Lear-Storer-Decatur Family

The Lear-Storer-Decatur Family and their role in American History

Courtesy of James D Julia, Inc. (Winter Antiques & Fine Art Auction, February 4 & 5, 2010).

The Lear-Storer-Decatur family is one encompassing a number of important historical figures in the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries. Their roots begin with Sir William Pepperrell Baronet, born June 27, 1696 and died July 6, 1759. He was born in Kittery Point, Maine (where all of this material came from), he was a very successful merchant and soldier in Colonial Massachusetts and was known as the hero of Louisburg. He organized, financed and led the 1745 expedition that was responsible for capturing the French Garrison in Nova Scotia.

Another important historical figure related to this family is that of Captain Tobias Lear (father of Colonel Tobias Lear). Captain Tobias Lear from Portsmouth, New Hampshire was, for several years during the American Revolution, superintendent of the Continental Yard at Langdon’s (now Badgers) Island in Piscataqua River opposite Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was responsible for the construction of the historic John Paul Jones Continental ship the Ranger. Captain Lear fathered two children; Mary Lear and Colonel Tobias Lear. Colonel Tobias Lear was born in 1762 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and expired on October 11, 1816 in Washington, DC. He was personal secretary to President George Washington and also one of Washington’s best friends. He was also agent and Consul General of the United States of America to the North African coast during the Barbary Wars. In the late 18th Century Tobias’s only son was Benjamin Lincoln Lear; President George Washington was Benjamin’s godfather. A portion of Benjamin Lincoln Lear’s library is included in this auction; many of the books having come from his father Tobias Lear’s library and some from George Washington’s.

Another descendent represented in these offerings is George Washington Storer; nephew of Colonel Tobias Lear. George Washington Storer was a career naval officer who was, in his final years, superintendent of the naval asylum and retired as a Commodore. A most important historical naval figure in this family is of course Stephen Decatur. Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. born January 1779, died March 1820. He was known for his heroism and great successes in both the War of 1812 and the Barbary Wars. He was the youngest man to reach the rank of Captain in the history of the US Navy. Commodore Stephen Decatur and his young wife Susan never produced children. Many of the future offspring from his siblings down through the generations would be named in honor of their illustrious ancestor. One of the future Stephen Decaturs, born in December 1814, was a lifelong career naval officer and attained the rank of Commodore on retirement after the Civil War.

Another relative in this historical chain was Ichabod Goodwin, born in South Berwick, Maine on October 1796 and died July 1882. Goodwin was a successful businessman who became part owner of several ships and eventually was governor of the state of New Hampshire.

Another historic figure in this family tree is Admiral George Dewey. The only person in the history of the United States to have attained the rank of Admiral of the Navy, the most senior rank in the United States navy.

The family tree of this noted historical family is far more diverse than outlined above. The offering in this sale is represented by most of the above mentioned individuals. A treasure trove and much more was rediscovered in the mid 20th century when the family as a whole decided to sell an early barn on Kittery Point to one of its members. At the time the barn had served as a storage building for a vast amount of historical material that has been passed down through the generations. In cleaning out the barn, a significant archive of Tobias Lear papers and memorabilia was discovered and much, much more. The items were essentially divided up amongst the various existing branches of the family at that time; however, a copy of the exceedingly rare Dunlop version of the Declaration of Independence, also discovered in the same barn, had to be sold at the time because of its considerable value and to effect an equitable distribution. This auction includes the remaining segment of that cache from the estate of Alice Walker Decatur Armsden.

Also included in this sale is a small select group of items consigned from another branch of the Decatur family. Down through the years some of the artifacts had been identified by various generations of the Decatur family through small notes or word of mouth and in the presentation of the goods some of the items offered carry “family history”.

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