by Lilla Bancroft
hundred and twenty-four when little Sylvia Willard Thwing was born in Uxbridge-town, in
The youngest of thirteen children of Benjamin and Anna Mowry Thwing, she was the pet of
the household and when we, her children, listened to the stories of her childhood days, we
were impressed with the love and devotion that always surrounded her.
Her father, Benjamin Thwing, died when she was six years old, and her mother brought up
her family with a firm though loving hand. Her children always spoke of her with deep
affection not untinged with awe. Even Aunt Hannah Thwing who was, in my childhood,
Hopedale's great lady, a "cutup" in her youth, chuckled with joy as she related how her
mother dealt with her mischievous pranks. I wonder what her great-great-grandchildren
would think of her methods in this year of grace nineteen hundred and thirty-six.
One of my favorite stories had to do with my mother's first glimpse of my father. She was
about seven years old, blue-eyed, red cheeked, with a mass of bright chestnut hair. She
used to go with an elder sister, Minerva, to drive home the cow "up the lane," as they called
it. On this particular day Minerva was away when the cow-driving hour arrived and
Grandmother asked little Sylvia if she thought she could do the work alone.
Filled with pride Sylvia started; her mother felt she might have some difficulty with the heavy
bars though Mother was sure she wouldn't, but she tugged and tugged while the old red cow
stood patiently waiting. Finally almost in tears she looked up and saw a little barefoot boy
coming whistling along the lane. He saw the tiny tot in her little pink cambric frock, long in the
skirt and low in the neck, with pretty white ruffles at throat and wrists, and stopping asked --
"Can I help?" So he took down the bars and together they walked up the lane, a little switch
in Sylvia's hand to remind the cow she must move along and not loiter for grass and clover.
The boy asked her name and when she timidly said, "Sylvia Thwing," he said, "Mine is Joseph
Bancroft and when I get to be a man I'll come back to Uxbridge and marry you,--"and he did.
Some thirteen years later he walked from Medway to Uxbridge and found her -- a beauty with
a charming voice so that every Sunday she led the singing of the hymns in the village choir.
Her father, Benjamin Thwing, taught in a private school in New York, so he was seldom at
home. We have a letter written to my grandmother in truly courtly style, ending, "May slumber
sweet thy bed attend." Expressing love was a dignified proceeding in those days.
Another story, not so happy but one I never tired of hearing, was one of an accident that
resulted in my grandfather's death.
During one of his summer vacations when Mother was six he took Grandmother and Mother
to Mendon to spend the day with some of the Taft or Mowry cousins. They had a happy visit,
although Grandmother was timid about riding with that particular horse for it had a very bad
habit of running down the hills -- and oh, those Mendon hills.
On the way back to Uxbridge a long hill was before them and as they approached it
Grandmother said, "Benjamin, let us all get out and walk down and lead the horse." He
laughed and said, "That would be more dangerous than to ride;" but she said -- and this was
thrilling to me, "I feel I want to get out, Benjamin; stop and let Sylvia and me out."
So he stopped and they jumped out quickly from the carriage just as the horse bolted;
halfway down the hill as mother, terrified, watched she saw the carriage turn over and her
father thrown to the ground. The horse, kicking and rearing, freed itself and dashed away.
When they reached my grandfather he was unconscious. He lived, I think, hopelessly ill for
some weeks, but died from his injuries and Grandmother was left with her thirteen children.
Of course some were married and away from home by this time, but still her hands were too
full to find time to mourn unduly and she bravely shouldered her responsibility with
Mother was but six years old and could never quite overcome her fear on horses; (she was
always timid). Is it any wonder when her father's accident was always so vividly before her? I
can see her now, when our horses went rather rapidly, her arm protectingly across Lura and
me as we returned from the usual Sunday afternoon call on Grandmother Bancroft in Medway.
For awhile after their marriage Father and Mother lived in Uxbridge but soon moved to
Hopedale where with Eben and George Draper, who had married mother's sisters Anna and
Hannah, he founded the Hopedale Machine Company and here in Hopedale their ten children
were born. Five died in childhood but five of us lived to maturity: Eben, Anna, Mary, Lilla, and
It can truly be said that Mother "brought us up" for the only punishment I ever knew of
Father's giving us was when he lifted his keen, black eyes, inherited from his lovely French
mother, looked at us squarely for a moment and in a quiet way said, "Did you hear your
mother speak?" We did -- at once. Mother's method was a gentle one. Even Eben, who was
rather a lively youth, once told me that after some little misdemeanor the look of sorrow on
Mother's face made him swear he would never do such a thing again.
My Mother was devoted to books and read in her spare moments (where could she find any
in her busy day?) the best literature she could find in our tiny village.
The village people were indeed plain in their living but remarkably advanced in thought -- real
followers of the blessed Adin Ballou of revered memory. It was her joy in books that after her
death suggested the idea to Father of a Memorial Library.
He realized that her first great interest, outside the family, was her church; but already
George and Eben Draper had built the lovely church now standing at the corner of Adin and
Hopedale Streets in honor of their father and mother; so after talking it over with us he
decided to build "The Bancroft Memorial Library."
Father and Mother were Unitarians, Mother an ardent worker. One of my most vivid pictures
of her is as she sat in her own easy chair by one of the living room windows with The
Christian Register in her hand, entirely absorbed in some sermon or item of religious news
from a far-away land.
When the Draper boys, George and Eben wanted to tear down the old church building that
had served as church, theatre, and playground for years, Mrs. Eben Draper, (charming
Nancy Bristow) came to Mother to ask if it would hurt her if this were done, for "the boys" were
eager to build a church in memory of their parents.
