Widow of a Minister ? Sophia Newell Kittredge

Widow of a Minister ? Sophia Newell Kittredge

B. 22 Nov 1824 in Nelson, New Hampshire
M. 7 Aug 1849 in Nelson, New Hampshire
Husband: Reverend James Riddle French
D. 22 Dec 1900 in Los Angeles, California

Sophia Newell Kittredge was born November 22, 1824 in Nelson, New Hampshire to Abel Kittredge and Sophia Lyman, their first child. Her middle name was in honor of her great-aunt, Sophia Clapp, who married Gad Newell; they had raised Sophia's mother from the time she was 13. Sophia had three younger brothers, Edward, Samuel Farrington and Charles, but Charles died young, and her mother, who had difficulty with child bearing, died soon after. Abel remarried his wife's sister Anne and gave Sophia three half-brothers: Minot, Henry and another Charles, who also died young.

When Sophia came of age, she was courted by a minister from Maine named James Riddle French. He was an older man and a widower with a young son. His letters to Sophia have been passed down in the family, and many told of the love they had for each other. In June of 1849, he wrote, "Twin spirit of my being, thy heart shall be my resting place through time, & thy caress sheds o?er my soul a perfect blessedness. I would not have it otherwise, nor live without thee, to love & soothe & bless. My heart expanding doth thy love receive, more valued than the world, or all the world can give."

Daguerreotype of Sophia in about 1850

Sophia and James were married in Nelson on August 7, 1849. The first few years of marriage were spent apart as he worked as a traveling preacher throughout New England. It wasn't until 1852 that he secured a steady position at a Congregational church in Portland, Maine. There she gave birth to son James in 1852. It's likely Sophia took an active role in helping her husband with his work, especially as he became sick with a chronic illness that affected his stamina. In about 1856, they moved to his hometown of Prospect, Maine. Reverend James grew weaker and weaker, but continued to preach, even as Sophia encouraged him to rest. At the end of that year, Sophia had a baby girl named Nancy.

Sophia nursed her husband through his final illness, and after he died on March 23, 1857, she wrote about it to her father: ?What we so much feared has come upon us. My dearest earthly friend is ?not,? for God has taken him. His body now lies in the cold grave, his ransomed spirit is I trust singing the praises of redeeming love.?None but those who have been there can fully sympathize with me in this time of trial.?O, my dear parents, I am all alone with my fatherless children.? My health is very poor. I am very weak, feel afraid I shall have to give up and be sick.?

Sophia had this locket made containing real hair, either hers or her late husband's

Sophia stayed in Maine long enough to settle the affairs of her late husband in probate court, then took the children to her father in New Hampshire. Many women in her situation would look for another husband, but Sophia decided to support herself. Whether she felt too strongly about Reverend French to remarry, or was of an independent mind is not known. In about 1858, she moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts. There she attended school and afterwards found a job teaching in a boarding school. In 1861, Sophia kept a journal, writing about her life away from her children. "Thurs. eve. Stormy, snow and wind, right down-east snowstorm. Nothing special to-day; wrote a letter to Jamie [her son]. Have much to be thankful for, yet my rebellious heart is prone to look on the dark side of the scene, and long for 'forbidden fruit.' I yearn for my children, and the separation seems sometimes unbearable. O' for faith and patience."

A page from Sophia's journal

The journal covers a period of time when Sophia lost her job as teacher and tried to find other ways to earn a living. Most of her family had relocated to nearby Boston, including brothers Edward and Farrington, and her father and step-mother, who cared for James and Nancy. "Have taken a house in Dorchester, the rent is 300 dollars; have fitted it up for boarders. This is probably a risky experiment, but I feel that the providence of God has led me here. The subject has agitated for some time before. I made up my mind to take this step; several times I gave up the idea of going to housekeeping this season, then it would come up again, and after consulting with my brothers Edward and Farrington, I would come out and look at houses and hunt up the boarders. Finally it was thought best for me to make an attempt ? to do something if I could." She struggled with the boarding house venture and could only find a handful of people to rent her rooms. By the end of the year, she turned to her brothers and a widows' fund at her church in order to have money to buy shoes for the children, who were now living with her.

