ‘Medford Myths.’

But how came this accident to happen? We will summon a former Medford man, Caleb Swan. His testimony is not a deposition under oath to be filed in court, but is, however, in writing and interleaved in his copy of Mr. Brooks' history at page 493, on which page is written 1824 beside the printed 1825. Mr. Swan evidently observed the dissimilarity in date, but makes no note of the error as to Lafayette.

Mr Dudley Hall told me in 18533 [that] Mr. Touro lent his own horse to a military friend to ride on the Parade—and his friend sent his own horse to Mr Touro, to use in place of his own—after breakfast, he concluded to drive the horse into Boston, and drove over to Mr Hall, to ride in with him. Mr H. did not wish to go that day, but Mr. Touro urged him, and finally told him he did not like to go alone with so spirited a horse as he had, when Mr H. got into the Chaise, and rode into Boston, and then left him [at] head of Elm Street, and went into State Street. Mr. Touro then drove up to the Common, where the accident happened. B. L. S.[wan] says Mr Touro was standing up in his Chaise to look over the heads of the Crowd, and see the Troops, when at I 2, a Cannon was fired—his horse started, and turned around when he fell out—his leg was broken below the knee.

The ‘Parade’ was the fall inspection of the militia of Boston and Chelsea and the review on the Common.

Mr. Swan purchased five copies of the ‘History of Medford’ at its publication in '55, and in 1905 his personal copy with his interleavings was given to the Historical Society by his grandson, Charles Herbert Swan, [p. 81] only recently deceased. The ‘military friend’ with whom Mr. Touro made the temporary exchange of horses, was undoubtedly Governor Brooks; and the occasion of this inspection and review may have been his last, certainly one of his latest, public appearances. Probably Mr. Touro, in leaving his pleasant home in Medford that morning, little thought that he was never to return to it. We are unable to ascertain whether his death occurred at the hospital or at his Boston residence, —but probably at the former—nor yet anything of his funeral. He was president of the Medford Turnpike Corporation at the time of his death, though not one of the original stockholders, but there is no note of his passing upon its records. It is fitting here to reproduce, from the pen of a modern historian and genealogist, the following which we find in our Society's library. It is signed with his pen name, but he ‘in propria persona’ gives us his permission thus to use it:

Notes and queries, Boston transcript

Saturday, December 30, 1911.
Note 2478. Touro Family of Boston and Medford. New information from a descendant. Abraham Touro was a man of ability. He was aggressive in his business affairs. His patrimony may not have been large, but he had the way of his people in getting along in the world of trade. Perhaps he entered into much of the good will of the business of his uncle, Moses Michael Hays, and then he acted in the interests of himself and his brother, Judah Touro of New Orleans. His vessels were known in many a port, and though plying between Boston and the ports of the Indies, his new vessels were from his own stocks and shipyard in Medford, to which place also his vessels in need of repairs resorted.

It was a sad day in Boston when he met his untimely injury and death, in October, 1822. Many were dependent upon him. He lived in a world of business. His home with his sister Rebecca was his castle. He had a home in Boston, but he best enjoyed his home in Medford, where he could have the society also of his neighbor, Governor Brooks. His will and the papers which refer to his estate, evidence concerning his business and his friendships. To be sure he dealt in wines by the tierce, and these he bestowed in quantities sufficient in which to take a bath. This was in years before the Washingtonian movement. He was generous to Governor [p. 82] John Brooks, Dr. John Warren, Captain John Pratt, R. D. Shepherd and John Coffin Jones. The wines contributed to the festivities and good fellowship of the day. He did not forget his friends, and in those days of his intense distress he did not forget good causes, nor the finest interests of his own people. To the Jewish Synagogue in New York city he gave $10,000; also he gave to the Legislature of Rhode Island the sum of $10,000 for the support of the Synagogue in Newport, and to the Massachusetts General Hospital he gave $10,000. This sum fairly took the breath away of this last organization. Their gifts had not been in large sums, but it came at a most opportune time. He himself felt the need of the highest surgical skill. If he could have had it perhaps his life could have been saved. Mr. Touro also remembered the town government of Newport with the sum of $10,000 for the repairing and the preserving of the street from the Jewish Burying Ground to Main street. The town might well name the same Touro avenue. The asylum for boys, and also for girls, of Boston, and Humane Society, to each he gave $5,000; and to his old-time friend, Mrs. Juliet Lopez of New York city, he gave $10,000; he remitted many an indebtedness to his friends and helpers. And there was one kindly gift to Nahum Cobb, ‘a yellow servant,’ in the family, of $500, which must have looked large to the man to whom five dollars was monumental.

The assets of the estate of Abraham Touro were a medley of bank stock, general and local, which the brokers of today know little of, and there was stock in many an enterprise where public spirit was the prominent feature rather than dividends. Among them the Malden, Charlestown and Kennebec bridge companies, the Newburyport Turnpike, the Medford Turnpike, and plentiful shares in the Middlesex Canal; also the South Boston Corporation, to say nothing of above a thousand shares in the Amoskeag Company and shares in the Boston Theatre and the bathing house and riding school. These were beneficial in the end to the public, but whether they yielded dividends we say not. But Mr. Touro was public-spirited and entered into them. His chief income was from his merchandise overseas.

The Touro mansion in Medford was near present Touro avenue, and his shipyard towards the river, and his lands reached wellnigh to the Medford Hillside Railroad station and towards, but not including, some of the campus of Tufts College. In his day he little dreamed of the vision of Mr. Tufts putting a light upon the bleak pasture lands of Walnut Hill.

To this we will add that the Medford turnpike and [p. 83] Middlesex canal paid dividends for a time. As to Mr. Touro's shipyard or vessels he had built in Medford—we fail to find even the slightest mention of any such in that long list compiled by Rev. Augustus Baker in 1846.

Yet, Mr. Touro, with his wealth, may have been a ‘silent partner’ in that great Medford business of a century ago. As said above, his name is preserved, and is in daily use in Medford in Touro avenue, but we know of no relic of his old home other than the iron fireback taken from the chimney and given to the Royall House Association.

Abraham Touro was the son of Rev. Isaac Touro, and had a brother Judah, who was seriously wounded ‘on the field of Chalmette,’ in the battle which occurred after peace was declared. Rescued by his ‘dear, old and devoted friend,’ Rezen Davis Shepherd, he lived for nearly forty years, dying at Richmond, Va., at the age of seventy-seven years. It may be remembered that his gift of $10,000 contributed largely to success in the erection of Bunker Hill monument.

The Touros sleep in the Jewish cemetery at Newport, R. I. Doubtless the inscription on Judah's tablet may be well applied to Abraham of Medford,

By righteousness and integrity he collected his wealth, In charity and salvation he dispensed it.

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