Donn Haven Lathrop © 1995
In 1652, the poet John Milton wrote in his Sonnet XV; On His Blindness,
that "they also serve, who stand and wait." Although she was neither
watch- nor clockmaker, Lucy Amy Miller is included in this series of
vignettes on Women in Horology as one of those who "stood and waited."
She first appeared as a statistic in the 1830 census in Springfield,
Vermont as: F, 15-20; 1, and in the 1840 census, again: F, 20-30; 1.
No name, just a number. Regardless of her early numerical anonymity, we
know that in 1840 she was 22 years old, the daughter of Levi and Lois
(Sherman) Miller of Springfield, born in 1818 in Portland, Maine. Her
mother was a native of Vermont, and her father of Massachusetts. Her
grandfather, James Harrington Miller, in his own turn, had moved to
Vermont in 1798. Very little can be found concerning her life during
the intervening years. The obituary of a daughter noted that she was a
school teacher; the assumption can be made that she probably "fitted
herself as a teacher" in her teens, as did many of the young women of
that era. In 1841, when she was 23, her anonymity disappeared abruptly.
She married a 76 year old man, and bore him five children. Ten years
later she was committed to the asylum in Concord, New Hampshire, from
which, two years later, she was released to the custody of her father,
who had travelled from Wisconsin to take her home. Given the
commonality of the surname, Miller, she was very difficult to track
down, but some parts of her life have been reconstructed.
After moving to Charlestown, New Hampshire, in the early 1780's, an
orphan who had just completed his clockmaker's apprenticeship in
Worcester, Massachusetts, Stephen Hassam had ingratiated himself with
the social establishment in Charlestown through his marriage to
Theodosia Hastings, whose pedigree included three of the families who
had settled early Charlestown. Through 54 years of marriage and five
children, the family prospered financially. Stephen's life in
Charlestown was an expression of his various skills and his achievements
as a clockmaker, builder, and tavern keeper. For some reason, in 1816
he began to spell his surname Hasham. He built, and with his son
Stephen Danforth, ran the Eagle Hotel, a favorite stopping point for
travellers from the south and east who were going to Canada. Regardless
of his success, he had a "Peck's bad boy" attitude in his dealings with
people and the authorities. His wife seemed to be able to tone down
many of his off-the-wall antics, avert the wrath of the conservative
social upper crust in the town, and keep him productively at work.
After her death, in March, 1841, after 54 years of marriage and five
children, Stephen's world began to unravel. Remembered as a small and
feisty man, he probably thought it was just beginning. He was, after
all, only 76. Probably within days, he was across the Connecticut River
in Springfield, paying court to Lucy Amy Miller, the school-teacher
who was all of 23.
Stephen and Lucy published their marriage intentions on 21 July,
1841, just over four months after he had buried his first wife. Lucy's
mother and father, pillars of the Baptist church in Springfield,
evidently objected strenuously when their daughter accepted a proposal
of marriage from Stephen, a tavernkeeper and professed atheist of
Charlestown, a few miles away on the east bank of the Connecticut River.
After Stephen had promised to buy Lucy the "biggest Bible a team of
oxen and cart could draw", they were married a month later, on the 19th
of August, 1841, in Springfield, and with an evidently happy disregard
for his age and the differential in their ages, the couple set about
producing their own heirs: John Ferdinand, born 1842; Flora J., born 5
October, 1844; Winfield Scott, born 19 September, 1847; Caroline
(Carrie) Phœbe, born 19 September, 1849; and finally Emily, born August,
1851--when Stephen was 86! Stephen's older children, except for
Stephen Danforth, his second son by his first wife, all left town in
about 1842. Lucy's mother, father, and brothers in 1849 joined 20,000
other Vermonters who had emigrated to Wisconsin and points West.
Everyone else in Charlestown and Springfield gossiped.
Perhaps because of the evident public disapproval of Stephen's
revitalizing (to him) May/December marriage, and the loss of the
buffering effect of his socially prominent first wife, the new family's
financial fortunes continued a downward spiral that had really begun
with the depression of 1837. Stephen had taken out several sizeable
loans, and by 1847 had mortgaged his Eagle Hotel (Lucy signed away her
dower rights to the hotel), and then had to contend with many personal
debts that creditors brought before the courts, one after another.
Stephen's attitude toward law suits was simply to ignore court notices.
