Marion Teague, Hingham History Maker

Hingham History Makers Awards Ceremony, May 14, 2021. Photo courtesy of Veronica Hodges

Marion L. Teague, Hingham History Maker

On Friday, May 14, 2021, the Hingham Historical Society awarded Marion Teague the designation “Hingham History Maker,” to honor her pioneering role in researching and preserving the history of Black and Indigenous people in Hingham.  At a necessarily small (owing to COVID restrictions) ceremony at Harbor House in Hingham, State Rep. Joan Meschino presented a citation from the Massachusetts House and Senate to 98-year old Marion and congratulated her on a “life well-lived” in the Town of Hingham.  Paula Bagger, President of the Society, spoke about Marion’s eventful life and work and presented a framed “History Maker” award.  Paula’s remarks may be read here.  Additional tributes to Marion were offered by Elizabeth Dings, on behalf of the Hingham Historical Commission; Joseph Collymore, of Harbor Media and also a longtime family friend; the Rev. Geoffrey Dana Hicks of Hingham’s First Baptist Church; and Marian’s daughter, Joyce Barber.  Katie Sutton attended as a representative of the Hingham Unity Council and Marian’s family and friends filled out the highly appreciative audience.

Tuttleville — detail from 19th c. Plymouth County Atlas

Marion is being celebrated for the pioneering role she has played in helping to preserve the history of Tuttleville, a two hundred year old Black neighborhood around Ward and High Streets in Hingham, and its families, some of whom have lived in Tuttleville throughout those two centuries. The eponymous James Tuttle (1780-1834), was the first Tuttle in Hingham, and he settled in the Ward Street/High Street area around the turn of the 19th century.  He was preceded as a landowner in the area, however, by members of a Black family named Humphrey; on November 29, 1801, James Tuttle and Rebecca Humphrey (1797-1843), a daughter of that family, were married by the Rev. Nicholas B. Whitney at Hingham’s Second Parish.

Marriage Record, James Tuttle and Rebecca Humphrey

Believed to be John Tuttle and his half-sister Betsy. Photo in collection of Hingham Historical Society

James and Rebecca’s son, John Tuttle (1810-1886), described in the federal census as a farmer, was an important member of this growing Black community, as was his half-brother, James King Tuttle (1834-1906), whose mother was James Tuttle’s second wife, Margaret Quacum Leonard (1796-1806).  James King Tuttle was a shoemaker; many of the Tuttles worked in the shoe factories then operating in Weymouth.  John and James King Tuttle were instrumental in the founding of a village church, the Free Christian Mission, in 1876.

Lewis Legare Simpson as a member of the GAR

James King Tuttle married Henrietta Simpson (1840-1921) on November 13, 1856, thus joining the Tuttle family to the large (Henrietta had 15 siblings!) Simpson family, whose heritage was Black and Native American (the Chappaquiddick tribe). Henrietta’s brother, Lewis Legare Simpson (1843-1918), enlisted in the Massachusetts 54th volunteer infantry, the first Black fighting regiment in the Civil War.

Marion’s grandfather, Walter Thomas Tuttle (1859-1931), was a son of James King Tuttle and Henrietta Simpson.  Also employed in shoe manufacturing, he married Laura Vickers (1869-1931), from Worcester County.  Laura’s heritage was also Indigenous; she was a member of the Nipmuc nation.  Their daughter Mabel, who married Herbert Lindsay, was Marion’s mother.

 

 

 

So, once again, thank you, Marion Laura Lindsay Teague, and we look forward to continuing to discuss Hingham history with you for a long time!

Generations of Tuttle-Simpson women. Photo courtesy of Veronica Hodges

Charlotte Gardner Briggs: an Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times

Charlotte Briggs, c. 1871

When Charlotte Briggs died in 1940 in her 99th year, she was “reported to be Hingham’s oldest resident.”  According to her descendants she had another claim to fame: when she was young, she shook hands with Abraham Lincoln. She left no written account of this, or of any other matter, but it is the story she told her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Charlotte, my great-great grandmother, was born 179 years ago, in May 1842, to Hiram and Lucinda Bailey Gardner. Hiram was a widower with four children when he married Lucinda. They proceeded to have nine more. From their farm in Hanson, Hiram supplied timbers and masts to shipbuilders on the North River. For some years, the farm was on the Boston to Plymouth stagecoach road and when the stage pulled in to change horses in Hiram’s barnyard, it was met with great excitement by Charlotte and her siblings.

