Patriots in Their Midst: The Baker Family’s Ties to Gov. Benjamin Pierce

  • Stacy Teicher Khadaroo
Portrait of Revolutionary War veteran and New Hampshire Governor Benjamin Pierce, by Henry Willard, circa 1830. Image courtesy New Hampshire Historical Society.

“I was ploughing in the field when the news first came that the British had fired upon the Americans at Lexington and killed eight men. I stepped between the cattle, dropped the chains from the plough, and without any further ceremony, shouldered my uncle’s fowling piece, swung the bullet-pouch and powderhorn and hastened to the place where the first blood had been spilled, but finding the enemy had retired, I pursued my way towards Boston. . . .” 1

With this stirring eyewitness account, Gen. Benjamin Pierce related the events of April 19, 1775—the start of the Revolutionary War—more than 50 years later to Albert Baker, Mary Baker Eddy’s older brother. Young Benjamin had started that momentous day as a 17-year-old helping his uncle on the family farm in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where he had lived since his father’s passing when he was six. By the next day, he had enlisted in Capt. John Ford’s company in Cambridge.

General Pierce’s subsequent recounting of battles spans the nearly nine-year war: He served in the battle of Breed’s Hill (Bunker Hill), witnessed from Dorchester Heights as the British evacuated Boston, and fought at Ticonderoga. In 1777, during a turning-point battle at Bemis Heights, he boldly dove into the smoke between the front lines and saved his regiment’s flag from being seized by the enemy.2 He also spent the winter with George Washington’s army at Valley Forge.

Benjamin Pierce—a friend of the Baker family patriarch, Mark—dictated a partial autobiography to Albert Baker, and the document is part of Longyear Museum’s collection. The unique Baker collection, including manuscripts, letters, artifacts, and photographs, sheds light on the family and the times in which they lived.

This excerpt from Benjamin Pierce’s autobiography, dictated to Albert Baker, tells how he hastened to serve on April 19, 1775 (see transcription at beginning of article). Longyear Museum Collection.

Mary Baker Eddy grew up with a keen sense of the bravery and sacrifice expressed by patriots who fought for American independence. She would later draw on these examples as Discoverer, Founder, and Leader of Christian Science—pioneering a wholly spiritual way of demonstrating liberty, justice, and self-government.

Mary Baker Eddy, circa 1880, holding “Science and Health,” which she first published 100 years after the start of the Revolutionary War. Longyear Museum Collection.

In her most important book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, she wrote this call to freedom: “Christian Science raises the standard of liberty and cries: ‘Follow me! Escape from the bondage of sickness, sin, and death!’ Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God,’ and be free! This is your divine right.”3

After the American Revolution, General Pierce headed north to work as an agent for a landholder in New Hampshire. The Continental certificates, paper currency issued by the Continental Congress he had earned as a soldier, were not worth much, but they were enough to buy a log hut and some land in Hillsborough.4 He began cutting and clearing away trees there in 1786. Described as having “bright, merry eyes,” he was “much beloved by the locals as an honest man of principle with a generous heart.”5

General Pierce joined the New Hampshire Militia and served for 21 years, attaining the rank of brigadier general.6 Mary and Albert’s father, Mark Baker, also served in the militia. The two were good friends, and the general was known to have been a frequent visitor to the Baker home in Bow, about 30 miles east of Hillsborough.7

This 1821 certificate shows Mark Baker’s leadership appointment as a Sergeant Major in the New Hampshire Militia. Longyear Museum Collection.

Mary was still in primary school when Benjamin Pierce served two one-year terms as governor of New Hampshire in 1827 and 1829. He was a Jacksonian Democrat—part of the common-man party the Bakers favored. General Pierce came to Concord to start his governorship wearing a tricorn hat as the symbol of the Revolution.8 In 1833, when President Andrew Jackson visited, the Bakers could have watched as the honored procession, accompanied by Governor Pierce, passed by their homestead in Bow.9

The following year, in 1834, Albert graduated from Dartmouth College and began boarding with Pierce and his wife, Anna, at the elegant Hillsborough home they had built 30 years before, complete with an upstairs ballroom.10


The Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, was built for Benjamin Pierce and his family in 1804. His son, U.S. President Franklin Pierce, grew up in the home, and for several years Albert Baker lived there with Gov. Benjamin Pierce and his wife.

Albert studied law with Governor Pierce’s son Franklin across the street in an office converted from a horse shed.11 By this time, Franklin was already successful in politics in addition to practicing law. During his stay with the Pierces, Albert also spent some time teaching at Hillsborough Academy, a local secondary school, to help pay his expenses.12

The Hillsborough, New Hampshire, law office where Albert Baker studied and worked with Franklin Pierce. Longyear Museum Collection.

