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.

A Letter from Home: Easterly Winds and Death

Old letters open a window to the past. There isn’t a genealogist or historian who doesn’t yearn for them. And for good reason: letters carry the voices of our ancestors, they tell us a story. They illuminate our history.

One such letter, written on May 1, 1830 by Hingham resident Benjamin Thomas, Jr., to his uncle Martin Cushing in Maine, contains “sorrowful” news. It relates the death of Martin’s older brother Adna, who died the day before. The story it tells is of working conditions, medical knowledge, and a community caring for its own.

By way of background, Martin and Adna, sons of Isaac and Mary Cushing, were born in Hingham in 1788 and 1785, respectively. Descended from Matthew, the first Cushing to settle in town, they grew up in Hingham Centre, working on the family farm and in the sawmill. As adults, they entered the trades: Adna became a stonemason, Martin a bricklayer. In 1810, Adna married Sarah Leavitt and built a house at what is now 63 Pleasant Street; within a decade, he had moved his family to Leominster. Martin married Susan Thomas and moved to Maine.

In the letter, Benjamin recounts the facts of Adna’s death. He does not indulge in emotion or offer sympathy. From it, we learn that, in the winter of 1830, Adna worked indoors as a stone mason and that “the dust gave him a bad cough.” We learn that spring brought bad weather: there were “3 weeks of easterly winds and mist, by which [Adna] took a bad cold.” We learn that at the tail end of April, while working on a job in Charlestown, Adna fell violently ill and died. We learn he “labored” within days of his death.

When he died, his body “was brought to Hingham by a sail boat,” and “he was buried from M. & F. Burrs house” on the day of his death.

What the letter doesn’t tell us is that Adna was only 44 years old when he died. It doesn’t say how his wife and children learned of his death. Knowing he was buried the day he died, we understand that he was in the ground before most people knew he was dead. We see that immediately following his death a group of friends or co-workers carried his body from Charlestown to Hingham by sailboat. We know the news was rushed to Hingham Centre, and that the Fearing Burrs opened their home for an unexpected funeral. We realize that, in a matter of hours, a coffin was acquired, a gravedigger found, and a minister fetched. We are left to imagine the ripples of grief that spread across the villages and towns as friends and family heard the news.

Martin died seven years after his brother and is buried in Maine. How the letter survived is not clear as his widow is believed to have remarried and moved west, but it was handed down through the Cushing family. Thanks to the letter, we have a better idea of what it was like to live in Hingham in 1830.

Endnotes

Benjamin Thomas Jr. (1799-1854) was a nephew of Susan (Thomas) Cushing, Martin Cushing’s wife. He was the son of her brother, a gunsmith who lived in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III (Genealogical), 1893. Pub. by the Town.

A copy of the letter from Benjamin Thomas Jr. to Martin Cushing was shared with me by researcher Margie von Marenholtz.

Adna Cushing (1785-1830) and Martin Cushing (1788-1837) were two of Deacon Isaac and Mary (Jones) Cushing’s seven children.

The Capt. Adna Cushing house at 63 Pleasant Street was built in 1811, according to the Hingham Historical Commission, Inventory of Historic, Architectural and Archaeological Assets. On Adna’s move to Leomister, see Cushing, James Stevenson. The genealogy of the Cushing family, an account of the ancestors and descendants of Matthew Cushing, who came to America in 1638.1905. Montreal, The Perrault Printing Co.

On M. & F. Burr’s house: Fearing Burr Sr. (1778-1866) had a store and home in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III. Ibid. Adna is buried with his parents and his wife in Hingham Centre Cemetery. Note: His gravestone says he was 45 years old when he died; he was 44, in his 45th year.

Martin Cushing died 20 May 1837. “Maine Deaths and Burials, 1841-1910,” database, FamilySearch, Feb. 2018.

Yellow Polka Dot Bikini?

As we wilt in the summer heat people everywhere are flocking to the beaches, a time honored tradition throughout most of the world.   Today we can choose what we wear to the beach.  This was not always the case.

maryal-knox-sl7.jpgIn the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dress codes for beachwear, particularly women’s, were very strict.  Women wore bathing costumes that consisted of two or three pieces of clothing often made of heavy black wool.  A two-piece ensemble consisted of a knee-length dress with sleeves and a collar, often in a sailor style, and bloomers or pantaloons underneath.  A three-piece outfit had a top, again often in a sailor style, a skirt, and pantaloons. They were worn with cotton stockings and lace up “slippers” made of embroidered serge (a kind of wool) or flannel.  Head coverings were also worn: either some kind of hat or cap or a kerchief knotted around the head.  These bathing costumes could sometimes contain as much as nine yards of wool! 

