Lydia Loring and the Loring Family of Massachusetts

In 1824, Lydia Loring inherited the Paul Revere House from her father, John Loring, who had purchased it in 1803. Who was Lydia Loring, and how much do we know about her extended family? The following article provides some answers.

A Brief History of the Loring Family

Loring Tree.jpg

The Loring Family in America possesses a moderately prominent lineage of attorneys, society men and women, military men, and entrepreneurs. While the family had been in noble existence for centuries in Europe – one or two family members were granted knighthoods and coats-of-arms in Medieval England, another member migrated to Spain and established an aristocratic house, while other members took religious vows and become powerful clergymen of the Middle Ages – the Loring emigration to the New World proved to be the start of a far-reaching dynasty that had a deep impact on many aspects of Massachusetts’ state, as well as national, history.

The Loring pioneer in America was Deacon Thomas Loring, of Axminster, Devonshire, England. While his connection to the knights and the more noble members of the English Lorings remains unclear in family genealogies, Deacon Thomas and his wife, Jane Newton, established themselves as the founders of a long lineage of both American patriots and decidedly British citizens. The first mention of Deacon Thomas Loring in Massachusetts occurred in 1634, which suggests he likely resided in the colony for up to a year before claiming citizenship on March 3, 1635, while living in Hingham. Deacon Thomas went on to become a farmer and later an innkeeper. Expanding his early entrepreneurial enterprises further, in 1637 he became a fisherman; having petitioned the town to build a weir, he subsequently amassed a significant fortune. It was in Hingham that Thomas Loring was first made a deacon, and with a new title and a new fortune, it seemed the New World was Loring’s for the taking. However, in 1645, a personal disaster devastated the family in Hingham – a fire burned the Loring family home to the ground and ruined much of his property. Shortly thereafter, he decided to move his family to the nearby town of Hull. It was in Hull that the Deacon rebuilt his fortune and was awarded another title of importance, that of Town Constable. The Deacon, now Constable Loring, served as a tax collector and an officer of the local courts of Hull.

The first American Loring died on April 4, 1661, leaving no will. On 27 June of the same year, an itemized inventory of Deacon Thomas’s property indicated just how much wealth he had accumulated in the twenty-seven years since emigrating. With over seventeen “lottes” of land, fifty “pieces” of livestock, and a large and diversified inventory of home wares, Deacon Thomas’s sons – Thomas, John, Josiah, and Benjamin – had a considerable estate to divide among themselves and their mother, Jane, leaving the widow a remarkably moderate allowance to live on. Upon Jane’s death on August 25, 1672, the Loring clan further inherited items befit of a female testator, namely books of religion, clothing sewn by Jane, and furniture she retained after her husband’s death.

Descendants.  While much of this article will focus on branches of the Loring Family active during the Revolutionary War and later connections with the Paul Revere House, it would be remiss not to mention other prominent members of the Loring family who achieved both fame and notoriety. One such descendant of Deacon Thomas and Jane was the, perhaps notorious, Katharine Peabody Loring, an eighth-generation descendant. Ms. Loring was a respected member of Boston Society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, save for an enigmatic yet well publicized relationship with Alice James, a writer and sister to novelist, Henry James. The term “Boston Marriage,” coined by the male James sibling in his novel The Bostonians, was frequently used at the time to help describe and reconcile the idea of single women choosing to reject heteronormative marriage, and instead, choosing to reside with one another. In fact, Henry James may have based the two female characters engaged in such a Boston Marriage in his novel, at least in part, on his sister and Katharine Loring. Alice and Katharine were “devoted” to one another, and though it remains unknown whether these two, and the other women who chose to lead life in this manner, were sexually intimate with one another, there is no question that Katherine and Alice were companions in every sense of the word. Katharine Loring was also a genealogist. Partnering with Charles Henry Pope, Katharine Loring compiled information, texts, and photographs of her extended family and wrote the first extensive Loring Family Genealogy in 1917.

Ms. Loring, never one to enjoy the spotlight, lived in stark contrast to Civil War hero, Charles Greely Loring, Katharine’s uncle and seventh-generation descendant of the Deacon and Jane. Charles’s most heroic and memorable endeavors stemmed from a commission as a first lieutenant in the United States Army in 1861. Within the year, he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, participating in the occupation and later the defense of Knoxville. By the end of the Civil War, Charles Greely Loring had been named General of the Ninth Army Corps, but shortly thereafter, in 1865, the newly appointed general left the military.

