States and Counties to research:
William Cutter Gowen and Sister Succeed on Cuban Plantation
William Cutter Gowen, son of William Gowen and Eleanor Cutter Gowen, was born September 21, 1783 in Medford. As a young man, he went to sea, making voyages down the east coast to Cuba. Upon the death of his father in 1808, he gave his power of attorney to John Brooks, his brother-in-law. In 1810 he purchased a home on Spring Street in Medford from William Hawes.
About 1811, he removed to Cuba and established residence in Havana, then the third largest city in the western hemisphere.
William Cutter Gowen saw the business opportunities in Cuba, but realized that the Spanish franchise system stifled free enterprise there and returned to Boston. On October 10, 1815, William Cutter Gowen, “former resident of Cuba, but now of Boston, merchant,” bought a new brick building on Fort Hill from his brother-in-law, John Brooks and his second wife, Abigail “Maria” Gowen Brooks who signed a release of her dower. In that year, he also bought “property in Hamilton” from James Hooper.
In 1817, the Cuban government suppressed the tobacco monopoly, and William Cutter Gowen immediately returned to Havana. In that year he, “former resident of Boston, now of Havana, Cuba in consideration of $1 paid by his mother, Eleanor Gowen of Boston and further consideration of love and affection; leases to her for and during her natural life the house and land on Fort Hill, Boston, being the whole of the estate conveyed to him by John Brooks, said premises late in occupation by said Brooks.”
John Brooks experienced severe financial reverses shortly afterward and died in 1823, leaving his widow, Abigail “Maria” Gowen Brooks and their children almost penniless. She immediately sailed to Cuba to join her brother, William Cutter Gowen who had established a large tobacco plantation at Matanzas, Cuba.
As the health of his mother began to fail, the Fort Hill property was returned to him. William Cutter Gowen, “of Matanzas, Cuba” in 1825 sold the property to Ann Hale and took her mortgage in the transaction.
William Cutter Gowen died the following year, and Abigail “Maria” Gowen Brooks inherited his large, successful tobacco plantation and sudden riches. With this wealth, she was able to enjoy travel and the pursuit of culture. She left the Cuban enterprise in the hands of elder son, Edgar Brooks and in 1829 was living in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Hammond Gowen, son of William Gowen and Eleanor Cutter Gowen, was born July 6, 1786. In 1831, he was a merchant living in Quebec City, Quebec.
Mary Abigail “Maria” Gowen, daughter of William Gowen and Eleanor Cutter Gowen, was born in 1794 in Medford. Her father died when she was 14, and her sister, Lucretia Gowen Brooks and her husband, John Brooks, a merchant tailor took her in and provided her education. Lucretia died in 1907, and John Brooks was remarried to the 16-year-old Mary Abigail “Maria” Gowen.
Her baptismal name was simply Abigail Gowen. In 1819, the General Court of Massachusetts permitted her to take the name Mary Abigail Brooks and she was rechristened by that name at King’s Chapel in Boston July 31, 1819.
In 1823, John Brooks died in poverty and left his widow and their sons penniless. Her brother, William Cutter Gowen, immediately invited her and her sons to come and live on his tobacco plantation in Cuba. Three years later, William Cutter Gowen, died and left his immensely successful tobacco plantation to Abigail “Maria” Gowen Brooks.
It was there that she began to express her talent for poetry. Under the penname of “Maria del Occidente” she wrote the first canto of “Zophiel” which was soon published.
In 1829, she was living in Hanover, New Hampshire where she was actively seeking an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy for her youngest son, Horace Brooks. He wrote:
“My mother’s special characteristic was her individuality. She generally succeeded in her endeavors. For instance, she applied to have me sent to West Point, so sent me to Washington in 1829 with letters, etc. The appointment was promised, but by some influence was over-ruled. She then took me to Hanover, New Hampshire with a view to my entering Dartmouth College. In the meantime, she went with her brother Hammond Gowen of Quebec to Europe in 1830 where she visited Southey [Robert Southey, famous English poet of Bristol, Gloucestershire]. With Southey’s advice, she got out a London edition of “Zophiel.” She was introduced to the Marquis de Lafayette who was so pleased with her that he asked if he could be of any service to her. ‘Yes,’ said she, ‘you may get my son into West Point.’ Upon this, Lafayette wrote to Chief Engineer Bernard, and the appointment of a cadet came to me.”
Horace Brooks entered the Academy in 1831 and was graduated as a second lieutenant in 1835. Lt. Brooks was stationed at the Academy from 1836 to 1839, and Mary Abigail “Maria” Gowen Brooks lived with him. When he was transferred to Ft. Hamilton, New York in 1840, she accompanied him. During this period, she continued to write poetry and published “Idomen” in 1843.
Mary Abigail “Maria” Gowen Brooks sailed for Cuba for the last time in December 1843 and died at Matanzas November 11, 1845 at the age of 51. Horace Brooks wrote, “She was buried at Limonal by the side of my two brothers.” One of the brothers is suggested as a half brother, the son of Lucretia Gowen Brooks.
Of his mother Horace Brooks stated:
“My mother was quite a linguist. She read and wrote fluently in French, Spanish and Italian; she also sang many songs in these tongues. She was a hard student and a woman of much research, and very particular to obtain her authority from the original; and often attempted, with the assistnce of some friend, the translation of obscure languages. I remember how she kept by her a Persian grammar and often referred to it. She was also quite an artist, and several pieces painted by her in water-colours were hanging up about her rooms. She was a constant attendant at church and always carried with her an English edition of the services of the church. She was very particular about her own language, disliked all interpolations, and always referred to ‘Johnson and Walker.’ It was delightful to hear her converse. Her knowledge of present and past events and of the prominent characters of history was astonishing. She would tell anecdotes of persons so varied and interesting that her quiet and unassuming conversation was sought and listened to by many distinguished persons.”
Rufus Wilmot Griswold, critic, anthologist and editor of “Graham’s Magazine,” wrote of her work in “Encyclopedia of American Literature.” He described her as a “student of wide and accurate information, capable of thought and research quite unusual for a woman of her time.”
An account of the life and works of Mary Abigail “Maria” Gowen Brooks written by Zadel Barnes Gustafson was published in “Harper’s Monthly” in January 1879.