Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lakeville's Corporate Origins, 1719

Though Lakeville was incorporated as a separate town in 1853 - a date which might indicate that Lakeville is a young town relative to other local communities (consider that Plymouth predates it by some 230 plus years) - the origin of Lakeville as a corporate entity distinct from Middleborough, in fact, reaches as far back as 1719 when much of what is now modern-day Lakeville was organized as the west parish of Middleborough.

Prior to that time, Lakeville, had been an integral part of Middleborough, being administered secularly from the meetinghouse at the Green and ministered to spiritually by the First (and then only) Congregational Church of Middleborough. Taxes paid by residents of Lakeville, or West Middleborough as it was then known, went to the support of the ministry at Middleborough.

Following 1700, when the area that would become Lakeville came to be settled more heavily, residents of the area expressed mounting dissatisfaction with the distance between themselves and the parish church and meetinghouse at the Green and, in 1719, they, in conjunction with residents of eastern Taunton, called for the creation of a new parish. Based upon the merits of their argument, their petition was granted by the Massachusetts General Court on June 16 of that year, which ordered that "the tract of land, being part of Middleborough and Taunton, and surveyed and platted by Capt. Tomson, be and hereby is erected into and granted to be a Precinct" to be known as the Middleborough and Taunton Precinct. The portion of Middleborough included within the new precinct correlated closely to the earlier Sixteen Shilling Purchase through which the English in 1675 had acquired the greater portion of present day Lakeville from its Native inhabitants.

Despite its legislative approval, the new precinct's existence remained tenuous during its first several years as a parish independent of Middleborough. A vote on August 26, 1719, by the precinct confirmed the Commonwealth's decision to establish a new parish within the prescribed bounds. The first need of the new precinct was for a meetinghouse and the same August meeting named Edward Richmond "agent to go to Boston to discourse with those gentlemen that have the trust of that money for which they have to dispose of towards the upholding of the worship of God among the Indians, and to see if they will give us any of it towards the building of a meeting-house for them and us, and also towards the maintaining of a minster among them and us."

The meeting at which this vote was taken was adjourned to October 6, and the reconvened meeting voted to construct a 28 foot wide by 30 foot long meetinghouse upon land of Thomas Joslen on Rhode Island Road near the intersection of present day Precinct Street. Though the site selected for the meetinghouse was situated at the center of the settled portion of the district, the area had no name and consequently became known as Precinct. A tax of ten pounds to be collected by March 31, 1720, was levied for the project, and each man within the precinct was required to contribute three days labor towards the building of the structure.

While the necessary funds may have been collected, there was some disagreement concerning the proposed location of the church, and the following spring, another meeting of the precinct held April 15, 1720, voted to erect the building "18 rods westerly from the corner of Thomas Joslen's fence that now stands by the [Rhode] Eiland road."

The initial wave of enthusiasm for the new precinct seems to have cooled rapidly, likely because of the financial demands it was beginning to make upon the residents who lived within its bounds. The much discussed meetinghouse was not built, no minister was named and there are no records of another meeting until March 28, 1723, when the precinct was compelled to meet by an order of the legislature. That meeting debated the wisdom of the earlier decisions of 1719 and 1720 to organize as a precinct, but ultimately in a 9 to 4 vote, the precinct moved to reaffirm its previous actions. Despite residents' renewed consensus upon organizing as a precint, progress towards creating a meetinghouse and naming a pastor continued to remain slow. Not until November 22, 1723, were Ebenezer Williams, Nathaniel Southworth and Henry Hoskins named a committee to "take care and raise the meeting-house forthwith upon the place fixed by the General Court's committee ...."

Southworth and Edward Richmond were also named a committee to engage a minister for three months, beginning March 1, 1724. The two men were empowered to offer twelve pounds and board to a ministerial candidate, "unless the committee can agree for less."

Clearly, the precinct was searching for a bargain minister who not surprisingly was not forthcoming. Though by September, 1724, the precinct had found its minister in the person of Benjamin Ruggles, it had had to offer Ruggles the large sum of seventy pounds yearly salary to engage him. On November 4, 1724, the precinct formally accepted Ruggles as their pastor and he was ordained as such the following year, serving the precinct until December, 1753.

