On November 4, 1841, a young Frederick Douglass—only three years removed from slavery—gave one of his first recorded speeches at a meeting of the Plymouth County Anti-Slavery Society at the First Baptist Church here in Hingham. On August 10, 1841, only three months earlier, Douglass had appeared on Nantucket Island, at a meeting of the island’s Anti-Slavery Society, where he first met William Lloyd Garrison and launched a career as an abolitionist lecturer and activist.
One item on the agenda at the Hingham meeting in November was a resolution to censure northern Protestant churches which practiced segregation. It was on this subject that Douglass spoke that day.
Frederick Douglass was not yet the legendary figure that he soon became in abolitionist circles—indeed, when he returned to Hingham three years later to speak at the Great Abolition Pic Nic held at Tranquility Grove, he was a “headliner” among the speakers. But in November 1841, he was a relative unknown and was introduced to the Society as follows, as reported by Hingham’s local paper, the Patriot, on November 11th:
A colored man then rose, and was introduced to the meeting by Rev. Mr. May, [the Society’s] President, as Mr. Douglass. It appears that he is a runaway slave, “about whom,” said Mr. May, “an interesting story might be told, but it is not expedient to make its details public.
Douglass later addressed the meeting at several points, including, again in the words of the Patriot, “allud[ing], with considerable wit, to the union between the churches of the North and the South . . . .” This appears to be a reference to the short oration that was recorded, titled The Church and Prejudice. It opened as follows:
At the South I was a member of the Methodist Church. When I came north, I thought one Sunday I would attend communion, at one of the churches of my denomination, in the town I was staying. The white people gathered round the altar, the blacks clustered by the door. After the good minister had served out the bread and wine to one portion of those near him, he said, “These may withdraw, and others come forward;” thus he proceeded till all the white members had been served. Then he took a long breath, and looking out towards the door, exclaimed, “Come up, colored friends, come up! for you know God is no respecter of persons!” I haven’t been there to see the sacraments taken since.
As he continued to speak of the Northern church (in New Bedford, where he had settled on coming north), the “wit” alluded to by the Patriot was on show. Describing the charismatic experiences of certain parishioners, he told this story:
Another young lady fell into a trance. When she awoke, she declared she had been to heaven. Her friends were all anxious to know what and whom she had seen there; so she told the whole story. But there was one good old lady whose curiosity went beyond that of all the others—and she inquired of the girl that had the vision, if she saw any black folks in heaven? After some hesitation, the reply was, “Oh! I didn’t go into the kitchen!”
The resolution concerning the stance of northern Protestant churches passed. Douglass himself made a deep impression on the correspondent for the Hingham Patriot, as can be seen in this passage of his extended report on the Anti-Slavery Society’s meeting:
. . . [A]s Douglass stood there in manly attitude, with erect form and glistening eye and deep-toned voice, telling us that he had been secretly devising means to effect his release from bondage, we could not help thinking of Spartacus the Gladiator . . . . A man of his shrewdness, and his power both intellectually and physically, must be poor stuff, thought we, to make a slave of. At any rate, we would not like to be his master. . . .
He is very fluent in the use of language, choice and appropriate language too; and talks as well, for all that we could see, as men who spent all their days over books. He is forcible, keen, and very sarcastic, and considering the poor advantage he must have had as a slave he is certainly a remarkable man.
A comment on the photograph at the top of this post. It is the earliest image of Douglass, taken in 1841, the year he first came to Hingham. Renee Graham wrote a wonderful piece on photographs of Douglass, including this image (from the collection of Greg French) for wbur.org. It can be found here. Her observation on this image:
. . . . Even in that first palm-sized photograph, Douglass seemed to fully understand the power of a single image. More than 150 years since it was taken, its ability to devastate has not been dulled.
Handsome and about 23, Douglass peers directly into the camera. His eyes blaze with fearless purpose and determination; he all but defies the viewer to look away. This, the photograph silently proclaims, is not a man to be trifled with. No mere runaway slave, Douglass is the face of freedom.
In PART ONE of this blog, you learned about three men who were part of the Boston Tea Party event on December 16, 1773: Jared Joy, James Stoddard II, and Abraham Tower.
In addition to the three participants whom both Hingham and Cohasset can claim as their own, there were three other sons of Hingham involved in the Boston Tea Party: Adam Beal, Jr., Amos Lincoln, and Samuel Sprague, each of whom relocated from Hingham as young men.
