Father: Willard SEARS
- BIRTH: 29 NOV 1803, Harwich,,MA
- CHRISTENING: 18 MAR 1804
- BURIAL: ,,,684
Mother: Hannah SEARS
_Willard SEARS __
_Willard SEARS _|
| |_Susannah HOWES _
| _Edmund SEARS ___
|_Hannah SEARS __|
|_Hannah CROWELL _
!S.P. May Willard Sears received an ordinary "district school" education in
his native town of Brewster, and grew up pretty much like other Cape Cod boys,
working on the farm, helping at the salt-works, and at his father's trade of
carpenter, and early learning the lesson of self-reliance. At the age of 9,
wishing to visit his brother who was learning a trade in Boston, he embarked on
board the packet,and worked his passage by cooking for the crew, viz., captain
26 Mar 1822, he left the old homestead, and became aan apprentice with Mr Wm.
Goodrich, an organ-builder on Harlem place, Boston, next to the "Lion Theatre,"
who failed in the course of a year. Young Sears then worked for a few months
on looking-glass frames, and later on gas-meters in the shop corner of
Washington and Bromfield streets; there was on the premises a steam-engine, the
first in Boston, which blew up one fine day, and scared the neighbors out of
their wits, and in the consequence the owner was forbidden to use it again.
This failed the man, a good Baptist,and the first Christian whose
acquaintance Mr Sears had made in Boston; however, he recovered and went on
with his business. Mr S. then left, and went to work for his brother in
putting up the organ in the Old South Church; it was made in London, and as the
builders in this country were opposed to its importation, they refused to put
it up. A Mr Cory was, therefore, engaged to come over and erect it, and keep
it in tune for a year; he remained and went into business here.
During the winter of 1824, Mr C. and Eben Sears went to New York to set up
the Trinity Church organ. Christmas eve the boss invited all hands to his
house to celebrate; they drank and sung until pretty drunk, and at 10 PM the
brothers Sears went home, leaving the rest to make a night of it.
Upon his departure for New York, his employer left with Willard checks to
make weekly payments to the men, and with which to buy stock. The rest of the
men were foreigners, and kept up their carouse for three weeks until delirium
tremens set in. Their poor wives came to Mr Sears for money with which to buy
food, which he gave them, without authority, and was much perplexed what to do.
He then made a vow that he would never take alcholic drinks, and this
resolution he has adhered to, except in two instances; first, when urged by his
pastor in Brewster while calling on him; and second, when about to join Essex
st. Church, Boston, he called upon the Deacon, an Englishman by birth, who
would take no refusal.
In 1826, while building a block of brick houses on Haymarket place, he wished
to break up the custom of furnishing grog to the men at 11 and 4 each day.
About Jul 3 the ridgepole was to be raised, and the usage then was what the men
were at liberty to drink as often and as much as they pleased. The day was
hot, and the men drank all the more; the staging was insecurely built and broke
doen, and some of the men had broken bones as well as bruises. Mr Sears'
brother had his collar-bone broken, and received other injuries which confined
him to the house for several weeks.
During his illness Willard offered the men ten cents more per day to give up
their rations, and about one-half agreed to do so. In three days he had a full
gang of young, smart and good men at work, and the next month's pay, for an
equal amount of work, was one-third less than in grog days. Seeing this
result, the brothers nefver after furnished any liquor or drank any themselves.
The same year that the municipal government was established, Mr Sears came to
Boston, and soon became prominent in a series of events which resulted in a
complete revolutionizing of the city fire department. He was at that time a
member of "Young Men's Moral Association," devoted to exposing and breaking up
gambling, dance-houses, etc. As a Mayor's detective, young Sears discovered
the weakness of the department, and its remarkable strength also.
There was a body of 1,500 young, snart, athletic men, organiuzed in such a
way as to be scarcely at all under the control of the city government. The
city furnished the engines, and kept them in repair, and then the companies did
about as they pleased, except when at fires, they were nominally under the
control of the fire wardens, and even this was more by sufferance than
The volunteers worked well at a fire, and were prompt in getting there. Cash
presents, gifts of liquors and eatables, were freely donated to the firemen by
grateful persons whose property had been in fanger; then followed the
inevitable carousal, which did not cease so long as thematerials lasted. The
firemen represented every social degree, each having its own company, and none
had more elegant, luxurious and prolonged carousals than the swell company of
Needless to say, fires were frequent.
One Sunday morning in 1828, Mr Sears entered an engine-house. The members of
that company were not graded low in the social scale, but were all the sons of
It was the morning after a fire, and sitting round, in a dazed condition,
were half a dozen members, just recovering from their debauch, while more than
20 young men lay helplessly drunk on the floor, and among them several women,
also stupefied. Such was the condition of thinfgs when Mr Sears joined the
Boston fire department.
