The Girls on the Porch

In the collections of the Cape Ann Museum, there is a photograph of the building at 2 Middle Street, taken by Corliss & Ryan as they photographed homes of Gloucester businessmen.  On the porch stand two girls, one white and one black, who look to be three or four years old. 

In 1882, the year that the picture was taken, Frank R. Proctor, with his wife Carrie (Rust) and two daughters three-year-old Ethel and infant Edna, lived at that address along with a boarder, Edward K. Burnham, a fisherman. Procter was a clerk at Procter Bros., stationers, purveyors of stereoscopic views, and owners of the Old Corner Book Store, at 108 Main Street.

It is likely that the white child on the porch is in fact Ethel.  Sadly, Ethel died of tuberculosis in 1903, at age twenty-four.

In Gloucester, there were seventeen black residents, according to the 1880 Census.  Only two were young enough children, both members of the Joseph Green household.  Joseph Green and his wife Lizzie (Bradley) lived at 58 Perkins Street with their two daughters: Loretta and Edith, aged six and three respectively in 1882. The girl in the photograph seems younger than a child approaching seven years old; likely it is Edith.  

The story of the Green family is a tragic one.  Joseph Green was born in about 1843 in St. Thomas in the West Indies.  He was enslaved for a portion of his life (evidenced by the fact that one of Edith’s most prized possessions was Joseph’s manumission papers, signed by many Gloucester residents), but was free by 1864, when he joined the Navy in the last years of the Civil War.  He served as a landsman with the USS Jamestown until his discharge in 1865.  In Gloucester, he worked in the textile trade.  Joseph was in Gloucester before 1871, the year he was wed to Lizzie Bradley in a ceremony officiated by Austin Herrick, a Methodist Episcopal clergyman. 

The Greens’ efforts to start a family met with repeated misfortune.  Lizzie’s first pregnancy ended in the stillbirth of a female child on October 11, 1872. Their first son Waldimer was born on March 1, 1874, but he died from hydrocephalus in September 1875. (Lizzie May have conceived immediately following Waldimer’s birth, though the record is unclear; this pregnancy also ended in the still birth of a female child in October 1874.) Loretta was the next child born, in 1876.  She survived until the summer of 1883, when she died of diphtheria. Lizzie again lost a child through still birth, this time a son, on November 1, 1877.  Edith was born on May 31, 1879.  She would be the Greens’ only child to survive into adulthood. On September 5, 1881, Lizzie’s final known pregnancy ended in the still birth of a male child. Lizzie herself died of heart disease on May 15, 1889, and was buried along with her children in the Clark Yard.  

Joseph remarried some years later, to Rhoda Cox, a member of the extended Freeman family of West Gloucester, whose parents were born in Kingston, Jamaica. She was twelve years his junior.  Rhoda died at the Short Street Hospital in 1909 during surgery to remove uterine fibroids.  She was buried in Beechbrook Cemetery.  Joseph Green outlived all of the members of his family except Edith; he died of prostate and bladder cancer at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea in 1916 and was buried in the Clark Yard.

Edith Green, Joseph’s and Lizzie’s only child to survive into adulthood, left Gloucester in 1895, when she was sixteen years old, to join the Shaker community at Canterbury, New Hampshire. Edith was the only black member of the community. She worked at making the renowned and sought-after “Shaker knit,” had charge of the creamery, and participated in the other cottage industries characteristic of the Shaker lifestyle. Edith Green left no children, as the Shakers are celibate. Not only was she the last of the Green family, upon her death on March 4, 1951, she was the last African-American member of the Shaker community. 

2-4 Middle St. home of Edward K. Burnham, fish dealer on Benjamin Low’s Wharf. 1882. photo: Corliss & Ryan

Close up of the girls on the porch

Edith Green, circa 1915 (

Edith Green, undated,

Ethel Proctor’s death certificate

Joseph Green’s death certificate 

Massachusetts Vital Records
Gloucester City Directory
United States Census
Paterwic, Stephen. Historical Dictionary of the Shakers
Sprigg, June. Simple Gifts: Lessons in Living from a Shaker Village


  1. Very interesting. I grew up in that neighborhood and would love to hear more about the people and history of Gloucester. Thank you!


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