In August 1862 during the darkest days of the American Civil War, Osgood Tracy volunteers to fight for the North, leaving behind the love of his life, Nellie Sedgwick, for the front lines. There, the twenty-two year old idealistic young man discovers a baptism of fire and alongside comrades he’d give his life for, endures a physical and emotional journey back, all the while hoping Nellie, whose photograph and love he carries with him, embraces him at the end.
On the home front, though, Nellie fights her own battles. Fraught with family calamity, guilt, and courtships, she dutifully represents the Union, first at home in Syracuse, New York then Washington, D.C., as she struggles with a decision that may haunt her forever.
A historical novel based upon one of the largest private letter caches in the country, written by a direct descendant, FIGHTING FOR NELLIE is a page-turning story swirling with passion and jealousy, abolitionists and slave owners, politicians, war heroes, and rebels, and the quest for undying love. A story demonstrating that life can change in an instant, war alters everything, and we must fight for what we love, FIGHTING FOR NELLIE will remind readers of Cold Mountain from a Northerner’s perspective and a contemporary All Quiet on the Western Front.Endorsements Dedication Read More
Passionate about reading and writing since a young girl and inspired by true stories and memorabilia handed down by my beloved grandfather, I write historical and current fiction based on true events, as well as nonfiction and poetry. For me, writing is one of the ultimate ways to express my self, experiences, and what inspires my soul, such as acts of kindness, courage, and stamping out individual and social injustices.
A native of Central New York and graduate of Hobart & William Smith Colleges with a B.A. in English and history, I worked for many years at a Boston publishing company in editing, sales and marketing. I live on that city’s North Shore with my family — am proud of our three sons’ — and Golden Retriever, Scout, a ‘pathfinder.’ My passions besides writing, family, and friends include photography, music, running, swimming, skiing, walking nearby beaches, the Adirondack Mountains, and watching every sunrise and sunset possible.Read More Writing Samples
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The raid this past week on the House of Representatives reminded me of one which occurred generations ago in the city in which I was raised. Unlike the raid on the House, “The Jerry Rescue” was a necessary and meaningful attack as it protected the right to freedom for all humankind.
Last spring, when Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd (and other officers stood by watching) and a white father and son shot a young African American man while he was jogging, I was writing vignettes for my manuscript pertaining to The Compromise of 1850, The Fugitive Slave Act and the case of Jerry.
While the anti-slavery Liberty Party was holding its New York State convention on October 1, 1851, a black man named William “Jerry” Henry, who had escaped slavery in Missouri via the Underground Railroad and made his way to Syracuse, New York where he lived and worked freely for eight years as a Cooper, was captured by Federal Marshalls at his place of work. Months before in May Secretary of State Daniel Webster (under President Fillmore’s administration), delivered a speech to the citizens of Syracuse – the city Webster referred to as “that laboratory of abolitionism, libel and treason.” Webster threatened federal agents would come down hard on any citizens if they tried to stop the return of runaway people as “property” to their “owners.” This threat did not sit well with most Syracuse citizens. In fact, it outraged them.
During those summer months between Ward’s speech and Jerry’s arrest, the Vigilance Committee made plans against possible raids. Charles Baldwin Sedgwick (my 3x great grandfather) and Reverend Samuel Joseph May (who assisted William Lloyd Garrison in founding the New England Abolition Society and the American Anti-Slavery Society), were members of the Committee, along with other ‘freedom fighters’ such as George Barnes and Jermain Loguen, a black man born into slavery and like Jerry, an escapee.
On October 1 Jerry was captured at his workplace, put in leg irons, and injured and bloodied after struggling with his captors (both federal authorities and local police) dragged by cart to the police station. Witnessing this event abhorred the citizens of Syracuse. Thousands rallied in front of the station where Samuel Ward – another runaway living freely – addressed the crowd:
“We are witnessing a sight as, I pray, we may never look upon again. A man in chains, in Syracuse! Not a felon, yet in chains! On trial is this man, not for life, but for liberty! Hear, though, what I say. Jerry will not be abandoned and is likely to be freed as a result of the hearing. Judge Charles Sedgwick and Mr. Charles Wheaton are meeting at this very moment to prepare a kidnapping complaint against Federal Agent Allen who came here to catch Jerry and take him away. Commissioner Sabine has ordered the case to be heard at 5:30 p.m. here at the station. But please heed this warning; County Sheriff Gardner has threatened to call out the National Guard if he has to.”
As this was occurring a group of twenty-five men made a plan of action during which Gerrit Smith ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrit_Smith) stated: “It is not unlikely the Commissioner [Joseph Sabine, an abolitionist himself] will release Jerry but the moral effect of such an acquittal will be as nothing to a bold and forcible rescue. A forcible rescue will demonstrate the strength of public opinion against the possible legality of slavery and this Fugitive Slave Law in particular. It will honor Syracuse and be a powerful example everywhere.”
Reverend May agreed but on one condition. “We must act without hatred and violence. If anyone is to be injured in this fray, I hope it may be one of our own parties.” Jermain Loguen, however, responded: “If white men won’t fight, let fugitives and black men smite down marshals and commissioners – anybody who holds Jerry – and rescue him or perish.”