During Ruggles' ministry, the boundaries of the precinct were reduced, and came to closely resemble the boundaries of modern Lakeville. Under the terms of the 1719 act which had created the Middleborough and Taunton Precinct, that portion of East Taunton which was incorporated into the precinct was to remain so for a period of only a few decades, prompting the Precinct to oppose the further loss of more of its members in 1747. "When our Precinct was granted, a small part of Taunton was annexed and set off for a term of years, and now that term is out and if that small part should go away from us," as well as additional others, "then our Precinct must fall and break up from being a Precinct .... "

Though the temporarily annexed portion of Taunton was set off from the precinct shortly thereafter, the precinct did survive. In April, 1853, when the Town of Lakeville was created by the Massachusetts legislature, its boundaries were established in remarkable conformity to that portion of the Middleborough and Taunton Precinct lying within the Town of Middleborough, an area which had taken its first independent steps from the mother town in 1719.

"Middleboro' and Taunton.", plan of land drawn by Captain Jacob Tomson, 1718, reprinted from Thomas Weston, History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906), page xix.
This 1718 survey by Captain Jacob Tomson became the basis for the creation of the Middleborough and Taunton Precinct. Included in addition to the area of the Sixteen Shilling Purchase were the Native lands at Titicut and a portion of Taunton. The establishment of the precinct in 1719 marked the beginning of Lakeville's evolution as a town separate and distinct from Middleborough.

Originally published in "Recollecting Nemasket", Middleboro Gazette, 2002

Monday, September 28, 2009

"War Over Milk Cans", 1913

As one of the principal dairy-producing towns in Plymouth County in the early 20th century, Middleborough saw much of the milk produced in town shipped daily to neighboring communities. In 1913, a number of Middleborough dairymen sent milk in eight-quart cans to nearby Onset by means of the electric trolleys operated by the New Bedford & Onset Street Railway Company. The arrangement whereby fresh milk was sent to Onset each morning and the empty cans returned later in the day eventually created a troublesome nuisance when the unwashed cans were dumped off the returning trolleys near the Four Corners, leading a correspondent of the Brockton Enterprise to report the following story in late July, 1913.

There is a merry mix-up over milk cans here. Local milk producers send about 70 eight-quart cans of milk to Onset each day, for consumption by the Summer people. The milk is shipped on the trolley line, and the empties used to come back in the same way.

The cans, on arriving here, are thrown about the Four Corners, along the gutters and littered the place. Chief of Police Swift ordered the practice stopped, and also forebade the bakerymen who sent boxes of foodstuffs, having their empty boxes along the street.

No provision has been made for a storing place for the empties here. so the trolley line did not return the 70 or more empty cans this morning. The milkmen were loudly calling for the cans, and held indignation meetings beside the cars.

At Onset the empty cans are lined up next to Flagstaff sq. and the health authorities are anxious to have them moved. It is claimed that they were not scalded.

A conference is scheduled for later in the day to devise means of solving the problem.

The solution ultimately settled upon was that the trolleys would return the empty milk cans to Middleborough where dairymen were expected to be on hand to claim them at the Middleborough terminal. "When no one is on hand to receive them the cars start for Onset again, and make a round trip later in the day."

"Bay State Milk Cans", manufactured by James H. Whittle, Worcester, MA, advertisement, late 19th century
Small cans like the one pictured in this advertisement were typically employed by local dairymen to ship milk to local residential and commercial customers. The eight-quart cans in use by Middleborough dairymen who sent milk to the summer residents in Onset and elsewhere, ultimately caused a disturbance in town in 1913 when they were deposited by the street railway in the roadways and along the sidewalks in the center of town.

New Bedford & Onset Street Railway Company Car Barn, Wareham Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1902
Originally built for the Middleboro, Wareham & Buzzards Bay Street Railway, this car barn was later used by the M, W & B. B.'s successor, the New Bedford & Onset Street Railway Company as its Middleborough terminal. Though little realized today, the trolleys - like the steam railroads - were heavy transporters of freight, including milk. The car barn was later owned by the Maxim Motors Company, and still stands near the corner of Wareham and Lincoln Streets.

