A Tribute to Samuel Roads, Jr.1853 – 1904


Sam Roads edited 2 copy
Samuel Roads, Jr.    Photo from Massachusetts State Library

“History and Traditions of Marblehead” by Samuel Roads, Jr.  Who has read this great book written by my 1st cousin 3 times removed. I think I was in grammar school the first time I read it and it wasn’t even required reading, but it should have been.  I love the inscription in the center of the title page by Mrs. Mason; this is a stanza from one of her poems: 

A queer old place; but every stone that trips you in her streets

Is instinct with the loyal pulse that in its bosom beats.

This may be a metaphor; it is but true as gospel still;

For Marblehead is Marblehead, has been, and always will.

Mrs. Mason



Hon. Samuel Roads, Jr. known as “Sam” around town, was born October 22, 1853 in Marblehead, MA, the son of Samuel Roads and Emma Lewis Woodfin. My second great grandmother Mary Elizabeth Woodfin was Samuel’s Aunt. He wrote his famous book in 1879 while he was working for the Boston Post and it was published the next year by Houghton, Osgood and Company, Cambridge, MA. .  There were revised additions (numbers 2 and 3) in 1897 and also a special deluxe edition which was printed in limited supply.  I am lucky enough to have the original edition.

Samuel had 1 sister Anna Lewis Roads and two brothers, John L. Roads and Arthur Story Roads, who died at the age of 3 from throat distemper, now known as Scarlet Fever.   Samuel never married. He attended the Marblehead public schools as often as he could as he was ill as a child but he was always reading something. He was a shoe cutter in his early days but had always dreamed of writing about Marblehead, (maybe I inherited that gene).  He stated he learned a lot of the history of the town from his grandmother, Mrs. Eliza A. Roads.  

In 1872 he ventured into the printing business, associating himself with Mr. Frederic W. Leek, and they purchased the Marblehead Messenger which they owned until January 1, 1877. He was then employed by the old Boston Post as a journalist.

He followed in the footsteps of his father who represented Marblehead in the Legislature and entered politics. In 1883 Samuel was the Representative of the Democrats for the general court, a position he held for several years. In 1886 he was elected to the Senate. In 1891 he was invited by Gov. William E. Russell to become his private secretary which he did for two years. He was then appointed by President Cleveland to be Chief of the Stationary Division in the U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C.

Sam died at his home on Elm Street in Marblehead, MA at 7 o’clock in the evening of January 29, 1904 at the age of 50 from Bright’s disease and valvular disease of the heart.  Although he had been ill for the year prior to his death the town was still shocked to hear of his passing.  He was honored with one of the largest funerals ever held at St. Michael’s Church. All of the businesses in town were closed during the two hour service from 2 PM to 4 PM and all the bells in town were tolled.  Many prominent people came by train to Marblehead to attend the services.   Not only was the church filled to capacity but hundreds of people lined the streets of town.  His mother was unable to attend her son’s funeral due to the shock of his death which took a toll on her health.  

There is an inscription on his tombstone in Harborview Cemetery which reads:

               “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away. He loved his native town with an unselfish and patriotic devotion. He was the author of its history, and the defender of its integrity in the general court.  He stood for its interests and honor before all men and was its foremost citizen in the days of his manhood.”

Sam Roads tombstone



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