"If you do not say any thing how can I say any thing?"

In her massive The Making of Americans (in itself a not-bad title for a genealogy blog...), the equally massive Gertrude Stein wrote: "I am writing for myself and strangers." I sometimes feel like that as well, although many of the strangers who come to this blog turn out to be cousins, happily, albeit distant ones. And there must be a fair number of you strangers out there: my total hits for March at this blog was over four hundred, a new record that almost doubled the previous month's, itself the brief all-time high. Thanks! 

Miss Stein, during her college years; a typical page from The Making of Americans.

This post, like several others, concerns New England, which is inevitable if one can go back far enough in one's family tree in this country, to the time and place of the Making of America. When I began this blog, it had not occurred to me I would be spending so much time Down East, or on the Cape, or in Beantown. It was one of those momentary, late-night mental lapses, like when I was so pleased I was fortunate enough to be descended from Mayflower passengers who survived....

Anyway. Boston makes me think of Harvard, which school Miss Stein attended; correctly, she attended the Harvard Annex, now Radcliffe, due to her gender. She studied psychology and philosophy under William James, among others, although she did not receive a degree.

     It was a very lovely spring day, Gertrude Stein had been going to the opera every night and going also to the opera in the afternoon and had been otherwise engrossed and it was the period of the final examinations, and there was the examination in William James' course. She sat down with the examination paper before her and she just could not. Dear Professor James, she wrote at the top of her paper. I am so sorry but really I do not feel a bit like an examination paper in philosophy to-day, and left.
     The next day she had a postal card from William James saying, Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly how you feel I often feel that myself. And underneath it he gave her work the highest mark in his course.

This famous anecdote is from The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, written--tellingly--by Miss Stein herself. She later dropped out of Johns Hopkins medical school, stating simply that she was "bored." Harvard, of course, has produced many writers (well-known--and otherwise) who did graduate, among them John Collins Bossidy ("otherwise"), whose sole remembered literary legacy is the toast he gave in 1910 at one of his alumni dinners:

"And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God."

I uncovered this bit of doggerel shortly after I discovered I was a Lowell, or rather, a Lowell descendant, from Percival Lowle (or Lowell), the first of the American Lowells. And what is behind Bossidy's toast? The Lowells (along with the Cabots, and--I suppose--others), were considered Boston Brahmins, an upper-class elite that constituted the "first families" of New England, and who, according to Wikipedia, "form an integral part of the historic core of the East Coast Establishment." Well then. Among the other forty-or-so Brahmin families are such familiar presidential names as Adams, Coolidge, Delano, and Quincy; other noted families like the Cabots, Forbes, Peabodys, Putnams, and such; and even a few that connote nothing (to me at least), like Saltonstall, Tarbox, and Wigglesworth, who, presumably, did talk to each other, if not to the rarefied Lowells.

In his seminal (if self-published) work, The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America 1639 - 1899, the author, the Rev Delmar R Lowell (with perhaps a bit of bias) wrote:

To do justice to the name of Lowell would require more than a moderate sized volume; a name not only distinguished in literature, theology and jurisprudence, but in all the relations of life.

In the words of another noted--if fictional--WASP: La di da, la di da, la la. But Rev Lowell has a point. A later Percival Lowell founded the Lowell Observatory; his brother Abbott was president of Harvard, his sister Amy was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

Like cousin Delmar, I will not attempt a "full history," but at least tell a little about the Lowell who got the whole ball rolling in the not-yet United States: Percival Lowle.

Percival was born in Somerset, England in 1571, where his Lowle forebears had lived for at least four hundred years. The family was well-to-do; there is believed to have been aristocracy on both sides. At any rate, by 1597 Percival was the Assessor in the village of Kingston-Seymour. He married his wife, Rebecca (whose last name has been lost to time) about 1599 (although records differ). Within a few years he was a prominent merchant in Bristol, running the firm Percival Lowle & Co. with his son John, and other family members. Then a remarkable thing happened:

In the year 1639 he cut asunder from all connections with England, and with his family, consisting of his wife, Rebecca, his two sons, John and Richard, his daughter Joane, and their respective families, and came to the Massachusetts colony and in June of 1639 settled at Newbury. 

The causes that led to the abandonment of his nativity, and to exile himself from the associations of a lifetime — the island home of a long line of distinguished ancestry — is a study of interest. He was then sixty-eight years of age. He had been successful even to opulence, and his age and circumstances would seem to have invited him to ease and retirement befitting his surroundings at Bristol.

Although accounts differ (boredom, money, a distaste for Charles I) as to what caused him to make this drastic and potentially dangerous change, most agree that John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was looking for dependable, reputable people to settle in this troubled area and was able to persuade Lowell and family to make the voyage on the ship Jonathan. Certainly, the men were friends. Upon Winthrop's death, Percival wrote a lengthy poem, A Funeral Elegie, just two verses of which follow.

