Hannah Davis – Amos Fortune

Buried behind Jaffrey’s colonial Meeting House nearby are “Aunt” Hannah Davis, 1784-1863, resourceful and beloved spinster who made, trade-marked and sold this country’s first wooden bandboxes; and Amos Fortune, 1710-1801, African-born slave who purchased his freedom, established a tannery and left funds for the Jaffrey church and schools.

Located in Jaffrey Center, on the south side of NH 124, about 2 miles west of its junction with US 202. The Cemetery is a short distance west of the marker on a green with the meeting house and the historic Little Red Schoolhouse.

hannahdavis_amosfortune07THERE’S A SURPRISE at this cemetery, worthy of a marker itself—but we’ll get back to that later.

At first, the pair commemorated on this marker might seem an odd combination, an orphaned woman and a slave two generations apart. But both faced long odds, and both thrived.

Hannah Davis supported herself by making spruce bandboxes on machinery of her own design. She covered the boxes with wallpaper and lined them with newspapers. She marketed them herself, carrying wagonloads to mill towns around New Hampshire and Massachusetts where she would sell them to the young women who worked in the mills. They used them as hatboxes, containers for their simple trinkets and treasures, even suitcases. Her bandboxes are prized by collectors today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmos Fortune worked as a tanner for his master in Woburn, Massachusetts, eventually purchasing his freedom, moving to Jaffrey, and establishing his own tannery. If that were the whole story, it would be a good one—one man’s struggle for freedom and prosperity—but his headstone and the one next to it tell another, more intimate story.

First his:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASACRED to the memory of Amos Fortune who was born free in Africa, a slave in America he purchased liberty professed Christianity lived reputably died hopefully. Nov. 17, 1801 Æt. 91.

Then hers:

SACRED to the memory of Violate by sale the slave of Amos Fortune by Marriage his wife, by her fidelity his friend and solace, she died his widow. Sept. 13, 1802 Æt. 73.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow back to the surprise: Straight down the hill from the end of the carriage shed in the southwest corner, right beside the rock wall is the grave of another woman who, like Hannah Davis, succeeded on her own terms. Author Willa Cather frequently visited Jaffrey with her dear friend and companion, Edith Lewis, and is buried beside her. Her gravestone:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 – April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER COUNTRY AND ITS PEOPLE.

“…that is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great.”

From My Antonia

P.S.: Just a few steps up the hill from Ms. Cather’s final resting place is another gravestone, its parting message inscribed with great economy of words:

“She done all she could.”

Who could ask for more?

Marker #13

Jaffrey

1963

 

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