Sophia during the 1860s in Boston

During the mid-1860s, Sophia settled in Boston, working as a city missionary helping the needy. She continued to work for the city missions all through the years her children grew up. During the early 1870?s, James left home, traveling throughout the West. For a time, he cut off correspondence with his mother and sister, and fell into some trouble that caused him to change his name to Frank Emerson. Daughter Nancy stayed close to her mother, and in 1879, married a man named George Hewes, a carriage builder and part-time preacher. The young couple took Sophia into their home, and she retired from the missionary work. Soon there were grandchildren in the household.

In 1882, son-in-law George decided to take the family away from New England and move to the Midwest. Sophia, who was 56, went with them. They moved to the small farming community of Le Mars, Iowa. It was a very difficult climate; a tornado struck their house in June 1885, moving it five feet off the foundation and forcing the family to take refuge in the flooded basement. Sophia notified son Frank, who was living in Los Angeles, and he wrote back suggesting they join him in California, offering to pay their way out, if only he could. Four years later, the family had the money to make the move, and Frank gave them advice on the best train fares, then arranged for their tickets through the Southern Pacific Railroad, where he worked.

In November 1889, Sophia, along with Nancy?s family, took a train to Los Angeles. She lived the rest of her life just south of downtown Los Angeles, a part of Nancy and George?s household. Once they got settled, George founded a church and settlement house to help the poor. It can only be speculated how much influence Sophia had on her son-in-law.

Throughout the 1890?s, Sophia continued to write letters, communicating with those relatives still on the east coast. In 1893, her brother Farrington wrote her from New England with news about the family. Farrington ended his letter with, ??my dear Sophia, don?t forget the loved ones in the old Bay State and remember we all think of you and love you just as much as we ever did if thousands of miles separate us from the vision of sight. Did we not all have the same dear father and mother, and how much our dear mother loved Minot and Henry?s mother, and did not our step-mother love us all? Yes my dear sister, think of us all here and pray that each one may so live that we can all meet with the loved ones who have gone before. As well as those to come after we have left this beautiful world for a better and brighter one??

Sophia lived long enough to see the marriage of her oldest granddaughter, Eleanor, and the birth of her first two great-grandchildren, Mabel and George Elwood. She died of cancer on December 22, 1900 at the house she lived in with Nancy and George. She was buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

1. James Riddle French, AKA Frank Emerson ? B. 12 Oct 1852, Portland Maine; D. 13 Jun 1913, Los Angeles, California; M. Mrs. May Lynch (1850-?), 25 Aug 1878, San Bernardino, California

2. Nancy Sophia French ? B. 21 Dec 1856, Stockton Springs, Maine; D. 12 Jul 1916, Berkeley, California; M. George Henry Hewes (1853-1923), 17 Jul 1879, Boston, Massachusetts

A History of Nelson, New Hampshire, Parke Hardy Struthers, 1968
The Kittredge Family in America, Mabel T. Kittredge, 1936
Family Bible of James and Sophia French
Letters of James Riddle French to Sophia (Kittredge) French 1849-1852
Letter from Sophia French to Abel Kittredge, 31 Mar 1857
1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900 U.S. Censuses, Massachusetts and California
Journal of Sophia Newell French, 1861
"The Wind's Work," The Evening Sentinel, Le Mars, Iowa, 16 Jun 1885
City Directories of Boston, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, California, 1866-1900
Letters written by Frank Emerson (nee James French) to Sophia French, Los Angeles, California, 1885-1889
Death certificate of Sophia Newell French, Los Angeles, California, 22 Dec 1900
Death certificate of Frank Emerson, 16 Jun 1913, Los Angeles, California
Death certificate of Nancy Hewes, July 1916, Berkeley, California
Marriage certificate of George Hewes and Nancy French, 21 Jul 1879, Boston, Massachusetts

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