You English Mattachusians all
Forebear some time from sleeping.
Let everyone both great and small
Prepare themselves for weeping.

He was New England's Pelican
New England's Gubernator
He was New England's Solomon
New England's Conservator.

Although I have nowhere near the accomplishments of the varied Lowells (whose other descendants include everyone from T S Eliot to Tuesday Weld), perhaps there was one small legacy: it seems it is from poet Percival--a tenth great-grandfather--that I inherit my love of italics, which I use nearly as much as he did.

First Burying Ground, Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts.
The image at the top is a portion of the Lowell coat of arms.

Gertrude Stein again: "I love it and I write it. I want readers so strangers must do it." Don't be a stranger. Feel free to "Follow" this blog, or leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Even if you're not a Cabot--or God.

1. Percival Lowle or Lowell (1571 - 8 Jan 1664) was born in Somerset, England, and married Rebecca LKU (1575- 28 Dec 1645), possibly in 1598 or 1599. They emigrated to the Massachusetts Colony in 1639, where they were among the founders of the town of Newbury.

2. John Lowell (? - 10 Jul 1647) emigrated with his parents, and once at Newbury, married Elizabeth Goodale (1620- 23 Apr 1651), daughter of John Goodale (1582- 7 Jul 1625) and Elizabeth Parlett (1584 -  8 Apr 1647), sometime between 1639 and 1641.

3. Benjamin Lowell (12 Sep 1642 - 22 Oct 1714) was, with his twin brother John (12 Sep 1642 - 25 Jul 1672), born in Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts, where he married Ruth Woodman (28 Mar 1646 - 22 Oct 1714), daughter of Edward Woodman (27 Dec 1606 - 17 May 1670) and Joanna Salway (1614 - 1687), on 17 October 1666.

4. Joseph Lowell (12 Sep 1680 - 8 Apr 1753) was also born, and died, in Newbury. It was also there that he married Mary Hardy (2 Feb 1693 - 4 Nov 1747), daughter of George Hardy (1660 - 6 Nov 1694) and Mary Fogg (1 May 1662 - 6 Nov 1694), on 6 December 1707.

5. Joseph Lowell (20 Feb 1720 - aft 1769) married Mary Jones (5 Feb 1726 - ?), daughter of Joseph Jones (1 Oct 1702 - ?) and Mary Prowse (26 Nov 1703 - 1783), on 11 January 1745, in Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts.

6. Hannah Lowell (23 Jan 1759 - Sep 1802) married Reuben Grindle (20 Mar 1757 - 15 Jul 1835), son of John Grindle (1 Aug 1714 - 1794) and Elizabeth Dorr (1727 - 12 Apr 1761), on 6 October 1777, in Penobscot, Hancock, Maine.

7. Deborah Grindle (25 Feb 1784 - aft 1860), married Isaac Burnett (1780 - May 1860), parents unknown, on 23 December 1802, in Hancock County, Maine.

8. Nathaniel S Burnett (12 Mar 1826 - 10 Oct 1885) married Rachel Elizabeth Squire (28 Jan 1829 - 21 Apr 1902), daughter of Samuel Squire (13 Apr 1797 - 26 Jul 1871) and Lovina Coleman (27 Oct 1806 - 2 Jul 1901), on 26 December 1850, in Hancock County, Maine.

9. Charles A Burnett (Feb 1856 - 17 Jan 1930) married Ella Swarts (1 Sep 1861 - Apr 1899), daughter of Charles Swarts (12 Feb 1835 - 8 Jan 1909) and Henrietta Davenport (Jan 1836 - May 1904), on 1 September 1879 (her eighteenth birthday), at Spring Lake, Minnesota.

10. Alfred Nathaniel Burnett (19 Aug 1883 - 31 Jul 1959) married Jennie Arleta Eaton (14 Mar 1891 - 15 Apr 1979), daughter of Dor Henry Eaton (May 1869 - 31 Dec 1945) and Anna B Miller (Jan 1867 - aft 1920), in 1909 in Minnesota.

11. Leroy Stanley Burnett (31 Aug 1910 - 11 May 1980) married Hazel Lucille Erickson (6 Sep 1910 - 6 May 2002), daughter of Erick Albert Erickson (28 Aug 1864 - 27 Nov 1948) and Johanna Maria "Marie" Svard (5 Feb 1875 - 28 Apr 1914),on 21 June 1933 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

12. [Living] Burnett married Beverly Alane Brown (8 Aug 1934 - 7 Mar 2010), daughter of Dana Earl Brown (26 Jan 1910 - 10 Sep 1984) and Myrna Margaret Severin (6 Nov 1907 - 12 Jun 1997), on 4 March 1961 in Long Beach, California.

13. Your humble blogger.


  1. Great post! I have no Cabot or Lowell ancestors (but plenty of distant cousins with those surnames), but I did have some ancestors with other Brahmin names like Weld or Gardner. It's fun to read about them in the social pages of old newspapers.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.