His principles having become known, he was refused admission to the
existibngorganizations, but procured leave to form a company,a nd became the
Captain of it. No. 8, as it was called, was the entering wedge that finally
split, and broke up the existing system.
Mr Sears organized with young men pledged to reform.
On the wall if the engine-house hung the roll of membership, at the topp of
which were these words: "No drinking of liquor,""No using of tobacco,""No
profanity while on duty." Each pledge had its vertical column, and list of
members underneath. Every name must be in the first column, and most of them
were in all.
In consequence of this innovation all the old companies were down on No. 8,
and it was annoyed in all possible ways, and systematically obstructed whenever
it started for a fire, and the bitterness was not softened by the fact that
No.* was the most efficient conpany in Boston.
Capt Sears resolved to bring things to a head, and on the next alarm of fire,
No.12 purposely obstructing his path, he gave his men ordersto pass them at all
hazards, and as the result, No.12 was a wreck. He was arraigned before the
Mayor, who was very wroth, and threatened to disband the company. In reply, Mr
Sears referred to the ordinance: "You will proceed at once to the fire, and
break down all obstructions."
"There, Mr Mayor, is the law, and we only obeyed it, and now I will resign; I
have had trouble and annoyance enough, and will have nothing more to do with
it." At the Mayor's request he finally consented to continue in the
department, but the annoyances did not cease, the city government would not
repair the engine, and the work was done athis own expense. He finally
disbanded the company.
For a few years thereafter, the fire department went from bad to worse, until
it came to a crisis brought on by the efforts of the municipal government to
bring about a reform, and all the companies were disbanded, leaving the city
without a single company to protect property in case of fire.
At this juncture Mr Sears was called upon by the presidents of the insurance
companies, and requested to take charge of a company they had organized,
composed of leading men of Boston, such as Capt Williams, Dr Hayward, Hon Mr
Wheeler, Dea Charles Scudder, and other gentlemen from Beacon street and
After some demur he finally consented, but at the first trial satisfactorily
convinced them that they were not the right material for such dirty and
laborious work, and that the only true, and the cheapest system for
the insurance companies and property holders was a paid fire departmetn, and
this, too, out of regard for themorals of the youth of the city.
A committee was thereupon raised to wait upon the Mayor and Aldermen, and
state their views upon the subject, and as a result the city established the
paid fireman's system in 1838, the first in the United States.
About the year 1837, Rev Sylvester Graham lectured in Boston, on Temperance,
Physiology and Hygiene, advocating a vegetable diet, and the use of unbolted
flour, now so popular under the name of "Graham flour."
The bakers and rummies became much incensed, mobbed him, and drove the
ladies, to whom he was lecturing, into the street.
The ladies then applied to Mr Sears for the use of the hall attached to the
Marlboro Hotel, owned by him, and a day being set for the lecture notice was
printed in three papers that Graham would bemobbed.
The Mayor sent the City Marshall to Mr Sears, ordering him forthwith to
appear at the City Hall. Mr S. was at the time employed with his men in
pulling down some old plastering in the hotel, and was covered with mortar and
dirt. He told the Marshall he was busy, had violated no law, and would not go.
The Marshall then left, but shortly returned with a carriage, and the Mayor's
compliments, requesting the favor of an interview, to which Mr S then
An account of the interview may be found in the "Liberator" of 24 Mar 1837,
under the head of "Mob Law."
The result was that the Mayor told him the building would be mobbed, and he
could not protect him with the force at his disposal, and if he persisted in
letting it be used by Graham he must take the consequences. Mr S, seeing that
little was to be expected from city officials, decided to protect his property
himself at all hazards.
He directed his workmen to place all the old plaster in heaps by the windows,
together with a quantity of old lime,and await orders which he would transmit
through his clerk. After parleying some time with the mob which was assembled
outside the barricade that had been erected to protect passers-by during the
alterations, and finding they were bent on mischief and could no longer be
delayed, he retired through a small door and gave a preconcerted signal. At
once the workmen commenced shoveling out hte lime and mortar from the upper
windows. The mob, looking up to see what was to pay, in a moment had their
eyes and mouths filled with the pungent dust, there was a strong wind blowing,
and the street was presently filled with a cloud of lime. Flesh and blood
could not stand this; the mob broke and retired, and Mr Sears had won a
The papers discussed the matter thoroughly, and the public finally decided
for the right of free speech.
In a few eeks the Mayor called upon Mr Sears and said: "If you will stop
Garrison from writing any more about me, when you dedicate your chapel, I will
protect you and you property, if I have to call in the State and navy soldiers,
with all the police. Sir, I was wrong, but do stop Garrison; he is ruining my
character, and bringing me to disgrace."
At the dedication of Marlboro Chapel, he, without solicitation, put 30 police
inside, 40 outside, and held the military in reserve.
Of course, Mr Sears was one of the earliest abolitionists and free-soilers.