Though his military career had ended, General Loring sought a life in service in other ways. Pursuing an interest in antiquities and Egyptology – he had previously studied both subjects in the Nile River Valley as a younger student – General Loring became the curator of the first iteration of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1872. In 1881, General Loring was promoted to first full-time Director of the Museum. By the late nineteenth century, this cabinet of curiosities had outgrown its Ruskinian space on Copley Square and found itself in need of a larger building. In 1899, the Museum purchased twelve acres on Huntington Avenue, where the new Classical Museum of Fine Arts building opened to the public in 1909.

Not all Lorings stayed in the American fold or remained in Great Britain. Sixth-generation descendant George started life as most in his family – born in Hingham in 1771, he went off to Harvard like several of his cousins. However, he so disliked academia that he quickly left and became a cooper’s apprentice. After moving on from that endeavor, George went to sea and eventually became a captain. A widely-traveled man, he finally settled in Málaga, Spain, a bustling harbor town, where he married Maria del Rosario in 1817. George accrued a more than respectable fortune in the import and exports of wine, port, and raisins, and added to his wealth as a banker with the Baring Brothers of London.

George’s second son, George Henry, known in Spain as Jorge Enriquez, became a Spanish parliamentarian, and was eventually created the Marquis de Casa Loring in 1856. Marquis Loring built the first railroad in Andalusia, the southern region of Spain where Málaga, his birth place, is located. The title of marquis, being second only to that of a duke, must have carried weight in the ranks of established nobility; all of Jorge’s daughters married some sort of titled person. The title of the Marquis de Casa Loring survives to this day, occupied by the Seventh Marchioness Vittoria Eugenia Álvarez de Toledo y Marone-Cinzano, great-granddaughter of King Alfonso XIII, a Bourbon and Hapsburg king of Spain and his wife, Queen Eugenia von Battenburg and Saxe-Coburg. Members of the Spanish Loring family are first cousins, once removed, from the current monarch, King Felipe VI, and are also related to the royal family of Great Britain.

Loring Patriots versus Loring Loyalists. Deacon Thomas and Jane had four surviving sons – Thomas, John, Josiah, and Benjamin. The genealogical line of the second son, John, born in 1629 while the family still resided in Devonshire, England, and John’s son, Joseph, born in Massachusetts in 1659, is the focus of the Loring Family’s history as the Revolutionary War approached. Joseph (I) had four children overall, but it was his first and third sons, Joseph (II) and Joshua (I) respectively, who were at the center of the family’s revolutionary divide.

Joseph (II), born in 1684, married Lydia Fisk, though the date is unknown; he removed the family from its seaside roots to an outlying area of Cambridge later incorporated as Lexington. Though referred to as “The Farms” in his early tenure, Lexington grew to a settlement in need of the governmental institutions of a larger town. Joseph, following in his great-grandfather Thomas’s footsteps, became a deacon of Lexington and later a constable. Though a “housewright” by trade, Joseph (II) also became responsible for tax collections and land assessments. Moving to Lexington unknowingly placed these Lorings directly into the geographic hotbed of American patriotism.

In 1746, the Deacon/Constable Joseph Loring (II) died, splitting his property-rich estate among his six surviving children. His will indicates some measure of wealth, referring to a “mansion” on his property, situated across the road from Lexington Town Hall, which would later be sold outside of the family. Not long after their father’s death, the siblings sold all of their shares of the inherited properties to their oldest brother, also named Joseph (III). Joseph (III) was born in 1713 and married to Kezia on New Year’s Day 1735. Joseph (III) proved to be the true catapult that launched this side of the Loring family into the Revolutionary cause.

Joseph (III) purchased a farm in an unincorporated area of Lexington/Lancaster called Sterling (following a pattern established by his ancestors to move into yet to be populated areas). In 1764, he conveyed this land to his son, John (II), though it seems Joseph (III) maintained his family property in Lexington. John (II) also became embroiled deep into revolutionary affairs.

