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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Hannah Perkins Huntington (Lynde Lothrop) and Joshua Huntington: A Norwich Merchant Marriage in 1718

Updated: Jan 17

By the early eighteenth-century, Norwich was a bustling trading center with some high-end merchants. Although not Boston or New York caliber, the Norwich group of traders and merchants were tight knit and amassed some respectable fortunes. As their ancestors had before them, they typically married into other merchant families.

John Smibert, Portrait of Sir Francis Grant and His Family, 1718, oil on canvas, 41 x 50 inches (SCAD Museum of Art). Family portraits were popular with British merchant families in the early 18th century. Notice the similarities between this Smibert portrait and that of the Feke portrait below.

As mentioned before, the early Huntingtons of Norwich typically married well and had large families. By the early 1700s, they were one of the largest kin groups in the Norwich-area and were prominent settlers in nearby towns like West Farms (Franklin), Windham, and Scotland.

Although Simon III married a socially connected woman in Lydia Gager (whose mother was a London merchant's daughter and father connected to the Winthrops), the Gagers by the late seventeenth century, were not a robust kin group.

Lydia and Simon's youngest son, Joshua (1698-1745) married Hannah Perkins (1701-1788). They were both very young. Hannah was the daughter of Captain Jabez Perkins (1677-1742 ) and Hannah Lothrop Perkins (1677-1721). The Perkins were second-tier proprietors and owned quite a bit of land near "the crotch of the rivers." They appear to have fit in well with the burgeoning mercantile Norwich. Their land probably proved very valuable with its easy access to water, and development potential.

Perkins was a ship captain in the spring/summer and a Cordwainer/currier (leatherworker) in the winter months. It also seems likely that his son, Jabez, Jr., was also a ship captain--because he died young (at age 40) probably of disease or lost at sea.

Unfortunately no known portraits of Joshua and Hannah Huntington exist. We can get a feel for what they might have aspired to look like by studying the family portraits of the Grant (English) and Royall (colonial Massachusetts) families above and below. The similarities in the pictures are striking even though they are two decades apart.

A merchant family
Isaac Royall and Family by Robert Feke (1741). One of the wealthiest merchant families in early 18th century Boston.

The Joshua Huntington inventory, dated 1745, is a precious window into his merchant business (and lifestyle) that he had attained by his early death. First, it is evident that he was selling all kinds of dry goods but primarily cloth, clothing, accessories, and rum.

Where was his store? The "trading shop" was located at "The Landing," the newest settlement in the nine miles square, about a mile from the green. By the time of the Revolution, some retail shops were located up on the Norwich green. And, many sold goods and services right out of their houses.

Only a very few eighteenth-century commercial buildings have survived in New England.

The Trumbull family storehouse in Lebanon, CT (adjacent to Norwich and now called "The War Office"). It was reportedly constructed in the 1730s. There would have been small buildings like this all over the place in 18th century New England. Plenty of storage on the second floor--hipped roofs added more room. The Jonathan Trumbulls and Jabez Huntingtons were part of the same social group during the mid-18th century.

Two merchant-type buildings on the Norwichtown green that have survived: The Old Schoolhouse (c.1789) and The Joseph Carpenter Silversmith Shop (c.1772). Both buildings are now owned and operated by the fantastic Norwich Historical Society.

The Pelletreau Silver shop, circa 1686, located in Southampton, NY. The oldest continuous store operating in North America. It started off as a dry goods' store.

These early "department" stores were full of whatever was available. There were practical items for everyday use like sealing wax, gun shot, bridles, earthenware, stoneware, compasses, snuff, bottles, scales, skillets, brooms, cheese hoops, and more. There were also imported fabrics--when he could get them.

The amount and variety of textiles and notions he sold is astounding. Everything from "Bristol Shiloon" to "coarse Carsy" to "Camblets." These rich fabrics from Europe (and elsewhere) were used to make fine coats for men, beautiful dresses for wealthy women, heavy curtains for windows and beds, and even fabrics for sailing, etc. Sturdy homespun bolts of cloth were also ready for trade.

Accessories included: mittens, silk stockings, garters, ladies' caps, thread, handkerchiefs, ribbons, knee straps, wax necklaces, hat bands, and buttons.

Eighteenth-century high-end fabrics. Similar imported fabrics like these might have been sold in Joshua and Hannah's store.

It was also a liquor store. Unsurprisingly, some of the most valued items were rums and sugars. At his death, Joshua owned almost 300 gallons of West India Rum as well as 100 gallons of good old New England rum made it his distillery by his wharf. Sugar for sale included the "better" type as well as thick molasses.

Barrels of rum. Rum was a form of currency in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Captain Joshua was an active participant in the Atlantic Trade. That means he was profiting off of slavery in the West Indies. He owned or part-owned three sloops: "Sarah," "Norwich," and "Dolphin." His 1745 inventory listed "half a negro man called Cuff, a young negro man named Elis, a negro woman call'd Ginny with her child, and a negro girl." Ginny, as well as another man named Scipio (property of Joshua as of 1742) were baptized in the First Church around 1740.

Black Americans were instrumental in the wealth building of early New England families and they deserve credit for their contributions. Enslaved people in Connecticut, like Ginny and Cuff, did the hard manual labor on a farm/estate like that of Joshua and Hannah. Not-free Black men and boys sowed the land, tended the herds, and so much more. Cuff performed jobs that Joshua did not have time for as a captain and merchant. Ginny did the exhausting and back-breaking chores like laundry. She also knew how to process flax and wool into yarn and possibly cloth. The physical labor typically shortened Black people's lives.

Owning an enslaved person (or two) also was a status symbol. By the 1770s, New London county was the epicenter for enslaved persons in Connecticut. The colony had the most enslaved persons in all of New England.

Joshua dressed like that of a Yankee country merchant: cane, gun, swords, and owned £132 worth of clothing at his death. He collected tea tables, coffee and tea accoutrements, silver pieces, pictures, maps, looking glasses, and had many chairs. Gone were the days of coopering like his father and grandfather and uncles before him.

A very prosperous New England merchant.

At the height of his career, Joshua caught Yellow Fever in the late summer of 1745. He died on August 26, 1745--age 46.

Jabez his eldest, had buried his young wife, Elizabeth (Backus), in July, due to childbirth fever. It was a horrific year for Jabez. Yellow Fever, would in fact, kill other members of the Huntington family, and their kin, during the eighteenth-century.

Hannah married twice more and lived to be 87.


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