Hutchinson Family Singers Web Site
The Hutchinson brothers, in the fall of 1841, started on their first short concert tour; but they quickly got a sense that something was missing from their trio's vocal sound. Half a century later, John told a reporter that their sister Rhoda traveled with them to the towns nearest the family home in Milford, New Hampshire; and there is some reason to think that, on those occasions, they may have experimented with quartet performances. Unfortunately, Rhoda's health would not permit extensive traveling.
Soon after the new year came, on their way to a concert in Lynn, Massachusetts, the trio picked up their twelve-year-old sister Abby and brought her along for a visit to their older brother Jesse, Jr., who lived in that city. And since she just happened to be with them anyway - out from under their mother's protective wing - they arranged for her to sing with them at old Lyceum Hall on Wednesday, January 19, 1842. "Abby sang from her heart," said the Book of Brothers, "and her artless melodies, enhanced by the indescribable charm of her manner, found their way direct to the hearts of her auditors."
Since the Lynn concert with Abby worked out very well, the Hutchinson brothers took her along for the rest of the tour. Later, with some difficulty, they managed to gain parental permission - after the fact, of course - for adding their little sister to their company.
John and probably Jesse had heard the Rainer Family, a popular vocal group whose Boston concerts, late in the year 1840, were all the rage. And now, in their imaginations, Jesse and John could hear Abby's voice, blended with those of her brothers, creating an effect quite similar to the sound of these "Tyrolese Minstrels." Joshua, speaking of Abby's importance to the group's ensemble performances, said,
It must have been tremendously exciting for Abby, a twelve-year-old farm girl, as she toured around the Northeast singing for popular audiences. Abby made the acquaintance of people from all different backgrounds; and in New York City in the spring of 1843, she met the love of her life, Ludlow Patton.
Abby was greatly admired for several of her solo numbers, "The May Queen" being a notable example; but much of her reputation was based on her performances of her brother Jesse's song, "The Slave's Appeal." Once the quartet started singing antislavery songs in their concerts, some audience members became unruly; and on several occasions when the Hutchinsons sang at antislavery conventions, mobs tried to break up the meetings. The group often faced unfriendly behavior, ranging from a little hissing all the way to serious threats of violence. Frank Carpenter, the artist and writer, knew Abby well. He said that, when she and her brothers sang their songs of freedom, Abby "would look directly into the eyes of the mob leaders, invariably with the effect of subduing the unruly spirits."
It may not be mere coincidence that Abby's time in the quartet corresponded almost exactly with the period of the group's greatest popularity.
In 1849, Abby married Ludlow Patton. A few months later, she became severely ill, and her condition was thought to be life-threatening. Abby's recovery was very slow; and a year later, she stopped going on concert tours mostly because of fragile health. She was down, but not out. We do not know exactly when Abby first learned of the movement cure, but it may have been shortly after it was introduced to the United States in the late 1850s. She had great faith in this innovative form of medical treatment, and we may guess with reasonable confidence that the movement cure was largely responsible for getting her back into various public activities.
Abby Circa 1860
Sister Abby composed her most popular music during her years of retirement from concert tours. Her song, "Kind Words Can Never Die," was perhaps the Hutchinson Family's most beloved and enduring original production.
In 1860, Abby traveled as part of John's company, and they campaigned for Abraham Lincoln throughout New York State. It is a tribute to how good Abby's health was, when it was at its best, that she did not falter even at this tiring pace. In 1863, she founded a kindergarten in Orange, New Jersey. After the war, Abby served on the Executive Committee of the American Equal Rights Association, and Ludlow was the Treasurer.
The Pattons were friends with fellow reformer Henry B. Blackwell, the husband of famed 19th-century feminist leader Lucy Stone. It's strange to say - and not at all a happy thing to say - that a biographer of Stone has reported that in 1869 Blackwell was romantically pursuing a "Mrs. P." The biographer went on to speculate that this Mrs. P may have been Abby Patton. Less cautious writers have since taken this thought and run with it, turning Blackwell's known pursuit of some unidentified Mrs. P into a consummated extramarital affair with Abby. That Blackwell had romantic intentions toward a woman other than his own wife seems beyond doubt, but how far his overtures got him is unknown. The identity of Mrs. P is also unknown. It is necessary to address this question because it came out in an important biographical work, but we mustn't get carried away with speculation based on evidence which is circumstantial at best.
