The first Spooner to live in the 27 North Street house was Deacon Ephraim Spooner (1735–1818), a successful merchant and patriot during the American Revolution. The last was James Spooner (1868–1954), a lifelong bachelor and patron of music, who bequeathed his home and family possessions to be a historical museum in 1954. Visitors to the Plymouth Antiquarian Society’s Spooner House Museum meet these first and last generations, but there were several in the interim who left records of their time in Plymouth.
The Deacon’s grandson, Ephraim Spooner, and his wife, Mary, were lifelong Plymoutheans who lived for a brief period on North Street. They had two children who lived to adulthood, Esther and James Walter. James married Sophronia “Frona” Smith and had a daughter, Maud, and two sons, Walter and James, the latter of whom was the last to live in the Spooner house. From the letters that they wrote to each other as they traveled or relocated, this family unit appears very close and affectionate, despite the financial and medical troubles they often faced.
Mary Elizabeth Spooner (1804–1869)
Mary was the ninth child of Captain Nathaniel and Mary (Holmes) Spooner. She was born into a large but fairly well-off family. Mary married her second cousin, Ephraim Spooner, in 1830. Her grandfather, Thomas, and Ephraim’s grandfather, Ephraim, were brothers.
During her married life, Mary did not enjoy wealth or ease due to the family’s constantly shifting financial situation. She did what she could to help make ends meet. In 1840 she made and sold hats through a millinery store in the front room of the family home and she took care of the boarders in the household. She also traveled to Boston and New York with her brother, Bourne Spooner (1790–1870), his wife Hannah (1792–1868), and their sons Charles (1824–1882) and Edward (1830–1887). Hannah, who struggled with chronic illness, would seek treatments at places such as Sharon Springs, a town in New York known for its natural spas. Bourne was the founder of the Plymouth Cordage Company, and his wealth enabled him to travel and to take Mary along with him and his family for company. Mary died in 1859, at the age of 65.
Click here to see a photograph of Bourne Spooner.
Ephraim Spooner (1804–1887)
Ephraim, son of James and Margaret Spooner, was born in Plymouth in 1804. He does not appear to have been as prominent or successful as his father and grandfather, both of whom established themselves as merchants and held political offices. Ephraim served as Postmaster in the 1840s and early 1850s, a period of financial stability for the family. His fortunes appear to have declined in the decades that followed and the family moved frequently within Plymouth. Ephraim died in Plymouth on April 10, 1887, at the age of 83.
Click here to see a photograph of Ephraim Spooner.
James Walter Spooner (1831–1888)
James Walter was born on Summer Street in 1831. He was sickly as a child, and had rheumatic fever, which interrupted his schooling. James Walter attended various schools from 1834 through the summer of 1848, when his doctor advised him to leave school due to ill health, and he took tutored classes after that point.
In March of 1855, he first met Sophronia Smith in New Hampshire. Over the course of the next few years, he visited her several times in Concord, where she was living with her sister. James Walter liked Concord so much that he urged his father to buy a farm there, and even looked at one for himself. James loved farming and writing, though he did not make a career out of either.
James Walter married Sophronia in Concord in November 1858. James Walter and Frona’s first child, Maud, was born in Concord. They moved back to Plymouth and had two sons, Walter and James, while living in the house on North Street. In the 1860 Census, James Walter is listed in Plymouth as simply a “clerk.” The 1879 Census lists him as a “clerk in the registry of deeds.” There is some evidence that James Walter was sick for a few years before he died of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disorder, in 1888. He was 57.
Esther “Esta” Spooner (1835–1892)
Esther S. Spooner was born in Plymouth in 1835. She was the youngest of the surviving Spooner children. Esther received an expensive private education in her youth at a time when her father’s financial position was more secure. However, when the family’s fortunes changed, she did what she could to assist her parents. In the 1860 census her occupation was noted as seamstress. She also took care of her father while her mother was away for medical treatments.
Esther remained unmarried into her late twenties, and made teasing comments about becoming an “ancient maiden.” Despite this, she did eventually marry George Sawyer in 1862 at the age of 27. Their marriage record lists him as a jeweler, but he later appears to get a job as a lumber agent when the couple are living in Boston. Even after Esther married, she felt a responsibility for her father, especially after the relatively early death of her mother in 1859. Esther and George had one daughter, Mary Esther Sawyer, in 1873. Esther’s health was fragile, and at times she was unwilling to travel as a result, though she kept in touch with her family. She died of a brain disease in 1892 at the age of 57.
Sophronia “Frona” (Smith) Spooner (c. 1831–1917)
Frona was born in Randolph, Vermont to Phinneas and Maria Folsom Smith. She first met James Walter Spooner in 1855 while living in New Hampshire, after the two had exchanged letters. They married in Concord, MA in 1858 and had their first child, Maud, in 1860. The birth was difficult, and Frona was very ill afterwards. She recovered, and the family moved to Plymouth, where they had two more sons: Walter Spooner (1867–1922) and James Walter Spooner (1868–1954). Her husband died in 1888, when Frona was 57. She lived the remainder of her life supported by her son James at 27 North Street, where she died in 1917 at the age of 86.
Click here to see a photograph of Frona Spooner.
Maud (Spooner) Elson (1860–1955)
Maud was the firstborn of James Walter and Sophronia Spooner. Though both she and her mother were sickly after her birth, both survived and returned to full health. Maud married Alfred W. Elson (c. 1859–c. 1944) in 1886. According to the 1900 census, the couple lived in Belmont, Massachusetts, where Alfred was a publisher and photographer. They do not appear to have had any children. She died at the age of 95.