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The Untimely End of George Pierce

Black and white portrait photograph of George Randall Pierce.
George Randall Pierce, 1884

This story begins in 2020 with Grandmother’s bridal lace and inspiration for an award-winning exhibit. The exhibit currently on view at the Abbot-Spalding House, And the Bride Wore…: A Showcase of 150 Years of Nashua Bridal Fashion, tells the stories behind more than twenty gowns of eras ranging from the 1790s to the 1990s. Two of those dresses belonged to Martha Jane Cross, married in 1851, and her granddaughter, Gertrude Pierce, married in 1913. This is the story of George Pierce, a man who mattered to both women as a son and father, respectively.

Sepia-tone portrait photograph of Martha Jane Cross Pierce
Martha Jane Cross Pierce, 1800s

George Pierce was the second son of Martha Cross Pierce and James L. Pierce. Martha’s first son, Frank, was her husband’s partner in his household goods business. James arrived in Nashua from Watertown, MA in 1845 and opened a crockery business that ultimately led to J.L. Pierce & Co., at 52 Main Street. Little is known about George Pierce’s life during the time of his father’s and brother’s partnership. When Frank suddenly died at age 31 in 1883, George assumed his brother’s partnership in their father’s business. George married Tillie Bettcher on November 19, 1884. His father died four years later, on May 22, 1888. Evidence suggests that the business was shuttered.

George decided to travel west to California for unknown reasons. He might have decided to leave Nashua because of the California land boom, and perhaps wanted to begin a new life there. It is also

Black and white portrait photograph of three brothers seated.
James Lund Pierce and his two brothers, 1800s. Left to right: Joshua Pierce, Preble Pierce, James Lund Pierce

possible he might have gone for health reasons, as doctors often advised patients to do in those days, and the visit turned into an extended stay. Imagine the train trip, long and arduous, as George also moved his wife and four children from Nashua, with the youngest being a newborn. At some point in his travels George had reason to be in a stage coach travelling from Los Angeles to Milton, when something caused the coach’s guard, William J. Hendricks, to stand up and fire his rifle at a man waiting along the roadside with an unseen accomplice. The robber fired his gun into the coach, injuring two of the passengers. The robber later died from his wounds because Hendricks had fired first. George, having witnessed it all, provided his version of the story to the San Francisco Examiner, later reprinted in the Nashua Daily Telegraph. What an event!

Sepia-tone portrait photograph of Tillie Bettcher.
Tillie Bettcher, June 9, 1884
Sepia-tone, full-length wedding portrait photograph of Gertrude Pierce and Arthur Bolster.
Gertrude Pierce and Arthur Bolster on their wedding day, October 29, 1913

Though George survived the attempted stage coach heist, and unfortunately for the young Pierce family, he died suddenly later that year, on November 20, 1894, at age 37 in Pasadena, California, from a hemorrhage. The family’s household furniture had arrived at their new home the day before. Tillie decided to return to Nashua with her four children, and George’s body was returned to Nashua. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, six years later, the Pierce family lived at 30 Manchester Street in Nashua. Tillie Pierce was a devout Universalist Unitarian, and worked and traveled for the church. She died at home in 1929.

Their daughter, Gertrude Pierce, married Arthur Bolster in 1913. Because George died when Gertrude was a young child, her father was not witness to her wedding. However, according to family tradition, Gertrude used the lace from her paternal grandmother’s 1851 gown as trim for her own wedding gown.

Last Tour: And the Bride Wore…: A Showcase of 150 Years of Nashua Bridal Fashion

When: December 16, 2023, 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Where: Abbot-Spalding House, 1 Nashville Street, Nashua, NH

For more information, please visit our Events Page.

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