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May, 2009 Anonymous Donor Gives Early Manuscript
 Dorchester Historical Society Recipient of Early Manuscript Notebook

On March 26, 2009, an anonymous bidder won a notebook of Stephen Badlam Family Records at the Printed & Manuscript Americana auction at Swann Auction Galleries. This notebook has now been donated to the Dorchester Historical Society.

Silhouette of Stephen Badlam
copied about 1960 by Miriam
Badlam Miller from an original
silhouette of her ancestor.

The notebook was described by Swann as: A manuscript family register begun by Maj. Stephen Badlam the 4th (1751-1815) of Dorchester, MA, which he describes as "A chronological journal . . . partly from information and records of others & partly from his own knowledge."

Click here to see a pdf copy of the notebook

Cover of new acquisition

Later maintained in detail by his descendants, it lists major family events from 1690 through 1901--the usual births, marriages and deaths, and much more, including his military commissions in the Revolution. Some records are annotated with entries such as "He died in harbour of Calcutta on the night he arrived there, a navigator of a Chinese junk." Son John Bedlam settled in Argentina, where he raised a family described in detail; grandson Stephen was shot in Buenos Aires in 1835 during a revolutionary disturbance. Tipped in to the volume is an original manuscript list of Dorchester marriages from 1719 and 1720, which Badlam took from a court house that was being demolished.

This item enhances the collection of Badlam papers already at the Dorchester Historical Society, which represent part of the legacies of brothers Col. Ezra (1746-1788) and Gen. Stephen Badlam (1751-1815) of Dorchester Lower Mills. The following is excerpted from a Guide to the Badlam Papers prepared by Wendell B. Cook, Jr. in 1982.

COL. EZRA BADLAM (1746 - 1788)

Ezra chose to work and settle at the Lower Mills village of Dorchester, across the Neponset River from Milton. The community was a small but busy coastal port and manufacturing center based on power generated by the early dam there. About the time Ezra moved there, a saw mill was added to its mills. Another attraction of the neighborhood was Patience Capen, the daughter of local residents Edward and Patience (Tolman) Capen. She and Ezra were married on 1 July 1766.

Precisely where and with whom Ezra Badlam learned cabinet-making and spent his teenage years is not entirely clear. Born in Dedham, he first surfaced as an adult in Framingham in the spring of 1764 just before his 18th birthday when he was one of the youngest of two groups of young men who jointly petitioned the town for leave to build two pews in the meetinghouse gallery. After some controversy, the town accepted the proposition, though the young men seem not to have consistently fulfilled the conditions of their privilege. Several of the young men with whom Ezra was associated in this petition entered trades allied to carpentry, or had descendants completed who did. We must guess that at this time Ezra had completed or was about to complete some sort of training in cabinet-making.

With his prosperity and his wife's legacy in 1771, Ezra and Patience jointly bought from her brother John Capen Jr. the "mansion house" in which they lived at least until Ezra's death. Ezra's cabinet-making business flourished enough so that he could take his brother Stephen. who was to become a truly distinguished cabinet-maker as a partner. Their close contacts as neighbors, war-time correspondents, and community leaders suggests that they cooperated in business until Ezra's death.

On 19 April 1775 at the Lexington Alarum he was a 4th Lt. in Capt. Daniel Vose' s train band co. which marched to Roxbury. The unit was made up of men from the Dorchester Lower Mills area and from Milton, and included both his brother Stephen, a sergeant, and his youngest brother William, a fifer. From the beginning of the Revolution until his dismissal from the army in 1782, Ezra served as an officer, first in the Massachusetts Militia, and then in the Continental Army. In the Militia, he served under Col. Lemuel Robinson and in Col. Richard Gridley's artillery regt. In the summer of 1777 Ezra was promoted to Lt. Col., the rank he held for the remainder of his career in the Continental Army.

Upon his return to Dorchester, Ezra resumed cabinet-making and went into carriage-making, trades eventually followed by one of his sons and four of his sons-in-law. Three clock cases Ezra made during the years 1783-1786 have survived, and several items of his business correspondence from this period likewise survive. Some believe that Ezra was the linch-pin of the woodworking activities of this period centered at the Lower Hills village, a role his brother Stephen clearly held after Ezra's death. Ezra also was an inn-keeper and seems to have kept a store during this period, and the Suffolk county Probate Court also tapped him to administer at least two estates.

