Those Who Came Before . . . Mary Jane Perham Peabody (1844 - 1917)

Mary Jane Perham Peabody (1844 - 1917) (COURTESY PHOTO)

The town of Shelburne is planning a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the granting of Shelburne, which will take place in August. As part of the celebration Hildy Danforth is compiling stories about past residents of the town.

By Hildy Danforth

Mary Jane Perham was born in Auburn, Maine, in 1844 and later moved to Dover, N.H. In May of 1862 she came to Shelburne to teach school and boarded at the Stephen Peabody farm. The following year, she married Stephen’s son, Roswell Peabody. They had eight children and lived at the Peabody farm for the rest of their lives.

Helping with farm work and raising such a large and active family kept her busy for several years. She spun wool from their sheep and taught at least her two older sons to knit. She began each January, knitting mittens and socks and making toys for her children’s next Christmas.

Her own childhood as the daughter of a Methodist minister had been quite strict. She was determined to give her children more freedom and allowed outdoor games, except baseball, on Sundays. Nevertheless, she forbade card playing as leading to gambling. She and Roswell were active in the Shelburne church — a fairly long drive by horse and wagon over the Lead Mine Bridge. Roswell directed the choir.

In 1881 and 1882, she started writing a column about the history of Shelburne, which appeared in the Gorham Mountaineer newspaper. Her son, Ralph, recounts how she kept scraps of brown paper near her chair and quizzed any visiting family or neighbors about their memories of times past. She also wrote to people living farther away and visited cemeteries for names and dates. In 1882, these articles were combined into a small book, “A History of Shelburne New Hampshire.” She continued writing occasional articles, “Reminiscences of Shelburne,” for the paper, after the publication of her book, until 1905.

The older children married and moved away but as was the custom, her youngest son, Chester, with his wife and family stayed on with the parents to help with the work. Chester’s son Francis remembered her spinning wool from their sheep and knitting mittens.

Mrs. Peabody’s book, "History of Shelburne," is being reprinted for the town’s 250th birthday.

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