A Revolutionary Epidemic

Boston Aug 2 1776 / Rec’d of General Lincoln four pounds in full for / Inoculating him & son for the Small Pox / Jos. Gardner [Document from Hingham Historical Society archives]

Smallpox was a dreaded disease in the 18th century.  It was endemic in Great Britain and, while overall less common in North America, the period of the American Revolution coincided with a very serious smallpox epidemic that started in the cities of the northeast in 1775 and spread across the continent.  The soldiers of the northeastern militias and the newly formed Continental Army were at great risk, not only because life in an army camp resulted in the easy spread of such a viral infection but also because Americans were generally less likely to have developed immunity to smallpox than their British counterparts.  

Inoculation against smallpox was known but was not the same as vaccination as we know it. As practiced in 1776, live smallpox virus was “inoculated” under the patient’s skin to induce a mild viral infection.  People inoculated against smallpox got sick, were contagious, and sometimes died.  One typically isolated oneself for some period of time when receiving a smallpox inoculation.  (It was only in 1798 that a British doctor, Edward Jenner, discovered that cowpox, a harmless relative of smallpox, offered protection against smallpox without creating an actual smallpox infection, thus developing the first vaccine.)  

It was at first General Washington’s policy not to inoculate soldiers because (1) they could infect each other and (2) they actually got sick, leading to concern that the enemy might know when a company was undergoing inoculation.  Smallpox had hindered the Continental Army’s attack on Quebec during the winter of 1775-1776, and Washington changed his policy and started inoculating the Continental troops the following winter at Morristown, New Jersey.  

It is not surprising, against this backdrop, that Benjamin Lincoln, at the time Major General of the Massachusetts militia, received a smallpox inoculation in August 1776, as evidenced by a receipt in our archives. He was preparing to leave Massachusetts the following month to lead two regiments of the Massachusetts militia to join Washington’s army in the defense of New York.  The following February, he was commissioned a Major General of the Continental Army, initially at Bound Brook, New Jersey.  His son, Benjamin Lincoln V, who inoculated with him, was a 21 year old law student at the time, serving under his father in the Massachusetts militia.

Joseph Gardner, the doctor who inoculated Lincoln, was in the summer of 1776 the Surgeon of Col. Thomas Crafts’ Artillery Regiment in the Massachusetts militia.  Like General Lincoln, Dr. Gardner joined the Continental Army in early 1777; he is recorded as having been one of the physicians with Washington and his forces at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78.  

Hingham Sailors in the Civil War: Where the Wild Winds Swept Them

In August 1862, three young Hingham men enlisted in the U.S. Navy. At the Charlestown Navy Yard, they were issued uniforms and entered into the record: Benjamin Jones, twenty-nine, hazel eyes, dark hair; George Merritt, twenty-one, blue eyes, brown hair; Henry Trowbridge, twenty-one, blue eyes, light hair. Ranked as landsmen, they will earn $13 a month.1

Trowbridge Henry NavalRec 1862 copy

U.S. Navy, Enlistments at Boston in 1862.  Henry Trowbridge of Hingham.

The war was in its second year. The month before President Lincoln had put out an urgent call for additional troops, and the town had rallied to meet its quota. On July 25, 1862, the Hingham Journal printed a powerful appeal that included increased bounties:

Within days of the newspaper notice, our three Hingham Centre boys enlisted, and the village must have been a hive of activity as family and friends gathered to wish the young men well. Benjamin and Henry were first cousins and related to George through the old Massachusetts families.

098665501After several months of training in the north, the three young men left for the sounds of North Carolina aboard the USS Hetzel, a side-wheel steamer, chartered to maintain blockades on southern ports. In North Carolina, they transferred to the gunboat USS Louisiana, “five guns,”2 whose mission was to intercept blockade runners and support ground troops. The ship was crowded and damp, the weather humid and, in addition to the enemy, sailors fought the plethora of diseases that haunted ships. At some time that winter, George Merritt got sick. Suffering from intense fevers and chills, he was moved to a hospital in North Carolina. On February 7, 1863, he died of “swamp fever” and was buried “from the hospital.”2

