Susan (Grout) Holbrook Gale
....was born in Westborough, MA in 1797. She was the eldest of the two daughters of Esquire Seth Grout and wife Susannah Haskell. When Susan was 23 years old, she married Daniel Holbrook Jr. of Northborough and they settled into a home on the Turnpike Road in Westborough.
Her father owned and operated “Grout’s Store” in downtown Westborough, where husband Daniel was also a merchant. Barely five months after Susan married Daniel, their son Charles was born, which at that time could have proven scandalous. However, possibly due to the good standing of the respectable family in town, no one publically noted the short pregnancy. The couple also had the resources to send son Charles to attend the Worcester County Manual Labor High School, the private boys school that eventually become the renowned Worcester Academy of Worcester, Massachusetts.
Susan was only 25 when her father died and she inherited both his business and real estate. Notably uncommon for women of that time, she retained sole ownership of the store, along with several other Westborough properties that belonged to her late father. Given that her father was confident that she was able to manage real estate and that her husband freely worked side-by-side with her at her store, she can certainly be characterized as a capable, independent, and intelligent woman of her time.
A few years after Susan married, her sister Eliza also married into the Holbrook family. At 19, Eliza married Daniel’s 1st cousin, Levi Holbrook, who was then 41 years old and ran a boys' high school in Danville, Virginia. Virginia was a slave state at the time, which was extremely difficult for Susan and Eliza’s widowed mother, who was decidedly anti-slavery and refused to ever travel to the South. The Grout women did eventually reunite, when Eliza became pregnant and made the long and uncomfortable journey back north to Westborough to be cared for by family. Her son Levi (Jr.) was born healthy, but Eliza suffered medical complications and she remained in Westborough long after his birth. Susan cared for her newborn nephew until Eliza was well enough to travel back to Virginia. The strong maternal bond between “Auntie Susan” and her nephew Levi was undoubtedly forged during that time and did not diminish in the years that followed.
Eliza may never have recovered fully from her poor health after giving birth as she died just a few years later. As a testament to the closeness of the Grout family, she was buried in Westborough alongside her parents. When her young son Levi reached school age, her widowed husband sent him back North to be educated and cared for by Susan and her husband. Susan took over raising her nephew and their very close relationship continued to grow.
Susan was 37 years old when her husband Daniel suddenly died. In keeping with her reputation as an intelligent businesswoman, she was appointed co-executor of his estate. It also isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that as a respected local merchant, Susan had a wide social circle that included Northborough storeowner Captain Cyrus Gale. They very well may have known each other for many years before she married him when she was age 54. Cyrus, also known as a kind and quietly generous member of his community, shared the traits of keen business acumen and strong family devotion with his third wife. As a testament to his character, he signed a pre-nuptial contract that ensured she continued to be sole owner of her inherited real estate. He also accepted her nephew Levi as a member of his own family. A year after Cyrus and Susan married, they encouraged 16 year-old Levi to attend Yale University (and afterwards, Harvard University) to pursue a quality higher education. This mutual respect and faith that Cyrus had for his step-nephew was never more evident than when Cyrus died and Levi was appointed as the executor of his estate.
Around town, Susan and Cyrus were social and engaging, frequently hosting guests in their home. This was actually quite common for many homeowners along Main Street as the train had come to Northborough in 1853 and guesthouses were popular with travelers. Susan’s nephew Levi visited annually with his own growing family, and letters written by Levi’s wife about their cherished trips up from New York City were nothing short of heart-warming.
Susan (Grout) Holbrook Gale was born at a time when our new country was just getting started. Her father was part of the movement where commercial town centers were forming in sprawling farming communities. She herself walked the fine line between traditional woman’s role of wife and mother with independent businesswoman and property owner. As for personal convictions, she had to wrestle with how to keep anti-slavery beliefs from tearing her family apart as she and her sister navigated the murky waters leading up to the Civil War. Her unwavering devotion to her mother, sister, and nephew was also an integral part of who she was, as was her choosing spouses who encouraged her to stay true to her character. When she died in 1887, she was 89 years old and had indeed experienced a very full and rewarding life.
Ancestry.com. “U.S. High School Student Lists, 1821-1923.” Online database and digital images. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com : 2012.
Ancestry.com. “U.S. School Catalogs, 1765-1935.” Online database and digital images. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com : 2012.
Kent, Josiah Coleman. Northborough History. Newton, Massachusetts: Garden City Press, Incorporated, 1921.
McCarthy, Beth Finch. "Holbrook Letters." Collection of family correspondence from 1833-1875. BFM Research, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parker, Glenn R. “Daniel Holbrook Jr. on the Turnpike.” Westborough Patch. http://patch.com/ massachusetts/westborough/daniel-holbrook-jr-on-the-turnpike. 19 August 2013.
Pine Grove Cemetery (Westborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts; 106 South Street). Cemetery Marker.
Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook).
Beth Finch McCarthy