[p. 100] The following account of the Hutchinson vocalists, is condensed from a book published by them called the "Book of Words of the Hutchinson Family;" and as their history is inseparable, and of common interest, it was thought best to include a biographical sketch of each, viz:--Judson, John, Joshua and Asa, under one head.
At an early age they evinced a passionate fondness for music; self tutored, and graduated from beneath the paternal roof, a company of singing brothers, such as the world has seldom had the good fortune to patronize and enjoy. Their career has been fertile with incident, both humorous and productive of much good. Temperance and Freedom were the themes on which they paved their way to notoriety and ultimate success. They were bold, outspoken, and fearless of results; even in that portion of our country once infested with the scourge of Slavery, they were tolerated even more than any one else would have hoped for.
As they progressed in their home instruction some of their number ventured to foreshadow thoughts of future fame and distinction, to illuminate their pathway through life. Their progress was marked first, by Judson's procuring at the age of fifteen [Abt. 1832], a violin, which he obtained on credit, for the paltry sum of four dollars, the result of some extra labor done upon the farm. Next, Asa [Abt. ten years old] equaly ambitious and persevering, procured of his brother Andrew, then a merchant in Boston, a bass-viol, which had been played on for over thirty years in the Old South Church, in Boston. It was the first Yankee bass-viol ever constructed, and was made with a simple jack-knife, by an ingenious American. Contemporary with this even occurred the production of another violin, which John [Abt. twelve years old] procured by raising vegetables.
Armed and equipped, the lads prepared themselves for a long and thorough course in self tuition; but owing to their father's conscientious scruples concerning the profanity of such exercises, they were obliged to resort to some portion of a retired and [p. 101] unfrequented field, where their drill was conducted for at least twelve months in primitive style. So persevering were they in their secret practice that at the end of two years [Abt. 1835] they astonished their friends and neighbors generally, and their father especially, in the sudden production of a programme consisting of a few select pieces, such as "Washington's March," "Hail Columbia," "Yankee Doodle," "Wrecker's Daughter," and others of like merit, which so completely allayed the former prejudices of the Senior Hutchinson, that he after this allowed them the free use of the mansion in which to complete their musical education.
During this period their vocal powers were not by any means neglected, and often the combined effect of their voices with the instruments sent a thrill of perfect delight throughout the household. As time sped on attempts were made at concertizing beneath the paternal roof on Thanksgiving and Fast days; and even the old minister of the village church became so elated as to invite them to give their first Public Concert in the Baptist meeting house, which offer they at once accepted. On the appointed evening Squire Livermore addressed the people on music, after which "Old Hundred" was sang by all present, followed by various other pieces, aided by their two sisters Abby and Rhoda.
When Asa and John had arrived at their majority their father intimated to them the propriety of self-maintenance; and taking the hint, they proceeded at once with horse and sleigh to Boston, where they met their brother Andrew, and were soon joined by Judson and Joshua with whom they consulted as to the practicability of entering life as public singers. The plan was acceded to by all but Joshua, who pleaded more pressing duties at home, he then being engaged as teacher of a singing school. Although the plan was not entirely dropped they did not enter at once upon their project, and being in want of necessary means to advance their first stage of action, they went to work with their hands in Lynn.
While in Boston, in 1840, they attended a temperance lecture delivered by Mr. John Hawkins, at the Marlboro chapel, at the conclusion of which they signed the pledge, and have ever since publicly advocated that cause through the medium of their songs.
Labor by day and rehearsals by night, after a number of months, eventually put them in a proper condition to realize the beginning of their aspirations, by their first professional appearance in the name and style of "AEolian Vocalists," which was heralded through printed posters, 3x2 1/2 inches in size. This concert was attended by upwards of fifty persons, at twelve and a half cents each, which deducting expenses, left them a clear profit of exactly six and a quarter cents. Not at all disparaged at such a meagre beginning as this, they took a tour for a week through several other small towns, and so persevering were their efforts, that in the end they declared a dividend of thirty-seven and a half cents each, which so discouraged their brother Judson, "that if they did not meet with better success next week he would quit."
