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18th Century Id’d Wedding Slippers – Wife of Member of the Green Mountain Boys

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18th Century Id’d Wedding Slippers – Wife of Member of the Green Mountain Boys –  (Biographical information enumerated below was abstracted from the Johnson Family of Newbury Papers, 1775-1886 in the Cornell University Library): These superior examples of late 18th century wedding slippers have two great pieces of paper attached to them – one is the printed label of the manufacturer of the slippers, which lies attached along the interior of the left slipper, the other label, a hand-inked one, is attached to the bottom of the sole of the right slipper; this latter label reads as follows: “Wedding Slippers of Lucy Towne, Wife of David Johnson and My Mothers A.C.J.” David Johnson was the son of Thomas Johnson (1742-1819); the elder Johnson, born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, moved to New Hampshire, in 1762, but settled in Newbury, Vermont, where he built a house on the oxbow of the Connecticut River. Thomas had three wives. The first was Elizabeth Lowell, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, who was born June 30, 1741, and died September 19, 1772. Their children were John (1766- 1847), Moses (1768-1840), Jessie (twin of Moses, died on day of birth), Betsey (1770- 1844), and Lowell (1772-1772). He married his second wife, Abigail Merril, (May 24, 1750-December 2, 1774) on November, 26, 1772. She was the widow of a Mr. Pool. They had one child, Abigail (1773-1796). Thomas Johnson married his third wife, Abigail Carleton (March 30, 1750-March 23, 1833), on November 26, 1775. Their children were Hanes (1776-1783), David (1778-1865), Hannah (1781-1782), Hannah (1783-1783), Hannah (1785-1861), Hanes (1787-1878), Thomas (1790-1792), and Sally (1792-1859).

Thomas Johnson was an innkeeper, farmer, and merchant. He was captain in the militia in 1775. In 1776 he and Frye Bayley of Newbury, and others, helped lay out a hundred-mile military route to St. Johns, Quebec. Johnson was an aide to General Lincoln at Ticonderoga; after the battle, Johnson was made lieutenant colonel and placed in charge of removing the prisoners from that engagement. The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga occurred during the American Revolution, on May 10, 1775, when a small force of Green Mountain Boys, with whom Johnson is listed as a member, led by Ethan Allen and Colonel Benedict Arnold, overcame a small British garrison at the fort and looted the personal belongings of the garrison. Cannons and other armaments from the fort were transported to Boston and used to fortify Dorchester Heights and break the standoff at the Siege of Boston. Johnson was a wealthy and influential member of his community and some thought he might be able to convince his neighbors to throw in their lot with the British or at least remain neutral. Johnson was captured by British agents at Peacham, Vermont, February 18, 1781, and taken to Canada. He spent eight months in captivity, where he was treated with considerable deference, in part because some of his captors had been well treated by him after Ticonderoga. He was given his parole October 5, on the condition that he not bear arms against the British and that he return to Montreal if asked.

Johnson had to defend his reputation in Newbury for many years. The nature of his capture, his lenient treatment in captivity, the nature of his parole, and the fact that his wealth had grown during the war caused suspicion. The fact that his wife, Abigail Carleton, was related to Sir Guy Carleton, Governor General of Canada, and the suspicion that he aided the British in an unsuccessful attempt to capture General Jacob Bayley in 1782, also caused distrust of Johnson. Some said he was a British agent, some said a double agent. After the war Johnson seems to have earned the trust of the people of Newbury. He served as Newbury’s first postmaster, 1785-1800, served as town representative to the Vermont General Assembly for eight years. His business interests and land acquisitions prospered. Thomas Johnson died January 4, 1819 in Newbury, Vermont.

The other Johnson was David, son of Thomas. David was postmaster of Newbury 1800-1812, town clerk in 1837-1838 and 1840-1856, keeper of extensive meteorological records from the 1820s-1860s, and a successful farmer and merchant. He was also a collector of town records and historical documents, especially involving his father. His manuscript “Annals of Newbury, Vermont,” and two volumes of documents that he collected are a treasury of family, town, and national history. David Johnson married first, Lucy Townes (1785-1820), and second Eliza S. Smith (1796-1883). He had four children: Alexander G. (1813-1879), Harriet (1814-1865), Edward Carleton (1816-1878), and Nancy Cummings (1818-1892).

The initials “A.C.J.” on the hand-inked label on the sole of the right slipper, obviously refer to Abigail Carleton Johnson, David Johnson’s mother and Thomas Johnson’s third wife. The slippers, therefore, must date to around 1775, when Abigail Carleton married Thomas Johnson. As a prized family heirloom, David Johnson gave his young bride, Lucy Towne, these slippers when they married. Lucy Towne was born on October 31, 1785, in Boxford, Massachusetts, her father, Sergeant, was 45 and her mother, Anne, was 40. She married David Johnson on May 25, 1812, in Orange, Vermont. They had three children during their marriage. She died as a young mother on June 29, 1820, at the age of 34.

As for the maker’s label, it too has a wonderful background history; housed in the Ebenezer Hancock House, built in 1767, it is the only remaining house in Boston associated with John Hancock. He owned the house, although it was lived in by his brother, Ebenezer, who was Deputy Paymaster General of the Continental Army. It remains one of Boston’s few downtown residences surviving from the late 18th century. From 1798 to 1963, it was the country’s oldest continuously run shoe store – this store occupied the building’s first floor. Ebenezer Hancock left the house, many years before his death, in 1819, and by the year 1789, it had become the property of Ebenezer Frothingham, a china and glass merchant, who had his store in the first story. Some time in the latter quarter of the 18th century, Benjamin Fuller, a shoe dealer, also had a shop in the building, and he in turn was followed about the year 1821 by William H. Learnard, who continued the shoe business here until his death, in 1886. A shoe store operated in the first floor shop until 1963, and today the structure is used as an office building. John Hancock’s house was located next to the State House, and was torn down in 1863.

These slippers, constructed primarily of fine, dyed white, pigskin, are in excellent condition. Both slippers are lined with a fine, cotton mesh, and both have their original, white silk decorative ribbons on the tongue areas. The leather soles of both slippers are in equally fine condition, as are both the printed and hand-inked labels. Although we have had other examples of early wedding slippers, this pair is not only in superior condition, but the remaining presence of their rare maker’s label, as well as their provenance associated with a well known Revolutionary War hero, make them quite unique.

 

 

 

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