A Widow Perseveres

Week 27: #52 Ancestors – Independent

Perhaps it’s a bit perverse to write about the granddaughter of a Loyalist for this prompt, but I greatly admire my 3rd-great-grandmother, Mary Paulina Rowley Cutting. Widowed by the age of 41, Mary never remarried. Though she certainly had assistance at times, she clearly was an independent woman.

Mary gave inconsistent ages to census-takers over the years, but I believe she most likely was born in 1830 or 1831, in Shelburne, Chittenden County, Vermont.1 She married Hiram B. Cutting in 1851, said to be a very kind, well-respected man.2

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Mary P. Rowley and Hiram B. Cutting in their early years. (Courtesy of N. Ingram)

Mary lived in Charlotte, not far from Shelburne, with her first four children in 1860.3 Hiram worked on the ships on Lake Champlain, so Mary held down the fort at home.4 Her widowed mother lived with her older brother, George and family, right next door, so certainly she wasn’t entirely without family assistance.

When the Civil War broke out, Hiram eagerly enlisted, and Mary continued to take care of her growing family without her husband by her side. After serving the Union for two years, Hiram came home in poor health.5 Despite that, the family moved west – to Newburg, Fillmore County, Minnesota, in 1866.6

NewburgTH
The old Newburg Town Hall sits in a park near the historical society. (E. Lyon 2012)

Hiram finally succumbed to “quick consumption” (tuberculosis) in 1872. He is buried in Hesper, Iowa, with their son, Fred, who died at the age of two, just two weeks before his father.7 (Hesper is a short distance from Newburg, just across the state line.)

Mary’s seven other children all survived childhood and her oldest son, Arthur, took responsibility for helping support the family. Mary had a sanguine attitude about the situation, saying, “The good Lord will provide.” To which Arthur would respond, “Yes – with a lot of rustling.”8

However, after settling his mother and siblings on a farm near Hesper, Arthur went out west to work for a freight company for five years.9 Thus, Mary had plenty of work to do for herself and the younger children.

Mary did file for a widow’s pension based on Hiram’s service. It was awarded in December 1876, but was retroactive to Hiram’s death in 1872.10 The little windfall must have been welcome, indeed. The payments included $2 for each of her minor children, too.

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Mary receives her approved pension notice. (Courtesy of N. Ingram)

In the early 1880s, the big Dakota Territory boom was on. Arthur Cutting selected a homestead in Codington County. Mary also homesteaded a quarter section.11 She wasn’t the least abashed about taking care of business, either. She saved all the important papers she accumulated over the years, and they were passed down through her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters.

Sometime after settling in what became South Dakota, Mary’s blind sister, Kate Rowley, came to live with her, and Mary became her support.12 They lived independently for a number of years in Waubay, South Dakota, after Mary sold her farm to her son, Frank Cutting. Eventually, the two elderly ladies moved in with Mary’s daughter, Jessie Butler, and family.13

Mary Rowley Cutting 001
Mary P. (Rowley) Cutting in her later years. (Courtesy of N. Ingram)

This strong, independent woman, finally went to her eternal rest on July 1, 1910. Kate followed a year and a half later, and they are buried together in Waubay, South Dakota.14

15DAT2 021
Despite the dates on the stone, I believe Kate was born about 1826 and Mary about 1830. (E. Lyon 2015)

The following excerpt from Mary’s obituary reveals much about her nature:

“Mrs. Cutting was a woman of domestic virtue, Christian character and was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church. She was also a soldier’s widow, her husband, Hiram Cutting, being a member of Co. A, 2d Reg., Minn, V.I., She was held in the highest esteem by all who knew her, and the large number of friends that followed her remains to their last resting place show the respect with which she was held.”15

Feature image: The Friends Church in Hesper, Iowa, where Hiram B. Cutting is buried. Mary was probably never a Quaker, but many in the Cutting family line, possibly including Hiram, were members. (E. Lyon 2012)

Mary Paulina Rowley on Ancestry.com


  1. After studying all the census records for Mary, my best estimate gives her birth year as 1830 or 1831, certainly not 1833 as given on her headstone. Her birthplace is determined by where her parents lived at the time, and her marriage certificate. 
  2. Marriage certificate (courtesy of N. Ingram) and news item in the Burlington Weekly Sentinel, October 24, 1851, p. 3. 
  3. Mary Cutting. Year: 1860; Census Place: Charlotte, Chittenden, Vermont; Roll: M653_1319; Page: 234; Family History Library Film: 805319 – via Ancestry.com. 
  4. Letter by Ward A. Cutting (grandson) on 30 Mar 1955 (courtesy of N. Ingram). 
  5. Certificate from the Minnesota Adjutant General’ Office dated 22 Dec 1955 (courtesy of N. Ingram). 
  6. Ward Cutting 1955. 
  7. Headstone in the Hesper Cemetery, personal visit. 
  8. Paraphrased from remarks by Ward Cutting. 
  9. Ogle, George Alden, ed. 1898. Memorial and Biographical Record: An Illustrated Compendium of Biography… South Dakota, p. 836. https://books.google.com/books?id=zVU0AQAAMAAJ 
  10. Letter from the Dept. of the Interior, Pension Office, dated 2 Dec 1876 to Mary P. Cutting (courtesy of N. Ingram). 
  11. https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=SD1770__.288&docClass=STA&sid=1xe14d04.xkv 
  12. Mary P. Cutting. Year: 1900; Census Place: Waubay, Day, South Dakota; Page: 4; Enumeration District: 0127; FHL microfilm: 1241549 – via Ancestry.com. 
  13. Amasa Butler. Year: 1910; Census Place: Waubay Ward 3, Day, South Dakota; Roll: T624_1479; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 0154; FHL microfilm: 1375492 – via Ancestry.com. 
  14. Headstone in Lakewood Cemetery, Waubay, South Dakota, personal visit. 
  15. Waubay Clipper, July 7, 1910, quoted by N. Ingram. 

19 thoughts on “A Widow Perseveres

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      1. I just found a couple there. Can’t check with the app. WP won’t log me in on a phone browser and won’t let me comment on my own posts in either platform! How ridiculous. I’ll have to try in my laptop later.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. They really were tough. It was oversold by the media. Not that it’s a bad place, but no way to make a living on 160 acres. Many just moved on. In other cases, it was the next generation that left. I still have a lot of family there, though.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I had to look up Hesper, Iowa. It’s near Burr Oak, where Laura Ingalls Wilder’s folks ran a hotel at one time–so I’ve been close to Hesper. Had to look up Waubay, SD, too. Wonder what drew them there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve visited the Ingalls museum in Burr Oak, too. Dakota territory promoted free homestead land. Poor farming practices in northeastern Iowa led to exhausted soil and poor crop yields – the push factor.

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  2. I’m always interested to hear about people living in the Dakotas in the 1880s because of my complete Laura Ingalls Wilder obsession. And your 3rd-great grandmother had a blind sister, just like Laura! I got excited for a minute thinking she might have attended the same school as Mary Ingalls until I realised she was much closer to Laura’s parents’ age, but it’s still a really cool story about an independent woman!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve noted in my research that in some respects my ancestors traveled a similar path to the Ingalls family. I’ve visited the Burr Oak site and the homestead in De Smet. Also read all the books, of course.

      Liked by 2 people

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