On March 22, 1765, the British Parliament passed the infamous Stamp Act, requiring that tax stamps be purchased and affixed to various circulating paper goods such as newspapers, legal documents, and even playing cards. In this effort to recover debts incurred during the costly French and Indian War, the British Crown was met by strong resistance from its American subjects. Riots in August of that year gave birth to several societies collectively known as the Sons of Liberty. The Sons largely regarded August 1765 as a birthdate, and year after year celebrated the protests that released the colonies from the Stamp Act. On the fourth “birthday” of the Sons, an organization whose membership had swollen into the hundreds, its members dined at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester. They dubbed the occasion a ceremonial “dine under the Liberty Tree” and drank numerous toasts to provincial power and sovereignty. The local heroes of the later Revolutionary era made appearances –John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere along with several of his Hitchborn cousins. Among these men, John Loring and his cousin Caleb can be found in a manuscript list of those who dined “under the Liberty Tree” that day.

While John Loring (II) and his father Joseph (III) stood in staunch opposition to the British crown and would later contribute to the Patriot cause as soldiers and politicians – Joseph (III) served on the Middlesex County Convention of 1774 to address the growing military presence of the British regular troops – family not too far away in both genealogy and geography remained on the exact opposite side during the war. Joseph (III)’s first cousin, the British naval officer, Commodore Joshua Loring (II), was a man of relative self-made wealth, not unlike his ancestors. However, Commodore Loring’s fortune, amassed in the name of the British Crown as both an officer of His Majesty’s Navy and as a “gentleman privateer,” brought him into the fold of British political life. Born on August 3, 1716, Commodore Loring began his working life as a tanner’s apprentice before fleeing the workshop to go to sea. In 1740, not yet a commodore, Joshua Loring married Mary Curtis of Roxbury. She was the fifth of eleven children of Samuel Curtis, a relatively prominent land owner in Jamaica Plain, the southernmost neighborhood of the Town of Roxbury.

Famous for its country living and seasonal activities around Jamaica Pond, Jamaica Plain was a destination for those fleeing the city in the warmer months as well as the permanent residence of well-to-do gentleman farmers. Massachusetts Governor Sir Francis Bernard was one of those prominent men that kept court in Jamaica Plain, at the same time Samuel Curtis took up the mantle of gentleman farmer. It was Mrs. Mary Curtis Loring’s ancestral ties to this section of the countryside that motivated Commodore Joshua Loring to establish his own gentleman farmer’s mansion and sixty-acre farm in Jamaica Plain in 1760.

A veteran of the French and Indian War who left the Canadian front after a nearly fatal injury, Commodore Loring continued to make a more than healthy living on his pension and privateering exploits. His eldest son, Joshua the Younger (III), joined the British Army in 1765 as a lieutenant; his daughter married a relative of John Singleton Copley; and his younger son, Benjamin, served as a British Naval physician after graduating from Harvard College in 1772. This branch of the Loring family had much to lose in the following war against Britain. In 1774, in retaliation for the 1773 Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed a series of draconian measures that stripped the colonies of provincial autonomy; colloquially, these new laws were known as the Coercive Acts. Officially called the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act, the latter suspended the semi-elected, legislative body of the Massachusetts Council; instead the Governor of Massachusetts, now General Gage, appointed the men who would govern. Commodore Loring was one of those selected by the governor, and yet, despite growing rioting and opposition toward other members of the council, he staunchly remained in his seat of government until the very end of his residency in Boston.

Sir William he,
as snug as a flea, 
lay all this time a snoring.
Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay warm,
in bed with Mrs. Loring.

