In 1742, Charles Henry Frankland, the king’s collector for the port of Boston, visited Marblehead, Mass. — probably to assess the improvements being made at Fort Sewell to strengthen it against any French attack. It was here he met Agnes Surriage.
Staying at the Fountain Tavern, the 26-year-old Frankland was gobsmacked by the beauty of Surriage, the tavern’s 16-year-old maid. He noticed she was wearing neither shoes nor stockings, so he gave her a crown so she could buy some.
When he returned later in the summer, Frankland noticed she still had no shoes, or so the story goes, and when he asked her why she hadn’t bought any, she replied that she had, but she saved them for Sunday.
Charmed by her beauty and straightforward manner, Frankland offered to take her to Boston and give her an education. Her father was a fisherman with limited funds, and her family agreed. Agnes Surriage went to the city.
Agnes’ story has a number of versions. Some say Frankland had gotten the girl pregnant and they raised the child as her sister’s. Other say the relationship only took a romantic turn several years later in Boston. Whatever the case, Charles and Agnes were almost certainly more than patron and ward, and they did not marry. He did not want to marry a commoner.
With his relationship with his mistress Agnes under increasing suspicion, Frankland decided to remove himself from Boston. In 1751, he erected a manor house for himself and his family in Hopkinton, Mass. Tended by slaves, the 130-acre estate afforded him the luxurious life of a country gentleman. And he could shield his relationship with Agnes, at least somewhat, from the prying eyes of Boston.
Here, they entertained wealthy friends, cultivated orchards, enjoyed musical evenings and supped with wine from an impressively stocked cellar. It would seem, for a time, that Frankland had managed to find a way to live his unconventional lifestyle.
In 1754, however, he had to return to England. His uncle, Baronet of Thirkelby, had died. The title would come to Frankland, but his uncle’s widow produced a will he had supposedly signed shortly before his death. It directed that his entire estate go, not surprisingly, to her.
Frankland traveled to England to have the will overturned and an earlier will reinstated, which rewarded more of the family, including him. Frankland brought along Agnes Surriage on the trip. But he quickly discovered that England welcomed their lifestyle no more than America. His family shunned Agnes, society ostracized her.
Charles and Agnes next went to Lisbon in 1755. On Nov. 1, as he prepared to attend All Saints Day services, the Great Lisbon Earthquake began shaking the city. Estimated at 8.5 or 9 on the Richter scale by modern researchers, the quake and the tsunami it spawned killed between 10,000 and 100,000 people.
Frankland was buried under a mountain of rubble. Beside him, a woman lay crushed to death. His cries, in the panicked crowds, were unheard. Agnes, however, set out to rescue him. Gathering up all the valuables the couple carried with them, she rushed into the streets and began pleading with passersby to help dig out her lover.
Finally, she found a group of men willing to help and they extricated a shaken Charles from the ground.
Charles changed his outlook on marriage (though some say his change of heart occurred earlier).
After the earthquake, the now-married couple were welcomed by his family. Boston society also accepted them when they returned. Until his death in 1768, Frankland observed November 1 as a day of atonement. He would lock himself in his room with relics of the earthquake, including the coat stained by the blood of the woman trapped with him. He fasted, reflecting on the nature of sin.
After Frankland died, Agnes Surriage returned for a time to Hopkinton. In 1775, as the American Revolution heated up, she moved to her Boston house. She was in the city to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill. She evacuated Boston soon after, and died on April 23, 1783.
This story about Agnes Surriage was updated in 2020.