Search billions of records on


Volume 9 Issue 8                                                                            August 2004


There are a number of references to our family in the article, “People of Colour, Worcester County Massachusetts 1760-1860: An Analysis of Probate Records” written by Jane Merlino.  For reference, Hepsebeth Hemenway was Benjamin Wiser Senior’s first cousin and the Benjamin Wiser mentioned was our Benjamin Wiser’s uncle (brother of his father James).  The James Wiser mentioned is also our Benjamin Wiser’s first cousin, son of Benajmin Wiser, uncle.  I found a number of interesting observations about our Native American family.

Ms. Merlino states; “the "Coloured" community is defined as any person of color other than white. This includes African Americans, Native Americans, and Mulattos. Intermarriage within this community was so prevalent that in most cases it is impossible to differentiate between each ethnic group.”  As we know, our Wisers were part of the Native American group of Worcester County, Massachusetts.

She continues: “A comparison of two estates illustrates the difficulty that any comparative analysis of material possessions poses in the study of the Colored population. Benjamin and James Wiser were father and son, probated in 1770 and 1810 respectively. Benjamin's total estate was valued at $791.65, and James' estate was valued at $388.20. Both men were economically in the top two-thirds of the Colored population under study. Both owned land and furnished homes. However, neither owned any chairs, Benjamin had no fireplace equipment, and yet James owned a watch long before they became commonplace.

Further investigation showed the Wisers were Natick Indians. Economically they could have afforded chairs and fireplace equipment but, those items had no material or social value to them. As the Wisers demonstrate judging lifestyle by material possessions alone can be precarious. What may seem a necessity to one person is superfluous to another with different cultural attributes.

Comparatively, Jacob Pell's possessions suggest that he had a materially abundant lifestyle. Jacob's estate was inventoried in 1810. He had a large inventory of household goods including: beds, linens, tables, chairs, "books", a "silver watch", dozens of "blue edge plates," "pewter spoons," "knives & forks. Yet, Jacob is in the lowest third of this group economically. He lived in Worcester and owned no real estate.

The cultural and ethnic background of each man influenced their ownership of material possessions. If these three men were compared only by their material assets Jacob Pell appears to have had a materially comfortable life but only when compared by western standards. There is no evidence to suggest that the Wiser's life was less materially satisfying particularly in light of their ethnicity.

The most significant difference between the Wiser's and Jacob Pell was real estate ownership. A significant number of the Colored population in Worcester County owned land - two-thirds of the group. Throughout the period real estate was the most valuable material possession a person could own. Real estate provided not only economic opportunity and security, but it also provided independence, an asset that cannot be measured. However, Jacob Pells lack of real estate is not only an indicator of economic status, it is indicative of the diverse lifestyles of the Colored population in Worcester County.”

Her study of Worcester County probate records centered on members of our extended family: “There are four groups that can be identified as nuclear families, and one group identified as an extended family. The Wisers, father Benjamin and son James are the only identified Native Americans Indians in the Worcester group. They are Natick Indians. The Hammond brothers of Lancaster, Levi who died in 1810 of consumption, and his brother Parley, who benefited financially at Levi's death, but died he in 1820 of consumption also. Two married couples, Jeffery and Hepsebeth Hemenway of Worcester and Cato and Lydia Willard. In both cases the wife inherited from the husband. Hepsebeth was widowed twenty years and Lydia thirty years, neither remarried.”

In her study of age she noted: “The oldest of the Worcester group was a female, Hepsebeth Hemenway who died at the age of 84. The mean age of women at death in 1850 was 61.”

When she reviewed occupations: “Only one third of the sample provides information that confirmed occupation. (10/31). Six out of the sample referred to themselves as some type of farmer. (6/10) Benjamin Wiser in 1770 referred to himself as a "husbandman," while the remaining five referred to themselves as "yeoman." Only three yeomen listed acreage, Thomas Webster owned 128 acres, James Wiser owned 25 acres 1 and 58 rods, Scott Guy owned 22 acres. (3/5)”.  Our Benjamin Wiser Senior in various records was also described as a “yeoman” [farmer].

“Two other opportune periods can be seen clearly in total estate value although they are not as obvious in the distribution of material goods. The first period, 1770-1780 includes only two individuals Benjamin Wiser, a Natick Indian and Thomas Webster of Upton. Both men, obviously free prior to manumission, benefited financially from that freedom. More local research into both men would illuminate this picture.”

And then what I think are some interesting observations about the items in their estates: “Benjamin and James Wiser, father and son, did not own any chairs even though they were in the highest and middle economic groups respectively. The Wisers were Natick Indians and obviously did not see chairs as a necessity or as symbol of cultural or economic status. This suggests that the symbolic egalitarian representation of the chair in western culture was not acknowledged by Native Americans. In other words, the Native Americans in the Worcester group were not lured into seeking social status through material possessions. Even as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century these particular Native Americans had chosen to retain at least some aspects of their cultural heritage. The process of acculturation was slow and defined on their own terms by their own cultural values.

The Wisers are the only identified Native Americans in the probate documents. Further investigation into the ethnic background of other probated estates may provide further corroboration into the process of acculturation for the Colored population.

Economically four are in the low total estate value group, four in the middle group and three in the high group. There are four females out of eleven and three of them, Rosannah Ebit, Hepsebeth Hemenway, and Anna Adams all of whom lived with family and therefore did not need any of their own equipment. Joseph Van Ranselaer, who had recently moved to Worcester to work, and Cato Willard did not own any real estate and may have been provided equipment with rentals. Benjamin Wiser, a Natick Indian in the top third of the estate value group, may have found such items culturally superfluous. As previously determined acculturation was a very slow process. Benjamin's son James, in the middle third economically, died in 1820 and had only andirons as fire equipment.

The value of watches and clocks goes beyond their material value. James Wiser was in the middle economic group, chose to have a watch and yet he had no chairs. Jacob Pell was in the bottom economic group, owned no real estate, yet had a watch. Watches were not only a material asset, they were a psychological asset as well. The ability to control time was an asset to people that may have otherwise had little social control. For Jacob Pell, his watch was worth more than real estate to him. For Parley Hammond, a blacksmith, it offered more efficient cost analysis. Physician, Peter Clark could calculate the number of homes he could visit in a day.

Books were owned by 29 percent of the group. (9/31) Only one book is inventoried after 1830. The proliferation of newspapers and the increased publication of magazines after 1830 diminished the value of books in inventoried estates. James Wiser's inventory is the only source of specific books, Morses Geography and a Sermon book. Economically books were equally dispersed among the three estate values. Asahel Wood died in 1820 in Hardwick with an estate valued at $56.44, the fourth lowest total estate value and yet he chose to own "sundry old books." His books were valued at $2.00, just fifty cents less his "bed, bedding and bedstead."

The shift from knee length pants with long stocking to the looser fitting pantaloons worn with shorter socks can be pieced together from various estates. In 1780 Thomas Webster owned "stockings" that were worn under knee breeches. Anthony Clark had "knee buckles" inventoried in his estate in 1790. By 1810 Jacob Pell had one pair of knee breeches, but he also had two pairs of pantaloons. James Wiser in 1810 had socks inventoried and also "broadcloth and trimmings for a coat." Fourteen pairs of boots and shoes were inventoried prior to 1830, but there are no indications of style suggesting little style change for the period.

Jacob Pell, whose estate was inventoried in 1810 had the greatest variety of coats. He had a "waist coat," generally fashionable until approximately 1815. He also had a "woolen coat" and a "Nankin coat." Jacob accessorized his dress with a "paste board hat." Jacob's dress was a fashionable step forward from Benjamin Wiser's "great coat," "woolen shirt," early eighteenth-century fashion.

Food stuffs were inventoried in twelve estates. (12/31) Given the inability to store food for any period of time and the fact that the elderly do not consume a great deal of food this is not unusual. Pork was the main source of meat throughout the century. Raising pork requires little land or specialized feed, cows would have provided mainly milk. Beef did become a meat staple until the turn of the twentieth century. A variety of grains and vegetables are mentioned through 1820. Benjamin Wiser, a Natick Indian had "Indian meal" and "Malt" in 1770, the only mention of both these items. More consistently "corn," "oats," "rye," are inventoried through 1820. Freedom Nichols' 1860 estate is the only one that inventoried "flour" which suggests the transition from the storage of whole grains to store bought processed foods.”

Ms. Merlino’s conclusion: “I have purposely not drawn an overall conclusion because I regarded this as a first stage assessment. Local documents really need to be studied to grasp a full understanding of the Colored community in Worcester County. If pressed I would suggest that two finding are intriguing. First, the majority of the population owned land. (20/31) This is substantial number even when we consider that those with land were more likely to be probated. I suspect that land ownership is closely tied to a second finding - there are very few obvious cultural attributes that can be detected in their material possessions. The exception are the Wisers who were Natick Indians. This raised the question was acculturation faster for Afro-Americans than Native Americans? The sample of Native Americans is too small to find out at this point. But, the Colored community is vastly different, thus far, than the Afro-Americans documented in the colonial period. The transition from slave and to freeman seems to have produced drastic changes in cultural attributes.”