After further preparation with a lawyer in Boston, Albert was admitted to the bar and returned to the Pierce home in Hillsborough in 1837.13 There, he carried on Franklin’s law practice and watched over the elderly general and his wife while Franklin served as a U.S. Senator in Washington.14

Benjamin Pierce wrote to Mark Baker in the spring of 1838, commenting not only on Albert’s talents, but also on the potential of his younger brother, George, who had come for a brief visit: “Sir your son the lawyer . . . [is] a young man of . . . correct habbits & gentlemanly deportment, a strict attendant of public worship when his health will admit.” Of the younger brother he wrote, “I think him a young gentleman of fine tallents well informed & of much promise.”15

An 1838 letter from Benjamin Pierce complimenting Mark Baker’s sons Albert and George Sullivan. Longyear Museum Collection.

Franklin Pierce’s solicitude for his parents’ well-being, and his strong reliance on Albert, characterize the correspondence between the two men. When Franklin received news of the death of his mother in December 1838, he wrote to Albert: “Do pass all the time you can with my dear father & omit nothing which will contribute to his comfort. . . .”16

According to Franklin Pierce, his father helped raise the American flag in Brooklyn around the time of the event depicted in this wood-engraving: “Evacuation of the British from New York, Nov. 25, 1783,” circa 1883, from the office of Pictorial War Record. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Benjamin Pierce’s own letters to relatives and friends in his later years show how much his patriotic fervor still motivated him. For example, in 1838 he wrote to John Wingate Weeks, a former Congressman and fellow Jacksonian: “My heart is full of warm Desire that the Country that Was purchased by Toil privation & the afusion of Blood Should [not] be Disposed of for a [less] price. . . .”17

Governor Pierce was well known for keeping memories of the Revolutionary War alive. On Christmas day 1824, he had hosted a gathering of fellow veterans of the war at his home—along the route between Keene and Concord.18 The men enjoyed a meal and gave speeches, praising the values that had enabled the nation to prosper. In notes for a toast, the general described April 19, 1775, as “the first flash of the American true fire, which never ceased to blaze till she was acknowledged free and independent.”19

In January 1839, Franklin wrote Albert, asking about notes he had taken of his father’s recollections: “Are they preserved? If not, will you take them again, especially incidents of the Revolution—what battles he was engaged in. . . .”20

Franklin Pierce’s 1839 letter to Albert Baker inquiring about preserving his father’s memories of the Revolutionary War. Longyear Museum Collection.

While Albert did record the elder Pierce’s memories, he apparently was not keeping up with Franklin’s appetite for news from the home front. Franklin often asked him to write more frequently.21 In one letter ending with such a request, Franklin wrote of his father: “He has been a truly extraordinary man. . . .”22

Albert also helped the general stay in close contact with his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who was married to Gen. John McNeil, known for valor in the battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane during the war of 1812.23 Albert had stayed with the McNeils and tutored their children when preparing for the bar in Boston.24

Albert’s career turned political but was cut short when he passed away in 1841. His friend and mentor Franklin Pierce reached the pinnacle of American politics when he was elected to serve one term as President of the United States, from 1853 to 1857.

Franklin Pierce, who served in the Mexican American war as a brigadier general, in an image produced when he ran for U.S. President. Image courtesy Library of Congress. Inset at right, a poster that notes his father’s service in the Revolutionary War. It now hangs at the Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough, in the room where Albert Baker stayed (photo taken with permission from New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources).

Fanny McNeil Potter—the McNeils’ daughter and Franklin’s niece—filled in at times as a hostess at the White House.25 Fanny had known young Mary Baker when Albert worked with her uncle. During Mrs. Eddy’s visit to Washington at the beginning of 1882, Mrs. Potter escorted Mrs. Eddy to pray at the grave of General McNeil, and to visit the prison where President James Garfield’s assassin was being held.26

Fanny McNeil Potter, Benjamin Pierce’s granddaughter, interacted with Mrs. Eddy during her visit to Washington, D.C., in 1882. Longyear Museum Collection.

Mrs. Eddy drew upon her family’s connection to Benjamin Pierce in 1907, after an intense attack in the press. For example, to rebut a McClure’s Magazine account that depicted her father as gaunt and feeble, she wrote: “My father’s person was erect and robust. He never used a walking-stick. To illustrate: One time when my father was visiting Governor Pierce, President Franklin Pierce’s father, the governor handed him a gold-headed walking-stick as they were about to start for church. My father thanked the governor but declined to accept the stick, saying, ‘I never use a cane.’”27

At his funeral on April 3, 1839, hundreds of New Hampshire citizens paid their last respects to the general, a patriot who had served the public for more than 60 years.28 Among Benjamin Pierce’s last words, recorded by Albert, were messages of love for his children and a one-sentence summary based on a spirit of self-sacrifice: “In every battle I ever went into, I always held my life in readiness to be offered.”29

In her work to uplift humanity to a higher sense of freedom through Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy exemplified that spirit of self-sacrifice. She wrote: “All that I have written, taught, or lived, that is good, flowed through cross-bearing, self-forgetfulness, and my faith in the right. . . . In every age, the pioneer reformer must pass through a baptism of fire. But the faithful adherents of Truth have gone on rejoicing.”30

Next month: Mrs. Eddy’s own ancestors’ contributions to the Revolutionary War and her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.