Ludlow Patton retired from the New York Stock Exchange in 1873. After that, Abby and Ludlow became world travelers, a pursuit that lasted about ten years. "During that time," wrote Henry Whittemore in his Founders and Builders of the Oranges, "they visited nearly every portion of their own country, including the whole Pacific coast, from San Diego, to Sitka, Alaska; also every country in Europe except Lapland and Portugal, making, also, an extended tour of the whole north coast of Africa and up the river Nile to and above the first cataract, to the island of Philæ. They also visited Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor." "Her husband," wrote artist, author, and friend Frank Carpenter, "was always a great lover of music, with a good tenor voice, and together they often entertained their many friends at their own home, or during their travels, with the old songs."
Abby's last two public appearances came in 1892. That August when a statue of John P. Hale was unveiled in Concord, New Hampshire, the Hutchinsons were unexpectedly called on to sing a program of their songs of freedom. The impromptu and unrehearsed quartet that formed on that occasion was made up of John Hutchinson, Abby & Ludlow Patton, and their distinguished friend, Frederick Douglass. The last time Abby sang in public was in September at the funeral of the poet,
A few months later, Abby Hutchinson Patton died. According to the Milford Farmers' Cabinet,
The Pattons' marriage did not produce any children. Yet, Abby and Ludlow were very supportive and nurturing, and they had many young people in their lives. Some of these children had stronger claims than others to being part of Abby's and Ludlow's family. Possibly no one had a stronger claim than Ludlow's adopted daughter, Helen Patton.
-- Alan Lewis, Revised October 23, 2002
* Abby's actual name was Abigail Jemima [née Hutchinson] Patton.
In the fall of 2004, The Revels, an acclaimed Boston musical and theatrical organization (best known for its annual Christmas Revels), started giving public performances of its latest and quite wonderful production, There's a Meeting Here Tonight!, which is based on the lives and careers of the Hutchinson Family singers. Follow this link for a review of the second-ever public staging of There's a Meeting Here Tonight! which took place right here in Brattleboro, Vermont:www.oocities.org/unclesamsfarm/revels.htm
Since writing this profile, a great deal more information about Abby Hutchinson Patton, her family, and their descendants has come to light from census records as well as from a variety of other sources. My own research has concentrated mostly on members of the famous Hutchinson vocal group and their descendants, the singers' brothers and sisters and their descendants, and a number of the singers' friends, social reform colleagues, and even neighbors. It's doubtful, though, that I'll be posting my research findings on these pages anytime soon. It would be a huge undertaking, time is tight, and anyway I'm not sure just yet how I want to go about it.
What I've done so far includes adding the names of many people and places to the index that corresponds to individual Web pages. If your Internet search brought you to this Web site but you haven't found information you want, that could be why. Chances are excellent, though, that I'm interested in your topic and have at least some information about it but just haven't yet posted what I do have. I'm in contact with numerous other researchers, and some of them could be following the same lines of inquiry as you. Also, many Hutchinson family descendants have been in touch lately. So, if you've got questions or are interested in swapping information back and forth, please drop me a note by way of the Web page at
Alan Lewis, July 20, 2004
So then, what became of the watercolor painting of the Hutchinson Family quartet? What became of Sister Abby's list of pictures? I, for one, have no idea. When one considers the vast amount of Hutchinson Family written material and memorabilia that has been preserved, it's startling to discover how much belonging to Abby has been lost or stolen.
A collection of Abby's letters to John's son,
The Frank Carpenter painting of Abby seems to be the only commonly-known likeness of her when she was in her twenties. Were there others? If there were, where are they?
There are, unfortunately, many more examples of Abby's documents and artifacts that have been lost or stolen. Some could be in private hands still; and this is the main reason I have tried hard to learn what became of Ludlow's step-daughter, Helen Patton. Meanwhile, if you can place any of the items listed here, or any other materials for that matter, please get in touch.
-- Alan Lewis, October 23, 2002
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