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Thoreau in Cohasset

Robert Fraser

From Savor of Salt, edited by Jacqueline M. Dormitzer (Town of Cohasset, Mass., 2006), pp. 133-134.

Here is another of Robert Fraser’s surprising finds.

One of the onlookers at the St. John wreck who was later to write of this visit in his book on Cape Cod was the famous transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. He frequently came to this area, and while he never mentioned it in any of his works, it was because of a girl.

She was Ellen Sewell of Scituate, daughter of Rev. Edmund Sewell, minister of the Scituate Unitarian Church. One year the Sewells visited their friends the minister of the Concord Unitarian Church and his family. Out of curiosity the two ministers and their families went to a transcendentalist meeting. It was here that Thoreau met Ellen.

Thereafter Thoreau was a frequent visitor to Scituate. However, Rev. Sewell eventually told Ellen to stop seeing the young man—that he was a dreamer and wouldn’t amount to anything. Being a dutiful daughter, she [obeyed]. In 1844, at the age of twenty-two, Ellen married Rev. Joseph Osgood, who, a couple of years before, had become the minister of Cohasset’s Unitarian Church on the Common.

Thoreau did visit Ellen, now Mrs. Osgood, at her home at 23 North Main Street a few times. But he soon realized that it was all over.

It is said that Ellen Sewell was the only girl Thoreau loved, and to recover from the disappointment, he went to live alone for two years on the shore of Walden Pond.

From Robert Fraser, “Thoreau in Cohasset,” Cohasset Vignettes, privately printed, 1981. Reprinted by permission of the author.