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Late in 1855, the three brothers - Judson, John, and Asa - assembled a party that founded the community of Hutchinson in Minnesota. After that, their base of operations became divided between the homes of John and Asa on High Rock in Lynn, Judson's home in Milford, and the young settlement named for them in the Old Northwest. I would guess John wasn't keeping a diary at the time. Either way, for the next several years, Hutchinson Family history is hazier than usual. But by 1858, members of the singing group had pulled apart.
John and Asa always did their best to keep Judson from harm during his acute episodes of mental illness. As New Hampshire poet Harriet McEwen Kimball put it, "I believe the world never produced a more beautiful example of fraternal devotedness than existed between the brothers, whose sympathies were as harmonious as their voices." Eventually, though, the pain of depression and the horror of his hallucinations became too much for Judson, and he took his own life early in 1859. Kimball, who knew him well, said Judson's life "was one of rare beauty and full of gentle and noble acts." He would be sorely missed.
Judson was a private man - at times even secretive - and we know him mostly by his compositions & his musical performances. He was said to be the leader of the original Hutchinson Family ensemble, and he introduced songs - often comically - in concert. He was the principal composer of melodies. Judson sang notable solos and his voice usually carried the air in the harmonies that made the singers famous. From time to time, he tried his hand as a lyricist; and he made a real effort to help fill the gaping hole created by Jesse's death. Judson's contributions to the Hutchinson Family's advertising were colorful, to say the least. Judson may be forever associated with the Victorian passion for spiritualism, but his involvement was actually short lived.
Unfortunately, we have few detailed sketches of perhaps Judson's greatest artistic achievement - his comic performances. We mostly know them by descriptions of the amazing responses they provoked among mid-nineteenth-century audiences, such as times when quiet concert halls suddenly exploded with laughter. Even his greatest comic song, the "Italian Uproar," seems not to have been preserved.
All of Judson's family descended through his daughter, Kate Dearborn (later, Kate Birney) and her son Edmund Dearborn. Kate entertained into the twentieth century and was particularly well known for singing in groups with Joshua and John.
The famous Hutchinson Family quartet was just a memory; but it had never really been the family's only performing outfit. Jesse sang at meetings and he felt quite free to put together
Asa left the main group to form a company made up of his own family - the "Tribe of Asa." Judson followed suit, and finally John, who had occasionally performed alone, did the same.
Joshua was the founder of the Hutchinson Family as a band of singers, according to the Philadelphia Daily Register. That's pretty much true. During his tenure as leader of the church choir, he taught his young brothers and sisters; and he, more than anyone else, encouraged the early efforts of Judson, John, and Asa, even providing them with an audience during his early days as a singing-school master. Later, Joshua Hutchinson was the first member of the family to start on a solo tour. His long career took him through New England, New York, and Pennsylvania - the latter being best represented among his advertisements, press notices, and news correspondence.
Joshua was such a modest man that he made it practically impossible for a biographer to do justice to his life and work. His original compositions may have fallen out of favor; but certain songs by other writers, that were important parts of his repertoire, have never quite gone away - "The Good Old Days of Adam and Eve" and "There Must Be Something Wrong" being prime examples. In some respects, Joshua appears to have been the family's most radical member in the antislavery cause; and he sang several songs suggesting an interest in the American labor movement.12
In later years, John and Asa were the best-known members of the Hutchinson Family; but back when they sang with Judson and Abby, the press paid them surprisingly little attention. Writers would sometimes praise John's theatrical skills, which he showed, in particular, when singing dramatic pieces, such as "The Ship on Fire;" and Asa was much admired for his bass vocals in the
Asa had such a long, successful career it can be hard to remember at times that he was at a bit of a disadvantage when the trio, made up of himself, Judson, and John, broke up. Though Asa had been in the field for many years, he actually had very little experience leading a group and singing solos. His early shows, with his wife Lizzie and their son Fred, had a few rough edges and were often not successful financially. Yet Asa persisted; and soon his company, with the addition of his daughter Abby and his son Dennett, had an established reputation and following. Asa's career, by then, was headed fast toward its second peak.
Asa Hutchinson's Family
Standing: Fred, Asa, Abby
Seated: Nellie, Lizzie, Dennett
During the Civil War, Asa's family, more than anyone else, popularized "The Battle Cry of Freedom." They championed another great number, "Kingdom Coming," and contributed greatly to its widespread fame. Walter Kittredge interested Asa in his own composition, "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground." Music-publisher Oliver Ditson thought it was too sad - the American public, weary of the war, would never go for it. But the popularity of the Hutchinson Family was on the rise once again; and "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" became one of their biggest hits.
After the war and the death of his little daughter Nellie, Asa relocated to Hutchinson, Minnesota. His heart had probably been there for years, but Lizzie resisted the move. Asa enjoyed alternating between the grounded life of a farmer and the restless life of a traveling entertainer. During the
Back in 1874, Asa's wife Lizzie died quite suddenly while the family was singing on behalf of the Minnesota Temperance Union. A romance that bloomed a few years later resulted in a model bad marriage and no doubt caused him considerable pain.
Late in life, Asa lived in Leadville, Colorado, for a few years; but his real estate and mining investments there were not profitable. As his business dealings proved unsuccessful, his health also declined though commonly-known sources give no details. When he came home to Minnesota, his years of prosperity were well behind him. Yet Asa was an optimistic man. Just before his last illness, he was making plans for his future and was talking of going on a concert tour.
At one point during the Leadville years, Asa settled into life there, while his son, Oliver Dennett Hutchinson, took over the singing group for a tour. In 1894, after years of other pursuits, Dennett returned to the concert field, leading a company made up mostly of his own family members. They toured until the summer of 1896. Recently, a couple letters written by Dennett have resurfaced, giving a pretty good outline of his life and career. A profile of him would be in order.
Asa's second marriage turned out so badly that one must wonder what he ever saw in his second wife Joanna. It seems clear enough from family stories, as well as from a contemporary news item, that Asa's relatives did not think well of her. We can follow her life for a few years after Asa's death, and then she disappears from our view. Joanna's next husband was recorded in the 1900 census as widowed.
Not long after Abby Patton retired from concert tours, she and her husband Ludlow built a home, Dawnwood, in Orange, New Jersey. Evidently - and not incidentally - it was quite near the Orange Mountain Water Cure. For the rest of Abby's life, she and Ludlow would divide their time between New York City and a suburban home in the Oranges.
Abby Hutchinson Patton
In 1855, Abby composed new music for "Kind Words Can Never Die." Selling the rights to John, she made a quick ten dollars. Several arrangements were put in print. At some point, John gave "Kind Words" to a music teacher for publication; and later it turned up in a Sunday school hymnal, which got Abby's melody into wider circulation. Asa, too, did his part to add to the song's popularity, by including it in late editions of the Hutchinson Family songster. In the 1860s, his company sang it at the close of many concerts. Several Hutchinson Family original productions, such as "Get Off the Track!" (lyrics) and "One Hundred Years Hence" (music), have been revived over the years; but only "Kind Words Can Never Die," which Abby modestly presented to the world, has been in continuous use up to the present day. It may have been the Hutchinsons' most beloved original song.
Abby returned to the concert stage from time to time, even going on several short tours; but her health was fragile for the rest of her days, and much of her activity was devoted to trying to get well. We know that she turned to Dr. Taylor's Movement Cure in New York for treatment; and it seems to have helped her increase her level of public activity in the 1860s and beyond.
After the war, Abby and Ludlow held executive positions in the American Equal Rights Association, a short-lived organization devoted to civil rights and woman suffrage.
The story of Abby and her husband Ludlow Patton is difficult to tell at all fully. The locations of many of Abby's papers are no longer known by researchers. It seems likely that much has been lost, and we know of several instances of her papers being stolen - unfortunately, one example may be quite important with respect to her health problems, and another example involved the permanent loss of a large collection of her letters. Technology, up to a point, may be coming to the rescue. Abby was an excellent, informative correspondent; and the various locations of a few of her letters have come to light through postings on the Internet.
Ludlow Patton retired from business early; and after that, he and Abby traveled extensively. The Pattons were very generous, though they were unusually quiet about their acts of charity. We have few details - they didn't want us to know any.
