John Wallace Hutchinson

Hutchinson Family Singers Web Site

All through my boyhood, while engaged in labors on the farm, I had prophetic dreams or visions of scenes representing experiences, which in after years proved real. I saw our company standing and singing to numerous audiences, heard the plaudits and compliments as they dispersed, and witnessed the gathering-in of piles of money - gold, silver and quantities of paper.

John W. Hutchinson

John had stars in his eyes, starting at a very early age . . .

Brother John and probably Jesse heard the Rainer Family, a European vocal group whose concerts in Boston, late in the year 1840, were all the rage. John said, "I was overwhelmed, though of course I could not understand their words. Ditson soon published their songs, with English words, and of course I remembered their Tyrolean style of singing, and taught the rest how to sing them as the Rainers did." And so the Hutchinsons adopted at least some aspects of the part-singing style of the Rainer Family - a style that was dear to John's heart.

The Hutchinsons were an unusually well-rehearsed vocal group, and John often spoke of their harmonizing as though he were describing a religious experience. "The leading characteristic," he said, "in the 'Hutchinson Family's' singing was . . . the exact balance of parts in their harmonies, each one striving to merge himself in the interest of the whole, forming a perfect quartet. . . . "  "So united were we in our movements there could be no strife and neither's voice could be distinguished until he arose and sang a solo. . . . "

On Tuesday, February 21, 1843, at Milford, New Hampshire, John Hutchinson married Frances Patch (1822-1888). She was familiarly known as Fanny.

During the first few years of the Hutchinson Family quartet, the press tended to focus on Judson and Abby. Those notices that mentioned John often commented, not on his singing, but rather on his acting ability. The theatrical dimension that John added to Hutchinson Family shows may have been his greatest in-concert contribution to the group's early success. At the same time, it may have done much to separate the Hutchinsons from the pack.

Certain longer dramatic numbers gave John a chance to work his special magic; and there was no better example than Henry Russell's song, "The Ship on Fire." As the tale began, a ship at sea was being battered by a storm at night, under a dark sky. After a while, the storm passed. At a turning point in the story, Judson, seated on stage, would shout the word "Fire!" with all his ventriloquial power. "Instantly," said John, "I would turn my head in the direction from which it was supposed to proceed. Asa would follow with a rumble on his viol, in exact imitation of the roll and rattle of a fire-engine hurrying through the streets." Often members of the audience would be so caught up in the drama of an advancing inferno that they would rise from their seats and rush to the exits.

On a few occasions, Hutchinson Family tours were interrupted or postponed because of the illness of one or more of the singers; and sometimes John traveled around as a solo act. It is interesting, then, that, when the main group finally broke up in 1858, he was the last to form his own troupe, apparently holding out for a reconciliation among the brothers.

The Hutchinson Family quartet rode particularly high from 1844 through 1848; but well into the twentieth century, the Hutchinsons were remembered mostly for their activities during the Civil War. Asa's company popularized several classic war songs, such as "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom." John sang for Abraham Lincoln at the White House and made widely-reported appearances in Union army camps. Companies led by John and Asa sang at huge Union rallies, as did Brother Joshua and his frequent singing partner, Walter Kittredge. In John's case, we have a few details. He sang to an estimated crowd of 50,000 at New York's Madison Square, in what the New York Times called the "largest popular gathering ever held in this City." He is said to have sung, evidently later on, at a much larger war rally at Union Square in New York.

John (top), Henry, and Viola

The vocal company led by John was very successful for some time after the war; and they tried to use their drawing power to attract supporters in the Kansas woman's suffrage campaign of 1867. Not long after that, John's daughter, Viola Gertrude Hutchinson (1847-1935), got married and retired from concert tours, in favor of raising a family of her own. Around this time, John added "The People's Advent" to his repertoire. Based on a poem by Gerald Massey, it would be his biggest song in the years to come.

