“An elderly groom”

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue mall features monumental statues on most blocks, and the block closest to NEHGS boasts a representation of Alexander Hamilton given to the city by Benjamin Tyler Reed (1801–1874). Mr. Reed, a founder of the Episcopal Theological School, appears with some frequency in Regina Shober Gray’s diary, and it is safe to say that to Mrs. Gray he did not present a very heroic figure.

I’ve already written about Mrs. Gray’s dismay at her friend Mary Coolidge’s engagement to Mr. Reed.[1] The Grays and the Coolidges were close – Mrs. Gray writes on 23 January 1860 of having had “a few minutes racy chat with Mary C.”; in fact, as was usually the case in the Gray diary, Mary Coolidge was also a Gray family connection (as the younger sister of Mrs. Gray’s stepmother’s brother’s sister-in-law).

Boston, 16 April 1860: “An unusually full meeting of the ‘circle’[2] at Mary Coolidge’s, and a very entertaining one too. She was full of spirits and kept us on the broad laugh with her droll way of telling things.”

Eleven months later, Mary Coolidge engaged herself to Benjamin T. Reed: “No one supposes for a minute that her heart’s love is given to Mr. Reed, but she is poor and dependent – he offers her an affluent home and the ability to do much for her mother & [Mary’s sister] Grace.”[3]

But Mary’s proposed marriage – and other contemporary matches of the kind – really annoyed Mrs. Gray: “Tomorrow sweet Allie Mc Burney marries young Mr. Jeffries.[4] Tuesday the widower of 2 wives, Henry Upham, married for no. 3. a widow lady[5] with 4 children – making 3 sets in the family, with possibilities of accession, of course! Wednesday Mary Coolidge marries her ‘old man’ Mr. B.T. Read [sic] and Thursday, pretty Carrie Cabot at 22 or 3 marries widower Browne of 60![6] She is very poor – and he quite rich. So goes the world! Judge Curtis who buried his 2d wife barely a year ago, is engaged to a Miss Allen of Pittsfield – 26 years old, about 2 years older than his eldest child!”[7]

Boston, 5 June 1861: “I went to see Mary Coolidge married to day at Brattle St. church; quite a crowd there, she is so universally known. Mr. Reed with his stout chunky figure and white hair, looked an elderly groom – but Mary is not young.”

Whatever her reservations, Mrs. Gray kept up with the new Mrs. Reed: “A pleasant sewing circle meeting at Sarah Reed’s[8] yesterday. A week from Friday is the 20th anniversary of the formation of our “Circle” – and Mary Reed[9] invited us yesterday to celebrate it at her house. Tonight a note from Rebecca[10] requests me to write a poem for the occasion, but I could never write to order and am wholly wanting too in the humor and sprightliness requisite for such a purpose, so I have declined the honor. Sue Shober[11] now, would be just the one to do the thing up in style – but it is not in my line at all.”

In the end Mrs. Gray did write something for the meeting:[12] “Our celebration for the 20th anniversary of the ‘Sewing Circle’ took place to-day, very successfully. We had a numerous gathering, 40 in all I think – and a very pleasant one. Mary Reed seems very fittingly placed among her elegant surroundings – she looks very well and seems very happy. Her house is exquisite, and she acquitted herself easily & gracefully – full of dry fun and comicality.

“Rebecca [Wainwright] read admirably – first her secretary’s report – then my little address, which was very kindly received by all, almost every one present had something flattering to say about it to me – and all were surprised and gratified. Mary Reed answered the instant question as to authorship, by an affectionate embrace, and a word of thanks to me – then followed thanks &c for all around. The secret was well kept, as long as I cared to have it – I feared they would think it too grave, but they seemed to like it the better for that.”


[1] Mary Sanderson Coolidge (1819–1904) married Benjamin Tyler Reed in 1861.

[2] The 1842 Sewing Circle, of which both Miss Coolidge and Mrs. Gray were members. It met weekly, and meetings were held at the various members’ houses on Beacon Hill, in the new Back Bay, and in Boston’s South End.

[3] Entry for 26 March 1861. Ann Sanderson (1783­–1877) was married to Samuel Frederick Coolidge 1813–61.

[4] Entry for 2 June 1861. Almira Dorr McBurney (1840-1861) married Edward Payson Jeffries on 3 June.

[5] Henry Upham (1799-1875) was married to Sarah Maria Snow 1827-52 and Rebecca Wentworth (Means) Appleton 1854-59. He married his third wife, Mary Louisa (McCulloch) Mayer, on 4 June.

[6] Caroline White Cabot (1835-1908) married George Morgan Browne (1811-1895) on 10 June; she was the mother of his only child.

[7] Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis (1809-1874) was married to his cousins Eliza Maria Woodward 1833-44 and Anna Wroe Curtis 1846-60. He married Maria Malleville Allen on 29 August, and had children by all three wives.

[8] Entry for 8 January 1862. Mary Coolidge Reed’s stepdaughter-in-law, Sarah Byers Post (1834-1877), who married John Hooper Reed in 1859. The Reeds lived at 178 Beacon Street.

[9] Mary and Benjamin Reed lived at 180 Beacon Street, a double house with the J. H. Reeds.

[10] Mrs. Gray’s best friend Rebecca Parker Wainwright (1820–1901), a niece of Julia Coolidge Wainwright, Mrs. Reed’s sister.

[11] The diarist’s sister Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?), who married John Davies of Fayal in 1867.

[12] Entry for 17 January 1862.

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.

5 thoughts on ““An elderly groom”

  1. Is there any connection between your Gray family and Martha Isabella GRAY, b. 20 May 1847, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia – d. 9 April 1922 (m. John Jeffre ORMON(D). They are my paternal Great-grand parents.

    1. Roger: No, I don’t think so. These Grays are covered in Edward Gray’s 1916 article in the Essex Institute Historical Collections series, and they were based in Salem and Boston.

  2. A very interesting read for me . . . my 3 x great-grandfather (Elias Merwin) lived at 126 Commonwealth Avenue until he passed away circa 1890. He was a very prominent attorney in Boston and even had some associations with Judge Curtis (your footnote #7). I believe there is even a “park bench” on Commonwealth Avenue inscribed to the memory of Elias Merwin’s son, Henry Childs Merwin. I am descended from Elias Merwin’s daughter, Kate Merwin.

    Thank you – Mary Artley, Durham, NC

    1. Elias Gilbert Merwin was my wife’s Eileen Merwin Bostic’s Great Uncle. She decends
      from his brother Daniel Ostrander Merwin a Lawyer who moved to Mississippi in 1830’s
      his shot was was shot off in the Civil War and he died from his wounds in 1867.

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