(MARIA DEL OCCIDENTE)
Debbie L. Lopez
Maria Gowen Brooks was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the daughter of Eleanor (Cutter) Gowen and William Gowen, both of Welsh extraction. She had at least five older siblings. Though baptized Abigail Gowen, after her marriage, she legally changed her name to Mary Abigail; upon living in Cuba she would adopt the name Maria.
The Gowens lived a few miles from Harvard College, and William, a prosperous goldsmith, frequently entertained Harvard professors. Brooks was thus introduced to intellectual conversation, and she became, at an early age, interested in literature. By the time she was nine years old, she had memorized "large portions of Pope's Messiah; Milton's Comus; Addison's Cato; portions of Homer, Virgil and Ovid" ( Griswold 1839, 542) and read all of Shakespeare's works. She was also proficient in music and painting and, by the age of twelve, was conversant in several modern languages. Later, her son, Horace, would recall his mother as having been throughout her life "quite a linguist. She read and wrote fluently in French, Spanish, and Italian; she also sang many songs in these tongues. . . . I remember she kept by her a Persian grammar, and often referred to it. She had a remarkable memory; and many curious facts she had stored in her mind, in scraps of poetry she had learned in her youth" ( Gustafson xii-xiii).
When in 1809 Brooks's father died, bankrupt, she was sent to live with her forty-nine-year-old brother-in-law John Brooks, a widower with two sons. Over the course of the next year, the well-to-do Boston merchant would oversee the remaining year of her education and, when she left school in 1810, marry his sixteen-year-old charge. They would have two sons, Edgar (born November 25,