A 19th Century Thanksgiving

In 1857, eleven year-old Francis Lincoln of Hingham described his Thanksgiving in a school essay. He writes of roast turkey, a large family gathering, and giving thanks to God, as we would today:

Thanksgiving was the day set apart from work by our forefathers to worship God, after they had gathered in their harvest, and it has been celebrated ever since their time. It is the occasion when Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Brothers and Sisters gather together and have a good dinner of Roast Turkey and Plum-Pudding. I have generally dined at my Grandfather’s, but since he has been unwell and rather old, I have remained at home. I will give you an account of my last Thanksgiving Day. In the morning, I attended church and heard the Rev. Calvin Lincoln preach an excellent sermon. In the afternoon my Father, two brothers and I started on a walk to World’s End, which is more than two miles from our house, but we went to the point which made the walk about one half a mile longer. Solomon then loaded his gun and fired at a target, he also let Arthur fire at an old stump. We got home at about five and a half o’clock having been gone three hours. I therefore spent a very pleasant Thanksgiving.

From our 21st century perspective, two things are missing from Lincoln’s essay. Football, of course, which did not yet exist in its modern form (see our prior post “A Schoolboy Fan of the Boston Game”), and any mention of the 1621 harvest dinner attended by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

The Puritan settlers of New England had a tradition of “providential” holidays: days of fasting called during difficult times for the community and days of thanksgiving called to celebrate times of plenty or deliverance from strife. In the years following the Revolution, the national government adopted this practice and held periodic thanksgiving holidays. The practice gradually became institutionalized, and in 1816 Massachusetts and New Hampshire were the first two states to establish late fall state holidays of Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims were not particularly identified with Thanksgiving until the late 19th century, as explained in Plimoth Plantation’s on-line “History of Thanksgiving”:

With the publication of Longfellow’s best-selling poem The Courtship of Miles Standish (1848) and the recovery of Governor Bradford’s lost manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation (1855), public interest in the Pilgrims and Wampanoag grew just as Thanksgiving became nationally important. Until the third quarter of the 19th century, music, literature and popular art concentrated on the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock and their first encounters with Native People on Cape Cod. . . . .

The Pilgrims were not ignored in 18th and early 19th century America; we just did not always think of them and turkey dinners at the same time.  In Plymouth, Boston, and other Massachusetts towns, dinners, speeches, parades, and other celebrations were held on December 22, the anniversary of the date in 1620 when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth (having already spent several months on Cape Cod). Our archives include numerous copies of the speeches and sermons given, on what came to be called Forefathers’ Day, by South Shore ministers and politicians, as well as the occasional national luminary, such as John Quincy Adams (1802), Daniel Webster (1820), Edward Everett (1824), and Lyman Beecher (1827).

"The Landing of the Pilgrims" (1877) by Henry A. Bacon

“The Landing of the Pilgrims” (1877) by Henry A. Bacon

Only after the Civil War and in the later years of the 19th century, did representations of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag become focused on the “first Thanksgiving,” i.e., the 1621 harvest celebration. The story of the first Thanksgiving resonated in a country working to restore national unity and reacting to the increasing diversity of its population.

Clubs and Societies in 19th c. Hingham

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

Francis H. Lincoln (

Francis H. Lincoln

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

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

The Hingham National Brass Band

The Hingham National Brass Band

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

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

The Hingham Gun Club

The Hingham Gun Club

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

The Hingham Croquet Club

The Hingham Croquet Club

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

A Schoolboy Fan of the “Boston Game”

 

Artist's rendering of the Oneida Football Club in match play on Boston Common

Artist’s rendering of the Oneida Football Club in match play on Boston Common

Those interested in the history of American football know that the Oneida Football Club of Boston is often given significant credit for the development of the modern game. That team was formed by Gerrit S. Miller, one of a number of Boston schoolboys who played what was sometimes called the “Boston game” on Boston Common during the early 1860s. The game involved both running and kicking plays and developed a more consistent set of rules than prior versions of American football.

In 1925, a marker was erected on Boston Common to commemorate the Oneida Football Club.  It reads, “On this field the Oneida Football Club of Boston, the first organized football club in the United States, played against all comers from 1862 to 1865. The Oneida goal was never crossed.”

Oneida Football Club members at the dedication of the monument on Boston Common.  Lincoln's classmate, Gerrit S. Miller is immediately to the right of the monument.

Oneida Football Club members at the dedication of the monument on Boston Common. Lincoln’s classmate, Gerrit S. Miller, stands  immediately to the right of the monument. (Photo from W. Scudder, An Historical Sketch of the Oneida Football Club of Boston: 1862-1865)

Miller and other early players attended Epes Sargent Dixwell’s Latin School, a Boston preparatory school.  Francis Lincoln of Hingham was a classmate of theirs at Mr. Dixwell’s School and, if not a football player, certainly a fan. His high school diary, which is preserved in our archives, reports on football at Mr. Dixwell’s School. Here, on October 18, 1862, he reports on some intramural play:

The first class were challenged by the second for a match game of football. The first class were assisted by Thies and the second by G. S. Miller.
Two games out of three.
The second class beat. The first game was very hard and long—1 h. 6 m. with considerable lurking by Frank Peabody.

