COL. JESSE PIERCE
The name Pierce is variously spelled. The first American ancestor of the Stoughton branch was John Pers, a man of good estate in England, and who came from Norwich, County Norfolk, to America, and settled in Watertown, Mass., about 1637, where his son Anthony had previously become a resident. The heraldic description of the coat of arms borne by this family in England is "Three Ravens rising sable. Fesse, hummette. Motto, Dixit et Fecit. Crest, dove, with olive branch in beak."
Anthony (2) was a large landholder in Watertown in 1630, and is the ancestor of nearly all the families bearing the name of Pierce in Watertown, Waltham, Weston, Lincoln, Lexington, and Concord. His estate inventoried over three hundred pounds. Joseph (3) was also a resident of Watertown, where he was admitted a freeman April 18, 1690. He had numerous children, and left an estate inventoried at three hundred and sixteen pounds, ten shillings. John (4) was also a resident of Waltham; his oldest son, John (5), born Sept. 1, 1703, married Rebecca Fenno, daughter of John Fenno, of Stoughton. He was a weaver. He purchased twenty-seven acres of land in Stoughton for seventy-five pounds, whither he removed about 1731. This land is within the present limits of Canton, and it passed to his son Seth, then to his grandson, Jesse, great-grandson, Col. Jesse, great-great-grandsons, Hon. Edward L. and Hon. Henry L. Seth (6) was always a resident of Stoughton; married Angelette Clark. Their second child, Jesse (7), married Catherine Smith, had twelve children, resided on the old homestead in Stoughton, and died March 5, 1832.
Col. Jesse Pierce (8), Jesse (7), Seth (6), John (5), John (4), Joseph (3), Anthony (2), John (1), born Nov. 7,1788; married, Sept. 9,1824, Elizabeth S. Lillie, born July 30, 1786, died Nov. 1, 1871. He died Feb. 3,1856.
Col. Jesse Pierce was born in Stoughton, Nov. 7, 1788. His birthplace was in that part of the town which a few years later was incorporated as Canton, his father's home being then in what is now South Canton. From the age of seven to twenty-one he lived with his maternal uncle, Lemuel Smith, a Revolutionary soldier, upon a farm on the Bay road, in the western part of Stoughton. In youth he showed an earnest purpose to gain knowledge, and having learned all that could be taught him in the public school of his district, he took in 1807, while yet a minor, the charge of a school, and from that year to 1814 served as the teacher of public schools in Stoughton and South Dedham (now Norwood), teaching during the winter and working on his uncle's farm at other seasons. For the purpose of learning better modes of instruction, he attended for a short time Taunton Academy, then under the charge of Simeon Doggett. From 1814 to 1819 he taught public schools in Milton, - one at Brush Hill, and another at Milton Hill.
He was the first to establish a Sunday-school in Dorchester, which he opened in the winter of 1817-18, at Mattapan, in the school-house (where his brother John was then the teacher) situated near the home of Edmund Tileston. The school was intended particularly for the children of persons working in the factory of Smith Boies. One of the pupils was Newell A. Thompson, afterwards prominent in the business and municipal affairs of Boston. Col. Pierce continued his connection with Sunday-schools after his removal to Stoughton, both in that town and at the Methodist Church at North Easton, where he worshiped for many years.
