Chasing Chance

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Early NineteenthCentury Boston


By the close of the nineteenth century, the city of Boston, Massachusetts, was the intellectual and cultural center of the United States. Boston led North America in the visual arts, in educational institutions, in public education, in scientific research, and in publishing. Boston had the largest public city park system on the continent, a model public infrastructure, and an expanding railroad system, as well as the first public library system in the country, notable orchestras, and vibrant theatres. The city, grown wealthy on shipping and manufacturing, encompassed around 4,090 square miles and more than 560,000 people, and had enclosed outlaying towns, including Brighton, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Dorchester, into the larger metropolis.

But in 1822, the year that the Town of Boston was incorporated into a city, the place was not nearly so impressive. In 1822, cows still grazed on Boston Common and there were working wharves where the Public Garden is now. Of the “mountains,” those distinguishing hills on the Shawmut Peninsula, four had been cut down to supply gravel and fill for various ponds, wharves, and swampy areas, and the other, Beacon Hill, had been lowered sixty feet to become Boston’s most elite neighborhood. The land that is now Government Center was a tidal flat, swampy at high tide. Faneuil Hall sat close to the waterfront. The entire Back Bay district was just that, the tidal back bay of the Charles River, crossed by a dam and isolating the Shawmut Peninsula from outlying towns like Brighton and Brookline.

There was no Emerald Necklace, only swampy fens. The population was 46,226 and the area of Boston itself was not even two square miles. Harvard College was little more than a local boys’ school and MIT and Boston University did not exist. There were no public hospitals. While there were already small amateur orchestras and musical groups, there were no art galleries or great collections of paintings and sculpture, and no scientific museums. There were no Irish immigrants and abolitionism was not yet in the public vocabulary.

Fig. 56 Abbie Kinsley Norman costumed for a tableau vivant, c.1881 Fig. 57
Abbie Norman Prince with Frederick H. Prince Jr., 1885 Fig. 54
Marie Danforth Page (American, 1869–1940), Frederick Henry Prince, 1919, oil on canvas, private collection?

to invest in the growth of the Boston region, the other families that would eventually unite with them were immigrating from Europe. In the Atlantic seaboard states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia they settled, became Americans, and built prosperity. In succeeding generations, lured by the life-changing opportunities of the new westerly territories, their heirs pressed onward across the continental United States.

Chart 18

Catherine Jenna Anton vonGraffenried

Regina VonTscharner 1665–1731

ChristophEmmanuel vonGraffenried 1661–1743

Barbara Needham 1688–1744

MaryElizabeth Clapton 1737–1785

Sarah Foster 1780–c.1828

MaryCarson Patterson 1786–1863

Elizabeth Spencer 1829–1860

William Perrin 1727–1772

Abner Perrin 1763–1799

c.1780 1829

AbnerMonroe PerrinJr. 1798–1863

Col.RobertOliver Perrin,M.D. 1823–1878

MaryElizabeth Perin c.1848–1916

Mary Baker 1723–1756

Nicolas HobsonJr.

ChristopherEmmanuel DeGraffenried 1691–1742

TscharnerEmmanuel DeGraffenried 1722–1794

Gen.Elijah Clarke 1742–1799

Sarah DeGraffenried b.1755

Frances,”Fanny” Clarke 1772–1820

Matthew Hobson 1782-1857

bf.1878 1818

AmandaMelvina Hobson 1818–1869

Sydenham MooreJr. 1849–1922

AmandaPerin Moore 1877–1910

Elizabeth Harding 1897–1961

Hannah Arrington 1745–1827

c.1765 1796

Edwin Mounger 1767–1816

ElizabethMaryAnn Mounger 1799–1873

Sydenham Moore 1817–1862

WillamProctor Gould Harding 1864–1930

FrederickHenry PrinceJr. 1885–1962

1714 1742 1841 1895 1917 1923
The Land Seekers

Settling and Defending the American South

Alabama Fever. It was the biggest land rush in American history before the California Gold Rush of 1849. The families that would join the Prince line caught a heavy dose of it.

The Mississippi Territory, established in 1781 and annexed in 1804, was divided in 1817, with Mississippi, west of the river, becoming a state. That same year, Alabama Fever ignited. The fierce Indian wars that were part of the War of 1812, led by General Andrew Jackson, had decimated the tribes and pushed the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw onto a mere one-quarter of Alabama land. By 1830, of course, they would be sent to their arid western reservations by the Indian Removal Act during the Jackson administration. Meanwhile, cotton prices were soaring, helped by new industrial textile manufacturing processes. Cotton cultivation, however, exhausts most soils, and the Old South seaboard states (Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia) could no longer produce well after decades of tobacco and cotton farming.

The most fertile, desirable land in Alabama was called the Black Belt, originally named for its rich, black topsoil, and later for its population of enslaved Africans and African Americans. Huntsville, Greensboro, Tuscaloosa, Demopolis, Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery are all located in the bountiful Black Belt, and during the antebellum period the region became one of the richest in the entire United States. The whole population of Alabama territory in 1810 numbered fewer than 10,000. By 1830, there were 300,000 people living there, of whom 45 percent were enslaved Africans and African Americans.

In 1839, these inflated cotton prices fell drastically, partly causing the Panic of 1839. Land-based families began moving into the cities, where their sons took up professions like law, medicine, and banking. The Civil War ended the era of the great cotton plantations, although the crop was still grown by sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Once wealthy, splendid, and politically powerful, today the Black Belt in Alabama is made up of the poorest counties in the state.

We find, then, that the families we are following moved from their inland beginnings to the Black Belt further west. A generation later, their children and grandchildren became city-based.


The Inheritors

For three centuries the separate families of this chronology had spread themselves across a growing country, pursuing opportunity as lands were opened to settlement. In the post–Civil War era, however, opportunity was less in the form of land acquisition than in building up the institutions founded decades earlier and innovating in new technologies.

American culture and society were transformed by innovative rigor in science, the arts, scholarship, and diplomacy; by evolving technologies; and by an ambitious political agenda that knit together a continent by rail and new forms of communication. A robust capitalism was partially balanced by a more stable banking system. New opportunities for wealth and influence were powered by industrialism, secularization, and the emergence of the United States as a leader in world affairs.

Even as their individual destinies drew closer and more tightly intertwined through marriage, these next generations of children and grandchildren found professional opportunities in this expanding world. Rough contemporaries William Proctor Gould Harding and Frederick Henry Prince made their mark nationally in finance, banking, and investment, while their peers on opposite coasts, Herbert Henry Davis Peirce and James Zacherie Moore became key figures in international and regional government. The sons of Mayor Frederick Octavius Prince advanced modern sports, mental health medicine, and transcontinental shipping and finance, while Professor Benjamin Peirce’s boys fulfilled his visions of rigorous philosophy, a reformed Harvard College, and an intellectual leadership position for the United States. It would fall to their grandchildren, a further generation on, to navigate the perils of two world wars while charting the role of the interwoven families in the postwar world.

This chronicle ends with a new beginning, the 1945 marriage of Frederick Henry Prince III to Helen Elizabeth Peirce, the birth of their children, and the forging into one family the disparate historical strands of many families chasing chance in America.

Fig. 76
Debutante Elizabeth Prince is escorted by William WoodPrince at the Passavant Cotillion, Chicago, Illinois, 1965 Fig. 77
Sir Alfred Munnings (English, 1878–1959), Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Prince, c.1933, oil on canvas, private collection?

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