Fines imposed by the courts and the resulting auctions of property to
satisfy his debts reduced him to poverty. The foundation of the House
of Hasham was slowly crumbling away while the outside was being
The fragile financial situation didn't lend itself to peace of mind
at home. Lucy was evidently at the end of her rope trying to deal with
the needs of a houseful of young children, all very close in age, not to
mention the demands of the still lively Stephen. The
Congregationalist minister's wife (Mrs. J. DeForest Richards) eventually
took pity on her and went often to help her with the children. A
neighbor, Ellen Fletcher, noted in her Remembrances of Charlestown
her memory of Stephen's attitude in the situation: "The minister's
wife was a rather homely woman, but the more she helped, the better she
looked, until one day Stephen said to her, "It seems to me that you have
In early 1851 the full force of the years of stress hit home. That
spring, Lucy Hasham's reason snapped. She must have created a
considerable disturbance in the neighborhood; that June fifteen of
Charlestown's leading citizens, including her immediate neighbors and
the new owner of the Eagle Hotel petitioned the court "that Lucy
Hasham...is an insane person, whom it is dangerous to be permitted to be
at large, and that the said Stephen is either unable or neglects to
make proper provision for her safekeeping to the great annoyance and
danger to the neighborhood." The court adjudged her insane and
committed her to the Asylum for the Insane in West Concord, New
Hampshire. Later that same year the town Selectmen petitioned the court
that the 87-year old Stephen "by excessive drinking and idleness does
so waste, spend, and lessen his estate, and does so neglect to attend to
any useful calling or business for which he is capable, as thereby to
expose himself and his family to want and suffering...exposing said Town
of Charlestown to expense..." etc. To charge him with drunkenness in a
town where the taverns outnumbered the churches, and strong drink was
the normal course of affairs for the poor and the rich and powerful
alike was outright hypocrisy. Tax records and account books of the
mid-1800's confirm that liquor was a staple, and that an inordinate
amount (by current standards) was sold and consumed each year. Indeed,
it was quite common for the minister of a church to have a
glass--sometimes two--of rum placed upon his pulpit Sunday mornings to
ease him through his sermon, and when the minister called on members of
his flock during the week, he was always given the best sherry! An 1800
sketch of Charlestown's Main Street shows the church with two taverns
It was obvious by now that Lucy's husband was deeply in debt and that
there was the strong likelihood that the elderly Stephen and his five
young children would become a drain on public funds. The selectmen were
out to grab what remained of his property. In November the court
reduced the charges to 'spendthrift', and appointed a guardian. The
next month Stephen's only living son of his first marriage died at the
age of 54 of undocumented causes. Stephen's remaining estate was
liquidated at public auction (Lucy's guardian, Benjamin Challis, had
already signed away her remaining dower rights) in the spring of 1852,
and nearly all of the proceeds went to pay off over 50 creditors, some
of them his own children.
Sixty five years later, the House of Hasham had fallen in upon
itself: The young wife and mother had gone mad, her children were
thrown on the mercy of friends, relatives, and the Overseer of the Poor;
the old husband was judged incompetent and stripped of his possessions,
and his oldest son and heir-apparent was dead in his prime. It is
really tempting to try to weave the sleazy fabric of a soap opera plot
with the threads of these events, but that will be left to your
Lucy spent nearly two years in the asylum in West Concord. She was
released in April, 1853, to the custody of her father who had come east
to take her home. The costs of her confinement, and the cost of her
trip--all of $40.15!--to Wisconsin were added to her husband's long list
of debts, as were his legal fees and the expenses incurred by his
Lucy's five children were placed with various families in
Charlestown, possibly through a 'vendue of the poor', a process whereby
someone would place a bid for the care of an indigent person for the
coming year. The lowest bidder (who was paid by the town) would then be
responsible for the 'care' of that person for the next year. In most
cases, because the bidder was either looking for easy extra money, or
someone who could be put to work, being 'bid out' was not usually a
pleasant experience. In the 1860 census, her 18-year old son, John
Ferdinand, listed as a farmer, was living with Moses and Amanda Putnam,
who were in their sixties. Thirteen year-old Winfield Scott was living
with another elderly couple, Samuel and Maria Allison. Her daughters,
16-year old Flora and 11-year old Caroline Phœbe, as well as 96-year old
Stephen, were living with Levi Willard, a nephew of her husband's first
wife. Emily, the youngest, may have been in the same household, but
all we know of her is that she died in 1854, a year after her mother
left for Wisconsin. Of Emily's death, Ellen Fletcher wrote:
"When one of his [Stephen's] daughters died he put the body
into a box and took it on a wheelbarrow to the cemetery to place it in
the family tomb. Built of brick with earth on the top, it was down two
steps to get inside. He unlocked the door and went inside to sweep the
floor, when the door swung to behind him, with no handle on the inside.
At length a passerby seeing the box on the wheelbarrow stopped to
investigate and let the old man out. There was no funeral service held
over the child--he said she was dead as the devil anyway."
The Hasham tomb in Charlestown, one of the items auctioned in the
1852 dispersal of Stephen's estate, is the final resting place for a
small coffin--that of an "unknown child." I think I know who she is.
Eight years later, in August, 1862, Lucy's oldest son, John
Ferdinand, enlisted as a private in the 14th Regiment of New Hampshire
Volunteers of the Union Army during the War between the States. He
died of typhoid fever in July, 1863, in Washington, DC, while his
Regiment was standing guard duty in that city, and is buried next to his
father in Charlestown. Flora married Charles Burnham of Springfield,
Vermont, in March, 1866, but died there in childbirth in February, 1868.
