Bidwell Lore – Theodosia Bidwell Brewer

Welcome to week 16 of Bidwell Lore! Last week we shared a Mayflower connection to the Bidwell family via Adonijah Bidwell, Jr.  This week we will introduce you to Reverend Bidwell’s youngest daughter, Theodosia, with a wonderful guest post by Bidwell descendant Wilma Spice, who we previously heard from in the July article about Jemima Bidwell’s pewter. 

The Children of Adonijah Bidwell – Theodosia Bidwell Brewer

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

Theodosia Bidwell Brewer did not have an easy life.  She was called upon to find her own resources in many ways.

Theodosia, second daughter and youngest child of Adonijah and Jemima Devotion Bidwell, was born 29 November 1766, in Tyringham, Massachusetts.  She was named for her mother’s first cousin, Theodosia Colton, who, before her death, had been her father’s first wife.

Theodosia Bidwell had three older siblings, Adonijah Bidwell, Jr. (1761-1837), Barnabas Bidwell (1763-1833), and Jemima Bidwell (later Partridge, 1765-1842).

Tragedy struck early in Theodosia’s life.  She was only four years old when her mother died.  This was the second wife that her father had lost, and you can imagine how devastating that must have been for him, especially now that he had four young children.  It must have been devastating for the children, too, to lose their mother.

You might think that Theodosia’s father would have looked around for another wife right away, but if he did so, he apparently found no one that suited him and his children.  So he continued on alone as best he could for more than a year and a half.  Theodosia was almost six years old when her father married Ruth Kent, who became a “second mother” to the children.

 Ruth then was the one who raised the children, and she outlived Adonijah by many years.

We don’t hear much about Theodosia as she was growing up.  She probably played with her older siblings and helped her mother (and later, her stepmother) around the house, where she learned the skills she would need as a wife and mother later on.  She must have had some kind of education as well.

The Keeping Room, where Theodosia likely spent time with her Mother and Step-Mother, helping with cooking and daily chores.

Theodosia married on her twenty-seventh birthday, 29 November 1793, in Tyringham.  Her husband was Eliab Brewer, who had graduated from Yale that same year.  Eliab was the son of Col. Josiah Brewer and Mary Hall.  (In the Revolutionary War, Col. Josiah had commanded the Lincoln County, Maine, regiment of Massachusetts Militia which marched on the Expedition to Penobscot.)  It seems that the marriage of Theodosia and Eliab was a happy one.

The children of Eliab and Theodosia began coming right away, five boys and a girl!

                        Edwin                         16 October 1794
                        Josiah                          1 June 1796
                        Eliab, Jr.                     18 October 1797
                        Bidwell                       31 March 1799
                        Theodosia                 13 November 1800
                        Sylvester                    12 August 1802

Eliab was a lawyer, admitted to the bar in April 1797.  It was at this point (or in late 1796) that the family moved from Tyringham to Lenox, where the four youngest children were born.  Eliab set up his practice in Lenox, and we can assume that the practice was a successful one.

But then tragedy struck again.  Eliab contracted what then was called “consumption” (now known as tuberculosis, “The Scourge of New England”), and his health began a slow decline.  He kept on working as much as he could, but he became more and more weak.  Eliab Brewer, Esq., died 6 April 1804, age only 34, in Lenox, and was buried in the Church on the Hill Cemetery there.  His tombstone reads:

ELIAB BREWER, Esquire | Attorney at Law | died April 6th 1804 | aged 34 years. |
To perpetuate his Memory | and her affection for him | this Monument is erected |by his Widow, Theodosia Brewer

Church on the Hill, Lenox

Theodosia had to have some way to support herself and her children.  We don’t know what kind of education she might have had growing up, but it’s clear that she had acquired a sufficient amount of learning.  At some point, she taught school in Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Her second son, Josiah, spent some time in Stockbridge with his uncle Barnabas Bidwell, Theodosia’s brother, where young cousins Josiah Brewer and Marshall Spring Bidwell could enjoy each other’s company.  As far as we know, all the other children remained with Theodosia. Theodosia’s three eldest sons graduated from Yale, and it is reported that Eliab, Jr., “was enabled to come to College by the heroic exertions of his mother, who lived in New Haven while her three sons were undergraduates.” [1]  We can suppose that she probably taught school there.

