Bidwell Lore – The Sedgwicks and the Bidwells

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 148! This week we are bringing Barnabas and Mary Bidwell into the Agrippa story through their long connection with the Sedgwick family.

Portrait of Agrippa Hull, unknown artist, unknown date. Acc# 47.002. Courtesy of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives. Painted from an 1845 daguerreotype taken by Anson Clark in West Stockbridge, also in the collection of the Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives.

The Sedgwicks and the Bidwells
Rick Wilcox, 2022

This week we are going to bring Barnabas Bidwell and his wife, Mary Gray Bidwell, into the story of Agrippa Hull. Barnabas is the second son of Reverend Adonijah Bidwell and you can read all about his life in a series beginning HERE.  In the weeks to come, we will share some of the Sedgwick history and the relationship between them and the Bidwells, but first we share a letter from Mary to Barnabas in 1807.  At the time of the letter, Barnabas was Massachusetts Attorney General and Mary writes about the Sedgewick family, where Agrippa Hull went to work after his time in the War. The woman Mary speaks about is Pamela Dwight Sedgwick, Theodore Sedgwick’s second wife.

Barnabas Bidwell, attributed to John Brewster, Jr

Stockbridge, September 21, 1807
By intelligence, which you have doubtless received from the messenger dispatched for Judge Sedgwick, you will I presume, my dear friend, be prepared to hear that our excellent neighbor is numbered with the congregation of the dead. She was unusually well, or rather comfortable, last week until Saturday morning, when she appeared rather languid, but took a seat at table as usual. Her attendant Betty
[1], tells me, she was alarmed while dressing her this morning by the appearance of a livid spot over her right eye. If the family noticed it, they imagined it occasioned by some slight contusion. She supported her customary pleasantness through the day, Sally Fairman [2] happening to be in Mrs. Sedgwick’s room, with her, towards evening, when Catherine with other company, were in a high sense of mirth in the front parlor. Sally inquired if the noise did not disturb her? ‘No, I am pleased to find they are cheerful and happy,’ was her reply, or words to that effect.  I relate this characteristic anecdote, to show you that she retained this self-rewarding philanthropy to the last. She retired, as usual that evening, and without special complaint, at two in the morning, she seized with a fit, similar to those which have so long afflicted her. She endured twenty of these distressing paroxysms, it is judged, before nature yielded under this severe conflict. Cato,[3] was dispatched after the Judge, and another messenger for his sons at Albany, a little before eight yesterday morning, and in fifteen minutes after, Mrs. Sedgwick closed a life of uncommon suffering; commencing as we have reason to hope, a happy immortality! When I reflect upon the unmurmuring, and even cheerful submission, which she uniformly exhibited in her lucid hours, under a most distressing personal calamity. When in considering her many virtues, this is added to the number.  I feel I must pronounce her, one of the most exalted of her sex. The family is deeply afflicted. Catherine fainted yesterday repeatedly.  The unconfirmed state of my health prevented my going over while Mrs. S. was living, as the street was very damp from rain of the proceeding night. But I called on the family to offer my assistance in the forenoon; and omitted attending the morning service for that purpose. Today, I sent to know if I could be useful, but finding my services were not required, I rode with Sally [4] and Marshall as charioteer since the sun softened the air. Tomorrow morning, I am informed my assistance will be acceptable. Mr. Watson [5] has this day been called to Hartford to attend his expiring mother. And now, my friend, I render you my affectionate thanks for your letter from Northampton. To find you arrived so seasonably was very gratifying.  The indisposition you felt, just before you left home, authorizes me to repeat my parting injunction and entreaty, ‘be cautious of your health’ and employ a physician seasonably. The frequent deaths in our neighborhood, seem calculated to enforce the conviction that we too are indeed mortal. How many deaths, my dear friend, have I loved to announce! Soon may the pen of another record mine! My health indeed, at present, is as good perhaps better, than when you left home. Levi has conducted rather more to my wishes the week past. Mr. Hunt has engaged a cow. Mr. Kasson returned this evening and will continue a few days in the office. You have another clerk added to the number – Mr. Sherrill from Richmond. I promised Sally the opposite page, but I shall find a spot for a post scrip tomorrow. I will now say only good night.

