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March 15, 1890 - Gazette


Aunt Hannah Hemenway's Recollections

Her Fame for Wedding Cakes

Her Grandfather and Father Fought With Washington

In the little story and a-half house just beyond the Boulevard on May Street, No. 79, one would scarcely think there lived a maiden lady much older than the house which she makes her habitation or the old weather-beaten barn tottering with age which is close by. This, however, is the fact and in plain lettering on the door plate can be plainly read, "Miss Hemenway." She is in her 97th year, and as hale and hearty as most women after they have passed the allotted time of three score and ten. Miss Hemenway is very well known to the older people of the city, and even to the present generation, she is no stranger. On the first Sunday of the present month, she celebrated her 77th anniversary of membership in the First Baptist Church. She went to church on that day and was cordially welcomed by all, as he is well known to the congregation. It has been a frequent remark of the pastors of that church that they are always sure of two auditors, including always Miss Hemenway as one of the two, so certain was she to go to church, rain or shine. She was born on the same spot where she now lives 96 years ago. The house, however, is not the same, but some of the rafters of the old house are in the present structure.

The house where she was born was burned down about 60 years ago. Some of the old doors and boards were saved and these were put in the present structure, which was soon after built. Miss Hemenway's father has been dead 67 years. His name was Jeffrey Hemenway, "and spell the last name right," she said. "There is no 'i' nor 'g' in it, and it is seldom spelled correctly," she added, as she spelled it out as it should be.

Her father was brought to Framingham when a baby from Boston. He was a mulatto and was given to a Hemenway there to bring up and educate. He was adopted by his foster father and the record is seen in the town reports. He learned the trade of a carpenter, and when a young man fought in the French and Indian war. After his return he followed his trade and worked on the Old South Church which was built on the Common. He was a soldier in the Revolution and fought at Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord and followed the furtunes of Washington and Lafayette through the seven years of war, and in that time he never had a drop of blood drawn. "Was he with Washington?" was asked. "To be sure he was with Washington. What general do you suppose he was under? Do have some sense," said Miss Hemenway. She continued her narrative. Her father was on Bunker Hill and was driven off, but went back on there again. Her father was 82 years old when he died, "and I wonder he didn't die before he went through so much" she said. His death was in 1828. His wife lived a widow until 1831, when she died. She was Hebsibeth Cross, who lived on the hill where Holy Cross College now stands. He was half Indian and half white, and her father Miss Hemenway's grandfather, died in the war of the Revolution. Hebsibeth's mother also died when she was quite young. Mrs. Hemenway was well known in her day and is remembered yet by the older families as a great cook and an excellent hand at making wedding cakes . She made nearly all the wedding cakes for the prominent people in those days and her services were always in demand. "In old times," explained her daughter, "girls weren't taught much else besides spinning but mother could do everything and when there was any occasion for a girl she was called in. At the first Fourth of July celebration, in 1877, she roasted the first pig ever served in this city. The feast was served at the brick tavern, near where the City Hall now stands. The people generally were supplied on the Common. I never was married, but I always have taken a great interest in children, and once I used to take seven to meeting with me." Miss Hemenway for a long time followed in the footsteps of her mother. She was the best hand for miles around at making a wedding cake, and she gave up her occupation only within a few years, on account of old age. The old fireplace and oven where she cooked her cakes is still in the house, but the fireplace is covered over. Her mother came into possession of the house at her husband's death, and Miss Hemenway did not live much at the home. She lived in different families until she came back to the homestead, 40 years ago.

She used to live before that time on Mechanic Street, near the old burying ground, which has long since been removed. She has built more wedding cakes than any other person, and has over 200 wedding cards containing the names of the oldest families in the city. She remembers when four years old she went barefooted through the woods to school at New Worcester. At the age of nine years she went out to work. She was often called in by families.

She watched with the sick and dying and was just as much in demand at weddings. She remembers Gov. Lincoln very well and shook hands and often spoke with him. "I saw Lafayette," said she, "when he passed through the city and he made a bow to everybody and they say he got so in the habit he bowed in his sleep. He rode to Gov. Lincoln's house and dined. He was escorted in this city, by the Worcester Light Infantry and he said at that time they were the best-looking soldiers he saw anywhere."

