Robert Kendall Darrah*
Robert Kendall Darrah, Esq., of Boston, a resident member,
admitted Feb. 8, 1883, was born in the year 1818, in the town of
Charlestown (No. 4), N. H. His father Joseph Darrah and his mother
Lefe Putnam were Massachusetts people, of the real Puritanic type;
somewhat stern, but with their faces set to walk in the right way
if they could find it, no matter how narrow or how difficult.
Their boy. the seventh of nine children, was brought up therefore
with an educated, as well as an inherited, sense of truthfulness
and honor. These qualities were combined in him with a singular
simplicity of disposition and boyishness of temper which never
left him, and which might be called his dominant characteristics.
His sister writes: "My dear brother received
what little education he had in a district school, which he left
at the age of fourteen to go into a store in his native village,
where he remained until he was eighteen. Robert often said this
was an education in a certain way." The fact is very interesting
viewed from the stand¬point of his later life. Few men knew
English literature so well as he. He was full of good reading, and
when his health failed and he was left alone, he still found in
good books a delightful and consoling companionship.
At the age of eighteen Mr. Darrah came to
Boston and entered mercantile life, though he never lost his
fondness for his native place, nor drifted away from his old home
He was not destined for a successful business
career, but his probity and patriot¬ism fitted him admirably for
public service. In 1861 he was appointed by Gover¬nor Andrew as
appraiser in the Boston Custom House, an office which he filled
ac¬ceptably for the almost unprecedented term of twenty-two years
in spite of changing administrations.
In 1846 he married Sophia Towne, of
Philadelphia, a lovely woman possessed of uncommon character and
talent. They had no children, therefore she was enabled to devote
herself to painting, cultivating her gift with peculiar energy and
devo¬tion, and winning at the last an honorable place in the great
world of art. They were deeply attached to each other; what was
the wish of one was the will of the other; and they continued to
live in the closest union and sympathy to the end. No account of
his life, however brief, would be possible without some record of
his life-long companion.
It was not many years after coming to Boston
that Mr. Darrah injured himself at a gymnasium. Naturally strong
and athletic, the loss of health, combined with failure in
business, could not fail to depress him for a season, He soon
rallied, however, and tried to accommodate himself cheerfully to
new ways of life. These were necessarily monotonous, as he was no
longer able to walk much nor to take active exercise of any kind,
but he was seldom to be outdone in good cheer. He made a new life
for himself in books. Every day, whether he was by the sea-side in
summer, or in town in winter, he would go to the custom-house at
nine o'clock in the morning, would dine frugally upon his return,
and would then occupy him¬self in reading for the remainder of the
day, except for occasional visits received or made. There was very
little variation from this method of his life during thirty years.
Meanwhile Mrs, Darrah's industry was gathering
in its harvest. After her death a very large number of pictures
were sold in accordance with her will, and the sum of ten thousand
dollars was presented to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals, Mr. Darrah survived his wife only two years, two years
of beneficent kindliness to everyone within his reach. From a
letter written to his sister by his former business partner after
his death, a relation which tries the spirit of the best man, we
read: "When you consider an uninterrupted friendship of nearly
fifty years without even an unpleasant word, and on my side not
even a hard thought, and I am sure of the same on his part, it is
an unusual occurrence. We were in business together for years,
where very few men get along without some differences."
Mr. Darrah was a loyal American, He was always
profoundly interested in the politics of the day, and always a
Republican. Like many New England people he was a theorist in
government, a position which is hardly tenable for more active
men. We have at length learned that government is not an Idea
alone, but a power of acting in response to the needs of a
people, He was of such gentle nature that even if he not
been disqualified for active service by physical weakness, it is
doubtful if he could have borne the strain of public affairs.
He was especially fond of little children and
of homely ways and scenes, and his kindliness was ever on the
alert for others. When various forms of benevolence were presented
to his consideration in the city, his mind would first revert to
his beautiful home in New Hampshire, and he would satisfy himself
that he had done what he could for those who needed his help at
home before he could willingly turn to other objects.
His nature was deeply religious; he "put his
creed into his deed:" he was enthusiastic, and eager, and
affectionate. It is not wonderful that with such a
charac¬ter he was ready, when the moment came, to follow his
beloved one; nor, however brief we make the written record of his
life, that he should live long among the tenderest memories in the
heart of those who knew him.
By Mrs. James T. Fields, of Boston.
This obituary appears in The
New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 40
(July 1886), pp. 332-3.
only two years: Fields is incorrect about how long
Robert Darrah survived his wife, Ann:
Robert K. Darrah (1818-1885)
Ann Sophia (Towne) Darrah (1819-1881),
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.