Following Abby's death, Ludlow remarried to another Hutchinson, Marion (birthname, Marion Loveridge) of Sister Rhoda's line. After that, we have practically no records of Ludlow's life and activities. It is generally thought that he adopted Marion's daughter Helen, who was thereafter known as Helen Patton and was commonly referred to as Ludlow's daughter. We're coming to know quite a bit about Marion Patton, her life, and her family, following Ludlow's death. It's an interesting story for telling later, when we hope we can give a little fuller account than we could today.
John was before the public for a very long time. Those of us who study the Hutchinson Family become most thoroughly acquainted with him. His life and career are exhaustively documented. Contemporary sources name Judson as the leader of the original group; and in most artistic respects, I think that's right. But modern writers see John as the member who drove the group unhesitatingly onto the public stage.
When the trio made up of himself, Judson, and Asa came undone, John was the last of the brothers to form a regular company of his own. At first, his group included his children, Henry and Viola, and sometimes his wife Fanny.
John (top), Henry and Viola
The Hutchinsons had a good run of prosperity during the Civil War and for some time after; but certainly by the 1870s they reached what biographer
In April 1877 at Chicago, John heard
I've taken a special interest in recording Lillie's career. Since the 1960s, I've read countless concert reviews, articles, artist profiles, and biographies; and I don't recall any singer, historic or contemporary, who has earned such consistently favorable notices. No wonder John's company began building toward another peak of popularity right after Lillie's arrival.
John bought Asa's interest in High Rock; and after that, a lot of his energy went into efforts to make his investment profitable. His concert appearances were far less numerous. Then a series of health problems and other concerns affected his family and kept him off the road. One would find it hard to argue that his daughter Viola had married well, and problems with his son-in-law, Lewis A. Campbell, troubled John through much if not all of the 1890s. John's romantic life came into the public eye, and he was sued at least twice for breach of promise to marry. He developed the curious habit of listing his many failed romances with attractive young women as though he was bragging about them. Perhaps he meant to call attention to the women in his life more than to the unfortunate outcome of his affairs of the heart.
John Hutchinson, with his brothers, began entertaining at family reunions and school functions in the 1830s. By the early years of the twentieth century - over sixty years later - John was back to singing for the public whenever he could make an opportunity. In 1902, he started on a short concert tour with his granddaughter Kate Campbell. We know little about it after they left Chicago. John gave individual concerts here and there, and some of them were evidently big ones. After he remarried in 1905 to Agnes Everest, he led a trio, from time to time, made up of himself, Agnes, and his grandson Richard D. Hutchinson. John's last-known appearance - possibly singing solo - was in the summer of 1907.
It has long struck me that, when the break took place between Jesse and his brothers back in 1851, John and Asa were so caught up in their concerns for Judson's mental health that they were blinded to the pain felt by Jesse at the death of his wife and the last of their six children; but after Jesse died, John became determined to keep the memory of his older brother alive. Since I first visited Lynn's Eastern Burial Ground around 1980, all the graves of the Hutchinsons who were interred there, including Jesse, have been totally desecrated. It's a sorrowful sight. Jesse's monument, then, is the stone tower that sits atop High Rock. It was made possible by the remarkable persistence and stubbornness of Brother John. And through some miracle, amidst urban decay, Jesse's home in Lynn, Stone Cottage, still stands. One of our correspondents - a woman who, as a girl, lived there in the 1970s - gave us a few colorful details about the building and its history.
Alan Lewis, June 6, 2001; revised through April 29, 2004
"There's a Meeting Here Tonight!"
New Hutchinson Family Musical Theater Production
Revels is a wonderful Boston-based arts organization that stages musical theater programs and seasonal celebrations. The company is made up of professionals and amateurs, adults and children, and it is famed for its annual Christmas Revels shows. In recent years, the parent organization has given rise to a touring troupe called Circle of Song.
Circle of Song, an interesting enterprise, has brought out a new production based on the lives and careers of the Hutchinson Family singers. The show is called There's a Meeting Here Tonight!
Through a coincidence that borders on miraculous, the second public performance of There's a Meeting Here Tonight! took place last evening within easy walking distance of here. Talk about convenient! The first public presentation took place just a week earlier in Springfield, Massachusetts. The next is tentatively set for Lynn Classical High School in Lynn, Massachusetts.
