Women’s History Month: Mary Ide Torrey (1817-1869)

Mary Ide Torrey

Mary Ide was born on June 29, 1817 in West Medway to the Rev. Dr. Jacob Ide and his wife Mary (Emmons) Ide at 158 Main Street. The home now is the Medway Historical Museum.

Mary’s maternal grandfather Rev. Nathaniel Emmons, D. D. of Franklin was a highly respected theologian and active abolitionist whom Mary inherited “much of his acumen”. Emmons in fact, called her “Little Miss Dispute It” when she was a child.

At age eighteen, Mary was described as “possessing a sprightly, active and amiable disposition” and she caught the eye of Charles Turner Torrey whom her father Rev. Ide was mentoring in theology. Twenty-two year old Torrey and Mary Ide were immediately attracted to each other and, within six months, he was writing to “My beloved Mary” about his gravest concerns.

Mary married the Rev. Charles Torrey in March of 1837 after he was hired by the Richmond Street Congregational Church in Providence. However, after six months he was asked to leave because of a strong impression that he was not the proper person for the job. The family then moved to Salem where their son Charles Henry Torrey (1838-1897) was born. The job in Salem lasted eighteen months at which time the church leaders there asked Charles to leave as well. Since Charles was functioning as a full time abolitionist and neglecting his church duties, his dismissal was not unexpected.

After the birth of their daughter Mary Emmons (Torrey) Bryant (1840-1897) Charles was designated by Amos Phelps to be a lecturer for the Massachusetts Abolitionist Society, and to be paid $1000 per year.

Mary E. (Torrey) Bryant

Mary Ide Torrey was an accomplished author publishing pamphlets and articles for religious newspapers. She also published two books Ornament Or The Christian Rule Of Dress in 1838 and City And Country Life in 1853. Her hymn, “When silent steals across my soul,” was contributed to Nason’s Congregational Hymn Book in 1857. The hymn gives us some insight into Mary’s deep religious devotion and possibly her feelings in dealing with her husband’s long absences from home.

Hymn by Mary Ide Torrey
Book by Mary Ide Torrey
City and Country Life
by Mary Ide Torrey

Charles Torrey was a leading American Abolitionist, actively involved in the Underground Railroad who personally freed approximately 400 slaves. Torrey also worked with free blacks, thus becoming one of the first to consider them partners. Eventually Charles was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. He had tried to escape but did not succeed.

Mary stood by her husband’s side and believed deeply in his cause. When Charles was awarded a pardon, the letter came on the day he died in prison on May 9, 1846.

Mary continued to live in West Medway, after her husband’s death. Her house, just west of her parent’s house on Main Street, was built for her in 1850 by the Massachusetts Abolitionist Society, and it still stands today. Mary lived thru the Civil War, in which her son fought, and saw the liberation of slaves and fulfillment of her husband’s dream.

The Widow Martyr Torrey, as she was known then, died on November 6, 1869 at the age of fifty-two. She is buried at Evergreen Cemetery with her family. The Rev. Charles Torrey is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass. where a monument with a figure of a female slave was erected over his grave.

Charles Henry Turner, their son, was discharged from the Union forces in 1865, and thereafter lived and worked in Manhattan. He was married four times. He died January 17, 1897, aged fifty-nine. Mary Emmons (Torrey) Bryant, their daughter, married Rev. Albert Bryant at age twenty-five, like her mother marrying one week after her husband’s ordination. She, like her brother, also died in 1897, aged fifty-seven.

Article by Cher Hamilton

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