This article is part of a series on local history provided by the Historical Society of Watertown. It was written by Joyce Kelly, Board member of the Historical Society of Watertown. Joyce writes articles for the newsletter and is the newsletter editor. This was published in our October 2010 newsletter, “The Town Crier.”
The Historical Society of Watertown, the Civil War Round Table of Greater Boston and the Mass. Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission commemorated the life and Civil War service of Watertown’s Lieutenant George Eaton Priest at a gravesite rededication on September 19, 2010 in Ridgelawn Cemetery. Three generations of the Priest family came in from as far away as Chicago and Connecticut.
Remarks were made by Historical Society President Marilynne Roach, Civil War Round Table of Greater Boston President David Smith, Lt. Commander of MOLLUS Fred Stevens, and Watertown Veterans Agent Bob Erickson.
Lt. Priest’s great-grandson, John Sylvester Priest Jr., spoke on behalf of the Priest’s about the family’s long history of military service.
A wreath was placed by MOLLUS (Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States) and the Watertown Veterans Services placed a flag with a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) flag holder. Then the Massachusetts Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War performed a Graveside Rededication Ceremony that included the playing of Taps and the presentation of accoutrements on the stone by the Honor Guard, which included a musket, haversack, canteen and kepi.
The Priest family was very pleased and very touched by Watertown’s recognition of their ancestor’s contributions to the Town of Watertown and to our country.
The following is a short biography.
George Eaton Priest (1842 – 1897)
George Eaton Priest was born on January 30, 1842 in a house on Main Street that stood near the present Watertown Free Public Library. When he was a young boy, his parents moved to a house, no longer standing, at 9 Riverside St. He spent the rest of his life living in that house.
After graduating from high school, he attended Harvard College. After graduation in 1862 he enlisted for nine months in Company H of the 53rd Massachusetts Regiment with a commission of Second Lieutenant. In November 1863 he was commissioned 1st Lieutenant in the 57th Mass. Regiment and was appointed Quartermaster.
After the Civil War Priest returned to Watertown and began working in his father’s lumber business, Kinney & Priest, located at the corner of Irving and Arsenal streets. On September 30, 1865 he married Mary Wallace Whittier. He went on to work at the Walker & Pratt Manufacturing Company, until the time of his death, serving as Treasurer for some of these
His obituary, published in the Watertown Enterprise on July 23, 1897 shows his dedication to the Watertown community and the many organizations he supported and assisted. It reads: “During the war he joined Pequossette Lodge, A.F. and A.M. and remained a member until his death.
He was a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). He was elected a trustee of the Free Public Library in 1889, and continued on the board up to the time of his death. He served as secretary in 1889 and 1890, treasurer in 1891 and 1893, and chairman from that time until his death. He was one of the incorporators of the Watertown Savings Bank; was a member of the board of trustees, and for a number of years served as treasurer.
He was brought up in the Methodist Episcopal church and united with that body when a young man, remaining a devoted member throughout his life and serving the society in many capacities, being a member of the board of trustees and treasurer of the stewards or custodians of the church property.”
His very elaborate and well-attended funeral was held from the Methodist Church. His body was carried to the nearby Common Street Cemetery where he was laid to rest in the tomb of his father, Sylvester Priest. His body was moved to Ridgelawn Cemetery on December 10, 1902 and a sizeable granite headstone, noting his Civil War service, now marks his place of burial.
In 1898, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) presented a memorial plaque in honor of the late Quartermaster to his wife. MOLLUS commemorated the service of many Civil War soldiers by erecting monuments, plaques or tablets in Massachusetts. The plaque reads:
TO THE MEMORY OF
GEORGE EATON PRIEST
1842 – 1897
1ST LIEUTENANT 53RD QUARTERMASTER
57TH MASSACHUSETTS INFANTRY
A FAITHFUL OFFICER IN THE WAR
WHICH PRESERVED THE UNION
AND DESTROYED SLAVERY
HIS COMPANIONS IN ARMS
OF THE COMMANDERY
OF THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS
MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION
OF THE UNITED STATES
HAVE HERE PLACED THIS TABLET
LEX REGIT ARMA TUENTUR
The Latin phrase at the bottom of the plaque translates as “Arms are borne so the law may rule,” a motto attributed to Gettysburg hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine.
Mary Priest donated this plaque to the Watertown Free Public Library in honor of her husband who had served in several positions on the Library Board of Trustees. Minutes from a meeting in 1898 record that they “will have the tablet set in the wall of the library building.”
The plaque was recently remounted on the outside of the Watertown Free Public Library
at 123 Main St. to the left of the front door.