All About Pipes

Among the many accessions made possible through the generosity of the Gay family is a collection of clay pipes and fragments, carefully sorted and well documented by Ebenezer Gay. Many were dug up during gardening or, in one case, when some foundation work was done on their former home on North Street.

While it’s a humble-looking collection at first glance, particularly since most of the pieces in it are just that—pieces—pipe collections like this can serve as a window into a fascinating corner of both archaeology and social history.

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Pipes and stems found at the Gay House on North Street in Hingham

Clay pipes are a frequent archaeological find. They were batch-manufactured by craftsmen with simple tools, used all over the colonies and later the country, easily broken and then, usually, cast aside. The fragments left behind, and the much rarer pipes found intact, can give us clues about the world they came from. The length or thickness of a pipe’s stem, or the size of its bowl, can be used to determine its age, and a knowledgeable observer might use that information to help roughly date objects found with the pipe  A pipe might give more specific information than that, as well:  several of the ones in the North Street collection feature maker’s marks. The names “Murray” and “McDougall” each pop up more than once.

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A detail from Eben Gay’s notes on his pipe collection.  Gay was the curator of scientific instruments at Harvard; thus his wonderfully detailed notes. 

While tobacco is, of course, a New World plant and tobacco smoking something Europeans learned on this side of the ocean, the tradition of clay pipe making and smoking reached New England from Old England, where clay pipe makers’ guilds formed in the 17th century. Pipes much like the ones found all over the original colonies are also found at the sites of battles that took place during the English Civil War in the 1640s. The pipes the Gays found at North Street are certainly newer than this, and indeed clay pipes continued to be used through the 19th century. However, they newer ones, too, attest to the clay pipe industry’s British heritage. Several of the stems in the collection, along with or instead of maker’s marks, are stamped with their place of origin: Glasgow, Scotland.

While our collection of pipes is resolutely plain, extending in a few cases to some raised decoration on the pipe bowls, decorative pipes became quite an industry in the 19th century. Pipes were made with bowls shaped like animals, ships, people, or anything under the sun. Decorated pipes were used for advertisement, political commentary and commemoration of events. This connection to the events of the day is not unexpected. While smoked primarily (though not exclusively!) by men, pipes were smoked by those of essentially all social positions and in all sorts of environments: in taverns, on the job, or quietly at home. All things considered, it’s unsurprising that such a ubiquitous type of object should have left so many – and to the history enthusiast, such welcome— examples of itself behind.

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“Gentleman Farmers” of the 19th Century

Brewer BarnThe “gentleman farmers” of the 19th century were men who typically had made their fortunes in that century’s industrial and commercial expansion and, only afterwards and as an avocation, applied the scientific and economic values and principles that had fueled their successes in those arenas to agricultural pursuits.  For instance, in 1856, wealthy Boston businessman John Brewer built a mansion along Martin’s Lane in Hingham, which later grew to encompass the twin drumlins of World’s End and the Hingham Harbor islands, and his son, Francis W. Brewer, built “Great Hill,” an estate off Hobart Street, now More-Brewer Park. (Shown here: a print from a glass plate negative of the barn at Great Hill, the foundations of which can still be seen in the park.)

Portrait of Samuel Downer

One prominent father-son duo of “gentleman farmers” with a strong connection to Hingham were both named Samuel Downer. The father, Samuel Downer, Sr. (1773-1854), was a Dorchester merchant with ties to shipping and the Massachusetts maritime economy.  He was a founder of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and devoted horticultural experimentalist, known for having developed several new varieties of pears.  We have in our collection a portrait of the elder Mr. Downer, painted by Henry Cheever Pratt in 1840.  Mr. Downer chose to pose with fruit and flowers and a popular naturalistic work of the era called The Romance of Nature—all reflecting his desire to be remembered for his agricultural interests and not the trade and commerce that had led to his wealth and position.

Portrait of Samuel Downer, Jr.His son, Samuel Downer, Jr. (1807-1881), was a pioneer in the development of kerosene and a participant in early petroleum exploration in Pennsylvania.  (Locally, he is known for having bought up most of Crow Point in Hingham and developed the mid-19th century resort Melville Garden.)  This Samuel Downer (photo at right) also cultivated fruit for a hobby.  One of his inventions was “Downer’s Late Cherry,” a useful application of scientific principles to farming: it bore fruit later than other varieties of cherry, effectively extending the local cherry season.

PH503The Hingham Agricultural and Horticultural Society, founded in 1869, was also comprised of local men and women, many of whom were involved in industry, trade, and commerce.  (Here, they pose for a formal portrait in front of Hingham’s Agricultural Hall in the late 1880s or early 1890s.) As a society, they were earnestly dedicated to scientific farming, that is, using the progressive values of the 19th century and the power of new knowledge and industrial technology to “improve” agriculture along “modern” lines. At the agricultural fair each fall, prizes offered in different categories attracted many entrants. One could win a medal or ribbon—and an accompanying cash prize–for anything from crops and livestock to flowers and preserves.

