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Betsey (Guppy) Chamberlain

Last updated Feb-09

Betsey Guppy was born abt. 1797 in Wolfeboro, NH on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. She was the daughter of William Guppy & Comfort Meserve and the granddaughter of Joshua Guppy. Joshua is claimed to have married an Indian woman and they lived at Lake Winnipesaukee. Betsey married Josiah Chamberlain, who died about 1822. Betsey and Josiah had two or three children. We know of only two at this time, Ivory and Comfort. The date and place of Betsey's death is undetermined.

Betsey's son, Ivory Chamberlain, was born about 1821, presumable at Brookfield, NH. Ivory had children, but no grandchildren have been found to date. Betsey's daughter, Comfort, was born about 1822, probably at Brookfield. Comfort married 28-Nov-1850 to Austin Barnum in Kane Co. IL. This couple has 3 children in the 1860 Census. Comfort lived with a granddaughter, May Barnum, in New York in the late 1890s.

The signature of Betsey (Guppy) Chamberlain courtesy of Craig Evans

Judith Ranta is originally from Massachusetts and earned her Ph.D. in early U.S. literature. While writing a dissertation on 19th-century U.S. mill workers, she discovered Betsey Chamberlain. Judith has published a book about Betsey. We encourage you to get a copy and learn more about Betsey.

THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF BETSEY CHAMBERLAIN; Native American Mill Worker. Judith A. Ranta, Northeastern University Press, 2003, 1-55553-564-X.

Judith Ranta shared the following with us;

"In the 1830s, Betsey Guppy Chamberlain became a textile mill worker and wrote for several workers' periodicals including the Lowell Offering. Like most of the other writers, she published her writings under pseudonyms."

Betsey used the name Tabitha in the stories shared below.

Harriet Hanson Robinson, who worked in the Lowell mills from the ages of ten to twenty (1835-1845) and knew Betsey Guppy Chamberlain, published a book about her mill experiences in 1898, Loom and Spindle, or Life among the Early Mill Girls. The book includes this biographical sketch of Chamberlain:

"Mrs. Chamberlain was the most original, the most prolific, and the most noted of all the early story-writers. ... Mrs. Chamberlain was a widow, and came to Lowell with three children from some community, where she had not been contented. She had inherited Indian blood, and was proud of it. She had long, straight black hair, and walked very erect, with great freedom of movement."

Judith goes on to tells us,

"Betsey never identifies herself directly as Native in her writings. It is important to remember that she was living in a predominantly white community and had to hide to some degree. ... It's also important to remember in reading the following stories, that she had only a few years of formal education and was working in terrible conditions 12 to 14 hours a day 6 days a week."

"One might ask why the Lowell Offering would publish such pro-Indian writings (and ones so critical of Euroamerican bigotry) as Betsey Chamberlain's. In the periodical's first few years when Chamberlain's pro-Indian writings were published, the Lowell Offering was edited by a local minister, Abel C. Thomas, who had been reared in a Quaker family. The Quakers had long been active in aiding Native people and supporting women's rights. As Harriet H. Robinson wrote in Loom and Spindle: "The fact that Mr. Thomas was the grandson of a noted Quaker preacher (Abel Thomas) probably accounts for his inheritance of the idea, first promulgated in this country by that sect, that women have the right and the ability to express their thoughts, both in speaking and in writing". Interestingly, several of Betsey G. Chamberlain's local-color Lowell Offering writings recall happy memories of socializing with Quakers in the Wolfeboro, N.H., area."

"Betsey G. Chamberlain's writings are good examples of the unacknowledged influence of Native people on American culture. Her writings reached many people over a wide geographic area. Sales of early issues ranged between three and five thousand copies. There were subscribers in all of the states, except some Southern ones, and overseas in countries including England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. ... I think she was trying to reach out and change white people's views/treatment of Native people and show the humanity of Indian people."

It is an honor for Ne-Do-Ba to present the following stories written by this very courageous Dawnland Woman, Betsey Guppy Chamberlain. She has come home to her People! The Wabanaki People are grateful to Judith Ranta for making it possible.

Source: Judith Ranta
Contributed by: Judith Ranta

Ne-Do-Ba Comment - - - Ne-Do-Ba is deeply indebted to Judith Ranta of NY for sharing her research into the life of Betsey Guppy and for providing us with the three stories presented here.
K'chi Wliwni Nidoba -- GREAT THANKS MY FRIEND