The Bridgmans of Belchertown: An American Family   home

Wright Bridgman, Sr. 
Wright Bridgman house, present day Belchertown, MA 
Noah Doyle-Smith and Emily Strobelberger 2008

Wright Bridgman, Sr., was born sometime around June 3, 1772 to Joseph Bridgman and Ruth Wright in the small town of Belchertown, Hampshire Co., MA.  He married Irene Smith of Granby, daughter of Phineas Smith, on December 15, 1796.  He was 24, she 19.  They had seven sons and two daughters, one son, Wright [1], and one daughter, Helen Maria, dying at a very young age.

            Wright Sr. was the patriarch of the Bridgman family and a prominent member in town.  His family was upstanding and well respected, having their own pew on the right front row of the local Congregational Church.  Wright served with Jonas Holland as town selectmen responsible for composing and co-signing off on town meeting warrants.  He also served in the state legislature from 1810 until 1814 as one of three representatives for Belchertown. 

Despite his political work, Wright was a merchant by trade.  He owned a general store on the common that sold “a general assortment of English & West India Goods, Groceries, & Hardware”, especially emphasizing the sale of cigars and tobacco.  As he grew older, Wright handed down his patriarchal status to his son, Wright Jr., took over the store and formed a co-partnership with Timothy Clough in 1824.  Wright Bridgman Sr. died at the age of sixty-seven on September 8, 1839.

---Amanda Tambacas 

Calvin Bridgman
Calvin Bridgman's house, present day Belchertown, Noah Doyle-Smith and Emily Strobelberger 2008

           Although his list of accomplishments and positions are mostly known, there is a lot that is still a mystery regarding Calvin Bridgman. His success was evident, even in death with his donations to the town in which he was born and lived for the majority of his life. Calvin Bridgman was born on December 21, 1812 in Belchertown, Massachusetts to Wright Bridgman and Irene Smith Bridgman. He married Susan Mason Shaw, daughter of Mason and Susan Shaw of Belchertown, on October 9, 1838. The couple had one daughter, Susan Shaw (April 18, 1842 - February 27, 1851) who died when she was only eight years old. According to other records, the Bridgmans also adopted a boy, possibly a family member who lost his parents, named Louis. However he too died young, born in 1850 and dying in 1856. The Bridgmans lived most of their life in Belchertown, in a house on the corner of the Belchertown Common. Calvin died in 1880 and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery behind the Common.

            Throughout his life, Calvin Bridgman held many different career positions in and outside of Belchertown. He was in the mercantile business with Phineas Shaw out of Belchertown. He served as the town Postmaster from 1844-1848. He was a member of the Massachusetts Legislature in 1852, it isn’t known if this was the only year he served or a starting year. In 1853, he was given an appointment at the Boston Custom House and lived and worked in Boston for the next five years. He would later return to the Belchertown area, around 1858, to become the director of the New London Northern Railroad. He served as a director of the Amherst National Bank from the time is was organized until his death in 1882, also serving on the trustees of the Amherst Savings Bank from its formation.

          Even after their deaths, Calvin and Susan Bridgman were loyal benefactors to their town. Calvin Bridgman’s name was carried on with his generous donations to the town of Belchertown. In his will, Calvin left $10,000 to the town, specifying that $6,000 was to go towards supporting a public high school and $4,000 to the building of a Public Library (this donation along with a donation of $40,000 from John F.

          Clapp would build the Clapp Memorial Library in Belchertown). Even today, there is still a Calvin Bridgman fund present at the Clapp Library. Susan Bridgman also left money in her will to go towards a scholarship of sorts, but specified that it is intended only for "deserving native born citizens whose parents were also native born citizens" (Bequest of Susan M.D. Bridgman). This has brought some speculation that Calvin was a nativist, although that was not uncommon at the time. Susan also left in her will an annual quantity of money to go towards buying books for the public library. Calvin and Susan Bridgman were prominent citizens of Belchertown whose contributions should not go unnoticed.