By 5:30 p.m. nearly three thousand bystanders stood outside the police station. Rocks were suddenly hurled at the building and a cry of “NOW!” sounded. Using clubs, iron bars and axes which had been stacked outside Wheaton’s Hardware Store, a group of men, some who had smeared burnt cork on their faces, rushed at the police station. Doors and windows were smashed. Gas jet lamps in the front office were hit out. Using a ten-foot beam the group smashed the front door crying, “Onondaga County is coming!” Inside, they discovered a deputy stood in the hallway. A rock was thrown at him and he fell to his knees. Within minutes the rescuers had forced their way in.
In a back room Marshal Fitch stood guard behind the door of the room in which Jerry was being held. The marshal stepped out and fired two shots at the mob. Someone raced at him and smashed his arms with a club, which sent him running to jump out a second story window, breaking his arm. A gang of white and black, armed men raced at several marshals. The group then grabbed Jerry and carried him out the front door. At the sight of Jerry a loud cheer went up from the crowd and Jerry was paraded through the streets to hurrahs everywhere.
Two weeks later, when Jerry was sent safely in Canada through the Underground Railroad and the white men who had broken into the jail and were subsequently arrested had been bailed out by Sedgwick and Smith, the Vigilance Committee mailed a package to President Fillmore in Washington, D.C. What did the box contain? The irons that federal marshals had placed on Jerry.
“When the people of Syracuse saw a man dragged through the streets, chained and held down in a cart by four or six others who were upon him; treated as if he were the worst of felons; and learned that it was only because he had assumed to be what God made him to be, a man, and not a slave—when this came to be known throughout the streets, there was a mighty throbbing of the public heart; an all but unanimous uprising against the outrage. There was no concert of action except that to which a common humanity impelled the people. Abhorrence of The Fugitive Slave Bill poured in burning words from every tongue. The very stones cried out,” Reverend Joseph May later told the Convention of Citizens of Onondaga County.
Sedgwick and Smith went on to represent Jerry’s rescuers, in trials lasting over a two-year period. Later that decade, Sedgwick was elected as a New York State representative, where he served two elected terms and was the first person to give a speech (titled The Act of Southern Aggression) on the House floor (1860) denouncing slavery. Sedgwick was known for his “no compromises, no concessions” stand on the slavery issue and because the Southern states refused to concede he believed the only way to end the institution of slavery was war. Refusing to leave Washington “until every slave is free,” my 3x great grandfather was in the House the day slavery was abolished on January 31, 1865.
I am proud that I was raised in a city where generations before citizens showed support and human decency for a man they regarded as their fellow human being. I imagine that the men who served on Syracuse’s Vigilance Committee would agree with the peaceful protests that took place in 2020 (not the destruction of property). In reading and transcribing the letters Charles Sedgwick wrote during the turbulent years leading up to the Civil War and in those he served in his two terms in Congress, I believe his advice to today would be to “keep hammering;” for us to write to city, state, and national representatives to express our thoughts and most importantly take action in our own lives and places of work to make things better for all people.
JUNE 10, 1864
The course of Congress on the Negro pay bill is wholly inexplicable – There is not a decently fair man in Congress who does not admit that they should be paid the same as white soldiers – It is just honest & politic – it is absolutely essential to the further vigorous prosecution of the war and yet collectively – in these corporate capacity Congress acts like the devil about this- But the time is coming! I don’t know but all this neglect and delay and quarreling is wholesome – In the end I am sure it will bring about this great negro equality – equal rights for Jonathan – vote with him – go to schoolwith him – preach to him and go to Congress. He can get votes enough – Half a dozen such men as Fred Douglass in Congress (if you could find half a dozen such more white or black; would greatly improve the body and show that we believe what we have been preaching so long – I go now for the largest liberty.
Charles Baldwin Sedgwick
I have your letter to father Abraham. Gov. Andrews letter – resolutions – letter to Twitchell – Keep hammering – it is the only way – in the end it will be efficient – a half loyal Marylander told me yesterday that he didn’t consider any body a Yankee but a Massachusetts man! You have you… the port of honor and it becomes you to work. I am doing what I can to make myself as thoroughly hated as a genuine Yankee- Love to all the babies from Nell down. Your affectionate husband, Charles
We had another glorious day yesterday – On Mr. Sumner’s motion Ino v Rock a colored Citizen of Boston was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the U.S. Reverdy Johnson in arguing the Dred Scott case said if the Court decided he was a Citizen they would yet see colored men admitted to practice in the Court and perhaps sitting upon the Bench. Well who can say nay? The first part of his fear is realized sooner than anybody had any reason to believe it could be- the other part may be sooner than we can now believe – I think we are very near the time when we can afford to make peace – I suppose Mr. Seward and the Rebel Commissioner Shepherd & Hunter and how diarguing the terms of peace on a vessel in Hampton Roads. So at least a little bird hear whispered me. I shall hail it with the greatest joy with the greatest joy of slavery is nally and truly killed as I believe it is. I feel quite sure that three quarters of the states will approve the amendment to the Constitution and end the Iniquity and then peace will be most welcome.
I can say for myself that nothing but emancipation is worth carrying on war for and that secured and assured they may arrange all other terms as they please. I fear that may be put in possible jeopardy by too speedy a peace: slite the fear is so weak as scarcely to cloud my conviction that slavery cannot survive this war – a conviction which I have had from the outset.
Washington 30 (31) Jany, 1865
Tuesday eve 9
My Dear Dora [Sedgwick’s wife Deborah Gannett Sedgwick] –
This has been a most glorious day. The Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery passed the House at 4 o’clock this afternoon by a vote of 119 to 56. A majority of 7. All this you have doubtless learned long before this (8 p.m.) by the telegraph, and we expect to hear by tomorrow evening that several states have already ratified it. I hope New York or Missouri may be first and Massachusetts next but fear she may get the start of the others.
