Abigail Brown Richmond
1803 – 1884
Essay by Helen Richmond Webb
Abigail was born in Little Compton, the daughter of John and Lois (Taylor) Brown. Theirs was a large family—14 children, 11 of whom lived to adulthood. Sarah Soule Wilbour described Abigail’s father as “happy go easy” and of her mother said “mother’s ability, diligence and perseverance met every emergency, her children were early trained to habits of industry and economy.” The family as a whole was prosperous. Several of Abigail’s brothers became successful pharmacists in Boston. The home on West Main Road where she grew up was built in the late 18th century by her grandfather and remained in the Brown family well into the 20th century.
In 1823, at the age of 20, Abigail married Isaac Bailey Richmond and moved with him to Savannah, Georgia. Trained as an architect, Isaac had been sent there in 1817 to oversee the construction of the Independent Presbyterian Church. He built a successful career as a contractor, architect and merchant. His business interests included ownership of the brig Abigail Richmond, presumably named for his wife, which carried lumber and general cargo along the east coast.
Abigail and Isaac lived in Savannah for 20 years, during which time they had five children, three born in Little Compton and two in Savannah, including their daughter Georgia. Is her name a coincidence? They returned to Little Compton in the summers, living in the South of Commons house Isaac had purchased from his childhood tutor, the Rev. Mase Shepard. Their prosperous household included slaves, two of whom came with the family and were freed when they moved back to Little Compton permanently in 1837.
When they returned, reportedly for Abigail’s health, Isaac designed a three-story addition to Rev. Shepard’s cottage for their growing family. Three more children were born in the next six years. Isaac continued his lucrative business ventures, investing in the whaling and lumber trades in New Bedford among other interests, ensuring a very comfortable life for his family. He was also very much involved in public life—a deacon in the Congregational Church, representative to the state Senate, and member of town government among many other roles.
Abigail’s life was also likely busy. In addition to the considerable work of maintaining her household, her parents, several siblings and various of her children lived close by. At some point between 1870 and 1875 their son William Brown Richmond moved back to the South of Commons home. He had been a druggist in Boston, but returned due to ill health and to help his aging parents. Like her husband, Abigail was involved in the Congregational Church, as a member of the People’s Colporteur Society along with her oldest son, Henry. The society supported the sale of religious tracts by “colporteurs”—itinerant salesmen—in the Mississippi Valley and later broadened its benevolent and fundraising goals to other missionary causes.
Isaac and Abigail celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1873, marking the occasion with photographic portraits (left). In 1876 her second oldest son, Horatio died of typhoid pneumonia in Fairhaven. The Fall River Daily Evening News reported on Saturday October 6, 1883: “The venerable Deacon Isaac B. Richmond and wife passed the sixtieth anniversary of their marriage last Sunday. Deacon Richmond has attained the age of eighty-five years, and is the oldest person in town. He is remarkably well preserved, and is hale and hearty. Mrs. Richmond is a few years his junior.” Abigail’s health declined in the coming months, and she passed away in July of 1884 at the age of 80.
Their youngest son, Joshua Bailey Richmond, described his parents—albeit with bias—in his genealogy of the family:
He was a refined and courtly gentleman of the old school, with every manly quality, and his wife was beautiful in both character and person. Their home life embodied everything good and lovable, their devotion to each other was charming, and their whole lives a beautiful example for their children and all who knew them.
Helen Richmond Webb
Exhibit Text from 2020 Special Exhibition
Abigail Brown was “early trained to habits of industry and economy.” In 1823, at the age of 20, she married the equally industrious Isaac Bailey Richmond and moved with him to Savannah, Georgia. Abigail supported Isaac’s work as a successful contractor, architect, and merchant, cared for her children, managed a busy household, and supervised their enslaved people. Isaac named his brig the Abigail Richmond in her honor. Abigail and Isaac’s son later wrote, “[she] was beautiful in both character and person….their devotion to each other was charming.”
While living in the South, Abigail and her family would return frequently to Little Compton for the summer. Three of her seven children were born during those visits. These summertime trips foreshadow Little Compton’s development as a summer community, first by people with roots in the community and later by “strangers.”
Concerned about Abigail’s health, the Richmonds returned to Little Compton permanently in 1837. They brought with them two recently freed people, a “mammy” and a “valet,” as well as plans for the Richmond Academy, a private school modeled after those in the South.