Monday, April 11, 2022

George Scott's Legacy

Abigail Erving's husband was a career military man. He had participated in many grueling battles as the British fought to take Canadian territory from France. He also participated in burning villages in Canada and capturing women and children. That made it all the more surprising to find so much humor in his will. What is not surprising is to see the continued evidence of great wealth and wealth-building among the Erving associates.

George's will was written in Grenada where he served as Lieutenant Governor, not on  his death bed, as many are, but as he left to govern the island of Dominica in 1767. It begins as so many do:


Well, maybe not all are so confident of Heaven. It reads: 

As all Men are born to die,
And sooner or later it must be my fate, whenever it may
happen, I have not the least doubt but the great and Almighty
God will receive my soul into a state of bliss through the
abundance of his own goodness and the merits of my dear     
Redeemer Jesus Christ in whom I believe after the mode of
the Church of England.
And as I have always looked upon love and friendship to be
two of the greatest virtues we can possess here on Earth I
would not depart this life without giving marks of cash to
such as deserve them from me, and being of sound and
disposing mind and memory I George Scott Lieut Colonel in
his Majesty’s Army, do make and publish this my last 
Will and Testament.

First, he provides for his wife, Abigail Erving, out of the proceeds of a plantation he has in Grenada called Boulogne, which will be under the care of his brother Michael.

First I give and bequeath all my Estate or Estates both real 
and personal at Grenada Islands to my dearly beloved Brother
Michael Scott Esquire in trust for any issue I may hereafter have
lawfully begotten, in default thereof to him, his heirs and
assigns for ever, subject nevertheless to the following Legacies
to wit, from the day of my death to be paid regularly out of
the produce of my Boulogne Estate to my excellent Wife
Abigail, the sum of three hundred and sixty five Guineas
per annum during the state of her Widowhood and no
longer. I do also give unto her for ever, all my household
furniture, both in this part of the World and at Boston, the
plate excepted, while at her death is to return to my Brother
Michael or his heirs. I likewise give unto her for ever all
the jewels and wearing apparel I have at different times
presented unto her, likewise a purse containing between
two and three hundred Guineas and two hundred half
Joannes to be paid her out of my ready Cash to bear her
expenses to New England, likewise her choice of any four
Slaves she may pick upon, which at her death are to be
the property of my Brother Joseph Scott at Halifax or his

We must assume he holds many enslaved people for her to pick from, not just the laborers on his plantation, but house servants that she would consider taking with her to Boston on his death. They may have had a house in Boston waiting for her, if there were "household goods" there.

Next, we learn of his significant holdings in Nova Scotia, which could have been spoils of war. The land he gave to Joseph became Bedford, outside of Halifax, and where the Scott home is now a museum, billed as one of the oldest homes in Nova Scotia. 
And to my Brother Joseph and his heirs for
ever, I give and bequeath all my lands, houses and
possessions of what kind so ever in the province of Nova
Scotia, with one hundred pounds Sterling to put himself
and family into Mourning. And if it was possible I
would leave him all my activity of Body as he has
great occasion for it.

But what is the dig at the end? Is Joseph heavy? Clearly, brother John is doing well enough that, even though George 'esteems' him, he doesn't need more money.

To my Excellent friend and brother John Scott Esquire of
Jamaica I give one thousand pounds Sterling to be paid
within a year after my death, and to his daughter
Frances and his son John five hundred pounds Sterling
each of them when they come of Age. I would bequeath
more to my dearest brother John, having the highest
opinion of his esteem and friendship but measure he
can have no occasion for it. 

General Moncton and George were more than battle buddies, as George was made Godfather of his oldest, and reportedly illegitimate, daughter. They were together in Canada and in the islands.

To my ever respected and best Benefactor my most valuable
friend General Moncton, the sum of one thousand pounds
Sterling to be paid him in a year, and to his eldest child
named Elizabeth (my God daughter) one thousand pounds
Sterling when she comes of age. Were it in my
power to show him my gratitude in stronger terms I
would do it.

Brother Henry seems to be a little out of favor as well: 

To my Brother Henry five hundred pounds Sterling to   
be paid him in a year after my death. I would leave him
more if I thought he would make a good use of it or turn
it to any advantage, and I sincerely wish I could leave him all
my good humour as I am persuaded he wants it and
infinitely more to counter balance his own froward

His father is not named, believed to be John Scott, and two sisters receive 300 pounds.

To my ever honored father, three hundred pounds Sterling
to be paid him a year after my death. To my sister
Sarah three hundred pounds Sterling to be paid in like
To my sister Mary three hundred pounds Sterling, and to
be paid in like manner

 However, Elizabeth and he clearly have a past: 

To Elizabeth one hundred pounds Sterling in like manner
and she must thank her self that I do not leave her more.

We will assume she is a sister, although it is not explicitly stated. He knew people in Nova Scotia, which indicates that he had not just acquired land sight unseen. 

To my much esteemed friend Richard Bulkley Esquire of Nova
Scotia one hundred pounds Sterling paid him in a year.
To my faithful friend Joshua Winslow Esquire of Nova
Scotia one hundred pounds Sterling to be paid in like
manner, and my Bass Viol to play psalm tunes upon to
indulge his Nancy.

He plays the bass? Is the bass in Nova Scotia or will it be shipped from the islands? 

Now, this next one is quite a dig: 

Winckworth Tonge Esquire of Nova Scotia, I should have
been glad to have call’d my friend, but as he is not mine
nor any Man’s else, I leave him my best wishes for his
being blessed with more integrity and candor.

Back to Boston, two friends will wear mourning rings for George. Why is his brother-in-law James' ring less valuable? Is that what a prudent friend does?

                           To my esteemed friend Nathaniel Wheelwright Esquire of

Boston, I leave twenty pounds Sterling to buy a Ring.
To my esteemed and very prudent friend the Honourable
James Bowdoin Esquire of Boston, twenty Guineas to buy
him a Ring.

 Some specific bequests of objects. A fusee would have been a rifle.

To my very honest, lazy friend Alexander Winniat Esqre
of the Grenadas, one hundred pounds, with my Fusee
and Scalping Axe.
To my indefatigable friend Mr. Mar Cleare one hundred
Pounds, with the sword, pistols and gold headed cane
which he made me a present of.
To Jack Snow, one hundred pounds, and to his Mother my
Gold Snuff Box as a small mark of my friendship for her.

Then the manumission of a single enslaved servant, who is expected to mourn him:

To Leonard my black Boy, five pounds and a suit of
Mourning, and to be sent to his father at Martinique
He being free. 

Then we have a standard closing in legal-ese. It is interesting that George Erving, his brother-in-law was a witness. He was a merchant in his own right and may have traveled to the islands to secure a shipment of molasses or other produce of the plantations.

In witness where of I have hereunto
set my hand and Seal this 22 day of December in the
Year of our Lord 1764
Signed seal’d published and                                         Geo Scott
Declared by the above named
George Scott in the presence of
we who in the presence of each                                 Entered 5th Decr. 1767
other have hereunto subscribed
our Names
                Geo Erving
                George Leonard Staunton
                  Jno Grigg

But wait, as they say, there's more! If you have read along this far, it gets even more interesting. Did George die in a duel? Did George fight a duel? The important question is the date of the codicil. It seems pretty evident to my reading of the script that it would be "Febr" based on the way he forms his fs in 'father' and 'first.' He died in November of 1767, but this was written in February.