• ADAM BEAL, Jr.: Age 19 on the day of the Boston Tea Party. Adam was born in Hingham on November 3, 1754. His parents, both born in Hingham, were Adam Beal (1725-1796) and Jael Worrick (also 1725-1806). When Adam Beal Jr. was born, his family lived on Hull Street in the Second Precinct of Hingham.
The Beal family in Hingham began with John Beal, “Shoemaker,” who emigrated from Hingham, England in 1638, traveling with his wife, five sons, three daughters, and two (presumably indentured) servants. John received a land grant of six acres on what is now South Street near the corner of Hersey Street. In 1659 John was chosen to represent the town at the General Court of the colony.
Adam Beal, Jr. left Hingham soon after marrying Lydia Beal, a cousin who was the daughter of Lazarus Beal, a teacher for several years in Hingham, and his wife Lydia Wheat, originally of Newton, MA. Adam and Lydia relocated to St. Albans, Franklin County, Vermont, where Adam worked as a cabinet maker. (The young couple may have briefly lived in Goshen, Hampshire County, MA, where Adam’s parents had moved, as the second of Adam, Jr. and Lydia’s sons was born in Goshen.)
In addition to his participation in the Boston Tea Party event, Adam, Jr. served multiple enlistments during the Revolutionary War, between 1776 and 1778. Adam died on July 21, 1834. He and his wife Lydia are both buried in St. Albans, Vermont.
• AMOS LINCOLN: Age 20 on the day of the Boston Tea Party. Amos was born in Hingham on March 18, 1753. His parents were life-long Hingham residents Enoch Lincoln (1721-1802) and Rachel Fearing Lincoln (1721-1782), who are both buried at Hingham Cemetery. The family (Amos was one of nine children) lived on Lincoln Street in Hingham. One of Amos Lincoln’s brothers, Levi, who later would serve as Thomas Jefferson’s first attorney general, was part of the convention that drafted the Massachusetts Constitution in 1779 and supported Quock Walker of Worcester County as he successfully sued to win his freedom from slavery citing language in that constitution.
Amos was a descendant of Samuel Lincoln, “Weaver,” who was born in Hingham England and settled in Hingham Massachusetts in 1637. The future town leader and historian Solomon Lincoln of Hingham, as well as President Abraham Lincoln of Kentucky, would therefore have been distant cousins of this participant in the Boston Tea Party.
Amos left Hingham to be a carpenter’s apprentice to Thomas Crafts, Sr. in Boston. Amos is known for marrying two of Paul Revere’s daughters: he married Deborah Revere, they had 9 children, and after her death, her sister Elizabeth Revere, with whom he had 5 children, and later Martha Howard Robb, with whom he had 3 more children. He most likely met the Revere sisters when serving in their father’s regiment during the Revolutionary War. J.L. Bell, author of the “Boston 1775” blog, wrote: “We know from Massachusetts records that Amos Lincoln served mostly close to home. He joined the state artillery regiment commanded by his master’s son, Thomas Crafts, Jr. On 10 May 1776, Col. Crafts submitted a list of officers to the state government, and Amos Lincoln was made a captain-lieutenant. He was promoted to captain in January 1778 and remained at that rank as command of the regiment passed to Lt. Col. Paul Revere in 1779.” Captain Lincoln died on the 14th or 15th of January of 1829 in Quincy, Massachusetts but is buried in Boston, at Copps Hill Burial Ground.
• SAMUEL SPRAGUE: Age 20 on the day of the Boston Tea Party. Samuel was born in Hingham on December 22, 1753. His parents were Jeremiah Sprague, “Weaver,” (born in Hingham in 1714, died “before 1778”) and Elizabeth Whiton (born in Hingham in 1718/1719, died in Hingham in 1800). Samuel’s father Jeremiah served as constable in Hingham in 1755 and 1756.
Samuel was a direct descendant of William Sprague, born in 1609 in Dorset, Upway, England, who came to the American colonies in 1629 with his older brothers, who are credited with being founders of Charlestown. William Sprague married Millicent Eames in Charlestown. After settling in Hingham in 1636 (“land was granted to him that year on ‘the Playne’”) they lived on Union Street “over the river.” This would be the paternal homestead for generations to come. William served Hingham as a Selectman and as a town constable.
