19th Century to the Present: Captain Daniel Reed and his Descendants

Captain Daniel Reed was born in approximately 1766 to Daniel and Dorothy Billings Reed. He married Priscilla Wyman Reed on November 26, 1789 and together they had six children: Susan, Priscilla, Abigail (Nabby), Daniel Jr., Martha and Mary. Daniel and his family lived in Northwest Cambridge (now Arlington). He was the first in his family to break away from farming. Out of all of the professions available to him, Daniel Reed chose the sea, and by the end of the 18th century, he was a captain.

Throughout the colonial period and after the Revolutionary War, a life at sea offered New England boys the best chance of a career. During the early 18th century, an ambitious young mariner could work his way up to commanding his own ship in several years. This allowed many poor New Englanders to rise up social ranks. Young men could begin their career at sea as early as age sixteen. Mariners advanced from boy to seaman, to second mate, then mate, and finally captain. A career as a captain allowed Daniel Reed to move up the social ladder and by the end of his life, documents referred to him as a Gentleman.

As a captain, Daniel was decision-maker, navigator and businessman. There was no democracy on a ship and Daniel’s word would have been law. Daniel Reed had three responsibilities as a ship captain: to the ship’s owners, to the cargo he transported, and to his crew.

Records show that Daniel Reed served as captain of the brig Charleston in the late 18th century. It departed for Bilbao, Spain, in 1797 with goods such as tobacco, rice and sugar. French privateers seized the ship on July 21 and brought it to L’Orient. Eventually, the French released the ship and crew. The seizure of Captain Reed’s ship occurred just before the Quasi-War, an undeclared war fought at sea between France and the United States from 1798 to 1800. The United States refused to continue repaying its debt to France after the collapse of the French crown, arguing that they owed money to the previous government. Outraged, France retaliated by seizing a number of American trading ships. By February 1797, France had seized over 316 American merchant ships.

In 1798, Daniel Reed, Seth Frost and Ebenezer Hall sent a notice to inhabitants of the Northwest Precinct in Cambridge (now Arlington) who own real estate. The notice announced that those who owned real estate would be assessed. In the 18th century, members of a town were required to serve in public office. Precinct assessors were required to assess real estate so that those persons could be taxed accordingly.
A 1798 notice from Daniel Reed, Seth Frost and Ebenezer Hall to inhabitants of the Northwest Precinct in Cambridge (now Arlington) who owned real estate.

Even though he was frequently away at sea, Daniel was also an active member of society. In 1798, Daniel Reed, Seth Frost and Ebenezer Hall sent a notice to inhabitants of the Northwest Precinct in Cambridge (now Arlington) who owned real estate. The notice announced that they would assess real estate owners’ property. In the 18th century, town inhabitants were required to serve in public office. The town required precinct assessors to assess real estate in order to tax them accordingly.

Receipt of payment made to Nahum Ball, a doctor, for the care of Daniel Reed.
Receipt of payment made to Nahum Ball, a doctor, for the care of Daniel Reed.

The majority of Captain Daniel Reed’s documents regard his father’s death in 1801. Upon his father’s death, the will appointed Captain Daniel executor of the estate. He was therefore responsible to pay all of his father’s expenses, such as his coffin, his funeral and even payments to his father’s doctor. Although he was responsible for settling all of his father’s debts, the will stipulated that two-thirds of the estate now belonged to Daniel.

In 1802, shortly after his father’s death, Daniel began buying up the rest of his father’s land from his siblings. From his twin sister Sabra, Daniel bought 60 acres of land in Charlestown for $100. He bought an additional 120 acres of land from his sisters Abigail, Eunice and Lucretia. Sabra and Abigail lived in Connecticut and New York respectively; therefore, they were not able to maintain large pieces of land from hundreds of miles away.

Despite Daniel’s wealth, he fell ill in 1818 at the age of fifty-two. It is unknown what illness he had, but he eventually passed away two years later on February 6, 1820. Daniel’s family buried him in Arlington at the Old Burying Ground. Listed in his will is his wife Priscilla and his daughters Susan, Priscilla and Abigail. Daniel left a fair amount of land and money to his children. In an inventory of Daniel Reed’s estate in 1821, appraisers valued his real estate at $4,570 (about $102,000 today).

Stephen Symmes (1790 – 1880)

Stephen Symmes was born in South Woburn (now Winchester) on May 19, 1790. He married Captain Daniel and Priscilla Wyman Reed’s daughter Priscilla in October 1815.  Stephen was a farmer and lived in Arlington with Priscilla and their children: Sarah, Priscilla, Louisa and Stephen Jr. An 1860 census of West Cambridge listed Stephen as a farmer, aged 70. Through his wife Priscilla, he ended up owning part of the farm that Squaw Sachem once owned. The Wyman family, however, owned the original home.

Stephen Symmes Jr. (1816 – 1901)

A portrait of Stephen Symmes, Jr.
A portrait of Stephen Symmes, Jr.

Stephen Symmes Jr. was the son of Stephen and Priscilla Reed Symmes. He lived on part of the farm that the eldest Daniel Reed bought from John Fowle in 1707. His home, now known as the Stephen Symmes home, is located on Crosby Street in Arlington. It is a Greek revival and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As a young man, Stephen was a clerk in a grocery store, which once stood at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Water Street. He married Catherine Pollard and although they had no children, they adopted a daughter named Harriet.

Stephen was also an active member of society and served on the School Committee and the Board of Assessors from 1850 – 1867. Unfortunately, Stephen outlived his family. His wife Catherine died on March 18, 1881 and his adopted daughter Harriet died after a long illness on March 30, 1900. During Harriet’s illness, Stephen had to transport her to a Boston hospital. The inconveniences Stephen experienced in visiting her gave him the idea of founding a hospital in Arlington.

Symmes Hospital, Arlington.
Symmes Hospital, Arlington, MA.

In his will, he left his entire estate, including the farm on Old Mystic Street (and personal property) to trustees to establish and forever maintain a hospital in Arlington. The estate inventoried at $30,000. The trustees found the house and location unsuitable to be a hospital, but the town eventually built a hospital elsewhere in Arlington 1912 in his name. Symmes hospital was an important part of Arlington in the 20th century. Many residents in Arlington and neighboring towns depended on the hospital for convenient medical care as well as employment. Symmes was the largest employer in Arlington with over 550 employees. The hospital unfortunately closed in 1992 and was a great loss to the community.

The closing of the Symmes hospital ends the story of the Reed family. History has largely forgotten this ordinary family until now. This exhibit reminds us that despite the Reeds’ ordinary circumstances, their story gives insight into the lived experiences of colonial and post-colonial New England.

Below is a gallery of documents relating to Captain Daniel Reed, his children, and the Symmes descendants:



Crawford, Michael J., and Christine F. Huges. “Reestablishment of the Navy, 1787-1801.” Naval History and Heritage Command. January 6, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2015. http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/bibliographies/reestablishment-of-the-navy-1787-1801.html.
“Life at Sea.” Penobscot Marine Museum. 2012. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://penobscotmarinemuseum.org/pbho-1/life-at-sea/life-sea-introduction.
Wendell, George Blunt. George Blunt Wendell, Clipper Ship Master. Letters and Journals. Mystic, Conn.: Marine Historical Association, 1949.