Having been grossly insulted this afternoon by
Alexander Campbell and being fully determin’d to meet him
tomorrow Morning - In case I should happen to fall, I do
hereby make alteration in  in my last will and Testament
made at Grenada a little before my departure from there in
the year 1764 viz., that my much esteem’d wife Abigail
shall annually receive out of the profits of my Estate at
Grenada called Boulogne the sum of five hundred pounds
Sterling during her natural life., that after all my
Debts and Legacies as mention’d in my former Will at
Granada in 1764 are duly honored, then the neat income of
my estate clear of my Wife Abigail’s five hundred pounds
Sterling per Annum to be equally divided between my Brothers
Henry and Michael until my Nephew George Scott, the
son of my excellent Brother John is at the age of twenty
two years old when my Estate called Boulogne is to be
entirely his property he paying my wife Abigail her
her Legacy of five hundred pounds Sterling per annum
during her natural life, and in case of the death of my
Nephew George the son of my Brother John, then my
Estate called Boulogne shall in like manor be the
Property of my Nephew John Scott the eldest son of
my Brother John, and in case of his death, then the
Estate of Boulogne to be the equal property of my
Brothers Henry and Michael during their natural
life, they constantly paying as aforesaid five hundred
pounds per Annum to my dearest Wife Abigail during
Her life and after the death of my Brothers Henry
and Michael my Estate called Boulogne is to be the
property of my Brother John’s children then living in
whatever manner he shall think most proper to will or
divide it amongst them my wife’s five hundred pounds
Sterling per annum being at all times secured to her during
Her natural life time to the Reverend Henry
? as a mark of my real esteem for him and his
Brother I leave him one hundred pounds Sterling out of my
ready Cash and his note of hand to be given to him gratis.
To Garrett ? whom I look upon as a Man of honor
and sentiment fifty pounds Sterling out of my ready cash
as a mark of my esteem and I do request these two
Gentlemen to afford their friendship to my wife Abigail
in case I fall until she get a good and convenient passage to her
and my friends to Boston in New England. In Witness
                                                whereof I have hereunto set my hand and
                                                seal this 5th day of Febr 1767
                                                                                Geo Scott

                At this time of night 11 oClock to get any witness to
Attest this being impossible but all who know my hand
Writing will know this to be my last Will and Testament

If the codicil was indeed written in February - see what you think from the image - it was not registered until his death in November and attested by someone who recognized his hand.

I think the will and its codicil were put away in February until his death in November. Abigail's allowance was increased, although she was not to have time to enjoy it. The following is the attestation and the naming of his brother as executor, seemingly 11 months later. 

                                Before me William Woodbrige Esquire
                                Assistant Judge of the Court of Common Pleas off
                                The said Island
Personally appeared Arthur St. George Esquire Major in
his Majesty's sixty second Regiment of foot who made oath
upon the holy Evangelists of Almighty God that he is well
acquainted with the hand writing of George Scott Esquire late
Lieutenant Governor of the said Island deceased having often
seen him write and that the writing hereunto annexed is of
the proper hand writing of the said George Scott
Sworn before me this 9th day of                                 Arthur St George
November 1767
On the nineteenth day of October in the year of our Lord
one thousand seven hundred and sixty eight Administration
with the will and Codicil annexed of the Goods Chattels and
Credits of the Honourable George Scott late Lieutenant
Governor of the Island of Dominica in America Exquire,
deceased, was granted to Michael Scott Esquire the natural
and lawful Brother of the said deceased and one of the
Residuary Legatees named in the said Codicil he having been
first sworn duly to administer for that as Executor is named in
the said Will.

A death notice was published in Boston papers. Even if a duel were to be disguised, would the 5 day illness be invented? He would have fallen ill on October 31. Although Alexander Campbell is not an uncommon name, an Alexander Campbell lived in Grenada for many years more. It will be interesting to see if this can be proven.




(1) Image at Wikipedia attributed to John Singleton Copley, said to be owned by The Brook, a New York club. 

(2)  Will at the National Archives UK as PROB 11/943/79

(3)  The Boston Gazette and Country Journal, 14 March 1768, p.3.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

 Meet Abigail Erving Scott

Abigail was John and Abigail Erving's fourth daughter, and the second given her mother's name. She was born 17 September 1733.(1) The first Abigail, born in 1729, died young. I haven't found a record of her death.

The Joseph Blackburn portrait of Abigail, painted about 1760, is my favorite of the paintings I have found for the Erving family. It gives the impression of a woman in motion and I have to believe that implies a vibrant personality. She is on the move and can't be bothered to sit still.


We haven't found many details about Abigail's  life. Women can be defined in part by their children, but she did not have any that are known. We look at records that are available around the men in her life. She grew up in Boston as her father's career transitioned from being a sea captain to an influential merchant. Many of the young men of her "class" made their careers in the military and were occupied with the French and Indian war as she came of age. 