It was a most exciting scene in the House. The galleries were crammed early in the day. Nell got a place early in the Diplomatic Gallery and sat out the session with distinguished gentleman many of whom were filled with anxiety as to the result. I noticed among others Mr. Jno Jay and Chief Justice Chase. It was very doubtful from the preliminary votes how the main question was to be decided although I have felt great confidence for several days that it was to carry. Finally as the vote was taken it was impossible to suppress applause upon the floor and in the galleries as one after another doubtful voice pronounced in favor of the measure and it began to be apparent that Justice and Liberty were to be established as the fundamental laws of this great nation.
When the result was declared from the Chair it was — (can not transcribe word) impossible to restrain the enthusiasm – It burst forth in shouts or cheers and waving of handkerchiefs, tossing of hats in the air – everybody rose to their feet and hardier cheers never were given – There was no use in trying to suppress it and in the midst the House adjourned. I saw Wm. H. Channing rushing around like a madman – some one proposed to sing John Brown & if one had begun it all would have joined in the swelling chorus. It has been what the Romans would call the whitest of white days. I tried to write while the House was in progress but although I exhibited no excitement I could not write – it was just impossible. No man or woman who has had the least influence in producing this most auspicious result has lived in vain. I never hoped to see this day, during the many long and unpromising years of the past, until the madness of this Rebellion proved that the hour of destruction of the infernal system was appointed of God and since then I have never doubted – I cannot write more – the children (Nell and Mrs. Eliot) are going to the P.M. Generals reception, and in the morning Nell goes North. Your loving husband, C.B. Sedgwick
On National Women’s Day, I reflected on the courage of women, in general, and in my ancestry, how each was, in their own way and circumstances, courageous and impactful.
As an example, in this note written by my great grandmother, Florida “Flo” Bayard Seay Tracy, to my mother, Ann, for her wedding, “GrannieTracy” passed along “something old” – a handkerchief belonging to my 4th great grandmother, making the fabric today @160+ years old – and asked my mother to one day give it to the next bride. The second note, also written to my mother, was from Grannie’s daughter, Ellen,(“Aunt Ellie”) both women who I knew and loved.
Their notes are reminders of the bonds women share and the courage, support, and love they can hold and spread, to themselves, families, communities, and generations following.
“Grannie Tracy,” born in 1880 in Rome, Georgia, was brave in many ways, one being to live outspokenly in a world she couldn’t hear. Though deaf since her early twenties, she communicated as well as anyone I knew. She read lips and spoke eloquently. She stated, jokingly, that she often learned more from a church sermon than people who could hear it. Her choice word, “darling,” and her gentile, graceful manner yet strong sense of feminism I can still hear and feel today.
Grannie Tracy was also brave when, after graduating from Shorter College in Rome, majoring and excelling in music, she called off her engagement to a local man to marry her true love, my great grandfather, James Grant Tracy, who she met at Cornell University while visiting a girl friend, a Cornell student. Eventually moving from her native Southern state, she settled with James in Syracuse, New York.
An outstanding writer, historian, and genealogist, who consistently and exhaustively tried getting her work published, her short stories speak vividly of her childhood as the daughter of Rome’s mayor (John Seay), owner of the Coosa River Boats Company, veteran of the Civil War (as were her two older brothers), and the strong woman who raised her. One of Flo’s stories explains the loss of the family’s largest boat, by flood, recalling her father’s discouragement upon returning home after learning the news but her mother’s resiliency springing into action to get him and the family right back on their feet.
Ironically, years earlier, while Grannie’s father and brothers fought for the Confederacy, her future husband James’s father and uncle (Colonel Osgood Tracy and Confederate Medal of Honor recipient, Major William Tracy respectively, 122nd NYSV) fought for the Union, leaving at home their widowed mother, my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Vose Osgood Tracy.
Grannie herself would one day see her youngest, son, Ted, serve in WWII, landing on Iwo Jima day two. No doubt Grannie kept these handkerchiefs close at hand during those years.
(Grannie Tracy, Aunt Ellie, Uncle Ted (left), Grandpa John Tracy and Uncle Osgood ‘Ots’)
After the death of her husband, Sarah raised four sons’ as a single parent, losing the youngest at age 6 to Diptheria, the same year James died. Sarah required James Jr., Osgood and Will to study and work hard, and they grew to be responsible, young men. Sarah was, as recalled in letters and her obituary, a conversationalist with a sharp memory and well liked by younger generations. Both an “outdoorswoman” and “excellent horsewoman,” at age 97, six weeks before her death, Sarah rode her two favorite horses some distance herself. Throughout her life, she was passionate about flowers, especially exotic European ones.
Sarah’s daughter-in-law, (my second great grandmother) Ellen “Nellie” Sedgwick Tracy – whose stepmother was Women’s Suffragist, author, and abolitionist, Deborah Gannett Sedgwick, of Boston – made an impact, too, in the lives of women.
Nellie, age 21
As her obituary states, she was “an original trustee of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, later known as Syracuse Memorial. She was former president of the institution and became an Emeritus Trustee. In addition, she was head of the employment bureau at the Home for Aged Women.”