The prizes offered for “Agricultural Experiments” demonstrate this interest in scientific farming.  A poster advertising the 1863 Agricultural Fair (detail reproduced below) offered prizes for the “best conducted experiment” in several areas, including for instance, “ascertaining the most economical manner of apply Manures for a crop of Indian corn, not less than ½ acre . . . .”

Africultural Fair Poster 1863 #2

Isaac Sprague and American Botany

isaac sprague poster '16-100dpiA new exhibit opened today at our 1688 Old Ordinary house museum, 21 Lincoln Street, Hingham. Isaac Sprague and American Botany: Art, Science, and Agriculture in the 19th Century examines the life and work of America’s best-known botanical illustrator–and son of Hingham–and places his art in the context of several currents of 19th century social history.  Plus, we have mounted some absolutely lovely botanical prints and and a series of beautifully detailed pencil drawings of the many types of orchard fruits that were once grown in this area. The exhibit can be seen Tuesdays through Saturdays, between 1 pm and 5 pm, for the rest of the summer.  We hope you come and take a look and learn a little more about this Hingham artist.

Main Street, Top of Pear Tree HillIsaac Sprague was born in Hingham in 1811. His family lived in Hingham Centre, in a house that still stands today. The Spragues of Hingham were primarily coopers, part of the woodenware industry that gave early Hingham the nickname “Bucket Town.”  Sprague was mostly self-taught as an artist, recalling that he “always had a fondness for making pictures” as a child. He was “constantly discouraged from doing so by [his] father, who said artists were invariably poor,” but his family did have some creative roots–his Uncle Hosea was a printer and engraver, and another uncle, Blossom, ran a carriage-painting business (visible in the center of this early photo of Hingham Centre) where Sprague was apprenticed as a young man.

No. 11Sprague developed an early love of nature and much of his juvenile work is drawn from the woods and fields around Hingham.  In particular, young Isaac drew and painted numerous pictures of birds.  When Sprague was about thirty, he met the wildlife artist J. J. Audubon, who examined a number of Sprague’s bird drawings and, impressed with his talent, hired him as an assistant. In this capacity, Sprague accompanied Audubon out west to the Missouri Territory and Fort Union on a trip to produce sketches for Audubon’s Quadrupeds of North America. This connection with Audubon launched Sprague’s career as a botanical artist.

2011.0.271After his trip west Sprague returned briefly to the South Shore, working as a clerk in a Nantasket Beach hotel until, the following year, he started to work as an illustrator for prominent American botanist Asa Gray, first producing illustrations for his 1845 Lowell lectures at Harvard.  Before long he moved to Cambridge, continuing to work for Gray and other Harvard professors, illustrating several comprehensive botanical volumes in the 1840s and 1850s.  (The illustration to the left, of Aesculus Parviflora, is from an 1848 work, Trees and Shrubs of New England.)

Derby Day, Then and Now

Old Derby Academy, see from the North.  Postcard collection at the Hingham historical Society

Old Derby Academy.  (Hingham Historical Society)

Hingham residents know to watch for the early June procession through Hingham Square that kicks off Derby Academy’s graduation ceremonies. Boys in chapel dress and girls in white dresses march from the current Derby campus on Burditt Avenue down Fearing Road to New North Church, where the day’s ceremonies are conducted.  This tradition is almost as old as the Academy itself. Ever since the New North meetinghouse was erected in 1806, at least part of Derby’s end-of-year ceremonies have taken place in it.

Of course, the walk wasn’t always so long: when Old Derby Academy was the schoolhouse (from 1818 until the 1960s), the procession started on Main Street in Hingham Square.

New North Church, Hingham

New North Church. (Hingham Historical Society) 

A Hingham Journal article from 1861 describes what was the “annual exhibition” held partly in New North and partly in Loring Hall. In those days, the focus was not on the graduating class but rather on the progress made by the student body as a whole. “Scholars” of all grades demonstrated the fruits of a year’s hard work by presenting dialogues, original oratory, dramatic performances, and, of course, music. A needlework display in the basement of Loring Hall showcased the girls’ handiwork.  Exhibition programs from the 1833 and 1892 exhibitions, reproduced at the bottom of this post, differ in detail but not in overall conception or scope.