Abigail married at twenty-six on 22 November 1759.(3) Her mother had died in June of that year. Her husband was George Scott, who had a successful military career in the British army during the war in Canada. Only two months before their marriage he was actively clearing villages on the St. Lawrence north of Quebec.(4) They would have had an introduction at some point prior and perhaps correspondence. If any letters survived, they are still hidden. He could have encountered Abigail's brother William, who was also a soldier during the war, or John who was providing arms. Abigail's brother-in-law James Bowdoin will later be named in his will, so there are many possibilities. Details of his early life, or even his age, have not been confirmed. A gap in his military record may indicate some time together in Boston or elsewhere after their marriage. 

His days of fighting did not end with their marriate. Scott participated in a successful expedition against Martinique in late 1761, and then in Grenada. He was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Grenada in 1762. Abigail likely had remained in Boston. It is not known if she relocated soon after. The description of 'wretched huts' below is not inviting. 

George was appointed the Lieutenant Governor of the island of Dominica in September 1763.(5)  His actual departure took place at the end of 1764, when he was saluted by the "principal planters, merchants, and inhabitants" of Grenada, as shown in the article copied in part below. There is no mention of his wife in the discussion of his hospitality. 


George wrote an extensive will in1764 in Grenada, that was witnessed by his brother-in-law George Erving, who may have been traveling to secure trade for his store in Boston. This will deserves a post of its own and will follow. 

George's will left his property in Dominica, known as the Boulogne estate, to his brother Michael, with an annuity to Abigail of 365 guineas during her widowhood. If she married again it reverted to his brother. That amount was increased to 500 in a codicil written three years later. He either forgot to restrict it to her widowhood, or changed his mind. She was to have a "purse" of two to three hundred guineas to transport her back to New England. All of his household property "in this part of the world and at Boston" was to go to Abigail, along with "all of the jewels and wearing apparel" he had presented to her at different times. Abigail was also to have her pick of four slaves, who would revert to his brother upon her death. In an island economy that was supported on the backs of enslaved Africans, this should not be surprising. But in the codicil, he gave freedom to "his black boy" Leonard, with 5 pounds for a mourning suit, and sent him to his father in Martinique.(6) 

Abigail died just a few months after George, still in Dominica. They had been married 18 years. A death notice on 18 March 1768 described her as "the amiable and virtuous consort of the Honorable George Scott, Esq."(7)



(1)  Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute accessed on line at Ancestry as Massachusetts U.S. Town and vital records 1620-1988, citing Boston, Abigail Erving.

(2)  Boston, Massachusetts Registry Department. Boston Marriages from 1700 to 1751. Vol. 1. Boston, MA, USA: Municipal Print, 1898, on line at Ancestry.

(3) The portrait, by Joseph Blackburn, itself has an interesting history, passed down through her brother John's descendants and displayed at the Hudson-Fulton celebration in New York City in 1909. It is now owned by the Museum of Fine Art in Houston, Texas.  See more information here

(4) See information on his military history here.

(5) From The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News Letter, 10 November 1763, online at, 

(7) The Boston Gazette and Country Journal, 20 May 1765, on line at

(7) Will at the National Archives of the UK, file PROB11/943/79

(8) New Hampshire Gazette, Portsmouth, NH, 18 March 1768, on line at American

Monday, March 21, 2022

 Sarah Erving Waldo

Some thoughts about one of the Erving women during Women's Month

Sarah Erving worked this sampler in 1750, when she was 13 and learning the womanly arts befitting her social status. It represents the Spies of Canaan, Joshua and Caleb from the Old Testament, according to the description by the Peabody Essex Museum, which holds the item in their collection.1

Sarah was born to Abigail and John Erving in 1737, into a family of three brothers and three sisters. She had one more younger sister and a brother in the next 3 years. By 1750 her oldest sister, Elizabeth, had already married at 17 and had her own daughter. 

