Colonial Boston – The Boston Common in 1768

The Boston Brahmin 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, and are often associated with the distinctive Boston Brahmin accent, Harvard University, and traditional Anglo-American customs and clothing. Descendants of the earliest English colonists, such as those who came to America on the Mayflower or the Arbella, are often considered to be the most representative of the Boston Brahmins.[2]

The term was coined by the physician and writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in an 1860 article in the Atlantic Monthly.[3] The term Brahmin refers to the highest ranking caste of people in the traditional Hindu system of castes. In the United States, it has been applied to the old, wealthy New England families of British Protestant origin which were influential 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 illustrates 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.

Characteristics[edit | edit source]

Typical dress of the Boston elite

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.[4][5]

While some 19th-century Brahmin families of large fortune were of bourgeois origin, others were of 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, Lowells, 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 women and ladies. 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.[6][7] 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.[8]: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,[9] and heirs married heiresses. Family not only served as an economic asset, but also as a means of moral restraint. Most belong 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 such as the Welds, Saltonstalls, Lymans, Sargents, Emersons, Winslows, Warrens and Winthrops.

Brahmin families[edit | edit source]

Adams Family[edit | edit source]

American statesmen, Governor of Massachusetts, and founding father, Samuel Adams

Amory Family[edit | edit source]

Appleton Family[edit | edit source]

American merchant, Samuel Appleton (1766-1853).

Patrilineal line:[10]

Other notable relatives:

  1. Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844-1893) - Snuck away to join the Civil War where he was gravely wounded. He inspired Longfellow's poem I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
  2. Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow (1845-1921) - renowned artist and art collector who donated a sizeable collection to the Boston Museum of Art.
  3. Frances Longfellow (1847-1848) - When the younger Fanny was born on April 7, 1847, Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep administered ether as the first obstetric anesthetic in the United States to Fanny Longfellow
  4. Alice Mary Longfellow (1850-1928) - noteworth philanthropist and historical preservationist. Never married.
  5. Edith Longfellow (1853-1915) - married Boston lawyer, Richard Henry Dana III, son of the popular writer Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author of Two Years Before the Mast.
  6. Anne Allegra Longfellow (1855-1934) - the youngest daughter of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), she married a Boston lawyer. Her father immortalized her in his poem "The Children's Hour" as "laughing Allegra," referring to her middle name.

Bacon Family[edit | edit source]

U.S. Congressman and lawyer, Robert Low Bacon (1884-1938)

Bates Family[edit | edit source]

Philanthropist, business magnate, namesake of Bates College, Benjamin Bates.

Originally from Boston and Britain, also descended from John Alden (c1599-1687) of the Mayflower.

Boylston Family[edit | edit source]

Bradlee Family[edit | edit source]

Direct line:[14][15][16]

Cabot Family[edit | edit source]

The Boston Brahmin Cabot family descended from John Cabot (b. 1680 in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands), who emigrated from his birthplace to Salem, Massachusetts in 1700.


Chaffee Family[edit | edit source]

Lt Gen Adna R Chaffee (1842-1914) - Civil War Veteran and US Military Governor of the Philippine Islands

Originally of Hingham, Massachusetts:


Choate Family[edit | edit source]

Federal judge, founder of Choate Rosemary Hall, William Gardner Choate


Coffin Family[edit | edit source]

Officer of the Royal British Navy, Sir Isaac Coffin (1759-1839)

Originally of Newbury and Nantucket:


Coolidge Family[edit | edit source]

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States.


