Early municipal record keeping in America consisted of recording town business along with life events of the town residents such as births, deaths and marriages. These records were often written down in numbered volumes or books. Book IV of Rochester town records include the births of the citizens of Rochester in the late 1700s and early 1800s. One particular entry records the dates of the births of the children of Lucinda and William Parlow, Jr. They had ten children from 1789 to 1812. The first child noted was Keziah born September 30, 1789.
Aside from historical value, there is nothing remarkable about this entry of births and the many others like it. But in the fall of 1886 a reporter from the Boston Daily Globe was sent out to investigate the life of this child who was born during the first term of President George Washington. He arrived in Mattapoisett asking for directions to a house deep in the woods on the outskirts of town to conduct an interview.
“Take the road toward Marion out to the Quaker Meeting House”, he was told by one of the locals knowing exactly who the reporter was looking for. Many people came to town to make this visit including Frances Cleveland, the wife of President Grover Cleveland.
The reporter followed the directions, riding through the woods behind the Quaker Meeting House on present day Marion Road. He came to a clearing which stood a small cottage surrounded by large pines. He knocked on the door. When the door opened a small, elderly woman with snow-white hair greeted him.
“Hitch your horse to the tree and come right in. I know what you want”, she ordered him.
“You want to see the old lady that lives in the woods. I have lots of visitors… They think I’m crazy to live out here alone in the woods, but I tell ‘em that’s what keeps me well and healthy”. Perhaps she was right. Aunt Keziah, as she was known, was now 103 years old. She insisted that she was born September 30, 1783 not 1789.
Keziah Parlow was born in Marion at the site of what became the Marion railroad station. By the time she was ten years old she was sent to live with a local preacher where she worked and received an education. Around 1807 she traveled to Smith Mills in Dartmouth where she taught school.
At some point she relocated back to the tri town area and in 1810 she married Richard Randall. Mr. Randall was a much older man, about 55 years old at the time of their marriage. In 1812 when war broke out, Mr. Randall volunteered to serve as a coast guard. He didn’t see any action and returned home. In 1815 he contracted yellow fever and died.
The same Book IV that lists the birth of Keziah, lists the children born to Richard and Keziah Randall on the next page. It notes they had three children; Arethusa born in 1812, Roxalana born in 1814 and an unnamed daughter born in 1816.
This daughter born in 1816 may have been Lucretia who died in a fire early in 1824. Keziah left the home for a little bit while the children stayed inside. It was suggested later that Lucretia’s clothing had caught fire, she panicked and ran around the room spreading the flames. When Keziah returned she found Lucretia severely burned and dying nearby a cradle that had, what was reported to be Keziah’s infant daughter. Keziah pulled the baby from the flames that were surrounding the cradle.
The baby was most likely Matilda, who was born in April of 1822. Vital Records of Rochester, Mass does not note the father of Matilda but it may have been Ezra Read of Dartmouth. Ezra and Keziah filed an intention to marry in December of 1822 but apparently never married.
Keziah claimed to have a son who was living in Virginia by the 1880s. She kept a photograph of herself standing with him in front of her house along with photographs of her grandchildren hanging on her walls.
Aunt Keziah managed to support her self and children over the years and put money away. By 1835 she moved to Mattapoisett to work for a man as his housekeeper. Not long after going to work for this man he passed away and willed his property to her. She lived in his old log home for a short time before having a new house built on the property around 1837.
She would spend the next several decades in this home. She remained active working in her garden growing her own food and otherwise running her own farm. Being engaged in active out door work is what Aunt Keziah credited to her having lived a long life.
She nursed her self when she was sick using herbal remedies, made her own root beer and made rugs for her house. Near the end of her life she noted that girls of the day did not learn any useful skills such as spinning and weaving. “Now they play the piano, go to school and get so lazy that they die early”.
They eat too much sugar and “the o-so sweet stuff” and don’t know how to dress. “They wear a little mite of a plate on top of their head and go half naked” she said of Victorian era young women.
“Girls were prettier then than they are now”, she added.
Despite living alone in the woods, Aunt Keziah was not a hermit. She welcomed visitors from ‘Poisett as she referred to Mattapoisett. She made trips to see her daughter, Arethusa in Fall River and grandchildren in New Bedford and Brockton.
In 1889 Aunt Keziah’s friends celebrated her 100th birthday with her. They took her to a picnic and gave her $100. Despite this generosity she was quietly disappointed. For her birthday she had been hoping for a headstone for her grave.
She had a fear that when she died she would be buried in an unmarked grave. She had put away money so she could place a headstone on her husband’s grave at the First Parish Cemetery in Rochester, with the phrase “We shall meet again” inscribed on it.
Later, summer residents in Mattapoisett would furnish Keziah with a headstone that was placed in Pine Island Cemetery. In the months before she passed away, she could be seen wandering the cemetery where she would visit her own grave and work on it, preparing for her final resting place.
In the summer of 1892 she became very ill, was confined to bed and soon slipped in to unconsciousness. Not long before, Aunt Keziah’s grandchildren were visiting her Just before leaving as she lay in bed, one of them said, “I’m going home, Aunt Keziah”.
Pointing upward, Aunt Keziah replied, “So am I”.
View an interactive map of Aunt Keziah’s life: