Lately, I’ve been running into references to Saltonstalls. It’s an old prominent New England family, admittedly, but I had never really connected the dots.

One is an imposing Colonial saltbox house in Haverhill, Massachusetts, with 1712 emblazed on the central chimney. It sits at One Saltonstall Square.

Another dot to the family came in a reference to two (Robert and Sir Richard) as purchasers in the charter for provincial New Hampshire, perhaps buying out the first settlers of Dover. “Probably in 1633,” as the account goes.

Then there’s the principled judge (Nathaniel) who resigned in 1692 in disgust from the direction the Salem witch trials were taking.

That stirred memories of hearing of a U.S. senator from Massachusetts (Leverett II) or a family that owned a small daily newspaper north of Boston.

Now I see I’d taken photos of the statue of Sir Richard Saltonstall, a founder of Watertown in 1630. (Since Watertown is where my choir rehearses weekly, it’s on my radar.)

While Sir Richard returned to London two years later, two of his sons remained and established what became a Boston Brahmin family, one that produced at least one graduate of Harvard in every generation, plus governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Before leaving the New World, Sir Richard was among those granted a patent of Connecticut – and back in Europe he had his portrait painted by Rembrandt.

I suppose that’s enough for now. The full story could run on for volumes.

But it’s not the kind of world I grew up in, not out in the Midwest.

I’m left wondering if old establishment families like this functioned as close-knit networks or even as tribes and how much individual deviation was permitted. Who were the chiefs and elders, especially? What was the role of religion or political affiliation?

Maybe that would be an entirely different kind of history than we’re accustomed to seeing. What are your thoughts?


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