Boston Brahmin

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Colonial Boston—the Boston Common in 1768

The Boston Brahmins or Boston elite are members of Boston's traditional upper class.[1] They are often associated with Harvard University;[2] Anglicanism;[3] upper-class clubs such as the Somerset in Boston, the Knickerbocker in New York City, the Metropolitan in Washington, D.C., and the Pacific-Union Club in San Francisco; and traditional Anglo-American customs and clothing. Descendants of the earliest English colonists are typically considered to be the most representative of the Boston Brahmins.[4][5] They are considered White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs).[6][7][8]


The doctor and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. coined the term "Brahmin Caste of New England" in an 1860 story in The Atlantic Monthly.[9] The term Brahmin refers to the priestly caste within the four castes in the Hindu caste system. By extension, it was applied in the United States to the old wealthy New England families of British Protestant origin that became influential in the development of American institutions and culture. The influence of the old American gentry has been reduced in modern times, but some vestiges remain, primarily in the institutions and the ideals that they championed in their heyday.[10]


Typical dress of the Boston elite, dated c. 1816–1817

The nature of the Brahmins is hinted at by the doggerel "Boston Toast" by Holy Cross alumnus John Collins Bossidy:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.[11][12]

While some 19th-century Brahmin families of large fortune were of common origin, still fewer were of an aristocratic origin. The new families were often the first to seek, in typically British fashion, suitable marriage alliances with those old aristocratic New England families that were descended from landowners in England to elevate and cement their social standing. The Winthrops, Dudleys, Saltonstalls, Winslows, and Lymans (descended from English magistrates, gentry, and aristocracy) were, by and large, happy with this arrangement. All of Boston's "Brahmin elite", therefore, maintained the received culture of the old English gentry, including cultivating the personal excellence that they imagined maintained the distinction between gentlemen and freemen, and between ladies and women. They saw it as their duty to maintain what they defined as high standards of excellence, duty, and restraint. Cultivated, urbane, and dignified, a Boston Brahmin was supposed to be the very essence of enlightened aristocracy.[13][14] The ideal Brahmin was not only wealthy, but displayed what was considered suitable personal virtues and character traits.

Beacon Hill, Boston: a preeminent Boston Brahmin neighborhood.[15]

The Brahmin was expected to maintain the customary English reserve in his dress, manner, and deportment, cultivate the arts, support charities such as hospitals and colleges, and assume the role of community leader.[16]: 14  Although the ideal called on him to transcend commonplace business values, in practice many found the thrill of economic success quite attractive. The Brahmins warned each other against avarice and insisted upon personal responsibility. Scandal and divorce were unacceptable. This culture was buttressed by the strong extended family ties present in Boston society. Young men attended the same prep schools, colleges, and private clubs,[17] and heirs married heiresses. Family not only served as an economic asset, but also as a means of moral restraint. Most belonged to the Unitarian or Episcopal churches,[18] although some were Congregationalists or Methodists.[19] Politically they were successively Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans. They were marked by their manners and once distinctive elocution. Their distinctive Anglo-American manner of dress has been much imitated and is the foundation of the style now informally known as preppy. Many of the Brahmin families trace their ancestry back to the original 17th- and 18th-century colonial ruling class consisting of Massachusetts governors and magistrates, Harvard presidents, distinguished clergy, and fellows of the Royal Society of London (a leading scientific body), while others entered New England aristocratic society during the 19th century with their profits from commerce and trade, often marrying into established Brahmin families.[20]

List of families[edit]

Selected Boston Brahmins
American statesman, Governor of Massachusetts, and founding father, Samuel Adams
American merchant, Samuel Appleton
Banking merchant, John Amory Lowell
U.S. Congressman and lawyer, Robert L. Bacon
Philanthropist, business magnate, namesake of Bates College, Benjamin Bates.
Federal judge, founder of Choate Rosemary Hall, William Gardner Choate
Railroad executive and son of U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, John Coolidge
Congregational minister, Samuel Cooper
Massachusetts colonial speaker of the house, Thomas Cushing
Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Joseph Dudley
Massachusetts minister, William Emerson
American businessman and art collector, John Lowell Gardner
Boston manufacturer, Patrick Tracy Jackson
Politician and founder of Lawrence, Abbott Lawrence
American statesmen and congressman, Henry Cabot Lodge
Colonial lawyer, James Otis
Entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the House of Morgan and the Peabody Institute, George Peabody
Art historian, philanthropist, founder of the Museum of Fine Arts, Charles C. Perkins
Educator and founder of Phillips Exeter Academy, John Phillips
President of the United States, John Quincy Adams
John G. Palfrey I, Played a leading role in the creation of Harvard Divinity School, U.S. Congressman, Unitarian minister
Businessman and philanthropist, David Sears
Major general and doctor, Joseph Warren


