All in the Families: Confusing Connections in the Hopedale Community

Linda Hixon
Issue Date: 
November, 2019
Article Body: 

On November 2, 1849, William Cook did something that would be considered unusual today: he married his late wife’s niece, an act that wasn’t all that unusual in the Hopedale community.
The original Hopedale settlement wasn’t just about community, it was about family. Many of the early Hopedale residents were related. Several Thwing siblings lived in the new town, including sisters Anna and Hannah, who married brothers Ebenezer and George Draper. Even Adin Ballou had relatives in Hopedale: Alonzo Cook’s grandmother was Ballou’s aunt, and Ballou’s nephew Cyrus Cook and distant cousins Fenner Inman and Mary Ann Pitts also lived in town.
William Walker Cook belonged to yet another Hopedale family named Cook. He and his wife Abigail, daughter of Ira Draper, came to Hopedale with the first settlers. William was in charge of the agricultural division of the community. Even though Hopedale was founded on industrial principles, the members also clung to an agricultural lifestyle – well, they had to, Milford was over a mile away and the modern idea of the grocery store had yet to be invented.
Abigail does not have an occupation listed in the records, but, like many women of her generation, she would have been in charge of her home and her kitchen garden. Hopedale grew such a surplus of fruits and vegetables that the residents set up a stall in Milford to sell these healthy foods to the growing population of industrial workers and immigrants. Much of that produce would have come from the yards of Hopedale’s women.
William and Abigail had a son, Edwin, and for a time Abigail’s other occupation was mother. Unfortunately, Edwin died of “canker rash,” a form of scarlet fever or “putrid sore throat,” just after his second birthday. Abigail died almost exactly a year later, and William married Nancy Maria Draper two years after that. Nancy was the daughter of Ira Draper, Junior, the son of Ira Draper and his first wife, Lydia.
Marrying a dead spouse’s relation was not an uncommon occurrence at the time. In fact, Ira Draper, Abigail’s father and Nancy’s grandfather, married Abigail Richards, his first wife’s sister, after Lydia died. Nancy’s father Ira, Junior, was Lydia’s son, but Ira Senior and Abigail Draper were the parents of Abigail, William’s first wife, and Ebenezer and George Draper, making Abigail their sister, and William’s second wife Nancy their half-niece.
Hopedale was populated by confusing family ties. Another Ballou lived in town who may not have been related to Adin Ballou. Joanna Kelley Ballou was the sister of Lydia Kelley Earle, who lived in Hopedale, and Abby Kelley Foster, who lived in Worcester and became a famed abolitionist speaker.
William Cook gained quite a reputation in the area as a florist, and he went to great lengths to promote the Hopedale Nurseries, yet another town enterprise. He presented the Milford Weekly Journal with “a beautiful bouquet containing many rare and fragrant flowers, for which he has our thanks, and those of the lady recipient,” the paper noted with a wink on October 20, 1855. “If Milford would give Mr. Cook the patronage he deserves our streets and gardens would be greatly beautified.” In fact, Hopedale became a garden center over a century before garden centers became popular. William sent the newspaper a “Catalogue of Fruit and Ornamental Trees,” which included grapevines, varieties of berries, “vines and creepers,” shrubs and roses, and “hardy herbaceous plants.” Hopedale was going all out to earn and grow in early spring, 1856.
Surprisingly, William, Nancy, and their son Edwin Laurie left Hopedale but stayed in the area after the Draper brothers’ take-over of the town. Adin Ballou remembered William and his wives fondly. “Both his wives were worthily in Community membership with him,” Ballou wrote of William, Abigail and Nancy, making it sound just a little scandalous. Even though his wives held the greatest occupation of all – motherhood – Ballou only mentioned William’s work. “He is an experienced and excellent florist.” Who knew such a thing existed at that time?