In 1834, Geo Thompson, an English emncipationist, on his return from the
W.I., came to Boston to deliver a lecture.
The use of "Faneuil Hall" was granted , but permission revoked by city
authorities. Mr Sears and Amasa Walker then hired "Julien Hall" for the
purpose, giving their bond for $17,000 to pay any damage that might be done by
a mob. This also was revoked, and the only place that could be procured was
"Ritchie Hall," over Dea Gulliver's carpet store, corner of Temple place. The
entrance was soon surrounded by an armed mob of Southerners and their
sympathizers, and Thompson was finally taken out through a hoisting scuttle in
the rear, placed in a carriagewith J S Withington, and driven to the house of J
G Whittier in Amesbury. He did not dare to return, but embarked shortly for
England. During the disturbance Mr Sears was on guard at the door; was struck
several times, but not materially injured, and held the fort until Thompson
In 1836 Mr Sears and Dea Charles Scudder fitted out the first missionary to
Jamaica (an Oberlin student), and established the first station there.
He was the first to take a colored apprentice, later procuring for him a
commission as Justice of the Peace, guaranteeing his good conduct.
He was intimately connected with the "Underground Railway," and aided many
fugitives on their way to Canada and freedom.
The "Marlboro Hotel" was opened by him as a temperance house, the first in
this country. No liquor was to be sold in it, and a t first no smoking was
allowed, but his latter was conceded later.
The ladies and gentleman's parlors were thrown open morning and evening for
religious services. Grace was said before every meal, and for twenty-six years
the observance of the services was continuous and uninterrupted. The chapel in
the rear was a free hall for lectures and discussions on all moral and social
questions. It was opened in May 1838, and was run as a free hall and chapel
for fourteen years. It was afterward let for the "Lowell Institute" Lectures.
The house was patronized by a class of quiet, religious people who wanted such
a stopping place when they came to the city. John G Whittier, Mr Longfellow
and Henry Wilson were frequent guests.
During a long life, Mr Sears has contracted for and built inumerable
edifices, both public and private, among them the Fitchburg Depot, Boston, and
all stations and freight-houses to Fitchburg; eastern railway stations and old
ferry-houses; Boston & Worcester Depot in Boston, and stations and
freight-houses to Worcester; Old Colony Depot and stations to Sandwich; and
much other railroad work in the east and west; some thirty churches, among
them, the Swedenborgian, Dr Kirk's, and Essex St., Boston; Catholic Ch., S
Boston; Cong. Ch., Bunker's Hill, Charlestown; Dr Thompson's Roxbury; Dr
Langworthy's, Chelsea; West Newton and Brookline churches, etc.; built and
owned Marlboro Hotel and Chapel, and reconstructed the State's Prison at
He was one of the petioners and obtained the charter for the Female Medical
College, Boston, and a Trustee; put up the first sixty buildings in San
Francisco, but lost by fire and shipwreck $250,000, being uninsured. He owned
the ship "Rowland" and cargo, and the cargo in bark "Henry Ware," both of which
were lost upon the voyage.
Mr S obtained the charter, and called the forst meeting to organize the
Northern Pacific R.R., and was in the board of direction for five years.
For some years he has done little business beyond supervising the Alburgh
Springs Hotel, VT, and the Mineral SPrings connected therewith, which he
purchased after having himself experienced their marvelous curative powers.
Mr Sears is as we have seen by nature a radical reformer, a teetotaller, and
anti-tobacconist, abolitionist and free-soiler; for a time a vegetarian, but
this did not hold; he early took the anti-mason infection, and has never got
He is a strict Sabbatarian, and a perfect type of the old Puritan; of
downright and combative dispostion, had he lived in Cromwell's time, he would
doubtless have fought at his side.
Charitable by nature, his benefactions have been large and constant. Oberlin
College long found in him a liberal patron, and it is estimated he gave in all
$100,000 to that institution; as a trustee, he took the place of Ossawattomie
Brown, and served may years. Many other religious, educational and charitable
institutions have partaken of his bounty.
The poor and oppressed have ever found his heart and purse open, and many a
fugitive from oppression has had cause to bless him.
Of a large and muscular mould, Mr Sears has possessed great strength and
endurance; dark in complexion, his jet black hair has only become an iron-gray;
quick spoken, and decided in manner, he has great success in managing large
gangs of men.
Soon after his marriage he went to reside in Brookline, removing thence to
W Newton, and later to the banks of the winding Charles at Watertown.
His pleasant estate there being absorbed by the government as a portion of
the arsenal grounds, he removed to Newtonville, and now, (1887,)in his old age,
resides in Newton with his wife and his only surviving sister, a wonderfully
smart and active maiden lady of 88.
May's Hand Notes- During the War of 1812, he with other boys watched for
approaching English vessels which blockaded Boston and Salem during winter at
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