There was a shortage of suitors during the war in Canada during the 1750s. Sarah married at the Brattle Street Church in Boston in 1762 to a much older man who had been to war. Colonel Samuel Waldo, Jr. and his father the Brigadier General had large land holdings in what is now Cumberland County Maine. She was 24, but he was 39, and widowed a year before. The marriage intention was published in Falmouth as well as Boston, and they returned to the Waldo land after they married.

Sarah seems to have inherited her mother's fertility, and had a daughter 9 months after her marriage. Their first two children were named Sarah and Samuel, with Samuel following 15 months after his sister. Her next son was named for her father, followed by Lucy, Samuel's mother's name, and Francis. 

The portrait of Sarah by John Singleton Copley speaks of the Waldo wealth and privilege. It is dated 1764-5. Although the tea table signifies domesticity, I can't help wondering if it hides a pregnancy. The artist could portray her in any way he wished, unlike a photograph where she might need to be camouflaged.

Samuel Waldo died in 1770, four months before their last son, Ralph, was born. Sarah brought her children back to her family home in Boston, where the child was born. I imagine her as the hostess of her father's mansion on Marlboro Street, since her mother had been gone for more than 10 years, but I haven't found evidence of this. Her brother George had lost his wife that same year and young George was only a year old. He had cousins nearby. 

Most of the Waldos remained Loyalists, but luckily Sarah didn't have to contemplate evacuating to England once she was under her father's care, as some of her in-laws did, and as did two of her brothers. 
Did she care for her father in his decline until his death in 1786? Sadly, her son John died at sea at Bermuda earlier that same year.

The 1790 census lists "Mrs. Waldo"  in Boston with a male over 16 and two other women. One was likely her daughter, Lucy, who did not marry until 1807. When her brother William died in 1791, the funeral was held from Sarah's home on Bromfield's Lane. The current Bromfield Street intersects Tremont opposite the Granary Burial Ground where her father was buried.

In 1810 she had 2 women living with her in her Tremont Street home-her first name was recorded on the census that year. One of the women was under 16 and the other over 45, likely servants. . 

Sara was 80 when she died in 1817 in Middletown, Connecticut, where Lucy lived. She had a significant estate, with a value of $2M in current dollars. Lucy was her only living child, but she mentioned the grandchildren through Samuel and Sarah in her very detailed will. Samuel's daughter, Sarah, seems to be a favorite, receiving her gold watch and seal. Lucy received her brick mansion house on Tremont Street which was valued at $20,000, as well as her household items, jewelry and wearing apparel "notwithstanding her coverture," meaning it would not go to her husband.3

It isn't easy to piece together the lives of Colonial women, but the Ervings left more records than most.
1 Sampler available to purchase as a kit at Peabody Essex Museum. 
2 See a description here.
3Middletown CT probate on Ancestry

Friday, March 4, 2022

Portrait of a Bostonian 

The John Singleton Copley painting of John Erving is part of the artist's significant body of work in Boston portraiture in the pre-Revolutionary period. Copley painted Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock. He also painted several of the Erving children and extended family. His talents were in demand among the elite of Boston.

The Erving portrait was included in the Erving Town History published in 1983; if other images of him exist, they are not widely known. A small copy is framed in the Erving Town Hall. The original painting can be seen "up close and personal" in the Smith College Museum of Art, side by side with the portrait of his wife, Abigail.

Erving was approaching 80 when he sat for this painting. He had lived more than 10 years since Abigail's death, and would live more than 10 more. He had accomplished much, and would soon navigate the revolutionary period, and come out with his fortunes reasonably intact. The wig and fine clothing he chose for this portrait speak of wealth and British style. He is respected, about to pick up his quill and answer an important letter.

His grandchildren were growing up in Boston, Connecticut, and Maine in the 1770s, and by the time he died at 94 there would be descendants in England and Scotland as well. They would include merchants, men of science, and diplomats. John Erving outlived a son, two daughters and two sons-in-law, in addition to one daughter who died as an infant. Though still living, two sons who evacuated to England at the start of the Revolutionary War would never return to Boston.

