James Marsh Burgess and 51 Worcester Street

My maternal grandmother, Constance Flanders Walker, is responsible for my unusual interest in family history.  She got the affliction from her maternal grandfather, James Marsh Burgess (1823-1887), who spent countless hours researching family history and keeping track of his discoveries in volumes of record books.  When I was born, my grandmother insisted that my middle name be Burgess, in memory of her mother and grandfather.

James was born in Boston in 1823, one of eight children of William G. Burgess, a successful Boston merchant and real estate agent, and Deborah White Burgess.  James was named after James Marsh, his aunt's husband and a business associate of his father, William.  James Marsh and his partner, Daniel Hastings, ran a paint and dye business, Hastings & Marsh, in Boston, and they apparently also acted as real estate agents.  

In 1847, James married Jerusha Arey Dyer, the daughter of Micah Dyer and Sally Holbrook Dyer.  Like William Burgess, Micah Dyer was a successful Boston merchant.  He moved up from Wellfleet in the early 1800s and set up an oyster shop on Ann Street.  Later he and a partner went into business as ship chandlers under the name Brown & Dyer.

Some time between 1855 and 1865, James and Jerusha purchased their home at 51 Worcester Street and moved there with their two daughters, Helen (my great-grandmother) and Julia.  Also by 1865, Jerusha's parents, Micah and Sally Dyer, moved to 40 Worcester Street, diagonally across the street.

For most of his career, James was the receiving teller for Bank of North America.  I'm not sure what the modern day equivalent of a receiving teller for a bank would be, if there is one.  Later on, due to health concerns, James cut back on his work obligations and became an insurance agent for Home Life Insurance Company and Franklin Fire Insurance Company.  

Sally Dyer died in 1883 and her funeral was held at 51 Worcester Street.  It appears that Micah Dyer, after losing his wife, moved into the Burgess home with his daughter's family.  He died, probably at 51 Worcester Street, in 1885.  His funeral was also held there.

In May, 1887, the Burgesses moved to one of the largest homes in Brookline, 39 Auburn Street.  My guess is that they made the move after Jerusha inherited her share of her father's fortune.   James's obituary indicates how proud James was of their new home, which he apparently thought was one of the finest homes in the Boston area.  Sadly, James died less than two weeks after the move to Brookline.  Even more sadly, the family fortune was fully dissipated before I came into the world.   No, on second thought, I'm probably better off having had to earn my own living.  Right.  That's it.

Though I lived just around the corner from 51 Worcester Street while I was in law school at Northeastern, I never took the time to stop and look at the house until May of 2018.  By chance, one of the owners caught me outside snapping a photo.  I sent this owner a souvenir of my ancestors' time at 51, one of Helen's dance cards from 1874, with her address printed on it.   I received back a very gracious thank you note and an invitation to visit the house, which I look forward to doing.  Some say that a ghost is present on what was the parlor level of the building.  If ghosts exist, perhaps this is Micah Dyer, my 3rd great-grandfather.  I'll try to be receptive to his communication when I visit.

You can see in the photos below that the Burgesses were not exactly minimalists.  If I had been asked to decorate their home, I would have placed one less chair in the parlor, or perhaps two.


Worcester Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 2018


Worcester Street, Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1880


Helen Burgess (1855-1935) and Jerusha Arey Dyer Burgess (1827-1911) at 51 Worcester St, circa 1880


51 Worcester St, circa 1880


51 Worcester St., Circa 1880


51 Worcester St., circa 1880


51 Worcester St., circa 1880


51 Worcester St., circa 1880


James M. Burgess (1823-1887)


Jerusha Arey Dyer Burgess (1827-1911)


Helen Burgess (1855-1935)


Micah Dyer (1797-1885)


39 Auburn Street, Brookline, circa 1900. Purchased by the Burgesses in 1887. Sold in 1923.