The Chace-Cory House, built around 1730 by Benjamin or Abner Chace, witnessed the passing of many Tiverton generations by its front door. Once a lonely house, it has seen nearly 300 years of change at Four Corners. Its floorboards are well-worn by the pacing of more than 100 years of anxious wives, widowed by the sea, if only temporarily.
In 1816, Andrew Cory and his school teacher wife, Jane Gray Seabury, bought the house. Jane had lived here with her parents as a young woman, running a school in the “old chamber,” which extends intact over the kitchen pantry. Andrew Cory lived a life at sea, eventually taking command of the New Bedford Whaler Isaac Howland in 1845 at the age of fifty-five. Despite his time at sea, Andrew and Jane managed to have nine children, although only seven survived childhood.
Andrew and Jane’s eldest child, Edward, followed in his father’s wake. He shipped from New Bedford on whalers that took him as far as Australia where, in 1842, he met Mary Ann Bamford, an orphaned 19-year-old woman sent from England as a child upon the death of her parents. The two wed in Australia, shipping back to Tiverton where they raised a large family of their own. Edward inherited the house from his father in 1866.
Late in his career as a whaler, Edward Cory went missing during a planned two-year voyage. Three years passed with no word of him, then four and five. The orphaned Mary must have passed many anguished hours wondering about Edward’s fate, finally preparing for life as a widow.
But six years after sailing from New Bedford, Edward returned. While pursuing a whale, it dealt him a near-fatal injury, and Edward spent three years convalescing in China before regaining enough strength for the long voyage home.
Edward and Mary Ann’s eldest son, Edward Joseph Cory, inherited the house, and he too tried his hand at whaling, until the industry died out in the early twentieth-century. He turned to fishing the local waters, shipping his fresh catch from Newport to New York aboard the Fall River Line steamships.
In 1962, Edward Joseph Cory, Jr., sold the old house to another man of the sea, J. William Middendorf. A veteran of the United States Navy, Middendorf served as Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1973 and Secretary of the Navy from 1974 to 1977. In 1964, Middendorf donated the house to the Tiverton Historical Society, which moved here from its original headquarters at Whitridge Hall.
Carlton Brownell, a Little Compton resident and history teacher in the Tiverton Public Schools, led the restoration effort. The grounds of the Chase-Cory House contain an unusual 19th-century washhouse, a corncrib reassembled here in 1976, original stonewalls, and a privy. Brownell, who dedicated his long life to the preservation of local history, died at age 95 in February 2013.