Brockton Enterprise, "War Over Milk Cans", July 23, 1913, and "Middleboro", July 24, 1913

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cranberry Memories

In celebration of its tenth anniversary, Rock Village Publishing of Middleborough has recently released Cranberry Memories: Voices from the Bogs, compiled and edited by Ed and Yolanda Lodi. Cranberry Memories is a delightfully evocative cultural history of cranberry growing in southeastern Massachusetts which captures how the small red berry has entered and influenced the consciousness of the region. As the Lodis ask in their introduction to the work, "what of the many ways that cranberry agronomy influences our lives - not only in respect to the physical environment, the ways the bogs with their swamps and uplands, their sand pits and reservoirs, sculpt the landscape that surrounds us, but in respect to our inner being as well, the ways that working on the bogs, or living near them and enjoying the natural world they promote, help mold our character and emotional health, our very outlook on life?" This compilation of personal recollections and photographs seeks to answer this question through a series of deeply personal, sometimes humorous and frequently touching reminiscences.

Earlier in 2009 the Lodis, owners of Rock Village Publishing, had solicited area residents to submit their tales relating to cranberry culture in southeastern Massachusetts. The result was the present anthology, among the highlights of which are the passages and photographs taken from an unpublished manuscript written in the 1930s by Middleborough grower John B. Howes whose daughter Betty (Howes) Johnson generously permitted the Lodis to excerpt. Other tales recount hand-picking on the bogs, the change to mechanized harvesting, and the processing and preparing the fruit (including recipes), and they are drawn from residents in Plymouth and Barnstable counties.

Copies of Cranberry Memories are available locally at Maria's Card & Gift Shop in Middleborough, Sedell's Pharmacy in Lakeville and Carver, Border's and the Tihonet Village Market in Wareham, and other outlets.

In 1999 Middleborough residents Yolanda and Edward Lodi started Rock Village Publishing with the motto, “Preserving Our New England Heritage.” Since then they have published more that fifty books by local authors: memoirs, cookbooks, history, folklore, poetry, novels, and short story collections, all with a firm connection to New England, and many with an emphasis on southeastern Massachusetts.

Lodi, Edward and Yolanda. Cranberry Memories: Voices from the Bogs. Middleborough, MA: Rock Village Publishing, 2009.

Charlotte Howes packing cranberries, Woods Pond Cranberry Company, Middleborough, MA, 1960, from Edward and Yolanda Lodi, Cranberry Memories: Voices from the Bogs (Middleborough, MA: Rock Village Publishing, 2009), p. 1.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Middleborough's First Automobile (and Automobile Accident), 1900

One of the most fevered recreational crazes during the final years of the last century and the first quarter of the present century was automobiling. Like elsewhere, the automobile craze in Middleborough and Lakeville infected many residents, though initially, not everyone was enthused with the new pastime.

Recreational automobiling in the 1890s quickly indicated the lack of laws regulating it. The "new-fangled" contraption was notorious for raising dust, "spooking" horses - and worse. In 1894, the Bridgewater Independent was reporting wild times (and aggrieved residents) at Titicut: "Automobile drivers have been making a nuisance of themselves by riding on the sidewalks at North Middleboro, and as the town could not prevent it under existing laws, a new ordinance was adopted last week with a penalty of $20 attached, for its infraction."

The numerous accidents and consequent restrictions placed upon automobiling did not deter its earliest enthusiasts who included among them Fletcher L. Barrows of Middleborough. Barrows, son of Middleborough shoe manufacturer Horatio Barrows, was an avid sportsman at the turn of the last century, well known for his love of hunting, fast horses, sleek boats and outdoors activity. Considering his interests and wealth, it is perhaps not surprising then that Barrows owned the first automobile in Middleborough, an expensive luxury at the time. Acquired in April, 1900, the vehicle was a steam-powered machine purchased at Boston. While the make of this first Middleborough automobile is not known, a number of automobile makers based in New England (then a center of the growing automotive industry) were producing steam-powered vehicles when Barrows made his purchase, including Stanley Motor Carriage Company (Newton, MA; "Stanley" Steamer), the Overland Wheel Company (Chicopee Falls, MA; "Victor" Steam Car), Waltham Automobile Company (Waltham, MA; "Waltham" Steam car); Grout Brothers (Orange, MA); and Edward S. Clark Steam Automobiles (Dorchester, MA).

The arrival of Barrows' automobile on the evening of April 4 caused an immediate stir as residents clamored for their first view of a "horseless carriage." Upon his arrival in town, Barrows reportedly "took a spin around the streets, [and] as this is the first one ever owned in town everybody was eager to get a look at it. Consequently, it became a common sight to see a man running up a side street to get a glimpse of the first horseless carriage in town. Its appearance is also a novelty to the horses, who shy at it as though it was an 'infernal machine.'"

