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WISER NEWSLETTER

Volume 5 Issue 6                                                              June 2000


RESEARCH FINDINGS

Our ancestor Benjamin Wiser was born about 1743 and was probably the son of Ruth Bowman and James Wiser of Natick, Massachusetts.  Ruth was the daughter of Samuel Bowman Sr. of Natick and Worcester.

 

A possible relative of our Benjamin would be Hepsibeth Bowman/Crosman Hemenway.  She was the great granddaughter of Samuel Bowman.  She would the first cousin of our Benjamin Wiser, once removed.

 

Information about Hepsibeth was taken from the website, www.hemingway.net/heps.htm. [In July 2005, this website was no longer functioning. –editor]

 

“Hepsibeth Bowman/Crosman Hemenway, 1763-1847; According to the catalog for the Worcester Historical Museum's Present and Persistence: Nipmuc Indians in New England exhibit (March 28-December 5, 1999), Hepsibeth Bowman/Crosman Hemenway was part of the Nipmuc community at Pakachoag, now Worcester, Massachusetts.  Pakachoag was an ancient Nipmuc homeland adapted into one of John Eliot's praying towns.

 

Hepsibeth's grandfather [probably great grandfather] Samuel Bowman (1698-1748) returned from the praying town of Natick to Pakachoag homelands about 1719 and resided there with his family in a wigwam and hired out his labor to his English neighbors. 

 

Hepsibeth's father (Crosman) died in the Revolution.  From her marriage to the probably tri-racial Jeffrey Hemenway in 1789 until his death thirty years later, they lived on the outskirts of Worcester.  Jeffrey Hemenway and his descendants represent one of the four major Hemenway lines in America. 

 

In conjunction with the Worcester Historical Museum's Present and Persistence: Nipmuc Indians in New England exhibit, a portrait of Hepsibeth Hemenway that has been displaced at the museum for over a century was permanently installed in the museum.  

 

The minutes of the Worcester Society of Antiquity's meeting on 1 December 1895 noted: "Librarian reported seventy-one additions, making special mention of...a portrait of Hepzibah [sic] Hemenway, mother of Aunt Hannah Hemenway, [donated] by F.F. Hopkins."  Since the portrait is hardly a recent acquisition, why all the fuss now?  Because Hepsibeth Hemenway was a Nipmuc Indian, the people upon whose homelands Worcester was built.

 

The portrait, which dates to the 1840s, offers visitors a tangible reminder of the continued presence of Native Americans in Worcester.  Hepsibeth's portrait was painted at a time when Worcester was transforming from town to city.  How did Hepsibeth fit into the economic and social world?  Why was she painted?  Who painted her?  Why did the portrait come to the museum?  The answers (or hints of them) are found in memories, antiquarian publications, and public records.  Late nineteenth century newspaper articles on Hepsibeth's daughter Hannah reveal that both women enjoyed local fame for making wedding cakes. 

 

One reporter who interviewed Hannah in 1890 explained: "Mrs. Hemenway was well known in her day and is remembered yet by the older families as a great cook and an excellent hand at making wedding cakes for the prominent people in those days and her services were always in demand...Miss Hemenway for a long time followed in the footsteps of her mother." 

 

Aunt Hannah, as she was familiarly known by more than two generations of Worcesterites, had ties to high-society industrialists, and through her stories she provided connections to earlier times and people.  The portrait was in Hannah's possession when she died in 1891 or 98.  She had bequeathed it to her brother Ebenezer, but as he predeceased her, it was included in the residue of her property, which was sold at auction.  While there is not irrefutable proof, since the executor's account of settling Hannah's affairs was never filed, it is very likely that Frederick Hopkins purchased the painting and donated it to the Society to preserve it for posterity, a memorial to Aunt Hannah and her mother. 

 

Hepsibeth's and Hannah's special niche in high-society industrial Worcester explains why the painting was preserved.  But why was Hepsibeth painted, and who was she, really?  The portrait, an extremely rare find, suggests this Native American woman enjoyed middle- or even upper-class status.  The reality, however, was very different, as the records reveal. 

 

Hepsibeth was born in 1763, daughter of Lydia Bowman, a Nipmuc, and a white man whose surname was Crosman.  Hepsibeth's father died in the Revolution, and her mother died a pauper in 1784.  She supported herself by living and working as a servant in Timothy Paine's family until 1789, when she married Revolutionary War veteran Jeffrey Hemenway.  The couple had eight children.  To help support the family, Hepsibeth cared for indigent women at town expense and worked as a laundress, the least desirable and lowest-paying occupation available to women.  Salisbury family letters indicate that for more than 20 years, in all seasons, Hepsibeth traveled the several miles from her house on May Street to Lincoln Square to wash or iron.  She did the same for many other households as well. 

 

When Hepsibeth was widowed at 56, she rented out her small house and moved to an even smaller one adjoining the burial ground on Mechanic Street.  This placed her in the commercial center, where work would be easier to obtain.  She spent the rest of her days there.  Although local memories center on her celebrated cakes, city directories indicate that until the last year of her life (1847), her primary occupation was taking in laundry.  In the 1840s, a dispute arose over the future of the Mechanic Street burial ground, which may explain who painted Hepsibeth Hemenway, and why. 

 

Those who wanted to remove the graveyard and its adjoining house to use the land more profitably complained that children played among the headstones, men socialized on its perimeters, and "it is seldom that one can pass along the lower end of Mechanic street without seeing clothes lines heavy laden swinging in all directions over the graves."  Artist Henry Woodward, who painted the Mechanic Street cemetery in 1846, depicted Hepsibeth's offending laundry in his sketches and on the final canvas.  It seems probable the young artist became intrigued with Hepsibeth as he worked on these sketches.  Her laundry, after all, was the subject of local ire and she was an Indian.  He may have asked her to sit for him, and then given her the painting.  Or, one of her patrons may have asked him or another artist to paint her portrait in return for services, or as a gift.  It is impossible to know for certain.  What is clear, however, is that she did not commission the painting, as portraiture was far beyond her economic means.  Her clothing, too, was above her means, and was probably handed down to her from patrons. 

