Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Moody Currier was Manchester's 'Renaissance man' of the 19th century
The sordid story of the Parker murder and the subsequent trial paints a picture of Manchester as a place where unsavory elements of society could seemingly thrive. What was true, however, is that most of the people who came here to seek their fortunes were both honest and hard working. Some of these men and women were fortunate enough to rise up from poverty and obscurity to achieve lives of prosperity and accomplishment.
What is remarkable about Manchester's history are the stories of those who chose to share their good fortune with others, and who left behind a legacy that endures today. Moody Currier stands out as one of the most inspiring of these people.
Moody Currier was Manchester's “Renaissance man” of the 19th century. He fully fit the definition of this term as “a cultured man who has wide interests and is expert in many areas.”
Currier's lived to the age of 92, his life spanning nearly the entire century. In his youth he worked as a humble farm hand. He strived for learning and became a classical scholar, a college graduate, an educator, a lawyer, a banker, a linguist, a poet, a patron of the arts, a philanthropist, and a governor of New Hampshire. The Currier Museum of Art is his legacy to the people of Manchester.
Moody Currier's mother was Rhoda Putney of Dunbarton, New Hampshire. Her Putney ancestors were early pioneers of the town. In 1806 Rhoda was living in Boscawen, New Hampshire, near Concord, where she gave birth to her son. She was 28 years old at the time, and the child's father, Moody Morse Currier, was 20. We do not know what Rhoda was doing in Boscawen, or how she came to know Moody Morse Currier. Perhaps she was working as a servant in an inn, or in a wealthy family's home.
Moody Morse Currier was the son of Dr. John Currier, a physician. Dr. Currier had lived in Warner, New Hampshire, before settling in Hopkinton. Mentions of him in various histories say that he was a physician, and also an innkeeper and “taverner.” According to the history of Warner published in 1879, “Very little is know of him or his connections. He gave more attention to farming and to the hotel than to his profession.” Did Dr. Currier own an inn in Boscawen where Rhoda may have worked, and where she may have met the young son? Rhoda named her son Moody Currier, seemingly as a way to bring attention to her plight and to force the father to acknowledge his responsibility. But Moody Morse Currier did not marry Rhoda or acknowledge his son. Instead, he married another woman in 1807, Ruth Green. Rhoda returned to her father's farm to live with her baby.
Moody Morse Currier died in 1810 at the age of 24. He had owned a farm in Hopkinton and substantial acreage in Boscawen and Canterbury. He had failed to write a will before his death, and had several creditors who were demanding payment. William Claggett, judge of the Probate of Wills for Hillsborough County, presided over the estate settlement, a process that lasted two years. Presumably Rhoda Putney could have made a claim for recognition of her son as an heir, but there is no evidence of this in the probate record.
What was the psychological effect on Moody Currier to have to carry his father's name — a father who had left his mother to bear a child out of wedlock? These facts must have been commonly known, especially as Moody did have contact with the Currier family later in life. However Currier's illegitimacy was never mentioned in print. A typical description of his early life is found in a 1908 volume on New Hampshire genealogy, “Born amid conditions of poverty and misfortune, he rose superior to environment and achieved a success in his chosen lines...”
But Currier did have certain advantages to help set him on the right trail — the care of a loving family, and a childhood spent enjoying the beauties of nature on his grandfather's farm.
Next week: Moody Currier in commerce, politics and poetry. Also, enjoy the Historic Architecture of Manchester Tour – The Currier Museum of Art and Its Neighborhood on Sunday, Sept. 23. For information: www.manchesterhistoric.org
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.