Winfield Scott enlisted in August, 1864 in the 5th New Hampshire
Infantry, and was mustered out on the 28th of June, 1865. He married
(probably in the late 1870's) in Langdon, New Hampshire, a Miss Addie
Jones, of Unity, New Hampshire. They later moved to Claremont, New
Hampshire, where he died. His son, Robert E., lived in Claremont until
his death in 1942, and appears to have been the last of the male
Hassam/Hasham line to live in New Hampshire. Caroline Phœbe married
Eugene A. Randall of Springfield, Vermont, in August, 1868. She later
lived in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. In the latter
state, she lived in Claremont and Charlestown, where she died at the age
of 92, in July, 1942. At her death, she was considered to be one of
the last two 'real' Daughters of the American Revolution, on the basis
that her father had assisted the Revolutionary forces by carrying water
to the soldiers of the Copp's Hill battery (a cannon emplacement) during
the Battle of Bunker Hill. Oddly enough, that battery was manned by
British soldiers and equipped with British cannons.
Lucy literally dropped out of sight in Wisconsin in 1853. Her family
had settled and prospered in Porter Township, Rock County, near the
southern border of the state. The township no longer appears on our
maps, but it was in the vicinity of Janesville. Lucy first resurfaced
36 years later, in a biographical sketch of a younger brother, Jason,
with the careful comment that: "his sister Lucy makes her home in
Fifty-three years later, the death notice of her daughter, Mrs.
Caroline Phœbe Randall, appeared in the New York Times. In this
notice, the only mention of Lucy was that she had been a school teacher
before her marriage. A further search through the Vital Records at the
Town Clerk's Office in Charlestown and Springfield, Vermont, yielded no
record of a divorce or a separation. No official record of her
incarceration in an asylum in Wisconsin could be found. Since her
parents were deeply religious, and she seemed to have become the black
sheep of the family, the possibility that she had used her training as a
schoolteacher to support herself somewhere in the 'north of Wisconsin',
as well as the further possibility that she had remarried made the
search difficult. Remarriage without a legal divorce wasn't
unusual--there are many mid- 1800's records of women doing exactly that
regardless of their marital status, usually because of an abusive
husband. As a mother who had lost a son in the Civil War, she was
eligible for a pension, but her name does not appear in the 1883 listing
of war pensioners ordered by the 47th Congress, nor did anyone apply
for a pension as a result of his death. The thought arose that she
might be hiding, possibly with a career of her own, somewhere in the
woods of northern Wisconsin, and perhaps in a much happier situation.
But, the carefully worded "[she] makes her home in Northern Wisconsin"
was just a smokescreen.
What really transpired between 1853 and 1889 can only be the subject
of speculation. Lucy evidently never regained her reason and had been
considered 'an insane person' for all that time. She had been
confined in the Dane County Poorhouse, in Verona, Wisconsin, just a few
miles northwest of Porter Township--probably within a day's travel from
'home', most likely because her family would not, or could not, admit
to her insanity.
Her life could not have been very pleasant.
Richard Current, the author of Vol. II of THE HISTORY OF WISCONSIN
wrote of the laws on mid-1800's welfare:
"No one could apply for aid before residing for twelve
months in the locality..."
so she may have been permitted the 'pleasure' of living at home for a
few short months. And for some of those who were on welfare, they were
"the mentally ill, [who] unless their relatives took care
of them at home, were kept in poorhouses or, if violent, in jails. In
both places they were exposed to cruel treatment, some of them living in
chains and wallowing in their own filth, and they often made themselves
a nuisance to other inmates and to the surrounding community."
In Vol. III of THE HISTORY OF WISCONSIN, Robert Nesbit wrote
of the conditions prevailing in the poorhouse in neighboring Jefferson County:
"The number of insane is this house is very large. Eleven
of them have to be confined in their cells all the time. Some of them
are very difficult to take care of, and the task is as disagreeable and
revolting as can well be conceived of. Three of them have to be kept on
straw, as they will not use beds..."
and quoted an 1873 report on the Dane County Poorhouse which listed
the reasons for commitment of its pauper population. Some of them:
"...intemperance forty one; insanity twentyone; idiocy eighteen;
blindness two; deaf mutes one; bastardy seven;... old age four."
Lucy was one of the "insanity twentyone".
She appears in the 1870 census columns:
Lucy Hasham; age 50 (sic); female; white; birthplace: New Hampshire(sic).
The last column heading is: "Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or
idiotic." The entry is "Insane". There was a poorhouse in
Janesville--next door to 'home', if you will--why was she exiled to the
next county? It's a tossup as to whether one poorhouse was better than
another--most American poorhouses were, quite bluntly, horrible. In
both the 1870 and 1880 census listings she is an inmate of the Dane
County Poorhouse in Verona.
Lucy Amy Miller Hasham died in the Dane County Poorhouse, on 5 June,
1905, at the age of 87. For the last 54 years of her long and rather
sad life, she had been considered insane. Her death certificate lists
her occupation as 'housework', and the cause of her death as 'old age'.
Her marital status--or, as it was rather delicately put in those days,
her 'condition'--is widowed; her husband had died on 3 February, 1861.
In the probable horror of her insanity and during the half-century of
her confinement, did she know what had happened to her family? Did she
long for an earlier end? Whether or not she did, we will never know.
She is buried in grave 59 of the Dane County Asylum Cemetery, one of the
many who "stood and waited."