Hingham’s First Glimpse of Frederick Douglass

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 full text of the speech can be found here.

First Baptist Church, Hingham, Mass., c. 1885

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.

The Hingham Patriot’s article can be found here.

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.

The Construction of the New Meetinghouse: Old Ship Church

By Rosamund Conroy

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.

An excerpt from the Daniel Cushing Manuscript (1680’s) showing the total rate collected for the meetinghouse. The selectmen listed above held opposing views as to where the meetinghouse should be situated. Only photocopies survive from this part of the manuscript.
(Hingham Historical Society archives/Photo: R. Conroy)

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.

 

An excerpt from the Daniel Cushing manuscript (1680’s) showing the rate that each man paid, plus their seat in the meetinghouse. Hinghamites sat on seats (benches), not pews and the order presumably applied to all occasions, civil or religious. Only photocopies survive from this part of the manuscript.
(Hingham Historical Society archives/Photo: R. Conroy)

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.

Primary source materials can be as engrossing as edited works and they often bring a particular historical period to life in unexpected ways. A wealth of seventeenth-century primary sources can be found locally (try the Hingham Historical Society, the Hingham Public Library or the Massachusetts Historical Society) as well as online (for example, in the digital records at the Massachusetts State Archives).

 

Three Herrings and a Pung Ride

When settlers first arrived in New England they had a lot to learn.  One of the first things was how to grow corn.  Native Americans taught the new settlers how to fertilize soil for the corn with “three herrings to a hill,” as Eleanor Roosevelt tells us in This is America, the 1942 photodocumentary she wrote with Hingham resident Frances Cooke Macgregor.

Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Macgregor worked together on the book at the suggestion of the publisher, G.P. Putnam Sons of New York.   The text was written by Mrs. Roosevelt and the photographs were taken by Mrs. Macgregor.  In January 1942 Eleanor came to Hingham to meet with Mrs MacGregor at her Stoddard Street home.  Frances Cooke Macgregor was a published author and photographer.  She had already taken many photographs for the book and she and Eleanor together decided upon those they both felt would be most effective.  The United States had just entered the Second World War and their hope was to produce a book that showed life in small town America and to help Americans understand what it was they were fighting for.

While in Hingham, according to an account of her visit in the Hingham Journal of January 8th 1942, Mrs. Roosevelt dropped in on a League of Women Voters meeting, chatting informally with members and answering their many questions at this time of uncertainty in the country.  The First Lady found Hingham’s architecture, a mix of old colonial mansions, gingerbread Victorians, and charming Cape Cod cottages, to be delightful and much copied in other parts of the country.  She is reputed to have described Hingham Main Street as the most beautiful Main Street in America.

When Mrs. Roosevelt saw Hingham, she felt she had found “a picture in miniature of the whole nation.”  One purpose of the book was to affirm what it meant to be an American, regardless of ethnicity, and Eleanor was thrilled to discover that the Hingham High School football squad that year had players whose families had come from eight different parts of the world and that Hingham was home to Dutch and Polish farmers, Italian shoe makers, and a German harness maker, amongst many others. In 1942 Hingham had a population of 8,000.  It still had 50 farms—but it also had a commuter train., and much of its population now travelled to work in Boston.  There were, of course, schools, churches of all kinds, and a public library with 28,000 volumes.  The Loring Hall movie theater would be showing Citizen Kane the following week.

Children played outside in the still plentiful open spaces.  A favorite winter activity was known here as pung-riding, a term unknown in most of the rest of the country.  A pung was a low box sleigh drawn by a horse. Often hay would be placed inside and the children would snuggle down to enjoy the ride.  The more adventurous would ride on the runners, jumping off one pung and onto another while both were gliding swiftly over the snow.

With Mrs. Roosevelt’s words and Mrs. Macgregor’s photographs, the women wanted to portray American ideals.  They hoped that all across the country ordinary people would recognize themselves in the descriptions of Hingham and its citizens and understand that their values and aspirations were also true of them.

A collection of Frances Cooke Macgregor’s photographs of Hingham—which she personally selected and gave to the Historical Society in the early 1990s—are currently on display at the Hingham Heritage Museum. A presentation of “Tea With Eleanor’ with the actress Sheryl Faye in the persona of Eleanor Roosevelt will take place at Hingham Heritage Museum on Saturday, November 16th at 3:00 pm.  Please click here to purchase tickets on-line or buy in advance at the Hingham Heritage Museum:  seating is limited.  We hope you’ll take advantage of the both of these opportunities to learn more about these remarkable women and their connection to Hingham.

Black History Month: Did You Know . . .

1630    Slavery was present in Massachusetts almost from the the colony’s inception. As early as 1630 the Massachusetts Bay Colony instituted a fugitive law that allowed for runaways to be protected if they ran away to escape abuse by their masters. Enslaved people included both Africans and Native Americans.