Badlam House at corner of
Washington Street and River

GEN. STEPHEN BADLAM (1751 - 1815)

Ezra's younger brother Stephen learned cabinet making quickly and well, and by 1773 he began a partnership with his brother Ezra. His settlement at the Lower Mills village area must have put him in the local militia company, and his career as an artisan was interrupted by the Lexington Alarum. On 19 April 1775 he turned out as a sergeant in Capt. Daniel Vose' s train band company with his brothers Ezra and William and marched to Roxbury. For a young man of about 24 years, his rise in the military was rapid, and he served throughout the Revolution. Later, in 1782, he was to help his brother Ezra during the latter's brief tenure as Continental Muster Master. On his resignation from the Continental Army; Stephen probably resumed participation in the Massachusetts Militia, though he apparently did not join Ezra in the expedition to suppress Shays Rebellion. But in 1799 he was named Brigadier General in Gen. Eliot's division. Thenceforth he was referred to as "Gen. Stephen Badlam".

Chest attributed to Stephen Badlam

2009 Advertisement for table
made by Badlam

In 1780, Stephen bought from his brother Ezra a three-quarter acre plot with a small house and barn at the corner of the Dedham and Plymouth roads, now Washington and River streets, in the Lower Mills village. The next year, he built a large house for his growing family "in addition to and covering" the old one. There he and his family, and after him, his widow lived. Before his house stood the "Badlam Pump", the local landmark and gathering place which was the staging point for such events as Dorchester's bicentennial walk to the beach at Nantasket where the town's first European settlers had landed.

During the 1790's, Stephen showed his interest in education by letting part of his house for the annual school at the Lower Mills village. He expressed this interest again when, in 1803, he served on the Dorchester town committee to build four school houses. In the field of cabinet-making, Stephen became one of the animating forces of the industry centered at Dorchester Lower Mills and Milton villages. He was able to overcome such setbacks as a fire in February, 1802, in which he lost a barn with $2,500 worth of goods. He probably, like his brother, ran a store. During this period, he gradually accumulated land in the neighborhood much of which remained in the hands of his descendants for many years. There survives from his cabinet work the Graven chest, so-called, a chest on a chest at the Yale University Art Gallery, as well as a mirror and a number of chairs and tables, most of which were in 1954 in private collections in the greater Boston area. Stephen's work has been the subject of two articles in Antiques, and he is listed in Cabinet Makers of America. Stephen also drafted the map of Philip Withington's survey of Dorchester Neck which eventually became the street plan for South Boston.

One of the most dramatic events in Stephen's life came late, and was connected with his church activities. Stephen probably had been a member of either or both the churches in Milton and Dorchester before 1804 when he joined in the organization of Dorchester's second Parish and church. In 1808, he was elected its first senior deacon. Having grown to distrust the liberal Unitarian tendencies of the early 19th century which were reflected in the program of Dorchester's First Church, Stephen was a leading supporter of the conservative Rev. John Codman in his quarrel with his parish over pulpit exchange policies. Codman preferred more conservative guest ministers than the parishioners had become accustomed to at the First Church and the Milton church, the churches from which the new parish drew its membership. The quarrel came to a head in 1812 when the liberal parish party staged a "sit-in" in an attempt to gain control of the church's affairs. At this incident, Stephen was the "friend", "senior deacon and Magistrate" who stood with the Rev. Codman when he tried to persuade the occupying parishioners to leave the church building. Though the "sit-in" was successful, the victory was Pyrrhic, for the Rev. Codman's party eventually won the contest. The triumph was not cheap, however; the church lost a large part of its membership, including, it appears, several of Stephen's relatives, and, judging from Codman's remarks at his funeral, Stephen lost some longtime friends.

In 1791 Stephen was appointed a Justice of the Peace, first for Suffolk County, and then, upon its organization in 1793, for Norfolk County. He was one of a committee of five charged with building the first county courthouse for Norfolk County in Dedham. In 1805, his commission was enlarged to include membership in the Quorum. In Stephen's time, the county Justices of the Peace performed as the administrative and regulatory agency of county government in Massachusetts, in addition to their judicial duties. Stephen was tapped to administer several estates in both Suffolk and Norfolk counties. In 1798, Stephen was appointed principal assessor of the first division for the US direct tax census of 1798, and late in 1799, he was commissioned by the federal government as surveyor of the revenue for the third district, fourth division. The district comprised the towns of Dorchester, Milton and Quincy. In this capacity, Stephen served as the census enumerator for the second US census of 1800.

Sample pages from notebook:

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Created: May 30, 2009   Modified: August 30, 2009