Boston Brahmin

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A Boston Brahmin is a member of Boston's traditional upper class.[1] Members of this class are characterized by their highly discreet and inconspicuous lifestyle. Members of Boston's Brahmin class form an integral part of the historic core of the East Coast establishment, and are often associated with the distinctive Boston Brahmin accent, Harvard University, and traditional Anglo-American customs and clothing. Descendants of the earliest English colonists, such as those who came to America on the Mayflower or the Arbella, are often considered to be the most representative of the Boston Brahmins.[2]

The term was coined by the physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in an 1860 article in the Atlantic Monthly.[3] The term Brahmin refers to the highest ranking caste of people in the traditional Hindu system of castes. In the United States, it has been applied to the old, wealthy New England families of British Protestant origin which were influential in the development of American institutions and culture. The term effectively underscores the strong conviction of the New England gentry that they were a people set apart by destiny to guide the American experiment as their ancestors had played a leading role in founding it. The term also illustrates the erudite and exclusive nature of the New England gentry as perceived by outsiders, and may also refer to their interest in Eastern religions, fostered perhaps by the impact in the 19th century of the transcendentalist writings of New England literary icons such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, and the enlightened appeal of Universalist Unitarian movements of the same period.


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.[4][5]

While some 19th-century Brahmin families of large fortune were of bourgeois origin, others were of 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 and gentry) 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 women and ladies. 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.[6][7] The ideal Brahmin was not only wealthy, but displayed what was considered suitable personal virtues and character traits. 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.[8]: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. The total system was buttressed by the strong extended family ties present in Boston society. Young men attended the same prep schools, colleges, and private clubs,[9] and heirs married heiresses. Family not only served as an economic asset, but also as a means of moral restraint. Most belong to the Unitarian or Episcopal churches, although some were Congregationalists or Methodists. Politically they were successively Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans. They were marked by their manners and once distinctive elocution, the Boston Brahmin accent, a version of the New England accent. Their distinctive Anglo-American manner of dress has been much imitated and is the foundation of the style now informally known as preppy. In proper Boston society, "who" has always mattered more than "how much", and although they have, for the most part, relinquished their historic role as leaders of Massachusetts government, they are still to be found on boards of financial institutions, schools, and arts organizations quietly setting the example of disinterested public service in the manner of their distinguished forebears.

Brahmin families[edit]

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 such as the Welds, Saltonstalls, Lymans, Sargents, Emersons, Winslows, Warrens and Winthrops. A few families are listed here.


Adams family


Amory family


Appleton family[10]

Patrilineal line:

Other notable relatives



Bacon family


Boylston family


Bradlee family[14] [15] [16]

  • 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
      • Josiah Bradlee III (Harvard): m. Alice Crowninsheld
      • Frederick Josiah Bradlee I (Harvard): Director of the Boston Bank
    • 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"


Main article: Cabot family


Chaffee family, originally of Hingham, Massachusetts[17]


Choate family


Codman family


Coffin family, originally of Newbury and Nantucket


Coolidge family



Crowninshield family

Descendants by marriage:


Cushing family, originally of Hingham, Massachusetts[18]

Descendant by marriage:


Dana family


Delano family


Dudley–Winthrop family


Dwight family


Eliot family

Descendant by marriage:


Emerson family


Endicott family




Forbes family


Gardner family, originally of Essex county

Healey / Dall[edit]


Holmes family


Jackson family


Lawrence family

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


Lodge family


Lowell family[21]


  • Richard Lyman (1580-1640): a founder of Hartford, Connecticut; cousin of Lord Mayor of London Sir John Lyman of the Lyman Baronets of England
  • Roswell Lyman: China trade merchant, had an interest in The Ann & Hope
  • 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; eponym of the Lyman series of spectral lines. The crater Lyman on the far side of the Moon is named after him, as is the Lyman Physics Building at Harvard.
  • George Williams Lyman (1786-1880): developed textile mills, director of the Boston and Lowell Railroad and the Columbian Bank, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company. His first wife was Elizabeth Gray Otis, the daughter of Harrison Gray Otis (U.S. senator and mayor of Boston) and Sally Foster Otis, prominent Bostonians who built a noted Federal-style mansion still standing.
        • Arthur T. Lyman (1832-1915), and his sisters Sarah (Mrs. Philip H. Sears) and Lydia (Mrs. Robert Treat Paine)
          • Arthur T. Lyman, Jr. (1861-1933): married Susan Cabot. Director and officer of textile manufacturing companies and the Massachusetts Life Insurance Company. Board member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Waltham Hospital. He was active in politics as president of the Democratic Club of Massachusetts, chairman of the State Democratic Committee.