The oldest of her mother’s nine children, Charlotte spent her days taking care of children, baking, gardening, and providing community service. She and her mother attended meetings at the Quaker Meeting House in Pembroke as Lucinda was drawn to the Quaker religion of her Bailey grandfather and uncles, who were preachers and abolitionists.

As a girl, Charlotte was a student at Hanover Academy, and stayed to teach for a while after she completed her education. During the Civil War, she lived at home with her parents and worked as a shoemaker. In 1871, at age 28, she married William Briggs, who was 16 years her senior, and moved to his nearby farm in Norwell.

Marriage and Motherhood

Charlotte and William Briggs in front of their house.

So began Charlotte’s busy life as a wife and soon-to-be mother of a girl and two boys. The large farm was a family business; in addition to growing crops, William cut ice from their pond and stored it in an ice house on the property until summer when they would sell it. The boys worked with their father, and daughter Frances helped her mother cook, clean and care for the gardens.

Charlotte’s child-raising years passed unrecorded, as did most women’s at a time when their work revolved around the home, family, farm and church. But Charlotte’s children grew, and married and two of them had children of their own.  It is here that we get a glimpse of Charlotte’s life and the farm her grandchildren remember so fondly, because her granddaughter, my great-aunt Ruth, did record her memories.

Ruth details “the garden lands, hayfields, pasturelands, and orchards … The upland pasture had grown into delicious high-bushed blueberries. In back of all this was acres of woodland. The barn housed four horses, two cows and pigs. Around the house to the side and back were pear trees, sour apple trees, grapevines, blue and raspberry currant and gooseberry bushes … In the fall, the cellar was full of vegetables, barrels of apples, and a closet full of preserves.”

These descriptions leave little doubt as to what Charlotte did with her days. Ruth also remembers “going to the Quaker Meeting House with my grandmother Charlotte.”

Thirty years in Hingham

4. William Briggs, Charlotte’s husband, with granddaughters Ruth and Amy Litchfield. 1897.

Hard work did nothing to shorten the lives of the Briggses. William lived to be 83, and Charlotte lived into her 99th year. When William died in 1910, Charlotte was only 68. Her children were married and had homes of their own. The farm was too big and too much work for her alone, so she sold it, living first with her son and then moving permanently to her daughter Frances’s house in Hingham.

To understand the Hingham household Charlotte moved into is to understand the shattered lives of widows, young and old, aging without a safety net, and the challenges facing women who lost their income with their husbands, because the family had been devasted by death.

At home were matriarch Sarah Trowbridge Litchfield, 75, who was mourning the deaths of her only two sons who died within two years of each other, her widowed daughters-in-law, Martha and Frances, as well as Frances’s daughters, Amy and Ruth, 18 and 16. It was a house of loss—the sons, the husbands, the father. It was a house of mourning. It was a house of women.

But, this house of women would provide the support they each needed. In the winter of 1916, they buried homeowner Sarah Litchfield, 80. The matriarch gone, the house stayed in the family, and the women supported themselves through dressmaking, real estate sales, and savings. They sent Amy to Skidmore School of Arts and Ruth to nursing school.

Charlotte was there for all these years and more. Her granddaughter Amy married in 1917, and her new husband Oliver Ferris moved into the house of women. They had three children, but not before a pandemic stuck and a world war was fought. Four generations were at home now. Granddaughter Ruth married and moved to the house next door and the corner of School and Pleasant streets became a family enclave.

In the ’20s, the introduction of radio made baseball fans of the whole family, and throughout the Great Depression of the ’30s, Charlotte’s gardening and farming skills helped keep the family fed. She was often seen crossing the lawn between her granddaughters’ houses, checking on this and that, stopping to pull a weed or talk to a child. She saw her grandchildren grow to be young adults.

Charlotte Gardner Briggs, 95; her granddaughter, Amy Litchfield Ferris, 42; her daughter, Frances Briggs Litchfield, 66. 1937. School St., Hingham.

In her 90s, she grew frail and her daughter and granddaughters cared for her at home until she died of old age “after a week’s illness.” Funeral services were held at her home on School Street, a minister of the Old Ship Church officiated, and she was buried with her husband in the Hanover Center Cemetery

Charlotte and Lincoln

Did Charlotte shake hands with Abraham Lincoln? He was in the Boston area in 1848; Charlotte was only six years old and would have been with her mother or relatives. Would the tall congressman have bent down to shake hands with a child? Maybe. He was in New England again in 1860; Charlotte was 18. Did she see him then, or did she travel out of state to hear him speak? Maybe. But I am quite sure that, at some time, Charlotte Gardner Briggs did shake hands with the man. She was not a woman who would have made up a story.