Samuel Sprague served in the Revolutionary War in the artillery company of Maj Thomas Pierce. Samuel was a mason by trade and it likely was work that first brought him to Boston from Hingham. He married Joanna Thayer, of Boston, a daughter of Obediah Thayer, born in 1756 in Braintree. The Spragues became most well-known for their fourth son, Charles Sprague, who was a famous poet in the nineteenth century, at times referred to as the “The Banker Poet of Boston.” They lived in a house on Orange (now Washington) Street.
In his book “Tea Leaves,” which provides considerable detail about the Boston Tea Party, Francis S. Drake (1828-1885) includes an account that Samuel Sprague reportedly shared with his son regarding the tea dumping event of December 1773:
“That evening…I met some lads hurrying along towards Griffin’s wharf…I joined them, and on reaching the wharf found the “Indians” busy with the tea chests…I obtained a quantity of soot, with which I blackened my face. Joining the party, I recognized among them Mr. Etheredge, my master. We worked together, but neither of us ever afterwards alluded to each other’s share in the Proceedings.”
Samuel Sprague died June 20, 1844.
He is buried in the Central Burying Ground, on Boston Common off Boylston Street (as is his son the poet) in the Sprague family tomb, Number 5—gravesite shown here. His wife Joanna died a few years later—in 1848.
I came across a fun Hingham history-related story about Samuel and Joanna’s son Charles, the poet. There is a collection of Sprague family papers in the Hingham Public Library archives, collected and donated by John Richardson. Among the items archived in the collection is a letter from poet Charles Sprague written in 1835, to Jairus Lincoln, stating that he will be unable to write an ode for Hingham’s Bicentennial Celebration, as had been requested of him.
Were there any consequences for those who participated in the Boston Tea Party?
One important aspect about Hingham at the time of the Boston Tea Party, and throughout the Revolutionary War, is that there were residents who were Loyalists, faithful to the King of England, living alongside the Patriots fighting for independence. Jotham Gay, whose letter I referenced earlier, was not alone in expressing disapproval of the “destruction…of private consignments” of tea. Reportedly, George Washington thought the protestors, whose concerns about taxation he agreed with, had gone too far in dumping the tea, and that they should compensate the East India Company for the damages. But at the time, many of those involved fled from Boston, and their identities were kept secret.
Others of our founding fathers disagreed. John Adams wrote in his diary, “This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, so intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important consequences, and so lasting, that I cannot but consider it as an epoch in history. The question is whether the destruction of the tea was necessary? I apprehend it was absolutely and indispensably so…. To let it be landed would be giving up the principle of taxation by Parliamentary authority, against which the continent has struggled for ten years…. But it will be said, it might have been left in the care of a committee of the town, or in Castle William. To this many objections may be urged.”
Benjamin Franklin wrote the following, from London, to the Honorable Thomas Cushing on March 22, 1774 concerning potential legal consequences for those involved in the dumping of tea at Boston:
Franklin before the lord’s council, Whitehall Chapel, 1774; painted by C. Schuessele, engraved by Whitechurch. Digital file from Library of Congress.
A footnote to this letter on Founders Online adds that when witnesses from Boston were interrogated—presumably, the “enquiries” to which Benjamin Franklin refers—the law officers decided that such testimony did not provide sufficient evidence for a charge of high treason. “Only one member of the Sons of Liberty, Francis Akeley, was caught and imprisoned for his participation.” A partial listing, of 58 of those involved in the Boston Tea Party, was published decades later, in 1835–after many of the protestors had died.
And here we are, in 2020, a year of many challenges, when protest and activism by citizens of all ages has been a constant throughout our nation.
I will end this blog by noting that December 16, 2023 will be the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. But I am not waiting to celebrate these young activists of their day. When this year’s 247th anniversary arrives, I plan to brew a pot of tea and have a high tea salute to our six Hingham Sons of Liberty!