In her early twenties, she spent a great deal of time in Washington, engaging her interests in the abolition movement. Her father, two term N.Y. State Representative Charles Baldwin Sedgwick, was a staunch abolitionist, who refused to leave Congress until every slave in every state was free. (He was first to give a speech on the House floor in 1860 denouncing slavery, and years earlier represented white men whom freed from jail an enslaved runaway man who had been imprisoned). Though Nellie herself did not serve in Congress, as women were not allowed, she was alongside her father in the city, House and at the Naval Academy, for which he codified laws. She assisted the war effort in helping to raise funds for a new Navy vessel, the USS Onondaga. And on January 31, 1865, Nellie sat beside her father in the House when the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed in the House abolishing slavery and involuntary slavery.
(Deborah ‘Dora’ Gannett Sedgwick, Sedgwick home, Syracuse, N.Y., 1860)
Circling back closer generations, my mother, Ann Livingston Tracy Burrows, the most important woman in my life who I will miss and honor each day I live, hopefully instilling the valuable lessons she taught me in my life and three sons’, was a teacher. She supported my father before he could practice law, and though not financially after that, in all ways until the day she died.
My father’s mother, Gertrude, my “Nan,” oversaw a maternity ward, delivering and taking care of babies at both the hospital and at home. She taught me at an early age to enjoy baking, and being a breast cancer survivor, that women sometimes must lose their breast(s) in order to save their lives.
My maternal grandmother, Loretta, (below) I never had the chance to know, but I don’t doubt she was brave. She married Granny Tracy’s youngest and fourth child, John Bayard Tracy, and raised their three children during the Depression while my grandfather, who graduated from Cornell University, worked night shifts shoveling coal into furnaces at Crucible Steel and in time off and other periods, coffee into bags for the O.V. Tracy Coffee & Co. family business founded one generation before. My grandmother, mother, her brothers, cousins and friends helped, too, with the company.
In 1962, during the Cold War, Loretta suffered a parent’s worst nightmare; her youngest child, “Johnny,” age 25, was killed while co-piloting a Secret Air Command mission back from Russia. After the Air Force messenger delivered a telegram to my grandparents’ front doorstep, I imagine these handkerchiefs were put to use all too well.
The loss must have been difficult, to say the least, on my mother, especially being 8 months pregnant (with my brother, John). And four and a half years after (17 months before I was born) at the age of 61, my grandmother died, after a battle with alcohol, which perhaps she thought might ease her pain. Though she lost that fight, in my eyes, she was a courageous and beautiful woman.
The above stories are a small window into four generations’ of women in my family, colored like stain glass before me. I am grateful for the love, courage, and example these women passed on. I think often on the hardships and strength many of them must have had watching sons serve in wartime and the military.
I think, too, about the love I feel for women relatives today, such as my Aunt Barb, and Betty, my cousins, Dawn, Sharon, Whitney, and second cousins, Tracy and Julie, my four sister-in-laws, mother-in-law, four nieces, and my cousin’s wife, Toma, my mother and father’s cousins’ etc. still with us today. And those second aunts to me, sisters of my grandmothers’ and great grandmothers’ who were so wonderful in each of their own ways. I loved the gatherings we had.
I am grateful, as well, for women friends and neighbors, many of who are like family, and a woman who is like a second mother to me, Sue Beeching.
In closing, cheers to women everywhere who are “fighting the fight,” whatever battle and/or dream it is, trying to make a difference in themselves and others, and helping educate those following their lead.
Though my mother, grandmothers, great grandmothers and great aunts are no longer here on Earth they are and will always be women who are very much with me.
I dedicate this story to my beloved Grannie Tracy, Aunt Ellie, and my mother. I am grateful for the amazing women they were and the lessons theytaught. Granny Tracy is especially with me when I write. One day, I plan to publish her stories, for her, and of course, look forward to passing on the handkerchief!
My mother with her best friend, The Waldheim Dock, Big Moose Lake
Mom and Me
Grannie in Europe w my grandfather
It sits here, framed, on my desk. The photograph of you and me; the selfie we took after our walk one year ago today – January 28, 2018 – snapped at the morning hour I write this.
It was a day much like today, in regards to weather, though it was warmer. The sun shone bright. There was no snow, surprising for a winter day in Syracuse, New York. It was nine days before you would experience a hemorrhagic stroke February 6 which would take your life nine days later on February 15.
I had been visiting you and Dad for several days. We’d had a special time – taking walks, visiting an abolitionist museum, sitting by the fire in the evening looking at photo albums, reading short stories that your grandmother wrote about growing up in Rome, Georgia in the late 1800s and you, Dad and I meeting your granddaughter, Alison, for dinner (1/27/18).
Four weeks before, you’d been here at our home for Christmas.
Standing in the driveway one year ago today after a walk that morning, at 11:37am and 45 seconds to be exact, we took this photo. It is the last walk and photograph the two of us we would take together, on a “normal” day. Afterward, we met for lunch longtime family friends, Sue and Tory Beeching- a mother daughter get together. In the parking lot before Sue and Tory and we went separate ways, I suggested a photo. A man happened to be walking by and offered to take it. Sue laughed, like she always likes to do.
This would be the last photograph taken with her best friend, for the final hemorrhagic stroke you would experience would rob you of your speech, much of your mobility, and ultimately, on February 15, your life. I am therefore especially thankful for this photograph and of that beautiful, now extra special, time we shared together.