George Merritt II

Hingham Civil War Monument, Hingham Cemetery

A letter or telegram carried the news north. Adding to his parents’ grief was the fact their son was buried so far from home. They would eventually place a memorial headstone in the First Parish Cemetery in Norwell,and George’s name would be inscribed on the Civil War Monument erected by the town after the war. The publication produced for the monument’s dedication, details his service and asks: “Is his sleep less sweet in the land where the wild wind swept him, than if soothed to rest at home, and kin and friends had wept him?”2

Benjamin and Henry remained aboard the USS Louisiana through the winter, and in April 1863, they took part in the sea and land battle at Washington, North Carolina. In August, their service complete, they were discharged and “granted passage home.”2 It must have been a subdued homecoming—of the three young sailors who had left the year before, only two came home. And Henry was ill. The Hingham Journal reports the homecoming:

September 4.

Henry Trowbridge has been confined to his father’s residence with fever, is getting better. Benjamin Jones has enjoyed good health since his return from the U.S. gunboat Louisiana, which were blockading Washington, N.C. The young and noble Merritt was one of the three from here in their company; his bones now rest on Southern soil, but his soul is in heaven.

At war’s end, Henry went to work with his father in a meat market in Hingham Centre. He married, moved out of his parent’s house on School Street, and built a house at the corner of Pleasant and Union streets. After the untimely death of his wife, Mary Ordway Trowbridge, he married Hannah Ferris, an Irish immigrant, and had five children. In addition to rebuilding the house at 51 Pleasant Street after it burned to the ground, he built two houses on Union Street, the one at 11 Union survives. Throughout his long life, he lived to be 87 years old, he was involved in the work of US Grand Army of the Republic post, which Civil War veterans started after the war.  When he died in 1930, he was remembered as “one of the oldest GAR men in the State.”4

Henry Trowbridge age 21

Henry Trowbridge, age 21. Hand-tinted dagurreotype from family collection.

Footnotes

  1. “United States Naval Enlistment Rendezvous, 1855–1891,” NARA microfilm publication M1953. Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. Henry Trowbridge, Benjamin L. Jones, George H. Merritt, Aug 1862. FamilySearch. Web. Author note: Henry and George were actually both 20, not 21 as indicated in the records.
  2. Burr, Fearing, George Lincoln, The Town of Hingham in the Late Civil War. Includes biographical information Benjamin Jones, pp. 312–313; Henry Trowbridge, p. 313; George Merritt pp. 388–389.
  3. See photo of memorial headstone, George H. Merritt, First Parish Cemetery, Norwell, Plymouth County. Find a Grave website, findagrave.com
  4. Henry Trowbridge obituary: Daily Boston Globe, May 7, 1930.

About the author

Meg Ferris Kenagy is a freelance writer who grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts. She is the author of The House on School Street, Eight generations. Two hundred and four years. One family.

Escaping to Hingham

When we think of tourism in Massachusetts, examples such as Hull’s Nantasket Beach, Cape Cod’s Provincetown, or Martha’s Vineyard’s Edgartown immediately come to mind. Perhaps surprising to some, Hingham held a role as a tourist destination, possessing three resort hotels throughout the 19th century.

First built in 1770, the Union Hotel was constructed where the Hingham Post Office stands today. In the early 19thcentury, it was renamed the Drew Hotel and then later the Cushing House and underwent various renovations before it was torn down in 1949.

Next, the Old Colony House was built in 1832 on top of Old Colony Hill, close to what is now Summer Street, with grounds extending to Martin’s Well. Founded by the Boston and Hingham Steamship Company, it burned down in October of 1872.

Thirdly, in 1871 the Rose Standish House was constructed in what is now Crow Point. The hotel was part of Samuel Downer’s Victorian-era amusement park, Melville Garden, until the park was dismantled in 1896.

What were some of the factors contributing to Hingham’s rise in tourism?

While Hingham could be accessed by horse drawn carriage, the development of steamships and railroads during the 1800s was important to connecting small, rural towns like Hingham to Boston’s wealthy citizens, and later the general public, in order to grant quick access to the pleasures they had to offer.