1641    Massachusetts became the first American colony to legalize slavery.

1700    Judge Samuel Sewall (known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials) published “The Selling of Joseph,” the first anti-slavery pamphlet published in New England.

1722    During an epidemic, the first smallpox inoculations in America were administered in Boston. The idea of inoculation came from Cotton Mather’s slave, Onesimus, who described how African tribes had used inoculation. The procedure, administered by Zabdiel Boylston, helped save many lives.

1760    Briton Hammon, owned by General John Winslow of Marshfield, published a captivity narrative, “The Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance, of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man,” considered to be the first autobiographical work by an African-American.  General Winslow moved to Hingham in the 1770s; it is thought that Hammon fought in the Revolution as part of a Hingham-Cohasset regiment.

1764    The first colonial census showed that Hingham had 77 slaves, one for every thirty-two persons, a high ratio compared to the whole colony. The population of Hingham at the time was 2,506.

1773       Enslaved African-American artist Prince Demah solicited commissions for portrait work, advertising in the Boston News-Letter that he “takes Faces at the lowest Rates.” Prince was owned by Henry and Christian Barnes of Marlborough, who were Loyalists, and after they fled to England in 1775, Prince enlisted in the Massachusetts militia as a free man. He died in 1778. Prince’s portraits of Henry and Christian Barnes, the earliest documented paintings by an African-American, are at the Hingham Historical Society.

440px-Mumbett701781    Elizabeth “MumBet” Freeman became the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts in the case of Brom and Bett v Ashley.

1783    Massachusetts became the first state to effectively abolish slavery when Quock Walker sued his owner for his freedom. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that slavery was inconsistent with the Declaration of Rights in the Commonwealth’s new Constitution of 1780.  Prominent attorney Levi Lincoln, Sr., who argued the case for Walker, was born in Hingham. Chief Justice William Cushing, who decided the case, was from Scituate.

1801    James Tuttle (ca 1780-1847) married Rebecca Humphrey in Hingham. He founded 34687605614_5abbd89128_mthe small neighborhood of Tuttleville at the intersection of High and Ward Streets, whose residents worked in Weymouth’s shoe factories and farmed. His son James King Tuttle (1834-1906) is credited with leading the effort to build a small church in Tuttleville in the 1870s.

17463952823_a80d5f6137_m1806    Hingham’s Third Congregational Society (New North Church) on North Street was constructed with segregated galleries for people of color, men in one section and women in another. This “architectural lucretia leonardsegregation” ended in the church in 1841 when the Thaxter sisters insisted that their long-time servant, Lucretia Leonard, join them in their pew.

1830   Free African-American emigres founded the Wilberforce Colony north of present-day London, Ontario, Canada, where they were allowed political autonomy.  Sisters Vilana, Rosana, and Salome Quacum of Marshfield, Mass., whose family had ties to Hingham’s black and Native American community, moved north with their husbands and children to join the colony.

1835    The Hingham Female Anti-Slavery Society was founded. Some of the women from this original group joined the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society formed in January 1838. The Thaxter sisters were among the members.

1838    John Quincy Adams, who after his Presidency represented a Plymouth County Congressional district (including Hingham), introduced 350 antislavery petitions in the House of Representatives. This violated the “gag rule” in which no bills could be introduced to debate the issue of slavery.

Motto_frederick_douglass_21841    Frederick Douglass gave his first important public speech in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Douglass settled in New Bedford in 1838 after escaping slavery in Maryland. This speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society’s annual convention in Nantucket launched his career as an abolitionist speaker and writer.  Later that same year, Douglass spoke in Hingham at the quarterly meeting of the Plymouth Anti-Slavery Society; the editor of the Hingham Patriot likened him to Spartacus and noted, “A man of his shrewdness, and his power, both intellectually and physically, must be poor stuff . . . to make a slave of.”

1843    Jairus Lincoln of Hingham published his song book, “Anti-Slavery Melodies: For the Friends of Freedom” for the Hingham Anti Slavery Society. The book included some of his own original songs. It was a featured element at an 1844 anti-slavery picnic and subsequent anti-slavery events.

The same year, Sydney Howard Gay left Hingham for New York City to become editor of Portrait-Sydney-Howard-Gay-205x300the National Anti-Slavery Standard.  He was an active participant in the Underground Railroad. Records recently discovered at Columbia University suggest that, in the 1840s and 1850s, Gay and his colleagues, including black freedmen William H. Leonard and Louis Napoleon, helped over 3,000 slaves to escape north to Canada.

1844    Hingham hosted the largest anti-slavery picnic in the United States in Tranquility Grove, now known as Burns Memorial Park. Thousands paraded from Fountain Square through the town and along Main Street to the grove. Frederick Douglass spoke at the event, for which Jairus Lincoln was the Grand Marshall. Unfortunately, the massive crowds caused so much damage to the property that the Thaxters, who owned the grove, vowed never to have a public event there again!

