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Colonial Boston – The Boston Common in 1768

The Boston Brahmins or Boston elite are members of Boston's traditional upper class.[1] They form an integral part of the historic core of the East Coast establishment, along with other wealthy families of Philadelphia and New York City.[2] They are often associated[by whom?] with the distinctive Boston Brahmin accent, Harvard University, Anglicanism and traditional Anglo-American customs and clothing. Descendants of the earliest English colonists, such as those who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620 or on the Arbella in 1630, are often[quantify] considered to be the most representative of the Boston Brahmins.[3]

The physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. coined the term "Brahmin Caste of New England" in an 1860 article in the Atlantic Monthly.[4] The term Brahmin refers to the highest-ranking caste of people in the traditional Hindu caste system in India. In the United States, it has been applied[by whom?] to the old, wealthy New England families of British Protestant origin which became influential[when?] 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 hints at 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.


Typical dress of the Boston elite[when?]

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.[5][6]

While some 19th-century Brahmin families of large fortune were of bourgeois origin, still fewer were of a somewhat 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, gentry, and aristocracy) 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 ladies and women. 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.[7][8] 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.[9]: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,[10] and heirs married heiresses. Family not only served as an economic asset, but also as a means of moral restraint. Most belonged 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. 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.

Brahmin familiesEdit

Selected Boston Brahmin
American statesman, Governor of Massachusetts, and founding father, Samuel Adams
American merchant, Samuel Appleton
Banking merchant, John Amory Lowell
U.S. Congressman and lawyer, Robert L. Bacon
Philanthropist, business magnate, namesake of Bates College, Benjamin Bates.
Federal judge, founder of Choate Rosemary Hall, William Gardner Choate
Officer of the Royal British Navy, Isaac Coffin
Railroad executive and son of U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, John Coolidge
Congregational minister, Samuel Cooper
Massachusetts colonial speaker of the house, Thomas Cushing
Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Joseph Dudley
American historian and president of Yale University, Timothy Dwight
Massachusetts minister, William Emerson
American businessman and art collector, John Lowell Gardner
Boston manufacturer, Patrick Tracy Jackson
Politician and founder of Lawrence, Abbott Lawrence
American statesmen and congressman, Henry Cabot Lodge
Colonial lawyer, James Otis
Entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the House of Morgan and the Peabody Institute, George Peabody
Art historian, philanthropist, founder of the Museum of Fine Arts, Charles C. Perkins
Educator and founder of Phillips Exeter Academy, John Phillips
President of the United States, John Quincy Adams
John G. Palfrey I, Played a leading role in the creation of Harvard Divinity School, U.S. Congressman, Unitarian minister
Businessman and philanthropist, David Sears
U.S Congressman, John K. Tarbox
Major general and doctor, Joseph Warren


Adams Family


Amory Family


Appleton Family

Patrilineal line:[11]

Other notable relatives:[12][13][14]


Bacon Family


Bates family

Originally from Boston and Britain:


Boylston Family


Bradlee Family

Direct line:[18][19][20]

  • 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
    • Joseph Putnam Bradlee (1783-1838), Commander of the New England Guards, chairman of the State Central Committee, Director and then President of the Boston City Council
    • 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"


Brinley Family



Chaffee Family

Originally of Hingham, Massachusetts:[21]


Choate Family


Coffin Family

Originally of Newbury and Nantucket:




Crowninshield Family

Descendants by marriage:


Cushing Family

Originally of Hingham, Massachusetts:[22]

Descendant by marriage:


Dana Family


Delano Family


Dudley Family


Dwight Family


Eliot Family


Emerson Family


Endicott Family




Of Marblehead and Salem:[23]

  • William Fabens (1810–1883): lawyer, member of Assembly, Senate[24]
  • Samuel Augustus Fabens (1813–1899): master mariner in the East India and California trade[26]
  • Francis Alfred Fabens (1814–1872): mercantile businessman, San Francisco judge, attorney[27]
  • Joseph Warren Fabens (1821–1875): U.S. Consul at Cayenne, businessman, Envoy Extraordinary of the Dominican Republic[28]
  • George Wilson Fabens (1857–1939): attorney, land commissioner and superintendent of Southern Pacific Railroad, namesake of Fabens, Texas[29]


Forbes Family


Gardner Family

Originally of Essex county:


  • Jonathan Gillett (1609–1677): colonist
  • Edward Bates Gillett (1817–1899): Attorney
    • Frederick Huntington Gillett (1851–1935): 37th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
    • Arthur Lincoln Gillett (1859–1938): clergyman



Holmes Family


Jackson Family


Lawrence Family

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


Lodge Family



  • 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.


