Sarah Elizabeth “Lizzie” Manchester

Sarah Elizabeth “Lizzie” Manchester

1862 – 1946

Lizzie Manchester. Courtesy of Anne Hopkins.

Sarah Elizabeth Manchester, always known as Lizzie, was born to Sarah Cook Taber (1828-1904) in the Victorian house at 10 Westport Harbor Rd. built by her father, Philip Manchester. She lived in that house throughout her lifetime of 84 years and died there in 1946. Lizzie attended the local public school and the Packer Institute in Brooklyn, NY. She was an active member of the Free Will Baptist Church (Old Stone Church) in nearby Tiverton, RI and took great pleasure in participating in the annual clambake there.  

The Abraham Manchester store, located about a hundred yards up the road was a focal point of Lizzie’s existence. Abraham (1851-1919) and Deborah (1857-1938), her brother and sister, owned and operated the  store. These three Manchester siblings always remained single and ate their meals together in the family home managed by Lizzie. Abraham slept on the second floor of the store all his life beginning at the age of six.

The Manchesters’ oldest sibling, Lydia Maria Manchester Wheeler (born 1848), succumbed to tuberculosis in 1880, followed shortly by her husband, and they left two young children, Philip and Agema Wheeler. Lizzie and her sister, Debbie, took care of their orphaned nephew and niece for about six months of the year while Wheeler relatives in Brooklyn, NY cared for them the rest of the year.

In the early 1900’s Dr. John Hathaway built a water tower on his property (4 Westport Harbor Rd.) north of the Manchester home that obstructed the view between the home and the Manchester store. The “Spite Tower”, as it came to be known, refers to the local legend that says Lizzie would hang a dish towel in the window when dinner was ready so Abraham could lock up the store and go home to eat. A rumor circulated that the Hathaways had a grievance with the Manchesters, however it was never substantiated.

Lizzie was a colorful and outspoken character who prided herself on knowing everything that was going on in the village. She claimed to be the town historian and boasted of her remarkable memory for dates and names. Lizzie had strong opinions and her stories were sometimes off-color. She often dressed in a masculine way, wearing a man’s shirt, bow tie and bobbed hair.

In 1936 George Hibbitt of Columbia University came to Little Compton to study the colloquial speech of the town elders. He invited a group of them to review town history and tell stories while he recorded their speech using a hidden microphone. Lizzie was among those recorded and was outraged when she learned of his tactic when it was described in an article published in the New York Herald Tribune on December 2, 1936.[1]

Lizzie loved to have me stop in after school in her later years. She would always reach into her pocketbook and give me a $1 dollar bill with instructions to spend it. World War II was on and I bought Savings Stamps which were collected in a booklet and when full I bought a bond with it that furthered the war effort.

Anne Hopkins, Grandniece

March 2020

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[1] Collections Number 2007.2673, Box A39, LCHS

 

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