Minot family


Norcross family, original settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts


Otis family,[22]


Parkman family


Peabody family


Perkins family


Phillips family


Putnam family


Quincy family


Rice family, originally of Sudbury, Massachusetts


Saltonstall family[24]



Sears family


Tarbox family


Thorndike family


Tudor family



Weld family


Wigglesworth family


Winthrop family[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "People & Events: Boston Brahmins". PBS. PBS Online. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Greenwood, Andrew (11 August 2011). An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions, page LX. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 27 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Oliver Wendell Holmes, "The Brahmin Caste of New England", The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 5, Issue 27, Chapter 1 (1860). The series of articles that this article was part of eventually became his novel Elsie Venner, and the first chapter of that novel was about the Brahmin caste.
  4. ^ Andrews, Robert (ed.) (1996). Famous Lines: A Columbia Dictionary of Familiar Quotations. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10218-6.  External link in |title= (help)
  5. ^ McPhee, John. Giving Good Weight. p. 163. 
  6. ^ Ronald Story, Harvard and the Boston Upper Class: The Forging of an Aristocracy, 1800–1870 (1985).
  7. ^ Paul Goodman, "Ethics and Enterprise: The Values of a Boston Elite, 1800–1860", American Quarterly, Sept 1966, Vol. 18 Issue 3, pp 437–451.
  8. ^ Peter S. Field Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Making of a Democratic Intellectual Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. ISBN 0847688429. ISBN 978-0847688425
  9. ^ Ronald Story, "Harvard Students, the Boston Elite, and the New England Preparatory System, 1800–1870", History of Education Quarterly, Fall 1975, Vol. 15 Issue 3, pp 281–298.
  10. ^ Farrell, Betty (1993). Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston. SUNY Press. ISBN 1438402325. 
  11. ^ Muskett, Joseph James, ed. (1900). "Appleton of New England". Suffolk Manorial Families (Exeter: William Pollard & Co) 1: 330–334. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  12. ^ Jewett, Issac Appleton (1801). Memorial of Samuel Appleton of Ipswich, Massachusetts: With Genealogical Notices of Some of His Descendants. Boston. 
  13. ^ Ipswich Historical Society (1906). "A Genealogy of the Ipswich Descendants of Samuel Appleton.*". Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society. Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  14. ^ Quinn, Bradlee. "David Bradlee". Internet Archive. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  15. ^ Sarah Bradlee Fulton
  16. ^ Quinn, Bradleeq. "Sarah Bradlee". Boston Tea Party Museum. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  17. ^ History of the Town of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Solomon Lincoln Jr., Caleb Gill, Jr. and Farmer and Brown, Hingham, 1827
  18. ^ History of the Town of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Solomon Lincoln, Jr., Caleb Gill, Jr. and Farmer and Brown, Hingham, Mass., 1827
  19. ^ Hall, Alexandra [2009]. The New Brahmins. Boston Magazine
  20. ^
  21. ^ Lowell, Delmar R., The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899; Rutland VT, The Tuttle Company, 1899; ISBN 978-0-7884-1567-8.
  22. ^ John J. Waters, The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts (U. of North Carolina Press, 1968)
  23. ^
  24. ^ Robert Moody, The Saltonstall Papers, 1607-1815: Selected and Edited and with Biographies of Ten Members of the Saltonstall Family in Six Generations. Vol. 1, 1607-1789 vol 2 1791-1815 (1975).
  25. ^ Malcolm Freiberg, "The Winthrops and Their Papers," Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 1968, Vol. 80, pp 55–70