She remembered that her mother frequently spoke of the hanging of the Spooner woman for the murder of her husband, which she saw. Miss Hemenway did not express any sympathy for the Spooner woman, who she said ought to have had her neck stretched from here to Boston. Miss Hemenway used to ride frequently to Boston before the time of steam cars. Her trips were made in the stage coach, and even after the cars were running she preferred the stage line to steam cars, because the stage would leave her out just where she wanted to get off. She has been to Connecticut and other places, but did not travel a great deal. On her birthday every year for the last 25 she has been in the habit of dining with Mr. Wm. H. Heywood, her neighbor on Main Street. Mr. Heywood's grandmother was present when Miss Hemenway was born and put on her first clothes. Last Christmas she dined at Mr. Albert Buttrick's. There were 16 in the party. Miss Hemenway frequently goes out to spend the day with friends, and some weeks she has had as many as 40 callers. She remembers vividly the war of 1812, and the rejoicing over Commodore Perry's victories on Lake Erie. That was the greatest rejoicing she ever saw. They had songs about it and other poems.

She never saw Andrew Jackson, but she remembers when he was President. "When he came in," she said, "people thought the world was coming to an end. They said all sorts of things that his wife did not have any education, and all sorts of other things, but when he settled that bank business, during his first term, there was nobody like him, and he got a second term. He was the best man ever lived then, and there was no one like him. I never remember such a fuss as when he came in. After that every boy who was born was named Andrew Jackson, and I don't know but some of the girls were named after him, too."

Miss Hemenway was reminded, when speaking of Gen. Jackson in such high terms that he was a Democrat. "Well, so am I," she proudly spoke up. She remembers the Mexican War and the death of a son of Gov. Lincoln.

She did not like to be pressed too hard about a fact she was not sure of, because a lie was so distasteful. "Mother always told us it would be a dreadful thing if we died with a lie on our lips," and at this point the lady who lives with Aunt Hemenway, and provides for her every comfort, remarked that there are many men and women in this city who got their training from Aunt Hannah.

Miss Hemenway's picture was never taken until last summer, and she explained that she never looks in a looking glass. She sits on a chair over 100 years old, which was given her by the late Squire Wheeler, who bought it at the auction of Deacon Bridges, who used to sit in it. The deacon has been dead over 100 years, so there is no doubt of the antiquity of this piece of furniture.

She has also in her closet a nutmeg grater carried by her father through the Revolution. She says he told her he used it to grate herb roots. She also has an old plate that her mother used to have with a picture of Washington and the coats of arms of the 18 original states. She has several old-fashioned articles of furniture.

Aunt Hannah was the fifth of 10 children of whom eight lived to maturity. Her brother, the youngest of the family, was Ebenezer Hemenway, who was for many years the janitor of the City Hall. He died about five years ago. "No," answered Aunt Hannah, "I know what you mean," as her interlocutor mildly referred to the circumstance that she never was married: "I never was married and I never had a beau. Other folks can talk about beaux and all the chances they had, but I never had any. If I wanted to get married, how could I? Nobody asked me, and I was not going to ask them, One thing that makes old maids so different from other people is because they have been disappointed that way. I always had an idea I never would be married. Old maids are not looked down upon so much as they used to be. I often thank the Lord I am an old maid when I look at some of the men and see what some of the women have to go through with their families and children. There is something besides age, makes an old maid. I would not lie at this time of my life. If I had refused any offer I would just as soon say so."

Miss Hemenway was quite jolly while speaking in this vein.

She says she never lifted a pipe to her mouth and does not use snuff except at rare intervals, when she takes a pinch as medicine. She is also a total abstainer from spirits, although in her young days she had sipped punch, but not from habit. She says she has a right in her old age to use liquor, according to Solomon, but she thinks she is wiser in letting it alone. Miss Hemenway lives happily in her little home, and talks cheerfully. "No, you needn't holler, I am not deaf," she remarked to her visitor, who thought he would speak just a little above a stage whisper. She gets up every morning about 9 o'clock, raises her bedroom window and fixes her bed. She has breakfast soon after, and dinner about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. She retires usually about 9 or 10 o'clock at night.