When I left that afternoon and drove up the hill, you waved goodbye from the driveway, like you always did. And, like I always did, I rolled down the window, looked back and beeped the horn. You were waving your arms as if you were doing jumping jacks, though your feet were planted on the ground. And you were smiling, sending me on my way with loads of love.
Looking back at this “year of firsts,” Mom, and now today – this “last normal day we spent one year ago” – it hasn’t been easy, to say the least, especially holidays and birthdays.
Valentine’s Day 2018 (the day before you passed)
Fourth of July
Your Halloween birthday
But truthfully, every day is difficult and when February 16, 2019 – the first day of the second year without you – arrives, I can’t imagine there will be any day that we will miss you less. That is a testimony to the wonderful person you were; patient, kind, loving, forgiving, selfless, and supportive. Those characteristics are why we and so many others loved you dearly. You were a true “lady.” In every sense “genteel,” full of grace and class. You were special, Mom, and I your lucky daughter.
Nothing could have prepared me for your loss, not even when I knew you were going to die, because up until then you were still with us. But in our hearts, Mom, you have not, nor will you ever, die. You are with me and part of me each day, everywhere I go and in everything I do. I hear your sweet voice and constant encouragement. I imagine you saying, “it will be okay,” and that gives me strength. The love you gave and embodied continues to give me courage and always will.
These next few weeks – this end of “the first year” – will not be easy. I try to keep busy, continuing to write, research, learn, and photograph that which I find interesting, beautiful or important. I remind myself often that you told me you enjoyed looking at my photographs on Facebook.
Nearly 12 months later – one year minus 18 days – your passing still seems unfathomable to me. I will continue to think of and talk to you daily. I ache to hear you speak to and hug me again and it hurts more than words can ever express, knowing that you won’t, but I feel and know that I have your love with me each and every moment. And I believe you are watching over us and that one day we will be together again. Until then, know how much you are loved and so very much missed.
WALKING THE PATH
On a cold, clear, windy, late November day last week, I visited Andover, Massachusetts, where, during the ‘Great Delusion of 1692,’ forty-five women and men residents were accused of being ‘witches,’ arrested and imprisoned, including my 8th great grandmother, Mary Clements Osgood.
Mrs. Mary Clements Osgood, center
Since a young girl, I enjoy walking awhile in the paths my ancestors’, their friends, and ‘enemies’ traveled. Mary’s is certainly one, but I find many stories interesting, and connected – branching from one to the other.
With the aid of preserved letters, documents, photographs, paintings, and other historical information, I travel back in time, so to speak, acquiring knowledge about what they endured, enjoyed, where and how they lived, traveled, and whom they loved. In many ways, to me, learning about them is like doing a puzzle and playing a detective game. The end result – the prize – a window into the past, often colorful, like stained glass.
In Andover, more women and men were accused and arrested under the idea that they were ‘witches’ than in either the town or village of Salem, yet on that day, I didn’t go to Andover thinking of them or Mary. But as is often the case, one track led to another.
I was thinking of Mary’s husband, my 8th great grandfather, Captain John Osgood, born in Wherwell, Hampshire, England in 1631. At age 7 in April 1638, John sailed to America with his father (also named John), mother, Sarah Ann Booth (Osgood), and younger sister, Mary, on the ship, Confidence, landing in Ipswich during the month of June. After a quick stay there with emigrant (1633) and relative, Christopher Osgood, John settled his family for three years in Newbury until he moved them to a settlement called Cochichowicke (Great Water) which he named Andover, for his home town marketplace ‘across the pond.’
John Osgood built his home on the banks of the river, today at the junction of Osgood and Court Streets. He came to own 600+ acres of land, in what now is North Andover. His barn, on the east side of Osgood Street, still stands, along with his second home, on the National Register of Historic Places.
Surrounding both is land he called “Great Wide Meadow,” as referred to in 1690s’ deeds, including a long, sweeping hill then called ‘Weir Hill’ with views of the valley and lake. Of recent, the hill is named Osgood Hill, now public paths and wooded areas for the public to enjoy and roam. Edgewood, An Independent and Life Care Community, sits on 100 acres of John’s original land (including John’s original 1600’s barn and original house, now a guest house for visiting families) with Osgood first names marking street signs and mailboxes.
Finding out about John, I then wanted to know more about Mary. Born in Ansley, Warwickshire, England in 1637, her father was Reverend Robert Clements, a prosperous English wine merchant living at Croft, near Leicester city. During the 1620s and 1630s, Clements owned a fleet of ships which sailed between North America and England. During a shipwreck, his brother, John, lost his life.
When Mary’s mother, Lydia, died in March 1641, when Mary was four, her oldest brother, Job, seems to have traveled to New England, and along with ten others, settled Haverhill, Massachusetts. He soon asked their father to sell his English estate and join him. Clements did, emigrating with four of his eight children, leaving Mary, the youngest, in England, perhaps with grandparents, and two sons fighting in the English Civil War (they would eventually earn land grants and live in Ireland). At about 5 years of age, Mary re-joined her father, in New England.
Reverend Clements remarried in 1645, in Haverhill and on November 15, 1653, in the same town, performed the marriage ceremony of Mary and the young Captain John Osgood, age 20. Mary was 16.
While John volunteered service to the militia (30 years total), helped found North Parish Church, and became the first representative to the General Court of Andover, Mary gave birth to twelve babies (yes, twelve!). The couple buried two within the first year of birth, another two within a year and a half, the twelfth and last, just a month old, when Mary was about 54 years old. Eleven years later, in regards to that dark period of time in Mary’s life – the loss of her baby at age 54 – Mary would be accused by rivals of having performed ‘witchcraft.’