Furthermore, with the increase in urbanization due to the Industrial Revolution, towns such as Hingham became places of escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. As cities grew, doctors and scholars began to associate the city with not only various physical diseases but also mental maladies. While sea bathing and the sea air were thought to possess healing properties, it was also considered salubrious to take a respite from the city itself. An excerpt from the research magazine Scientific American, published in 1871, discussed the medical benefits of a seaside visit for people suffering from a variety of ailments: from anxious businessmen, to people living in crowded towns, or to people recovering from illness or injury. The author stated

To these people it is not the sea air alone, nor yet change of air; but it is change of scene and habit, with freedom from the anxieties and cares of study or business, the giddy rounds of pleasure, the monotony of every-day life, or the sick room and convalescent chamber, which produce such extraordinary beneficial effects . . . .

With the development of a middle class during this time, more people could afford the time and money to engage in leisure activities and embark on day trips to Boston’s surrounding towns. From the naturalistic scenery of World’s End surrounding the Old Colony House to the dancing and boating at the Rose Standish House and Melville Garden, the escapist nature of Hingham’s seaside resorts provided urbanites a sojourn away from the city.

 

 

Whiting Memorial Chapel Honored with Preservation Award

Each year, the Hingham Historical Society awards its W. Bradford Sprout, Jr., Architectural Award in recognition of a notable project involving the rehabilitation, restoration or preservation of an historic structure or property in the town of Hingham.  This past spring, at a “virtual” Annual Meeting of the Society, the award was presented  to the Trustees of High Street Cemetery for their restoration of Whiting Memorial Chapel.

Albert Turner Whiting in front of the newly constructed chapel, 1905.

Albert Turner Whiting commission this stone chapel, completed in 1905, in memory of his parents, Albert and Sarah Fearing Whiting, and his wife Harriet E. (Warren) Whiting, who died in January 1905, while the chapel was under construction. Whiting had already lost his only child, Helen, in 1891.  All are buried in High Street Cemetery.

Harriet Whiting Memorial Window.

J. Sumner Fowler, a Hingham resident and architect, designed Whiting Chapel. (He, too, is buried in High Street Cemetery.) The chapel is in the Gothic Revival style, popular nationally–think college campuses–although there are no other examples of the stye in Hingham.  The chapel was constructed of Weymouth seam-faced granite with Indiana limestone trimming.  It has a copper roof and double oak doors.

The interior features oak paneled walls and copious stained glass, including an ornate window in the apse, in memory of Whiting’s wife, Harriet E. (Warren) Whiting, who died in early 1905.

The Whitings (sometimes also Whitons)  were a large and important family in South Hingham.  Albert Whiting (Albert Turner’s father) built an Italianate Revival house that once stood at 1194 Main Street, just north of Queen Anne Corner.

Albert Whiting’s House at 1194 Main Street.

The elder Albert Whiting was a master mason, who was superintendent of stone work on many large public projects, including the Charlestown Navy Yard dry docks; Castle Island in South Boston; Fort Independence in Hull; and industrial canals for the Lowell Lock and Canal Co.  His son, Albert Turner Whiting, had a peripatetic youth, as his father’s trade required the family to move to these large building sites.  It is no wonder, then, that when the younger Albert came to commission a chapel in his parents’ honor, the result was one of Hingham’s only stone buildings.

Fowler, the architect, designed many well-known Hingham and South Shore buildings, including the former Town Offices at 14 Main Street and Ames Chapel in Hingham Cemetery, also recently restored.  That chapel could not be more different, though, having been designed in 1887 in the then-popular, richly ornamented Queen Anne style.

High Street Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in South Hingham. Its earliest extant headstone dates from 1688.  Through the mid-19th century, it was the responsibility of Hingham’s Second Parish.  It passed into private hands and was incorporated in 1855.

Restoration worked focused on interior and exterior wall repair due to leaks; floor repair; pew cleaning; and the repair and restoration of stained glass.  The oak doors and paneling were stripped and restained and an HVAC system was installed.  This work, performed by Ben Wilcox and Wilcox Construction, was funded by the Trustees’ endowment and a grant from the CPC.  The Trustees sought to restore the building for use for private events, and, as restored it comfortably seats 80.