Despite their unwavering faith in the British Crown, Commodore Loring and his family packed up their Jamaica Plain mansion in 1775, fleeing first to Boston, then to Halifax, and ultimately to the Mother Country herself. Their flight was not without some benefit – Commodore Loring’s son, Lieutenant Joshua Loring (III), was given a command as a commissary for rebel prisoners. Whether this command was given as a reflection of the Lorings’ importance as a military family, or as a reflection of General William Howe’s “affection” for Lieutenant Loring’s wife, one cannot be sure. However, among the soldiers of the British forces, it was well-known that Elizabeth Lloyd Loring, a “flashing blonde,” was no stranger to the company of General Howe, and therefore, Lieutenant Loring was not without a post and potentially extra salary. An oft-quoted poem, first written as Patriot propaganda by Francis Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, became a favorite when referring to “the Sultana” that was Elizabeth Lloyd Loring: 

The Jamaica Plain Mansion, abandoned by the Loring family, later served the rebels. Seized by colonial forces, it became the headquarters for Nathanael Greene’s Rhode Island Regiment in May of 1775. A month later, General George Washington designated the property as a military hospital for those wounded and dying during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Those who died in the “hospital” from both injury and a smallpox epidemic were subsequently buried on Commodore Loring’s sixty-acre gentleman’s farm, in the garden that Mrs. Mary Curtis Loring once enjoyed. Those bodies were exhumed nearly a century later; the mansion, at this point, was the residence of the Greenoughs, a family famous for breeding attorneys and bad investors, but who had been Patriots during the Revolutionary War. After the exhumation, the bodies were buried in the Walter Street Burying Ground, now Peter’s Hill, in Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. The symbol of Commodore Loring’s prosperity, the estate of an ardent loyalist, was fertilized by the blood of patriots.

Part II

From Revolutionary Lorings to Revere Lorings

While Commodore Joshua and Lieutenant Joshua Loring were forced to flee to the Old Country, Joseph (III) and son John (II), continued to aid, and sacrifice, for the cause of independence. During the Battle of Lexington, on April 19, 1775, Joseph (III) testifies that his “Mansion House,” barn, and “Corn House” were “brutally” and “wantonly” burned by the British Regular Troops. Along with a Cider Mill Press and neighboring stone walls, Joseph Loring calculated his losses at the hands of British troops at £720. John (II), buried in the Old Lexington Burying Ground today, was a member of the Continental Army, though whether or not he actually experienced combat is unclear.

In 1780, well into the Revolutionary War, John Loring welcomed a daughter, Betsey Loring, into the world in the town of Lancaster. While vital records from the town indicate that John’s wife was Elizabeth at the time of Betsey’s birth,it is unclear who Betsey’s mother truly was. Upon Betsey Loring’s death in 1871, her death record lists her mother as a woman named Ann Loring. To further add to the mystery, John Loring’s will shows that another daughter, Ann Merina Howard, was married to the later executor of John’s estate, John Howard.

It is unclear if Ann Merina was the eldest daughter of a possible first marriage to the mysterious Ann Loring, while Betsey was Ann’s second daughter. Ann Loring exits the narrative before the birth of John Loring’s third daughter, Lydia in 1786. Lydia’s mother, Elizabeth Howe Loring, is said to have joined the family in 1765; however, in the earliest Loring Family genealogy written in 1917, John Loring is said to have had five other children by Elizabeth who are mentioned in his will as inheritors. In John Loring’s probate records, however, the five other children are not mentioned as inheritors, and Ann Merina Howard, who is in no way mentioned in the 1917 genealogy, is mentioned throughout the will. Further research is needed to truly clarify John Loring’s marriages and children.

After three years in the Continental Army in various regiments, including an artillery group, John Loring returned home to Lancaster (then in the process of being formed into the town of Sterling) in 1779. As mentioned above, daughter Betsey was born in 1780 and daughter Lydia in 1786. Named as a tallow chandler and tradesman in his will, John invested in property. He already owned a homestead in Sterling, inherited from his father Joseph (III). Later he purchased a house on Hanover Street in Boston and a dwelling on Ann Street, also in Boston. His most historically significant purchase, however, came in 1803, when he bought a one- hundred-and-twenty-three-year-old home situated at 19 North Square in the North End of Boston. Though his motive for purchasing this property is unknown – why purchase a property that was wholly out of fashion and still made of wood? – it is possible that the Loring family had some ancestral ties to the property. Owned by Paul Revere between 1770 – 1800, the North Square home was two doors away from the Pierce-Hichborn House, owned by Revere’s maternal cousins. Linked by marriage to the Hichborn family, John Loring may have been motivated to purchase the property due to this relationship. It was cousin Caleb, who had dined alongside John at the Liberty Tree Tavern on that fourth “birthday” of the Sons of Liberty, who first married a Hichborn daughter, Ann Greely Hichborn. Ann’s sister, Frances, then married Caleb Loring’s brother Edward. Regardless of whether or not these connections served as his motive, John Loring’s decision to purchase the former Revere House in 1803 still impacts the Paul Revere Memorial Association today. 