Cooper Family[edit | edit source]

Congregational minister, Samuel Cooper


Crowninshield Family[edit | edit source]

Colonist, Benjamin Williams Crowninshield

Descendants by marriage:


Cushing Family[edit | edit source]

Originally of Hingham, Massachusetts:

Descendant by marriage:


Dana Family[edit | edit source]

Danforth[edit | edit source]

Danforth Family

  • Nicholas Danforth, Gent. (1589-1639), immigrant, arrived in 1634 Massachusetts Bay Colony
    • Dep. Gov. Judge Thomas Danforth (1623-1699), treasurer of Harvard, Steward of Harvard, Deputy Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Lord Proprietor of southern Maine until 1680, Justifce of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Superior Court, proprietor of 15,000 acres.
    • Rev. Samuel Danforth (1626-1674), authority, one of the five founding fellows of Harvard, ordained on 24 Sep 1650, pastor of The First Church of Roxbury, Boston
    • Jonathan Danforth (c1627-1712), Founder of Billiercia, Massachusetts Bay Colony

Delano[edit | edit source]

Delano Family

Derby[edit | edit source]

Derby Family

  • Capt. Richard Derby, Jr. (1712-1783), founder of the Derby shipping firm, had a net worth of $70,000 at the time of his death
    • Capt. Richard Derby III (1736-1781), Member of Provincial Congress
    • Elias Hasket "King" Derby, America's first millionaire and the Founder of the East India Shipping trade
      • Gen. Elias Hasket Derby, Jr. (1766-1826, military general and a shipping merchant
    • Capt. John Derby (1741-1812), delivered the news of the beginning and the end of the American Revolutionary War to the British in secret

Dudley[edit | edit source]

Dudley Family

Dwight[edit | edit source]

American historian and president of Yale University, Timothy Dwight

Dwight Family

Eliot[edit | edit source]

President of Harvard University, Charles William Eliot

Eliot Family

Descendant by marriage:

Emerson[edit | edit source]

Massachusetts minister, William Emerson

Emerson Family

Endicott[edit | edit source]

Endicott Family



Fabens[edit | edit source]

Fabens Family

Of Marblehead and Salem:[18]

  • William Fabens (1810–1883): lawyer, member of Assembly, Senate[19]
  • Samuel Augustus Fabens (1813–1899): master mariner in the East India and California trade[22][23]
  • Francis Alfred Fabens (1814–1872): mercantile businessman, San Francisco judge, attorney[24]
  • Joseph Warren Fabens (1821–1875): U.S. Consul at Cayenne, businessman, Envoy Extraordinary of the Dominican Republic[25]
  • George Wilson Fabens (1857–1939): attorney, land commissioner and superintendent of Southern Pacific Railroad, namesake of Fabens, Texas[26][27]

Forbes[edit | edit source]

Forbes Family

Gardner[edit | edit source]

American businessman and art collector, John Lowell Gardner

Gardner Family

Originally of Essex county:

Gillett[edit | edit source]

  • 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

Healey/Dall[edit | edit source]

Holmes[edit | edit source]

Holmes Family

Jackson[edit | edit source]

Jackson Family

Lawrence[edit | edit source]

Lawrence Family

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

Lodge[edit | edit source]

Lodge Family

Lowell[edit | edit source]

Lyman[edit | edit source]

  • Richard Lyman (1580–1640): a founder of Hartford, Connecticut; cousin of Lord Mayor of London Sir John Lyman of the Lyman Baronets of England
  • Roswell Lyman: China trade merchant, had an interest in The Ann & Hope
  • 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.
  • George Williams Lyman (1786–1880): developed textile mills, director of the Boston and Lowell Railroad and the Columbian Bank, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company. His first wife was Elizabeth Gray Otis, the daughter of Harrison Gray Otis (U.S. senator and mayor of Boston) and Sally Foster Otis, prominent Bostonians who built a noted Federal-style mansion still standing.
        • Arthur T. Lyman (1832–1915), and his sisters Sarah (Mrs. Philip H. Sears) and Lydia (Mrs. Robert Treat Paine)
          • Arthur T. Lyman, Jr. (1861–1933): married Susan Cabot. Director and officer of textile manufacturing companies and the Massachusetts Life Insurance Company. Board member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Waltham Hospital. He was active in politics as president of the Democratic Club of Massachusetts, chairman of the State Democratic Committee.

