Bidwell Lore – Stories of Adonijah Bidwell, Jr.

Welcome to the fourteenth week of Bidwell Lore! Last week we introduced you to the oldest son of Reverend Bidwell, Adonijah Bidwell, Jr., and this week we want to share with you some stories about his life. 

Adonijah, Jr., was the oldest child of Reverend Bidwell and his second wife, Jemima.

Adonijah, Jr. (1761-1837)
Barbabas (1763-1833)
Jemima (1765-1842)
Theodosia (1766-1841)

As we explained last week, he inherited the Bidwell House from his father in 1784 and he married Meliscent Dench of Hopkinton in 1789.  They had 12 children between 1789 and 1806, only six of whom lived to adulthood. 

Not as much is known about Adonijah, Jr., as is known about his more famous brother Barnabas (who we will introduce in the next few weeks) but we do have a couple of stories that have been passed down, along with a few of his books that tell us a bit about his personality.

From Bidwell Family History 1587-1982 Volume I, 1983:
Adonijah Bidwell, Jr. was born August 6, 1761 at Tyringham and died February 14, 1834 at Hillsdale New York and as they say: it is all about the dash. He married, on January 15, 1789, Melicent Dench (1764-1860) at Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Captain Gilbert and Anne (Gibbs) Dench of Hopkinton. Captain Dench was an officer in the Revolutionary Army and a member of the Massachusetts Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution in 1787. Adonijah served as a member of the Militia from Massachusetts in the Revolutionary War and he was also a member of the Massachusetts Assembly. [1] They lived in Hillsdale New York for a time and have land transactions recorded there in 1826. Adonijah and Melicent are buried at the Old Center Cemetery in Monterey, Massachusetts. 

We will revisit the Dench family at a later date for more of the Bidwell-Mayflower story, on this, the 400th anniversary year of the landing of the Mayflower.

[1] Pre-Revolutionary War the Provincial Government was made up of a Royal Governor, Governor’s Council, and House of Representatives. Post Revolutionary War the Governor, House of Representatives, and Governor’s Council were retained. In both cases, the Governor’s Council was the more influential body of government. Adonijah likely sat in the House of Representatives.

From the Berkshire Gleaner – Bear Town History, Bidwell Family Papers, Box 6, folder 263, Yale University:

Adonijah Bidwell, Jr., died at Hillsdale, New York on 14 February 1837. According to a newspaper article in the Berkshire Gleaner, he left an estate valued at $50,000. The article also explains why he relocated to Hillsdale: “He left Tyringham because the authorities obliged him to pay taxes on the mortgage he held on farms in town besides taxing the farmer who owned the farm, thus the property was twice taxed. He was the wealthiest man in Tyringham. It is said of him that he never did a day’s work in his life. His occupation was driving about in his chaise collecting his mortgages and investing same.”
“It is said of him that he never did a day’s work in his life.” Harsh words, but the Gleaner never let facts get in the way of a good story, even if it was woven into Adonijah’s death notice. It seems likely he was a gentleman farmer and probably did not raise a blister during his adult life. Bidwell House Museum archives contain a ledger indicating Adonijah was also a Justice of the Peace during his time in Monterey.

Letter from Adonijah Bidwell, Jr., to Joseph Story concerning the Newburyport fire of 1811

Finally, we have one more story that seems to paint a different picture than that of a man who did not work and only collected mortgages.  Above you can see an original letter from Adonijah Bidwell, Jr., to Joseph Story, which is also transcribed below.  It comes from a small collection of family letters found in the Bidwell House Museum archives, indicating that the Town of Tyringham was moved by the tragedy in Newburyport (click HERE to read that story) and contributed to its rebuilding. Adonijah, probably by horseback, delivered the letter to the Stockbridge Post Office and returned at a later date to pick up the receipt.

Tyringham Sept. 23rd 1811
Sir, I have the Honor of Transmitting
to you a small sum. Contributed at
Tyringham ^ county of Berkshire for the relief of the Suffers
by the late destroying fire at Newburyport
“it” is only twenty two dollars a very small
sum but a great many of them will make a
large one -. You doubtless will have the
goodness to see disposed of agreeable to the
resolve ^ or order of the General Court – and if you
will be so kind as to send a receipt to the
Post Office at Stockbridge [1] it will be a satisfac
tion to some of the Contributors to know
that the money has been received – and
you will oblige your humble sert
                                    Adonijah Bidwell
Hon J. Story Esqr.

“The Great Fire” of 1811 devastated Newburyport. In one night, much of the town’s wealth was destroyed, causing over one million dollars in damage. The fire destroyed about 250 buildings and Newburyport lost over half of its wealth, nearly causing the town to go bankrupt. “The Great Fire” tore through the streets of Newburyport and, due to several weeks of very dry weather and strong westerly winds, the fire was able to spread quickly. The fire was believed to have been started at nine-thirty at night by an arsonist. 

Joseph Story (1779 –1845) was an American lawyer and jurist who, at age 32, was the youngest person to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, doing so from 1812 to 1845, during the Marshall Court and early Taney Court eras. He is most remembered for his opinion in The Amistad case.

[1] Stockbridge had the first post office in Berkshire County opening July 12, 1792, only because Theodore Sedgwick of Stockbridge was a Congressman. Prior to that, the closest post office was in Springfield. Even so, it was common to hand off a letter to someone who was headed in the right direction hoping that it would reach the intended recipient.

Research by Rick Wilcox and editing by Heather Kowalski.

Stay tuned next week when we learn more about the children of Adonijah Bidwell!