On April 6, 1820, “Mrs. Loring, wife of John” died in Sterling, presumably at the family homestead. John followed in 1824, having signed his will only the year prior. As his will was executed in Suffolk County and not Worcester County, where Sterling was located, John Loring may have taken up residence in any of his Boston homes, although there is no record that he chose the 19 North Square property. John bequeathed his properties to his daughters, Ann Merina Howard, Betsey Loring, and Lydia Loring, with Lydia gaining ownership of the 19 North Square property.

Not much is known about the two younger Loring sisters who remained spinsters for life and carried the Loring family name until their deaths. Their lives seemed to parallel each other – no husbands, ownership of a father’s property, and relative silence socially. Neither kept diaries – or at least no diaries have been found – and no correspondence to or from the sisters seems to have survived. Save for a brief mention by Christ Church (also known as Old North Church) of a $5,000 donation made by a Lydia Loring, there seems to be very little documentation about the Loring sister who was connected to the Paul Revere House. Even the gift seems odd, as Old North Church claims it was a beneficiary in 1879, twenty-two years after Lydia Loring died (Betsey far outlived her). Further research is needed to clarify the social lives of the Loring sisters.

John Loring's will was finally executed in 1833, nine years after his death. Along with the North Square property, Lydia was bequeathed the “homestead in Sterling.” Property rich, it seems Lydia set up her home at the Sterling property rather than the North Square home. In 1835, only two years after her father’s accounts were settled, Lydia sold the back lot of the North Square property, what would have been Paul Revere’s backyard, to house builders Jonathan Robinson and John Perkins. The set of four homes that Robinson and Perkins built at 5-8 Lathrop Place supplied accommodations for an influx of immigrants in the nineteenth century. The Paul Revere Memorial Association’s Education and Visitor Center, opened in December 2016, is located in the newly renovated 5-6 Lathrop Place.

Lydia Loring died on October 29, 1857 from influenza, at the age of 71.* It is presumed she had made her Sterling homestead her permanent residence since Massachusetts Vital Records at the time name her a citizen of Sterling, rather than Boston. She died without a will; her brother, Daniel Loring, and Daniel’s son Charles Hollan Loring requested a man by the name of William D. Peck to serve as administrator of Lydia’s property. Daniel, three years Lydia’s senior, had inherited the rest of the Loring properties except those with “certain specifications” (i.e. the land bequeathed to Betsey and Lydia) from his father John in 1833. Though Peck was granted the petition to be made administrator in July 1858, the resulting inventories and eventual fate of her property (both land and objects) are not included in the small summaries located in the Massachusetts Archives. Therefore, to truly understand how her property was ultimately divided, further research will need to be done in the state judicial archives.

Betsey Loring served as witness to the sale of 19 North Square’s back lot property in 1835. In 1871, at the age of 91, Betsey died of dysentery. Death records reflect that she was only 81 at the time of her death; however, when matched with her baptismal record, it indicates she was in fact ten years older at that time. George D. Dodd’s petition to become administrator of Betsey’s estate repeatedly refers to Betsey as “late of Boston, spinster.” George Dodd’s relationship to Betsey or Lydia is unknown; however, he is listed as a merchant of Boston in Betsey Loring’s probate records. Her probate case was heard in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, so unlike her sister, Betsey seems to have taken up residence in Boston; her death record names 27 Charter Street in the North End of Boston as her residence at the time of her death.

Despite the limited knowledge of Lydia and Betsey Loring’s lives, it is undisputed that the sister’s actions greatly affected the Paul Revere House and Paul Revere Memorial Association. Without Lydia’s decision, no matter what the motivation, to sell the North Square property’s back lot, the 1835 buildings that flank the courtyard of the museum today might not be in existence. As two of the buildings now house a modern Education and Visitor Center with amenities that make the museum wheelchair accessible and provides a venue for additional revenue in the gift shop, Lydia’s legacy with the Paul Revere House is one of modernization and utilization. An atypical woman of her time, electing not to marry and owning several properties in Boston and Sterling, Lydia not only contributed to the urbanization of the North End, but also the landscape of the modern Paul Revere House Museum.

