Nathan Cook Brackett, my great-great-grandfather, was the Founder and President of Storer College, a school that opened in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1867 to educate freed men and women of all ages. This is his public persona and an interesting story, which I will recount. But he was also a patriarch of my family, a beloved father of five and grandfather to many more. As we always refer to him as Grandfather Brackett, I shall do so here.
Grandfather Brackett was born on 7/28/1836 in Phillips, Maine. His parents were Joshua Brackett and Mary Cook. He was a farmer, as was his father, but in 1857 he attended Bates College (then called the Maine State Seminary) and then Colby College (then called Waterville College) and finally Dartmouth College, where he graduated with a degree in divinity. He met my great-great grandmother, Louise Wood, at Maine State Seminary. They married in 1865. They were both committed abolitionists.
I was told by my grandmother than Grandfather Brackett’s mother was responsible for his scholarly interests. I’ve tried and am still trying to find information about Mary Cook Brackett. I know who her parents were and their life facts, but nothing whatsoever about how my 3rd great grandmother influenced her son’s interest in education, rather atypical for the wife of a farmer at this time.
Grandfather Brackett was happy to give up farming. In 1906, at the age of 70, he gave an interview to the Lewiston Journal, a newspaper in Maine. In this interview he recalls the day that he turned 21. Since the age of 17 he had been teaching elementary school in a very rural area, and then farming in the summer. He says that at the end of that day of haymaking he threw up his hat and his scythe with a shout.
“My time is at last finished,” I said to the man with me.
“I suppose you will be married now,” he said.
“No,” I replied, “not for ten years. I’m going to get an education.”
I’m fortunate to have a copy of a document written in 1970 by Thomas B. Robertson, the grandson of Nathan Cook Brackett, by daughter Mary, my 2nd great aunt and sister to my great-grandmother. Thomas’s recollections were dedicated to his granddaughters. He describes going to visit Grandfather and Grandmother Brackett as a child, usually for a stay of days or weeks. This would have been from 1900-1910, as Thomas was born in 1898 and Grandfather Brackett died in 1910.
Thomas, who lived with his parents and brothers in Chevy Chase, outside of DC, loved Harpers Ferry because it was so much LESS modern that his home town. He describes Grandfather Brackett taking the children for buggy rides in the summer, and sleigh rides in the winter, courtesy of his precious horse, Maude. Grandfather Brackett would heat bricks made of sandstone and place them under the sleigh blankets to keep everyone warm.
And when Thomas was a bit older, he was able to ride alone. He says: “It was a special treat and thrill when Grandfather would put the saddle on good old Maude and turn her over to me and Maude and I would take off on interesting trips through the mountainous countryside in nearby Virginia and Maryland. “
So what have I learned in addition to what I know and don’t know about my ancestors? I’ve learned that my great-great grandchildren will have a hard time knowing much about me beyond what I have published and maybe some grant proposals I’ve written and scores of rather meaningless emails, if those survive. But that’s not what they will want to know! They’ll want to know about what kind of clothing I wore, what books I read, whether I liked to cook and what I prepared, what the name of my dog was and how we played, whether I had lovers and who they were, what my day to day life was like. The hundred page grant proposal for a Head Start program with all its details about the demographics of census tracks won’t do much for them; the novels and memoir perhaps a bit more.
Time to start journaling.
NEXT UP ON THIS BLOG: More about Grandfather and Grandmother Brackett’s life.