The Portico Finds Its Home

Those who have been to our Old Ordinary House Museum—or who have been to the home page of our Society website—have seen the gazebo or summer house in the shape of a small Grecian temple which sits at the top of the Old Ordinary garden.

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As well as being a charming backdrop for garden parties and the occasional wedding, this structure is a genuine piece of Hingham history. Its travels around town over the last two hundred years are documented by correspondence, photographs, and the written reminiscences of the Rev. John Gallop, one of its former custodians–all in our archives.

In the late 17th century, the Thaxter family built a house in Hingham Square, on the present day site of St. Paul’s Church. As added to and improved over the years, the “Thaxter mansion” grew into a large, attractive home, furnished with tapestries, tiled fireplaces, and painted doors—some of which were donated to our Society by Thaxter descendants.

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At some point, prior to the first photographs of the house but almost certainly in the first half of the 19th century, a classically-influenced portico, with a pediment and columns, was added at the house’s front door.

Greek revival architecture was the fashion during the first half of the 19th century, and it sometimes took a more modest form than the Monticello or “Tara” models. Greek-influenced porticos were added to many older New England buildings. In addition to the Thaxter mansion, porticos with columns and a pediment were added to the Old Ordinary itself and (in an architectural mash-up) the English Gothic Old Ship Church.

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The Thaxter mansion was torn down in 1866 to make way for St. Paul’s Church, but the portico was saved. The story is that it was taken away by Hingham artist W. Allan Gay, but in any event, it was installed in the side yard of the Martin Gay house at 262 South Street, where it began its second life as a summer house or gazebo.

The Martin Gay house and its side yard.  (See the portico at the far right of the photograph.)

The Martin Gay house and its side yard. (See the portico at the far right of the photograph.)

Almost 100 years later, during an expansion of the South Shore Country Club, the garden area the Gay property was sold. The portico, which had fallen into disrepair, was threatened with demolition. The Rev. John M. Gallop, rector of the Parish of St. John the Evangelist, saved the portico from demolition. He sought and received permission to remove it. He installed it in the side yard of St. John’s Rectory, on Main Street next door to the church.

Upon his retirement from St. John’s, Gallop donated the portico to the Hingham Historical Society. The decision was reached to add it to the formal gardens on the grounds of the Old Ordinary. (These gardens have a rich history of their own which would take another post to cover.) Still more preservation work was needed, but thanks to Gallop and many dedicated volunteers at the Society, the portico found a permanent home in 1979, not much further than a football field’s length away from where it was originally built.

Installing the portico in the Old Ordinary's garden (1979)

Installing the portico in the Old Ordinary’s garden (1979)

Our Religious Pamphlets Collection

Up in the archives, we have been busy indexing a collection of over 300 different religious pamphlets from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Most of these soft-cover, professionally printed booklets contain a single sermon given in a Hingham or South Shore church, although there are also religious tracts, catechisms, devotional literature, and Sunday School texts.  There is even a pamphlet of marital advice to husbands and wives.

Pulpit in Old Ship Church (1941 photograph from Branzetti, Historic American Buildings Survey)

Pulpit in Old Ship Church (1941 photograph from Branzetti, Historic American Buildings Survey)

Our religious pamphlet collection provides a useful complement to the Hingham church records preserved both in our archives and at other institutions.  They tell an important story of the development of Protestant Christianity in this small corner of the country from the Great Awakening to the rise of liberal Christianity and Unitarianism to the evangelical reaction of the Second Great Awakening.  As the 19th century progressed, social issues such as abolition, temperance, and social inequality increasingly became the subject of sermons in Hingham and South Shore pulpits.

Joseph Richardson's "A Sermon in Two Parts," delivered Sunday, June 28, 1856

Joseph Richardson’s “A Sermon in Two Parts,” delivered Sunday, June 28, 1856

Preaching—whether written or delivered from the pulpit—was popular in 19th century Hingham, as the many multiple copies in our collection of certain “favorites” by local preachers Joseph Richardson (Pastor of First Parish or “Old Ship” Church from 1805to 1868) and Oliver Stearns (Pastor of Third Parish or “New North” Church from 1839 to 1856) attest.  Many of our copies of the sermons of Ebenezer Gay (Pastor of First Parish from 1718 to 1787) are reprints, demonstrating that he retained an audience for his sermons 50 years after his death.

