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  • Osmer Abner Bingham: Counter-Migrant

    Philip S. Thayer

    Published Date : February 1986
    Osmer Abner Bingham was born in Unity, New Hampshire, on March 16, 1809, the son of Daniel and Sally (Chase) Bingham.  He married in Unity on May 31, 1832, Harriet Hills, born May 1, 1812, in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, the daughter of John Fales and Abigail (Fox) Hills.  He died November 10, 1871, at his home at 71 Newbury Street, Boston, was eulogized at Trinity Church, and buried in his plot on Pyrola Path in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge.  Harriet Hills Bingham died February 28, 1888, and is buried next to him, along with four of their six children.

    Thus reads a more-or-less standard genealogical entry with the only striking feature being the birth in Unity (population 902 in 1800), followed 62 years later by burial in Mt. Auburn, with the aura of prestige that carried.  Further examination shows that Bingham was part of a trend which is seen in the histories of many New England families.  However, few if any other such migrants had a grand-daughter who married a rear admiral in the German navy!

    In considering the migrations of New Englanders from say 1750 to 1850, it is almost conventional wisdom to say that the path went from the early-settled coastal areas, to the new frontiers in New Hampshire and Vermont, and thence to the more open and tillable lands of New York, Ohio, and the Midwest.  An analysis of the 1850 census (Myers, see below) gives some support to this view.  From its wealth of data, a few facts may be used to bear on Bingham’s story.  New Hampshire was a “net exporter” of people, there being only 42,637 residents of New Hampshire who had been born in another state, compared to 109,878 residents of other states (and territories) born in New Hampshire.  New Hampshire-born residents of other states included 19,609 in Vermont, 14,519 in New York, 13,509 in Maine, 4,821 in Ohio, 1,775 in Pennsylvania, and 11,322 in six Midwestern states (Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri), and a few thousand in all the other states and territories.  The largest group of expatriates from New Hampshire, however, was 39,592 residents of Massachusetts, nearly double the number of New Hampshire residents born in Massachusetts — 18,495. (Somewhat similar data also appear for Vermont.)

    That Osmer Bingham and his wife Harriet Hills were the products of the earlier circum-Revolutionary migrations is best shown in an ancestor table (for their children), with the addition of year and place of birth:

          2.  Osmer Abner Bingham 1809 Unity, N.H.

          3.  Harriet Hills 1812 New Ipswich, N.H.

          4.  Daniel Bingham 1769 Windham. Conn.

         5.  Sally Chase 1774 Unity, N.H.

          6.  John Fales Hills 1780 New Ipswich, N.H.

          7.  Abigail Fox 1793           "         "         "

          8.  Elijah Bingham 1719 Windham. Conn.

          9.  Sarah Jackson 1731 New London, Conn.

          10.  Abner Chase 1746 Amesbury, Mass.

          11.  Joanna Moody 1734(?) Newbury(?), Mass.

          12.  David Hills 1737 Wrentham, Mass.

          13  Sarah Manning 1755 Townsend, Mass.

          14.  Timothy Fox 1764 Littleton, Mass.

         15.  Ruth Pollard 1767 New lpswich, N.H.

    The significant feature of this table is the spread in the birthplaces of Osmer’s and Harriet’s grand-parents (8-15).  A similar table for each of them (except probably Ruth Pollard) would undoubtedly show a much narrower geographical range, perhaps even being contained within one town.


    Who then were these people who returned to the cities of Southern New England?  Osmer Bingham was only one.  It is conventional wisdom to say “Ah, yes, the mill girls,” i.e., of Lowell, Lawrence, and the other burgeoning mill towns.  Only detailed analysis of the actual 1850 census schedules would demonstrate the validity of this conclusion.  Another conclusion, however, is that a substantial portion of the New Hampshire (and Vermont)-born “immigrants” in Massachusetts were men like Osmer Bingham and their families.  Without statistical verification, it is the author’s impression from a number of instances encountered in commercial and industrial studies, that a significant number of the skilled artisans, merchants, and entrepreneurs of Boston and other cities were men with Massachusetts ancestry who came “back” to Massachusetts in a Counter-migration, when their brothers and cousins had “gone West.”  Similar observations may be found in other family histories.

    To return to the story of Osmer Bingham, it is found that he left the farm in Unity for Bellows Falls (Rockingham), Vermont, probably shortly after his marriage in 1832, since his first child, Harriet Emily, was born there in 1834.  Other children born in Bellows Falls were Henry Osmer (1836), Martha Baxter (1838), and Sarah Caroline (1841).  Their move to Boston thus occurred after 1841 and before 1852, when the last child, Walter Edward, was born in Boston.  The reasons for the move are unknown. Bingham was presumably a merchant in Bellows Falls and may have moved to Boston for the larger opportunities it provided.  It does not seem to have been one of those “family and friends” migrations so typical of the spread out of the coastal areas to the West.  However, one of his early business partners in Boston was Charles Rawson Bingham (1804-1875), son of his father’s first cousin Walter.

    Bingham first appears in the Boston City Directory in 1845, as “Orson” Bingham. partner of William W. Dennis at 6 So. Market, and residing on Tyler Street near Oak.  In 1846, he was in business by himself (as “Osmer”) as a commission merchant at 15 So. Market.  In succeeding years, his business address changes to 16 So. Market (1847), 4 & 6 Chatham Row (1848-1851), 7 Chatham Row (1852-1853), 3 Commerce St. (1854-1858), 221 & 223 State St. (1859-1860), 6 Commerce St. (1861-1863) and finally to 16 Federal St. (1864-1871).  To those familiar with the commercial history of downtown Boston these changes may suggest an increased scale of operations.

