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Sarah Hildreth Butler 1816 ~ 1877


Sarah Hildreth Butler

In many instances the wife of a great man has failed to prove herself worthy even of reflected glory, but the wife of Benjamin Butler was such an active factor in his career, along military as well as civil lines that she well deserves a biography of her own. I give it, however, in the words of her distinguished husband, as I have taken it from the story of his own life: "In the year 1830, I made the acquaintance of Fisher Ames Hildreth, the only son of Dr. Israil Hildreth, of Dracut, a town joining Lowell on the north side of the Merrimac River. That acquaintance ripened into an affectionate friendship which terminated only with his death thirty years later.

Doctor Hildreth had a family of seven children, six being daughters. The son, having invited me to the family gathering of the Thanksgiving feast I there first met Sarah, the second daughter. I was much impressed with her personal endowments, literary attainments and brilliancy of mind. Doctor Hildreth was an exceedingly scholarly and literary man, who was a great admirer of English poets, especially of Byron, Burns and Shakespeare, and had early taught the great poet's plays to his daughter, who in consequence developed a strong desire to go on the stage. Her father approved of this and she appeared with brilliant success at the Tremont Theatre in Boston and the Park Theatre in New York, her talent for the delineation of character being fully acknowledged by all.

When our acquaintance began I had never seen her on the stage, her home life being sufficient to attract me. She declined to leave her profession, however, until I had won my spurs in my own profession. But a most cordial and affectionate intimacy existed between us, and in the spring of 1843, I visited her at Cincinnati, Ohio, where she was a star. There we became engaged and we were married on the sixteenth of May, 1844."

Having thus concisely outlined his wife's girlhood and their courtship, the General proceeds with his tribute to her value as the helpmate of a public man: "My wife, with a devotion quite unparalleled," he says, "gave me her support by accompanying me, at my earnest wish, in every expedition in the War of the Rebellion and made for me a home wherever I was stationed in command. She went with me in the expedition to Ship Island after the attack upon New Orleans, where I was exposed to the greatest peril of my life, and only when my ship was hourly expected to go to pieces and when I appealed to her good sense that our children must not be bereft of both parents did she leave me to seek safety on board a gun boat She suffered great privation and hardships on Ship Island, while we were awaiting the attack of New Orleans.

"In 1864 she went with me to the field and remained with me during most of the campaign of 1864. Thus I had an advantage over most of my brother commanding-generals in the field in having an adviser, faithful, true and cool-headed, conscientious and conservative, whose conclusions could always be trusted. In the more military movements although she took full note she never interfered by suggestion. In other matters all that she agreed to was right. And if there is anything in my administration of affairs that may be questioned it is that in which I followed the bent of my own actions.

"Returning home with me after I had retired to civil and political life, Mrs. Butler remained the same good adviser, educating and guiding her children during their young lives with such skill and success that neither of them ever did an act which caused me serious sorrow or gave me the least anxiety on their behalf. She made my home and family as happy as could be. She took her place in society when in Washington and maintained it with such grace and dignity and loveliness of character that no one ever said an unkind or a disparaging word of her."

Mrs. Benjamin Butler died in Lowell in 1877. Her veracity and strong mental characteristics survived pre-eminently in her grandson, Butler Ames, the son of her eldest daughter, who has for some years represented the district of her birth in the National Congress.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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