At age 65, along with fellow neighbors and friends, Mary was “examined” in Salem before John Hawthorne and other “Majestie’s Justices.” On September 8, 1692, after being “brow beaten,” Mary confessed to the incident below and indicted in January 1693. Recanting before Increase Mather, a powerful Puritan clergyman and president of Harvard College, Mary was imprisoned in Salem.
From the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archives and Transcriptions:
The examination and confession (8. Sept. 92.) of Mary Osgood , wife of Captain Osgood of Andover, taken before John Hawthorne and other their Majesties justices:
She confesses, that about 11 years ago, when she was in a melancholy state and condition, (following the birth of her last child) she used to walk abroad in her orchard; and upon a certain time, she saw the appearance of a cat, at the end of the house, which yet she thought was a real cat. However, at that time, it diverted her from praying to God, and instead thereof she prayed to the devil; about which time she made a covenant with the devil, who, as a black man, came to her and presented her a book, upon which she laid her finger and that left a red spot…
Rev. Increase Mather’s Report of his Conversation in Prison with Mary Clements Osgood:
Being asked why Mary prefixed a time, and spake of her being baptized in The Great Pond, &c., about twelve years since, she replied and said, that, they asked the time, to which she answered that she knew not the time. But, being told that she did know the time, and must tell the time, and the like, she considered that about twelve years before (when she had her last child) she had a fit of sickness, and was melancholy; and so thought that that time might be as proper a time to mention as any, and accordingly did prefix the said time.
Being asked about the cat, in the shape of which she had confessed that the Devil had appeared to her, &c., she replied, that, being told that the Devil had appeared to her, and must needs appear to her, &c. (she being a witch), she at length did own that the Devil had appeared to her; and, being pressed to say in what creature’s shape he appeared, she at length did say that it was in the shape of a cat. Remembering that, some time before her being apprehended, as she went out at her door, she saw a cat, &c.; not as though she any whit suspected the said cat to be the Devil, in the day of it, but because some creature she must mention, and this came into her mind at that time.
“Stripings” of many, death awaiting execution, and the public hangings of approximately twenty women took place over a period of time. In regards to those from Andover, three persons were hung and one woman died before execution. Many of the girls, women, and men (mainly women, yet one girl as young as 4, who was executed) were accused of having “fits,” unable to control their muscles, privately and in public. Since the 1970s those ‘fits’ have believed, by some, to have been hallucinations caused by the ingestion of a common grain, poisoned naturally with a fungus; ‘ergot poisoning’ having effects much like that of LSD.
After some time, Mr. Dudley Bradstreet, Andover’s Chief Justice, who had issued the warrants and arrest of forty-eight suspected “witches,” finally refused any more. Bradstreet petitioned for the release of Mary and others (after which and for, he and his wife were themselves accused of being ‘witches,’ and fled North Andover for their lives). After four-six months in prison in Salem, Mary was released, with four other women. Bradstreet had, for all his weaknesses previously, saved them.
Learning more of Mary’s story, I contemplate her admittance that she experienced ‘melancholy’ after the birth of a child. Today this most certainly would be understood and accepted as postpartum depression, thought by many doctors to be caused by a copper overload. Sympathizing with Mary has made me appreciate and better understand the time she lived and imagine what she went through.
One of Mary and John’s children – my 7x great grandfather – Lieutenant John Osgood, born 1654, also spent time in prison. Active in the militia, an inn holder and serving frequently as selectman, he was popular among the townspeople of Andover, mainly due to his opposition of England taxes. He was imprisoned in August or September 1687, five years before Mary was accused of being a witch. Mary and John eventually left him their house, where the first recorded town meeting was held in March 1656.
In previous visits to North Andover, I have seen that house (today the guest house at Edgewood). I have also driven by the historical home at 440 Osgood Street, that of Samuel Osgood, who, three generations after Mary and John, was an American Revolutionary War colonel, First United States Postmaster General, and member of Continental Congress. His home housed Harvard’s library during the war against England.
A new house I discovered, however, upon this visit to Andover, after being given the address by the Executive Director at the North Andover Historical Society, was the address of my 5th great grandfather’s house, numbered 815 Osgood Street. I found the colonial – about a mile from the Colonel John Osgood House. Red in color, a sign to the left of the doorway read “Dr. Joseph Osgood, 1752.” (His father, my 6th gg, another John Osgood, born 1683, Deacon and Lieutenant of Militia, his wife, Hannah Ayres (Osgood) of Haverhill, born 1662).
I parked my car in front of the white picket fence, in need of painting, and got out, to stand before the open gate leading up the brick walk to the front door. Though I was disappointed at the unkempt condition of it, being in its presence for the first time felt very special.
I envisioned my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Vose Osgood (Tracy) – Dr. Joseph Osgood and wife Margaret’s youngest grandchild – born April 1804, running up the path to the door, anxious to greet her grandparents, and they her. Perhaps, after they opened the door, they bent down and wrapped their arms about her as they picked her up to a hug, with the aroma of a Sunday supper wafting from the kitchen fire.
Sarah’s photograph and diary of 1862 were thankfully preserved. Sarah’s father – my 4th great grandfather – George Osgood, was also a doctor, like his father, whose house I now stood in front of, had been. Her mother, Sarah Vose, daughter of Colonel Joseph Vose of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment who fought alongside George Washington during the American Revolution, was born in Milton. She’d had a baby at 42 years of age and died when Sarah was eight years old, at age 50 of tuberculosis, or “consumption.”
