On a spring morning in 1816, Mary Elizabeth Sawyer and her father found two newborn lambs in their sheep pen in Sterling, Massachusetts. One had been rejected by its mother and was nearly dead. Mary cared for the animal, nursing it back to health, and it became her companion. One day, when she headed off to school, the lamb followed along -- the real story behind the famous nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The best-known first 12 lines of the nursery rhyme were written by John Roulstone, who heard the story while visiting his uncle in the area, en route to Harvard University.
Mary, a lamb, and nursery rhyme history:
- Three additional stanzas were added later by Sarah Josepha Hale and included in her 1830 book Poems for Our Children.
- Hale’s contribution is written in a different style than Roulstone’s, and gives the poem a moral. The rhyme later appeared as a lesson in the McGuffey Readers.
- Mary Sawyer's mother made some stockings out of the lamb's wool for her daughter, who treasured them. Later in life, Mary donated the stockings to help raise money for the restoration of the Old South Meeting House in Boston.