---Allison Ingraham


Calvin Bridgman's parents, Wright Sr. and Irene (Smith) Bridgman.  Courtesy of the Stone House Museum, Belchertown, Ma





            Calvin  Bridgman was born on December 21, 1812 in Belchertown, Massachusetts, to Wright Bridgman and Irene Smith. Wright Bridgman was a prominent Belchertown merchant and proprietor of the two mercantiles at 1 Main Street and 39 Main Street. Calvin was the descendant of a long lineage of

well-known Belchertown citizens. His great-great grandfather Joseph Bridgman Sr. was one of the Cold Spring Plantation's (Belchertown's first name) original settlers in 1732. Sometime in the mid 1820's to mid 1830's, young Calvin began to work in his father's store at 37 Main Street, then a two story wooden structure housing a mercantile. He eventually took over the business along with his brothers Wright Jr. and Phineas. In 1838 Calvin was appointed postmaster by the town of Belchertown, a position he held for a number of years.  On October 9th of that year he married Susan Dwight Shaw, daughter of Mason

Shaw and Susanna Dwight. For most of his adult life he and his wife lived in the Yellow Victorian era house facing the town common on Park Street, now the location of the Park Place Inn (formerly the Mucky Duck).

This home was built on land acquired from Susan's parents and can originally be traced back to Susan's Grandfather Captain Elijah Dwight's estate. The Old Town Hall,  Mount Hope Cemetery, the Congregational Church,  the Congregational Church Parish House, the St. Francis Social Hall, the St. Francis Rectory, and most of the town common were also originally part of this estate.


            In 1853 Calvin was invited to take a position at the Boston Customs House. He resided in Boston for 5 years, eventually returning to Belchertown. Upon Calvin's return in 1858, he was appointed director of the Amherst and Belchertown Railroad until it merged into the N.L.N. Railroad Line. He was also director of the Amherst National Bank during this period, a position he proudly served in until his death. Calvin and Susan celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1863. The ornate ceremonies included renewal of nuptial vows, a re-creation of a portion of their wedding cake from 25 years before, and gifts of silver presented by friends. In late March or early April 1868, the Bridgman store suffered a severe fire, burning to the ground. A significant amount of the loss included $1,000 in store goods. The store was later rebuilt by Calvin and his brothers, this time as a two-story brick structure. Calvin was also the trustee of the Amherst Savings Bank since its incorporation and a member of the Massachusetts State Legislature and the Belchertown Board of Selectmen. In March of 1882 Calvin Bridgman died at the age of 70.


            Calvin and Susan can best be remembered for their generous philanthropy within the Belchertown community. Upon the death of Susan in 1884, Calvin's will was enacted at his bequest. The will states that $10,000 will be left to the town of Belchertown and is to be safely invested in stocks or bonds as a perpetual fund. Any interest of $6,000 is to go to the High School and any interest of the remaining $4,000 is to go to the Clapp Memorial Library. However, there are stipulations in the execution of Calvin and Susan's will. The first is that the high school and library always remain with in one quarter mile of the Town House (now know as the Old Town Hall). The second stipulation is that the monies alloted to Belchertown High School shall each and every year be used as scholorships for the benefit of  "…poor and deserving native-born citizens whose parents were also native-born American citizens and who are also inhabitants of said Belchertown and who have never received aid as a pauper from said town…"   The second addendum lends credence to what local historians have described as the Bridgemen's nativism and feelings of endearment towards bettering the lives of Belchertown's aspiring young students. The third stipulation is that the town of Belchertown shall keep the monuments in lots 3 and 4 of Mount Hope Cemetery (the Calvin Bridgman and mason Shaw plots) and the fence around them in good repair and well painted. If the town fails to adhere to this last request then the $10,000 shall rever to any hei or heirs who must agree to the same terms and conditions. The Mount Hope Cemetery was owned by Calvin and Susan for many years, providing  the family with additional income. The land upon which Mount Hope Cemetery is situated once was inherited from Susan's grandfather Elija Dwight and was later donated to the town.  