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1848    John Albion Andrew (1818-1867), a leader of the Massachusetts Free Soil Party in the 1840s and 50s and governor of Massachusetts during the Civil War (1861-1866), john-albion-andrewmarried Eliza Hersey of Hingham and considered the town his true home. Four of his five children were born in Hingham.

robert-gould-shaw-memorial1863    After a long effort lobbying the Lincoln administration to allow free men of African descent to enlist in the Union Army, Governor Andrew was allowed to form the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments. Their impressive performance, particularly the 54th’s at Fort Wagner under the leadership of Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863), garnered further Northern support for abolition. David Henry Champlin (1835-1886) was a Hingham resident who enlisted in the 54th as a substitute soldier and quickly rose to the rank of corporal. Following the war he convinced Hingham to provide his family the same level of town aid that was granted to white soldiers.

Free Christian Mission

1873    A group of Tuttleville residents, led by James King  Tuttle, petitioned the Town to build an evangelical chapel at the corner of Ward and High Streets. The chapel, which also functioned as a school, was called the Mt. Zion Chapel or Free Christian Mission and had an official membership of thirty, although at times up to 100 people worshiped there.

Selected Sources/Resources

Hart, Lorena Laing and Francis Russell. Not All Is Changed: A Life History of Hingham. Hingham: The Hingham Historical Commission, 1993.

Hingham Public Library, Local History & Special Collections.

Emma Ryan, Tranquility Grove: Standing Up to Slavery. 2017.

Matthew Johnson, Timeline of Events Relating to the End of Slavery.

“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.

A Book for Governor Andrew

george_livermore_1904_portraitOn 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. img_2433

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).

john-albion-andrewAlthough 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.

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The Daly Family of Hingham

Historian John Richardson (1934-2011) was an avid collector of all things Hingham– its places, its buildings, its people. Among his collection in the Historical Society’s archives are 64 binders of material, gathered from families, purchased at estate sales, or sometimes rescued from homes or buildings facing demolition, that chronicle the lives of a disparate group of Hingham individuals and families.

Two binders are devoted to Daniel Daly (1825-1911), one of the town’s earliest Irish immigrants, and his descendants. They tell a story that takes the family from newcomers just prior to the Civil War to well respected members of the Hingham community by century’s end.

Portrait of John Daly, early 1900s(?), John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Daniel Daly was born in County Armagh, Ireland and arrived in Hingham in 1855, soon after marrying Nancy Crowe (1835-1905) from the County of Tipperary. Daniel began as a gardener, hiring himself out to local families. After serving in the Civil War he started working as a gardener and florist with prominent Hingham families, such as Charles B. Barnes.

Photo of Daniel Daly and 2 others on Estate of Charles B. Barnes, early 1900s, John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

With the money he earned, he bought a house at 19 Green Street where he and Nancy raised their family. The Dalys had two children who survived to adulthood and who both attended Hingham schools: Daniel (1857-1900), who later moved to St. Louis and became a police officer, and Edmund (1866-1930), who started out working in retail stores in Boston and later became a businessman ins own right as a partner in the Hingham Bicycle Company and later as the sole owner of Edmund Daly & Co., Hatters and Furnishers, which had a store in West Hingham.

The interior of Edmund Daly and Co. store in West Hingham, 1910s(?), Edmund Daly (center), others unidentified. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

The Daly Family materials include this floor  sample from Daly & Co.:

Sample hat(?) floor sample from Edmund Daly & Co. c. 1910 from John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Because he was a well respected businessman, members of the local community urged him to run for public office, including for a seat in the state legislature in the early 1900s.

Political Poster supporting Edmund Daly for State Representative, Unknown, prior to 1910, John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Though he did not win this election for state office, Edmund served on many town boards, including the Playground Commission. Meanwhile, he inherited the family house on Green Street after his father’s death in 1911.

Edmund Daly standing in the backyard of his home at 19 Green Street, 1920s? John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

His community standing and political connections allowed him to be appointed as Hingham Postmaster by President Wilson in 1917, a job he held until 1930 when he suffered a fatal heart attack walking to work from his home. The town was shocked and saddened in hearing the news.

Edmund Daly married Margaret E. Daly (1864-1952). They had one daughter, Annabel Daly (1900-1993) who also attended the Hingham schools. The Richardson Daly binders even include one of her primary school class photos.

Class photo in front of Primary School Building in Hingham, unknown date (circa 1912), Annabel Daly second from left in first row. John Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society

She then attended Hingham High School where she graduated in 1918. In her adult life, she kept a scrapbook of her early years and her father’s career, through which most of her family’s history was saved.