Standing there at Dr. Joseph Osgood’s house, I had just exited my warm car but not having worn a warm enough jacket, shivered. I contemplated what life must have been like, in the early 1800s. Considering a fall, winter, or spring day and night, and New England weather, the house inside would have have been cold – very cold.
The family would have gathered around the one fireplace – talking, reading, studying, playing music, etc. Babies would have been born in the bedrooms and died there, too. Without antibiotics, children often died of diptheria.
Joseph and Margaret, like Mary and John, and so many couples, lost numerous children, specifically they lost three sons, age @two and one age 14 ten months, the graves of which I would later see that day. Losing all those children might have been enough to kill my 5th great grand mother (or make her, like Mary Clements Osgood, delusional) but Margaret lived until 1797, to age 78. Fortunately, the third child, born in 1754, another John Osgood, would live to see adulthood and old age.
Remnants of what might have been the outhouse was a helpful reminder that there had been no running water and of course, no electricity. I considered what the Osgood father and son doctors must have seen in their lifetimes, practicing generalized medicine in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They would have visited most homes in town, to doctor babies, children, women, and men for all different reasons.
Suddenly, bringing me back to the present, was the current owner or renter exiting the back door to his parked car in the driveway. I soon got back in my car but sat a time thinking about how my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Vose Osgood Tracy, lived in North Andover until her later twenties when she moved to Syracuse, New York.
Sarah left the only home she’d known with her older half sister, Elizabeth Osgood (Putnam) and Elizabeth’s husband, Captain Hiram Putnam of Salem who had been commissioned by the wealthy Boston merchant, Joseph Peabody, to captain ‘The China’ twice around the world trading coffee, tea and spices. He later wrote he felt “ready to get away from the sea.” Ironically, Hiram’s male Putnam ancestors, of Salem, and the Peabody’s, were lead accusers in the witch craft movement.
Though Sarah moved away, during her 97 years of life she often reminisced upon her beloved North Andover. Suggesting that, along with many preserved letters, is a poem, below, written for her 93rd birthday by her nephew, George Osgood, giving insight into the beauty of the land and the love the Osgood generations held for it.
After leaving Massachusetts and arriving in Albany, Sarah met her love, James Grant Tracy, whose father, Captain Jared Tracy of Norwich, CT, was a commissary during the siege of Boston and later fought the enemy at sea. Sarah and James married and resided in Syracuse, where they lived the rest of their lives, though Sarah as a widow when their oldest son, James Grant, was 13.
This part of Sarah’s story I am familiar, for I have been engrossed in it my entire life, through letters, stories and memorabilia which my maternal grandfather, John Bayard Tracy, shared with me while I was growing up in Syracuse, in Sedgwick Farm. As a single parent, Sarah raised four sons, losing the youngest to diptheria within the same year of her husband’s death. Two of her remaining three sons’, Osgood and William, volunteered to fight in the American Civil War.
In Syracuse, I knew Osgood’s daughter-in-law, my great grandmother, Florida Bayard Tracy, who lived until I was ten years old. For that reason, to me, as a young girl, the past didn’t seem so long ago. I was amazed that I knew “Granny Tracy” whose father-in-law had fought in the Civil War for the North and father, Captain John Seay, and two bothers from Rome, Georgia for the Confederates, then some 110 years before.
At present, I understand better what my grandfather once shared and documents and books indicate. Having lived in Boston now more than half my life – the last 15 years on the North Shore of Boston, a 35-minute drive to Andover and 15 minute drive to where the Confidence arrived in Ipswich with my Osgood emigrant ancestors -it is part of my journey in adding to the puzzle, walking on and extending the path.
Ironically, twenty-five years ago, while living in Boston, I chose Andover to shop for and purchase my wedding dress, with my mother by my side. I chose it knowing our family history there, but not to the extent I know now or appreciate. While standing there last week in front of my 5th great grandfather’s house, I felt full circle – my past tied to my present, and future.
When I got back in my car, I cranked up the heat, put the car in drive and headed down Osgood Street, about 1/4 mile. I turned left, winding up a steep hill into the Steven’s Estate at Osgood Hill. At different times during the 1700 and 1800s, Osgood’s and Steven’s married. The red brick mansion and grounds are now owned by the Town of N. Andover, used for special functions.
Proceeding at the top, by the house, designed by prominent Boston architects and built in 1886 for Moses T. Stevens, an American textile manufacturer and a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, I parked at the carriage house.
Heading to the trailhead of Osgood Hill, paths extend in three different directions.
I first walked to the right, to a private drive, at the end of which might sit Sarah’s childhood home, now a private home, with magnificent views overlooking “The Great Meadow” and beyond, to the Colonel John Osgood Guest House and original barn, and Edgewood.
Walking back to the trailhead, I then took the path to the left, wrapping around Osgood Hill at its lower point. With woods on either side of the Hill, it reached the East side, with views extending through down the valley to Lake Cochichewick, which the Osgood’s called “The Great Pond.”
Among this path, where generations of Osgood’s roamed, Mary Clements Osgood, accused of and stating under duress, spent time, including that which when she was, as she stated in trial, ‘re-baptized by Satan,’ in its’ water with her friends. I couldn’t help but wonder whether, on a warm, late spring or summer day, Mary and/or they were just having fun, like I might today with my friends and neighbors.
