A Brief history of my Yankee Forbears


In a brief resume of his life my great-grandfather, John Somes Low, wrote: “I was born in Cape Ann, Massachusetts , of seafaring stock, my forefathers having been sea captains since 1630. I don't know for how long before as the first Low in the family record was Capt. John who commanded a private armed ship and convoyed Gov. Winthrop's Company and their 13 ships when they came over (to the Massachusetts Bay Colony) in 1630. I suppose he afterwards cruised down on the Spanish Main and robbed Spanish Churches for Christ's sake, amen! His son settled down a Puritan farmer on Cape Ann.”


The earliest of John's New England family is a Thomas Low who lived in Ipswich . Like the other puritans who settled New England , his motives for leaving England were complex – partly economic and partly religious. The 1600s were a time of high unemployment, inflation and religious upheaval in England . The industrial revolution caused large landholders to shift from farming to sheep raising to feed textile mills, disrupting a previously agrarian economy. At the same time, gold and silver poured into Europe from the New World , causing inflation. And, in the view of a group of Protestant purists, the official Anglican Church of England had become befouled with Catholic tendencies. The new continent of America had also received good notices. When Captain John Smith returned to England in 1614 from the coast of New England , he published a pamphlet describing it as a virtual “paradise.”


On June 1st, 1636, Thomas Low, took ship for the New World beginning a search for a better way of life that would ricochet through the generations.


Low's ship, the Rebecca, was 16 weeks at sea. A month before she sighted land, beer (the liquid staple of the 1600's) ran out and the crew and passengers were forced to drink stale water mixed with vinegar to purify it. On November 16 th Rebecca encountered heavy fog which cleared the next day to reveal “Cape Anne fair on their starboard bow.” [1]


Thomas Low followed Reverend Mr. Nathaniel Rogers to Ipswich in 1637 and settled in Chebacco (now Essex). He was a farmer and a brewer of malt liquors.


The Cape Ann Lows multiplied quickly. Driven by their Puritan work ethic and the opportunities offered by the open sea in front of them and by virgin land behind, they worked hard but only occasionally prospered. One family historian wrote that "as a group, our grandfathers were more influenced by their times than influential in their times." They were farmers, fishermen, weavers, ministers, brewers and postmasters. A number of them were poor. Some died young and in childbirth.


All of them were Congregationalists because you couldn't own land, or vote or be a member of the community if you were not. One writer of the time explained, without a hint of irony, that religious conformity was necessary in the New World because the settlers had experienced so much religious persecution in the old. Deacon Thomas Low, son of the original Thomas, founded the congregational church in lpswich. In his will he wished for "a glorious resurrection through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, my only Redeemer." He left his widow well provided with "two hundred weight of pork yearly, with ten barrels of Winter apples, and all the Summer fruit she needed, two barrels of cider, six bushels of malt, three of Indian corn, and one of wheat, besides two shillings in money, fourteen pounds of wool and twelve of flax, wood for one fire, the milk of two cows, and a horse to ride at her pleasure and convenience, together with the garden at the end of the house. " [2] She lived in the back of the house, her son and his family in the front. Her son, of course, administered the provision of the Deacon's will.


The times that my ancestors lived in required military service. Every village maintained a militia of sorts to deal with occasional Indian raids or quarrels with the French who contested the English settlements. Young lads of ten were drilled on the common with their elders. One of their duties was to post guards at night against Indian attack. During the French and Indian War, Stephen Low was a second lieutenant of the Third Provincial Regiment of foot under overall command of British General Abercrombie. In June of 1756, he walked to Lake George in New York where he helped storm Fort Ticonderoga . He died in the assault. "The last that was seen of him," wrote the Chaplain who was also from Chebacco, "he was sitting down, with a heavy wound." After only two days of fighting and in spite of overwhelming British numerical superiority, Abercrombie ordered his men to retreat. The Chaplain commented that Abercrombie's conduct "was thought to be marvelous strange." lt was not the first time that provincials would question the courage or judgment of their British overlords.


On the 16th of June 1775 William Low knelt behind a four foot high wall of sod at the summit of Bunker Hill and held his fire until he saw the whites of British eyes.

The night before the battle, Aaron Low, who was then in his early teens, walked to Cambridge from Gloucester and spent the night making cartridges. Both the Lows escaped the battlefield but William was later captured aboard an American Privateer and imprisoned by the British. "After his escape or discharge, he walked home to Gloucester barefooted and bareheaded, begging his food by the way." [3]


In September 1777, Captain David Low marched out of Chebacco with eight men to reinforce the Northern Army under General Gates who was preparing to meet the advance of a British force under Burgoyne. On the 19 th, the battle was joined at Bemis Heights on the Hudson River . The Provincials made their stand in a thick wood on the border of an open field. The British in a thin Pine wood on the opposite side. "As soon as they come forward in the open field, the fire of our marksmen, drives them back in disorder; and whenever our troops push forward into the open ground, the British rally, charge, and drive them back" [4] The action is known as the Battle of Freeman's Farm. Here the British advance is turned back and less than a month later Burgoyne surrenders his sword at Saratoga . It was the turning point of the war.