Theodosia’s Children

What about Theodosia’s children?  What became of them in adulthood?
The eldest son, Edwin, first took an editorship of a country newspaper and then attended Yale College (as did his father), graduating in 1823.  After graduation he became editor of a newspaper in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  But he was struck by a fever (malaria?) and returned to Tyringham.  He suffered ill health for the rest of his life.
The second son, Josiah, was valedictorian of his class at Yale in 1821.  He studied at Andover Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1826.  He and his wife, Emilia Ann Field, went as missionaries to Smyrna (now Izmir), Asiatic Turkey, where they established the first girls’ school, set up “a printing press and a newspaper, and did much to give an impetus to education throughout the Turkish empire.” [2]  Later, they established a girls’ school in Connecticut.
Eliab, Jr., also attended Yale, graduating in 1824.  He followed his brother Edwin to North Carolina, then became a private tutor in wealthy families there, studying law in his spare time.
Bidwell Brewer married Eliza Fowler.  We believe that they had two sons and a daughter.  As far as we know, neither son married, and the daughter died in infancy. 
Theodosia’s daughter, Theodosia, lived a long life but never married.
The youngest son, Sylvester, died at age 31.
It would be reasonable to assume that with six children, Theodosia would have many grandchildren and great-grandchildren to brighten her old age.  But it didn’t turn out that way.  Tragedy struck again, twice, as she outlived two of her sons – Eliab, Jr., and Sylvester, both of whom died unmarried in their early thirties.
Josiah, Theodosia’s second son, was the only one whose line has continued on down.  Josiah married Emilia Ann Field, and had seven children, five of whom were born while Theodosia was still alive.  But for a long time, the family lived in Turkey, and then in Connecticut.  If Theodosia was in western Massachusetts, then she may not have even seen those grandchildren until the last two or three years of her life, and perhaps not even then.  Her old age may have been lonely.  (Editor’s Note: The story of Josiah and those grandchildren is an interesting one that we will explore in future editions of Bidwell Lore)

Why did four of Theodosia’s six children remain unmarried?  We don’t really know, but because their father died so early, they were without the family example of a husband-and-wife partnership as a pattern for their own lives.
Theodosia Bidwell Brewer died in Tyringham on 5 April 1841, age 74, and was buried in the Old Center Cemetery.  The inscription on her tombstone acknowledges the tragedies she had to endure:

Wife of | Eliab Brewer, Esq. | and daughter of | Rev. Adonijah & Jemima [3] | Bidwell |
Born Nov. 29, 1766 | DIED | April 3, 1841
We must through much tribulation enter | into the kingdom of Heaven.

[1] Dexter, Franklin Bowditch.  Biographical Notices of Graduates of Yale College . . . Who Are Not Commemorated in the Annual Obituary Records.  New Haven:  Yale University, 1913.
[2]National Cyclopedia of American Biography . . . Vol. II.  New York:  James T. White & Co., 1899.
[3] It perhaps is worth noting that Theodosia is described as the daughter of Adonijah and Jemima Bidwell, even though Jemima had died many, many years previously. I think that back in the 1800’s, it might have been rather uncommon for a mother to be acknowledged as one parent of her child.  Often, identification with the father was deemed sufficient. I wonder if this might suggest something about this family’s attitudes toward women.  Certainly Theodosia was an educated and independent woman.  And her son Josiah married a highly educated and competent woman, and Josiah and Emilia Ann saw to it that their daughters were well educated, right along with their sons.

Stay tuned next week when we introduce Theodosia’s sister, Jemima.