Thursday, September 24, 2015

Romanus Emerson's 1852 Last Will and Testament Massachusetts, Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.  page 257, case  #38100

“Boston, February 14, 1852, I Romanus Emerson of Boston, in the County of Suffolk, and State of Massachusetts, housewright, do hereby give, will and devise, to Jemima Emerson, the wife of my youth, and my old age, all the property I may be possessed of both Real and Personal, at the time of my decease, to be at her disposal, precisely the same, as if I should outlive her the said Jemima Emerson, it would be at my disposal.

                Furthermore, I appoint the said Jemima Emerson my wife, the executrix of all my Real and personal Estate, which I may be possess of at the time of my decease.    Romanus Emerson
Signed in presence of us, John G. Lawton, Davies Dodge, James Dunlap S. S. At a Probate Court holden at Boston, within and for the County of Suffolk, on the Thirteenth day of December, in the year 1852, By the Honorable Edward G. Loring, Esquire, Judge of the Probate of Wills do. 

The answered will being presented Jemima Emerson, widow, the Executrix therein named for Probate, and the said Jemima, having given public notice pursuant to my order, which is on file in Said Court, to all persons interested therein to appear here this day and show cause if any they have either for or against the probate thereof, and no person appearing to object thereto John J. Lawton and Davis Dodge appear and make Oath, that they saw the said Romanus sign and heard him publish the same Instrument as his last Will and Testament, and that he was then to the best of their discernment, of a sound disposing mind and memory and that they, James Dunlop, who is absent from the Commonwealth, subscribed their names thereto as witnessed, in the presence of said Testator, and of each other and I do proved, approve and allow the same, and order it to Recorded.--

Given under my hand, and Seal of Office, the day and year above written
Edw. G. Loring Judge of Probate"


I've written about Romanus Emerson, my 4th great grandfather, many times on this blog.  He was the son of John Emerson and Katherine Eaton, born 1 September 1782 in Townsend, Massachusetts, and he died 10 October 1852.  This will was dated eight months before his death, so perhaps he was approaching his final illness? His wife was Jemima Burnham, who outlived him by another fifteen years. 

Romanus was a controversial figure in Boston.  He was the brother of several famous ministers, and from a family of very famous Puritan and Congregational ministers, including even his cousin Ralph Waldo Emerson who also started out life as a minister but later became a philosopher and writer.  According to two different family compiled genealogy books, Romanus wanted to be a minister, too, but had a speech impediment which prevented him from preaching. [The Bulkely Genealogy, by Donald Lines Jacobus, page 385 and also in The Ipswich Emersons, by Benjamin Kendall Emerson, 1900, pages 211 - 212]

The Ipswich Emersons also states "He possessed strong reasoning powers and was an original and independent thinker, was very tenacious of conclusions; for pride in his opinions did not permit him to yield easily.  Till late in life he adhered rigidly to opinions usually held orthodox in religious matters.  Ultimately, he renounced all previous religious opinions and died in speculative unbelief.  Such speculations, however, did not affect his general character.  His power of virtuous habit was too strong and abiding."  

In other words, Romanus was an atheist, but he called himself an "infidel".  This must have been very shocking in early 1800s Boston.  He founded a newspaper for infidels and wrote essays about atheism, and attended meetings of the "Infidel Society".  He shocked his family, and the whole city of Boston, by requesting his own self written eulogy be read at his funeral, and that he NOT be buried in a Christian cemetery.  His wife, Jemima, disobeyed his requests and gave him a traditional funeral and burial. You can read about his controversial funeral HERE and his equally controversial burial at this link HERE. 

Because of these controversies, I'm curious about this illegible little line added to the probate record.  I can't read it.  Can you?  Does it mention his strange last wishes about his burial and funeral? 


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Romanus Emerson's 1852 Last Will and Testament", Nutfield Genealogy,  posted September 24, 2015 ( : accessed [access date]).


  1. Hello! I was very interested to read this. Thank you for sharing. I looked at the will on Ancestry, and it wasn't much better there. But, after the L.S. (which is Latin for "Locus Sigilli" or "place of the seal"), I believe the note inserted above reads as "Suffolk SS, Commonwealth of Massachusetts". I think S.S. stands for "Sworn Statement". You can get a hint of that from the previous will mention on the page before, which was likely penned by the same person. I'm sorry this doesn't help you with the burial or funeral issues.