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Railroad Men

Planet Class Locomotive

Mary Lane (1776-1815) and John Stearns (1765-1836)

Generation Five Family 859

MARY “POLLY” LANE (Samuel Lane4, Hannah Abbott Lane3, Timothy2, George1), b. at Bedford, 15 Aug 1776 daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Fitch) Lane; d. at Billerica, 30 Nov 1815; m. 10 Feb 1801, JOHN STEARNS, b. 18 Sep 1765 son of Isaac and Sarah (Abbott of the Rowley Abbott line) Stearns; John d. at Woburn, 4 Nov 1836.

On 4 November 1836, John Stearns who was 71 years old and partially deaf, was walking along the railroad track in Woburn. The engineer of the locomotive Phoenix of the Boston and Lowell Railroad had no cars and was going at a slow rate of speed. The engineer saw John on the track but thought he was getting off. There was so much smoke from the locomotive that the engineer could not see, but he kept going and hit John killing him. The Boston and Lowell Railroad had its inaugural run just over one year before on 27 May 1835. The Planet Class of locomotive pictured at the top is the type that ran over John. (1)

Despite the tragedy of their father’s death, two of his sons were active in the early railroad business. John Owen Stearns was Director and Superintendent of the Central Railroad of New Jersey from 1849 to his death in 1862. The Central Railroad was built by John Owen Stearns and Coffin Colkett between 1834 and 1842 and connected Somerville and Elizabethport. (2)

Son Onslow went with his brother John to Virginia and was employed in the engineering department for the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. He was then involved in building railroads in Philadelphia and Baltimore. He returned to New England about 1837 and completed the Nashua and Lowell Railroad in 1838. He was then involved in building the Northern Railroad from Concord to West Lebanon, New Hampshire. He was also superintendent of the Vermont Central Railroad. In 1874, he became president of the Concord Railroad. (3) He was the first superintendent of the Nashua and Lowell Railroad. The first president of the Nahua and Lowell was sixth generation descendant Daniel Abbot (1777-1853). (4) Onslow Stearns was also president of the New Hampshire state senate and the governor of New Hampshire.

John Stearns wrote his will 12 April 1836. Beloved wife Susannah Stearns receives all the household furniture she brought at the time of her marriage. Daughters Mary Whitford and Elisa Ann Billings each receive $100. Son John O. Stearns receives $250 as does son Onslow Stearns. Sons Lorenzo Stearns and Barnard Stearns each receive $300. The remainder of the estate goes to son Franklin Stearns who is named executor. (5)

Mary and John Stearns had eight children all born at Billerica.

1. FRANKLIN STEARNS, b. 25 Jan 1802; d. at Billerica, 29 May 1886; m. 28 Dec 1828, SALLY LANE, b. at Ashburnham, 8 Oct 1801 daughter of Benjamin and Isabel (Hill) Lane; Sally d. at Billerica, 27 Nov 1894.

2. MARY STEARNS, b. 28 Dec 1803; b. at Concord, NH, 7 Apr 1882; m. at Billerica, 13 May 1832, WILLIAM WHITFORD, b. at Middleton, 5 Oct 1799 son of William and Lucy (Dale) Whitford; William d. at Billerica, 5 Dec 1863.

3. JOHN OWEN STEARNS, b. 3 Aug 1805; d. at Elizabeth, NJ, 1 Nov 1862; m. 1842, MARGARET C. WALKER, of Rehoboth, PA, b. 9 Oct 1821 daughter of William and Sarah (Pennypacker) Walker; death not known, but Margaret was still living in Elizabeth, NJ in 1895.

4. ONSLOW STEARNS, b. 2 Feb 1807; d. 23 Feb 1808.

5. ELIZA ANN STEARNS, b. 4 Oct 1808; d. at Boston, 3 Mar 1875; m. at Billerica, 17 May 1832, JOHN DENNIS BILLINGS, b. at Lincoln, 10 Nov 1805 son of John and Lydia (Bowen) Billings; John d. at Bedford, 27 Mar 1871.

6. ONSLOW STEARNS, b. 30 Aug 1810; d. at Concord, 29 Dec 1878; m. 26 Jun 1845, his fourth cousin once removed, MARY ABBOTT HOLBROOK (Polly Warren Holbrook6, Molly Abbott Warren5, Joseph4, Joseph3, Nathaniel2, George1), b. at Athol, 10 Feb 1819 daughter of Adin and Polly (Warren) Holbrook; Mary d. at Concord, 27 Jul 1895.

7. LORENZO STEARNS, b. 13 May 1813; d. at Elizabeth, NJ, 13 May 1836.

8. BERNARD STEARNS, b. 23 Nov 1815; d. at Elizabeth, NJ, 28 May 1880; m. 30 Dec 1851, LAVINIA BEATRICE HAINES, b. at New York, 29 Jan 1830 daughter of Simeon and Elsey Ann (Holmes) Haines; Lavinia d. at Poughkeepsie, 2 Sep 1877. Simeon Haines was a skilled cabinetmaker in the company Holmes and Haines whose pieces are now in museums.


1) Christian Watchman (Boston, Massachusetts), Friday, November 11, 1836, p. 2.

2) Van Buskirk, “Bayonne and South Hudson,” Papers Read Before the Historical Society of Hudson County, volume 1, 1909, p 18.

3) Hazen, History of Billerica, p. 142.

4) Bradlee,The Boston and Lowell Railroad, p 14.

5) Middlesex County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1648-1871.Online database. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014, case number 21266, probate of John Stearns.

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