Samuel Hoar (1778-November 2, 1856), a native of Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Sarah Sherman (1785-1862) of New Haven, Connecticut married in the fall of 1813 and made their home in Concord, Massachusetts. Both Samuel and Sarah were from distinguished families. Leonard Hoar was President of Harvard College 1672-75. Sarah’s father, Roger Sherman, was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitution in 1783. Such was the prominence and prestige of the Hoars, their children and their grandchildren that they were known during the greater part of the 19th century as the Royal Family of Concord. One of the Hoar sons, Samuel, died in infancy. All five of their other children, Elizabeth Sherman, Ebenezer Rockwood, Sarah Sherman Storer, Edward Sherman and George Frisbie, lived to maturity. Two were widely known. Another was important within Transcendentalist circles.
Samuel and Sarah’s was a deeply religious household. The family always attended Sabbath services at the First Parish Church (Unitarian). All of the household, including the hired man and maids, took part in family devotions every morning. Mrs. Hoar read a chapter from the Bible to those seated around her in the dining room. All knelt as Samuel led them in prayer. Upon his death, Thomas Starr King said of Samuel, “Mr. Hoar lived all the beatitudes daily.”
Squire Hoar, as Samuel early came to be called, was a graduate of Harvard College and, active in promoting education, helped establish the Concord Academy. An eminent legal expert on laws pertaining to waterways, he represented Concord at the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1820. Squire Hoar served one term in the U.S. Congress 1835-36, was appointed to the Massachusetts Governor’s Council in 1845, and at age 72 was elected to the Massachusetts legislature.
Elizabeth Sherman Hoar (July 14, 1814-April 7, 1878) was a schoolmate of Henry Thoreau and his siblings. After his death she assisted Sophia Thoreau and Ellery Channing in collecting the posthumous works of Henry, close friend and traveling companion of her brother Edward. In her youth Elizabeth was engaged to marry Charles Chauncy Emerson, her father’s young law partner. Charles died of consumption in May, 1836, before they were wed. Much beloved by his family, Elizabeth was for the rest of her life called “Aunt Lizzie” by the Emerson children and treated as a member of that family. She and Ralph Waldo Emerson were like brother and sister. He invited her to join the Transcendental circle. She helped prepare copy for the Dial magazine. Through Waldo Elizabeth became close friends with Margaret Fuller, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, the Alcotts, and the Peabody sisters. Sophia Peabody sculpted two medallions of Charles Emerson in profile, one for Waldo and one for Elizabeth.
Elizabeth often managed the Emerson household during Lidian’s confinement or illness. Ruth Emerson, R.W.’s mother, died in her arms. Elizabeth was one of the few who could consistently deal with the eccentricities of R.W.’s Aunt Mary Moody Emerson. She often arranged her lodging and paid some of her expenses. When Nathaniel Hawthorne and his bride, Sophia Peabody, moved to the Old Manse in Concord, Elizabeth and Henry Thoreau prepared a vegetable garden for them.
In November, 1844, Elizabeth Hoar accompanied her father to Charleston, South Carolina. Judge Hoar had been commissioned by Governor George Briggs and the Massachusetts legislature to treat with the South Carolina government. Free black sailors, ashore in South Carolina to load cotton aboard Massachusetts ships for transport to Massachusetts mills, were apt to be impounded and, unless their ship’s captain paid a ransom, sold into slavery. South Carolina legislators did not take kindly to Northern “meddling” with their State laws. When they learned of Hoar’s mission, he was told to get out of town. A mob threatened to drag him from his hotel. Friendly residents with Harvard connections, among them the Rev. Samuel Gilman, minister of the Unitarian Church, and Dr. Joshua Barker Whitridge persuaded him to leave without further attempt to address the authorities. Elizabeth and her father were got secretly out of the hotel and onto a ship. On December 27 Squire Hoar reported the story to a Concord Town Meeting.
Concord people were incensed at the South Carolinians’ rudeness to their most respected citizen and his daughter. Roughly to threaten an emissary from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and summarily to dismiss an issue of law was outrageous behavior. Moreover, subjection of Massachusetts ships to a shortage of hands was a serious economic matter. The episode had far-reaching effects throughout Massachusetts. Many who had seen no good in “abolitionist agitation” and those who had been reluctant to countenance the anti-slavery cause, changed their minds.