In 1870, John's company made a high-profile, if not particularly successful tour of the Reconstruction-era South. Then came what biographer Philip D. Jordan called the "lean years." This was the period of what was then called the "Great Depression," the longest business contraction in American history. As John's band of singers had fewer concert engagements, he shifted their emphasis to doing work on behalf of favorite causes, especially temperance.

Judson Whittier Hutchinson (1862-1898) was the youngest of John's three children. His health was always frail; and much of the time Fanny stayed home to take care of him and, not incidentally, to manage the family property on High Rock. Thus, the voice of their oldest son, Henry J. Hutchinson (1844-1884), was very important in the career of John's troupe. Henry was a gallant character, and many complimentary and sometimes colorful words can be used to describe him - it's just that dependable is not among them. He would periodically become restless and dissatisfied; and at various times, he would quit singing and become an entrepreneur or perform either skilled or unskilled labor. At one time he left to sing with a group of musicians led by Camilla Urso.

In 1877, Lillie Caroline Phillips (1853-1929) made her debut as a member of the Hutchinson Family. Once Henry met Lillie, he was easily lured back into singing for his father.

Lillie [said John] was versed in the more modern methods of concert singing. Henry had had an experience which gave him command of more heavy solos, as well as of the simpler songs of humanity which he had always sung with Fanny and myself. We sought to retain the old favorites in our programmes, while giving a representation also to the best modern concert selections. The combination seemed to take our audiences by storm.

Lillie, Henry, Fanny, and John

The momentum, thus created, carried John's rejuvenated company through a wonderful concert tour of the West Coast during the 1878-1879 season. His voice seems to have gotten better and better over the years, and he and his band received excellent notices from Western newspapers. John never would have imagined that this might be the last large-scale trip by a Hutchinson Family band. Yet his responsibilities to his High Rock property, along with the declining health of his wife and their son Henry, conspired to keep John close to home most of the time for a number of years. At a point later in his life, when he was performing all too seldom, he wrote, "If I followed my inclination, I should be today actively before the public, for I had far rather die in the harness carrying on the work of reform by my songs than meet what the future has in any other way."

One of John's most important achievements of the 1890s was his marvelous book, Story of the Hutchinsons.* Only Sister Abby's husband, Ludlow Patton - who kept a magnificent scrapbook, was his equal as a Hutchinson family historian.

John continued singing at meetings and giving paid entertainments here and there. In 1902, he started on a short concert tour with his granddaughter, Kate Campbell. Fanny had died years before; and in 1905, John married Agnes Everest (1852?-1934). In the fall, along with John's grandson, Richard D. Hutchinson, they gave the last Hutchinson Family concert for which we have a program and a published review. This trio sang together often enough that it seems fair to say that John was leading a concert company once again.

In 1906, John retired from the music business. He gave his last known public performance in the summer of 1907 at Lynn, Massachusetts. On Thursday morning, October 29, 1908, John W. Hutchinson died at home of accidental gas inhalation.

-- Alan Lewis, revised November 5, 2002


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:

Hutchinson Family

Since writing this profile, a great deal more information about John W. Hutchinson, his family, and their descendants has come to light from census records and other sources. There's no time at the moment to organize and post that material. If you are interested in sharing information or have questions, please follow the contact link just above or toward the bottom of this page.
The amount of information we have about or otherwise connected with John W. Hutchinson is truly vast. Yet unanswered questions remain, and some of them are important to the biography of the Hutchinson Family. So, I'll include a few now and maybe add some more later.

One by one, after the death of John W. Hutchinson, members of his family moved away. By 1912, the Hutchinsons of High Rock were a memory. Now all that is left of them in Lynn, outside the historical society and public library, is the park and tower on High Rock's summit, the nearby Stone Cottage, and a few street names. The antislavery legacy these things represent is beyond the recall of citizens of Lynn. The funds available to maintain the park and tower have persistently been too little. Stone Cottage is in disrepair. At least one of the street names is misspelled. And the graves of the Hutchinson Family of Lynn have been thoroughly vandalized--the many headstones, except for one, today are gone. These champions of universal freedom and American justice now rest in unmarked graves. To call it a shame is to put it as kindly as possible.

