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My blog has been changed to make it more appealing for those who have New England ancestors and want to see the area through photos. Things I’ll include are typical white New England churches, libraries showing their genealogical collection, historical societies, cemeteries, war memorials, in general, anything to do with history.

For four years I’ve blogged mostly about my personal genealogy in New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire), New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. I still will, can’t forget my own roots.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Father Abbey's Will: Very Funny and Very Sad

Father Abbey's Will
For the past eight years, Bill West of West in New England blog has his Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge. The fun that comes from this challenge is, I need to find a poem that has something to do with genealogy or an ancestor or distant relative with perhaps history or genealogy in the theme. This is my sixth entry and many of my past entries have come very easily, while others I've had to rely on google using search words such as a "surname" and the word "poem." My previous poems are at the end of this post.

This year's entry, Father Abbey's Will was written by Reverend Jonathan Seccombe in Boston in January 1732. He was my first cousin 8 times removed. Fortunately, I got pretty lucky to find this poem, thanks to the Harvard University Archives, when I used the search terms, "John Seccombe" and "poem." I already knew John had written a poem, but I hadn't read it. There was more information in the Harvard link, so I read a few things and learned that his famous poem, Father Abbey's Will was what I needed to post.

My joy and life 
I freely now do give her 
My whole estate, 
With all my plate, 
Being just about to leave her.

My tub of soap, 
A long cart rope, 
A frying pan and kettle, 
An ashes pail, 
A threshing flail, 
An iron wedge and beetle.

Two painted chairs, 
Nine warden pears,
A large old dripping platter,
This bed of hay,
On which I lay,
An old sauce pan for butter.

A little mug, 
A two-quart jug, 
A bottle full of brandy,
A looking-glass,
To see your face,
You’ll find it very handy.

A musket true As‘ever flew,
 A pound of shot and wallet,
 A leather sash,
My calabash,
My powder horn and bullet.

An old sword blade, 
A garden spade, 
A hoe, a rake, a ladder, 
A wooden can, 
A close-stool pan, 
A clyster-pipe and bladder.

A greasy hat, 
My old ram cat, 
A yard and half of linen, 
A woolen fleece, 
A pot of grease, 
In order for your spinning.

A small tooth comb,
An ashen broom,
A candlestick and hatchet,
 A coverlid,
Striped down with red,
A bag of rags to patch it.

A ragged mat, 
A tub of fat,
A book put out by Bunyan,
Another book,
By Robin Cook,
A skein or two of spunyarn.

An old black muff,
Some garden stuff,
 A quantity of borage,
 Some devil’s weed,
And burdock-feed,
To season well your porridge.

A chafing dish, 
With one salt fish, 
If I am not mistaken, 
A leg of pork, 
A broken fork, 
And half a flitch of bacon.

A spinning wheel,
One peck of meal, 
A knife without a handle, 
A rusty lamp,
Two quarts of samp,
And half a tallow candle.

My pouch and pipes, 
Two oxen tripes, 
An oaken dish well carved,
My little dog,
And spotted hog,
With two young pigs, just starved.

This is my store, 
I have no more, 
I heartily do give it, 
My years are spun, 
My days are done, 
And so I think to leave it. 

Thus Father Abbey left his spouse,
As rich as church or college
 mouse,
Which is sufficient invitation,
To serve the college in his station.


I found Harvard's Descriptive Summary rather interesting, because they had his first name as Jonathan and I have him as John. I quote the Abstract, "Father Abbey's Will, later attributed to Reverend Jonathan Seccombe (Harvard AB 1728), was a humorous poem first published anonymously in Boston in January 1732. The verses appeared after the death of the Harvard College Sweeper and Bed-maker Matthew Abdy in the early 1730s, and listed an inventory of Abdy's estate. A second poem purported to be a letter to Abdy's widow followed a month later. The poems were popular in both the colonies and England, and were reprinted as broadsides into the 19th century. This collection contains broadside, manuscript, and sheet music manifestations of the poem."


Further down the page is a paragraph called, Biographical Note of Matthew Abdy. "Matthew Abdy (ca. 1650-ca. 1730) was born in Boston around 1650. Abdy's appointment as the College Sweeper and Bed-maker at Harvard was recorded in the February 19, 1717/18 diary entry of President John Leverett. Abdy worked for the College until his death. The exact date of Abdy's death is unknown, but likely occurred in late 1730 or early 1731. Abdy married at least three times. His widow, Ruth Abdy, died on December 10, 1762 in Boston at the age of 93."

Two sources I had prior to discovering the Seccombe or Seccomb poem is below. There was mention to Father Abbey's Will, but perhaps I thought it was a book, or I just didn't investigate.

