Further Fates of the Hoar Family

The final installment of the "Tales of Sleepy Hollow" series.

Still in the Hoar family plot [Photo 1], take a closer look at the big stone at the right rear. [Photo 2]. It marks the graves of George Frisbie Hoar (1826-1904), his wife Mary Louisa Spurr, and their daughter Mary Hoar, his wife Ruth Miller — whom he married after Mary Louisa's death — and their daughter Alice who died before her second birthday. No, George has no connection to the plastic flying disk. That cool toy is said to have originated in pie plates made by the Frisbie Baking Co. of Bridgeport, Conn. and sailed by Yale students. George, like his father Squire Sam, and his brothers Rockwood and Edward, was a Harvard man, graduating from both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. That, of course, came after his basic education in Concord, some of it as a student of Henry and John Thoreau.

In 1852, just four years after taking his law degree, George was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. His political progress continued: elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1857, to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1868, and to the U.S. Senate in 1877, where he served until his death.

In all of these roles, George attacked political corruption and championed the rights of African Americans and Native Americans. In the U.S. Senate, he opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act and  Women's suffrage, and wrote the Presidential Succession Act of 1886. It created a new order of succession to the presidency, making the members of the Cabinet, starting with the Secretary of State, the first in line after the Vice President. In 1888, George chaired the Republican National Convention.

But Senator Hoar's strongest passion was his opposition to the Philippine-American War and what he saw as the imperialism of President William McKinley's administration. In the 1898 Treaty of Paris following the Spanish-American War, Spain relinquished its control of the Philippines, which were then annexed by the United States as unincorporated territories. Breaking from the Republican president and most of the Congressional Republicans, Senator Hoar objected vigorously to the annexation, but to no avail. In a 1902 Senate speech, he denounced the resulting Philippine-American War in the strongest terms:

"You have sacrificed nearly 10,000 American lives — the flower of our youth. You have devastated provinces. You have slain uncounted thousands of the people you desire to benefit. You have established concentration camps. Your generals are coming home from their harvest bringing ... thousands of sick and wounded and insane to drag out miserable lives, wrecked in body and mind. You make the American flag in the eyes of a numerous people the emblem of sacrilege in Christian churches, and of the burning of human dwellings, and of the horror of the water torture....[Emphasis added]

"Your practical statesmanship has succeeded in converting a people who three years ago were ready to kiss the hem of the garment of the American and to welcome him as a liberator, who thronged after your men when they landed on those islands with benediction and gratitude, into sullen and irreconcilable enemies...."

Senator Hoar was right. Testimony to an investigative committee chaired by Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge established that the U.S. military had indeed committed multiple atrocities, including water torture. [See "Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903," by historian Stuart Creighton Miller.]

Surprisingly, despite Hoar's abhorrence of U.S. policies and practices in the Philippines, he maintained a positive, optimistic belief in America and the future. Walk around behind George's gravestone, sit down on the wall, and read his creed inscribed on the stone. [Photo 3]

"...I believe in the American people ... I believe ... that the world is growing better, that today is better than yesterday, and that tomorrow will be better than today."  I hope that George, if he were alive today, would say those words.

The last Hoar buried here that we'll discuss is Edward Sherman Hoar (1893-1895).  His stone is at the left rear of the plot [Photo 4]. Like his father and brothers, Edward became a lawyer. But he was not your ordinary lawyer. He left Harvard College during his first year and went west to hunt buffalo, getting as far as Kentucky before turning back. He entered Harvard Law School but completed law school in New York City, where he was admitted to the bar and practiced law for a short time. As his brother Rockwood put it, "He found the confinement oppressive."

So Edward took a boat to Vera Cruz, then rode a mule across Mexico to the Pacific, learning Spanish along the way. He traveled up the coast to California where he served as a district attorney and became an active cattle trader for about seven years. After returning to Concord, he sailed to Florence, Italy where, in 1858, he married Elizabeth Hallet from Concord. They named their daughter, born in 1860, Florence.

In 1860, Edward bought a farm in Lincoln, which he managed for 11 years, personally driving a wagon to Boston to sell his produce at Faneuil Hall. In 1872, he moved his family to Sicily, bought a small estate, and raised oranges and lemons for three years. The final years of his life he spent in Concord where, according to Rockwood, he read Homer and Theocritus in the original Greek, while being "an accomplished naturalist," a serious botanist, "an ornithologist of accurate and extensive observations," and "something of a geologist."

Sounds a bit like Thoreau, right? Not surprising. In Edward's early life, he and Henry were close friends. It's sad that, despite the wonderfully varied and accomplished life he led, Edward is probably remembered most often as the young man who, on April 30, 1844, just as he was graduating from Harvard, accompanied Thoreau on the ill-fated boating expedition in which they accidentally burned down 300 acres of Concord woods valued at about $2000. Although deeply embarrassed, they were saved from serious financial or legal trouble by Edward's father, Squire Sam Hoar, Concord's leading citizen. Unfortunately, the woods burning incident lives on in American culture. [See attached cartoon.]

Two other members of the remarkable Hoar family, not buried in this plot, whom I can't ignore are Leonard Hoar, a contemporary of Isaac Newton, who, in 1672, became the third president of Harvard College; and Samuel Hoar, great-grandson of Rockwood Hoar, who, in 1944, donated to the federal government several parcels of meadowland on the Concord River, which became the nucleus of Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. This Samuel Hoar is buried in Sleepy Hollow on the rise off Upland Avenue near Oak Avenue.

That concludes this tour of Sleepy Hollow. But by obtaining the guide, "The Legendary Sleepy Hollow Cemetery," published by The Friends of Sleepy Hollow and available at The Colonial Inn, Dee's Funeral Home, and other places listed at www.friendsofsleepyhollow.org, you can find and visit many other interesting graves, including:

  • Prudence Ward, grandmother of Ellen Sewall, to whom both Henry and John Thoreau proposed marriage;
  • Capt. Artimas Wheeler, who invented the first rotating cylinder for a gun, the precursor of the Colt revolver;
  • Edward Nealy, whose gravestone, an Indian mortar stone, was found in the woods by Edward and H.D. Thoreau;
  • Katherine K. Davis, who composed the Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy";
  • Allen French, historian author of the 20th century "Historic Concord";
  • Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, a widely admired "authority on everything," who once lived in the Old Manse;
  • The Munroe Family, including the first U.S. pencil maker and the benefactor of the Concord Free Public Library;
  • Sam Staples, the friendly constable who confined Thoreau one night in the county jail;
  • Ruth Robinson Wheeler, historian author of "Concord: Climate for Freedom";
  • and many others.

Harry Beyer, a licensed town guide, has lived and walked in Concord since 1966.


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