Notes

“[R]eported to be Hingham’s oldest resident,” “after a week’s illness.”:” Obituary, Hingham Journal, Dec. 12, 1940.

William S. Briggs married Charlotte S. Gardner on Feb. 15, 1871. Three children: (1) Frances m. Wilbur Litchfield, had two children. (2) Joseph married Maude Whiting. (3) Walter S. m. Charlotte Osborne, had two children.

The Hingham Historical Society thanks Meg Kenagy not only for this post but for permission to share family photos.

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.  

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).

 

Miss Gingham of Hingham

 

From The  Bookshelf for Boys and Girls, Children’s Book of Fact and Fancy, New York: University Society (1912).

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There sailed into harbor at Hingham
Three sailors one hot summer’s day;
They were Brewster and Bartlett and Bingham,
And fair shone the houses of Hingham,
And kind were the breezes to bring ‘em
To such a snug port in the Bay.

Right jolly those sailors at Hingham,
And worthy stout seamen were they,
And they san up the streets of old Hingham,
Did Bartlett Brewster and Bingham,
Till they reached the abode of Miss Gingham,
Who kept a small inn by the way.

“What cheer, Mistress Gingham of Hingham!”
Loud shouted those mariners gay;
“Be there any ice-cream here in Hingham?”
Quoth Brewster and Bartlett and Bingham;
“If you’ve any cold ices, pray bring’em;
There’s gold in our pockets to pay!”

2011121-2

Now Miss Gingham was noted in Hingham
For skill in concocting frappes;
Not a housewife at Weymouth or Hingham
But envied the way she could fling ‘em;
And Bartlett and Brewster and Bingham
Regarded her skill with dismay.

With fond eyes they followed Miss Gingham,
And the ices that garnished her tray,
While more and yet ore did she bring ‘em,
Till, reluctantly, out of old Hingham
Went Brewster and Bartlett and Bingham
Pursuing their nautical way.

By Arthur Upson.

A Book for Governor Andrew

george_livermore_1904_portraitOn August 14, 1862, George Livermore, an historian, rare book collector and abolitionist from Cambridge, gave a lecture at the Massachusetts Historical Society titled “An Historical Research Regarding the Opinions of the Founders of the Republic on Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens and as Soldiers.”  In his lecture, also published that year, Mr. Livermore argued that the Founding Fathers considered black men capable of bearing arms and fighting for independence and therefore they should also be allowed to fight for the Union cause in the Civil War then underway. img_2433

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave President Lincoln a copy of Livermore’s lecture, and it is said that Livermore’s arguments influenced Lincoln when he was drafting the Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862.  A few month’s later, through Sumner’s offices, the pen with which President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation was given to George Livermore.  (It is currently on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society).

john-albion-andrewAlthough Lincoln disappointed Sumner by moving deliberately toward introducing uniformed black soldiers into the Union Army, his administration responded positively when, in January 1863, Massachusetts’ abolitionist war Governor, Hingham’s own John Albion Andrew, lobbied for leave to raise a black regiment.  The Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment was the first to be comprised of black volunteers, from Massachusetts and other states.

Was Governor Andrew at the Massachusetts Historical Society when Mr. Livermore gave his lecture?  Did Sumner or Livermore send Andrew a copy? Either way, it is fitting that one of the books in our collection from Governor Andrews’ library is his copy of “An Historical Research,” making the case for black soldiers and citizens, inscribed for him by the author.

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Fearing Burr’s Christmas

Fearing Burr of Hingham kept a journal from 1840, when he was 25 years old, until his death in 1897. We are fortunate to have all fifteen volumes in our archives.  Burr recorded his day-to-day observations about the weather; town and church affairs; his mercantile pursuits, which included the shop in Centre Hingham which he ran with his brother ; and the horticultural interests for which he is remembered.

In an entry penned on Christmas Eve, 1872, this life-long bachelor wrote about Christmas gift-giving, noting how customs had changed since he was young.  Indeed, these were the years when the Christmas holiday began to take the shape we know today!