In terms of early Massachusetts history, the Loring family, through generations, helped shape the early events of the Revolutionary War. Lorings helped organize militias in the country towns of Middlesex County, served in said militias, and provided testimony for the Battle of Lexington. On the other side, the Loring family also facilitated the Crown’s wishes in the colonies, tying themselves personally to a Coercive Act – Commodore Loring remaining a member of the controversial Governor’s Council in spite of considerable pressure to resign. Some disgruntled Englishmen might even say the infamous Mrs. Elizabeth Lloyd Loring cost Britain the war, distracting the good General Howe from focusing  on the battles that lay ahead. In Boston, a Loring Street can be found in South Boston; John and Lydia Loring are mentioned in museum labels at both the Paul Revere House and the Old State House; and those with the Loring last name live throughout the metropolitan area. They made their mark on history, are mentioned here and there throughout, so their impact steadfastly remains.

This article originally appeared in the Revere House Gazette, published by the Paul Revere Memorial Association.  It came out in two parts in the Spring and Summer 2018 issues (#130 and #131). We are grateful to them for sharing it with us


Sharon Kong-Perring served as research intern at the Paul Revere House during the summer of 2017. She is currently a docent and member of the collections committee at the Loring-Greenough House in Boston as well as an historical interpreter at the Paul Revere House. Recently Sharon was nominated to serve on the Loring-Greenough House’s Board of Directors. Sharon will graduate this spring with an M.A. in Museum Studies/Museology from the University of Oklahoma and a Certificate in Museum Studies at the Harvard University School of Continuing Education.

Sources (for Parts 1 and 2): 1855 Massachusetts State Census; dwelling 918, family 91, lines 17-18; Boyd, Eva Phillips. “Commodore Joshua Loring, Jamaica Plain by Way of London.” Jamaica Plain Historical Society (1959); “Christ Church, Salem Street, 1723: A Guide,” Massachusetts State College Library, Box 5980, File B6C5; Crawford, Mary Caroline. “The Loring Family.” In Famous Families. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1930; Davidson, Stephen. “The Redcoat and the Scarlet Woman, Part 2.” Loyalist Trails UELAC Newsletter, no. 31 (2010); Death Certificate for Betsey Loring, 21 July 1871. Death Record #41 (for date July 21, 1871); Death Certificate for Lydia Loring, 29 October 1857. Death Record #33 (for date October 1857); Deed of Sale from Lydia Loring to Johnathan Robinson and John Perkins, 1835, Suffolk County, Massachusetts; “From our Cabinet.” Massachusetts Historical Society; Gilman, Benjamin Ives. “The Museum Bulletin.” Museum of Fine Art, vol. 2 (1903); James, Alice and Leon Edel, Diary of Alice James. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1894; Loring, Edward P., and Charles Henry Pope, Loring Genealogy. Cambridge: Murray & Emery Company, 1973; Nourse, Henry S. ed. The Birth, Marriage, and Death Register, Church Records, and Epitaphs of Lancaster, Massachusetts 1643-1850. Lancaster: W.J. Coulter, 1890; O’Brien, Peter. “A Brief History of Jamaica Plain.” Jamaica Plain Historical Society; Palfrey, William. “An Alphabetical List of the Sons of Liberty Who Din’d at Liberty Tree, Dorchester.” Massachusetts Historical Society; Pratt Tampley, Frances, ed. Vital Records of Sterling, Massachusetts (Sterling: Sterling Historical Commission, 1976; Probate Court Documents for Betsey Loring, 1871, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, File No. 59126; Probate Court Documents for John Loring, 1833, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, File No. 30310; Probate Court Documents for Lydia Loring, 1857, Worcester County, Massachusetts, Docket Book 1731-1881; “Public Faces, Private Lives.” The History Project; Pope, Charles Henry, and Katharine Peabody Loring, Loring Genealogy. Cambridge: Murray & Emery Company, 1917; Windsor, Justin ed. Memorial History. Boston: Ticknor & Company, 1881.