Dr. Ely and Mary Handy

Ely Handy was born December 2, 1763, in Rochester, Massachusetts to Zaccheus and Joanna (Whittredge) Handy.67 At that time, Rochester consisted of the area northeast of New Bedford and was made up of the present day towns of Rochester, Mattapoisett, and Marion. Ely married Mary Brownell (born July 18, 1772) the daughter of Benjamin and Phebe (Potter) Brownell of Westport, on June 15, 1790 in Westport, making Ely twenty six years old and Mary just about one month short of her eighteenth birthday.68

Ely and Mary had four children that survived past infancy, one son, and three daughters:

  • Polly (b. October 1, 1790, d. January 18, 1874)
  • James Harvey (b. November 13, 1792, d. May 15, 1868)
  • Hannah (b. July 31,1797, d. December 31, 1892)
  • Mira Ellet (b. March 10, 1802, d. July 24, 1805)69

All of the children are listed as being born in, and dying in Westport. Of the four children, only James Harvey married (see below).

Ely Handy and his wife are listed in Rochester in the 1790 federal census; however, by the 1800 cen­sus, he and his family are in Westport.70 Ely Handy may have been living in Westport prior to purchasing the Handy house parcel from Humphry White, as the language in the deed between Humphry and Ely (identified as Eli) identifies him as “Eli Handy of ye Same Westport, Physician…”71 By 1810, the census lists Ely, his wife and his three remaining children living in Westport.72

On March 26, 1794, Humphry White sold the parcel of land his father Jonathan had given to him to Ely Handy for two thousand eight hundred and ten Spanish milled dollars.73 The language used to describe the parcel is nearly identical to that used in the deed between Jonathan and Humphry, and again, no mention of a house or dwelling is included. That same day, Ely sold a portion of this parcel to Barnabus Hicks. Hicks (also spelled as Hix in the deed), identified as a yeoman, purchased thirty-nine acres and one hundred rods for $653.00. This parcel was essentially the western portion of the lot, described as:

“…beginning at ye Southwest corner of a Lot of Land that I Bought of Humphry White, from thence north nine degrees & half West forty rods, then North fifteen degrees West nineteen rods, then East Six degrees North Eight rods, thence North three degrees & half East Seventeen rods, thence East two & quarter dege North thirty five rods by ye wall, then East by said wall fourteen rods to ye End of ye wall, thence East five & half degrees North unto Stephen Kirbys line, thence Easterly in sd Kirbys line Twelve rods & two thirds, then South seven & ¼ Degrees East thirty nine rods & ¼ unto a Black Oak Tree, thence South Twenty eight & ½ Degrees West Ten & half rods then South eleven degrees East twenty six & quarter rods to the high­way, from thence Westerly by the Highway unto ye first Bounds…”74

The deed retained a privilege by Jonathan White to pass and repass “…from his Land acrost sd Lot unto ye highway for him to come in where the Bars now Stands over the Crossway & out at ye foot of the high Hill so called, to the highway…” The deed also gave Barnabus Hicks the privilege of “…turn­ing his wall on ye East Side so as to take in a Spring of water on my Land for his conveniancy [sic]…”

Considering Ely Handy and Barnabus Hicks purchased these parcels on the same day, it is interest­ing to note the difference in price paid by each in­dividual for the land they purchased. While each paid in a different currency (Ely in Spanish milled dollars and Baranbus presumably in American dollars), it is assumed the value of each of these was comparable. If so, at the price Ely paid for his 103 acres, it works out be $27.28 per acre. That same day, Barnabus’s purchase of 39 acres equates to $16.74 per acre, approximately 39% less per acre than Ely paid for it.

What can explain the difference in value between the land Barnabus Hicks purchased versus the val­ue of the land Ely bought from Humphry White? One possibility for the difference in price may have to do with improvements made to the land Ely purchased. The dwelling house tells us that it was there when Ely purchased the land, and very likely, there were other outbuildings in the immediate vicinity of it. While these, depending on their condition, would have added to the value of the real estate, it may also be that the quality of the land had something to do with its value, as well. When Benjamin Crane surveyed this parcel for George Cadman, he identified it as “Containing by meashur 118 acres qualified 70 acres-”75 By qualified, Crane is believed to be identifying the portion of the total acreage that was cleared. If so, it may be that the 64 acres Ely kept, was the better, or cleared portion of the acreage, and the 39 he sold was either unim­proved or less desirable (uncleared or rocky) and as a consequence, valued less than the eastern portion of the parcel.76

After the sale of land to Hix (which formed the West boundary line of Ely’s property), the footprint of Ely’s 64 acres with the house and outbuildings on it straddled both sides of Drift Road with the east boundary running to the river.

Dr. Ely’s property was assessed as part of the Direct Tax of 1798. His property shows up on List C, A General List of Lands, Lots, Buildings, and Wharfs, and List D, A General List of All Dwelling Houses.77

List C states Ely has two dwellings or outbuildings, likely the latter, worth forty dollars. He is listed as having 62 acres of land (note, two less than approx­imated by his deed.) The combined value of the buildings and land is listed at five hundred dollars. On List D, A General List of All Dwelling Houses, Ely’s dwelling house together with the eighty perch of land associated with it is valued at seven hundred and fifty dollars. While this information by itself tells us a bit about Ely’s property, it becomes more interesting when looked at within the context of the entire Westport record. Of the 374 households assessed in Westport, Ely’s dwelling is valued among the top seven properties. One other property is valued the same as his, and five are of greater value. Of the five properties, three are valued at eight hundred dollars, and two at one thousand dollars.78

The value of Dr. Handy’s dwelling house at this time would seem to indicate that the Period II improve­ments to the house had been performed by the time of its assessment, October 1, 1798. Had the dwell­ing house not been improved by this time, it would be difficult to imagine that an 86 year old house would rank among one of the highest valued dwellings in the town.