There's a Meeting Here Tonight! depicts a Hutchinson Family reunion at the Milford homestead sometime after the Civil War. Hutchinson family friend Phineas Taylor Barnum (played by Walter Locke) serves as something like a master of ceremonies. After
The next song, after "Promised Land," is an inspired choice. I've never actually seen "Old High Rock" on a Hutchinson Family program or in a press notice. John Hutchinson sang it in Lynn, Massachusetts, at an 1896 labor demonstration. Otherwise, it may have been reserved for family gatherings - such as the one presented in There's a Meeting Here Tonight! - as well as possibly for encores in concerts. Either way, "Old High Rock" is one of the best Hutchinson Family originals, and it was sung to great effect in the Brattleboro performance.
At least one of these musicians is no stranger to our town. I easily recognized Jack McCreless (he takes the part of John Hutchinson), who played the old Chelsea House Folklore Center in West Brattleboro, back in his Mandala Folk Dance Ensemble days. After the show, I even noticed a Mandala t-shirt. The cast members who played the Hutchinson quartet's four main singers, though no look-alikes, resembled their characters sufficiently to get the idea across. It was a great thought for Judson (played by Don Duncan) to jump up to address the crowd, and John's fiddling was another nice touch. Asa (played by Carl Corey) sang with marvelous enthusiasm.
The cover of the printed program is an illustration of a highly unusual John W. Hutchinson concert company from the fall of 1881. That troupe was made up of two vocal quartets (with Henry and Lillie Hutchinson singing in both) and a dramatic reader, formalizing the diversity of John's programs in those days. Nearly twenty years later, one Steamboat Joe Horn would appear with John, playing music and winning over audiences with his imitations. There's a Meeting Here Tonight carries that spirit slightly farther, with Leonard Solomon as "The Phenomenon." He particularly amazed with his juggling.
There's a Meeting Here Tonight! touches many bases: temperance ("King Alcohol"), women's rights (a song/skit), the Civil War ("Tenting on the Old Camp Ground"), and of course antislavery (the essential "Get Off the Track!"). Sweet-voiced Fionnuala O'Donovan (Nuala, for short) was fantastic on Henry Clay Work's "Come Home, Father!", making me wonder whether she is related to Boston's fast-rising folk music star, Aoife O'Donovan. [I've since been told they're sisters. - Talented family!]
There's a Meeting Here Tonight! was pulled together with obvious care, and it would be fine if the program were left just as it is. At the same time, the Circle of Song crew wisely left themselves much room to make changes, if they want, to keep the show fresh. For instance, at times perhaps "Kind Words Can Never Die" - the most beloved Hutchinson Family original - could be zipped in. The same would be true for the Hutchinsons' most resiliant reform anthem, "Right Over Wrong." "Johnny Sands" is one of the best of the family's comic songs, while "The Good Old Days of Yore" is among their greatest originals about home. John Hutchinson said that, for years, the original group opened its concerts with "The Cot Where We Were Born," making that song pretty important to the repertoire. A 1980s group, the Hutchinson Family Singers of the Old Granite State, made an excellent recording of "The Cot Where We Were Born," so it may be one of the more familiar pieces to modern audiences. Asa Hutchinson's concert company, in particular, did much to popularize the great Civil War songs, "The Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Kingdom Coming." For my own part, I'd love to hear Nuala O'Donovan sing the great adaptation of "The Spider and the Fly" by Jesse Hutchinson, Jr. And this is not even to mention the song that I'm most often pushing at the moment, "There Must Be Something Wrong." On the other hand, the people who selected "Hard Times Come Again No More" and who were wise enough to vary the performance by reciting "One Hundred Years Hence" hardly need any suggestions from me. They also made much more of Jesse Jr.'s Barnum verses than I would have ever imagined possible.
I've been listening to recordings and live performances of 19th- and early-20th-century American popular music since the late 1960s. And to tell the truth, most such efforts have been terribly disappointing. This material must somehow be a lot more challenging than it appears. But the Revels' Circle of Song cast delivers - they delivered last night, anyway. They presented There's a Meeting Here Tonight! with skill, enthusiasm, and that harder-to-define quality, talent. Audience members should be prepared to give in to the wonder of this show, as the actors and singers make a difficult task look easy - and make it fun for the whole family.
