Left in Andover: Long before Amazon, there was Alvin Adams

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Days after the holiday, Joe Gould’s Teeth, a book by historian by Jill Lepore, finally arrived in Andover, three weeks after I placed my order.

“little joe gould has lost his teeth and doesn’t know where to find them,”  wrote the poet E.E. Cummings. The sentiment was mine as well as I waited impatiently for my package to arrive.

Were I an Amazon prime subscriber, I would have received the teeth almost instantaneously. Amazon did not invent express delivery, but it has seduced most of us into taking it for granted.

Long before there was Jeff Bezos, there was Alvin Adams. Born in 1804 in the Andover hamlet of Adamsville, his pioneering shipping company survives to this day in the publicly traded financial services sector based in Baltimore, Md.

The graves of the parents of Alvin Adams in Andover. Both were taken by the Spotted Fever Epidemic of 1813.

Alvin’s parents, Andover farmers Jonas and Phebe Adams, died one week apart in Vermont’s Spotted Fever Epidemic of 1813. The disease’s calling cards were fever, body aches and purple measles, like skin eruptions. It tended to be fatal among the middle aged, while sparing the very young. Alvin, orphaned at age 8, was raised by two older brothers.

The family’s East Hill farm, the heart of Adamsville, offers magnificent views to the southeast. It is easy to imagine the young orphan gazing toward Monadnock, dreaming of the world beyond. In late 1820, “dissatisfied with the slow plodding farm-life,” 16-year-old Alvin made his getaway before the winter lock down.

By 1837, the ex-pat Vermonter was a successful produce merchant in the Boston area. But the bank panic and economic recession of that year ruined him.

Sensing opportunity in the resultant social upheaval, he purchased a train pass between Boston and New York. After a long season riding the train back and forth, he had positioned as a trusted personal courier of messages and valuables along the East Coast corridor. The rest is history.

By the 1850s Adams was a household word. The company expanded exponentially across the American continent.

Alvin Adams at the height of his success around 1850. Photo from Wikipedia

The Civil War cemented the Alvin Adams legacy, offering opportunity for public service as well as commercial gain. Writing home to Andover in 1870, Alvin described himself as having become “immense, employed not only by government to transport arms and ammunition, but by families to transmit thousands of small packages to the soldiers, in the field, and thousands of parcels of money from the soldiers, home to their families.”

The entrepreneur enjoyed a happy home life as well as outstanding commercial success. His accomplishments feature prominently in Abby Maria Hemenway’s 1886 Local History of Andover, Vt:
“There is no name and never was in this country, that has ever employed so many men, and horses, transported so many packages (great and small), so much treasure, run over so many miles of railroad, no name so often in print, as Adams & Co…”

I suspect Alvin’s trusty personal courier service would have beaten the delivery time for my copy of  Joe Gould’s Teeth. But what’s the big hurry? With nowhere to go and no one to see in person except family, this second winter of Covid-19 is the perfect time to settle down with a good book.


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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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