The ancient town of Bridgewater, the first interior settlement of the Old Colony, has been the birthplace and the home of many who have made the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts rich in stories of good lives devoted to the development and uplift of the community, and not the least among these may be mentioned the late Capt. Benjamin Beal Howard, philanthropist, whose name is perpetuated in Howard Seminary, which he founded, and his son, the late Francis Edward Howard, philanthropist, statesman and upright, patriotic and useful citizen.
The early home of the Howards was in England, and the family is identified with the most brilliant achievements in various departments of knightly and honorable service in that country. The illustrious house of Norfolk derives in the male line from William Howard, “a learned and reverend judge,” of the reign of Edward I., and with him the authentic pedigree of the family commences.
John Howard, the first American ancestor of the Howards in Plymouth county, came from England and settled first at Duxbury prior to 1643. In 1651 he became one of the first settlers and original proprietors of the West parish of Bridgewater. He took the oath of fidelity here in 1657; was one of the first military officers in Bridgewater, and died in 1700. He kept the first “ordinary” or public house in the town, and it is a remarkable fact that his descendants kept a public house there until within recent years. He was a man of great strength of character, possessing much influence in the Colony. His children were:
- John Howard
- James Howard
- Jonathan Howard
- Elizabeth Howard
- Sarah Howard
- Bethiah Howard
- Ephraim Howard
John Howard, Jr., son of John, married in 1678 Sarah Latham, daughter of Robert and Susanna (Winslow) Latham, of what is now East Bridgewater, Mass. He settled in that part of the town known as Joppa, but after his father’s death he sold this property and returned to West Bridgewater to live. He inherited from his father his house and farm, together with a large tract of land. He occupied the house and conducted it as a tavern until 1726. His children were:
- Susanna Howard, who married Capt. Nathaniel Ames
- Edward Howard, born in 1687
- Robert Howard, born in 1689
- Martha Howard, who married David Perkins
- Sarah Howard, who married David Turner
- Bethiah Howard, who married Jonathan Randall and (second) John Hayes
Maj. Edward Howard, son of John, Jr., was born in 1687, and married Feb. 7, 1711, Mary Byram, daughter of Nicholas and Mary (Edson) Byram, of Bridgewater. He lived in the house occupied by his father and grandfather before him in West Bridgewater, and conducted it as a tavern until the time of his death. Both he and his wife are buried in the cemetery on the east side of South street in that town. Their children were
- Sarah Howard, born Nov. 2, 1714, married Christopher Ripley
- Mary Howard, born March 1? 1717, married Henry Howard
- Bethiah Howard, born April 20, 1719, married Isaac Lathrop
- Jane Howard, born Aug. 10, 1721, married Jonathan Howard
- Edward Howard, born March 11, 1723, married Susanna Howard, and Abigail Beal
- James Howard was born May 5, 1726
Col. Edward Howard, son of Maj. Edward, was born March 11, 1723, and married April 25, 1745, Susanna Howard, daughter of Jonathan and Sarah (Field) Howard, of what is now West Bridgewater. She died there Oct. 16, 1785, and he married (second) Dec. 19, 1786, Abigail Beal, daughter of Benjamin Beal, of Braintree, and widow of Joshua Howard, of that place. Colonel Howard resided in West Bridgewater, where he and his two wives are buried. He died March 9, 1809, and his widow passed away April 14, 1821.
His eleven children were born as follows:
- Edward Howard, March 4, 1746
- Daniel Howard, April 13, 1749
- Susanna Howard, July 5, 1751 (married Oakes Angier)
- Parnel Howard, Aug. 31, 1753 (married Scotland Keith)
- Edward Howard (2), Jan. 24, 1756
- Annie Howard, May 6, 1758
- Simeon Howard, Sept. 6, 1762
- Martin Howard, Nov. 27, 1767
- Benjamin Beal Howard, March 2, 1788
- Charles Howard, Jan. 30, 1790
- Frances Howard, Sept. 23, 1791 (married Ezra Kingman)
Capt. Benjamin Beal Howard, son of Col. Edward and Abigail (Beal) Howard, was born on the ancestral homestead in Bridgewater (now West Bridgewater), Mass., March 2, 1788. His early life was spent at farming, and he diligently availed himself of the educational advantages of the district schools of that day. He was the fifth generation of the family to own and occupy the land on which his great-great-grandfather had established his inn or tavern. He was its last landlord, for the necessity for its existence ceased with the advent of railroads, and the old house was destroyed in 1838. Each of his ancestors were conspicuous in the local and military affairs of the town, and filled their part well, and Benjamin B. was a true descendant of that Puritan stock. He was captain of a company of militia, but not called into active service: He was a successful farmer, prominent in his native town as a business man, and held various responsible positions; but for his active and vigorous nature the quiet life of a farmer did not afford sufficient scope, and in about 1837 he removed his business to New Bedford, Mass., where he became largely connected with whaling, owning an interest in, and acting as agent for, numerous vessels fitted out for the whaling industry in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Captain Howard prospered, and amassed wealth. He kept his real estate in West Bridgewater until 1860, when he sold it to his son, Francis E., and always claimed the right of suffrage in his native town, although residing at New Bedford during the last fifteen years of his life, and dying there April 3, 1867. He was a director of several important corporations of New Bedford, and at the time of his death was president of the New Bedford Flouring Mills. In the numerous railroad and manufacturing enterprises in which he was so largely interested for the few years previous to his death his business ability was greatly appreciated and his cool, dispassionate judgment often sought.