"The Rev. Mr. John Seccomb, of Harvard, was born April 25, 1708, the son of Peter and Hannah (Willis) Seccomb of Medford, Mass. His grandfather, Richard S. was of Lynn, 1660. He graduated at H.C. 1728, and settled at Harvard, Mass. His brothers were Rev. Joseph of Kingston, who published several sermons, and Thomas of Medford, to whose accuracy and precision the records of that town are so much indebted."
NEHG Register.  Vol. 13: 247  (1859)  "Memoirs of Prince's Subscribers"

"JOHN SECCOMB, A.M., b. Medford, Apr. 25, 1708, son of Capt. Peter and Hannah (Willis) Seccomb ; H. C. 1728, A.B., A.M,; Ord. Harvard, Oct. 10, 1733, as the first minister ; sett. Harvard, 1733-1757 ; dism. Sept. 7, 1757 ; sett. Chester, Nova Scotia, 1761-1792; author of "Father Abbey's Will" ; d. Halifax, N. S., Oct. 27, 1792, a. 84."
Weis, Frederick L., The Colonial Clergy and Churches of New England, (Lancaster: MA 1936, Genealogical Pub. Co., Inc., 1977). Page 184.

Additional source recently found:

Colonial Prose and Poetry: The transplanting of culture, 1607-1650edited by William Peterfield Trent, Benjamin Willis Wells, Pg. 105.


"JOHN SECCOMB, who has won an unenviable immortality as a writer of doggerel, was born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1708, and died in 1793 in Chester, Nova Scotia, whither he had gone in 1763 to be minister to a Dissenting congregation. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1728, and from 1733 to 1757 ministered to the Congregational Church in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts. He achieved great notoriety, while still connected with his Alma Mater, by his Father Abbey’s Will, a coarsely humorous poem, the subject of which was Matthew Abdy, who held some menial position in connection with the College. This effusion for some inexplicable reason so pleased Governor Belcher that he sent it to England, where it was printed in The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1732 and in The London Magazine of the same year. Perhaps not a little of the subsequent British depreciation of American literature was due to the belief that Seccomb’s doggerel fairly represented the latter. Fortunately Seccomb, after writing a companion skit, lapsed into comparative silence when he had won his laurels. His poem (sic) is given here for illustrative purposes only. Those who wish to know more about it may be referred to the edition of 1854, undertaken by the antiquarian John Langdon Sibley, well-known as the Librarian of Harvard, and a devoted student of its annals."
Previous Poems submitted to the Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge:

THE LIBRARIAN'S EPITAPH, a Poem


Longfellow's poem, 'The Phantom Ship"  

Palmer, Daisy, Lowell and a Poem

6 comments:

Marian B. Wood said...

Your title intrigued me and after reading the "poem," I have to agree--very funny, very sad. Thank you for sharing such an evocative listing in poetry form!

Diane B said...

Barbara I don't know if you have picked up on my connection to this. John Secomb had a more illustrious career than was acknowledged in the bio quoted here, he got himself in disfavor in the town where he settled ... I'm not sure if it was his personal behavior or perhaps just some doctrinal upset ... but he appears at Chester Nova Scotia, somewhat in disgrace. He famously wrote a diary up there, still full of the homey details that are captured in this poem - what he had for dinner while making his rounds to the various households, etc. My fourth great grandfather was born in Chester just after his death, and was named John Secomb Anderson. I have assumed he was named for this beloved minister but I always have to wonder if there was a family connection with my mysterious Andersons. Such a treat to see this poem. Thank you!

Barbara Poole said...

Marian, Thanks for taking the time to read this rather long poem. Regarding the title, I thought long and hard about it, because I felt it needed more than just, "Father Abbey's Will." Glad you were intrigued.

Barbara Poole said...

Diane, No, I didn't know about your connection to John Secomb. Much of your information is new to me, because I don't always research such distant relatives. And, in this case, used most of what Harvard provided. I wonder what happened to his diary, any idea? Your connection to Chester is interesting, as well as your 4th great-grandfather's name of John Secomb Anderson! I'm very glad posted this, and I like the connection, whatever it might be. We'll discover it some day.

Janice Brown said...

Such a wonderful poem. I know he was poking fun but at the same time it reminds us an insight into what the people of the day saw as important inventory items.

Barbara Poole said...

Janice, I'm not a big poem reader, but I do enjoy participating in Bill's annual challenge. Since this poem was easy to read and understand, it is among my favorites. We can all relate to wills, so this was appropriate to post to my genealogy blog. Thanks for reading it.