REFERENCES for this blog post (parts one and two) include:
PATRIOT LEDGER, November 4, 2019, article by Sue Scheible; The 1893 History of Hingham, published by the Town of Hingham; the 1827 History of Hingham by Solomon Lincoln; article on the Boston Tea Party by MABEL PRATT Registrar, Col Thomas Lothrop, DAR, AMERICAN MONTHLY MAGAZINE March 1901; http://www.Founders.archives.gov (Founders Online repository); the Boston Tea Party Museum website, the Library of Congress online archives; Tea Leaves, Being a collection of letters and documents relating to the shipment of tea to the American colonies in the year 1773, by the East India Company, by Francis S. Drake, 1884; Out of the Archives, the Hingham Historical Society’s blog; the Gay family papers at the Hingham Historical Society; the work of J. L. Bell on Boston 1775, on-line articles provided by the History Channel; various family histories available on Ancestry, the Plymouth Colony Pages, and other genealogy websites. I also benefitted from the insights, suggestions, and access to items in the Hingham Historical Society collection provided by Ellen Miller (who, in addition to her work for the Old Ordinary House Museum, is involved, with Susan Wetzel, in a collaborative Hingham Historical Society/DAR project to identify Hingham men connected with the Revolutionary War) and by Hingham Historical Society Collections Manager and Registrar, Michael Achille.
A headline in the Patriot-Ledger a year ago caught my eye: “Boston Tea Party participants honored at Cohasset Cemetery.” The story described ceremonies at two Cohasset cemeteries to recognize young patriots involved in the famous December 1773 act of protest. It got me thinking: Might some Hingham men have been among those who dumped the tea on that day? As this year’s anniversary of the Boston Tea Party approaches, I decided to find out more.
At three o’clock in the afternoon of December 16, 1773, young Josiah Quincy finished his great speech [to the Boston Town Meeting, at] the Old South Meeting-house, and the people reaffirmed the vote of November 29, that the tea in the ships in Boston harbor should not be landed. Towards twilight…a war whoop rang from the gallery of the Old South; it was taken up from the outside. The meeting adjourned…and the populace flocked towards Griffin’s wharf…Here were moored the “Dartmouth,” (Captain Hall); the “Eleanor,” (Captain Bruce,) and the “Beaver,” (Captain Coffin). Led by some twenty persons disguised as Mohawk Indians, a party numbering some hundred and forty boarded the vessels, and in two hours three hundred and forty-two chests of tea were emptied into the harbor.
An artifact at the Hingham Historical Society’s Old Ordinary museum may include a memento of the event. An antique tea caddy, donated to the Society by Mary Henrietta Gibson Hersey, the widow of Alfred Henry Hersey, shortly before her death in 1941, came with a small quantity of loose tea and a note capturing the history of the tea — as provided to the family by an Elizabeth Hersey (unclear which, of a number of Elizabeth’s in the family, this would have been): “Tea from one of the vessels whose cargo was thrown overboard in Boston harbor by the Patriots at the beginning of the Revolution, December 16, 1773.”
Alfred H. Hersey’s great grandfather, Thomas Hersey, was a patriot during the American Revolution. Alfred was also known to be a collector of historic items. But it is unknown how long this tea may have been in the care of the Hersey family. Recently, Ellen Miller, who knew of the note and the tea from the many hours she spends at the Old Ordinary as a docent and as a trainer of volunteers for the house museum, told me she had asked a museum docent at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum if loose tea from the event may have been saved as souvenirs. Ellen was told that, because the tide was out at that time of day on the sisteenth of December in 1773, the dumping of the tea would have created quite a mess on and near Griffin’s Wharf, and participants likely left the site with loose tea in cuffs and pockets. The Massachusetts Gazette of December 23, 1773 reported that “When the tide rose it floated the broken chests and the tea insomuch that the surface of the water was filled therewith a considerable way from the south part of the town to Dorchester Neck, and lodged on the shores.” The Massachusetts Historical Society has in its collection a glass bottle full of tea leaves that were collected on the shore of Dorchester Neck on the morning of December 17, 1773. So perhaps the tea in the caddy at the Old Ordinary is indeed from the famous Boston Tea Party.
I found it interesting to learn that there was at least one additional protest involving dumping tea into Boston Harbor. As described on history.com, the website of The History Channel: “Three months after the Boston Tea Party, Bostonians once again sent tea splashing when 60 disguised men boarded the Fortune, in March 1774, forced the crew below deck and dumped tea chests into the harbor. The sequel wasn’t quite as impressive as the original, however, as only 30 chests were sent overboard.”
This March 1774 event was referenced in a letter sent by loyalist Jotham Gay to (British) Colonel Joshua Winslow. The original of the full letter, which Michael Achille kindly scanned for me to read, is in the archives at the Hingham Heritage Museum. On March 23, 1774, Jotham wrote to the Colonel: “…There has lately been another destruction of tea–private consignments–in Boston, about 28 chests more being thrown into the dock. No accounts have been received as yet from England, … and it is only conjecture what the consequences will be….”