Even in the mid-19th century, attending Sunday church services in Hingham was an all-day affair, and preaching was a central part of the services in our Protestant churches.  (The pulpit of Old Ship Church in the photo at the top of this post attests to this.) These sermons are long by contemporary standards, most of them 25-30 pages long.  A number of the sermons are in two parts:  one for the morning service and one for the afternoon. They are dense and closely-argued, raising the unhappy suspicion that our ancestors’ attention spans, or at least their listening skills, were better developed than our own.

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Sunday, June 28, 1858. The morning’s sermon . . .

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. . . and the afternoon’s sermon

Visiting the Misses Barker

When she was young, Eliza Robbins of Milton enjoyed visiting the Barker sisters of Hingham. As an adult, she wrote a fond memoir of her visits to “The Misses Barker,” which she addressed to her younger sister, Sarah. Her essay, a typescript of which was placed in our archives by early society benefactress Susan Barker Willard, consists mainly of fond character sketches of the three maiden sisters who lived together on North Street in Hingham during the late 18th and early 19th centuries but also provides interesting glimpses of the Town of Hingham during that era.  According to Miss Robbins,

Deborah, Sarah and Bethiah Barker were daughters of Captain Joshua Barker of Hingham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Captain Barker belonged to a good family, when all the families were good—descendants of those primitive and pious colonists who first settled New England. He was a man of high honour, great benevolence and most amiable manner. . . . Mrs. Barker was the cousin of her husband and was the second of three sisters; the eldest died the widow of General Winslow and the youngest, Elizabeth, died single in the house of her nieces. The three sisters, especially the subject of this brief memo, never married.

Miss Robbins’ grandmother, Elizabeth Murray Inman, had owned a millinery business in Boston with the Barker sisters’ “Aunt Betsy” during the mid-1700s and, she explained, “between [the Murrays] and the Barkers an intimacy then commenced that was hereditary to the descendants of both the parties.”

19th century photo of North Street Bank, 115 North Street, formerly the Joshua Barker home

19th century photo of North Street Bank, 115 North Street, formerly the Joshua Barker home

Remembering her visits to the Barker home, which was located on North Street in Hingham Square (next to the present-day Post Office), Miss Robbins wrote:

That parlour was a delightful south room. The fervent heat of the summer sun was broken by the thick shade of a wide spreading plane tree that stood near the house and the glossy tresses of a dangling woodbine hanging over the windows softened the light that entered it, leaving spaces sufficient to look through upon the street to which the ground before the house covered with short velvet grass descended in a gentle slope. On the further side of the street lay the vegetable garden of the neighbor, along the borders of a little brook that ran through them toward the sea, which though out of sight was not far off. Beyond the gardens lay another street—behind that stood a hill on the top of which the villagers bury their dead. On the right hand—onward to the limit of vision, along the path way ran houses, those of traffic and mechanic art—the Academy and the spire of an old Church. None of these objects were picturesque but they had a character, they represented life and death, learning and religion, industry and competency, security and contentment. . . .

Detail from a map of historical names and places in Hingham.  ("Barker Shipyard" belonged to the sisters' uncle, Francis Barker.)

Detail from a map of historical names and places in Hingham. (“Barker Shipyard” belonged to the sisters’ uncle, Francis Barker.)

The basic layout that Miss Robbins describes is remarkably unchanged:  the house faces North Street, the bed of the former “Town Brook” (now the capped Greenbush train tunnel), and then South Street.  On the far side of South Street, Hingham Cemetery, Old Derby Academy, and Old Ship Church run south along Main Street ahead.

Hingham Square, looking south on Main Street, 1861.

Hingham Square, looking south on Main Street, 1861.

 

Hingham Square looking south on Main Street, today

Hingham Square looking south on Main Street, today

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.

Christmas in Hingham, 1857

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

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

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

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