In 1819 he opened a private school at Milton Hill, which he kept for five years. Some who attended it have become well-known citizens, among whom were Robert B. and John M. Forbes and Fletcher Webster. At this period he took an active part in the militia, serving in the Second Regiment, Second Brigade and First Division, and was commissioned as an ensign in 1810, captain and major in 1813, lieutenant-colonel in 1815, and colonel in 1816. This last commission he resigned in 1818. Traditions of his fidelity and success in the instruction and drill of the officers and men under his command are still preserved. Marrying, in 1824, Eliza S., daughter of Capt. John Lillie, who was the aid of Maj.- Gen. Knox in the Revolutionary war, he returned to Stoughton and became the owner of his uncle's farm, on which he had been brought up. He opened at once at his house a private boarding-school for boys, chiefly of Boston families, and receiving also day scholars from the neighborhood. As a teacher he made a lasting impression on his pupils for his earnestness, thoroughness, and fidelity, and particularly his patience in teaching those who had less than the average gift for acquiring knowledge. He had a genuine sympathy with the young, which he kept fresh through life. In 1829 he gave up the occupation of teacher, which he had followed for twenty years, and from that time was occupied with the care of his farm and miscellaneous work, such as conveyancing, the settlement of estates, the administration of town offices, and the education of his two sons, which he personally directed for some years. His advice was often sought in a community where his good sense and practical knowledge were highly valued. He represented his town in the Legislature for six years, viz., 1832-36 and 1840, serving also the last-named year on the State valuation committee. He was a Democratic candidate for Presidential elector in 1840 and for State senator in 1844, and also a Free-Soil candidate for the latter office in 1848. Governor Morton offered him (in 1843) the appointment of sheriff for Norfolk County, which he declined. In the Legislature he engaged in debates upon important questions, and his remarks were in some instances reported at length in the public journals. He spoke in favor of restricting the sale of spirituous liquors, and upon the appointment of representatives, favoring a reduction in the number, and a town rather than a district system. His most elaborate speech was made Feb. 26,. 1840, upon the militia system, which, as then existing, he thought injurious to public morals and of no public advantage. He urged a reduction of the force, a better discipline, and the discontinuance of encampments. He was, as legislator and citizen, a strenuous supporter of the causes of education and temperance.
Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, who was Speaker in 1840, wrote in 1876: "Col. Jesse Pierce, of Stoughton, comes back vividly to my remembrance as one of the five or six hundred over whom I was privileged to preside nearly forty years ago. He was a most intelligent and estimable person, whom I was glad to count among my friends. At the period of 1835-40 he became much interested in the anti-slavery cause. He voted for James G. Birney in 1844, although sustaining at that election the State nominations of the Democratic party, and joined four years later the Free-Soil party, then first organized. He was in sympathy with the anti-slavery secession from the Methodist Church which took place in 1840. He was an active member of that church for many years, joining it while a teacher in Milton, but during the later years of his life he attended the services of an orthodox Congregational Church. He was a devout person, and his reading was largely in religious books, as Clarke's and Scott's Commentaries. He was often sought to perform the services which peculiarly belong to clergymen at funerals and weddings, and in the chambers of the sick. He took a deep interest in the religious instruction of the young, and while a teacher gathered children for this purpose in his school-house on Sunday."
Col. Pierce was a person of average height, five feet and eight or nine inches. He had no self-assertion, but while gentle in manner was firm in purpose, particularly where a question involved any moral element. In conversation, while very genial, he weighed well his words, and was in a marked degree considerate of the feelings and reputations of others. His tenderness to neighbors who were in grief, his kindness to the young, to domestics of his household, and laborers on his farm, and to all less fortunate in life than himself, are still freshly remembered. He was widely known, and bore through life with all who knew him the character of a thoroughly upright and just man.
Removing in 1849 from Stoughton to the Lower Mills Village, or Dorchester (now Boston), he passed the rest of his life among those who had known him in his youth as a teacher, occupying the house which is now the residence of his eldest son. The newspaper of his county noting his death, which took place Feb. 3, 1856, wrote of him, "He was for many years a distinguished teacher, and numbers among his pupils many men who now occupy prominent positions in public life. He was a man of strict integrity, high-minded and honorable, and universally beloved and respected in all the various relations of life." Children, - Hon. Henry Lillie, born Aug. 23, 1825; George S., born June 20, 1827, died Sept. 28, 1827 ; Hon. Edward Lillie, born May 29, 1829, married Elizabeth H. Kingsbury.
1 See Drake's " Memorials of the Mass. Society of the Cincinnati," and "Bradford's New England Biography," for sketches of Capt. Lillie.
2 See Norfolk Democrat, March 28, 1840.
Source: D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men. (Philadelphia, Pa., J. W. Lewis & Co., 1884), pgs. 408-410.
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