Ellery E. Foutch (Winter 2021)
This reversible brooch was donated to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History in 1996 by Mary Hamilton Peet Green of Cornwall, Vermont. At the time of donation, she knew the photograph represented one of her ancestors, but the full story of the brooch had been lost to time. She offered a tentative hypothesis: might this be her grandfather, Jonathan Murray, who married Rosalinda Bascom and lived in nearby Orwell, Vermont? For almost 25 years, this was the only information recorded in the object’s file. The brooch tantalized us with its incorporation of mixed media (glass, hair, gold, wire, and pearls) and its indication of having been dearly loved. The hairwork itself features a sparse set of curls that have been carefully arranged and fixed into a Prince of Wales flourish. The gum arabic that once affixed these hairs in place or perhaps secured a crimped gold wire to the outside edge of the composition has aged and cracked; the small grouping of three seed pearls in a gold setting (often said to represent tears) might once have been positioned more centrally. These strands of hair with their gentle curls echo the photograph of the unknown man on the reverse, whose pale hair cascades almost in ringlets near the nape of his neck. Who was he?
Research conducted during our Winter Term class finally revealed the true identity of the sitter and reunited this object with its story.
Our first step was to research Mary Peet Green’s family tree and follow her leads about Jonathan Murray and Rosalinda Bascom. Our initial genealogical research indicated that Jonathan Murray died in 1846 or 1847. Although the photograph is somewhat difficult to see through the glass of the brooch, the card or paper on which it is printed almost seems to have a slight sheen, like an albumen print, a process that wasn’t widespread until the 1850s. Searching Mary Peet Green’s family tree and linked family members on findagrave.com, we narrowed in on a generation for whom the chronology might make sense and struck gold: a matching photograph of the same gentleman had been digitized by Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives! Here was Mary Peet Green’s mystery ancestor: Lyman Burt Peet, Middlebury College Class of 1834.
Right: Photograph from Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives, Alumni Files: Class of 1834.
Lyman Burt Peet (1809-1878) led a remarkable life. He was born in rural Cornwall, Vermont. His public-mindedness from a young age is evidenced in a program from his Middlebury College Commencement, held on August 20, 1834: the young man delivered an oration entitled “Energy of Character, – its Influence on Public Sentiment.” Indeed, Peet soon enrolled in Andover Theological Seminary and was ordained as a Congregationalist minister in 1837. Middlebury College archival files— and Peet’s gravestone— inform us that he was quickly appointed to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, traveling to many missions in Asia throughout the 1840s-1860s. An early biography lists a dizzying array of posts: Singapore and Bangkok, followed by Canton, Amoy (now Xiamen), and, finally, several decades in Fuzhou, China (alternately spelled Fuh-chow, Foochow, and Foo-chau at the time). This was not the only Vermont hairwork connection to the Fuzhou Protestant Mission; see also the entry on the Martin family brooch, indicating the lasting ties between rural Vermont and this city on the Min River in southeast China.
While stationed in China, Peet collaborated with fellow missionaries to publish numerous translations of biblical and spiritual texts in the Fuzhou dialect; his engagement with the theological and spiritual significance of language and desire for precise expression is evidenced by his 1852 pamphlet “Remarks on the Best Term for God in Chinese.”
After almost three decades in Fuzhou, Peet retired, returning to the United States in 1871 and settling in West Haven, Connecticut. There is so much more to research about his life in both Fuzhou and Vermont. We only wish we could have shared some of these stories with his descendant, donor of the brooch Mary Hamilton Peet Green, who led a fascinating and well-traveled life of her own (her vivacity is evident in this profile published in 2010). Following a childhood in Cornwall and after earning a bachelor’s degree at UVM, Green made her way to Puerto Rico in 1938, teaching at Humacao High School; in subsequent decades, her marriage to Caspar Green of USAID meant stints lived in Haiti, Trinidad, Chile, Brazil and Washington, DC. Peet herself taught English and French at Middlebury Union High School, and in her later years, she established herself as a local historian, ultimately publishing three books of her own: Cornwall People and Their Times (1993), The History of the First Congregational Church in Cornwall (2003), and Mary P. Green at 98, a Memoir (2013). We are grateful for her thoughtfulness and foresight in preserving local and global history.
– Ellery E. Foutch, Assistant Professor
Carlson, Ellsworth C. The Foochow Missionaries, 1847-1880. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 1974.
“Mary Peet Green, 1915-2014: Obituary.” Sanderson Funeral Service, Middlebury, VT link
Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Alumni files: Class of 1834, “Peet, Lyman Burt.”
“Peet, Lyman Burt.”The Congregational Year-Book 1 (1879): 50.
Steponaitis, Cookie. “Sharing Memories with Mary Peet Green.” The Valley Voice 26 Oct. 2010: link.
Wylie, Alexander and William Gamble. Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese: Giving a List of Their Publications, and Obituary Notices of the Deceased. Shanghae: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1867: 116-117.
Selected digitized publications by Lyman Burt Peet:
- Peet, Rev. L.B. “Remarks on the Best Term for God in Chinese.” Canton: Friends of Protestant Missions to the Chinese, 1852. permalink
From Chinese Rare Books, Harvard Library:
- Peet, Lyman B., Robert Samuel Maclay, S. F. Woodin, and Stephen Livingston Bowne Baldwin. Yuebo Ji. Harvard-Yenching Library Christianity Collection Digitization Project. Fuzhou: Mei Hua Shu Ju, 1866. permalink
- Peet, Lyman B. Shi Pian Quan Shu : Rong Qiang. Harvard-Yenching Library Christianity Collection Digitization Project. Fuzhou: Mei Hua Shu Ju, 1868. permalink
- Peet, Lyman B. Zhen Yan Quan Shu. Harvard-Yenching Library Christianity Collection Digitization Project. Fuzhou: Mei Hua Shu Ju, 1868. permalink
Future research: Hannah Louise Plimpton Peet Hartwell papers, Mount Holyoke College Library & Special Collections: features correspondence between Lyman Burt Peet and his second wife, Hannah Louise Plimpton Peet Hartwell, as well as journals about her experiences in Fuzhou and her herbarium (link to finding aid).