The Revels' There's a Meeting Here Tonight! was informative and delightfully entertaining. My suggestion is, next time there's a staging, be there.
John Wallace Hutchinson wrote a classic memoir in two volumes, Story of the Hutchinsons. I am attempting to to reprint it on the Internet. I'll post as much or as little of the book as time permits. At the moment (February 23, 2005), I've posted the Preface, the Introduction by Frederick Douglass, and more than half of Chapter 1. To take a look at these small beginnings, you may visit
1. According to George A. Ramsdell's History of Milford, John Hutchinson always spoke of his brother Jesse as the true genius of the family. This article is written from that point of view.
2. There are two Hutchinson Family homesteads. The old homestead, where fourteen of the children were born, is in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, and still stands. The new homestead, where Elizabeth and Abby were born, is nearby, on North River Road in Milford. It, too, is still very much in existence. After World War II, the Masons bought the Milford homestead. The next owner was Mrs. Nancy Fiske. Currently the Gorman family owns and resides on the property. Interestingly, in the late 1970s, a descendant of Rhoda Hutchinson tried to restore the Milford homestead to Hutchinson family ownership.
3. John remembered the year of that first concert as 1839. Joshua thought it was around 1842. Dale Cockrell showed, through a contemporary source, that the actual year was 1840. There is evidence that Asa remembered the year correctly.
4. I have inferred Rhoda's involvement in the main group from an obscure passage in Story of the Hutchinsons coupled with a statement John made, late in life, to a New York Times reporter.
5. Abby played guitar; and the brothers encouraged her, with limited success, to use it on stage to accompany her singing. John's son Henry, too, played guitar. Abby's husband Ludlow sang and played banjo. In the early 1850s, John introduced the melodeon into Hutchinson Family concerts. Late in life, he often accompanied his singing on piano.
6. E.g., Eliza Cook, Thomas Hood, Henry W. Longfellow, Charles Mackay, George P. Morris, Alfred Tennyson, and John G. Whittier.
7. The practice of singing for political and social-reform causes in paid concerts seems so much a part of our own times. Yet, it was basically the invention of that great American character, Jesse Hutchinson, Jr.; and for the rest of the century, it was defined by the Hutchinson Family.
8. The composition of this group is not listed in any of the standard sources. A little earlier, Jesse organized himself, Caleb, Joshua, and John's wife Fanny into a quartet that sang at another antislavery meeting. I would guess it was this same ensemble, or a nearly identical group, that introduced "Get Off the Track!" It is of profound significance to Hutchinson Family history that this crucial event centered on Jesse and did not involve a single regular member of the famous Hutchinson Family quartet.
9. Actually, temperance and faith-inspired moral reform in general were the Hutchinson Family's first causes.
10.The years when Abby gave regular concert tours with her brothers corresponded almost exactly with the period of the Hutchinson Family's greatest popularity. Mere coincidence? Not likely.
11.I believe that all but one of Jesse's letters from California to the New York Daily Tribune have been preserved in Ludlow Patton's remarkable Hutchinson Family Scrapbook.
12.Two of Joshua's anti-poverty songs, "The Popular Creed" and "There Must Be Something Wrong," were of clear interest to nineteenth-century laborers and their organizations. Workers also took much interest in many other Hutchinson Family pieces, such as "The Song of the Shirt." Joshua often sang a piece of quite a different character called "The Song of Labor."
13.When Asa recruited Ella Ramsdell, it was a turning point in the late career of the Hutchinson Family. This was during the Great Depression of the 1870s, the longest period of business contraction in American history. Yet after Ramsdell joined, Asa's troupe did booming concert business. Unfortunately, we know very little about this fine singer. I've learned only recently that after she left Asa's concert company she got married. As far as I know, that was the end of her professional singing career.
14.Later, Henry J. Hutchinson married Lillie C. Phillips. Henry died in 1884. Lillie and their sons, Jack and Richard, toured across the country into the mid-1890s.
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