John Erving made his fortune in shipping and in real estate. He was a very wealthy and powerful man. His position in the colonial government gave him the ability to purchase undeveloped land in western Massachusetts. The land he bought that would eventually bear his name, the Town of Erving north of the Millers River, remained nearly untouched until after his death. He made a profit on land he acquired in the towns of Wendell, Orange, Royalston, Granville and Gardner, and passed some to his heirs.

We can gain some insight into John Erving's state of mind as he drew to the end of his life by the words of his son, William, who would have been a witness to his father's decline. William wrote this request to his executors in his own will:

"whereas our Family have been known for a long time to have laboured under a severe Nervous Disorder which terminated for some time before previous to their Death in a Depreciation of their reason and Understanding. Item. And whereas I am at Present visited with all symptoms of that disorder that used to attend my Father, and as I have no reason to suppose but that my mind will be like an old worn out Lock as his was previous to his death and as I have all the reason to suppose that my mind will relapse into the same way. It is my will that if it should so happen and that in consequence of it, in my behaviour I do nothing Injurious to myself or fortune that they would consider me as a human being and indulge me in all things that may be requested to my comfort and Happiness."

John Erving's will mentions several valued servants, whom we may believe insured his comfort and happiness. 


Thursday, February 10, 2022

 John Erving Meets Phillis Wheatley

      Or Did He?

African slavery was a fact of life in Colonial Boston. Black house servants or dock workers were not notable. It is hard to believe that many of the wealthy class did not have a connection to the profitable trade in African lives. Many prominent New England families had ties to the plantations on the Caribbean islands or in the American south. If they did not have an ownership interest, they supplied them with processed fish that would not sell elsewhere. They imported their molasses or rum. Or they simply prospered from free enslaved labor at home.

So it was not remarkable when the child of six or seven, whose age was reportedly marked by her missing front teeth, was sold to the family of prominent taylor John Wheatley in 1761. They gave her the name of the ship that brought her from West Africa, the Phillis and, as was the custom, she used the surname of her enslaver when one was called for. The name her mother called her was forgotten. 

Even in her servitude, Phillis was recognized as a bright child. She loved to learn and was tutored by the children of the household. After mastering English, she learned to read "the classics" in Latin and Greek. She began to write poetry that reflected events of the time. Some of her verses, eulogies, were published in the newspapers.

Phillis Wheatley statue by Meredith Bergmann 2003, photo by the artist.(1)

The Wheatleys sought to publish her poems as a book, but who would believe the ability of a slave girl to produce such creative works?  Who would buy her book? Advertisements were placed in Boston papers for subscribers for a publication run, but it was not successful. No one in Boston wanted to take the risk of printing her book without assurances of a return. The Wheatleys took her to London where they found a more open group of investors, but not before convening a group of respected gentlemen in Boston to attest to her talents. The following introduction was printed in the front of her book of poetry, Poems of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first work to be published by an African writing in America. 

We whose Names are under-written, do assure the World, that the Poems specified in the following Page, were (as we verily believe) written by Phillis, a young Negro Girl, who was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town. She has been examined by some of the best Judges, and is thought qualified to write them. 

His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Governor,
The Hon. Andrew Oliver, Lieutenant-Governor,
The Hon. Thomas Hubbard ,          The Rev. Charles Chauncy, D.D.
The Hon. John Erving,                    The Rev. Mather Byles, D.D.
The Hon. James Pitts,                    The Rev. Ed. Pemberton, D.D.
The Hon. Harrison Gray,                The Rev. Andrew Elliot, D.D.
The Hon. James Bowdoin,             The Rev. Samuel Cooper, D. D.
John Hancock, Esqr.                      The Rev Mr. Samuel Mather,
Joseph Green, Esqr.                      The Rev. Mr. John Moorhead,
Richard Carey, Esqr.                      Mr. John Wheatley, her Master

Did they refer to themselves as "some of the best Judges"? Or were they giving their names to attest to an examination by someone else? 

John Erving's inclusion in this group is another sign of his position in Boston's political scene of the eighteenth century. And John Wheatley was unabashedly "her Master."
Notes: (1)   Boston's Women's Memorial, see the artist's information here.