Thanks to the New England Historical Society for this romantic old tale from Marblehead.
In 1742, Charles Henry Frankland, the king’s collector for the port of Boston, visited Marblehead. Staying at the Fountain Tavern, he was gobsmacked by the beauty of Agnes Surriage, the tavern’s 16-year-old maid. Charmed by her beauty and straightforward manner, Frankland offered to take her to Boston and give her an education. Charles and Agnes were almost certainly more than patron and ward, but he would not marry a commoner.
The story is told in the book, “Three Heroines of New England Romance,” as abbreviated below:
In 1742, when Charles Henry Frankland was Collector of the Port of Boston, the gallant young Collector came riding into Marblehead on some business connected with the prospective fort.
Scrubbing the tavern floor, there knelt before him, in lovely disarray, the sweet beggar- maid Agnes Surriage, destined to be crowned at once by the favor of this careless Cophetua. Her beauty was something rare and delicate, calculated to arrest the eye and chain the heart; the simple dignity of her demeanor was no more to be affected through her menial task than a rose by clouded skies. Her fair feet were naked, and blushed not at their poverty, but Frankland’s heart ached with pity of them, and he closed her fingers over a coin, to buy shoes and stockings. Then he gave her “good-day,” and rode away, but not to forget her, only to muse on her grace, and to start at the vision of her eyes, shining between him and his bills of merchandise and lading.
Again he came riding that way, and again he found her, still barefooted, but when he reproached her for having failed to put his coin to its destined use, she blushed, and answered in the homely dialect of Marblehead, which yet had no power over the music of her voice, that the shoes and stockings were bought, but that she kept them to wear to meeting.
And now the young Collector went often and more often to Marblehead, until the day came when he obtained her parents’ permission to become her guardian, and take her away to be educated. So the wild bird entered voluntarily into the life of cages, to learn the demeanor and song-notes which were approved by the fashionable Boston of the day.
She was surrounded by luxuries which might have proved bewildering to a less simple and noble nature, and, last of all, she stooped to receive the crown of her guardian’s love. Alas, poor maid of Marblehead, for this was a crown that smirched the brow and stung as with nettles, no matter how bravely its blossoms nodded above. Frankland loved her, but he was bound by the fetters of an ancestral pride; he owed all to his family, and nothing to his own manly honor, and he could not marry her.
In the humble home at Marblehead, her name became the note of shame, for these fisher-folk had a hard hand and a rough word ready for one who was light o’ love. All the more did she turn to Frankland, as to her sun of happiness, and in the unfailing warmth of his affection she alternately drooped and smiled.
Frankland had bought a large tract of land in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and there he proceeded to build a manor-house, where, in a humble fashion, life might copy the abundance and solid magnificence of England’s ancestral homes. Here the two must have lived Arcadian days, in all but lightness of heart. The lovely maid, for whom no labor had been too menial, reigned the queen of this lavish domain.
On Nov. 1, 1755 while the couple were visiting Lisbon, the Great Lisbon Earthquake began shaking the city. Frankland was trapped under debris, but the desperate Agnes offered large rewards, and found a group of men to help her extricate him. Charles immediately asked her to marry him.
Her husband returned with her to England, where she was received as a beloved daughter of the house, and enshrined in those steadfast English hearts. The two set sail again for America, where Agnes walked into Boston society as walks a princess entering her rightful domain.
Read the story in Three Heroines of New England below.