According to Economists, America is no longer a nation of savers. One month last year, our saving percent rate was negative 0.2 percent- in other words, we spent more than we earned! We are now socking away less than at any other time since the Great Depression. The citizens of Canada, Japan, and France save three times as much as do we Americans.
I am offering the story of Sarah (Sally) Reid McMurphy as an example of the benefits of hard work, frugality, listening to sound advice, and careful investments. Her life reads like a rags-to-riches novel by Horatio Alger. You might want to read this article to your children when they ask for a raise in their allowance.
Sarah Reid was born in Londonderry (now Derry) in 1809 and was orphaned as an infant. She was brought up in the home of David Gilcreast and later by her uncle David Reid. Both households were already crowded with children, so at a young age Sally moved out to be on her own. It was likely she didn’t want to be a bother.
At the age of seventeen, she found full-time employment in the house of Deacon
James Pinkerton, who lived at what is now the Pinkerton Tavern Restaurant. Deacon James owned a number of farms, and many of his laborers lived with him in his home. In addition, the house was combination general store and tavern. Sally’s wage as a housekeeper was fifty cents a week plus room and board. Despite such a meager salary, she was happy to be in a safe, christian home.
Sally lived very frugally and asked Elder Pinkerton to hold her earnings in trust for her. If she needed anything, she would ask him for the money. She was such a hardworking, cheerful housekeeper that Pinkerton thought of her as almost a daughter. He even gave her clothing from his store without charge so she could more easily live on her salary. It is almost unbelievable but at the end of two years, she had saved fifty dollars. In 102 weeks, she had spent just two dollars on herself!
Pinkerton advised her to find a way to invest her money. He lectured her on the wisdom of letting your money work for you. He thought that maybe her old benefactor, David Gilcreast, might be persuaded to borrow her fifty dollars and pay her interest.
After serving supper, she walked two miles to the Gilcreast home but David said he didn’t need any money at the moment. As it was late in the day, he allowed her to sleep there overnight. With tears in her eyes, she went into the kitchen to help Mrs. Gilcreast. The next morning after Sally had helped with breakfast chores, David decided he should help the hardworking girl. He took her money and gave her a promissory note in exchange. Sally didn’t want to take the receipt, saying she trusted him, but he insisted that everything would be done properly. In parting, he told her that the interest would allow her to buy a new pair of shoes every year.
In around 1838, Sally Reid joined many other local girls working in the mills in Lowell. As a factory girl, she lived very carefully with “plain food and cheap lodging.” Within a few years she was able to return to Derry with a savings on $250. She accepted the advice of storekeeper Richard Melvin and bought five shares of stock in the Concord Railroad. She returned to Lowell and soon earned enough money to buy even more shares. This turned out to be a good investment, as the company annually paid a dividend of over ten percent. In addition, the value of the stock rose and a stock split would eventually increase the number of shares she controlled.
In 1841 she returned to Derry and taught in a one-room schoolhouse. The next year, at the age of thirty-one, she married forty-four year old James McMurphy. He was a farmer who had recently bought from his father a large house on Franklin Street Extension. In time they would become parents of two children. Their son, Henry, attended Dartmouth College on a scholarship and became a school teacher. He died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five. Their daughter, Abbie, graduated from the Pinkerton Academy and became a teacher in Lawrence. She died at the age on twenty-eight.
For the next six years, Sally and Jim lived all alone in their big house, mourning the loss of their children; the house had become “very desolate and cheerless.” James McMurphy died in 1881 when he was eighty-two. Sally would remain in the house “meditating upon the best means of doing good with her money and perpetuating the memory of her children.”
In 1888, widow Sally McMurphy sought the advice of experts in law and public service to assist her in drawing up her will. She had stock investments worth about seven thousand dollars. This was the money she had saved and invested from the time she earned fifty cents a week at the Deacon Pinkerton’s to her years as a mill girl in Lowell and a teacher in Derry. This sum would be equal to several hundred thousand dollars today.
Remembering her years as an orphan, she bequeathed one-thousand dollars to the orphans home in Concord. The remainder of the estate was left to Dartmouth College to provide three scholarships for students of limited means.
She died on Christmas Eve in 1894 in her eighty-fifth year. Her funeral was held at her Franklin Street home. Pastor Samuel French, of the Londonderry Presbyterian church, spoke to Sally’s piety, Christian character, and renunciation of her own interests in favor of helping others. She is buried at Forest Hill cemetery along with her husband and two children. Her home was torn down in the 1960s to make way for an apartment complex.
This excerpt is from “Nutfield Rambles,” Richard Holmes’ fifth published piece on local history. Richard wasborn, raised and attended school throughout New Hampshire. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Keene State College and his Master’s Degree in History from Rivier College. In 2003 he founded the Derry Museum of History. In 2007 Richard Holmes received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. This is the most prestigious recognition one can receive for the preservation and interpretation of state and local history. Richard has also been a columnist for the Derry News, the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, Nutfield News, and the Manchester Union Leader.
Leave Richard a comment on the story. Copies of his book are still available at the Derry Public Library.