Jotham Gay, a son of Reverend Ebenezer Gay, minister of Old Ship Church for 69 years, was born in Hingham in April of 1733 and would be a Captain “in the King’s service from 1755 until near the close of the last French war.” (Among Gay’s company fighting in Canada in 1759, as part of the British forces during what we know as the Seven Years War, were Hingham men recruited from the local militia including: George Lane, Lieutenant; Noah Humphrey, Caleb Leavitt, Israel Lincoln, Charles Ripley, Luther Stephenson, John Sprague, Daniel Stoddard, Daniel Tower, and Seth Wilder.)
Jotham’s loyalist inclinations during the Revolutionary War (his brother Martin was also a loyalist) led the brothers to live for a time in Canada. Their loyalist father, Reverend Ebenezer Gay, stayed in Hingham, serving the Old Ship congregation, then a mix of loyalist and patriot sentiment. Both Jotham and Martin returned to Hingham after the Revolution where Jotham died in 1802 and Martin died in 1809.
The “Old Tory” in the Kelly Gallery at the Hingham Heritage Museum
The beautiful drop-front desk and bookcase shown here–built for Martin Gay and his wife Ruth as a wedding gift (by the bride’s brother Gibbs Atkins) and on display in the Kelly Gallery of the Hingham Heritage Museum)–is called the “Old Tory” in recognition of Martin’s political leanings. The desk traveled to Nova Scotia when Martin left Hingham as part of the British evacuation of Boston in 1776, traveled with him to England in 1788, and then back to Boston in 1792. The desk descended in the Gay family until Ebenezer and Diana Gay donated it to the Hingham Historical Society in 2014.
In addition to the Boston Tea Party and additional tea dumping in March of 1774, similar protest involving tea dumping would occur in East Coast colonial port cities throughout 1774.
Now, back to my original question: Were any men from Hingham involved in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773?
YES! While the protestors kept their identities secret for many years after the event, knowledge of many, though not all, participants has emerged over time. (The graves of about 85 known participants in the Boston Tea Party have been identified in Massachusetts.) At this point we can fairly confidently name six men born in Hingham who participated. Four of them had been identified when Walter L. Bouve wrote his section on military history for the multi-volume, richly detailed 1893 History of Hingham. The remaining two names have surfaced as the work of the Boston Tea Party museum, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and local historians continues to fill out the story of events related to the Revolution. The family names of all six will sound familiar to those who follow Hingham’s history: Beal, Joy, Lincoln, Sprague, Stoddard, and Tower. They were all young men when they joined others in dumping British tea into Boston Harbor. Later each of them helped fight the British during the Revolutionary War.
Jared Joy Gravestone at Beechwood Cemetery, Cohasset, MA
The three men whose graves in Cohasset were being decorated as covered by the Patriot Ledger in 2019 are among these six sons of Hingham, though Cohasset can rightly claim them as well. Jared Joy, James Stoddard II and Abraham Tower are buried in Cohasset–two of them at the Cohasset Central Cemetery, and one (Jared Joy) at Beechwood Cemetery. They all grew up in what was, at the time of their births, the Second Precinct of Hingham. In 1770, this area became part of the new town of Cohasset, and so at the time of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Jared, Samuel, and Abraham had become residents of Cohasset.
Here is more about their Hingham family backgrounds:
• JARED JOY: Age 24 on the day of the Boston Tea Party. Jared was born in Hingham on December 19, 1749. His father was Amos Joy (born in Hingham in 1720, died in Cohasset in 1813). His mother was Patience Bates (born in Hingham in 1723, died in Cohasset in 1818). Jared’s family lived on Beechwood Street, originally part of the Second Precinct of Hingham, which later (in 1770) became part of the new town of Cohasset. Amos Joy, Jared’s father, was deacon of the Church—known as Second Parish when established in 1721, at a time when the area was still a part of Hingham.
Jared was a direct descendant of Thomas Joy, who arrived in Hingham (from Boston) in about 1646 “to erect or to enlarge a grist mill at the town cove, and also to establish a saw-mill in the same locality, perhaps adjoining the former” according to the 1893 History of Hingham (which references Solomon Lincoln’s earlier History of Hingham, as well as land deeds for what was then Suffolk County).