Not long afterwards this event, the first automobile accident in Middleborough was recorded, involving Barrows' machine and a stone wall on East Main Street.

"While allowing one of his friends to operate his automobile last week, Fletcher Barrows and a companion narrowly escaped serious injury. His friend, a novice in the business, lost control of the machine just below the Star Mills, and before Mr. Barrows could get the machine under control, it reared and made a sudden start for a nearby stone wall with disastrous results to the auto. It has been shipped to a repair shop."

1899 Victor Steam Carriage, Overman Wheel Company, Chicopee Falls, MA
Barrows' automobile was probably similar in make to this steam-powered vehicle. Although Barrows is generally accorded the honor of having owned Middleborough's first automobile, one source states that it was in fact Carlton W. Maxim who possessed the first automobile in town, acquiring a steam-power machine as early as 1896.

"In My Merry Oldsmobile", New York: M. Witmark & Sons, sheet music cover, early 20th century.
Popular music in the early years of the 20th century underscored the romantic and adventurous aspect of the automobile. So fascinated was the public with the new innovation that few wanted to hear of its early unreliability as a means of transportation, its expense which put it out of the reach of most, or the accidents which occurred with inexperienced drivers - like Barrows' friend - at the helm.

Brockton Enterprise, "Automobile in Town", April 5, 1900.
Brockton Enterprise, "The Automobile 'Bucks'", undated clipping from April, 1900, James Creedon papers, Middleborough Public Library.
Old Colony Memorial, "News Notes", April 14, 1900, page 3.

To hear "In My Merry Oldsmobile", click on the arrow below:

"In My Merry Oldsmobile", sung by Billy Murray, Columbia Phonograph Company, 1906

Friday, September 25, 2009

Flying Saucer Seen Over East Middleborough, 1950

"The first flying saucer in this area was reported Monday afternoon to the [Middleborough] police department by Mrs. William W. Kelley of Cedar street. Mrs. Kelley said her attention was attracted to the object in the sky when she heard a loud explosion. She said the object she saw was high in the air and appeared about 30 feet wide. She was positive that it was not an airplane. Mrs. Kelley reported to the police as she told the desk officer she was under the impression that she was supposed to report what she saw." [Brockton Enterprise, "Flying Saucer is Seen at Middleboro", May 9, 1950]

Donald Keyhoe, The Flying Saucers Are Real, cover illustration, 1950.
Flying saucers (and more broadly unidentified flying objects) were very much the focus of media attention at the time of Mrs. Kelley's report on May 8, 1950. Books such as Keyhoe's work as well as purportedly scientific studies fueled public speculation regarding the existence of such phenomena which in turn prompted reports like that made in Middleborough at the time. There was no later indication as to what Mrs. Kelley may actually have seen flying over East Middleborough in the spring of 1950.

Brockton Enterprise, "Flying Saucer is Seen at Middleboro", May 9, 1950.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cranberry is King

So important was the annual autumn cranberry harvest locally that it had the influence to disrupt Middleborough and Lakeville schools and postpone religious functions so that residents could lend themselves to the task of picking berries. During the 1912 harvest season, the pervasive demand for pickers throughout southeastern Massachusetts led to the cancellation of the Plymouth County Neighborhood Convention, a local gathering of Protestant churches, a development reported in the pages of the Brockton Times on August 24, 1912:

Religious Convention is Postponed.

There isn't going to be a meeting of the Plymouth County neighborhood convention of the churches next month because of cranberries.

That sounds rather strange, but Gen. Sec. A. H. Wardle of the [Middleborough] Y. M. C. A., who is secretary of the convention, announces that to be the reason for missing the September meeting.

Ordinarily the sessions are resumed in September after the vacation period, and it was expected the same custom would be in effect this year ....

But it didn't happen. The active members of these churches are so busy gathering up cranberries, which literally translated means money, that they can't stop to entertain church delegates, Mr. Wardle states, so the meeting will go over till October.
It is said to be the first time the convention failed to resume its meetings in September, and the reason assigned is considered a very unusual one.

