“May slumber sweet thy bed attend.”

Linda Hixon
Issue Date: 
March, 2019
Article Body: 

Like any good mother, Sylvia Bancroft told her children stories about her life. Raising her family in the Hopedale Community, and it’s easy to imagine her children bundled on a chilly winter evening mesmerized by stories of their mother’s youth in Uxbridge. Living in the tiny, newly-founded town, Sylvia was busy with her house, her garden, and her good works. But the job she would have taken the most pleasure in would have been the job of raising her children.
The youngest of Benjamin and Anna Mowry Thwing’s 13 children and described as “the pet of the household,” Sylvia told her children stories of her childhood. The tales included how she met her husband, Joseph Bancroft, as a young girl – a story filled with romance since most of her children were girls.
Lilla Bancroft wrote about both her parents. The book on her father is filled with his business accomplishments. But the book on her mother is filled with a daughter’s awe. “We were impressed with the love and devotion that always surrounded her,” Lilla wrote, telling the reader her favorite story of how her parents met. Sylvia, a “blue-eyed, red cheeked” girl of only seven was struggling to drive the family cow through a gate and up the lane. Young Joseph Bancroft of Mendon happened by and helped the child, telling her, “When I get to be a man I’ll come back to Uxbridge and marry you.” True to his word, Joseph married Sylvia in 1844.
All of the couple’s ten children were born in Hopedale, but only five survived to adulthood: Eben, Anna, Mary, Lilla, and Lura. Losing two sons, Charles Eugene at seven days old, and Charles Frederic at seven years, was hard enough, but Sylvia withstood a greater loss in 1851. Three babies appear In Adin Ballou’s funeral record – triplets born to Sylvia and Joseph. The only girl of the three, Minerva Louisa, died on the day of her birth, March 12. Her two brothers, William and Walter, clung to life, engulfing the entire village in their parents’ anguish.
During an eleven-day period, Sylvia and Joseph lost the two remaining triplets. William died on March 18; Walter eleven days after his birth on March 23. The passing of these two boys had been anticipated – according to Ballou’s record, the funeral of all the babies waited until the final child died. Even Ballou, a meticulous record-keeper, seems to have been thrown by this event. The book lists the babies’ names, with skewed additional details of the deaths. “Triplets Sylvia W.T. & Joseph B. Bancroft,” the tilted words next to the three names read, with notations that show further confusion. “Funeral Service of all three March 24 or 5th” is written in the side margin. Adin Ballou, who by this time had buried nearly 600 people, was not even sure when the funeral was held.
On March 27, the women’s sewing circle became the place to mourn. “There were about a dozen members present, and a number who were not members,” is written in the record. Sylvia Bancroft had been part of the circle since 1849, and would continue to be a member into the 1880s. After Sylvia died in 1898, her daughter Anna would be instrumental in convincing the sewing circle to become part of the Unitarian Women’s Alliance.
Joseph Bancroft funded Bancroft Memorial Library in honor his wife, an avid reader. Lilla Bancroft was not a fan of the portrait of her mother that hung in the building. “No portrait of Mother gives any idea of the charm of her expression – a sweet gaiety and a look of great peace,” she wrote.  “The one hanging on the walls of the Library is not good, but the one of Father seems to me almost perfect.”