Thursday, December 10, 2009
Notable Women Ancestors: Rachel Andrews Colman
Can you imagine the changes and experiences of a woman who lived through almost an entire century in colonial Massachusetts? Details are scant, but her life of 92 years would be remarkable in any time. She survived the hard work of everyday life on the frontier, bearing eleven children, wars and diseases. The family's attitude of stepping up and participating in each new governmental process is attested by her husband's activities in the community. If only "women's work" had been included in the historical records we might know more about her part in the settlement of north-central Massachusetts!
Rachel Andrews Colman was born about 1716. Her parents were Ezekiel Andrews and Abigail Curtis. The place of her birth or marriage is uncertain, likely in or near Ipswich, MA. She was married to James Colman, and their first child, Elizabeth, was born in Ipswich in 1734. Church records of Chebacco (Essex) parish list four more children born in the following years: James in 1736; Rachel in 1738; Ezekiel Andrews in 1740; Job in 1741.
About 1743 the family moved west a distance of 50 miles, and transferred their relationship from the Ipswich church to Lunenburg in 1744. She was 27 with four children under ten as they left "civilization" of a colonial port town which had been in existence for over 100 years for the unknown wilderness.
More children are enumerated in the Lunenburg church records, although it is believed that the family settled in the northeastern part of “Dorchester Canada,” which became Ashburnham and is now in Ashby. They were among the earliest permanent settlers of the area. The years between 1744 and 1749 were dangerous times on the “frontier” and many settlers gathered at the fortifications in Lunenburg during periods of unrest during the French and Indian war.
The remaining children born to Rachel and James include: Mary in 1744; Aaron in 1746; Benjamin in 1749; Solomon in 1752; Ruth in 1754; and Abigail in 1758. That same year her 20-year-old daughter Rachel married Daniel Harper in Lunenburg. Her children spanned 24 years and had names chosen to honor grandparents and biblical figures.
In 1760 a church was established in Ashburnham and the family transferred their church relations there. Her husband, James, was an active member of the community and was named to committees by the proprietors. Records state that James was granted “about one acre and one hundred rods between the house where he now dwells and the saw mill yard which belongs to Moses Foster Jr. and Zimri Heywood” for “his good service in said township in promoting the settlement there.” When Ashburnham was incorporated in 1765, he was chosen as a selectman and surveyor of the highways at the first town meeting. When Ashby was set off as a town, one of the boundaries was delineated along the land of James Colman. James was also one of the first Selectmen in Ashby. When the church was established, the Colman family was assigned the first pew, signifying their place first on the tax rolls based on assets.
Their other children married and began families. Job and Benjamin married sisters, Elizabeth and Susannah Martin in 1766 and 1770, respectively. James died in 1773 and is buried in Ashby in the “front row” of the old cemetery in the town center. Rachel was 57 and had many years ahead of her. Their youngest child was 15. Sons Job and Aaron gave permission to Benjamin to administer his estate, indicating that neither James or Ezekiel were still alive. Solomon was of age but he was not a signatory to the document. Job had continued the westward migration, moving west to Shelburne, MA
What was her life like in the 35 years after her husband’s death? A nation was born, a constitution written, and Ashby remained a quiet, farming community. Sons fought in the Revolutionary war, daughters bore children of their own. Sons Benjamin and Solomon remained in the area and gave her grandchildren. Rachel died on April 27, 1808 and is buried with James and some of their adult children. Her death is not listed in the Ashby records. Was she living with one of her children elsewhere at the time? This a woman with whom I'd love to have a long conversation...