Sir Harry

There are a lot of streets in Ashland named after prominent citizens. Most were successful businessmen, clergymen, politicians, and the like but occasionally you’ll find one with an interesting story. This one dates back to before the Revolutionary War in the part of Ashland that was originally Hopkinton. We are looking at Frankland Road, and the story of Sir Charles Henry Frankland.

Born in Bengal, India in 1716 “Sir Harry” as he was commonly known was the son of the governor, and a descendant of Oliver Cromwell of England. After the death of his father in 1738, Sir Harry was offered the position of Collector of the Port of Boston which he accepted in 1741. During the course of his duties, Sir Harry stopped at an inn in Marblehead where he met a beautiful 15 year old girl named Agnes Surriage who was scrubbing the floors. Immediately attracted to her, he was well aware of the age difference and the brow beating he would most likely take by the Boston elite should he pursue any kind of relationship. She was young, and of limited means both financially and intellectually. He was well to do with the inheritance of his father’s estate, educated, and polished.

Looking for some resolution to this difficult situation Sir Harry approached Agnes’ parents, Edward and Mary Surriage, with a proposal to become her guardian. Being illiterate, Agnes would need a formal education in the basics of reading and writing, as well as an introduction to the arts and music. All this Sir Harry would provide by the best teachers available.

This arrangement worked for the better part of 10 years until the death of Agnes’ father. Sir Harry’s social position also changed when he succeeded to the baronetcy after the death of his uncle, Sir Thomas Frankland in 1746. In the ranks of nobility, a baronet is one step above a knight, but does not receive an accolade. Anyway, you see where this going. Agnes and Sir Harry were generally accepted, but with the recent change in status, and the fact that they were living together and not married, problems started to arise. Not so much for Sir Harry, but Agnes was shunned by the more “proper” ladies in Boston. Something had to be done. Why he just didn’t marry confuses me, but in 1751 Sir Harry purchased 400 acres of land in Hopkinton (Ashland wasn’t Ashland in 1751) from Roger Price who was the rector of Kings’s Chapel in Boston. They built an enormous and richly appointed estate on what is today Frankland Rd. Agnes and Sir Harry lived there quite comfortably, and out of the stares and daggers from Boston, until 1754 when Sir Harry travelled back to England to settle an inheritance lawsuit. While in England, Sir Harry’s mother gave Agnes the same cold reception she received in Boston. Sir Harry finished his business in England and was offered the position of Cousul-General to Portugal which he accepted.

Here’s where the story takes an interesting turn. While in Lisbon, Sir Harry and another young lady were traveling in a coach to church when the great earthquake of 1755 struck. Being All Saints Day, the streets were full of people. Over 30 thousand people died that day. Sir Harry’s coach was struck by a collapsing wall of a stone house along the road and the driver and horses were killed. Buried under the rubble Sir Harry had ample time to recollect his life and vowed to marry Agnes if he were to survive. Meanwhile, Agnes stumbled out of the rubble of the villa where she was staying to search for Sir Harry. On a broad stroke of luck she passed the spot where the wall collapsed on Sir Harry and heard his pleas for help. With the help of others she pulled Sir Harry from the rubble. Keeping his promise, Sir Harry immediately married Agnes. To be sure, on the return trip to England they performed the ceremony again with an Anglican priest.

Agnes was finally Lady Frankland, and was accepted by the family and friends. Over the next several years Agnes and Sir Harry lived at their country home in Hopkinton and for a short time, back in Lisbon. His health was beginning to fail though. He eventually moved to Bath, England to “drink the waters” but it apparently didn’t work. He died in Bath in 1768 at the age of 52.

The story ends here for Sir Harry, but not for Agnes. She moved back to Hopkinton and lived a happy life but things were about to change. The year was 1775 and Agnes was assumed to be a Tory like her husband. She applied for passage to British held Boston where she would be safe. Her trip was not without complications though. She was arrested for being a suspicious individual but later released after the Continental Congress intervened. She was escorted by six Yankee soldiers safely to Boston where she was said to have attended to wounded British soldiers in her home after the battles of Charlestown and Bunker Hill. She finally moved back to England to live on the Frankland estate there until around 1782. She eventually remarried, but a year later collapsed and died unexpectedly while dressing for a ball.

What about the estate in Hopkinton? Upon Agnes’s death, Sir Harry’s son Henry Cromwell occupied the home. The property changed hands several times since then and by 1857 the property was reduced to 100 acres. The main house burned in 1858 and was rebuilt three years later with many of the attributes of the original. Even some of Sir Harry’s belongings were saved from the fire. His broadcloth coat, silver knee buckles, portraits, and some furniture. After passing through many hands, the house was destroyed again by fire in 1902 and unfortunately all of Sir Harry’s belongings were lost this time. The house was eventually replaced with a more modest structure bringing to an end an interesting slice of Ashland’s history.

Many thanks to Kay Powers for her contribution to this article.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
July 2010