Adams Family


Amory Family


Appleton Family

Patrilineal line:[21]

Other notable relatives:[22][23][24]


Bacon Family


Bates family

Originally from Boston and Britain:


Boylston Family


Bradlee Family

Direct line:[25][26][27]

  • Nathan Bradley I, earliest known member born in America, in Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1631
  • Samuel Bradlee, constable of Dorchester, Massachusetts
    • Nathaniel Bradlee, Boston Tea Party participant, member of Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association
    • Josiah Bradlee I, Boston Tea Party participant; m. Hannah Putnam
    • Joseph Putnam Bradlee (1783–1838), Commander of the New England Guards, chairman of the State Central Committee, Director and then President of the Boston City Council
    • Samuel Bradlee, Jr., lieutenant colonel during the American Revolutionary War
    • Thomas Bradlee, Boston Tea Party participant; member of Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association; Member of the St. Andrews Lodge of Freemasons
    • David Bradlee, Boston Tea Party participant; Captain in the Continental Army, member of the St. Andrews Lodge of Freemasons
    • Sarah Bradlee, "Mother of the Boston Tea Party"


Brinley Family

  • Francis Brinley, Esq. (1632–1719), arrived from England in 1651 after the English Civil War, with his two sisters, children of Thomas Brinley, auditor to King Charles I&II, his original home became Newport's White Horse Tavern, Judge, book collector, landowner (RI, MA, NJ), Governor's assistant, m: Hannah Carr (niece of RI Gov. Caleb Carr). Boston estate at Hanover and Elm, current site of Government Center.
    • William Brinley, Esq. (1656–1704), first son of Francis, Judge in Newport, co-founder of Trinity Church, Newport, first Anglican church in RI
      • William Brinley, Esq. (1677–1753), only child of Wm. Brinley, Judge in Monmouth, NJ
        • John Brinley (1713–1775), Brinley grist mill owner in Oakhurst, NJ
          • William Brinley (1754–1840), Major in Revolutionary War
            • Sylvester C. Brinley (1816–1905), founded Brinley, Ohio (a.k.a. Brinley Station) in 1855.
    • Thomas Brinley (1661–1693), second son of Francis, Boston/London merchant, co-founder of King's Chapel, Boston, first Anglican church in colonial New England.
  • Anne Brinley Coddington (1628–1708), third wife of Governor William Coddington, who arrived with the Winthrop fleet in 1630 and became an early MA magistrate, the first Governor of Rhode Island/founder of Portsmouth and Newport, RI, and mother and grandmother of subsequent Governors.
  • Grisell Brinley Sylvester (1635–1687), wife of Nathaniel Sylvester, together they became the first white settlers and owners of all of Shelter Island, NY. She is credited with bringing boxwoods to the colonies.



Chaffee Family

Originally of Hingham, Massachusetts:[29]

  • Thomas Chaffee (1610–1683), businessman and landowner
  • Jonathon Chaffee (1678–1766), businessman and landowner
  • Matthew Chaffee (1657–1723), Boston landowner
  • Adna Romanza Chaffee (1842–1914), U.S. general
  • Adna R. Chaffee, Jr. (1884–1941), U.S. general
  • Zechariah Chafee (1885–1957), philosopher, civil libertarian
  • John Chafee (1922–1999), U.S. senator
  • Lincoln Chafee (born 1953), former U.S. senator, former Rhode Island governor, 2016 U.S. presidential candidate for the Democratic party


Choate Family


Coffin Family

Originally of Newbury and Nantucket:




Crowninshield Family

Descendants by marriage:


Cushing Family

Originally of Hingham, Massachusetts:[30]

Descendant by marriage:


Dana Family


Delano Family


Dudley Family


Dwight Family


Eliot Family


Emerson Family


Endicott Family




Everett Family

Descendants through the marriage of Sarah Preston Everett (1796–1866) and noted journalist Nathan Hale (1784–1863):


Of Marblehead and Salem:[31]

  • William Fabens (1810–1883), lawyer, member of Assembly, Senate[31]
  • Samuel Augustus Fabens (1813–1899), master mariner in the East India and California trade[31]
  • Francis Alfred Fabens (1814–1872), mercantile businessman, San Francisco judge, attorney[31]
  • Joseph Warren Fabens (1821–1875), U.S. Consul at Cayenne, businessman, Envoy Extraordinary of the Dominican Republic[31]
  • George Wilson Fabens (1857–1939), attorney, land commissioner and superintendent of Southern Pacific Railroad, namesake of Fabens, Texas[33]