The Trustees’ work makes a significant and beautiful building available to the Town, and for that we were pleased to honor the Trustees with the Sprout award.  Although outside of the public eye, owing to social distancing measures, the Trustees were awarded a plaque commemorating the award.  Special thanks to Aisling Gallery, which generously donated framing services, and Susan Kilmartin, for sharing her calligraphy skills.

Whiting Memorial Chapel in High Street Cemetery, 2019.

 

 

 

The Construction of the New Meetinghouse: Old Ship Church

By Rosamund Conroy

Early New England meetinghouses were the hearts of towns, serving not only as places of worship but also municipal buildings and even forts or garrisons. These basic structures hosted a variety of activities—from town meetings and trials to baptisms—and the original settlers were generally prohibited from building their homes more than a half a mile away from their town’s meetinghouse.

Hingham’s first meetinghouse was constructed shortly after the incorporation of the town, on the site where the Hingham Heritage Museum and Visitor Center now stands. It had a palisade fence, a bell and was probably a rough-hewn, unheated timber structure, similar to many others of that time. 

In January 1679, perhaps in a nod to its growing population and increasing wealth, the town voted to replace the old meetinghouse and build a new one “with all convenient speed.” They established a small committee to visit other towns for ideas and by May 1680 (the new year being in March under the Julian calendar), the town voted to build the new meetinghouse—the structure we now know as Old Ship Church— “where the old one doth stand.”

The vote was split though and the location proved controversial, with several powerful freemen preferring a different site. Despite the discord, other aspects of the project proceeded and in August 1680, the town agreed the building’s dimensions. In October 1680, they established the rates (the contribution per man, proportional to their assessed wealth) for a project total of about £437—an enormous sum of money in those days. At nearly £16, the highest rate payer was Daniel Cushing Snr. Esq., while many of the younger or poorer men “promised” a £1 contribution, vowing to pay it at a future date.

An excerpt from the Daniel Cushing Manuscript (1680’s) showing the total rate collected for the meetinghouse. The selectmen listed above held opposing views as to where the meetinghouse should be situated. Only photocopies survive from this part of the manuscript.
(Hingham Historical Society archives/Photo: R. Conroy)

The next spring arrived yet the location continued to be a thorny issue. In May 1681, the General Court got involved and sent two members, William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley, to view both sites. (Interestingly, Dudley would later be widely reviled throughout the colony for his role in the short-lived government of Sir Edmund Andros.) The men found both locations unsuitable and disallowed the construction of the new meetinghouse in “either the old place or in the plaine.” Governor Simon Bradstreet and the magistrates ordered another town meeting to resolve the issue and directed the selectmen to give them a “speedy returne” about the outcome. 

A compromise was reached when Captain Joshua Hobart donated a parcel of land for the meetinghouse. It was near to the old site but presumably more agreeable to all parties and an affirmative vote was duly passed at the subsequent town meeting. The meetinghouse frame was raised over three days in July and its first use was civic, for a town meeting on January 5, 1681. At that meeting, a committee was established to agree upon the seating arrangements in the new meetinghouse—a complicated task that involved segregation by sex and ordering by social hierarchy. 

A few days later, on January 8, 1681, the new meetinghouse—now known as the Old Ship Church—held its first Sabbath service, a tradition that continues to this day.

 

An excerpt from the Daniel Cushing manuscript (1680’s) showing the rate that each man paid, plus their seat in the meetinghouse. Hinghamites sat on seats (benches), not pews and the order presumably applied to all occasions, civil or religious. Only photocopies survive from this part of the manuscript.
(Hingham Historical Society archives/Photo: R. Conroy)

Would you like to know more? For a general overview of life in seventeenth-century New England, Albion’s Seed, by David Hackett Fischer provides an interesting social history of the English folkways that shaped America’s colonies. Food buffs will enjoy reading America’s Founding Food by Stavely and Fitzgerald, whereas Good Wives by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich provides a glimpse into the hidden world of Puritan women.