Captain Howard was a remarkable man. He was simple in his tastes, of great force of character, strong and resolute will, indomitable energy, and firmly fixed in his opinions, and did not willingly brook opposition. In his likes and dislikes he was equally decided, but his judgments were based upon what he considered the real worth of any one, without reference to his station or condition. In business he exhibited sagacity, breadth of view, a watchful regard to details, and an unswerving fidelity to every engagement. He was a zealous friend, a vigorous enemy. He was prompt in decision, resolute in action, fearless, independent, and outspoken in his views on all subjects, and cared not whether the community agreed or disagreed with him. In several cases results have fully justified Captain Howard’s beliefs, the wisdom of his judgment being recognized even by those who at one time opposed his opinions. Captain Howard was of a very reticent nature, and when in his will were found bequests for the benefit of his town amounting to one hundred two thousand dollars, it was evident that his mind had, for a long time, been fixed upon this, yet none knew what he had done until after his death. His public bequests were as follows: To the town of West Bridgewater, eighty thousand dollars, the income to be used for the “establishment and support of a high school or seminary of learning, to be called the Howard School”; twenty thousand dollars to the First Congregational Society of the town, to be called the Howard Parochial Fund, the income to be applied to the support of Unitarian or liberal preaching; two thousand dollars, the income of which is to be applied to scientific lectures in town, provided there be an annual addition of one hundred dollars, otherwise to be added to the school or parochial fund.
The unpretentious character of these munificent gifts was in keeping with the whole life work of Captain Howard. No sounding of trumpets or vaunting of what he had done or was going to do were ever sent abroad, but his deeds of charity were done unostentatiously and with generosity. His memory is reverenced and cherished in the hearts of a grateful community, and his deeds will cause other souls through many years to emulate his noble example; and when generation after generation shall have passed away may there not be wanting happy voices of children enjoying the educational advantages of Howard Seminary to bless the wise and fatherly care of the benefactor, who was so mindful of them before their lives began.
Captain Howard was four times married. In 1810 he married Olive Howard, daughter of Gamaliel Howard, who served in the Revolutionary war, and his wife, Olive (Babbitt) Howard, and this union was blessed with children as follows:
- Lucy Howard, born Sept. 2, 1811, who married Thomas Ames
- Azel Howard, born May 22, 1815
- Benjamin Howard, born June 20, 1819
- Edward Howard, born March 8, 1824
- Francis E. Howard, born May 14, 1825
The mother of these children died Jan. 19, 1826, and Captain Howard married (second) Nov. 5, 1826, Susan Mitchell, of Newton, Mass., who died Sept. 10, 1850, the mother of two children, as follows:
- Susan E. Howard, born Jan. 4, 1828
- Olivia Howard, born July 20, 1835, who married Dana B. Humphrey, of New Bedford
The third wife of Captain Howard was Mrs. Jane B. Taylor, of New Bedford, whom he married July 31, 1852, and she died July 28, 1861. On June 24, 1862, Captain Howard married (fourth) Mrs. Harriet M. (Pratt) Howard, widow of John Edward Howard, and she survived her husband, passing away in November, 1884.
Francis Edward Howard was born in West Bridgewater, Mass., on the old Howard homestead, May 14, 1825, the youngest child of the late Capt. Benjamin Beal Howard and his wife Olive (Howard) Howard, both his parents tracing their lineage to John Howard, the first American settler of the family. His educational training was begun in the common schools of his native town, after which he became a student in private schools, conducted by such famous educators as Hon. Joseph Kingman, Rev. Richard Stone and Mr. Moses Mandell. Naturally of a studious nature, Mr. Howard found great pleasure and enjoyment in everything that tended toward intellectual advancement. In 1846-47 he organized the West Bridgewater Lyceum, composed of those young people of the town who were interested in study, and much profit was derived from the meetings. Mr. Howard himself became the editor of “The Lyceum Repository,” and contributed not a little to its great success. He was also the author of an historical sketch of the First Church of Old Bridgewater, and so replete with valuable information was it found to be that it was filed in the office of the secretary of the American Unitarian Association.