Loring Hall, Main Street, HIngham.   From the photograph collection at the HIngham Historical Society

Loring Hall. (Hingham Historical Society)

The Journal described the 1861 Derby Exhibition as “one of the most agreeable [days] of the season,” and it was truly a major social event. Derby Academy was Hingham’s only secondary school for much of the 19th century, and it continued to dominate our educational landscape for years afterward. The exhibition day was not just a chance for parents to see what their children had learned or for the oldest scholars to say goodbye in style: it was an opportunity for the entire community to come out, celebrate the onset of summer, hear a few interesting lectures, and listen to some good music.

Did the ’61 Journal have any complaints? “If we were disposed to criticize,” it remarked, “the speaking would have been more effective had it been less rapid.” However, “the music was excellent, the hall packed to the utmost,” and we can catch a modern-day echo of the buzz and bustle of this celebration when the Derby students make their way through the Square next week.

Derby Exhibition 1

Order of Exercises, Derby Academy Exhibition, May 22, 1833. (Hingham Historical Society)

Order of Exercises, Derby Exhibition, 1892  (Hingham Historical Society)

Order of Exercises, Derby Exhibition, 1892 (Hingham Historical Society)

Clubs and Societies in 19th c. Hingham

“It would be impossible,” Francis H. Lincoln remarked in the 1893 History of Hingham, Massachusetts, “to give a complete list of all the social organizations which have existed in Hingham.”

Francis H. Lincoln (

Francis H. Lincoln

Lincoln knew whereof he spoke: he was known for his active engagement in his community’s civic, religious, and charitable organizations. Three of the nine paragraphs in his eulogy were devoted exclusively to his membership in various societies and organizations, of which 21 are expressly named. This does not include his service on Hingham’s School Committee for nine years starting in 1879 and as treasurer of the American Unitarian Association.

Although certainly more engaged than most, Francis Lincoln was not the only one in town to show such a diversity of involvement. Each of the two 19th-century histories of Hingham devotes an entire chapter to the discussion of Hingham’s various “Lodges and Societies,” patriotic and political associations, charitable organizations, and recreational clubs. At one point, just in the arena of music, Hingham boasted both a brass and a cornet band, two choral societies (in addition to the church choirs), and a Philharmonic (formerly the more humbly named Amateur) Orchestra. Two social libraries were formed early on, in 1771 and 1773, and lasted until Hingham’s public library was founded close to a hundred years later. Early in the 20th century, the Hingham Historical Society was formed by townspeople interested in Hingham’s venerable history.

The Hingham National Brass Band

The Hingham National Brass Band

Each generation reorganized the societies to its liking: the Jefferson Debating Society of the early 19th century gave way in the 1840’s to the competition-based Hingham Debating Society, which in turn morphed thirty years later into the Monday Night Club, a more informal discussion group. (Despite this “informality,” when it was Francis Lincoln’s turn to address the club on the topic of “The Systems of Taxation In Massachusetts” in April 1878, he went armed with 26 pages of notes—preserved in our archives.) One organization, founded midcentury as the “G. I. A. of Scribes and Pharisees,” hosted socials, parades, fancy-dress balls and other diversions for decades, but changed its name and officers so often that it reportedly became known as the “Phoenix Club” for its constant re-emergences.

Political societies became popular with several abolition societies in the mid-19th century. After the Civil War, they switched their focus to temperance (with differing approaches, from religious to scientific) and then women’s rights. The Hingham Women’s Alliance boasted men as well as women amongst its members, and the local branch of the Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association met at Loring Hall, receiving support from Hingham resident and then-governor of Massachusetts John Davis Long.

The Hingham Gun Club

The Hingham Gun Club

The community sustaining these myriad organizations was thus also sustained by them. In the early 1800s, facing a growth in population density that made both fire and thieves more common, townspeople founded the Society of Mutual Aid for Detecting Thieves and the Hingham Mutual Fire Society, both of which lasted through the century, promising to lend a hand when their neighbors’ belongings went missing or their buildings burst into flame.

The Hingham Croquet Club

The Hingham Croquet Club

The social engagement and civic responsibility displayed in the Town’s profusion of associations and causes runs through its history, but the 19th century surely marked a high point in the number and strength of Hingham’s social organizations. Hingham was nothing less than a working example of what Alexis de Tocqueville saw as an explanation for the success of American democracy: our social engagement and investment in community created the interdependence that allowed our political processes (the process of voting and representation and compromise) to work. Or, as Francis Lincoln, club member extraordinaire, remarked in an essay written as a 15-year old student: “all the institutions of the land . . . are nurseries of learning, truth, and freedom.”

Lincoln on Lincoln (and the start of the Civil War)

When John Barker, subject of two prior posts on this blog (“A Soldier Writes Home” and “John Barker at Gaines Mill”), went off to war in 1861, 15-year old Francis H. Lincoln of Hingham was a student at Derby Academy.  In two bound volumes, preserved in our archives, he minutely described his primary and secondary education.  The Academy’s rules (memorialized in these books) provided that “the writing of compositions be required of the scholars as often as once a fortnight during each term.”  Lincoln recorded each of his efforts in these volumes.

