Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: February 19, 1873: David Holman

Posted on February 15, 2014

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, 15-20 February 1873.

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, 15-20 February 1873.

David Holman visited to report the death of a mutual friend at his brother Samuel’s house in Attleboro. Holman, who was a cousin, business associate, traveling companion, and close friend of Eliza’s late husband, is seldom mentioned in her diaries.

David Emory Holman was born in Attleboro in 1805. His parents were the Rev. Nathan Holman, and Lettice Morey, whose father, Dr. Samuel Morey of Norton, was Laban Morey Wheaton’s uncle. (Confused yet? Remember that Judge Wheaton married his double cousin, Fanny Morey.)  David’s older brother Samuel Morey Holman, Jr., born in 1802, lived next-door to David his entire life.

David Emory Holman, after portrait by Hunt.

David Emory Holman, after portrait by Hunt.

John Daggett’s 1894 A Sketch of the History of Attleborough includes a lengthy, if vague, entry on David E. Holman. In his youth, David was “zealous in the pursuit of sport, and highly successful in the playing of pranks”, which may have been why he and Laban Morey were so close. After studying at Wrentham Academy, David became a teacher, and although successful, left teaching and “entered business.  The manufacture of straw bonnets had about this time commenced in this town or the vicinity, and he became interested in it. Later he opened a store in the Arcade, in Providence, and at the same time continued his bonnet-making.” His partner in the straw bonnet business was Laban Morey Wheaton! “The Sem”, after ceasing to be the Seminary’s classroom building, was moved to Howard St. and used as a straw hat manufactory.

Elected as Attleboro’s Representative to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1835-36 (the first year of Wheaton Seminary’s existence), David was “one of the youngest, if not the very youngest, ever sent to that body.” He joined the Washington Rifle Corps, became its Captain, and at the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, enlisted and was commissioned a Major of the Seventh Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers.   He took the field with his regiment, but soon suffered sunstroke, and returned home. This leave of absence became permanent, however, apparently due to the jealousy of his fellow officers, who did not appreciate his affability and easy friendship with officers, enlisted men and servants.

Eliza B.Wheaton's 1862 travel journal. David "deposits his machine".

Eliza B.Wheaton's 1862 travel journal. David "deposits his machine".

Daggett tells us that following accusations of cowardice at home, David “went soon after to England. The climate of that country proved agreeable and beneficial to him and he removed his straw-works to London, where he continued his manufacturing in this line for quite a number of years. He retired from active business in 1873, and during the remaining ten years of his life, he lived quietly at the old homestead and interested himself in the personal care of his farmlands”, and died in 1883.

The trip to England was made with Laban Morey and Eliza B. Wheaton in 1862. It combined a truncated “Grand Tour” with an examination of straw and cotton manufacturing in England, and the patenting of a new method of forming the crown of straw hats.

Patent for forming crown of straw hats.

Patent for forming crown of straw hats.

Wheaton Assoc. Prof. of History Kathryn Tomasek is studying this trip to England and Europe in detail. Eliza Wheaton kept a journal detailing their visit, although it ends with the Wheatons' arrival in Paris.  For the remainder of the journey, we rely upon the various paper ephemera, from trade cards to financial records, to learn their itinerary. It is clear that Holman did not join them on the continent, but remained in London to shepherd the patent through the British bureaucracy.

The irony is that David Holman’s two sons, Charles and Frank, shared a house in Paris after their artistic careers were well launched. Charles became an acclaimed baritone [Munsey’s Weekly: The World of Music”, Vol. 18, No. 1-3, p. 289], while Frank’s paintings were hung in the United States fine arts exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition [New York Times, 17 June 1900].

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