On the following week another trial was made, travelling through the northern part of the county, which resulted in a much larger profit of four dollars each, and better hopes of the future. They visited Nashua, where they gave three concerts, and afterwards went to Lynn, where they were still more successful in their financial affairs. At these Lynn concerts they were joined by their sister Abby, then in her twelfth year [Abt. 1841], where she became a great favorite. From Lynn their next move was a journey "down East," [p. 102] visiting Salem, Newburyport, Portsmouth, and Kennebunk. Jesse for the first time accompanied them. Arriving in Kennebunk they discovered that through some mismanagement not a bill had been posted. It was five o'clock and something must soon be done, when suddenly a happy thought striking the mind of Jesse he seized the huge dinner bell, rushed into the street, and cried the programme for the evening. Taking all things into consideration this journey proved rather unprofitable, and with a spirit of despondency they returned to Lynn, where they gave a few concerts without very great pecuniary results. While here they received a letter from their father entreating them to return home and settle down to farm work. Jesse resumed his labors in Lynn, while the rest heeded the invitation of their father, and Abby went to school.
But this state of things could not last forever; they were in a continual state of unrest, which lasted for a number of months, when happily the spell was broken by the appearance of a gentleman in their midst, who, having heard their performances, infused new zeal into their hearts by his approbation and recommendations to farther public trial of their musical skill.
A span of horses was procured, and they drove to Nashua, where they gave a 4th of July concert with good success, in connection with Mr. Lyman Heath. At Concord they gave a series of concerts and were handsomely received. Hanover was next visited, where they received a liberal share of patronage from the faculty and students of Dartmouth College. Their attention was then turned to the Green Mountain State, heralding their way as they entered each town, by some heart stirring air from the vehicle. Crossing Vt., they entered Whitehall, and thence to Saratoga Springs, where they were well received, but left the place with more commendations of praise then pennies. Schenectady was next visited with like success, having given a free concert in consequence of the presence of the Rainer Family, and taking up a contribution to defray expenses.
When they came to Albany they assumed the name of the "AEolian Vocalists, or the Hutchinson Family." Here they gave a series of concerts, and when the bills were settled they found to their dismay that they had but a sixpence left. Horror stricken at such dire results they naturally bethought themselves of the old homestead, and like prodigals in a far off land, were nearly on the point of returning again to their home, when their thoughts were directed into another channel by the interference of a Scotch gentlemen, Mr. Luke F. Newland, who, becoming acquainted with their ill success and penurious condition proposed to give them a benefit, requesting them to wait a week. During this interim they repaired to a Dutch settlement, where lived a known friend and became his guests. In that place a concert was given, realizing a clear profit of $15, with which they returned to Albany, and found that Mr. Newland had nearly completed the arrangements for the benefit. The who preparation was gratuitous, and when the night of the concert arrived, that hall was filled, and success was stamped on every feature of the enterprize, besides realizing the comparatively mammoth sum of $110.
Inspired by this sudden turn of affairs, they boldly set off for Boston, where they announced a concert at the Melodeon, at fifty cents per ticket, with tolerable results, and securing many valuable musical friends. Leaving Boston they visited several of the eastern towns, after which they returned home for a short visit, preparatory to a southern tour. But in this they were doomed to disappointment, for [p. 103] at Nashua, where they gave their first concert on this new route, they were surprised on the following morning at the sudden appearance of their father on horseback, who had come to take Abby back to her home. As Abby was a great help to them, a consultation ensued, which ended in a longer lease of their services, and assigning a written obligation to return her at the end of three weeks time. They next visited Boston and Lowell, after which they concluded as their project had proved a failure, to return home once more.
