Torch-light processions

Hedwiga Gray diary1
Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, entries for 5-7 February 1864. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections

History is full of portentous moments – in retrospect. America, 1860: To us, today, it is axiomatic to say that, with the election of Abraham Lincoln, the nation teetered on the verge of civil war. Yet for one diarist, writing late in the year, the potential outcome of the presidential election was of very limited interest. Regina Shober Gray’s[1] near-daily diary entries take no notice of the rival candidates’ campaigns until early October. Her earliest mention is so vague that it would be easy to miss:

Boston, Wednesday, 10 October 1860:[2] Mary[3] gave me quite an alarm with a bad nervous head-ache on Monday, but was well enough yesterday to dine with all of us at Grandma’s[4] – even little Morris[5] went, and behaved quite like a gentleman. Mrs. Shober,[6] Aunt S.,[7] and Rebecca W.[8] took tea here[9] last night. Aunt S. breaks a good deal. I think the Philad[elphia] trip will do her good. Just after they left, a long torch-light procession passed very pretty, but I was too tired to enjoy it.

Of greater interest to Mrs. Gray and her family was the visit of the young Prince of Wales[10] to Boston.

Wednesday, 17 October 1860: The Prince of Wales entered Boston this p.m., [an] escort of military & officials meeting him at Mr. Amos Lawrence’s[11] at Longwood. Dr. G.[12] took Fanny, Anna,[13] & all our children to Mr. Fred. Bradlee’s[14] to see him pass. I did not go, not knowing whether we could get in there, and feeling too tired with my drive to Cambridge this morning, and round of calls there, to endure standing long in the press of the street. They had a good look at him & gave him a hearty cheer. An exciting week we have of it…

After tea Dr. G. piloted us all, Fanny, Anna, 3 Clays[15] and all our children but Morris down to the hill on the Common to see the great Lincoln & Hamlin torchlight procession.[16] The throng was immense, but we got a good stand for the tall ones and held up the little ones on “Lady to London seats”! Rege[17] mounting his papa’s shoulders, with legs round Dr.’s throat [he] had a fine look out over all heads…

Later in the night [the procession] passed over Mt. Vernon Corner to Hancock St. It was an hour & 12 min. in passing – many had dropped off, for at starting it took 1½ hours to pass any given point. All the children, even Morris, were up to see it, but got back to bed in a few minutes, tired out. One club, instead of walking in ranks of four went in double file, serpentining from side to side of street, thus rrr; having lamps of every colour, the effect was like the changes of a great kaleidoscope.

To night the “Bell & Everett”[18] have made a similar demonstration, quite as beautiful, though much less numerous in rank, taking only 40 minutes to pass. They were unpunctual too in starting – we waited at Wm. Gray’s[19] 2 hours before they came in sight round Walnut St., and had scarcely got home when they began to file up Bowdoin St., having passed the Revere House where the young Prince stepped out on the balcony in answer to the vociferous cheering.

Tuesday, 6 November 1860 [or 155 years ago today]: A stormy morning for the presidential election, but it seems clearing away now at noon. A grand thing it is, when one realizes it – this universal ballotting over our whole wide land – which we hope will result in Lincoln’s election and the inauguration of a higher, truer policy in the political management of our country. A policy which shall do no injustice to the slave-holder,[20] yet shall say to slave-power “Thus far and no farther!”

Our neighbor “Thwing”[21] illuminated beautifully last night with flags and Chinese lanterns for the Bell-Everett torch-light parade, which passed through Bowdoin st. Our boys got up a Lincoln torch-light for last evening – and made quite an appearance with 12 or 14 torches, and two flags – and Sam’s[22] iron drum rattatoed briskly by Thorne Nourse.[23] They showed not a little taste and ingenuity in getting up, with Mary’s help, their torches & transparencies. But quiet folks like myself will rejoice when all the election fusses are over!

By the end of the year, of course, “the election fusses” were far from over, and Mrs. Gray’s diary entry for New Year’s Eve 1860 reads, in part:

Went to dancing school with Regie as usual – and am far too tired now to sit up till midnight, watching the old year out.

The old year which may be memorable to all future time, by the rupture of this glorious federal union – the failure and ruin of the most brilliant attempt at national self-government ever made by man.

Pitiable it is, for human progress and Christian civilization, that in a world where despotism, oppression, and intolerance can hold a nation together as one indivisible body-politic through centuries of time – this glorious edifice of free government, founded on all the great ideas of civil and religious liberty, built up with the cement of “peace and good will to men,” enlightened in policy, active in practical usefulness, comprehensive in educational advantages, broad in its religious Catholicity, embellished by all that science, art, and intellectual cultivation can contribute to adorn and strengthen it – should yet fall asunder from its own weight, ere yet its first complete century has been welcomed by peal of rejoicing bells or deep-mouthed salute of bellowing cannon.



[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80.

[2] Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[3] The diarist’s daughter Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923).

[4] Mrs. Gray’s mother-in-law, Mary Clay (1790–1867), who was married to William Rufus Gray 1809–31.

[5] The diarist’s youngest son, Morris Gray (1856­–1931).

[6] Mrs. Gray’s stepmother Lucy Hall Bradlee (1806–1902) was married to Samuel Lieberkuhn Shober 1830–47.

[7] Mrs. Shober’s aunt, Sarah Fletcher Bradlee (1789–1866).

[8] The diarist’s best friend, Rebecca Parker Wainwright (1820–1901).

[9] The Grays lived at 61 Bowdoin Street in 1860; the house had an entrance in Beacon Hill Place.

[10] Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (1841–1910), who succeeded his mother as King Edward VII in 1901.

[11] Amos Adams Lawrence (1814–1886), the Whig candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1860.

[12] The diarist’s husband, Dr. Francis Henry Gray (1813–1880).

[13] Dr. Gray’s nieces Frances Loring Gray (1843–1919) and Anna Greely Gray (1845–1932).

[14] Mrs. Shober’s brother Frederic Hall Bradlee (1807–1888) lived at 147 Tremont Street.

[15] The Grays’ Southern cousins, visiting from Georgia.

[16] Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), a former congressman from Illinois, and Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine (1809–1891) were the Republican candidates for President and Vice President of the United States.

[17] Mrs. Gray’s third son, Reginald Gray (1853–1904).

[18] Former Senators John Bell of Tennessee (1796–1869) and Edward Everett of Massachusetts (1794–1865) for the Constitutional Union Party.

[19] Dr. Gray’s elder brother William Gray (1810–1892) lived at 20 Mount Vernon Street.

[20] Mrs. Gray’s first direct reference to slavery.

[21] William Thwing (1800–1880) lived at 52 Bowdoin Street in 1860.

[22] The diarist’s second son, Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926).

[23] Thorndike Nourse (1847–1904).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

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