Forbes Family


Gardner Family

Originally of Essex county:


  • Jonathan Gillett (1609–1677), colonist
  • Edward Bates Gillett (1817–1899), attorney
    • Frederick Huntington Gillett (1851–1935), 37th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
    • Arthur Lincoln Gillett (1859–1938), clergyman
  • Ezra Hall Gillett (1823-1875), clergyman and author
    • Charles Ripley Gillett (1855-1948), clergyman


Hallowell Family



Holmes Family


Jackson Family


Knowles Family


Lawrence Family

Descendant by marriage: Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856–1943), president of Harvard University


Lodge Family



  • Theodore Lyman (1753–1839), China trade merchant, commissioned Samuel McIntire to build one of New England's finest country houses, The Vale
  • Theodore Lyman II (1792–1849), brigadier general of militia, Massachusetts state representative, mayor of Boston
  • Theodore Lyman III (1833–1897), natural scientist, aide-de-camp to Major General Meade during the American Civil War, and United States congressman from Massachusetts
  • Theodore Lyman IV (1874–1954), director of Jefferson Physics Lab, Harvard. The Lyman series of spectral lines, the crater Lyman on the far side of the Moon, and the Lyman Physics Building at Harvard are named after him.


Minot Family


Norcross family

Original from Watertown, Massachusetts


Oakes family


Otis family


Paine Family


Palfrey Family


Parkman Family


Peabody Family


Perkins Family


Phillips Family

Other notable relatives:


Putnam Family


Quincy Family


Rice Family

Originally of Sudbury, Massachusetts:


Saltonstall Family



Sears Family


Sedgwick Family



Thayer Family

  • Brevet Brigadier General Sylvanus Thayer (1785–1872), U.S. general (Army), Father of West Point
  • Nathaniel Thayer (1769–1840), Unitarian minister; father of
    • Nathaniel Thayer, Jr. (1808–1883), financier, philanthropist; partner in John E. Thayer and brother firm which he left to clerks Kidder and Peabody after his retirement. One of the most generous citizens of Boston donating Thayer Hall to Harvard University; an overseer of Harvard, 1866–1868, and a fellow, 1868–1875; father of
  • Bayard Thayer (1862–1916), millionaire sportsman, horticulturist
  • Eugene Van Rensselaer Thayer (1855–1907), financier, capitalist; father of
    • Eugene Van Rensselaer Thayer, Jr. (1881–1937), Harvard class of 1904; President of Merchants and Chase National Banks; Chairman of Stutz motorcars
  • James Bradley Thayer (1831–1902), American legal writer, educationist
  • Ernest Thayer (1863–1940), American poet, author of "Casey at the Bat", and uncle of Scofield Thayer
  • Scofield Thayer (1889–1982), American poet, publisher
  • Eli Thayer (1819–1899), member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts
  • John A. Thayer (1857–1917), member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts
  • John R. Thayer (1845–1916), member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts
  • Brevet Major General John Milton Thayer (1820–1906), U.S. senator, U.S. Civil War general (Union Army); governor of Nebraska
  • Webster Thayer (1857–1933), judge at the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti
  • William Greenough Thayer (1863–1934), American educator; father of
  • Tommy Thayer (born 1960), lead guitarist for the rock band Kiss


Thorndike Family


Tudor Family



Weld Family



Wigglesworth Family


Winthrop Family

Patrilineal descendants:

Other descendants:


