Otis Everett was born June 5, 1803 in Sharon, Massachusetts to Otis Everett, Sr. and his mother, Hannah (Ross) Everett. The next year, on August 18, 1804, Hannah gave birth to daughter Hannah Ross. His mother died twelve days later, on August 30, 1804. Although no record exists with the official cause of death, one can assume that Hannah died from childbirth. Otis was one year old. Unfortunately for the Everetts, daughter Hannah Ross died a little over a year later, on 29 September 1805.
Otis Everett grew up the in the picturesque town of Sharon and most likely attended a “common school” because of a 1642 statute in New England that required any town with more than 100 families dwelling in it to set up a school. As the American economy was shifting to an industrialized capitalistic society, it became increasingly important for public education. Public education was seen as a method to combat poverty and crime but also to train the next generation of workforce.
After Otis finished school, he joined the counting house of T. and E. Motley. The firm was located at India Wharf, where the Institute of Contemporary Art is now located.¹ Through his work as a Motley bookkeeper, Otis was able to accept an apprenticeship position at the East India Trade Company. During this time he met and married Elizabeth Lowell Blake, daughter of Thomas and Mary (Barnard) Blake. After serving his apprenticeship, Otis established his own firm, Everett and Curtis. The company, which was in Central Wharf, owned ships that were used for foreign and domestic trade. A few years later Everett and Curtis dissolved and Otis began to work for the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, where he remained until he retired.
Boston Harbor has always been an admirable port with its deep channels and beautiful islands. This landscape has provided natural breakwaters and shipping channels. Throughout the 19th century, Boston Harbor was the second busiest port in the United States and the undisputed leader in the Canton trade market. Ships would leave Boston loaded with cloth, garments, shoes, copper, and other cheap goods and sail around Cape Horn heading for the Pacific Northwest. Merchants traded their good there for silver and fur, mainly sea otter, to bring to Canton where the fur was highly coveted. Bostonian merchants in Canton, flush with money from the fur sales, would purchase tea, silk, china ware, nankeens, and crepe to bring back to Boston to sell.
Unfortunately for the Everett family in Boston, the Pacific Northwest trade route died out by 1820 and during the 1840s and 1850s, the golden age of American deep water shipping was in a steady decline. Profits shrunk due to international competition and the increase use of the New York Harbor as the choice for China trade merchants.
The middle class life, especially for the Everetts in the South End, was distinct from both the upper class and the working class. Middle class families increasingly consumed manufactured goods as they began furnishing their homes with carpets, curtains, and furniture. Gone were the days of bare floors and sparse furnishings. Although the middle class did not have the opulent furnishings of the upper class, they were able to emulate them. The middle class also saw their homes increase in size and include indoor plumbing, a luxury not afforded to the working class in the tenements around Boston. Popular publications such as Harper’s magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book emphasized the need to work a plot of land, even if it was a small plot in the city, and the South End allowed for what we now call urban gardening.
Otis and Elizabeth Everett had three sons, Otis Blake, Thomas Blake, and Percival (Percy) Lowell, and one daughter, Louisa.
1. A British term in origin, a counting-house is a building or room used by a business to house their accountants or bookkeepers.