Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Businesswoman: Narcissa Stone

Narcissa Stone, one of the most influential women ever to live in Brunswick, was born there in August 1801. The eldest of the ten children (3 boys and 7 girls) of Nancy Hinkley (1785-1828) and Captain Daniel Stone (1772-1825), Narcissa was very much her father's daughter.

Captain Daniel Stone, as his title would imply, was once a sailor, but eventually gave up the life on the sea and opened a store in Brunswick. He became a prominent businessman and local figure and bought up much land in the area. When Narcissa was 4, her father moved the family from the house when she had been born (on the corner of Maine and Mason Streets) to the home where Narcissa would spend the rest of her life on Water Street--now the Captain Daniel Stone Inn. Appropriately enough, the Water Street home stood near the site where the town's first settler, Thomas Purchase, had built his own home in 1628.

Narcissa Stone's home at 10 Water Street, pictured here circa 1920. Narcissa lived here from the age of 4 until her death. The house is now part of the Captain Daniel Stone Inn. From Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH.1898.a.

Narcissa spend her youth helping her father in his store, learning the "basics of business" that became key to her later success (Kanes, 199). She was also formally educated, unlike the vast majority of women of her day. Capt. Daniel died in 1825, followed by his wife Nancy in 1828, leaving Narcissa not only in charge of her father's store and real estate, but also of all her younger siblings--the youngest of whom was just 6 when they became orphans. She ran the store for several years until the estate was settled, and branched out into many other business ventures. As her obituary puts it, Narcissa's business acumen "would have led one to believe that she was brought up in the counting-house of some extensive merchant or banker instead of the family circle."

While still in her twenties, Narcissa became a real estate developer, buying and--after as one contemporary of hers put it "considerably improv[ing]" it--selling much property in Brunswick and the surrounding areas. In 1851, for example, she sold the town a plot of land at the corner of Federal and Green streets for $1,000, on which the town built the first Brunswick high school. She later branched out to manufacturing. In 1834 Narcissa, along with a group of prominent men in town (Robert Pinckney Dunlap, John C. Humphreys, David Dunlap, Joseph McKeen, James McKeen and Dr. Isaac Lincoln) founded the Brunswick Company which manufactured cotton, wool, iron and steel. She converted a horse stable into a steam mill to produce lumber and grind grain and built many dams to provide power to her manufacturing interests.

The first Brunswick High School, which stood at the corner of Green and Federal Streets. The town purchased the land from Narcissa Stone in 1851 for $1,000. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 2119.c.

Narcissa was no miser, however. Her considerable wealth--at the time of her death she was reportedly worth $60,000 (approximately $1.1 million today)--allowed her to donate money to many local churches. Though she was a Baptist, she also donated money to St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Narcissa's obituary even reports that she helped fund the education of an African-American man in Raleigh, North Carolina. Narcissa--"a persistent reader"--was renown for her intelligence and took a particular interest in natural history, collecting interesting specimens and displaying them in a cabinet in her home. Professor Parker Cleaveland was a friend of hers, as was Prof. Alpheus Spring Packard, who had known when she was young.

The Stone family monument in Pine Grove Cemetery, where Narcissa, her parents and siblings are buried.

Six days after what was probably a stroke paralyzed here, Narcissa Stone died on November 18, 1877. Never having married, the only member of Narcissa's family to outlive her was her younger brother, Daniel H. At the time of her death at age 76 she was one of the oldest people in Brunswick and her obituary reported that hers "was one of the largest private funerals we ever attended in this village." "[A] more intelligent and clear-headed woman" Narcissa's obituary reads, "never lived."

Footstone marking Narcissa's grave in the Stone family plot. Narcissa is buried in the fourth row from the right--see this map from the Brunswick Women's History Trail website.

Click here to see the only known photograph of Narcissa Stone, from the collection of the Portland Museum of Art. Narcissa was a relative of the McLellan (sometimes spelled McClellan) family, whose home became part of the museum.

Furbish, John. Facts About Brunswick, Maine. Curtis Memorial Library website.
Greenspan, Ezra. George Palmer Putnam: Representative American Publisher. State College: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
Kanes, Candace A. "Revisiting Main Street: Uncovering Women Entrepreneurs." Her Past Around Us: Interpreting Sites of Women's History. Polly Welts Kaufman & Katharine T. Corbett, eds. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 2003.
Tenney, A.G. "Paralysis." Brunswick Telegraph. 16 November 1877.
Tenney, A.G. "Miss Narcissa Stone." Brunswick Telegraph. 23 November 1877.
Property deeds relating to land at the corner of Federal & Green Streets, Brunswick. Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 2008.276, 2008.291 & 2008.292.
Wheeler, George Augustus & Henry Warren. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1878.

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