Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

Home
Biographies
-Signers of the Declaration
-Signers of the A. O. C.
-Signers of the U. S. Constitution
-Wives of the Signers
-Other Founders
Documents
Forum
FAQs
Search


Follow colonialhall on Twitter

Page 1

Rebecca Prescott Sherman

1742-1813 1

Wife of Roger Sherman

Rebecca Prescott Sherman, the gifted woman who became the second wife of Roger Sherman, the patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Salem, the first child of Benjamin Prescott and Rebecca Minot Prescott. Of her early life there is little to tell. She came of a long line of distinguished men and women and was a highly cultured and beautiful girl of great spirit.

Her story is best told in the words of a gifted descendant, Katharine Prescott Bennett, who in a recent number of the Journal of American History, quoting a niece of Rebecca Prescott Sherman, writes: "She was born in Salem, and nothing in particular happened to her until she was about seventeen, when something very particular indeed happened. You know that her aunt had married Rev. Josiah Sherman of Woburn, Massachusetts, and one bright morning, Aunt Rebecca started on horseback to visit her, little dreaming toward what she was riding so serenely. Roger Sherman, meanwhile, had just finished a visit to his brother Josiah, who determined to ride a short distance toward New Haven with him. They were about to say goodbye when Aunt Rebecca's horse, with its fair rider, came galloping down the road. Aunt Rebecca was a great beauty and a fine horsewoman, and she must have ridden straight into Roger Sherman's heart, for concluding to prolong his visit, he turned his horse and rode back with her. His courtship prospered, as we know, and they were married, May 12, 1763, when she was twenty and he was forty-two--twenty-two years her senior. She was his second wife and entered the life of this wonderfully gifted but plain man just at the time when her beauty, grace, and wit were of the greatest help in his career.

"We always have been a patriotic race, and this marriage brought Aunt Rebecca into still more active touch with all matters pertaining to the interests of the Colonies at this stirring period; and when at last the Declaration of Independence was promulgated, you can fancy the excitement and enthusiasm of the wife of Roger Sherman, the man who had so much to do with the momentous document. When, a little later, George Washington designed and ordered the new flag to be made by Betsy Ross, nothing would satisfy Aunt Rebecca but to go and see it in the works, and there she had the privilege of sewing some of the stars on the very first flag of a Young Nation. Perhaps because of this experience, she was chosen and requested to make the first flag ever made in the State of Connecticut--which she did, assisted by Mrs. Wooster. This fact is officially recorded."

The grey-haired and stately old lady, niece of Rebecca Prescott Sherman, being importuned for further reminiscences, continued: "A short story came to Uncle Roger's ears, which it amused him to tell, to Aunt Rebecca's consternation. When independence was declared, she was only thirty-four years old, and the lovely girl had developed into what George Washington considered the most beautiful of what we now call the Cabinet ladies. At a dinner given by General Washington to the political leaders and their wives, he took Aunt Rebecca out, thus making her the guest of honour. Madam Hancock was much piqued and afterward said to some one, that she was entitled to that distinction. A rumour of her displeasure came to the ear of George Washington, and to have his actions criticised was not at all to his liking. He drew himself up to his full height and sternly said: 'Whatever may be Mrs. Hancock's sentiments in the matter, I had the honour of escorting to dinner the handsomest lady in the room.' If Mrs. Hancock heard of this I do not think it would have tended to restore her tranquillity. I remember Aunt Rebecca coming into the room just as Uncle Roger was finishing this story and exclaiming half laughing, half vexed: 'Oh! Roger, why will you tell the child such nonsense?' Then turning to me, she said: 'Always remember, that handsome is as handsome does.' 'Well!' Uncle Roger retorted gallantly, 'you looked handsome and acted handsome too, Rebecca, so I am making an example of you. Surely you cannot find fault with that.'"

It was a saying of Roger Sherman that he never liked to decide a perplexing question without submitting it for the opinion of some intelligent woman, and as a usual thing, Mrs. Sherman was the woman whose opinion he desired. It is said that he consulted her not only in regard to his business affairs, which were of intimate concern to both of them, but in regard to public matters as well, and he placed great reliance on her judgment. For years Roger Sherman's connection with public affairs took him from home a great deal of his time, and to her fell the care of the family, not only her own eight children but of his children by his first wife. That she met these responsibilities with ability and good judgment was attested by the high position which the children held. It is also evident that although Rebecca Sherman bore no part in the Revolution, she was a worthy companion to the only man who signed all four of the great state papers: The Address to the King, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.

Rebecca Prescott Sherman became the mother of eight children, all but one of whom arrived at the age of maturity. Their names were as follows: Rebecca, Elizabeth, Roger, Mehitable, Oliver, Martha, and Sarah. Of these seven children, one daughter became the mother of United States Senator Hoar; another the mother of Roger Sherman Baldwin, Governor of Connecticut and United States Senator; still another the mother of the Honorable William M. Evarts. These are but a few of the many eminent descendants of this illustrious woman.*

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 93-98. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

*[from pg 150] James Schoolcraft Sherman, Vice-President of the United States, is a lineal descendant of Roger Sherman.

1 According to the Sherman Genealogy by Thomas Townsend Sherman (New York: Tobias A. Wright, 1920), pg. 151, Rebecca Prescott Sherman died on April 19, 1813, in New Haven, Connecticut. The May 11, 1813 edition of the Connecticut Courant (1791-1837) (ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1764 - 1922)), says that Rebecca Sherman died at the age of 71. Thanks is due to Cynthia Harbeson, Reference Librarian and Assistant Archivist at the Connecticut Historical Society. And a special thanks is due to John B. Harker, author of Betsy Ross's Five Pointed Star, for bringing this to my attention and for supplying me with this information from the Connecticut Historical Society.
 
 


Designed and Edited by John Vinci
Last modified September 14, 2008