The Tenney Children

    Both of his children were born in Newmarket, both were educated, and both were drawn to the ministry.

    His son William Cutter Tenney was born on 26 Jul 1817 in Newmarket and his father sent him to Phillips Exeter Academy. He went on to graduate from Harvard in 1838, the year both his parents died. He then entered Cambridge Divinity School, there his Newmarket home library may have played a role,  as he was the first student librarian at Andover-Harvard Theological Library (1839/40).

     He married Catherine Patten Clarke on 29 Dec 1842 in West Chester, Rockingham, New Hampshire; they had four children before she died ten years later.   William was ordained a Reverend in 1845 affiliated with the Unitarian Church. He married his second wife Elizabeth E. Bruce on 15 Jun 1852; this couple had two children. The entire family moved to Lawrence, Kansas in Oct 1865.  After retiring from the ministry in 1869, they moved to Kansas City, Missouri where he worked as a broker.  He died on 23 Jun 1901 at age 84 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City.

    Esquire Tenney’s daughter was Caroline Phebe Tenney.  Born on 13 May 1821 in Newmarket, Caroline (AKA Phebe) attended the Village school just a block west of her house in 1831.  She was ten years old at the time, and the teacher was William Folsom.[1]  This building was the original one-room schoolhouse of Wentworth Cheswill. (See Site No. 10)  There were 134 students in this building in 1831, and just one teacher with students ranging in age from one to seventeen.  There were 35 children age four and under. The older students taught/babysat the younger ones.  Such was the bucolic charm of the one-room schoolhouse in Lamprey River Village, in 1831! 

    After several years in the chaotic New Market educational system, Phebe’s parents sent her to Adams Female Academy in Derry, NH where she graduated in October 1837 at age 16.  She was only 17 years old when her parents died.  At the time she was enrolled in a Baptist seminary in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

    Throughout the 1840s she was completely on her own –travelling and working as a governess/ schoolteacher—in Charleston, SC; New York City; Charlestown, VA; Louisville, KY; and Port Conway, VA.  

    A well-educated New Englander and trained teacher, she wrote of her dislike of the Southern gentry and their devotion to “all the forms of ease and dissipation.”  She appears to have decided to enter missionary service when a romantic engagement in Virginia failed. That failure was due in part to her rejection of slavery.  Even in the early days before the Civil War, she predicted that only a war would bring about the abolition of slavery. She recorded her “disappointment and sorrow” in a letter, explaining, “My lover has told me ‘to seek my happiness elsewhere than from him!’ The subject is painful.”

    Almost thirty years old, she concluded that “life’s fevered years for me are gone, never to return.”  Later she would admit that she had thought she would never marry.  In the midst of emotional turmoil, Caroline, who had become an Episcopalian by 1846, experienced an evangelical conversion. 

    [1] William Folsom was 21 years old in 1831.  He left teaching to pursue a medical degree, returning to town to set up his medical practice. (Site #18 is where he had his office.)  He also gained a reputation as a faith healer.  He must have had a great deal of faith to have gotten through 1831!  His son Channing Folsom would later became NH State Superintendent of Schools. 


    Phebe Tenney’s Missionary Life in China

    Phebe was a reader of the Episcopal journal Spirit of Missions, that issued a call for two female teachers for the Episcopal Mission in Shanghai, China. She applied for and soon was accepted to that position and left for China as a missionary in 1850.[1]

    Phebe was a prolific letter writer and many of her letters concerning her work at the mission were sent to the children of her former friends.  During the first two years and eight months of her absence from America, she wrote 325 letters to more than 50 different persons and received 200 back.  

    And during her entire lifetime of adventures, she kept in constant touch with her brother, who after her death edited and published her correspondence as a Memoir of Mrs. Caroline P. Keith: Missionary of the Protestant Episcopal Church to China, ed. William C. Tenney (New York: D. Appleton, 1864). The engraving of Caroline P. Tenney Keith in this article comes from the frontpiece of her published letters.  

    In 1854 she met and married the Rev. Cleveland Keith who was a Methodist missionary in Shanghai.   On a return trip from China to the states in 1857 she and her husband boarded the ship White Shadow, which was badly provisioned, and the three month’s voyage was one of misery and suffering for all the passengers.  She never fully recovered from the hardship of that voyage.

    The couple spent the next two years touring America.  They stayed several weeks in Brooklyn, New York at her cousin William C. Cutter’s estate.  Mr. Cutter was from the close-knit Hollis, NH extended Tenney family.  The Keiths also traveled and worked at different churches in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania.  There is no record of a prolonged stay in Newmarket or Hollis, but she did go to Hollis to arrange for the monument to her parents which stands in the South cemetery.   The couple then went back to their missionary work in Shanghai, she as a teacher in a boy’s school. 