There were a number of reasons such cumbersome outfits were worn.  The main reason was modesty, although taking good care of a pale complexion was also considered very desirable.  Curiously, heavy warm bathing attire was also considered necessary because the seawater was cold!

Horse-drawn bathing machines were in common use on many public beaches.   These were huts made of wood, or sometimes just a wooden frame with canvas sides, that were Bathing machineson wheels.  They were used for changing into bathing costumes from street-wear and were drawn into the water by horses.  There were steps down into the ocean so a woman could go directly from the bathing machine into the water, thus protecting her modesty.

Encased in nine yards of wet wool, often further weighed down by weights sewn into the hem to prevent the bathing dress from rising in the water, women found “swimming” a challenge and thus contented themselves with “bathing.”  At many beaches, a rope was be attached to an offshore buoy.  Women would hold onto the rope and jump up and down in the waves!

ropeBy 1907 the popularity of “swimming” had increased and women were frustrated by their cumbersome costumes. When an Australian professional swimmer, Annette Kellerman, came to the U.S. , she wore a form-fitting swimsuit fashioned from a man’s swimsuit (form-fitting pants and pull over shirt).  She was arrested at Massachusetts’ Revere Beach for indecent exposure!  However, women demanded similar swimsuits for themselves and Kellerman soon started a company manufacturing them.

In reaction to these more “indecent” costumes, in the early 1920s, swimsuit laws were passed regulating the amount of skin a woman might expose at the beach.  Swimsuit police patrolled the beaches with tape measures to check any beachwear that didn’t conform, and women were arrested for showing too much skin.

By the ‘30’s different, stretchable fabrics were developed and, happily, swimsuits began to become more like those we wear today.

The pop-up exhibit at the Hingham Historical Society currently shows some beach attire worn by young women from Hingham around 1900. We hope you’ll stop in to take a look.

Pop Up

 

The Howard Foundry at Hingham Harbor

Photo of the Eagle Iron Foundry on Summer Street c. 1895, with Hingham Harbor visible beyond. From the Albert W. Kimball Collection at the Hingham Historical Society

Where we enjoy water views along Summer Street today, there was once a thriving industrial center at Hingham Harbor. On a section of the shoreline between Whitney and Barnes wharves once stood the Eagle Iron Foundry, locally called the Howard Foundry.

The Foundry was built about 1844, burned in 1846, and was rebuilt rather quickly. It cast sash weights, furnaces, and plow blades for the Howard plow. The plow blades were sent up to Middle Street, where the wooden parts were attached before the completed plow was sold.

The Foundry closed around 1895, and if you look closely you will notice that all the windows are boarded up. This helps date this photograph.

The building was renovated to house the generator powering the Hingham Street Railway and then, after the railway closed, George Kimball repurposed the building as a workshop.

Charles Howard (1791-1860) of Hingham invented the first iron plow capable of cutting the tough sod of the American prairie. This small model was made by his son, Elijah Leavitt Howard (1833-1904), for his own daughter, Anne B. Howard.  Gift of Anne O. Borntraeger and Esther Oldham, Charles Howard’s great-granddaughters, to the HIngham Historical Society.

The Lincoln Chair Returns

IMG_4895

The “Lincoln Chair” has returned to Hingham after a sojourn in the Arts of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tradition holds that this joined armchair, made of red oak with walnut inlays, belonged to Thomas Lincoln “the cooper,” one of Hingham’s original settlers. It was long thought to have been constructed in England, but microanalysis of the wood in the early 2000s revealed that the chair was made in North America. This information makes the chair even more of a rarity than formerly believed, as only about two dozen examples of 17th century New England joined chairs exist.

Of a type often called a “wainscot” chair, the Lincoln Chair has a plank seat and carved panel back. The series of elongated S- and reverse S-curves are thought to have been inspired by classical design.

The chair descended in the Lincoln family until 1914. In 1908, as the Town’s 275thanniversary approached, a national campaign was launched to raise funds for a bell tower in memory of Hingham’s first settlers. When the Memorial Bell Tower was dedicated in November 1912, an interior chamber, the “Peter Hobart Room,” was created and furnished with furniture and artifacts from mid-17thcentury England. Hingham’s Lincoln family donated the chair to the Memorial Bell Tower to furnish the Peter Hobart Room.

IMG_4897 (1)The chair was moved into Old Ship Church in 1933 and remained there until 2008, when it was loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts for display with other First Period furniture.

But now, the Lincoln Chair has returned home to Hingham. We are grateful to the Town of Hingham and Hingham’s First Parish for their stewardship of the chair over many years and for their decision to loan the Chair to the Society for display at the Hingham Heritage Museum.