The effects of the incident on Judge Hoar and his lawyer sons, George Frisbie Hoar and Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar were to be seen in their subsequent political activities in opposition to the Slave Power. Rockwood was leader of the Mugwumps during his term in the Massachusetts State Senate 1846-48. In the course of a heated debate on the proposed annexation of Texas as a slave state, Rockwood said, “It is as much the duty of Massachusetts to pass resolutions in favor of the rights of men as in the interests of cotton.” He said he himself would rather be a “Conscience Whig” than a “Cotton Whig.” Having first been a Federalist, then a Whig, Squire Hoar in 1848 chaired a Free Soil Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts in which Rockwood took a prominent role. The Free Soilers opposed the extension of slavery to new states.
Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar (February 21, 1816-1895) had graduated from Harvard College in 1835 and its Law School in 1839. His law practice was in Concord. After his marriage in 1840, he and Caroline Brooks Hoar built a house on Main Street next to his father’s home. He served as Judge of the Massachusetts Court of Common Pleas 1849-55. He helped to organize the Republican Party in Massachusetts, ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General in 1855, and was a delegate to the national Republican Convention, serving on its platform committee, in 1856. Both Samuel and Rockwood Hoar were very active supporters of their alma mater; Rockwood served as a member of one or another of Harvard’s boards for a total of 29 years.
Rockwood Hoar served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts 1859-69. In March, 1869, President Grant appointed him U.S. Attorney General. At the end of the year Grant nominated him to the Supreme Court, but out of pique with the President and with Hoar himself, who insisted that public positions should be filled on the basis of competence and merit, not political patronage, the Senate refused to confirm. Four months after the failure of confirmation, the President asked for Hoar’s resignation as Attorney General. He returned to his law practice in Concord.
Rockwood served as one of five members of the commission on Civil War claims against England, which resulted in the Treaty of Washington in 1871, and served a term in the U.S. House of Representatives 1873-74. He chaired the 1875 U.S. Centennial celebration in Concord attended by many dignitaries, including President Grant. Rockwood was a member of the Standing Committee of the First Parish Church in Concord (Unitarian).
George Frisbie Hoar (August 29, 1826-1904) graduated from Harvard College in 1846 and its law school in 1848. He practiced law and lived in Worcester, MA where in 1853 he married Mary Louisa Spurr. After Mary’s death he married Ruth Miller in 1862. He was elected to the Massachusetts House as a Republican in 1852, the Senate in 1857, and to the U.S. House in 1868 and the Senate in 1877, spending 38 years in public service. Senator Hoar chaired the National Unitarian Conference in 1899, as his brother had earlier done, and described himself as one who “loved our Unitarian faith with the full fervor of his soul.”
Two later Samuel Hoars were successful attorneys, civic leaders and active Unitarians. Rockwood’s son, C. Samuel Hoar (1845-1904), was editor of the American Law Review 1873-79 and in 1887 became general counsel for the Boston and Albany Railroad Company. His son, D. Samuel Hoar (1887-1952) was partner in a prominent Boston law firm, later Goodwin, Procter and Hoar. D. Samuel donated to the federal government multiple parcels of land on the Concord River, which became the nucleus of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
The Hoar family papers are in the Concord Free Public Library, Concord, Massachusetts. Some of Elizabeth Hoar’s correspondence is available in Elizabeth Maxfield-Miller, “Elizabeth of Concord: Selected Letters of Elizabeth Sherman Hoar to the Emersons, Family, and the Emerson Circle” in Joel Myerson, ed., Studies in the American Renaissance (1984). A joint biography of the family is Paula Robbins, The Royal Family of Concord: Samuel, Elizabeth, and Rockwood Hoar and Their Friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson (2003). Rockwood Hoar has a biography, Moorfield Storey and Edward W. Emerson, Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, A Memoir (1911). George Frisbie Hoar wrote a two volume autobiography, George F. Hoar, Autobiography of Seventy Years (1903) and there are two biographical works on him: Frederick H. Gillett, George Frisbie Hoar (1934) and Richard E. Welch, George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-Breed Republicans (1971). Information on the Hoars in Concord can be found in John W. Teele, ed., The Meeting House on the Green (1985) and Ruth R. Wheeler, Concord: Climate for Freedom (1967).
Article by Paula Robbins
Post January 27, 2014