    (photo: the moument Caroline had erected on her parents’ grave in Hollis, NH.)

    Her illness only got worse once she went back to the grueling routine of running a boys’ school.  Her role demanded that she be teacher, dorm mother, laundress, and medic to a dozen boys – all speaking in a language she never fully mastered.

    At the end of the winter term she made a voyage to Japan in hopes of improving her health. Once there, she realized that her days of usefulness were numbered; and the more her health deteriorated, the more she longed for a return to New England, and to visit the graves of her parents in Hollis.

    Return to America

    She finally persuaded her husband to leave, and they sailed on the ship Glendower in May 1862.  In a letter announcing it she writes: “I am very weak, but the doctor gives me great encouragement.  I suppose my hope of life is really stronger than I am fully aware of, for my desire to live is very strong.”

    Phebe barely survived the lengthy and taxing voyage, only to die on July 10, 1862, after being carried ashore at a San Francisco wharf.  She was 41 years old.

    Her remains were placed in a receiving vault and her husband continued the journey alone.[2]  He took passage on the ill-fated steamer The Golden Gate which took fire as it passed out of the San Francisco harbor.   When the panic was greatest, Mr. Keith found a little boy who had been separated from his mother in the confusion; he lashed the child to the back of a seaman, and gave a benediction as the sailor leaped into the sea.  The two survived, but Mr. Keith did not. He and all his manuscripts and belongings were lost when the ship went down.

    (Illustration by Harper’s magazine, August 23, 1862 of  destruction of the steamship The Golden Gate)

    Dispatches sent out over the wires  which read: Destruction of the steamship Golden Gate…She left San Francisco, July 21, for Panama, with two hundred and thirty passengers, $1,114,000 in treasure for New-York, and $270,000 for England. She was burnt at sea July 27, and one hundred and eighty passengers, twenty of her crew, and all the treasure lost.

    Only 17 days after his wife’s demise, Reverend Keith drowned at age 35.  His body was never recovered.  Phebe’s body was sent by ship to New York in the following spring.

    She was interred on Hillock Avenue, Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. There is a memorial marble tablet with the inscription:

                The Rev. Cleveland Keith was the son of the Rev. Ruel Keith, D.D., born Alexandria, VA., April 16, 1827; ordained deacon, July 12, 1850; priest, July 10, 1851; drowned on the coast of California July 27, 1862.

                Sacred to the memory of Caroline Phebe, daughter of Wm Tenney, Esq., who became a missionary to China in 1850; was married in 1854 to Rev. Cleveland Keith and whose life of faithful work was closed July 10, 1862 at San Francisco, in California.  Her remains were buried here, May 14, 1863. 

      “The foreign committee of the Board of the Protestant Episcopal church, in grateful remembrance of the faithful servants of Christ, caused this stone to be erected.”

    “And thus, in these brief words is given the story of the life and death of two faithful and devoted Christians who lived and died for others.”[3]

    [1] Thompson, Larry Clinton.  William Scott Ament and the Boxer Rebellion: Heroism, Hubris, and the Ideal Missionary.  McFarland Publishing Company, 2009, p. 80+

     Hunter, Jane. The Gospel of Gentility New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.


    [2] The full obituary appeared in the New York Times, May 14, 1863 p.5 “ …on the 10th day July last…wife of the late Rev. Cleveland Keith of the Mission of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Shanghai, China… Funeral at Holy Trinity Church, Brooklyn, NY.”


    [3] Ian Welch in the

    In the 1850s-1860s women’s missionary organizations, especially the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States saw women missionaries, married and unmarried, outnumber men. By 1919, American Methodist and Congregationalist (ABCFM) women missionaries numbered more than twice the number of male missionaries in China.

    In China, due to cultural norms, male missionaries could not interact with Chinese women and thus the evangelical work among women was the responsibility of missionary women.  Female missionary doctors treated Chinese women and female missionaries managed girl’s schools.  Phebe Keith was an exception that she was responsible for a boy’s school.

    Women missionaries were customarily paid less than men. The Methodists in the 1850s paid a male missionary to China a salary of 500 dollars per year, but the first two unmarried female missionaries the Methodists sent to China, Beulah and Sarah Woolston, received an annual salary of only 300 dollars each.

    The early unmarried female missionaries were required to live with missionary families. Later, unmarried women missionaries often shared a home. Despite their preponderance in numbers, female missionaries, married and unmarried, were often excluded from participation in policy decisions within missionary organizations which were usually dominated by men.


    For a more complete accounting of Caroline Phebe Tenney’s missionary work, see:

    • our website at
    • Caroline Phebe Tenney Keith, and the Episcopal Church Mission Bulletin, July 2014. 
    • or purchase her memoirs at Amazon (paperback for $17/ or  hardbound for $141