M. B. Stockbridge, Sept 22nd, 1807: “It is now Tuesday 2 O’clock P.M. Judge Sedgwick has not yet returned. The funeral obsequies are appointed tomorrow at 10 O’clock A. M. I passed the forenoon at the house of mourning. Catherine is very ill – distressed deeply. I shall wait with fond solicitude for the weekly mails. Your clerk Sherrill enters the office the first of next week. We are all as usual except Marshall. He has a boil, poor fellow on his knee pad. I hope that good will be affected by this evil, not being able to run off, he will seek amusement in his studies. He joins his Grandmama in affectionately greeting his dear papa. Judge Sedgwick has this moment arrived. May we, my beloved friend be preserved to meet again in health. Ever yours, M. What can you say now in vindication of Judge Marshall?

Catharine Sedgwick (1789-1867), illustration from The Female Prose Writers of America by John S. Hart, 1852.

As Mary mentions above, Catharine Sedgwick was devastated by the passing of her mother in 1807. Below are some of her childhood recollections about “Grippy,” Agrippa Hull.

“Then came thronging recollections of my childhood, its joys and sorrows – distinctly the faces of the favorite servants, Grippy, Sampson, Derby, Sampson the cook, a runaway slave, ‘Lady Prime’ and various others who, to my mind’s eye, are still young, vigorous and alert! Not Agrippa, for him I saw through the various stages of manhood to decrepit old age. Grippy is one of the few who will be immortal in our village annals. He enlisted in the army of the Revolution and, being a very well trained and adroit servant, he was taken into the personal service of the noble Pole, Kosciusko. Unlike most heroes, he always remained a hero to his valet Grippy, who many a time has charmed our childhood with stories of his soldier muster. One I remember of which the catastrophe moved my childish indignation.
Kodciusko was absent from camp, and Agrippa, to amuse his fellow-servants, dressed in his master’s most showy uniform, and blacked with shining black-ball his legs and feet to resemble boots. Just as he was in full exhibition, his master returned, and, resolved to have his own fun out of the joke, he bade ‘Grip’ follow him, and took him to the tents of several officers, introducing him as an African prince. Poor Grippy, who had as mortal aversion practically as our preachers of temperance have theoretically to every species of spirituous liquor, was received at each new introduction by a soldier’s hospitality, and compelled, by a nod from his master, to taste each abhorrent cup, brandy, or wine, or ‘Hollands’ or whatever (to Grippy poisonous) potion in might chance to be, till, when his master was sated with the joke, he gave him a kick and sent him staggering away. I think Grippy was fully compensated by the joke for the ignominy of its termination. He had a fund of humor and mother wit, and was a sort of Sancho Panza in the village, always trimming other men’s follies with a keen perception, and the biting wit of wisdom. Grippy was a capital subaltern, but a very poor officer. As a servant he was faultless, but in his own domain at home a tyrant.”  [7]

Next week we look a little deeper into the Sedgwick Family history.

1. Mum Bett, aka Elizabeth Freeman
2. Married James Gray Hunt another cousin of Mary Bidwell, October 1807
3. A free Black, working for the Sedgwick family.
4. Barnabas and Mary’s daughter, Sarah
5. Sedgwick son-in-law
6. Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court most well-known for the 1803 Marbury v. Madison case which upheld the principle of judicial review, giving the court much greater powers than was originally intended.  During the Aaron Burr treason trial, Marshall ruled that much of the evidence that the government had amassed against Burr was inadmissible; biographer Joel Richard Paul states that Marshall effectively “directed the jury to acquit Burr.” After Burr was acquitted, Democratic-Republicans, including President Jefferson, attacked Marshall for his role in the trial. Barnabas was a confidant of Jefferson and a stanch Democratic-Republican. Wikipedia (Burr is a Bidwell cousin, though quite far out on the Bidwell tree)
7. Catharine Maria Sedgwick Life and Letters, edited by Mary E. Dewey, NY 1871, page 40. Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives, m73-2.4

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