Perhaps a young man joined them, a man Mary described as a “Black Man,” and during trial, under verbal and physical abuse by the “Justices” at Salem, she referred to him as “Satan.” Mary’s great grandfather, less than a hundred years later, would allow African Americans and women as members of North Parish Church long before other New England churches did, and 80 years after that the Osgood Tracy brothers would go to war to end slavery…
With the majority of the leaves off the trees, a clear view presented through to Lake Cochichewick, “The Great Pond.” White birch trees and Oaks interspersed the woods, standing and covering the ground, causing a lightness and brightness to the dense forest. Original stone walls ran from the top of the Hill from the original estate, now private (at the end of the private drive I’d walked from the first path, perhaps the very house in which Sarah spent her childhood, yet another stone to turn) down toward the lake.
After a ten minute walk, the path opened to the wide lawn of green grass, to Osgood Hill (once Weir Hill) and a breathtaking view of sky and tree line. In my opinion, whether intertwined to this property through ancestors or not, you can not help to take in its natural beauty and feel connection to the land.
The wind rattled the dry leaves still clinging to the branches. Hawks circled overhead. Though it was my second walk on Osgood Hill ever, and the second time within this year, it felt more special even than the first. I felt closer to the past, like it was swirling with the brisk air.
I followed the worn path amongst the green grass and reached the top of Osgood Hill, looking back from where I came. I took in the panoramic views. The lake in the distance sparkled in the sun, shooting through the clouds. The white birch trees stood at its shore’s edge, mixed among the others, the grass on the Hill was still green, with small patches of snow here and there, and the sky spread to the horizon.
When it was time to go, I followed path markers into the woods at the top of the hill, at its’ highest point, enjoying the quiet of the woods, imagining, generations ago, my ancestors walking right there too.
But as the path became less marked, which would connect to the trail below, and being alone, I decided to head the way I arrived, down the hilly meadow, to circle the lower path, just above the lake.
Back to the Steven’s Estate and at my car, I drove out back down hill, to Osgood Street and headed to the First Burial Ground in N. Andover, in “The Great Meadow.”
I entered the wrought iron gate just as a school bus about a 1/4 mile away dropped middle grade or elementary students off, with the sound of the children laughing and happy to be dismissed. As I stood by the Osgood gravestones, the boys, wearing their backpacks, were soon hopping over the stone wall, cutting through the old, historic cemetery. I imagine, from the surprise of them seeing me, that it is a daily occurrence, one which I found beautiful and touching – the incongruence of life and death connecting, and a reminder that life goes on.
I would say, in ending, that I now certainly have a better understanding of the terrible injustices of, mass hysteria and cruelty, and broad area besides Salem affected by the witchcraft movement, reminded of what I learned in middle or high school that I had forgotten. I look forward to researching.
And in looking back at these numerous past generations, I am humbled by the experience. What I have discovered this past week and over the years, is that life, though different then and always changing, was still similar in so many ways and perhaps will always be.
Walking awhile in my ancestors, their friends and neighbors footsteps helps me to find and appreciate my own, and others. It not only shapes me, but inspires me, and in general, keeps me learning. It gives me a sense of who I am, who came before me, and what I want to accomplish.
Through the process and in life in general, I have found that some paths are smooth, others rough, some unmarked, many not straight. These stories above, and others, attest, paths can swerve. Change. End. And during our journey on the path of life, many people and places guide us, offering or giving direction, especially in our early years. When children, we often do not have the option of following which path we might choose for ourselves. As we grow older, we have more power of choice, though often time and/or commitments keep us going in one direction, often as if with blinders on.
Yet at any given point, new paths might branch off, and in changing direction, for want or not, we may find, that along with the path, our very selves and souls widen too.
Poem for Sarah Vose Osgood Tracy, written in 1897 for her birthday by her nephew, George Osgood:
A noble, Syracusan dame,
Whose years are only ninety-three,
The distant home from whence she came,
Today, in thought, would truly see.
As she in memory wanders back
Through pleasant scenes of long ago,
She views her native Merrimack
By hills and valleys grandly flow.
Again she trips with girlhood’s feet
Along the bank of vernal green,
Where, with the broader river, meet
The waters of the fair Shawsheen.
The Pond among its groves and hills,
Beneath the radiant sunset sky,
Again her heart with rapture thrills,
While joy and gladness light her eye.
The “China” down by Salem shore,
With sails all spread, she still would see,
Which long through calm and tempest bore
The hero noble, brave and free.
The hero left the ocean tide
With those whose lives her own endear;
And lived by Onondaga’s side
For many a long and happy year.
O what romantic feelings wake,
As she delighted rides away,
By wild Oneida’s lovely lake,
To spend her sweetest, happiest day.
Though she may love to muse awhile
On scenes where she delights to roam,
She better loves the gentle smile
Of one who cheered and blest her home.
The father and the little child
Must sweet remembrance bring today,
As they in love and beauty smiled,
Ere from the earth they passed away.
Her loved ones who have gone before,
A down the valley, dark as night,
Will gladly find the other shore
Aglow with heaven’s unclouded light.
The boys’ who bravely left her side
When bugle notes were loud and clear,
Through the sad fields of war to ride,
Today are grouped beside her here.
These sons will guard with tender care
The home of gladness, peace and love;
And seek by earnest thought and prayer
A brighter, happier home above.