Minot Family


Norcross family

Original from Watertown, Massachusetts


Oakes family


Otis family


Palfrey Family


Parkman Family


Peabody Family


Perkins Family


Phillips Family

Other notable relatives:


Putnam Family


Quincy Family


Rice Family

Originally of Sudbury, Massachusetts:


Saltonstall Family



Sears Family


Tarbox Family


Thayer Family

  • Sylvanus Thayer (1785–1872), United States general and Father of West Point
  • Nathaniel Thayer, Jr. (1808-1883): Financier, philanthropist. Partner in John E. Thayer and brother firm which he left to clerks Kidder and Peabody after his retirement. One of the most generous citizens of Boston donating Thayer Hall to Harvard University. He was an overseer of Harvard, 1866-1868, and a fellow, 1868-1875
  • Nathaniel Thayer, III (1851-1911): Capitalist and pioneer railroad promoter
  • Bayard Thayer (1862-1916): Millionaire sportsman, horticulturist.
  • Eugene Van Rensselaer Thayer (1855-1907): Financier and Capitalist
    • Eugene Van Rensselaer Thayer, Jr. (1881-1937)Harvard class 1904. President of Merchants and Chase National Banks. Chairman of Stutz motorcars.
  • James Bradley Thayer (1831–1902), American legal writer and educationist
  • Ernest Thayer (1863–1940), American poet, author of "Casey at the Bat", and uncle of Scofield Thayer
  • Scofield Thayer (1889–1982), American poet and publisher
  • Eli Thayer (1819–1899), member of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts
  • John A. Thayer (1857–1917), member of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts
  • John R. Thayer (1845–1916), member of the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts
  • John Milton Thayer (1820–1906), United States Senator and Civil War general
  • Webster Thayer (1857–1933), the judge at the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti
  • William Greenough Thayer (1863–1934), American educator


Thorndike Family


Tudor Family



Weld Family


Wigglesworth Family


Winthrop Family

Patrilineal descendants:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "People & Events: Boston Brahmins". PBS. PBS Online. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  2. ^ See generally, Burt.
  3. ^ Greenwood, Andrew (11 August 2011). An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions. Cambridge University Press. p. LX. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Andrews, Robert (ed.) (1996). Famous Lines: A Columbia Dictionary of Familiar Quotations. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10218-6.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  6. ^ McPhee, John. Giving Good Weight. p. 163.
  7. ^ Ronald Story, Harvard and the Boston Upper Class: The Forging of an Aristocracy, 1800–1870 (1985).
  8. ^ Paul Goodman, "Ethics and Enterprise: The Values of a Boston Elite, 1800–1860", American Quarterly, Sept 1966, Vol. 18 Issue 3, pp 437–451.
  9. ^ Peter S. Field Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Making of a Democratic Intellectual Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. ISBN 0847688429. ISBN 978-0847688425
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Farrell, Betty (1993). Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston. SUNY Press. ISBN 1438402325.
  12. ^ Muskett, Joseph James, ed. (1900). "Appleton of New England". Suffolk Manorial Families. Exeter: William Pollard & Co. 1: 330–334. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  13. ^ Jewett, Issac Appleton (1801). Memorial of Samuel Appleton of Ipswich, Massachusetts: With Genealogical Notices of Some of His Descendants. Boston.
  14. ^ Ipswich Historical Society (1906). "A Genealogy of the Ipswich Descendants of Samuel Appleton.*". Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
  15. ^ There is some speculation on the actual date of birth of the patriarch of the Bates family, with many agreeing on the
  16. ^ "Benjamin Bates, Sr". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  17. ^ "Benjamin Bates, Jr". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 2016-03-22.
  18. ^ Sarah Bradlee Fulton
  19. ^ Quinn, Bradleeq. "Sarah Bradlee". Boston Tea Party Museum. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  20. ^ Quinn, Bradlee. "David Bradlee". Internet Archive. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
  21. ^ History of the Town of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Solomon Lincoln Jr., Caleb Gill, Jr. and Farmer and Brown, Hingham, 1827
  22. ^ History of the Town of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Solomon Lincoln, Jr., Caleb Gill, Jr. and Farmer and Brown, Hingham, Mass., 1827
  23. ^ Perkins, Geo. A. (George Augustus), "Some of the descendants of Jonathan Fabens of Marblehead", 1881. Online at
  24. ^ Perkins
  25. ^ Perkins
  26. ^ Perkins
  27. ^ Perkins
  28. ^ Perkins
  29. ^ "History of Fabens, Texas". Fabens Independent School District
  30. ^ Hall, Alexandra [2009]. The New Brahmins. Boston Magazine Archived August 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^
  32. ^ John J. Waters, The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts (U. of North Carolina Press, 1968)
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ 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).
  43. ^ Malcolm Freiberg, "The Winthrops and Their Papers", Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 1968, Vol. 80, pp 55–70