  • Cleveland Amory, The Proper Bostonians, 1947

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "[People & Events:] Boston Brahmins". American Experience. PBS/WGBH. Archived from the original on August 17, 2003. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  2. ^ B. Rosenbaum, Julia (2006). Visions of Belonging: New England Art and the Making of American Identity. Cornell University Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780801444708. By the late nineteenth century, one of the strongest bulwarks of Brahmin power was Harvard University. Statistics underscore the close relationship between Harvard and Boston's upper strata.
  3. ^ C. Holloran, Peter (1989). Boston's Wayward Children: Social Services for Homeless Children, 1830-1930. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780838632970.
  4. ^ Greenwood, Andrea; Greenwood, Andrew (2011). An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 60. ISBN 9781139504539. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  5. ^ "What's a Boston Brahmin?". March 2004.
  6. ^ H. Nobles, Gregory (2011). Whose American Revolution Was It?: Historians Interpret the Founding. New York University Press. p. 102. ISBN 9780814789124.
  7. ^ H. O'Connor, Thomas (2002). Smart and Sassy: The Strengths of Inner-City Black Girls. Oxford University Press. p. 87. ISBN 9780195121643.
  8. ^ H. Nobles, Gregory (1995). Building A New Boston: Politics and Urban Renewal, 1950-1970. University Press of New England. p. 295. ISBN 9781555532468.
  9. ^ Holmes, Oliver Wendell (January 1860). The Professor's Story: Chapter I: The Brahmin Caste of New England. The Atlantic Monthly. Vol. V. p. 93. Retrieved January 7, 2020. It was part of a series of articles that eventually became his novel Elsie Venner, and the first chapter of the novel was about the Brahmin caste.
  10. ^ "A Brief History of the Boston Brahmin". November 21, 2016.
  11. ^ Andrews, Robert, ed. (1996). Famous Lines: A Columbia Dictionary of Familiar Quotations. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 53. ISBN 0-231-10218-6. OCLC 35593596. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  12. ^ McPhee, John (2011). Giving Good Weight. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 163. ISBN 9780374708573. OCLC 871539336. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  13. ^ Story, Ronald (1985) [1980]. Harvard and the Boston Upper Class: The Forging of an Aristocracy, 1800–1870. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819561350. OCLC 12022412.
  14. ^ Goodman, Paul (September 1966). "Ethics and Enterprise: The Values of a Boston Elite, 1800–1860". American Quarterly. 18 (3): 437–451. doi:10.2307/2710847. JSTOR 2710847.
  15. ^ Cople Jaher, Frederic (1982). The Urban Establishment: Upper Strata in Boston, New York, Charleston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. University of Illinois Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780252009327.
  16. ^ Field, Peter S. (2003). Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Making of a Democratic Intellectual. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0847688425.
  17. ^ Story, Ronald (Fall 1975). "Harvard Students, the Boston Elite, and the New England Preparatory System, 1800–1870". History of Education Quarterly. 15 (3): 281–298. doi:10.2307/367846. JSTOR 367846. S2CID 147273000.
  18. ^ F. Sullivan, John (2001). Class and Status in America: A Contemporary Perspective. Dorrance Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 9781637640722. were members of Unitarian and Episcopal churches
  19. ^ J. Harp, Gillis (2003). Brahmin Prophet: Phillips Brooks and the Path of Liberal Protestantism. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 13. ISBN 9780742571983.
  20. ^ "What's a Boston Brahmin?". March 2004. Retrieved February 25, 2020.
  21. ^ Farrell, Betty (1993). Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston. SUNY Press. ISBN 1438402325.
  22. ^ Muskett, Joseph James, ed. (1900). Appleton of New England. Suffolk Manorial Families. Vol. 1. Exeter: William Pollard & Co. pp. 330–334. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  23. ^ Jewett, Issac Appleton (1801). Memorial of Samuel Appleton of Ipswich, Massachusetts: With Genealogical Notices of Some of His Descendants. Boston.
  24. ^ Ipswich Historical Society (1906). A Genealogy of the Ipswich Descendants of Samuel Appleton.*. Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  25. ^ Sarah Bradlee Fulton
  26. ^ Quinn, Bradleeq. "Sarah Bradlee". Boston Tea Party Museum. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  27. ^ Quinn, Bradlee (1878). "David Bradlee". Internet Archive. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  28. ^ "Colonel Francis Brinley".
  29. ^ Lincoln, Solomon (1827). History of the Town of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Solomon Lincoln Jr., Caleb Gill, Jr. and Farmer and Brown, Hingham, 1827.
  30. ^ Lincoln, Solomon (1827). History of the Town of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Solomon Lincoln, Jr., Caleb Gill, Jr. and Farmer and Brown, Hingham, Mass., 1827.
  31. ^ a b c d e Perkins, George Augustus (1881). Some of the descendants of Jonathan Fabens of Marblehead – via
  32. ^ Perkins
  33. ^ History of Fabens, Texas. Fabens Independent School District.
  34. ^ Hall, Alexandra (2009). "The New Brahmins". Boston Magazine. Archived from the original on August 31, 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  35. ^ "Dall-Healey Family Papers". Massachusetts Historical Society. Archived from the original on October 24, 2007.
  36. ^ "Jonathan Jackson". Our Family Tree. Jonathan Jackson → James Jackson → Francis Henry Jackson → James Tracy Jackson → James Tracy Jackson, Jr. → Francis Gardner Jackson → Francis Gardner Jackson, Jr. → Patrick Graves Jackson.
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