“The Old Tory”

thumb.php (1).jpg            This beautiful drop-front desk and bookcase, newly installed in the Kelly Gallery at the Hingham Heritage Museum at Old Derby Academy, was built for Martin Gay (1726-1807) and Ruth Atkins Gay (1736-1810) upon their marriage in 1765 by cabinetmaker Gibbs Atkins of Boston, Ruth’s brother.

Called “the Old Tory” in acknowledgement of Martin Gay’s political leanings, the desk travelled to Nova Scotia with Martin upon the evacuation of Boston in 1776.  Many Loyalists were unable to bring larger pieces of furniture when fleeing, but Martin Gay owned a ship which made it possible for him to move the piece such a distance. Because Martin was a deacon of the West Church in Boston, he was charged with protecting the church’s valuables during the British occupation. Martin filled the drawers and shelves of his secretary desk with linen and silver communion service for safe keeping while exiled in Nova Scotia.

In 1788, Martin made a trip to England with hopes of procuring an indemnity for his losses as a Loyalist. Once again, “Old Tory” made the trip with Martin as he stayed in England for two years. Upon his return to Boston in 1792, Martin brought “Old Tory” back with him, filled with the linens and silver communion service to be returned to the West Church.

When Martin died in 1807, Ruth moved to the Gay family home on North Street in Hingham and lived there until her death in 1810. The desk descended in the Gay family until Ebenezer and Diana Gay donated it to a grateful Hingham Historical Society in 2014.

All About Pipes

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.

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Pipes and stems found at the Gay House on North Street in Hingham

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.

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A detail from Eben Gay’s notes on his pipe collection.  Gay was the curator of scientific instruments at Harvard; thus his wonderfully detailed notes. 

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.

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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)