The Osgood Family of Roxbury
If you look closely at some of the old maps of Roxbury, like this page from the 1895 atlas, you’ll see the Osgood family name on just about every other corner. This has intrigued me since I first saw an old Roxbury map because I’m a descendant of the Osgood clan - my great-grandmother was Louise Osgood, the daughter of a Joseph Osgood, a well-known preacher who lived in Cohasset in the mid-19th century.
The John Felt Osgood mansion on Guild Street in 1873. The Right-of-Way became Logan Street in the next map, bisecting the property.
The same property in 1895. By 1915, Rockledge Street had been cut through the middle of his property and the mansion no longer existed.
It turns out that the Osgood family name’s pretty common, and that dozens of prominent Osgoods populate the history of our country. Almost all of the Osgoods in this country - and there have been nearly 10,000 of them since the 1630’s, come from 3 Osgood brothers, all Puritans, who came over in the 1630s and settled in Andover, Essex, and Salisbury. The eldest, John, has the largest pool of descendants, and it’s from him that both my great-grandmother and John Felt Osgood of Roxbury descended, but they were very distant cousins. If you are interested in learning more about the Osgoods, the best place to start is OsgoodAncestry.org.
JFO owned properties at the corner of Centre, Cedar, and Fort
The Osgood that we’re most interested in Roxbury, however, is John Felt Osgood. I haven’t found nearly as much as I’d like to about this man given his prominence as a landowner, but there are some details available online. He was born to a seafaring family from Salem, Mass, on Dec 18, 1825, and continued the seafaring tradition by shipping out to the East Indies when he was 19 or 20. After a few years there as a “commission merchant,” he ended up in San Francisco during the boom following the gold rush. He was also a commission merchant in California, and apparently he was good enough friends with one George Comstock to have George name his son John Felt Osgood Comstock.
He also owned this complex of buildings on Oakland and Washington.
In 1858, John Felt Osgood came back to the east coast, but instead of returning to Salem he set up shop, once again as a commission merchant, at 25 Central Wharf and took up residence in Roxbury. One genealogy has him listed as marrying his wife Elizabeth on his birthday in Philadelphia in 1854, and he’s known to have had several children with her.
He quickly became one of Roxbury’s most prominent citizens, and he was evidently quite wealthy. He was the secretary of the board of the Fellowes Atheneum, patented a process for coal-refining in 1870, was on a committee asked by the city of Boston in 1876 to investigate the best way to provide gas for streetlights (gaslights were run not on natural gas but on gas produced from coal or heavy oils under high heat), and was on the board of the Boston and Maine Railroad. When the First Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of its current building in 1904, he was one of a very small number of men to have his name inscribed on a memorial plaque, along with luminaries like John Eliot, George Putnam, Charles Dillaway, and several Dudleys. In other words, he was a Very Big Deal in Roxbury, and in particular in our neighborhood.
Besides the John Felt Osgood properties, there is this property belonging to Hannah F. Osgood at Cedar and Hawthorne where there is now a church. It’s not clear who Hannah was from the Felt, Burling, or Osgood genealogies, but she must have been related.
He was also filthy rich. When he died at the end of July in 1894, he left his wife and children with an estate valued at over $1,000,000. That’s a large sum of money now, but it was an absolutely huge amount 120 years ago. So it’s surprising to me that I haven’t been able to dig up more info on him. If I find any more, I’ll post an update. If anyone out there has any info that I’ve missed, please let me know!
UPDATE 1/5/12: Found his obituary in the Boston Evening Transcript from Aug 3, 1894. It has a bit more info, but not as much as I’d like. I’ve also found a few old ads from the 1850s in San Francisco with his name in them as the agent for steamer sales, and it appears that he maintained property in SF until he died.