 

The portrait, and the life behind it, tell a story that illustrates and reinforces the local Nipmuc experience, and the northeast Indian experience in general: persistence and endurance through adaptation and accommodation to ensure survival. Hepsibeth's is just one of the myriad specific histories that, woven together, make up the complex tapestry of the region's past.

 

At the installation ceremony, descendant Richard Massey, President of the New England Native American Institute and Secretary of the Nipmuc Tribal Council gave the following speech Sunday, March 28, 1999:

 

As a Nipmuc Tribal Council Member, President of the New England Native American Institute, and as a descendant of Hepsibeth Hemenway, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Worcester Historical Museum and its staff of quality people for the restoration and installation of Hepsibeth Hemenway's portrait in the Fletcher Auditorium.  This museum has become my most favorite place. 

 

It has been my pleasure to work with two people whose efforts were responsible for this event:  Holly Izard, Research Historian, and Mykael Cassidy.  Their efforts are greatly appreciated.  I would like to say a few words on Native Nipmuc Women.  The month of March is Women's History Month.  I find no better way to honor the native women from this area, who for centuries kept the spirit of the Nipmuc Nation alive.  Women like Hepsibeth, Zara and Sarah Cisco, Annie Vickers, and my grandmother Addie Johnson as well as many others in each family.  They passed on to us their rich heritage and history. 

 

When most of the culture and language was lost through years of assimilation it was one of the factors that kept us intact as Native people.  I have found them to be hard working industrious and independent women.  They were truly thinking of the seven generations to come.  They left us a legacy and spirit which we must honor.  There are people in the community who say that we are not Native American because of intermarriage with other ethnic groups. 

 

An old saying goes "If there is but one drop of Indian blood in your veins, one day it will cry out for expression."  It is our duty to our ancestors to remind this Nation of what happened in the past to them [and ensure that it] does not happen again.  As descendants of these people we must tell their story. Thank you.”

 

OBITUARIES

Raymond "Ray" Russell Walker, 84, longtime Moses Lake resident, passed away Friday, March 31, 2000 at SunBridge Care and Rehabilitation Center. Funeral services will be held at 10:00 AM, Tuesday, April 4, 2000 at the Rose Street Chapel, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with Craig Palmer presiding.  Interment will follow at Pioneer Memorial Gardens.  Family will greet friends at the funeral home on Monday evening from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM and at the church on Tuesday from 9:OO AM until  9:30 AM.  Arrangements are in care of  Kayser’s Chapel of Memories, Moses Lake.

 

Raymond was born August 13, 1915 in Rigby, Idaho, son of the late Albert H. and Annie (Livingstone) Walker .  He was raised and educated in Aberdeen, Idaho, graduating from Aberdeen High School in 1934. He was married to Marie Ethel Babb in the mid l930's.  They continued to live in Aberdeen where Ray worked for the local irrigation district as a ditch rider.  For many years he rode his horse as he inspected the canals.  He belonged to a posse in Aberdeen and they enjoyed riding their horses on trips and in area parades. In 1951 they moved to Moses Lake where Ray continued to work as an irrigation specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation and later the Columbia Basin Irrigation District. He also worked at the Mobil Service Station that was located on 3d and Holly for many years.

 

Ray was married to Alice L. Bergeson  (Venus Wiser, Samuel Frost, John McCormick, Samuel, Benjamin) on January6, l970 in 0akland, California.  Following his retirement from the irrigation district in 1982 they enjoyed traveling, taking several extended trips in their "many" motorhomes and R. V 's. Ray enjoyed many activities, but among his favorites were horseback riding, fishing, camping, hunting and working on cars. He was a true "people person”. It was said of him that he had never met a stranger since he considered everyone a friend and loved all those he met.  He was never afraid to try something new and at the age of 79 began piano lessons and enjoyed entertaining family and friends alike with his playing.

 

He was a longtime active member of the Moses Lake First Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-dav Saints where he held various positions over the years.  Ray and Alice served a mission in the early 1980's in the Florida Tallahassee Mission.  He was also a member of the Basin Horseless Carriage Club, member and past president of the Community Concert Board, member and past president of the 4 X 8 Square Dance Club and member and past president of the Evergreen Campers.

 

He is survived by his loving wife, Alice L. Walker, Moses Lake; four children and spouses, Peggy and Emmett Soden, Moses Lake, Roger and Maggie Walker, Anderson Island, WA, Keith and Rhonda Walker, Moses Lake, Vicky and Frank Nailor, Moses Lake; five step-children and spouses, Wallace and Martha Bergeson, Moses Lake.  Anne and Allen Hyatt, Kent, WA, Sandra Rietz, Seattle, WA, Kaye and Don Cook, Issaquah, WA, Patti and Debra Bergeson, Royal City, WA; three sisters, Thelma Robinson, Aberdeen, 1D, Jean and Francis Fox, Aberdeen, ID, Margaret Brado, Lewiston, ID; 37 grandchildren and 47 great grandchildren.  He was preceded in death by one son, Royce Walker and two sisters,  Ida Mae Nungesser and Phyllis Steinlicht.

 

POSTSCRIPT

Thank you for your interest and help with this newsletter. 

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My mail address is:

Ron Wiser, 6 Baton Rouge, Roswell, NM  88201.