Burr wrote:

Was very busy in the sale of gifts for the holidays – it’s an illustration of the great change that has gradually taken place since Peter and I first began to sell goods. We are satisfied that the sale of confectionaries for one week of 1872 was very largely in excess of the gross sales of this article for one year from 1825 to 1830 and after. My brother affirms that some of his young patrons in this line expend one dollar per week. The change in the quantity and costly character of gifts of other descriptions is scarcely less noticeable.  I recall the days of my early boyhood when my holiday gifts were summed up in three or four copper cents – presents which so far from creating any feelings of dissatisfaction were regarded as truly munificent. Today it is by no means rare that a parent who is wholly dependent on his daily labor invests in toys or articles for amusement, from one dollar upwards, for each of the little ones comprising his family.  The change in the general distribution and enjoyment of the more important articles of human comfort and luxury is almost equally great.

Hingham’s Tercentenary Pageant

 

Pageant Title PageHingham pulled out all the stops in preparation for its 300th anniversary celebration. Twelve hundred of the Town’s residents participated in a three-plus hour historical pageant, which was performed before 2,000 attendees on the evenings of June 27, 28, and 29, 1935.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the Town appropriated an astonishing $14,000 for its tercentenary observance, which was written and directed by Percy Jewett Burrell, a well-known producer of such extravangas. Reunions of Hingham’s oldest families were held, the Boy Scouts gave tours of Town buildings, and the Hingham Historical Society put on a special Historic House Tour to mark the occasion.

Pageant Site“The Pageant of Hingham” was performed on a sprawling outdoor set at what was then called Huit’s Cove (current site of the Shipyard development) and comprised ten “episodes,” interspersed with music and dance.  The episodes portrayed key moments in Hingham’s history, including the “landing” at Bare Cove, the Rev. Peter Hobart’s dispute with Gov. John Winthrop, an early Town Meeting, receipt of the Town Deed from the Wampanoag, the erection of Old Ship Church, a Colonial “husking” bee, the Battle of Grape Island, Madam Derby’s bequest to found Derby Academy, the ordination of the Rev. Henry Ware, and the Civil War.

We were recently fortunate enough to receive the donation of a costume that a 12-year old Hingham boy wore as a pageant participant: breeches, jacket, hat, and shoe buckles.  Who would have imagined that the costumes were this brightly colored?  Certainly the black and white photographs of the Pageant that we have posted elsewhere provide no hint.

Pageant Costume

The boy who wore this costume, Malcolm Newell, scored a speaking role in the “husking” scene—that of Abner Loring (1742-1789), a 13-year old Hingham boy. According to the Pageant Program, this scene was set on Theophilus Cushing’s farm in South Hingham, “midsummer 1757,” and celebrated peace and prosperity in mid-18th century Hingham:

Here, there is peace, as onward Hingham moves. What was in early days a wilderness is now a fruitful place. The hills, the plains, the streams, and vales lie quiet . . . .  It is a mid-century year—an August month, and beautiful is the harvest . . . .

Husking CroppedYoung Newell and Herbert Cole, another Hingham boy also cast as an 18th century Hingham boy (Perez Cushing, 1746-1794), called out the names of the guests arriving at the Cushing farm.  An example of their lines, taken from the Pageant Program:

Perez Cushing (shouting): “Here they come from Scituate! The Jacobs, Farrars, Curtises, and Faunces!

Abner Loring (shouting): “And the Gannets, Fosters, and Manns.  And see! Hanover’s a-comin’, too!”

It must have been a memorable several evenings for a school-age boy to have performed in this Pageant before the Town and many visitors.  The addition of this purple Pageant costume to our collection makes it all seem a little more real to us today.

Hingham Tercentenary Pageant Scrapbook

Ebenezer Gay, another young Hingham participant, with his mother, in costume for the Tercentenary Pageant.

 

From Witch Trials to Praying Indians to Old Ship Church

“To All Christian People to whome this present instrument shall come Greeting,” this deed in our archives opens magisterially.  The date at the bottom is equally impressive:   July 4, 1690, “Anno Regni & Regina Guilielmi & Maria Secundi” (in the second year of the reign of King William and Queen Mary).  The deed is executed by William Stoughton, “of Dorchester in the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England,” and conveys several parcels of land in the vicinity of Broad Cove to Thomas Thaxter “of Hingham in the Colony aforesaid, yeoman.”  Stoughton is acting on behalf of “the Governor and Company established & residing in the Kingdome of England for the propagation of the Gospel to the Indians in New England &c.”