I was with Mother at the time -- and she smiled as she said, "I think it a beautiful thing to do --
beautiful." "Oh! Aunt Sylvia," cried Mrs. Draper, "I am so glad you feel like that; the boys did
not want to do it, if it would make you feel bad to see the old building go." Mother, hesitating
a moment said thoughtfully, "One mustn't hold back the march of progress."
How she would have rejoiced in the fine new Community House which the generosity of G.A.
Draper made possible.
One winter she evolved a scheme for "table conversation," as we called it; both she and
father abhorred gossip. Each one of us was to bring to the meal some item gleaned from the
papers that would be of interest to the family. Occasionally I inserted a witticism, but we
usually brought good material that would cause a little eager discussion. Lura was especially
keen on this idea and sought for things of real importance.
Father purchased a pleasant winter home in San Mateo, Florida, during the later years of his
life and here we spent many winters on the beautiful St. Johns River. Friends often came for
long, happy visits. It was a lazy life surrounded with birds and flowers; the house itself was
large and attractive and stood in a small orange grove of three hundred or more trees.
Father's brother, William, bought the house with him, and how they both tramped with sticks
in hand through the grove, or went fishing all day up the creek with faithful old black Bose to
row the boat.
In those days no end of steamers went up and down the river carrying tourists to see the
curving Ocklawaha alive with alligators and turtles, or to pick up the orange filled crates from
our docks. The automobile, alas! has changed all that and taken much from the picturesque
beauty of the lovely spot, but the old river is there -- one of the most beautiful I have seen in
On pleasant afternoons Mother would take her sewing or knitting out on one of the broad
porches and neighbors would drop in for friendly chats. These neighbors came from far and
near and Mother listened eagerly to their stories of life in the West or North making for herself
there, as at home, a place in their hearts.
On Sunday our table was filled with people who had been asked informally to drop in for fried
chicken and strawberry shortcake, or better still, some of our big black cook's delectable ice
I think all of the grandchildren visited there at one time or another and must remember a little
of the southern charm that surrounded the place. I remember the visits of Alice, Joseph,
Anna, Bancroft, and Allen, but perhaps Walter, Jr., never came.
I am happy to think of those long quiet winters in a warm and relaxing climate, when Anna
relieved mother of household cares so she could rest and play after the long years of
Another great pleasure that came to her in later life was the annual driving trip in the autumn
when the trees were brilliant and the roads at their best. Then Father and Mother, with
faithful John Tucker to drive and Anna to be on hand in case Mother wasn't well, joined Mr.
and Mrs. Ray of Franklin, Mr. and Mrs. Follett of Wrentham, and sometimes Mr. and Mrs.
Coburn of Hopkinton and off they went, merry and filled with the anticipation of a pleasant
week or two over the hills of lovely New England, sometimes venturing further afield.
I can remember once seeing them start. They met at our house on a perfect October day,
harnesses shining, horses tossing their heads impatient to be off. It almost seemed as if
they, too, felt the joy of the trip ahead. Sometimes John drove the grays, sleek and shining,
or sometimes the chestnut pair with glistening coats; one of them our beloved Dobbin who
would kick up his heels and rear, though why we never found out. Father drove him single so
long as he was able to hold the reins and see the road ahead, for his sight grew dim those
last years of his life.
Mother must have had a great deal of initiative, for when we were little children she would
pack a trunk and a few bags and off we would go to Nantasket for a month to see if the salt
air would not bring strength to Lura, who was never strong; and each winter there was a trip
to Boston to see some fine play and have lunch at Copeland's restaurant where a fountain
played, much to our excitement, for we could never quite understand where the water came
from, and then on to the old Boston Museum to see the wax works. No other children in our
little village had such privileges, and what wild tales we would spin for weeks afterward.
When Father decided to take us to California on a Raymond-Whitcomb trip, Mr. Whitcomb
came out to Hopedale to talk things over, and what a glorious trip it was! Eben and Mary
were married then and I felt so sorry that they must stay at home.
And so the years flew by; -- a summer or two at Watch Hill, many at Poland Springs where the
water did much for mother's health, and then Hopedale outgrew its simple Community days
and became the abode of fashion with an ambassador to Italy, General Draper, and a
governor of the Old Bay State, Eben Draper, both devoted admirers of Father and Mother.
How well I remember "Aunt Sylvia's" talks with Eben when his mother died, and he went away
My mother and father celebrated in a simple way their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary asking
the entire village, and Mother wore a silk dress, "ashes of roses" color, and a white rose in
her hair with a tiny glass bird perched in one of the petals.
Their fiftieth anniversary was a very elaborate occasion with guests from many cities, a
caterer, a huge tent for the supper, beautiful gifts, -- and Mother in gray satin and point lace.
She was no older in spirit than the seven year old little girl driving home the red cow up the
No portrait of Mother gives any idea of the charm of her expression -- a sweet gaiety and a
look of great peace. The one hanging on the walls of the Library is not good, but the one of
Father seems to me almost perfect.
God bless them both.
And now, in January in the year nineteen hundred and thirty six, only two of us are left; Anna
and Lilla, -- soon we, too, will join the family circle of our generation, and that is why I have
written this little sketch of Sylvia Thwing Bancroft in whose memory my father built the dear
little library in Hopedale that the next generation, should it care to read, may know something
of the woman who lived and worked and died universally beloved and admired.
Joseph Bancroft Eben Draper Bancroft
Lilla Bancroft Lura Bancroft
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house on Hopedale Street
Sylvia Thwing Bancroft