‘Butler’s Book’ (1892)

Arguably Lowell’s most prominent historical figure, Benjamin F. Butler published his memoirs in 1892 under the title “Butler’s Book.” A. M. Thayer and Co., Printers, Binders, & Book Publishers of Boston, offered the autobiography to subscribers, not an unusual system in that day. The book is 1,154 pages long, counting the intricate index. Butler, a Governor of Massachusetts and a Major-General in the Union Army during the Civil War or, as he names it, the War of the Rebellion, was born in New Hampshire but grew up in Lowell, including attending the new Lowell High School beginning in 1830. Following is an excerpt from the chapter “Early Political  Action and Military Training” in which he describes meeting and marrying his wife, Sarah Hildreth. Note the travels of his wife, a professional actress, in the late 1830s and early 1840s, and further note that Mrs. Butler accompanied her husband the soldier “in every expedition in the War of the Rebellion, and made [him] a home wherever [he] was stationed in command.”—PM


“In the year 1839, I made the acquaintance of Fisher Ames Hildreth, the only son of Dr. Israel Hildreth, of Dracut, a town adjoining Lowell on the north side of the Merrimack River. That acquaintance ripened into an affectionate family friendship which terminated only with his death thirty years afterwards.

“Dr. Hildreth had a family of seven children, six of them being daughters. The eldest, Rowena, was married in 1836 at a very early age to Mr. Henry Read, a merchant of Lowell. The two youngest children were then merely schoolgirls. Fisher invited me to the family gathering at the Thanksgiving feast of that year, and there I first met Sarah, the second daughter. I was very impressed with her personal endowments, literary attainments, and brilliancy of mind. Dr. Hildreth was an exceedingly scholarly and literary man. He was a great admirer of the English poets, especially of Byron, Burns, and Shakespeare, and had taught the great poet’s plays to his daughter, who, in consequence, developed a strong desire to go upon the stage. Her father approving of this, she appeared with brilliant success at the Tremont Theatre in Boston and the Park Theatre in New York, her talents for delineation of character being fully acknowledged by all. She was taught her profession by Mrs. Vernon, a very accomplished tragedienne. Mrs. Vernon was assisted by Isaac C. Pray, Esq., himself a writer of plays, and it was in the leading part in one of Mr. Pray’s dramas that Miss Hildreth first appeared upon the stage.

“When our acquaintance began I had never seen her on the stage, her home life being sufficient to attract me. She declined to leave her profession, however, until I had ‘won my spurs’ in my own profession, and had become provided with the means of making a home for both. But a most cordial and affectionate intimacy was maintained between us. In the spring of 1843, I visited her at Cincinnati, Ohio, where she had been welcomed and honored as a star. There we became engaged. We were married on the 16th of May, 1844, at St. Anne’s Church in Lowell, by the Rev. Dr. Edson, its Rector.

“We made our home at Lowell from that time until her very sad and untimely death in 1877. There were born to us four children: Paul, the eldest, who died in April, 1850, at the age of four years and ten months; a daughter, Blanche, born in 1847, and a son, Paul, born in 1852, both still living; and a son, Ben Israel, born in 1854, who departed this life on the first day of September, 1881, the day he was to have gone into partnership with me in the practice of law in Boston. . . .”

Sarah Hildreth Butler and Benjamin F. Butler

2 Responses to ‘Butler’s Book’ (1892)

  1. Steve says:

    Interesting. I never knew he’d written a memoir. “A cordial and affectionate intimacy,” sounds like a pretty good start to an engagement to me.

  2. Brooks says:

    do you know where it is possible to find a copy of his memoirs? I am a descendant of Butler’s and am looking for more literature on the family.