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Monday, December 14, 2009

Hester Bush Mead: Resident's Contribution was Timeless (Greenwich Time 1993)

The following text was published in Greenwich Time's 'Looking Back' local history column authored by Jeffrey Bingham Mead. It was published on September 19, 1993.

For an audio-visual presentation go to this link on the Association's YouTube channel. Featured photos include Hester Bush Mead's gravestone in Union Cemetery, the watercolor work attributed to her, and a photo of the Jabez Mead House that once stood on the southwestern corner of East Putnam Avenue and Indian Field Road. The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich acquired this work in February 2006.

Resident's Contribution was Timeless
Looking Back: by Jeffrey Bingham Mead
Greenwich Time, September 19, 1993

In a quiet corner of Union Cemetery off Milbank Avenue sits a small, worn marble gravestone. It marks the final resting place of Hester Bush Mead, daughter of Candice Bush.

Hester's name does not appear in the roster of famous persons in Greenwich history; her life is obscured by the passage of time.

Hester Mead in reality is not a descendant of the original ancestors at all-she is the direct descendant of slaves who were emancipated when Connecticut, with her sister New England states, mandated the abolition of slavery in the late 18th century.

Candice Bush, her mother, was a servant in the David Bush household. Mr. Bush owned what we preserve today as the Bush-Holley House, headquarters of The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich. Candice's name appears in the David Bush estate in 1797, and Hester was born there the next year. We believe Hester married a freed back man who was emancipated from service to the Mead's in Greenwich.

My interest in Hester centers on a mysterious but beautiful watercolor of one of our ancestral houses. I'm told by a relative that this fine example of early American folk art on woven paper was created by a black woman employed by our forebears; it dates from 1840-1860.

The Jabez Mead House, circa 1840, stood at east Putnam Avenue and Indian Field Road. The farm encompassed all of Milbrook and the lands up to the base of Put's Hill. The house was demolished when East Putnam Avenue was widened many years ago.

Could Hester be the mystery artist? It's possible, but we may never know since the work is unsigned and no written documentation to confirm this has been uncovered.

Hester died March 2, 1864. Her will in the Greenwich Probate Court leaves her few belongings to her granddaughters, Martha and Julia, and ordered good tombstones to be put up for herself and her mother. The austere appearance of her marker may be deceiving if it is true that Hester was the mystery artist of the old homestead built long ago.

Jeffrey B. Mead is a free-lance writer and direct descendant of one of the town's founding families. He grew up in backcountry Greenwich and is a member of the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich.

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