Alan Lewis, November 5, 2002

[earliest Hutchinson Family publicity likeness]
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Massachusetts, MA, Mass.; Minnesota, Minn., MN; New Hampshire, N. H., NH; New Jersey, N.J., NJ. Essex County, Hillsboro County, Hillsborough County, McLeod County. Lynn Massachusetts, Hutchinson Minnesota, Amherst New Hampshire, Milford New Hampshire, Mont Vernon New Hampshire, Orange New Jersey, City of New York City. Cellist, cello, fiddle, fiddler, melodeon player, violin, violinist, violoncello. Baptist, Christian Science, Christian Scientist, Congregational, Congregationalist, Methodist, Unitarian Universalist. The Book of Brothers, Carol Brink Harps in the Wind: The Story of the Singing Hutchinsons, Carol Ryrie Brink, Carol R Brink, Dale Cockrell Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers 1842-1846, John Wallace Hutchinson Story of the Hutchinsons (Tribe of Jesse), Joshua Hutchinson A Brief Narrative of the Hutchinson Family, Philip Jordan, Philip Dillon Jordan, Philip D Jordan Singin Yankees, Phil Jordan, Ludlow Patton The Hutchinson Family Scrapbook. Index: Singing Yankees. AGNES ROSALIA BARNES: Agnes Barnes, Agnes Rosalia Barnes of Washington DC, Agnes R Barnes, Harriet Barnes, Harriet E Barnes, Hattie Barnes, Hattie E Barnes of Washington DC, Helen Barnes, James Barnes, James Wallace Barnes of Washington DC, James W Barnes, J Wallace Barnes of Washington DC, J W Barnes, District of Columbia, Cornelius Everest of Philadelphia Pennsylvania, De Witt Everest, DeWitt Everest, De Witt Clinton Everest, DeWitt Clinton Everest, De Witt C Everest, DeWitt C Everest, Ellen Everest, Ellen Amelia Clark Everest, Ellen Amelia Everest, Mrs Ellen A Everest of Spruce Street Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Ellen Clark Everest, Ellen C Everest, Alice Barnes King, Alice B King, Clarence King, Clarence R King, C R King, George King, George E King, G E King, George W King, George Postell, George Porcher Postell, George P Postell, G Porcher Postell, G P Postell, George Wallace Postell, George W Postell, G Wallace Postell, G W Postell. CAMPBELL FAMILY : Catherine Campbell, Catherine Livingston Campbell, Catherine L Campbell, Kate Campbell, Cleaveland Campbell, Cleaveland John Campbell, Cleaveland J Campbell, Colin Campbell, Harry Campbell, H Douglas Campbell, Henry Douglas Campbell, Lewis Campbell, Lewis Averill Campbell, Lewis A Campbell, Viola Campbell, Viola Hutchinson Campbell, Viola H Campbell, Catherine Edson, Catherine Rapley Edson, Catherine R Edson, Catherine S Edson, Viola Gertrude Hutchinson, Viola G Hutchinson, Jean Palmer, Jean Campbell Palmer, Jean C Palmer, Catherine Rapley, Catherine Campbell Rapley, Catherine C Rapley, Catherine L Rapley, Catherine S Rapley, Kate Rapley, Randolf Rapley, Randolf R Rapley, Randolph Rapley, Randolph R Rapley, William Rapley, William Washington Rapley, William W Rapley. Index: Allentown Pennsylvania PA Penn, Mrs Alice M Batchelder, Florida, Larchmont New York NY NY, Lynn Massachusetts, Pacifica California CA Cal Calif, Santa Fe New Mexico, Toledo Ohio. HENRY J HUTCHINSON: Lillie Hutchinson, Lillie Phillips Hutchinson, Lillie P Hutchinson, Hutchinson McLeod County Minnesota, Hutchinson McLeod Minnesota, Hutchinson Minnesota, Lynn Essex County Massachusetts, Lynn