William G. Fearing

William G. Fearing, photo made in Baltimore at the Perkins studio between 1882 and 1888
William G. and Lydia Fearing Window
William G. and Lydia Fearing Window

The M. P. Church’s “Fearing” window at left was sponsored by William G. Fearing (1837 – 1928) and his wife Lydia M. Reynolds (1848 – 1922). More details of William G. Fearing’s life are available to us than for any of the other people of the windows, at least in part due to his personal friendship with David Conner and his popularity in Milton. Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he came from a long line of whalers and sea captains. The well-documented Fearing line can be traced backed to the arrival of John Fearing in Boston’s Massachusetts Bay colony in 1638 and ultimately to Cambridge, England. The Fearings and the Yankee families they married into are replete with Revolutionary War soldiers and patriots. Although maritime Fearings literally roamed the seven seas, relatively few Fearings ventured beyond New England on dry land; thus, William G. Fearing’s settlement is Delaware is all the more unusual. There is a record of a William G. Fearing as a member of the crew of the whaling barks Active and Sunbeam, out of New Bedford, from 1852 to 1856; he is categorized as a “boy,” which would would agree with his 1837 birth date, but there is no additional documentation to positively identify him.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in September of 1861 as a seaman. Family anecdotes passed down through the Reynolds family descendants say that he served under Admiral David G. Farragut at the Battle of New Orleans in 1862, aboard the flagship U. S. S. Hartford, as a “cabin boy,” which meant he was a messenger between officers and crew. It is unclear how he progressed from that function to “captain of the foretop” as was related in his obituary.

He met Lydia Reynolds in Philadelphia while she was visiting there from Milton and he was on shore leave. She and William were married there in 1864, and the marriage would last 58 years. After the war he was a house painter by trade as well as a licensed exhorter (lay speaker) and trustee of the church. Lydia joined the Milton M. P. Church in the early 1870’s, while William officially became a member in 1887. His commercial work was often reported on in the Milton column of the Milford Chronicle where he was referred to as “Professor” Fearing. He and “Doctor” James Leonard, neither of whom completed high school, were always debating one point or expounding on another[1], and James Leonard was known for experimenting with seeds that grew gigantic pumpkins. David Conner referred to them, tongue in cheek of course, as members of Milton’s own “Sorbonne.” As a Civil War veteran with oratorical gifts, Fearing was often a speaker at Decoration Day functions. He was a delegate on at more than one occasion to Methodist Protestant and Bible Society conferences, and for a time handled the distribution of concession rights for the Lavinia’s Camp revival meetings on behalf of the church. He also served one term as mayor of Milton, in 1916, and was on the town’s Board of Trade. The townspeople called the Fearings “Uncle Billy” and “Aunt Lydia”, in their later years. According to the short obituary published in the Delaware County Daily Times, Mr. Fearing was until his death one of the oldest men then living in lower Delaware.

The following passage is taken verbatim from the Milford Chronicle’s obituary of February 17, 1928:

Mr. Fearing was 90 years of age and had resided in Milton about 62 years. He was a veteran of the Civil War, serving almost the entire duration of that war in the U.S. Navy. He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts and at the outbreak of war was on a sailing vessel in European waters, and the first he heard of the conflict was when he arrived at London and saw the newspapers. He immediately shipped on a schooner bound for Baltimore. Before arriving at Baltimore the schooner was ordered to proceed to New York, because of the disorder in Baltimore[2]. Arriving at New York Mr. Fearing proceeded to Boston, where he enlisted in the navy. Shortly after enlisting Mr. Fearing was made “Captain of the foretop.” His duty was to direct the fighting from the foretop, the gunners firing on the deck below. After the cessation of war, while at the home of a navy officer in Philadelphia, he met Miss Lydia M. Reynolds, of Milton, who was on a visit to that city. Shortly after this they were married and moved to Chincoteague, Virginia where Mr. Fearing worked on the construction of the present lighthouse for several years. They finally moved to Milton where his wife died in 1922. The deceased was a member of the Milton M.P. Church and an honorary member of the Enterprise Council, Jr. OUAM.

There is a question concerning Lydia’s maiden name; on the license for her marriage to William Fearing, her name is given as Lydia Smith. There was a marriage recorded in Kent County on December 30, 1858 between Lydia M. Reynolds and Risdon Smith, but no apparent record of a divorce or annulment, or the death of Risdon Smith. In any case, Lydia was free to remarry in 1864.

Beginning in 1882, when she opened her shop on Union Street north of the Broadkill, Lydia was a leading milliner of Milton. She was also a Sunday school teacher and superintendent, and one of the oldest and most supportive members of the Milton M.P. church. She was one of the few women in the congregation that actually ran her own business. The Fearings had two children before 1870, neither of whom survived to adulthood.


[1] Think of the “knowledgeable” postman Cliff’s ramblings in the old TV sitcom Cheers

[2] The disorder of Baltimore was two days of street riots around April 19, 1861, pitting one side anti-war/pro-South sympathizers and on the other side Baltimore police and Federal troops in transit through the city.