HomeGrotonA Tale of Two Boutwells


A Tale of Two Boutwells — 13 Comments

  1. Wonderful research (and presentation). This family has roots in both places, and now, so do you!

    Your summary of G.S. Boutwell’s political career has roused my nostalgia for the era when “regular people” (as opposed to career politicians) held state and national offices. He had the income from the store, didn’t have to solicit funds from lobbyists.

    (As a former student of US history I am confident there were other contemporary political challenges that I am glossing over.)

    I’ve noticed in other comments that your blog has inspired people to visit the places you write about! Now I’m feeling it too. At least in La Crosse I will be much closer to the source of the Mississippi than I usually am! (New Orleans is the location from which I have most frequently appreciated it.)

  2. Yes, in the 1830s the country was still recognizably similar to the vision of the Founders, with farmers and yeomen comprising an educated and informed electorate and ordinary (white, male) citizens taking time out to serve in government. The industrialization of the country was well under way, but by 1840 only 11% of the population lived in cities, and still only 18% in the Northeast.

  3. As always, Keith, I so enjoy your observations! I also love history and reading about said history from a master of the English language.

    When I ponder how difficult English is to learn, I am in awe of our immigrants who have mastered it. I am sure glad that I didn’t have to learn it as a second language!

  4. Thanks Linda! As a friend of mine once said, “I’m a master of the English language. It lies bleeding at my feet.” 😛

  5. Here’s an interesting note from Samuel Abbott Green’s 1894 book, An Historical Sketch of Groton, Massachusetts, 1655-1890:

    It is curious to note the different ways which the early settlers had of spelling the name; and the same persons took little or no care to write it uniformly. Among the documents and papers that I have examined in collecting material for a history of the town, I find it spelled in twenty-one different ways, viz: Groton, Grotten, Groten, Grotten, Grotin, Groaten, Groatne, Groaton, Groatton, Grooton, Grorton, Grouten, Grouton, Groughton, Growton, Growtin, Groyton, Grauton, Grawten, Grawton and Croaton.
  6. Keith,

    Great stuff, as always.

    A few observations/questions.

    1. Wow, that family sure had some longevity genes! John Boutell lived to be 100, for one instance, and his wife made it to 93. These are not lifespans I associate with people born in the 1600’s.

    2. Any idea whether Willam Thurston attempted to write the Ojibwa language? Here on Martha’s Vineyard there’s an ongoing program to revive the Wampanoag language. A key source is a version of the Eliot Bible that was translated into Wapanoag by Experience Mayhew.

  7. Thanks John. Yes, I wondered about that longevity — checked John Boutell at two different sources and they agreed that he had died at 100. That had to have been vanishingly rare back then. This page says it was rare even as late as 1940! “Roughly 1 person in every 6,000 reach their 100th birthday today. Fifty years ago, only 1 person in every 67,000 reached the century mark.”

    I don’t know about Rev. Wm. and his language studies; will see what I can find. I know that now Ojibwa is written using the English alphabet, and somewhat phonetically from what I have seen (which is mostly the English transcriptions of religious hymns in that language).

    (Now that I look, Wikipedia says: “…no standard writing system [is] used to represent all dialects. Ojibwe dialects have been written in numerous ways over a period of several centuries, with the development of different written traditions reflecting a range of influences from the orthographic practices of other languages.” The one I have encountered seems to be “the double vowel system, attributed to Charles Fiero.”)

  8. John — I found an account of Rev. Wm. Boutwell’s life and ministry in the Journal of Presbyterian History (who knew?). You’ll need a Jstor account to read that. Boutwell worked with the Indians for 15 years at Leech Lake and up around what became Duluth; but it seems he didn’t do much with the Ojibwa language. His wife was 1/4 Ojibwe and spoke the language as a native, as well as English and French. Boutwell seems to have considered it his main job to entice or cajole the Indians into the modern white man’s lifestyle and economy; he learned of their rituals and beliefs but apparently found no good in them. Such mores were not to be built upon but instead stamped out and replaced. There was no sense, in Boutwell or the organization that sent him, that one could be Christian without also living like a white man. To modern eyes, not an admirable attitude.

  9. I just added a photo of the (possible) Boutwell inscription or signature from the basement of my old house, courtesy of the current owner.

  10. Great article, good read. Many researchers miss the fact that George Sewall Boutwell and Ulyssess Grant were also distant cousins, although I don’t believe they ever realized it during their lifetimes. Their common ancestor was Robert White, who lived in the County of Essex, England.

  11. Thanks David, really interesting. Of course George went to work in the Grant administration.

    I have to ask: are you a descendent of George? Or how do you connect with that line? As far as I can see his two children had no issue.

    And I’m curious how you came across this article.

    [ Note added 2019-07-25: David replied privately that he is a third cousin five times removed from both George and Rev. William. He found this blog post via Brent Peterson of the Washington County (Stillwater) Historical Society, from whom we shall hear more below. ]

  12. A friend commented on a private mailing list that Rev. Boutwell’s Latin may not have been all that impressive:

    Veritas is “truth,” a noun, and such a construction would suggest that the lake is both (the) truth and (the) head. Better Latin would be either verum caput or caput verum.

    I’ll take my friend’s word for it, as my own “small Latin” is decades in the past. It surprises me that the Rev. Boutwell would make such an elementary error in Latin grammar. He had, after all, a fine education. And Brent Peterson of the Washington County (Stillwater) Historical Society confirmed to me privately by email that Rev. Boutwell’s classical education was rigorous and his facility with languages was strong.

    Which all leads me to believe that the conventional origin story for the name of Lake Itasca has been fudged a bit. My supposition is that Rev. Boutwell and the expedition leader, Schoolcraft, put their heads together and came up with a reasonably euphonious name, which had the virtue of sounding vaguely “Indian.” Schoolcraft in fact was known for this kind of naming.

  13. I came across your site and look forward to sharing information. I’m writing a biography of George S. Boutwell, who was a cousin of my great, great, grandfather, Rodney Cleaves Boutwell (1811-1889) of Lyndeborough, NH – William Thurston was one of Rodney’s many sons – but not my direct ancestor. Info on my book is at jeffreyboutwell.com. George was a fascinating public figure in American life, a close friend of Lincoln and Grant, impeacher of Andrew Johnson, and interacting with American Presidents from Martin van Buren in 1839 to Teddy Roosevelt in 1904.

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