    Bingham’s business partners changed over the years also, starting with W.W. Dennis (1845), followed by E.C. Hutchings (1846), John M. Clark and Charles R. Bingham (1847-1850), Charles F. Joy (1854-1860), Joy and Joseph H. Sanford (1861-1863), Sanford alone (1864-1867), and Sanford, George Lovejoy and R.P. Gould (1868-1871).  The nature of these partnerships are. variously given as general commission business, commission merchants, produce and commission merchants, and wool dealers.

    During the period of the apparent growth of Bingham’s business, his housing accommodations also show an increasing rise in quality.  From Tyler Street, he moved by 1847 to Chelsea (where his relative Charles R. Bingham lived), in 1849 to 268 Tremont Street, and in 1854 to 3 Burroughs Place where he lived until at least 1865.  In 1867, he was boarding at the Revere House, but moved to 111 Union Park in the relatively new South End in 1868, and finally to 71 Newbury St. in 1870, the year before his death.  Deeds in the Suffolk County Registry show that he purchased house and land on Burroughs Place from Philo Sanford in 1852.  (Burroughs Place was off Hollis Street, both now disappeared under the Wang Center and the Floating Hospital.)  In 1870, he purchased the land at 71 Newbury St. from the Massachusetts Commissioners for the development of the new Back Bay lands, and apparently was responsible for the building of the house which has since been replaced.

    Of Osmer Bingham’s five children, three never married.  Henry Osmer Bingham. the first son, was born in 1836 and died in 1862 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, of causes as yet not learned.  He probably had tuberculosis, in common with three of his siblings.  The journal of two ocean voyages he took in 1858-9 (to Smyrna and around the Horn to San Francisco) support this, with mention of medications and coughing up blood.  He was apparently quite well educated, since the journal is well-expressed, and he refers to going to the opera (La Favorita) and the theater (Forrest in Othello).  His names does not appear as a graduate of either the Boston Latin School, Tufts College or Harvard University.  (His journal is being prepared for publication by the author of this note.)

    The third daughter (fourth child), Sarah Caroline Bingham. was born in 1841, and died in 1860 of “phthisis” (pulmonary tuberculosis), as did the youngest brother, Walter Edward Bingham. born in 1852, who died in 1875.

    Harriet Emily Bingham, the first-born, married Hales Wallace Suter in Boston on September 24, 1856.  He was a graduate of Harvard in the class of 1850 and practiced law in Boston with C.T. and T.H. Russell. He was the president of the Mercantile Loan and Trust Company, of the Massachusetts Title Insurance Company and of the Constitution Wharf Company, a director of the Calumet Woollen Company, of the Mt. Tom Sulphite Pulp Company and of the [25] Cheshire Railroad.  He was a Boston City Council member in 1855 and 1856. These and other details of a rich and active life of a proper Bostonian are to be found in the 50th year book of his Harvard class.  The Suters had four children: Emily, 1858-1858; John Wallace (b.1859); Gertrude Bingham (b.1864); and Sarah Pauline, 1868-1868.

    Martha Baxter Bingham, also known as “Mattie,” was born in 1838, and died at Brookline, Massachusetts, of “consumption” on September 25, 1868.  She married Joseph Azarian, an Armenian-born merchant of Boston and Constantinople, on September 22, 1859.  They had two daughters, Annie Vincent (1860-1887), who married Friedrich von Wietersheim. a German rear admiral, and Mattie Pauline (1863-19__), who married Major Stanly Bird, of the British Royal Fusiliers, Seventh Regiment.  Azarian was one of the small group of Greek and Turkish merchants (including Joseph Iasigi, Nicholas Reggio and Francois Braggiotti) living in Boston, who through their family and commercial ties increased the reputation of the city as a center for Mediterranean trade.  Their contributions to enriching the social and cultural life of Boston. have been largely ignored.  (The death of Nicholas’ Reggio was noted in the Register of January, 1868, and he is often featured in histories of the Archdiocese of Boston.)

    At the time of his death, Osmer Bingham was not a wealthy man, but perhaps is best classed as well-to-do by the standards of the day.  He had a house on Newbury Street, a pew in Trinity Church (the old one on Summer Street), lot 3136 in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, a personal estate worth $36,535 and a share in his old firm which returned $48,331 to his estate.  He had outlived all of his children except Walter (who died in 1875) and Emily B. Suter (who died in 1885).  His residual estate was not fully disposed of until 1961, when under the will of his grand-daughter, Mattie Pauline Azarian Bird, it was divided among her great-nieces and great-nephews, Annie von Barby, Ferdinand Wolf von Stulpnagel, Friedrich von Stulpnagel, and Rose Marie von Wehrs.

    Osmer Bingham’s story may be similar to that of many others, but it has, as each of them probably would have, its unique and interesting aspects.  The scope of the counter-migration here discussed could be further developed in a summing up of many such narratives, and also of course by a full analysis of the 1850 census schedules.


    Bingham, Theodore A. The Bingham Family in the United States. Publ. by the Bingham Association, Easton, Pa., 1927.

    Boston City Directory. 1844-1872.

    Class of 1850, Printed for the use of the class [Harvard University]. Cambridge, 1900.

    Hills, William S. The Hills Family in America New York, 1906.

    Myers, Eleanor. A migration study of the thirty-two states and four organized territories comprising the United States in 1850. Central New York Genealogical Society. 1977.

    Suffolk County Registries of Probate and Deeds, Boston.

    Various volumes of Genealogisches Handbuch desAdels in the J.H. Cook collection at NEHGS

          (Note: The author is a third cousin four times removed of Harriet Hills Bingham. sharing a cormmon ancestor in Eleazar Metcalf of Wrentham.)

    By Philip S. Thayer
New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

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