Bidwell Lore – The Elms, The Stockbridge Home of Barnabas and Mary

The Sedgwick Manor, The Elms [1], and Laurel Cottage, although scattered along the fabric of Main Street, have been connected by numerous common threads of Stockbridge history, from family and marriage to careers and political intrigue, weaving a myriad of stories of life in Stockbridge and beyond from the days of the Stockbridge Indians to the present. Let us cut from that cloth a short history of The Elms, once the home of Barnabas and Mary Bidwell.
Deed research finds that in 1766 Jacob Tusnuck, a Stockbridge Indian, acquired from Muutauweoam a three acre lot on Plain Street [2], 13 ½ rods wide and extending from Plain Street back to the English lots on the hill, bordered on the east by a three rod road, now Pine Street. Muuhtauweoam was granted the land in 1750.

The Elms on Main Street in Stockbridge
Barnabas and Mary’s home in Stockbridge, The Elms, as it looks today.

Timothy Edwards, son of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, acquired the property in a 1772 land swap with Tusnuck, who was given three acres of meadowland. Edwards’ father had accepted the post of President of the College of New Jersey in the winter of 1758, replacing his son-in-law, Rev. Aaron Burr, Sr. Arriving in New Jersey during a smallpox epidemic, Edwards was inoculated, and died of smallpox on March 22, 1758. Mrs. Burr was inoculated at the same time as her father and also died of smallpox.  Mrs. Edwards traveled to Princeton to bring Sarah and young Aaron Burr, age two, back to Stockbridge, reaching Philadelphia on the return trip, was taken ill, and died. Young Aaron Burr by age two had lost his mother, father, and grandparents. Esther Edwards Burr writes in her journal: “Aaron is a little dirty noisy boy…he begins to talk a little, is very sly and mischievous…he is more spirited then Sally, but not so good tempered. He is very resolute and will require a good Governor to bring him to terms.” [3] In 1760, Burr was placed under the guardianship of his Uncle Timothy Edwards, who, in addition to his own children, took in Aaron’s five uncles and aunts and his wife’s two younger brothers. Burr entered the College of New Jersey, now Princeton, at age 13.

In 1853, Electa Jones gives a short biography of Timothy Edwards in her book, Stockbridge, Past and Present; or, Records of an Old Mission Station:

Esquire Edwards was born in Northampton, July 25th, 1738, and graduated at Princeton in 1757, the year previous to his father’s death. September 25th, 1760, he married Miss Rhoda Ogden, and settled in Elizabethtown as a Merchant. In June 1771, he came to Stockbridge, and established the first store in the County. The County was very productive in wheat, which he received in payment for goods, and which he used to make his purchases in New York. In 1772 he purchased the ground of an Indian woman , hired workmen from Hatfield, and erected the house now owned by Major Owen. It was one and a half stories high, except the wing, which was of one story. All the east part was used as a store. In 1775 Esquire Edwards became a member of the State Council, and continued in that office until 1780, – through the difficulties of our National emancipation. From 1778 to 1787, he was Judge of Probate; in 1779, declined the nomination as member of Congress; for many years sustained the office of church deacon. During the war he was often chosen on our committees at home, was employed by General Washington to supply the soldiers at West Point. He died in the house now occupied by Colonel Goodrich, his residence during the later years of his life. [4]

In 1792 Barnabas Bidwell, who had studied law under Judge Theodore Sedgwick, purchased the house.  Bidwell served in the State Senate from 1805-1807, and was elected to the Ninth and Tenth Congresses, serving from March 4, 1805, until his resignation on July 13, 1807. He then served as Attorney General of Massachusetts from June 15, 1807, to August 30, 1810. Barnabas and Mary moved into The Elms in 1793 following their marriage in Watertown. During the 1790s he erected a law office next to the house. 

The building that was formerly Barnabas Bidwell’s law office, as it looked in 2013

That office later became the law offices of Jonathan Edwards Field, one of the famous Field brothers, and the location where the first transatlantic cable message sent on August 17, 1858, by Cyrus Field from London, was received by his nephew Stephen D. Field who shared it with a waiting crowd. Barnabas and Mary’s son Marshall Spring Bidwell (1799-1872), and daughter Sarah Gray Bidwell (1796-1864) shared their home with their cousin Josiah Brewer (1796-1872), the future father of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer, after the untimely death of his father. You may remember from previous Bidwell Lore that Barnabas’ sister, Theodosia, mother of Josiah, was widowed when her six children were quite young and so she placed Josiah in Barnabas and Mary’s care. 
Barnabas Bidwell’s wife, Mary Gray Bidwell, was the daughter of Col. James Gray, Jr., and Sarah Spring Gray; her grandmother, Sarah Williams, was the sister Ephraim Williams, Sr., who was the grandfather of Pamela Sedgwick, wife of Judge Theodore Sedgwick. Mary Gray Bidwell’s mother, Sarah Spring Gray, was Pamela’s first cousin and referred to by Theodore and Pamela’s child as Aunt Gray. Even though they were in opposing political parties, the Bidwells and the Sedgwicks remained good neighbors and friends during the Bidwell’s time in Stockbridge. We will learn even more about that next week in excerpts of letters between Barnabas and Mary. [5]

Next week we will share some letters between Mary and Barnabas written during his time in Washington in 1806 and 1807.

  • [1] In 1786 Colonel William M. Edwards, a grandson of Rev. Jonathan Edwards, planted four Elm trees in front of the house, hence the house name, The Elms.
  • [2] Now Main Street
  • [3] The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr 1754-1757, Karlsen & Crumpacker, 1984, Yale University Press
  • [4] Edwards lived at 8 South Street, the so-called Norman Rockwell House.
  • [5] Upon graduation Bidwell taught in a school for young ladies at New Haven until 1787, when he was appointed to a tutorship at Yale. In 1790 he unexpectedly resigned from this position to study law under judge Theodore Sedgwick of Stockbridge, Mass. Sedgwick, a prominent member of the House of Representatives and later a senator, was an important spokesman for the Federalist party. Bidwell, disappointed, according to historian Paul Goodman, at failing to secure a position as postmaster, joined the emerging Democratic-Republican Party to become an archenemy of Sedgwick. G.H. Patterson, “BIDWELL, BARNABAS, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 6, 1987