The men who served under Captain David Low were required to equip themselves with "Fire-arm; steel or iron ramrod; Spring to retain; Worm; Priming wire; Brush; Bayonet; Cutting sword or Hathor; Pouch; 100 buckshot; Jack or sack knife; Tow; 5 flints; one pound of powder; 40 balls; Knapsack; Blanket; Canteen or wood bottle." [5]


On September25"', 1780, Major Caleb Low, stationed with his men at Fishkill, New York, receives an order from General Washington: "Sir: You will be pleased to march early tomorrow morning, with all the militia under your command, and proceed to the landing at West Point. You will send an officer to this place ( Washington 's Headquarters at Robinson's House), by whom you will receive further orders..." On October 2 nd Low is present at Tappan , New York , where a British spy, Major John Andre is executed. Andre conspired with Benedict Arnold to take over the American fort at West Point . Three years earlier, Caleb's relative, Colonel David Low had fought side by side with Arnold at the battle of Freeman's Farm. [6]


Deacon John Low was a colonel in the revolutionary War and one of the largest landowners in Gloucester when he died on November 3, 1796 . Another John Low was a privateer, who sailed aboard the General Starks 1 18 guns, from Gloucester on the 5 th of April, 1779 . On that cruise, the Starks captured a Brig from Limerick "with a cargo of beef, pork and butter;" the British ship Porcupine; a brig from Bristol "with assorted cargo"; a sloop; a schooner; and an English Packet from Jamaica . During the battle with the English packet, John was wounded in both legs, received a musket ball in the head and was struck by a shell splinter between the shoulders. He survived.


In a raging northeaster on February 3'd, 1787, Sergeant Aaron Low helped put down Shays Rebellion. He marched with his lpswich militia from Hadley , Massachusetts to Petersham where they captured 150 of the insurgents.


Chebacco was filling up with people. In 1787 the census is 1200 residents.


In March 1788 Major Andrew Story set out for Ohio in a "long Wagon, painted red, covered with canvas and drawn by two yoke of oxen..." [7] He travels with his family in company with emigrants from Hamilton , Beverly and Salem . On the side of the wagons they paint, in large letters, "For Marietta on the Ohio ." Major Story was the great grandson of Andrew Story who settled Chebacco in 1636 and lived next to Deacon Thomas Low.


Aaron Low was 29 when he joined the Union Army on September 8, 1862 . From the cupola of a hospital in Hampton , Virginia , where one of his companions had recently died, he looked out over the ruins of the city. He walked though the countryside and saw fields covered with "rank, coarse vegetation." He saw apple and peach orchards in ruin. In February, in Baton Rouge , he is amazed that it is "more like Spring than Winter." He takes walks under sweet gum, white oak, lime and magnolia. He visits the State House and finds "charred remains of State documents, pamphlets, marble mantles, and fire-places besides the ruins of costly furniture all lying in a confused mass…” [8]


William E. Low, a shoemaker, joined The Massachusetts Volunteers when he was nineteen. At Coal Harbor , under Grant, he received a confederate ball in the corner of his mouth, was in the hospital three months and released from service.


The Lows participated in the educational, political and social movements of their days. Captain Winthrop Low studied at Atkinson Academy , taught in the Common School and was later a benefactor of the Central School in Essex . He was drawn to the Temperance Movement and was one of only six of his townsmen to respond to the call of Mr. Goodell during a time when, according to a local historian, "it cost something to raise the Temperance flag." [9] He was a man of rigid principle. "He never receded from the ground then taken, either in theory or practice, to the last hour of his life, except to make the rule more stringent and comprehensive." [10] He had a good memory for scripture and liked to recite verbatim expressions learned from Reverend Cleveland, the chaplain who witnessed Captain Stephen Low's death at Ticonderoga . On June 21, 1818 , he made a written promise to himself: "I hereby promise through God's assistance, to live in peace with all men. May He be pleased to give me that peace of mind and that hope of a glorious immortality, which is rather to be chosen above all the riches and honors that can be conferred upon me by my fellow-men." Winthrop Low was the guardian of the Low family bible, the Geneva Edition printed in 1579, and brought to the colonies by the famous Admiral John Low. It was apparently handed down to him by those who signed it previously: "Susana Low her Book 1677, May 19"; "Thomas Low his Book"; "Samuel Low" and "John Low." He lived his entire life in lpswich (check, his obit is in Salem Register.)


Many Lows went to sea.

The most famous is Abiel Abbott Low who founded A. A. Low and Brothers in New York . He owned clipper ships, among them Houqua, Samuel Russell, N.B. Palmer, David Brown, Oriental, Penguin, Jacob Bell 1 Contest, Surprise, Benefactor, Benefactress, Golden State , Yokohama , and the Great Republic which so impressed Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that he wrote a poem about her entitled "The Building of the Ship." Some said that the Samuel Russell was so fast that she could be the last of the tea clippers to depart China and overtake all of her rivals at sea. According to one family historian, "the business flourished amazingly, and at the time of its discontinuance it was said that the commercial paper of A.A. Low and Bros. was as good as gold the whole world over." [11] Abiel maintained a mansion in Shanghai as big as a Gloucester city block. He invested money in the first Atlantic cable, in the Federal government during the Civil War, in the C§O Railroad through West Virginia to the Ohio River .


Frederick Gilman Low of Gloucester was a cabin boy at 14 and captain of an Indiaman at age 21. He acquired great wealth but had the misfortune of owning a large mansion which was in the way of the great Gloucester fire of February 17th, 1864 which "swept up Front Street and consumed 103 buildings (and) . . was finally stopped in its eastward course just short of James Mansfield's house by blowing up Frederick G. Low's mansion on the corner of Duncan Street ". Frederick 's son was my great grandfather - John Somes Low.


[1] Winthrop 's Journal in Lowe (page 21).

[2] Crowell, Page 121

[3] Babson, History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, p. 115 in Lowe Family History p 51.

[4] Choate, Page 215

[5] Choate, Page 222

[6] Choate, Page 226

[7] Choate P. 239.

[8] Choate P. 375

[9] Choate P. 353.

[10] Choate P. 353.

[11] Biography of Seth Low, P. 31-33.