‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” 1882. Gift of Mary Louisa Boit, Florence D. Boit, Jane Hubbard Boit, and Julia Overing Boit to the Museum of Fine Arts, 1919. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As in 1860, the Gray family[1] planned to spend the hot summer months of 1864 in Manchester, north of Boston. In the meantime, there was a grand society wedding to attend; Dr. Gray had a fainting spell following an afternoon party; and the news of the sinking of the Alabama made for serious reflection.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 24 June 1864: We have secured rooms at Chase’s, quite near Mrs. Richards’s cottage in Manchester, which will be very pleasant for Mary [Gray] & Elise [Richards].[2] The house accommodates only our party – a decided advantage – and they take us for $52,00cts a week – very reasonable as board goes now. I hope they won’t starve us on it! It is not a part of M. I should prefer – but [it] will do – and take it for all in all is the most feasible thing that has offered for us. But alas! the windows have no blinds or shutters, only stiff rattling paper shades!!! And I remember so well what we suffered at Belchers years ago from that cause, that I am sometimes tempted to throw up the engagement, unless he will put up blinds…

The great “Wedding Reception” at Belmont[3] went off finely – a lovely day – bands of music – a great marquee for the collation; the young bride in her $5000 dress – the present of one of her brothers, and her eight bridesmaids, all pretty girls, all in white, with white illusion veils, made a lovely group; and throngs of splendidly dressed women every where. Isa’s[4] dress was a complete dress of exquise point lace over white silk – and point veil of course. I hear one of [the bride’s] brothers gave her her diamonds and another all her silver.

It is a great thing for Ned Boit certainly, this match with Isa Cushing and her million of golden charms.[5] He has nothing – and only graduated at Harvard last year, though he is 24 years old. But he has good abilities, is called handsome, and is said to be a fine fellow; certainly a lucky one as the world goes. I did not go to the reception, tho’ no doubt [I] could have had a seat for the asking in Sally Gray’s[6] carriage, as only Anna & Fanny [Gray][7] went – but I did not care to ask, beside I had not the time to spare, and worse than that, I had no bonnet to wear, fit for such an affair!!!

Sunday, 26 June 1864: It is rumored that Grant[8] is within 9 miles of Richmond, on the south side – and confident of success. This intensely hot weather must be trying to the poor fellows marching, and many drop dead with sunstroke – as this is the third and hottest day, we hope for some refreshing change soon. The country is suffering for rain – a slight shower yest’y laid the dust a little – but 3 days’ steady rain would be none too much. It looks a little hopeful now for a gust – but may pass off as yesterday…

We went out to Cambridge on Class Day[9] after dinner to Arthur Merriam’s[10] spread; got there late for the straw berries & ices, to the little boys’ great disappointment – but more substantial good things were abundant.

It was very hot & dusty – and I was already tired out. Dr. G[ray][11] left in an hour – and I was much disturbed to find he had been so overcome with heat as to faint & fall on Ridgway’s sidewalk, as he got out of the horse cart. Fortunately Dr. Gould to whom he had been talking in the car, sprang to his assistance and he soon recovered enough to walk home; and has had no return since of the trouble…

Aunt Elizabeth [Gray][12] wants me to make her a visit with one of the children, at Cambridge – and I really wish I could, but it is quite impossible. I am so hurried owing to all the delays this spring. She can not realize that it is not so easy for me, doing all the sewing of my large family at home, to pack up and go off at a moment’s notice, as for her who need never hem a towel, but for her own amusement, and has nobody but her husband to consult in any plan.

Friday, 8 July 1864: I have been to Manch’r to see our rooms & like them better than I expected to; and am glad to find accommodation there for Lizzie & Sue [Shober][13] if they decide to come. The North Conway[14] party fell through at last for them, and as nothing else offers, I do hope they will join us there – though not the best we could wish for Sue, it is better than the steady heat of Philad[elphia] all summer. But she does not like Manchester, nor our sea-air, & I doubt if she can be persuaded to come. We shall go down on Wednesday next…

The week has brought stirring news – a rebel raid into Penna with all its accompanying panic and exaggerated humor. We hardly think it can be in any great force, as Lee[15] can not spare a large band from defence of Richmond. But large enough to carry off great booty from defenceless border places. The sinking of the pirate Alabama by the U.S. gunboat Kearsarge,[16] Commander Winslow,[17] was very exciting news, spoiled only by the fact, that Semmes[18] escaped capture, through the connivance of the British yacht Deerhound[19] and was received with an ovation at Southampton! And openly says he will be at the head of another British “Alabama” by the middle of August. If he, the master spirit of piracy, could have been captured or shot or drowned, one must have rejoiced. But won’t Great Britain pay up yet, for the fearful precedent she has established against herself, when the next European war breaks out?!