  1. Benjamin Pierce autobiography, Longyear Museum Collection, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (hereafter referenced as LMC).
  2. Ibid. Pierce’s military record is confirmed in a variety of sources. The battle of Bemis Heights is described by Franklin Pierce in an LMC letter dated Dec. 19, 1839: “He observed in the dense smoke of the engagement when the lines were within two rods of each other a wave in the dense smoke, it occurred to him that the ensign was probably shot and dashing between the lines he found the standard upon the ground and bore it thro’ that day & was soon after promoted.” See also Chandler Eastman Potter, The Military History of the State of New-Hampshire, from Its Settlement, in 1623, to the Rebellion, in 1861 (Concord: McFarland & Jenks, 1868), 392; and Peter A. Wallner, Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son (Concord: Plaidswede Publishing, 2004), 5.
  3. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 227.
  4. Pierce autobiography, LMC; Wallner, 5.
  5. Wallner, 5-7.
  6. Pierce autobiography, 3, LMC; Marjorie Whalen Smith, “Franklin Pierce Homestead,” New Hampshire Profiles, November 1972, 26.
  7. “Mrs. Eddy’s father was the warm personal friend of Governor Benjamin Pierce, the father of President Pierce. They visited each other frequently and were always happy in each other’s society.” Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, Mary Baker Eddy: The Woman and the Revelator, 704, MBEL. See also Jewel Spangler Smaus, Mary Baker Eddy: The Golden Days (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1966), 44.
  8. Wesley G. Balla, “Inheriting the Revolution: Benjamin Pierce’s World, Ideals, and Legacy,” Historical New Hampshire, Spring 2005, 15.
  9. James Suber, “Presidents and Politics,” February 15, 2016, Click here to read.
  10. Smaus, 69; Wallner, 5-6, notes that Pierce’s first wife, Elizabeth Andrews, died shortly after daughter Elizabeth was born in 1788. Two years later, he married Anna and they would go on to have eight children; Franklin was born in the log house just before they moved.
  11. Smith, 27. See also, Correspondence with Carl I. Bell, Editor of the Concord News & New Hampshire Lore, March 19, 1968, LMC.
  12. Smaus, 69. Albert’s sister Abigail came to study there for a time and boarded with the Pierces as well.
  13. “Although admitted to practice law in Massachusetts as well as New Hampshire, Albert Baker appears to have practiced only in New Hampshire.” Clifford P. Smith, Historical Sketches from the Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1934), 22-23.
  14. Smaus, 83. Franklin and his wife spent part of their time in Washington and part in New Hampshire, where they moved to Concord in 1838. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Life of Franklin Pierce (1852), 47.
  15. Benjamin Pierce, apparently to Mark Baker, April 5, 1838, LMC.
  16. Franklin Pierce to Albert Baker, December 12, 1838, LMC.
  17. Benjamin Pierce to John Wingate Weeks, January 12, 1838, John Wingate Weeks Papers, 1974.072, New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, New Hampshire (hereafter referenced as NHHS).
  18. Wallner, 6. Taverns often served as places for political activity and community meetings in 19th-century New England.
  19. Benjamin Pierce Papers, 1982-071, NHHS; Balla, 7.
  20. Franklin Pierce to Albert Baker, January 8, 1839, LMC.
  21. For example, Franklin chided Albert and signed off with, “Give my love to my dear father and write me a little more frequently just to let me know how he is.” Franklin Pierce to Albert Baker, January 17, 1839, LMC.
  22. Franklin Pierce to Albert Baker, January 11, 1839. The letter continues: “and . . . it appears to me that his great strength of character was never more conspicuous than within the last two years” (during which Benjamin Pierce’s wife had died and he had experienced setbacks in health).
  23. “History of Hillsborough, N.H.,” typed manuscript from Gen. John McNeil documents, LMC. This document also notes that General McNeil’s father, also named John McNeil, served at Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War. Gen. McNeil was a cousin of Mary Baker Eddy’s paternal grandmother. See also “Government Report 1890 General John McNeil US Army Niagara Frontier War Of 1812”; Benjamin Pierce Papers, 1982-071, NHHS. Some of the letters between Gen. Pierce and Elizabeth mention Albert Baker. In February 1838, for instance, she asks her father to “remember me kindly to Mr. Baker – and indeed, to all your household that is kind and attentive to you. . . .”
  24. “Albert Baker Inspired Politician,” Longyear Foundation Quarterly News 5 (1968), accessible online here.
  25. Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 105.
  26. “Mrs. Eddy’s Reply to the January McClure Article,” Christian Science Sentinel 9 (January 5, 1907): 311, and later republished in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, 308-316, by Mary Baker Eddy. Mrs. Eddy wrote of the visit to the prison: “I . . . found him in the mental state called moral idiocy. He had no sense of his crime; but regarded his act as one of simple justice, and himself as the victim. My few words touched him; he sank back in his chair, limp and pale; his flippancy had fled. The jailer thanked me, and said, ‘Other visitors have brought to him bouquets, but you have brought what will do him good.’” Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, 112.
  27. “Mrs. Eddy’s Reply to the January McClure Article,” Christian Science Sentinel, January 5, 1907.
  28. Balla, 19.
  29. Albert Baker Manuscripts, LMC.
  30. Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, 213.