Primary source materials can be as engrossing as edited works and they often bring a particular historical period to life in unexpected ways. A wealth of seventeenth-century primary sources can be found locally (try the Hingham Historical Society, the Hingham Public Library or the Massachusetts Historical Society) as well as online (for example, in the digital records at the Massachusetts State Archives).

 

Searching Early Massachusetts Deeds from Home — For Free!

Deed Search Image 0 Old OrdinaryIf you are curious about property your Massachusetts ancestors or other persons of interest might have owned, there is a way to locate deeds online. All it takes is a free familysearch.org account and a little patience.

I have been researching The Old Ordinary, the Hingham Historical Society’s 1686 house museum at 21 Lincoln Street (aka “the road to Broad Cove”) in Hingham, and its former owners and have found on-line resources such as FamilySearch helpful.  I’ll use The Old Ordinary as my example for how to search early deeds on-line.

In order to set up an account, go to familysearch.org, where you will be asked to provide an email address, set up a password, and choose a userID.  (Make sure to write these down.) You will also be asked to provide some basic information to start “your” family tree but rest assured that information on any living persons remains private, and you don’t have to continue creating a family tree to do research on the site.

You will get a confirming email which you must respond to promptly, and you’re all set.

FamilySearch menus can be deeply nested. Rather than go through all of the menu items to find the deeds, just use your browser to search for: familysearch massachusetts deed search

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 9.19.09 AM

From the menu of results, choose: Massachusetts Land Records, 1620-1986 — FamilySearch.org

Click and on the next screen choose: Browse through 5,766,135 images.

Don’t be daunted!  On the next screen, you are presented with a list of the Commonwealth’s counties. When searching deeds, it’s important to know which county a town was in when it was registered.  For instance, Hingham was in Suffolk County from 1643 until 1803, at which point it became part of Plymouth County.   If I am researching the early years, I need to choose Suffolk County.

I am now presented with a long list of links arranged in two columns in the following order:

  • Deed indexes (grantee), grouped first by time period and then alphabetically by surname in successive volumes
  • Deed indexes (grantor), grouped first by time period and then alphabetically by surname, again in successive volumes
  • Deed books, containing the actual deeds, organized by years and volumes.

(A little terminology:  “grantors” are the sellers and “grantees” are the buyers.)

Deed Search Image 1The grantee and grantor index books help you locate a deed more quickly within a certain set of deed books.  As you will see below,  using them on-line is a little bit more cumbersome than using the physical index and deed books, but you do get to search from the comfort of your home and on your own schedule.

An advantage to researching older deeds is that the index books cover a huge span of years, so you don’t have to know exactly when a property changed hands.  For purposes of my example, I know that Francis Barker owned The Old Ordinary in the mid to late 1700s. He was both a grantee when he bought the property and a grantor when he sold.

To find the record of his purchase, I need the grantee index for the period 1639 to 1799 for grantees whose last names start with B

  • Deed index (grantee) 1639-1799 vol 1-2, A-B

A click on the link brings up image 1 of the index book. Now it’s a matter of jumping around in the book until I find Francis Barker. Surnames are listed alphabetically at the top of the page, and given names are listed in the second column.  I like to jump about 50 images at a time until I get close.  I find that records for Francis Barker start at image 211 and end at image 215.  Happily, the one I am looking for is the first entry, which shows that on 5 Jan 1741 Francis Barker (grantee) purchased from Samuel Gill (grantor) a property in Hingham on the Highway to Broad Cove one acre in size. For the actual deed I am directed to consult Deed Book 62 page 171.

Deed Search Image 3I navigate back to the main page for Suffolk County by clicking at the top of the page and find myself at the long list of index books and deed books,  I look for Deed Book 62 and choose the link for

  • Deeds 1740-1741 vol 61-62

Deed Search Image 2This file of 619 images has two volumes, so Volume 62 probably starts halfway through about image 310.  Now, I need to find page 171.  A little browsing shows that each “page” is actually the front and back of a sheet.  Page 171 is, in fact, on images 495 and 496.  There, you can see “Gill to Barker” in the left margin of the left page of image 496. I can read the deed on my screen and/or download or print it.