Jared Joy served in the Revolutionary War in a company primarily made up of men from the Second Precinct, as part of the 25th regiment of the Continental Army commanded by General William Heath, according to the 1893 History of Hingham. I have not yet discovered Jared’s field of work following the Revolution. He died young, at age 43, in 1792, when the republic he had fought for was in its infancy. Jared’s headstone at Cohasset’s Beechwood cemetery is shown above.
• JAMES STODDARD II: Age 17 on the day of the Boston Tea Party. James was born September 24, 1756 in Hingham. Parents were James Stoddard Sr. (born in Hingham in 1733) and Susannah Humphrey (born in Hingham in 1736). James Stoddard Sr. and his wife Susanna would both die in Winchendon, Massachusetts – he in 1816 and his wife in 1818. When James was young though, they lived in the Second Precinct, in the part of town that became the new town of Cohasset in 1770 (when James would have been 14). James was the first of 11 children.
The family known over generations variously as Stodder or Stoddard, with some spelling variations, began with John “the planter” who had a land grant in Hingham in 1638. While I have not seen records of what John grew, he had many fields. When he died his estate included “land at Weymouth River, in Hockley field next to Moses Colyers, in the Plaine Neck, on the Great Playne at Conahasset, and in the Wayre Neck.”
At the time of the Boston Tea Party, according to the 2019 Patriot Ledger article, the teenaged James Stoddard II was an apprentice in a grist mill in Boston. According to an account written in a DAR publication in 1901, “He served in the militia during the siege of Boston and was stationed at Hull from December 12, 1775 to April 8, 1776. About this time an English brig bound for Boston with supplies for the British army was becalmed off Cohasset and captured by a boat’s crew of Cohasset men led by James Stoddard. James Stoddard afterward served about three years in Knox’s artillery regiment.” He is identified in the 1893 History of Hingham as a shipwright (perhaps an occupation that followed his youthful apprenticeship at a mill in Boston). James Stoddard died on March 11, 1833 at age 76.
• ABRAHAM TOWER: Age 21 on the day of the Boston Tea Party. Abraham was born April 18, 1752. Son of Daniel Tower and Bethia Nichols Tower, who both were born in Hingham. Abraham’s family resided in the Second Precinct, which became part of new town of Cohasset in 1770, when Abraham was 18. He was one of 14 children of Daniel and Bethia, some of whom died in infancy.
Abraham was a direct descendant of John Tower, identified as “Farmer” or “Planter,” born in Hingham, England, who became a resident of Hingham in the Massachusetts colony in 1637. Upon his arrival he had a grant of three acres of land for a house lot on Bachelor (Main) Street, nearly opposite what is now Water Street. Other land grants he acquired over time included what became the family home for generations, on Main Street near “Tower Bridge.”
Abraham Tower fought in the Revolutionary War as a soldier in Captain Job Cushing’s company. He married Elizabeth Kent in 1789; and after she died, married her sister Hannah Kent (in Oct 1800.) Abraham was a master shipbuilder, farmer, and fisherman. According to a 1901 publication of the Daughters of the American Revolution: “Tradition says that [Abraham’s] sister Persis sailed a vessel across the bay to Gloucester to get supplies when Boston Harbor was filled with British vessels. Abraham served as a corporal in Captain Job Cushing’s company at the siege of Boston. This is the same company in which his “Second Precinct” neighbors Jared Joy, and, for a time, James Stoddard served as privates, based on a listing in the 1893 History of Hingham. Abraham later achieved the rank of sergeant. Abraham died on September 26, 1832.
There were three other sons of Hingham involved in the Boston Tea Party. PART TWO of this blog will cover more of the story…
Meg Ferris Kenagy, author and chronicler in this space of her family’s history in Hingham and beyond, recently donated three Christmas cards sent home to Hingham by her father and two of her uncles during their service in the U.S. military during World War II. Each young man was stationed in the Pacific Theater–far from…
Earlier this year I was researching Hingham’s Irish immigrant neighborhood in preparation for the launch of a Hingham walking tour tied to the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail. As described in Not All Is Changed: A Life History of Hingham (1993, Hingham Historical Commission), “by the 1870s, Crowe’s Lane, Hersey near Elm Street, upper Elm,…
Memorial Day arose in the aftermath of the Civil War, to honor the Union war dead. It was frequently called “Decoration Day” because flowers were laid at the graves of those who had died for the Union cause. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans which at its height had…
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.
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
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.
After 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
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,3 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:
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. Hand-tinted dagurreotype from family collection.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If 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
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.)
The 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.
I 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
This 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.
[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.
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.