Hepsibeth Bowman/ Crosman Hemenway Portrait
Hepsibeth Hemenway (1763-1847) was a Nipmuc Indian. Her grandfather, Samuel Bowman, was an original proprietor of Natick (1719), one of the “praying towns” established by John Eliot for Christianized Indians. Early on, he moved his family to Worcester to join the community of Christianized Indians at Pakachoag Hill in the southern part of town. Hepsibeth was born there, to Samuel’s daughter Lydia and a white man named Crosman.
Hepsibeth’s father either died or departed town when she was young. Her mother, who lived her last months on town relief, died in 1784. In 1789, Hepsibeth married Jeffrey Hemenway, a man of Indian and African-American parentage and the father of her two children. He was twenty-seven years her senior, had served in the French and Indian War and in the Revolution, and was a carpenter by trade. The couple had eight more children, six of them whom survived to adulthood.
The Hemingway owned a two-acre “farm” on the outskirts of town (present day May Street). After Jeffrey’s death in 1819, Hepsibeth moved to a small rental house by the burial ground on Mechanic Street and supported herself by taking in laundry, cooking, and making wedding cakes that made her famous. Her daughter Hannah, who continued this tradition, recollected that Hepsibeth “made nearly all the wedding cakes for prominent people … and her services were always in demand.”