Friday, January 8, 2010

The Hutchinson Family Singers of Milford, New Hampshire

My 5x great grandfather, Colonel Joshua Burnham, built a fine home in Milford, New Hampshire in 1824. He sold the home to fund his retirement, and it was purchased by Jesse Hutchinson to house his large family. The children and grandchildren used it as a summer home until the mid 1900’s. It still stands in Milford, and is down the street from a small cemetery where Colonel Burnham, and many members of the Hutchinson family, is buried.

It turns out that the Hutchinson family was quite famous. The first famous protest singers began their career in the mid 1800’s in the small town of Milford, New Hampshire. They sang about social issues such as abolition, temperance, woman’s suffrage and the civil war. There were thirteen Hutchinson siblings, and at one time or another all of them were part of the singing group. The biggest New Hampshire musical group that you’ve never heard of!

Originally known as the “Tribe of Jesse” when they first performed locally, they became known as the Hutchinson Family Singers. By 1841, the brother Jesse (1813-1853) became the manager of a quartet of four siblings, Judson (1817-1859), John (1821-1908), Asa (1823-1884) and Abby (1829-1892). They traveled throughout New England, and after performing in New York City in 1842 they made a tour of Great Britain in 1845/6. After the death of Judson, they split into the “Tribe of Jesse” and the “Tribe of John”, both under the name of the Hutchinson Family Singers. The two Hutchinson groups, including children and even grandchildren, performed until almost 1890. Later, the Hutchinson Family removed to Lynn, Massachusetts, where they lived near Frederick Douglass’s home. They traveled with him on his lecture tours.

Some of their songs have lasted until today such as “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight”, followed by the New Hampshire favorite, “The Old Granite State.“ The "Old Granite State" gives a name list of the singing siblings. During their lifetimes, their most famous song was “Get off the Track” sung to the tune of “Old Dan Tucker.” They also popularized the spiritual “Let My People Go” which they learned from Harriet Tubman.

I have often wondered about the relationship between the Burnham family and the Hutchinsons. Both families were not native to Milford, New Hampshire, but they were from Essex County, Massachusetts. My Burnhams lived in the town of Essex, and there are still Burnhams living there. My uncle married a Hutchinson descendant. There are lots of possibilities to investigate here....

click here for a previous blog about Colonel Burnham's home in Milford

For more information:

“Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth Century Culture of Reform” by Scott Gac, by Yale University Press, 2007 “The Hutchinson Family Singers” on NPR, June 6, 2007 (commentary by Scott Gac, and also a link to hear the broadcast)

“Harps in the Wind: The Story of the Singing Hutchinsons” by Carol Brink, New York, 1947

“The Hutchinson Family: or the Descendants of Barnard Hutchinson of Cowlan, England” by Perley Derby, Essex Institute Press, Salem, Massachusetts, 1870

The Old Granite State
by Jesse Hutchinson, Jr.

We have come from the mountains, we have come from the mountains
We have come from the mountains of the Old Granite State.
We're a band of brothers, we're a band of brothers
We're a band of brothers and we live among the hills
With a band of music, with a band of music
With a band of music we are passing 'round the world.

We have left our aged parents, we have left our aged parents
We have left our aged parents in the Old Granite State.
We obtained their blessing, we obtained their blessing
We obtained their blessing and we bless them in return.
Good old fashioned singers, good old fashioned singers
Good old fashioned singers they can make the air resound.

Yes while the air is ringing with their wild mountain singing
We the news to you are bringing from the Old Granite State.
'Tis the Tribe of Jesse, 'Tis the Tribe of Jesse
'Tis the Tribe of Jesse and their several names we sing.

David, Noah, Andrew, Zephy, Caleb, Joshua, Jess, and Benjy,
Judson, Rhoda, John and Asa, and Abby are our names.
We're the Sons of Mary of the Tribe of Jesse
And we now address ye with our native mountain song.

Liberty is our motto, liberty is our motto
Equal liberty is our motto in the Old Granite State.
We despise oppression, we despise oppression
We despise oppression and we cannot be enslaved.

Yes we're friends of emancipation and we'll sing the proclamation
'Til it echoes through our nation from the Old Granite State
That the Tribe of Jesse, that the Tribe of Jesse
That the Tribe of Jesse are the friends of equal rights.

Like our sires before us, we will swell the chorus
Till the heavens aura shall resound the loud huzzah
Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!

Like our sires before us, we will swell the chorus
Till the heavens aura shall resound the loud huzzah!


More blog posts about the Hutchinson Family Singers

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Was Jesse really only 10 when he became manager of the group?!!

  2. Good catch, Marian! He was born in 1813 (I had the numbers switched). I need an editor!

  3. this house at 267 n river rd milford nh will be put up for sale in june of 2014. I can be reached at if anyone has any questions. thank you. bob Gorman.

    1. Dear Bob,
      Thanks so much for the information about the sale of the Colonel Burnham house. I hope that maybe I can get a peek inside from the real estate agent. What a lovely home it is!
      Heather Rojo

    2. hey bob im interested in your property - please email me at if its still for sale!!

  4. Does anyone know the house number on N River Rd that the Hutchinson family would have been?