We don’t have many interior views this nice of the old Hingham shops. On the shelves of E. Wilder and Son Grocery Store (at 613 Main St., now the Cracker Barrel) you can see Quaker Oats, Van Houten’s Cocoa, canned foodstuffs, and various tobacco products. The man is Fred Wilder. Fred worked not only in the store, with his father Ezra, but also in a Weymouth shoe factory, where had had the enviable job of “stitcher.” Fred and his wife, Hattie Shute Wilder, lived in an apartment over the store for 12 years before moving to 606 Main Street. Fred and Hattie both worked in shoe factories in addition to caring for aging relatives and and the store.
The Old Ordinary, our 1688 house museum, opens on June 13, 2017 and, for a second season, you can come see our Old Ordinary Summer Exhibit, “Isaac Sprague and American Botany.” While the exhibit devotes significant attention to Isaac Sprague’s Hingham roots and continuing connections with our town, it also addresses his prolific career as a botanical illustrator which is the source of his lasting fame.
In the 1840s Sprague left Hingham and moved to Cambridge, where he worked with influential botanists, including John Torrey (1796-1873) and Torrey’s pupil, Harvard professor Asa Gray (1810-1888), who is often referred to as a “father of American botany.” In the mid-19th century, American botany was undergoing a period of intense growth and development into an academic discipline seeking a unified understanding of North American plant life that would match the highest standards of then-current European scholarship and complexity. An important part of this process was the publication of complete and authoritative works describing the plant life of this continent—with clear, detailed, and accurate illustrations. Sprague’s talents were ideal for the task.
Sprague first produced the illustrations for Asa Gray’s 1845 Lowell lectures at Harvard and then assisted with several comprehensive botanical volumes over the course of the 1840s and 1850s. His illustrations were scientific tools first and aesthetic objects second: Sprague considered himself to be a naturalist or delineator rather than describing himself as an artist. In the preface to his 1848 work Genera of the Plants of the United States, Professor Gray described “the scientific insight and careful investigations of Mr. Sprague, as well as . . . his skill and accuracy in delineation.” In his private correspondence, he reported that Sprague was studying botany and the natural sciences, underscoring the technical knowledge the work required.
Sprague contributed plates and engravings to over 40 works of botanical, horticultural and naturalist interest over this part of his career. The writers with whom he worked included not only Torrey and Asa Gray but also William Oakes (1799-1848), George Emerson (1797-1881), George Goodale (1839-1923), and others. (The illustrations in this blog post are plates from George Emerson’s 1838 Trees and Shrubs of New England.)
From The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls, Children’s Book of Fact and Fancy, New York: University Society (1912).
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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).
Although 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.
Hingham’s 19th century woodenware and cordage industries get most of the attention, but did you know that our town also made umbrellas and parasols? By 1818, an umbrella factory was already in operation on South Street; its owner, Benjamin S. Williams, incorporated the Hingham Umbrella Manufacturing Company in 1825.Edward Cazneau succeeded Williams as proprietor of the umbrella factory in 1828. According to the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, Cazneau announced in an inaugural advertisement in the Hingham Gazette that “all Umbrellas or Parasols sold here by retail will be kept in repair twelve months, gratis.” The late John P. Richardson recovered several umbrellas from the attic of what had been Edward Cazneau’s home. A note that he attached to the umbrella frame in the photo above reads, “Found in the attic of the Cazneau House on the east corner of South and Hersey St. Hingham, Mass. I, John P. Richardson recovered several umbrellas from this attic. Cazneau owned an umbrella factory at Hobarts Bridge, North St.”
By 1837, the Hingham Umbrella Manufacturing Ccmpany had 75 employees (20 men and 55 women) and, that year, it made and sold over 18,000 umbrellas. This success was not lasting, however; the umbrella factory closed five years later, in 1842.
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!
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.