Please accept our condolences to those who recently lost family members.

Syracuse NY Post Standard, 1 Aug 2004; Kenneth Wells Burrows July 31, 2004 Kenneth Wells Burrows [ancestry to Benjamin Wiser Senior, mother Marcia L. Smith Burrows, Jeremy Almiron Smith, Elizabeth M. Albro Smith, Sabra S. Morse, Alathea Wiser Morse, Benjamin Wiser Senior], 89, of Fayetteville, died Saturday at the VA Medical Center. Ken was born in Syracuse and lived in Camillus from 1957 until moving to Fayetteville in 1975. He worked in pharmaceutical sales for years and retired as owner of Empire Maintenance Products. He was a Navy veteran of W.W. II and the Korean Conflict. Ken was a past member of the Masonic Order, 32nd degree Mason, a Shriner and presently a member of the VFW Eastwood Post. He was predeceased by one sister and two brothers. Surviving are his wife of 52 years, the former Jeannette R. Petta; five daughters: Kathy (Ed) Schilling of Syracuse; Marcia Smythe of Syracuse; Toni Marie (Michael) DeGaetano of Atlantic, NC; Joni Marie (Robert) Salvagni of Solvay; and Gina Marie Burrows of Liverpool; three sons: Gary Anthony (Michele) Burrows of Marcellus, Kenneth G. Burrows of Syracuse and Anthony J. Burrows of Manlius; 16 grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews. Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Buranich Funeral Home, 5431 W. Genesee St., Camillus, with Pastor Justin Campbell of Liverpool Christian Church officiating. Friends may call Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home. Committal services will be in Burrows Memorial Chapel in Lakeview Cemetery.

Deseret News, Salt Lake City, UT, 1 Aug 2003; Dr. Kenneth Jay Braithwaite "Doc". Doc passed away July 30, 2003 in Draper, Utah at the age of 78. Born March 30, 1925 in Manti, Utah to Thomas Jay and Olive Gee [ancestry to Benjamin Wiser Senior, mother, Mary McKinna Cunningham Gee, Mary Olive Wiser Cunningham, John McCormick Wiser, Samuel Wiser, Benjamin Wiser Senior] Braithwaite. He married his high school sweetheart Marcile Mellor in the Manti Temple on February 10, 1944. Ken attended Snow College for a year then went on to graduate from BYU pre dental. In 1953 he graduated from the University of Washington in dentistry and started his own practice in Gunnison. He was president of the Dental Society of South Sanpete and served on the Sanpete School board. Ken was active in the Boy Scout program in the Big Cottonwood LDS Stake and loved hunting and fishing in the outdoors. He also loved playing golf with his best friend John Wittwer. He is survived by his wife Marcile Mellor, his sister Shirley (George) Studnicka in Chicago; his children Steven (Greta) Braithwaite, Jeff (Smokey) Braithwaite, Annette (John C.) Mumme, Kay J. (Seerie) Braithwaite and 12 grandchildren. The family would like to thank his two office girls Kim and Josie, also the Big Cottonwood Stake and Crosslands Care Center for their support. Funeral services will be held Saturday August 2, at 11:00 a.m. at Cannon Mortuary, 2460 East Bengal Blvd. (7600 South). Friends may Friday night from 6-8 p.m. or Saturday morning one hour prior to services.


Deseret News, Salt Lake City, UT  20 Oct 2003; Marcile Mellor Braithwaite, 77, of Salt Lake and Manti, died October 16, 2003 in Mayfield, Utah. Born Nov 1, 1925 in Manti to Lester and Adella Ellison Mellor. Married Kenneth J. Braithwaite [see ancestry above for her husband Kenneth], high school sweetheart on Feb 10, 1944 in the Manti LDS Temple. Marcile loved music and taught and played piano for most of her life. Her greatest love was the family and she was a loving mother and grandmother. Survived by sons and daughter, Steven (Greta), Sandy, Jeff (Smokey), West Jordan, Annette (John C.), Sandy, Kay J. (Seerie), Colorado Springs, CO; 12 grandchildren; and good friend, Laurie Smith. Graveside services Tues. Oct 21, 2003, 12 noon Manti City Cemetery. Friends call Buchanan Mortuary, Tues. 10:30-11:30 a.m. prior to services.