Deed Search Image 4

[A bonus is that the document immediately prior to this is the deed by which Samuel Gill—Francis Barker’s grantor—himself acquired The Old Ordinary from Baruch Jordan!]

To find the deed for the sale of the property, I would go back and look at the grantor index books and repeat the process.

Not all deeds were registered in a timely fashion, and some land transfers were not registered at all. Some property passed through wills and other means. But most are listed, and you can often learn a lot about an ancestor by searching to see what land holdings he (or sometimes she) might have had.

Some of the terms in land records are archaic. For help understanding them, see: http://www.directlinesoftware.com/legal.htm

For help in understanding deeds and other property records in general, see: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/U.S._Land_Records_Class_Handout

Happy hunting!

Ruth Litchfield Marsh (1893-1991), Hingham Visiting Nurse

Ruth Briggs Litchfield, 19 years old, 1912. Photo courtesy of Meg Kenagy

At the end of August 1918, the worldwide influenza pandemic hit the Boston area. Doctors and hospitals were overwhelmed. Red Cross volunteers and nurses stepped in to help. In Hingham, Ruth Litchfield Marsh, two years out of nursing school, worked throughout the crisis. She was 25 years old. It was through this experience that she became committed to public health, working over her long life with the Hingham Visiting Nurses Association and as a volunteer for South Shore Hospital.

 

Ruth, the elder of S. Frances and Wilbur Litchfield’s two daughters. Photo courtesy of Meg Kenagy.

Ruth was born in April 1893 at 11 Union Street, Hingham, the first of two daughters of Sarah Frances Briggs and Wilbur Trowbridge Litchfield. She lived most of her life on School Street. She married George Marsh in May 1919, had four children and many grandchildren. Her house and gardens were always beautifully kept and she always had time to bake a casserole for a neighbor, talk to a child, and teach sewing. When she died at 97 years old, she was remembered for her many contributions to the town:  Girl Scout leader, nurse, volunteer, member of the Women’s Alliance of the Old Ship Church.  She was my grand-aunt and I, as well as many others, remember her compassion and gentle sense of humor.  For more about the life of Ruth Litchfield Marsh, you can read: The House on School Street, Eight Generations, Two hundred and four years. One family.

 

 

To My Children

After recuperating from a wound suffered during the Saratoga Campaign at his home in Hingham, Massachusetts, Major General  Benjamin Lincoln of the Continental Army was well enough to rejoin George Washington in New York in early August 1778.  Although he did not yet know it, he would be given the command of the Southern Division of the Continental Army in September 1778.  He would not be home again for any period of time for five years.

When General Lincoln left Hingham, his wife Mary was recovering from smallpox.  His eldest son, Benjamin, Jr., was 22 and away from home, studying the law.  Six children were at home:  Molly, 20; Elizabeth, 19; Sarah, 17; Theodore, 15; Martin, 9; and Hannah, 5.  Molly, the oldest daughter, who is referenced in this letter, was intellectually disabled and lived with her parents throughout her adult life.

On July 28, 1778, en route to New York, the General penned this letter to his children:

My Children:

The ill health of some of you, joined to my great hurry, prevented my making some general observations to you relative to your future conduct before I left home—some of which are of the greatest importance.

In the first place you will never forget your God—the duty you owe to him as your creator, preserver and best benefactor.   The duty you owe to your neighbor and to your selves you will learn from divine revelation, which you will attentively study, and the example of our dear redeemer.

I must mention to you the peculiar state of your mother whose cares and burdens are greatly increased by my absence. I need not urge; I am sure your own feelings will always suggest to you the propriety of your lessening her cares, lightening her burden, and treating her with every mark of tenderness, duty. and respect.  Never wound her by doing a wrong action. You may safely confide in her advice.

I must in the next place recommend to your constant notice your sister Molly. Consider who made you to differ.  You owe her every attention.  Make her life as happy as in your power. Some are made strong to bear the infirmities of the weak.

You will love each other.  Those of you who are grown up will counsel those who are not. Never set an ill example before the little ones.  Encourage them to every act of goodness, charity, and benevolence by precept and example.

