Bidwell Lore – Jemima Bidwell’s Wedding Pewter

Welcome to the twelfth week of Bidwell Lore! As we learned in the last two issues of Bidwell Lore, Adonijah Bidwell was married three times and his first two wives died when they were still fairly young. Sadly we know very little about the day-to-day lives of these women, but we were very lucky in 2019 to receive a donation of four pieces of pewter that had once been owned by Adonijah’s second wife, and mother of his four children, Jemima Devotion Bidwell.  We have very few items in the collection that were here when the Bidwell family inhabited the house, so this gift was very special to the Museum. Below, you will find an essay about the pewter written by Wilma Spice, Jemima’s descendant, and the generous donor of these lovely pieces.  

Jemima Bidwell’s Pewter

The year was 1760, and Jemima Devotion—daughter of the Reverend Mr. Ebenezer Devotion and Naomi Taylor Devotion—was getting married. She was about to marry the Reverend Mr. Adonijah Bidwell, pastor of the Congregational Church in Tyringham (now Monterey), Massachusetts.

Like any bride-to-be, she was collecting things she would need as a wife—in this particular case, as the wife of the town pastor, an important member of the community. As the daughter of a pastor, she well knew that she would need to entertain not only church members but also town officials and visiting dignitaries. She would need to demonstrate that she and her husband recognized the importance of their visitors.

Common tableware would not do. So among other things, Jemima chose some beautiful pewterware, the best that could be had. [1] It was made by Samuel Jefferys in the Holborn district of London, England, and was stamped with Jemima’s initials, “I D”. [2] Brand-new, it was almost as shiny as silver. Jemima surely must have been proud to serve her guests with such fine tableware.

The year is 2020, almost 260 years since Jemima’s marriage. Where is Jemima’s beautiful pewter now? Most of it is scattered to the four winds. Jemima and Adonijah had two sons and two daughters, and one can assume that the pewterware might have been divided amongst the children. We don’t know.

However, at least three pieces of that beautiful pewter-ware came into the hands of Jemima’s younger daughter, Theodosia Bidwell Brewer, who took loving care of the porringer and its matching plate along with a 13-inch platter, all with the “I D” initials on them.  In due time, those three pieces—alongside another larger platter which probably came from Jemima’s mother—were passed down the Brewer line to Jemima’s grandson Josiah, her great-grandson Fisk, her 2nd great-grandson William, her 3rd great-granddaughter Helen Brewer Heckenlaible, and to me, Jemima’s 4th great-granddaughter, way out in California.

Those four pieces are items I have admired since I was a child.  But our family has agreed that perhaps it is time for those pewter pieces to “come home,” back to the Bidwell House Museum in Massachusetts, where they first began their service so many years ago.  So I have sent them back home.  I think that Jemima would be pleased.

                                                                                 –By Wilma Heckenlaible Spice

[1] 21st-Century brides might choose fine china and silverware, but in the 1760s, that would have been a prohibitive expense.
[2] In the 1700s, the letter “J” was written as an “I”.

Plate Rim with the initials “I D”

Next week we introduce you to Adonijah Bidwell, Jr.!