During this interval their sympathies were fully enlisted into the Anti-Slavery cause by means of a convention held in Milford, conducted by Wm. Lloyd Garrison, N. P. Rogers and others, which called forth the production of new songs, and were afterwards sung with a varied degree of success in different sections of the country. These songs, in connection with their temperance melodies, brought them into great repute, and during a subsequent visit to N. Y., they complied with an invitation to be present at the Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and afterwards at the Anniversary of the American Temperance Union, where they were greeted with the utmost enthusiasm. At N. Y., Gen. Geo. P. Morris presented them four of his best songs, "My Mother's Bible," "The origin of Yankee Doodle," "We're with yoa once again," "Westward Ho!" which were, within a space of ten days set to their own music.
After a considerable stay they went to Philadelphia, where they sang in the Philharmonic Society and the Musical Fund Hall, and they encored in all their pieces, afterwards receiving the congratulations of the city. Washington was also visited with like cheering results, receiving the particular favor of the President, and other prominent officials.
An amusing scene, not included in the programme, took place one evening during their stay. Judson was to sing the song of "The Humbugged Husband," which commences thus:--
"She's not what fancy painted her; I'm sadly taken in," &c.
Now it so happened that the temporary platform upon which he stood was so peculiarly arranged that he had no sooner declared himself to be "Sadly taken in" metaphorically, than he was "taken in" in the most matter-of-fact manner possible, the boards giving way, precipitating the rather humbugged vocalist in a most summary way, to the depths below. Notwithstanding this temporary disarrangement of affairs on his part he soon recovered his equanimity and good standing, the audience apparently applauding the affair as a bona-fide transaction.
After this they visited Mt. Vernon, and returned home, where, after a short vacation they ventured once more for the northern part of N. H., making another eastern tour, and subsequently while at Lynn, they imbibed the idea of making a trip to England, which became the great act of their lives. Within a fortnight they were landed in Liverpool, where they made their first debut in three successful concerts.
Their visits to London, Manchester, Dublin, and other places was a complete ovation--making the acquaintance of many notable gentleman, among whom were Dickens, Macready and the Howitts. Their European tour ended where it began, at Liverpool, where they gave their farewell concert, and took their departure for America, leaving behind many pleasant reminiscences and a host of friends.
The basis of their fortune was now firmly constructed; and their subsequent success in America is well known to all admirers of good music. But the time at last came when an unavoidable change took place in the [p. 104] family circle by the marriage of Abby, [28 Feb 1849] which for a season proved an obstacle to any farther effort in that direction. But John determined to persevere, and selling his farm, ventured into the world alone, leaving Asa and Judson upon the farm, where they remained for about a year when they clubbed together with John, and travelled harmoniously together till 1855, when they, in company with nine others, removed to Wisconsin, and settled a new township on Hassau river, which they afterwards named Hutchinson, in honor of themselves. In 1862, the town was attacked by a band of three hundred Sioux Indians, who burned their sawmill, the Academy, and most of the dwelling houses, scattering the inhabitants and leaving sad havoc in their train.
The first tree cut in these regions, was cut by the hands of John, and was used in the construction of their log cabin. From this time onward their time has been divided in cultivating their extensive farm, and giving occasional concerts.
In the beginning of the war, John, with his family, Henry and Viola, made their appearance on the Potomac, and sung their songs to the soldiers in camp. They had formed themselves into a distinct organization and made it their peculiar vocation in singing, during the wary, for the Soldier's Aid Societies, and other institutions of the character.
The Hutchinsons have sung for the cause of "Emancipation, the Union, Temperance, for the advancement of Humanity and Freedom everywhere," and on many occasions have lent their aid gratuitously, being warmly welcomed and enthusiastically received wherever they made their appearance. They are noted for their untiring zeal and industry in the promulgation of radical reforms, once of which the overthrow of slavery, some of them have lived to see accomplished, and are happy in the idea that their labor has not been in vain.
This page last updated: 21 April 2011