              In 1840, a controversial event involving Calvin Bridgman, his wife Susan, and his in-laws Mason Shaw and Susanna Dwight Shaw brought the ideological struggle between north and south, free and slave, to quaint Belchertown. The story begins in 1834 when Mason and Susana Shaw acquired legal guardianship of Angelina Palmer, a young African American girl who had been a ward of the town of Amherst. The Amherst selectmen decided to hire her out as a hired hand of the Shaw's, in order to gain compensation for her upkeep during early childhood. At some point in time the Shaw's moved to Georgia, but left Angelina to work in the home of Calvin and Susan Bridgman.


            In 1840 Susanna Shaw visited Calvin and his wife. During her stay, she received a letter from Mason explaining a scheme to bring 10 year old Angelina to Georgia and sell her into slavery. Servants in Calvin's house heard the letter being read aloud and immediately alerted the Amherst African American community. Angelina's half-brother, Lewis Frazier, 20 and his friends Henry Jackson 23, and William Jennings's, 27, notified Amherst selectmen and urged them to take action. The selectmen refused, so the three men chose to take more drastic actions, planning to capture Angelina and carry her to safety.


            On May 26 th Susanna Shaw was preparing to return to Georgia. Angelina was away visiting her aunt, a servant in Hezekiah Wright's home on Amherst's Main Street. Upon hearing rumors of the attempted capture, Hampshire County Deputy Sheriff Frink decided to oversee her safe return to Belchertown. Thinking that Angelina was to return via the stagecoach, Frazier and Jennings flagged down the stagecoach somewhere along the Logtown Road between Amherst and Belchertown. Little did they know that Deputy Sheriff Frink decided to return her to Calvin Bridgeman's home himself via a different route. Frink, who was also Jackson's employer, later claimed that his rationalization had been to avoid any interference along the Logtown Road, however others speculated that he intentionally aimed to allowed Jennings, Frazier, and Jackson to catch up with him.


            Once aware of their error, Frazier, Jennings, and Jackson borrowed a horse and buggy from an understanding Amherst butcher. The trio sped down the Logtown Road, eventually catching up with Frink in front of Calvin Bridgman's house on the Belchertown common. Frink retreated to a local pub. Frazier entered the Bridgman home through a back door while Jackson and Jennings remained in the buggy. Within minutes a commotion erupted inside the house when Mrs. Shaw and some of the neighborhood ladies tried to corner Frazier and Palmer in an upstairs bedroom. Frazier took his half-sister in his arms and carried her out of the house. They quickly sped back to Amherst on the Logtown Road. They were briefly stopped by Hampshire County Sheriff  Dwight for excessive speeding but recognizing the men to be upstanding citizens of Amherst and Frazier an emloyee of Frink. They were allowed to continue.


            Angelina was eventually brought to Colrain, MA where she stayed with the Green's, fellow African Americans. Jackson, Jennings, Frazier, and Frink were later arrested, and charged with kidnapping and assault. Edward Dickinson, the father of now famed poet Emily Dickinson was hired as their defense attorney. Frink, the only white defendant, was acquitted. The other three men were found guilty as charged. They were given the option of having the charges dropped if they revealed the location of Angelina. They refused. Consequently they were each sentenced to three months in the Hampshire County Jail in Northampton. The Daily Hampshire Gazette and other local papers condemned the verdict, while local attempts to achieve the prisoners' release were fruitless. However they served very lenient jail terms. Each was allowed unrestricted movement throughout the county during the day as long as they returned to the jail at dusk. Prison food was supplemented with generous gifts from friends and neighbors.


            After their release the men returned to Amherst as heroes of the abolitionist cause. Angeline Palmer later returned to Amherst in 1851 and later wed Henry Jackson's brother Sanford C. Jackson.  Surprisingly, most residents of Belchertown seem to be unaware of this event. The upper class of the town which the Shaws and Bridgemans belonged to successfully covered up their disgraced attempt at making a profit off of a human life. In recent years local Historian Cliff McCarthy and his associates of the Belchertown Historical Society have uncovered the bulk of this tale. However there may be more to discover in the years to come, especially more about Calvin Bridgmen's exact role in the Palmer scheme.        

 ---Evan Dell'Olio






Calvin Bridgman's daughter, Susan, who died young. Courtesy of the Stone House Museum, Belchertown, Ma



Gravesite of Calvin Bridgman, Belchertown, MA,  Evan Dell'Olio 2008