Minot[edit | edit source]

Minot Family

Norcross[edit | edit source]

Norcross Family

Original from Watertown, Massachusetts

Otis[edit | edit source]

Otis Family

Parkman[edit | edit source]

Parkman Family

Peabody[edit | edit source]

Entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the House of Morgan and the Peabody Institute, George Peabody

Peabody Family

Perkins[edit | edit source]

Perkins Family

Phillips[edit | edit source]

Educator and founder of Phillips Exeter Academy, John Phillips

Phillips Family

Other notable relatives:

Pickering[edit | edit source]

  • Timothy Pickering, 3rd United States Secretary of State, 2nd United States Secretary of War, 5th United States Postmaster General, American Revolutionary War colonel, Adjutant General of the American Revolutionary  Continental Army

Putnam[edit | edit source]

Putnam Family

Quincy[edit | edit source]

Quincy Family

Rice[edit | edit source]

Rice Family

Originally of Sudbury, Massachusetts:

Saltonstall[edit | edit source]

Saltonstall Family

Sargent[edit | edit source]

Sears[edit | edit source]

Sears Family

Tarbox[edit | edit source]

Tarbox Family

Thorndike[edit | edit source]

Thorndike Family

Tudor[edit | edit source]

Tudor Family

Warren[edit | edit source]

Major general and doctor, Joseph Warren

Weld[edit | edit source]

Weld Family

Wigglesworth[edit | edit source]

Wigglesworth Family

Winthrop[edit | edit source]

Winthrop Family

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ "People & Events: Boston Brahmins". PBS Online. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Greenwood, Andrew (11 August 2011). An Introduction to the Unitarian and Universalist Traditions. Cambridge University Press. p. LX. Retrieved 27 August 2015. 
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Andrews, Robert (ed.) (1996). Famous Lines: A Columbia Dictionary of Familiar Quotations. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10218-6. 
  5. ^ McPhee, John. Giving Good Weight. p. 163. 
  6. ^ Ronald Story, Harvard and the Boston Upper Class: The Forging of an Aristocracy, 1800–1870 (1985).
  7. ^ Paul Goodman, "Ethics and Enterprise: The Values of a Boston Elite, 1800–1860", American Quarterly, Sept 1966, Vol. 18 Issue 3, pp 437–451.
  8. ^ Peter S. Field Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Making of a Democratic Intellectual Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. ISBN 0847688429. ISBN 978-0847688425
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Farrell, Betty (1993). Elite Families: Class and Power in Nineteenth-Century Boston. SUNY Press. ISBN 1438402325. 
  11. ^ There is some speculation on the actual date of birth of the patriarch of the Bates family, with many agreeing on the
  12. ^ "Benjamin Bates, Sr.". 
  13. ^ "Benjamin Bates, Jr.". 
  14. ^ Sarah Bradlee (1740-1835)
  15. ^ Quinn, Bradleeq. "Sarah Bradlee". Boston Tea Party Museum. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  16. ^ Quinn, Bradlee. "David Bradlee". Internet Archive. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named JosephCabotJr
  18. ^ Perkins, Geo. A. (George Augustus), "Some of the descendants of Jonathan Fabens of Marblehead", 1881. Online at
  19. ^ Perkins
  20. ^ Perkins
  21. ^ William Chandler Fabens
  22. ^ Perkins
  23. ^ Capt Samuel Augustus Fabens
  24. ^ Perkins
  25. ^ Perkins
  26. ^ "History of Fabens, Texas". Fabens Independent School District
  27. ^ George Wilson Fabens
  28. ^ Hall, Alexandra [2009]. The New Brahmins. Boston Magazine
  29. ^
  30. ^ John J. Waters, The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts (U. of North Carolina Press, 1968)
  31. ^
  32. ^ 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).
  33. ^ Malcolm Freiberg, "The Winthrops and Their Papers", Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 1968, Vol. 80, pp 55–70

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