Louis Thies, like Gerritt Miller, was a member of the Oneida Football Club.   Both student coaches’ names appear on the Boston Common marker. (“Lurking,” of which Frank Peabody was guilty, was an early word for “offsides.”)

Lincoln also reports on a June 1862 football match between Mr. Dixwell’s School and the Boston Latin School. This was clearly considered an important event by more than young Lincoln, who pasted into his diary the results reported in four different newspapers:

The Boston Evening Traveller, June 6th:

MATCH GAME OF FOOTBALL.—A match game of football came off yesterday afternoon, on the Common, between the Latin and Mr. Dixwell’s school. The Latin school boys won three games in five, and were the challenged party. The best feeling prevailed on both sides. Each game was a specimen of splendid playing, and the last was prolonged to the unusual time of forty-two minutes—resulting in the victory of the Latin school.

The Boston Herald, June 6th:

FOOTBALL MATCH. A football match between seventeen boys of the Public Latin School and the same number from Mr. Dixwell’s school took place yesterday afternoon on the parade ground. The Latin school boys won three games in five and were therefore victorious.

The Boston Daily Advertiser, June 7th:

FOOTBALL MATCH.–A football match between seventeen boys of the Public Latin School and the same number from Mr. Dixwell’s school took place on Thursday afternoon on the parade ground. The Latin school boys won three games in five and were therefore victorious.

The Boston Journal, June 6th:

MATCH GAME OF FOOTBALL.–Seventeen boys of the Public Latin school, and a like number from Mr. Dixwell’s school, played on the parade ground on Thursday afternoon a match game of football, which resulted in the Latin school boys winning three games in five. Each game was a specimen of splendid playing, and the last was prolonged to the unusual time of forty-two minutes—resulting in the victory of the Latin school.

Francis Lincoln also gave an eyewitness report of this match in his diary. He can be forgiven if he has a slightly different take than the Boston newspapers on the disappointing result for his classmates in his entry for Thursday, June 5, 1862:

Seventeen fellows from our School challenged the same number of the Latin School to kick a match game of football. Our fellows beat the first game; Latin school, second; Our fellows, third; Latin School, fourth & fifth.
Some foul play on side of Latin School.

Battling “that Old Deluder, Satan” with a School

On April 6, 1714, a grand jury in Boston presented a series of charges against a number of individuals and entities.  Many of the offenses were exactly what we would expect from a group of 17th century Puritans:  “Richard Hancock of Boston for Selling Drink without license sundry times since last Session,” “Seth Smith of Boston for allowing unlawfull gaming,” “Nathaniel Ford of Weymouth for nott attending the publick worship of God,” and—a hat tip to Nathaniel Hawthorne—“Hannah Hall of Boston for fornication.”

MLD001One of the charges explains why this single-page manuscript came to Hingham, to be preserved in our archives:  “the Town of Hingham for not keeping a school according to law.”  This offense, as it turns out, is as characteristic of the Massachusetts Bay Puritans as the others charged on that day.

33447_2Education was very important to the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The first public school in this country, Boston Latin School, was established in Boston in 1635, and the nation’s first university, Harvard College, was founded in Cambridge the next year.  In 1642, Massachusetts passed a law requiring parents to ensure that their children could read English or face a fine.

This concern with education grew from the very roots of Protestant theology:  the belief that Christian laity had the right–and a duty–to read the Bible in the vernacular and participate directly in the affairs of the church.  These fundamental goals are explained explicitly in the preamble to Massachusetts’ 1647 statute, sometimes called “The Old Deluder Satan Act,” that shifted the responsibility of education onto the growing towns:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these later times by perswading from the use of tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning of the Originall might be clowded by false glosses of Saint-seeming deceivers; and that Learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our indeavors: it is therefore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That every Township in this Jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty Housholders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the Parents or Masters of such children, or by the Inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the Town shall appoint. . . .

And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred Families or Housholders, they shall set up a Grammar-School, the Masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the Universitie. . . .

Hingham town records reference schoolteachers and a school building as early as the mid-1600s.  According to Francis Lincoln’s chapter on education in the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, the increasing size of the town led to disagreements as early as 1708 and 1709 over where the school should be held.  Second Precinct—later Cohasset—wanted a rotation, so that school would sometimes meet in its area, as did “Great Plain”—South Hingham.  But there is no suggestion that HIngham’s school was ever closed.  Indeed, in a comprehensive list of the schoolmasters in Hingham from 1670 on, Lincoln reports that Jonathan Cushing was the schoolmaster from 1712-1713, after which the 1712 Harvard College graduate became the minister in Dover, New Hampshire.  Twenty-year old Job Cushing, Harvard College Class of 1714 succeeded him, remaining four year before becoming the first minister of the Shrewsbury church.

Bottom of documentPerhaps there was a lapse while the Town waited for Job Cushing to graduate.  There may have been complaints.  17th century grand juries could “present” charges based on their own knowledge and did not, as today, have to wait to be asked to hand down an indictment.  Was a disgruntled Hingham parent on that grand jury?  Perhaps we will learn more as we continue to dig through the archives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas in Hingham, 1857

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

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

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

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