John Crawford Wyman, 1822-1900
By Robert Ellis, former NHS Historian
Several years ago I wrote about several Northborough people whose lives I found interesting for a weekly newspaper called The Record. One of them was John Crawford Wyman. He was born on September 13, 1822 to Abraham and Sarah (Crawford) Wyman, both of them born in Northborough in the last decade of the eighteenth century. I have found no local record of his early years in Northborough. Much of what we know of him can be found in one chapter of a book by Lillie Buffum Chace Wyman called American Chivalry. Lillie was his second wife. She tells us a number of things about her husband but always from a very a partial point of view. For her, quite obviously, he stood as one of her chivalric people. She also wrote chapters on Wendell Phillips, Sojourner Truth, and Abby Kelley Foster and her husband, Stephen Symonds Foster, all heroes of the Abolitionist movement.
She tells us that at the age of twenty-four he married Emma Willard, whose father was a doctor in Uxbridge. Emma, she says, was a beautiful woman, a judgment justified by a portrait of her included in the book. Emma was older than John, became a chronic invalid, and died in 1861. At this time Lillie had never met Wyman; she had to learn these things from him.
According to both Mrs. Wyman and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (well-known author, minister in Worcester at one time, and strong supporter of women's rights), Wyman knew Ralph Waldo Emerson and became a member of the Town and Country Club, which Emerson established in 1849.
By 1857 he obtained a position as an assistant editor of a new magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, still published today. The following statement from one of Higginson's books describes an early meeting at the Atlantic: "We seated ourselves at table, Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe, at Lowell's right, I next to her, Edmund Quincy next to me. Dr. Stowe was at Holmes's left, Whittier at his right, and Longfellow, Underwood, John Wyman and others were present." Wyman, not a writer himself, was sitting with a half dozen of the best-known American writers at that time.
Wyman is mentioned in Kent's Northborough History just twice, the only important item being the following entry in his list of Civil War soldiers: "Wyman, John C.. Capt., age 39, 33rd Regt..; 3rd Cavalry; July 24, 1862 to May 15, 1865." Of his various military duties, Wyman told Lillie one of the most striking when he met her in 1872:
My last military service was to go on the train which carried the body of Lincoln from Washington to Springfield. It was like attending a funeral all the time for three weeks. We saw people kneeling in the field, men dropping between the handles of their ploughs as the train went by. We stopped in all the large towns for funeral ceremonies. At every station we were met by mourning crowds and delegations, and everybody, everywhere, was crying, and I got into such a state that I kept crying myself.
Among other notable things about John Wyman, he was much in demand as a speaker. As his wife put it, he spoke "in a marvelous voice which possessed the quality that sets to throbbing the pulses of the listener." From 1882 until his death they lived in Rhode Island, but Northborough got to hear him speak, for he addressed the audience at the opening of the Northborough Library in 1895.
Both of Wyman's wives were social activists. Lillie described her predecessor, Emma, as a "Garrisonian Abolitonist." Wyman discovered that Lillie's mother had similar views, and Lillie worked in support of blacks, women, and mill laborers. She wrote articles for the Atlantic about women and factory life. Lillie, much younger than Wyman, doesn't mention when they were married, but it apparently took place in the 1870s; their son, Arthur Crawford Wyman, was born about 1879.
Wyman worked as a businessman, served one term in the Rhode Island legislature and directed the Rhode Island exhibition at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. He died in 1900. His portrait, on the west wall of the Historical Society, was donated by his son's widow, May Wyman.