Like his ancestors before him, Mr. Howard became interested in agricultural pursuits, and in 1846 removed to the residence which at that time was owned by his father, and which he later purchased, residing there until 1897, when he built the handsome home adjoining, in which he resided until his death. In 1850 Mr. Howard joined the church, and for more than half a century gave it his loyal support. He was twice treasurer of the parish, filling the office about sixteen years, and for a period of thirteen years was a member of the executive committee of the Plymouth and Bay Unitarian Conference. He was a stanch believer in the leadership and guidance of the spirit and gospel of Christ, and greatly deplored that the Sabbath was not more sacredly observed. In 1867, through his father’s will, Mr. Howard became one of the original board of trustees of the Howard Funds, and he held this position until his death, covering a period of thirty-five years, during fourteen of which he was treasurer, and during eight president of the board of trustees. In 1879 he gave the town five hundred dollars to gather the old district libraries into one general library, that would more nearly meet the demands of the public, and in his will he bequeathed another five hundred dollars to be applied to the same purpose.
In 1871 Mr. Howard was one of those taking an interested part in the formation of the West Bridgewater Farmers’ Club, and he used every exertion during the twenty-five years of its existence to make its influence felt; it was disbanded only when the West Bridgewater Grange proved itself worthy to be the successor. He it was, too, whose long and patient efforts secured the funds for the soldiers’ monument which adorns Central Square; and he also gave to the Old Bridgewater Historical Society the land for a building, and a sum of money, the building being erected and dedicated June 13, 1901. In 1870 Mr. Howard was one of the organizers of the Pine Hill Cemetery Association, and for a period of thirty-one years was one of its officials.
Until 1854 Mr. Howard was a Whig in political sentiment, but in that year he was a delegate from West Bridgewater to the first Republican State convention, and his allegiance to the new party never wavered during the remainder of his life. In 1870 he was appointed United States assistant marshal under the Act of Congress providing for the eighth census. For a period of six years he was a member of the board of selectmen of the town, and for eight years a member of the school committee. From 1879 to 1884 he was a director of the public library, and from 1884 to 1889 a registrar of voters. In 1882 he ably represented West Bridgewater and Brockton in the State Legislature. In whatever position he was placed Mr. Howard was the same industrious, conscientious, painstaking official, giving great satisfaction to his constituents, and filling those positions of trust with honor and distinction to himself. Mr. Howard enjoyed the presence of his friends, and delighted in having them about him. Of genial, courteous manner, he readily acquired friends, whose friendship he as readily retained. His home was most dear to him, and he was always proud of his native town and its historical associations, and rejoiced that he had been able to do his share in its progress.
Mr. Howard was not merely a farmer; he read, traveled, studied and thought. He was an intense radical in support of everything tending to improve, develop and advance the best elements of society. He was in favor of higher education, and as treasurer and president of Howard Seminary ably assisted in carrying out the educational plan made possible by his father’s munificence. Frank, yet affable in his intercourse with all, and honest and upright in all his dealings with his fellow men, he was a man whom it was a pleasure to meet. He held advanced opinions on all subjects, and supported them ably and pungently by voice and pen. He would have filled the pulpit with ability and efficiency had circumstances drawn him in that direction, for he was a born theologian, and many of his newspaper articles were well written sermons. In the various fields of business, agriculture and citizenship Mr. Howard was active, sagacious and progressive. Enthusiastic and generous in his impulses, he was a strong friend, a kind neighbor, and recognized by all as one of the best and most useful citizens of his town and county, worthily holding the esteem and confidence of the entire community in which his honorable and upright life was spent.
On Nov. 25, 1852, Mr. Howard was united in marriage to Mary K. Hayward, daughter of Pliny and Polly (Kingman) Hayward, who was also descended on both her paternal and maternal sides from historic old New England ancestry. This union was blessed with two daughters, Edith Frances and Mary Jane, the latter dying in infancy. The mother of these children passed away June 2, 1857, and on Oct. 5, 1858, Mr. Howard married (second) Elizabeth B. Taylor, daughter of Simeon and Sibel (Fobes) Taylor.
Mr. Howard fell quietly asleep, after a long illness, Aug. 12, 1902, at his home in West Bridgewater. The whole community did him honor; the stores were closed, and representatives of nearly every family in West Bridgewater were in attendance at his funeral, while friends from all over the State and elsewhere in New England came to pay their last tribute of respect to a man whose life fulfilled the highest ideals of citizenship, and whose memory is indelibly stamped in the history of the town of his nativity. Mr. Howard was survived by his wife, who passed away April 1, 1907, and was laid to rest beside her husband in Pine Hill cemetery.
Edith Frances Howard, the only surviving daughter of the late Francis Edward and Mary K. (Hayward) Howard, was educated in the public schools, the Bridgewater Academy and Bradford Academy, and has since enjoyed the benefits of extensive travel. She is a member of Deborah Sampson Chapter, D. A. K., of Brockton, and is a trustee of the Howard Seminary, of West Bridgewater, of the Bridgewater Historical Society, and of the Public Library, succeeding her late father in these offices.