William Stoughton

William Stoughton

In addition to his service as a judge during the Salem witch trials (see our prior post about this document, “William Stoughton’s Seal”), and later service as first Chief Justice of Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court, Stoughton was Lieutenant Governor of the Colony in the 1680’s and early 1690’s.  Among his many other public positions was Commissioner, and later Treasurer to the Commissioners, of the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel to the Indians in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America, a company chartered by Parliament in 1649 to support the conversion of New England’s native people.  The Company originally made investments in England and sent the income to the colonies, to be used to support conversion efforts, including John Eliot’s 1663 translation of the Old Testament into the Massachusett language, the creation of settlements for the so-called “Praying Indians” (including present-day Stoughton, Mass.), and other missionary activities such as the creation of a short-lived “Indian College” at Harvard College.  (These efforts may be familiar to readers of the recent historical novel Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks.)

Eliot_BiblePoor returns on investments in England (including losses owing to the Great Fire in London) led the New England Company to start to send capital for investment in the colonies.  The task of finding suitable investments fell to Stoughton.  Two such investments, made in 1683, were loans of £50 each to Simon and Joshua Hobart of Hingham, sons of Captain Joshua Hobart, nephews of the Rev. Peter Hobart, and both identified as “mariners.”  The loans were secured by real estate in Hingham and, according to the legal structure of the day, evidenced by deeds conveying the parcels to Stoughton, upon the condition that if the greater sum of £66 was repaid four years hence, in 1687, the sale would be null and void.

It is not clear what happened to the younger Joshua Hobart’s land but, on July 4, 1690, Stoughton sold the land he had “purchased” from Simon Hobart to Thomas Thaxter, for the inappropriately small sum of £4.  In all likelihood, this sale to Thaxter was part of some larger transaction, of which we know nothing.

N__367777355How did Stoughton come to loan the New England Company’s funds to the Hobart brothers?  Stoughton had reason to be familiar with Hingham real estate in the early 1680’s.  In 1681, Hingham needed a new church, but a dispute arose about where to locate it.  The decision where to build what would become Old Ship Church was elevated to the General Court, which appointed an oversight committee, on which Stoughton served.  The Committee determined that the Church would be located on property purchased from Captain Joshua Hobart, adjacent to the parcels involved in the New England Company financing two years later.

From the Salem witch trials to the Praying Indians and back to Old Ship Church, this one old deed shows just what a small world 17th century Massachusetts Bay was.

An Appeal to Town Meeting

The terminology used in these 18th century manuscripts will be familiar to any contemporary participant in Hingham’s Town Meeting:  “Mr. Moderator,” the first opens, “As I requested the article in the warrant we are now upon to be inserted, [I] suppose it is expected I should shew for what reason it is inserted . . . .”  We do not know who is addressing Town Meeting or who made these notes, but we understand immediately what’s happening.

The speaker explains that he enjoys the use of 27 acres of land at “Great Lotts,” half “tillage and mowing land” and half pasture, “to no part of either of which can I carry any manure or bring off any produce or drive my oxen or cows but upon sufferance.”  The problem, as he describes it, is that when the town laid out the “Great Lotts” and “Squirrel Hill Lott” one hundred years previously, the intention had been to lay out a road running between Goles Lane and Broad Cove Street, to allow access to the lots.  (Broad Cove Street is now called Lincoln Street and Goles Lane, also formerly called the Turnpike, is now Beal Street.  The Great Lots were survivals of the practice, in the earliest days of settlement, of assigning settlers planting lots and pasture at a far remove from the thickly-settled residential center of town.)

A town committee was appointed, the speaker claims, to lay out this road, and ¾ of its roughly one-mile route was fenced.  The task was not completed, however, and recently Thomas Hersey had built a stone wall where the road ran across his property.  For the speaker, the stakes were high:  “if I cannot get to my Land [I] shall be reduced to the hard necessity of keep[ing] two cows & driving my oxen to the worlds end & keep[ing] a horse the greater part of the summer at the barn.”

It demonstrates just how old our town is that this 18th century Hingham farmer was basing his argument on what he claimed were the Town’s mid-17th century actions.  Remarkably, he appears to have had documentary evidence to support his contention.  A second set of notes in the same handwriting, perhaps of a second application to the Town, opens:

Mr. Moderator.  What I propose by Laying before the Town the record that has now been read is to shew the sentiments of the Town respecting a highway from Goles Lane to Broad Cove Street 100 years ago, which the Inhabitants have passed  & repassed since time immemorial but is now entirely stopped up by Mr. Thomas Hersey . . . .

Hingham’s town seal pays tribute to the four pillars upon which the town was founded and grew:  Church, School, Train-Band (the militia), and Town-Meeting.  These two manuscripts remind us of the central role played by Town Meeting, which, as the legislative branch of our municipal government, has offered individual citizens a direct voice in municipal government for close to four centuries.