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Their children were Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904), Mary Clay Gray (1848–1923), Samuel Shober Gray (1849–1926), Reginald Gray (1853–1904) and Morris Gray (1856–1931). Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Mary Gray’s friend Eliza Bordman Richards (1848–1924), daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Richards.

[3] The town of Belmont takes its name from the John Perkins Cushing estate, “Bellmont,” then in Watertown.

[4] While the name Isa in the diary almost always refers to Dr. Gray’s niece, Isa Elizabeth Gray (1841–1923), as Pamela Athearn Filbert points out below the diarist is presumably referring to the day’s bride, Mary Louisa Cushing (1846–1894).

[5] Edward Darley Boit (1840–1915) married Isa Cushing on 16 June.

[6] The diarist’s sister-in-law, Sarah Frances Loring (1811–1892), who married William Gray in 1834. Isa, Anna, and Fanny Gray were her daughters.

[7] Anna Greely Gray (1845–1932) and Frances Loring Gray (1843–1919); the latter married William Adams Walker Stewart in 1874.

[8] General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885).

[9] A feature at Harvard Commencements, one marked by competitively ornate “spreads,” or buffets.

[10] Arthur Ware Merriam (1844–1878), who married Augusta Skinner in 1873.

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

[12] Elizabeth Pickering Gardner (1799–1879) married Dr. Gray’s uncle John Chipman Gray in 1820.

[13] Mrs. Gray’s sisters Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865) and Susanna Budd Shober (1823–1898?); the latter was married to Dr. John Davies of Fayal in the Azores 1867–81.

[14] In New Hampshire.

[15] General Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870).

[16] U.S.S. Kearsarge (1861), victor at the Battle of Cherbourg on 19 June.

[17] Captain (later Rear Admiral) John Ancrum Winslow (1811–1873).

[18] Captain (later Rear Admiral) Raphael Semmes (1809–1877); as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army, he was the only North American ever to hold both ranks simultaneously.

[19] The Deerhound took Semmes and many of his crew into Southampton, rather than delivering the Confederates to the Kearsarge.

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.

6 thoughts on “‘A great thing for Ned Boit’

  1. Wow- a $5,000 wedding dress in the midst of the Civil War! Mrs. Gray’s diary gives such an interesting look at the context of the times- thank you for sharing it on the blog.

  2. What an interesting woman and what interesting excerpts you have chosen from her diary. Not many Americans remember that we did not always have that ‘special relationship’ with England and the Civil War sorely tested the relationship. Little could Mrs. Gray have imagined that we would be coming to England’s rescue twice in the next century.

  3. How lovely to find out some back story on the family of the four girls depicted in Sargent’s famous painting.

    I can’t help wondering whether there is a misunderstanding about the identity of the woman in this passage: “Isa’s dress was a complete dress of exquise point lace over white silk – and point veil of course. I hear one of [the bride’s] brothers gave her her diamonds and another all her silver.” It seems to me that it refers to the bride, (Mary Lou)Isa Cushing, and is a description of her amazing $5,000 wedding “toilette,” since it mentions a veil. Just a thought…

    I especially loved hearing about the demise of the Confederate ship Alabama…which destroyed the whaler Levi Starbuck, built and named for my 4x great-grandfather. Levi Starbuck’s grandson George H. Folger was a marine adjuster who earned a small fortune resolving claims from the Civil War, including the Levi Starbuck. I can’t help imagining a paraphrase of Inigo Montoya’s great line in The Princess Bride: “You burned my grandfather’s ship…prepare to die!”

    1. I think you’re right about the dress! It is also true that Mrs. Gray’s eldest surviving niece was Isa Gray, and she (along with an aunt, Isa Loring) is almost invariably the “Isa” to whom the diarist is referring. I will see what I can do with the footnotes to correct the identification.

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