As our happiness is connected with the happiness of those about you, always watch over yourselves; let your deportment at all times be such, if possible, that even the malicious shall be constrained to acknowledge its fitness.

I am in haste, must close ,but cannot do it without saying again remember your God, love your fellow creatures, injure no person.

I am, with every wish for your present and future happiness, your affectionate father,

B. Lincoln

 

Three Herrings and a Pung Ride

When settlers first arrived in New England they had a lot to learn.  One of the first things was how to grow corn.  Native Americans taught the new settlers how to fertilize soil for the corn with “three herrings to a hill,” as Eleanor Roosevelt tells us in This is America, the 1942 photodocumentary she wrote with Hingham resident Frances Cooke Macgregor.

Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Macgregor worked together on the book at the suggestion of the publisher, G.P. Putnam Sons of New York.   The text was written by Mrs. Roosevelt and the photographs were taken by Mrs. Macgregor.  In January 1942 Eleanor came to Hingham to meet with Mrs MacGregor at her Stoddard Street home.  Frances Cooke Macgregor was a published author and photographer.  She had already taken many photographs for the book and she and Eleanor together decided upon those they both felt would be most effective.  The United States had just entered the Second World War and their hope was to produce a book that showed life in small town America and to help Americans understand what it was they were fighting for.

While in Hingham, according to an account of her visit in the Hingham Journal of January 8th 1942, Mrs. Roosevelt dropped in on a League of Women Voters meeting, chatting informally with members and answering their many questions at this time of uncertainty in the country.  The First Lady found Hingham’s architecture, a mix of old colonial mansions, gingerbread Victorians, and charming Cape Cod cottages, to be delightful and much copied in other parts of the country.  She is reputed to have described Hingham Main Street as the most beautiful Main Street in America.

When Mrs. Roosevelt saw Hingham, she felt she had found “a picture in miniature of the whole nation.”  One purpose of the book was to affirm what it meant to be an American, regardless of ethnicity, and Eleanor was thrilled to discover that the Hingham High School football squad that year had players whose families had come from eight different parts of the world and that Hingham was home to Dutch and Polish farmers, Italian shoe makers, and a German harness maker, amongst many others. In 1942 Hingham had a population of 8,000.  It still had 50 farms—but it also had a commuter train., and much of its population now travelled to work in Boston.  There were, of course, schools, churches of all kinds, and a public library with 28,000 volumes.  The Loring Hall movie theater would be showing Citizen Kane the following week.

Children played outside in the still plentiful open spaces.  A favorite winter activity was known here as pung-riding, a term unknown in most of the rest of the country.  A pung was a low box sleigh drawn by a horse. Often hay would be placed inside and the children would snuggle down to enjoy the ride.  The more adventurous would ride on the runners, jumping off one pung and onto another while both were gliding swiftly over the snow.

With Mrs. Roosevelt’s words and Mrs. Macgregor’s photographs, the women wanted to portray American ideals.  They hoped that all across the country ordinary people would recognize themselves in the descriptions of Hingham and its citizens and understand that their values and aspirations were also true of them.

A collection of Frances Cooke Macgregor’s photographs of Hingham—which she personally selected and gave to the Historical Society in the early 1990s—are currently on display at the Hingham Heritage Museum. A presentation of “Tea With Eleanor’ with the actress Sheryl Faye in the persona of Eleanor Roosevelt will take place at Hingham Heritage Museum on Saturday, November 16th at 3:00 pm.  Please click here to purchase tickets on-line or buy in advance at the Hingham Heritage Museum:  seating is limited.  We hope you’ll take advantage of the both of these opportunities to learn more about these remarkable women and their connection to Hingham.

Moving House

Back in 1946 there was a bit of a housing shortage. Hingham dentist Ross Vroom bought a two-story Garrison colonial house on Gallops Island and had it placed on a barge and floated over to World’s End. He had a cellar dug at 22 Seal Cove Road, and the house still sits there today.

Dr. Vroom was no stranger to having a good house moved. Back in 1933 he moved the stately “Squire Norton House” from its original location at 65 Main Street across Hingham Square to 47 Fearing Road and lived there for many years.

Both of these photos are from the archives of the Hingham Historical Society.