It does not appear that Ely Handy expanded his land holdings during his lifetime. With his death in 1812, the inventory taken of his estate notes that his homestead contains “…about sixty three acres with the buildings thereon…” valued at $2,700.00.79 While this is one acre less than the sixty four acres he had after the sale of land to Barabus Hicks, it is an approximation and may simply had miss calculated the total amount of land.


Ely Handy died sometime before May 5, 1812, when his estate was inventoried.80 Ely’s will was probated May 12, 1812. In it, Ely laid out specific provisions to ensure his wife and children were provided for. As Ely’s only son, James Harvey inherited the majority of Ely’s estate; however, Ely named his wife Mary executor of his will. In his will, Ely made certain his wife was accommodated for after his death; this was addressed in the first item, giving:

“… to my wife Mary Handy one hundred dollars and my chaise and harness belonging thereto, and the one half of my household goods and indoor moveables. I also give her in lieu of her right of dower of my estate, the use of a sufficiency of houseroom, and a comfortable support and maintenance with every necessary of life, both in health and sickness, and a horse to be provided and tackled in her chaise, that is suitable to go therein, as often as she may have occasion to use one, to be provided and furnished by my son so long as she shall remain my widow.”81

Mary lived a significantly longer life than Ely. She died February 20, 1864, at the age of 95 years old.


67 Handy Family.pdf. Descendants of Zaccheus Handy. Westport Historical Society archives.

68 Vital Records of Westport Massachusetts to the Year 1850. The New England Historic Genealogical Society. Boston, Massachusetts. 1918. p. 171.

69 Descendants of Zaccheus Handy. Handy FamilyPDF.pdf, Westport Historical Society archives.

70 Handy, Elias (1790 U.S. Census) Massachusetts, Plym­outh, Rochester. Series: M637 Roll: 4 Page: 49. Handy, Ely (1800 U.S. Census) Massachusetts, Bristol, Westport. Series: M32 Roll: 19 Page: 332.

71 Deed of land, Humphry White to Eli Handy, March 26, 1794, Bristol County, Massachusetts, Deed Book 13, Page 400, Bristol County Probate and Family Court Registry, Taunton, Massachusetts.

72 Handy, Ely (1810 U.S. Census) Massachusetts, Bristol, Westport. Series: M252 Roll: 17 Page: 367.

73 “The act of April 2, 1792, besides establishing the coinage mint at Philadelphia, fixed the values of the coins, providing for ‘dollars or units, each to be of the value of a Spanish milled dollar,” as that coin was then current in the United States, and containing 37 ½ grains of pure silver, or 416 grains of standard silver.” This coin continued to be used until about 1837, when changes to the laws fixing the weight of a dollar made it undervalued in this country. The Encyclopaedia Britannica: latest edition. A dictionary of arts, sciences and general literature, Volume 26. Day Otis Kellogg, William Robertson Smith. Werner: New York, 1902. p. 225.

74 Deed of land, Eli Handy to Barnabas Hicks, March 26, 1794, Bristol County, Massachusetts, Deed Book 13, Page 234, Bristol County Probate and Family Court Registry, Taunton, Massachusetts.

75 The Field Notes of Benjamin Crane, Benjamin Ham­mond, and Samuel Smith. p. 168.

76 In an inventory for Bartholomew Akin of Dartmouth, dating to c. 1845, his real estate is valued by its type. His dwelling house and lot, $700.00, a lot of meadow land, $100.00, a lot of pasture $150.00 and a lot of wood, $500.00. Clearly the value of land at this time was not uniform and depended greatly on its content and quality. Benjamin Akin Daybook and Ledger (MS 204). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst. p. 106.

77 Direct tax list of 1798 for Massachusetts and Maine, 1798. List for Westport, Massachusetts. Vol. 12, pp. 9, 52. R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. Author’s Note: A discussion of Dr. Ely Handy’s 1798 Direct Tax record is discussed and interpreted in An Archaeological Intensive Survey for the Foundation Renovations of the Cadman-White-Handy House, Mailhot and Donahue, May 11, 2012, page 30. In it, the assessed value is incorrectly stated as $450.00, with subsequent comparisons to other Westport dwellings based on this figure. As a result, the house is placed in an entirely different context than it actually represents. In reality, the Handy house at this time was fit within the upper tier of Westport dwellings assessed.

78 Ibid.

79 Probate inventory of Ely Handy, May 5, 1812, Bristol County, Massachusetts, Bristol County Probate & Family Court Registry, Vol. 47, pp. 225-229.

80 Ely’s will was written September 2, 1811.

81 Will of Ely Handy, Dated September 2, 1811, probated May 5, 1812, Bristol County, Massachusetts, Bristol County Probate & Family Court Registry, Vol. 47, pp. 223


Eric Gradoia, Architectural History and Conservation. Copyright 2014