Writing on the Wall

Every historic house has stories to tell, which is why I am continually enchanted with them.  Putnam Elms is distinctive in several ways.

First, Cynthia, who took me through the house, is clearly more interested in the history of the people who lived in the 1790s house than the stuff in it.  She is actively researching the who’s and what’s and that’s what she passionately shared.

My geeky delight was sparked by the connection to a couple I know a little something about and who are included in my “Clothes Make the Country” talk.  Here they are.

John Smibert, Portrait of Francis Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Francis Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Deborah Brinley, 1729

John Smibert, Portrait of Deborah Brinley, 1729











They are wonderfully interesting.  Come to the talk and find out.

Here's Catherine

Here’s Catherine


Of the two marriages in the house, one took place in the parlor.  Cynthia and I figured out that Catharine Putnam married George Brinley, the Roxbury, MA Brinley’s (pictured above) great grandson.

So you see Francis, Jr. in Deborah’s lap.  Francis, Jr.’s grandson married a Putnam (more about them below) in the parlor.  Doesn’t that make the people seem more alive to you?  This baby grew up and, who knows?  Maybe he witnessed the wedding here.


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The other wedding was of an African American couple in the Episcopal chapel, a room in the house, pictured below.

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That brings us to one of the other fascinating people who lived here.  Emily Malbone Brinley Morgan, an independent thinker and progressive doer.

She is a descendant of the first owners and vowed to buy the house if it came on the market.  It did, and in 1906, she bought it.  Not to live in, mind you, but to convert it into a vacation home for women.  Working women.  So if you were a teacher or a clerk or an architect, in one notable case, from New York, Boston, or Providence, you might come here to lounge and have fun in the company of other women.

Cynthia shows me the guest book

Cynthia shows me the guest book

Cynthia shows me Emily's picture

and Emily’s picture

Emily was apparently congenial and funny and set up outings for the women guests.  Like a trip to the metropolis of Putnam!  Imagine how nice it would be to vacation with people who get you and don’t judge you for being a working woman.  A relief, I would think.

So back the wedding #2.  The land was purchased as a farm in the 1740s by slave trader Godfrey Malbone, who left it to his sons.  No doubt, they used slaves to work the land.  In 1791, Daniel Putnam (son of the well-mythologized Israel Putnam, who dropped his plow the moment he heard about the shots fired at Lexington and Concord to fight for the rebel cause) married Malbone’s niece and built this house.

So in this one place, we witness the transition of the state from a slave-holding place to one where African Americans would marry and be celebrated in a white person’s home.

Every house has stories to tell.  Here there’s the writing on the wall.  Literally.  Family members signed the wall.  Who knows how that tradition got started, but there they all are.  The wall throbs with energy and laughter and delight.  A guest might sign the guestbook.  But the family?  They write right on the wall.

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Oops, a mistake. I'll just scribble it out...

Oops, a mistake. I’ll just scribble it out…

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