The Derby Family

The Derby family has a rich and vast history entailing tales of shipmasters, adventure, writers and millionaires.


George Horatio Derby

George Horatio Derby spent his childhood in Medfield, Massachusetts with his mother, grandmother and his two aunts. He was the son of John Barton and Mary Townsend Derby.  He had a remarkable memory and could quickly memorize books. This left him with plenty of time to sharpen his wit, and that he did. Some Medfield teachers were not fond of his pranks and his disruptive nature, but it is these personality traits that contributed to his becoming America’s first satirical writer. Now, you may think that Mark Twain holds that honor, but you would be incorrect. Actually, Twain was familiar with George’s writings and some of his work closely resembles George’s.

There was a serious side to George. He became a topographical engineer for the U.S. Army. He served in the Mexican-American War and was assigned to map out some of the new California territory gained through the war. Extremely accurate at his work, he was truly an artist.

Many servicemen held second jobs to acquire enough money to live and George was among these ranks. Working for the San Diego Herald, he utilized his ability as a writer and penned many satirical articles for this newspaper. People enjoyed them so much that he became well known in his time. Later his articles were published in books and were enjoyed by people of the times and are still enjoyed, even today. President Lincoln was believed to have been reading one of his books before he left for the theater the evening he was assassinated. He did enjoy George’s humor.



Elias Hasket Derby

George Horatio Derby’s great grandfather was Ellias Hasket Derby.  He was America’s first millionair. Elias was a privateer who traded with Russia, the Baltic, Europe and the East Indies. He owned the Grand Turk, which was the first New England vessel to trade with China. He resided in a stately home in Salem. George spent many of his summers in Salem with relatives.

 Mary Angeline Coons  and George Horatio Derby were wed in 1854. They had three children, Daisy Peyton, George McClellan, and Mary Townsend. The Dwight-Derby House descends through Daisy’s line.



Mary Coons Derby
Courtesy of the Dwight Derby Collection

Daisy married William Murray Black. They had one child, Roger Derby Black

William became a Major General of the United States Army.  He is most known for the training of over 300.000 engineer troops during World War I for which he received a Distinguished Service Medal.







Roger Derby Black
Courtesy of the Derby Family

Roger married Margaret Eveleth Smith. At this point in time, the Dwight-Derby house had been rented for several years and, just as it seemed it would be sold, Roger’s wife Margaret decided to live there. She moved into the house in the 1930s and sometime in the 1940s she sold the property. So ends the story of the Derbys and the Dwight-Derby House. Their ownership spanned four generations.