Tuesday, July 26, 2016


(First posted in June 2007.)

The story of Varanes Libbey strikes me as being characteristic
of that era in the history of New England. Hundreds of men and
women left the family farms and the hill country to come to work
in the mills of Massachusetts. Men could earn from .88 cents to
around 3.50 a day in wages depending on their performance at the
job. Women were paid half that amount. That was still the best
wage available to a woman worker for that era. Mill workers would
work 12 hour days,6 days a week but anyone raised on a farm was
used to working all day everyday already. And the Lowell Mills
were originally intended as a sort of grand social experiment as
well as an industry so there were libraries, boardinghouses and an
expectation of proper moral behavior on the part of the workers.

Little wonder that Varanes and others like him left the farms for
work in the textile mills. Better money and in some cases better
living conditions. Eventually the noble intentions of the mill
owners were pushed aside for profits, but for a time it was a good
oppurtunity to make your way in the world.

Varanes was about 25 when he was made a Branch President of
the LDS Church in Lowell. That would seem to indicate he must
have been a serious young man with qualities that would lead to
his appointment. Yet only two months later he was replaced in the
position and apparently left the church shortly afterwards.

The next record I could find of Varanes was in the Adams &
Sampson Boston Street Directory of 1865:

“Libby Varanes porter, 28 India, house at Chelsea”

So Varanes left the mills at some time or another as well as the
Church. I have to wonder why he just didn’t go back home to the
family farm? Was it gone? Had one of his sisters married and her
husband taken over the farm in his absence? Did he actually
return home but left it once more to seek his fortune elsewhere?

Was there even in fact a farm left to go home to in the first place?

Or was it because of the suddenly controversial nature of the
Mormons as the doctrine of polygamy was introduced and the
New England church was rocked by accusations concerning the
conduct of William Smith, the brother of Joseph Smith? Certainly
that would have been a topic of gossip and speculation among
“proper” New Englanders. Was Varanes made to feel that he
could not go home again because of his former association with
the church?

Whatever the reason, by 1865 the 46 year old Varanes worked in
a building on India Street, along the Boston waterfront but lived
over in Chelsea across the Mystic River. He was still living there
at Walnut St. on the 1880 census as Connell O’Donovan’s
research discovered.

Working as a porter must have been hard work, but I like to think
that Varanes enjoyed being part of life on the Boston waterfront at
a time when it was still bustling with ships and visitors from far off
exotic places.

Quite a journey for a boy from Bethel, Maine.

This is why I’m now hopelessly addicted to genealogy. You never
know what new story you will find about one of your ancestors!


Charles Hansen said...

The surname Libby was interesting to me also. I live in Spokane, Washington and one of the most famous photographers in our are was Charles Libby, his collection of several hundred thousand photos is in our local historical society, but they only knew he was born in western Washington and when his dad died the family moved to Spokane. There was two Libby brothers here already and maybe family. So a little research I found the Libby Family Association and they have a lot of information on the Maine Libby's but nothing on the three Libby's here in Spokane. I found out the two brothers here in Spokane were 6th cousins to Charles Libby, not close but family.
Charles took a photo of my grandfather and his baseball team in the 1930s so that is my only connection to Charles Libby.

Grant Davis said...

Oh isn't that so true. You never know what you are going to find next. This was a very interesting story. We just keep asking questions and sometimes we find answers.