Page from Annabel Daly’s Scrapbook, June 1918. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

She not only kept items of a personal nature but chronicled important events in town as well. Among her materials is media coverage of the destruction of the original Hingham High School by fire in 1927.

Page from scrapbook of Annabel Daly, Oct. 1927. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Annabelle Daly continued to live in the Green Street house until her death at age 92. She did not marry and had no children. She was buried in the family plot at the St. Paul’s Cemetery. Her collection was obtained by John Richardson, who organized the Daly family materials into binders. These Daly binders and other family materials collected by John Richardson will soon be greatly more accessible at the new Hingham Heritage Museum.

A 19th Century Thanksgiving

In 1857, eleven year-old Francis Lincoln of Hingham described his family’s Thanksgiving in a school essay.  As we would today, he writes of roast turkey, a multi-generational family gathering, and giving thanks to God:

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.

Yet, 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, and any mention of the Pilgrims –because the now-universal association of Plymouth, the Pilgrims, and Thanksgiving Day is a relatively recent phenomenon. 

"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 during difficult times for the community and days of thanksgiving to celebrate times of plenty or deliverance from strife. In the years following the American Revolution, our federal government adopted this practice and held periodic thanksgiving holidays, including one declared by newly-elected President Washington in 1789. The practice gradually became institutionalized, and in 1816 Massachusetts and New Hampshire became the first two states to establish late fall state holidays of Thanksgiving.  During the depths of the Civil War, in a bid to foster unity, Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving holiday.  All were framed in religious terms not unlike the early settlers’ days of thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims were not ignored in 18th and 19th century New England; we just did not always think of them and turkey dinners at the same time.  Rather, 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).  Speeches and sermons were 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 focus, however, was on the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock and their role as our nation’s “founding fathers.”  

 So, what led to the rise of the popular story of the “first Thanksgiving?”  To a great extent, it was the product of social and political currents in post-Civil War America.  Interest in the Pilgrims and our “founding fathers” grew with white Protestant America’s increased anxiety over immigration and the influx of newcomers with diverse backgrounds. A myth of non-violent colonialism was a balm to the conscience of a nation that had achieved its “manifest destiny” of expansion across the continent. 

First National Day of Mourning, Plymouth, Mass., 1970

In 1970, 350 years after the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, representatives of the Wampanoag declared a National Day of Mourning on the fourth Thursday in November, to honor their ancestors and educate those celebrating a “traditional” (though no more than 100 year-old) Thanksgiving about white America’s treatment of their people. This “counter-commemoration” has its own 50th anniversary as Plymouth observes its 400th this year. Growing recognition of the checkered history that lies behind the “First Thanksgiving” is the result of the attention that has been paid to Native American history in New England and a more critical examination of the late 19th and early 20th century version of that story.  This itself is resulting in a further evolution of the holiday’s meaning, including a greater emphasis on celebrating our families and fellowship in the present day.

[First posted in Nov. 2014; edited in Nov. 2020]

Powerful Words in the Name of Freedom

Every day Hingham residents drive or walk past the entrance to a small park lying between Central and Hersey Streets. Now known as Burns Memorial Park, it was once home to Tranquility Grove, an outdoor space used for meeting and rallies—including in particular abolitionist rallies.

Hingham was home to an active group of abolitionists. Led in large part by local women who were considered extremists by many, Hingham’s abolitionists worked for freedom through petitions, speeches, meetings, and protests. High-profile abolitionists visited Hingham regularly during this period, including Frederick Douglass (who came more than once), William Lloyd Garrison, an aging John Quincy Adams, and the Grimke sisters.

On August 1, 1844, the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society hosted a large regional rally to mark the tenth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. The rally featured a speech by Frederick Douglass at the First Baptist Church and a procession down Hingham’s Elm Street to Tranquility Grove. As the abolitionists entered the Grove, they were greeted by large white banners hung from the surrounding fir trees. In bold black letters, the banners spelled out anti-slavery slogans:

20141011_110642They are slaves that fail to speak/ for the fallen and the weak

20141011_110456True freedom is to be earnest to make OTHERS free

20141011_110507God made us free! Then fetter not a brother’s limbs!

20141011_110636Welcome All to Freedom’s Altar!

Fragile and creased with age, the banners from the 1844 Tranquility Grove meeting are preserved in our archives. One of them makes direct reference to Tranquility Grove, greeting supporters entering the rally with a verse:

Hail! Friend of Truth, thou enterest here
The grove long named TRANQUILITY.
O let thy soul then breathe sweet peace,
Pure love and TRUE HUMILITY.

P1060107The efforts of the Hingham abolitionists contributed to the larger national abolition movement which would continue to gain traction across the country until the Emancipation Proclamation brought their hard work to fruition. The banners remain an evocative reminder of Hingham’s participation in that important work, and their powerful statements still right true to this day.

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.”