Two of Lincoln’s compositions written during his last year at Derby took current events as their subject–South Carolina’s secession from the Union, the election of a distant relation as President, and the coming of war.  In February 1861, two months after South Carolina seceded, he penned “A Fable on the Times”:

“Once upon a time” when the people of the United States elected their President, the South or Southern States, the inhabitants of which were mostly Democrats, generally outvoted the Republicans and other parties of the North; but in 1860 at the Democratic conventions, for nominating candidates for the Presidency they were unable to agree, and Republicans outvoted the other parties, and selected Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, President.

Mr. Lincoln being a man opposed to slavery, South Carolina, a miserable little State, tried to rebel against the Union, by seceding and making war, endeavoring to get some other small states to join her, and form what they intended to call the “Southern Confederacy.”

How this will turn out, nobody knows, but probably the Republicans will be masters of the Union.

“Haec fabula docet” that persons must not think that they can be masters of everything, that they must be sometimes willing to give way to others; and it is best to begin these habits in early life, for the child that is permitted to have its own way will grow up like South Carolina creating hatred, and perhaps war. Therefore, O parents, “lead up children in the way they should go;” therefore, O Republicans, do your best; correct South Carolina in her mad course, and “lead it up in the way it should go.”

Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 5, 1861. Photo from Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress

The next months were eventful.  Lincoln’s June 1861 composition was titled, “Fort Sumter”:

 This fort, which is situated upon an island in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina; was taken by Secessionists in the spring of 1861, shortly after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Although much might be said about Fort Sumter, I shall not confine myself to that in particular, but shall write concerning the present rebellion in general.

The Southern or slave-holding states, especially South Carolina, have probably desired to be separated from the Northern for more than twenty years; and until now have not had what they thought could be called a reasonable excuse. Once, I believe, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, they made an attempt at secession, but failed, as they must now.

They have now made the excuse, that Lincoln will interfere with their institutions, and do all in his power, to free their slaves; but this is nonsense; for Lincoln said in a speech before he was elected, “I shall not meddle with their institutions or slaves, but I shall certainly not permit them to extend slavery any farther than it has now gone.”

Persons who had sworn allegiance to the Government and Laws of the United States, have proved traitors, and have done all in their power to destroy the Union; and have done, also, to accomplish this object, the worst thing they could have done for themselves, that is, opened war upon us; and when Major Anderson (who was in command at Fort Sumter) and his handful of men, were nearly starved, opened fire upon him, and shame upon him, a Massachusetts man was the first to fire upon him.

The North should and will have revenge. “The Union must and shall be preserved.”  There are still at the South, many who would give all their property to preserve the Union, and such men should be delivered from the hands of those mean and cowardly scamps who are compelling them hither to die or fight for them.

But they will be freed, and their persecutors punished, and if the leaders, viz. Jefferson Davis & Gen. Beauregard and a few others escape with their lives they may congratulate themselves.

Christmas in Hingham, 1857

Christmas 1857.  Francis Henry Lincoln of Hingham was an 11-year old student at Derby Academy.  When school resumed in January, he wrote a composition, entitled “Christmas,” which is preserved in our archives.  Lincoln recounts how he and his older brothers Solomon and Arthur spent their “very merry Christmas.”

Christmas is the day on which the birth of Christ is celebrated.  It is a holiday.  In many parts of the world, the week in which the anniversary occurs, is devoted to amusements.  I had a very pleasant Christmas this year.  I will give you some account of it.  In the morning I awoke as usual and found in my stocking a very handsome present.  In the forenoon I went to Loring Hall to see the committee of arrangements prepare the tables for the party in the evening.  The First Parish usually have a special social gathering on that evening.  At noon I witnessed the firing at a target by two gentlemen in our neighborhood.

After enjoying a Christmas dinner Solomon Arthur & I went into the field in the rear of our house and fired at a target with Solomon’s gun.  I then read a while at home. In the evening I attended the Parish party at Loring Hall. There was dancing until eight o’clock, when there was an intermission; during that time the scholars connected with the Sunday School were collected in the saloon and marched into the Hall. Arthur acted as Marshall.

I had been appointed to present to my cousin Henry E. Hersey, the superintendent of the school, a writing desk in behalf of the scholars.  Mr. Hersey, being introduced, I made a short speech and presented the desk to him.  He made a short speech in reply, expressing his warm thanks to the scholars.  Dancing was then resumed.  Afterwards by an invitation of my Sunday School teacher, I went to his house and received from him a present of a very interesting book.  I then returned to the Hall and spent the remainder of the evening in dancing.  We had refreshments and excellent music.  I went home between twelve and one o’clock having spent a very merry Christmas.