Essex Massachusetts, Lynn Massachusetts, Lillie Caroline Phillips, Lillie Cornelia Phillips. JACK HUTCHINSON: Adelaide Ber, Adelaide Burr, Dalles of the St. Croix at Taylor's Falls Minnesota, Taylors Falls Minnesota, Edward Gullett, Edward B Gullett, Grace Gullett, Grace Ber Gullett, Grace Burr Gullett, Henry John Hutchinson, Morris Stevens County Minnesota, Morris Stevens Minnesota, Morris Minnesota, William A Robbins, William Robbins. RICHARD D HUTCHINSON: Anna Hutchinson, Anna Petersen Hutchinson, Anna Peterson Hutchinson, Anna P Hutchinson, Bradford Hutchinson, Bradford Donomore Hutchinson, Bradford D Hutchinson of Hamburg New York, Doris A Hutchinson, Doris Hutchinson, Doris Abby Hutchinson, Doris Abigail Hutchinson, Kathleen A Hutchinson, Kathleen Hutchinson, Richard Hutchinson, Richard Donomore Hutchinson, Richard D Hutchinson, Richard J H Hutchinson, Richard H Hutchinson, Richard J Hutchinson, Anna Peterson of Cambridge Massachusetts, Anna Peterson of Lowell Massachusetts, Anna Peterson of Winchester Massachusetts, Anna H Peterson, John Peterson, John A Peterson of Lowell Massachusetts, Royalston Worcester County Massachusetts, Royalston Worcester Massachusetts, Tonawanda Erie County New York, Tonawanda Erie New York. DORIS A MCKENZIE: Doris Hutchinson, Doris Abby Hutchinson, Doris Abigail Hutchinson, Doris A Hutchinson, Malcolm W Keiller, Malcolm Keiller, Mary Keiller, Mary McKenzie Keiller, Mary M Keiller, Scott Keiller, Doris McKenzie, Doris Abby McKenzie, Doris Abigail McKenzie, Doris A McKenzie, Kenneth McKenzie. GRACE A VINCENT: Clifford Boyer, Clifford U Boyer, Clifford W Boyer, Grace Boyer, Grace Vincent Boyer, Grace V Boyer, Emily Vincent, Emily P Vincent, Grace A Vincent, Harry Vincent, Harry L Vincent, Henry Vincent, Henry L Vincent, William Vincent, William H Vincent. Index: Norwich Connecticut. 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Abolition, abolitionism, abolitionist, anniversary, anti-slavery, antislavery, audience, band, biography, chorus, church, the Civil War, company, compose, composer, composition, concert, convention, entertain, entertainment, folk music, folk songs, folksongs, group, harmony, Hutchison, instrument, instrumental, lyricist, lyrics, meeting, musician, N E, NE, NEMS, New England Music Scrapbook, Northeast, Northeastern, the Old Granite State, practice, profile, program, quartet, rehearsal, rehearse, religious left, repertoire, research, the Revels' Circle of Song, show, singer, social reform, social reformer, song writer, songwriter, stage, equal suffrage, suffragette, equal suffragist, impartial suffrage, impartial suffragist, temperance, tour, the Tribe of Jesse, trio, troupe, verse, vocal, vocalist, woman's rights, women's rights, words. The Boston Globe, Cape Elizabeth Maine, Francis Bicknell Carpenter, Francis B Carpenter, Frank B Carpenter, Daisy Cottage, Journalist Jane Eyre of Boston, Francis Finch, Fanny Hutchinson, Fanny B Hutchinson, Fanny P Hutchinson, Frances Hutchinson, Frances Burnham Patch Hutchinson, Frances B Hutchinson, Frances P Hutchinson, Rev Robert Henry Morgan, Reverend Robert Henry Morgan, Jennie Belle Neal, Jennie Belle Neale, Jennie B Neal, Jennie B Neale, Jenniebelle Neal, Jenniebelle Neale, the Revels' Circle of Song, Stone Cottage, Tower Cottage. John W. Hutchinson