"Cranberry Picking on Cape Cod", postcard, early 20th century
Cranberry pickers at Middleborough (like those depicted on this postcard of nearby Cape Cod) were in high demand each September and October, so much so that in 1912, the Plymouth County Neighborhood Convention had to be postponed until the close of the harvest season. Here, the pickers are seen working in staked rows, the typical manner for hand-picking.

Brockton Times, "Cranberry is King", August 24, 1912.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Child Labor in the Cranberry Industry

While the image of smiling children on cranberry bogs, pails in hand with the September sunshine on their faces may present an idyllic picture of local rural childhood a century ago, in truth the employment of children on local cranberry bogs was an often overlooked aspect of tthe child labor problem in America.

In 1893 when the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial reprinted the following small news item from one of Middleborough's newspapers, few people probably showed little surprise when they read of the subject's age. "A little girl in South Middleboro five years old," ran the report, "picked 28 quarts of cranberries in one afternoon". While the item was published to bring attention to the young girl's remarkable achievement of picking so many berries in so short a period of time, the more troubling aspect of the report was the girl's age. In fact, children as young as three years old were regularly employed during the cranberry picking season in September and October, not only in Middleborough, but throughout the cranberry-growing regions of the nation.

Young children throughout the 19th century had assisted their families with agricultural chores, so it was not a radical step for parents to consider putting their children to work alongside themselves on local commercial cranberry bogs. This development was encouraged by the great need for pickers during the late summer when the berries were ripe for picking. To sate the demand for pickers, young children and older family members were all put to work. Meanwhile, many families were compelled through economic circumstance to put their children to work, so necessary were the wages which they were able to earn.

Children would be engaged in all manner of tasks on the local bogs, including picking by hand and toting. Conditions on the bogs could, at times, be inhospitable. Frequently damp in the morning, the bogs were also subjected to broiling sunshine in mid-afternoon as child pickers slowly made their way on their hands and knees over the vines. Further, sanitary facilities for workers were frequently lacking. Despite these conditions, child labor on the cranberry bogs typically garnered little attention from reformers or lawmakers as children were generally employed in the company of their parents who could therefore oversee their welfare directly.

Increasingly, however, child agricultural labor, like child industrial labor, was viewed as detrimental to the development and well-being of children, not only because of the physical conditions noted above but particularly when it interfered with their attendance at school. Local schools, in fact, like that at South Middleborough did, in several years, close for the harvest season so that children could assist with picking. The Middleboro Gazette in September, 1905, and again in 1909 reported that school attendance was adversely affected by the start of the harvest as children were absented from school in order to engage in picking.

In 1904, the National Child Labor Committee was established to promote "the rights, awareness, dignity, well-being and education of children and youth as they relate to work and working". As part of the committee's work, child labor conditions in a wide range of industries, including agriculture, were investigated and documented through both reports and photographs in an effort to strengthen federal child labor laws. One particular field of study was the cranberry industry, and noted photographer Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) documented child workers on the Eldridge Bog in nearby Rochester, Massachusetts, as well as in New Jersey and Wisconsin. In his work, Hine found children as young as three years old being employed to harvest berries during the September and October picking seasons.

In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was adopted with provisions governing child labor in agriculture. Children were prohibited from working during school hours, and restrictions were placed upon the employment of the youngest children such as the unidentified South Middleborough girl of 1893.

Three Pickers Going Home from Work, photograph by Lewis W. Hine,
"Anne Benotte, said 7 years old. Brother Vincent said 11. Vincent picked last year. Inez, sister said 6 years old, "and picked last year wid me mudder." Smallest one not quite large enough to work. Father works in Parker Mills. Location: Parker Mills [vicinity], Massachusetts." [National Child Labor Committee Collection, U. S. Library of Congress].

Rosie Passeralla, photograph by Lewis W. Hine, September 28, 1910.
"5-year-old Rosie Passeralla, 1116 Annan Street, Philadelphia. Been picking here two years. Whites Bog, Browns Mills, N. J. Sept. 28, 1910. Witness E. F. Brown. Location: Browns Mills, New Jersey." [National Child Labor Committee Collection
, U. S. Library of Congress].

Jennie Camillo, photograph by Lewis W. Hine, September 27, 1910.
"Eight-year-old, Jennie Camillo, lives in West Maniyunk, Pa. (near Philadelphia). For this summer she has picked cranberries. This summer is at Theodore Budd's Bog at Turkeytown, near Pemberton, N.J. This is the fourth week of school in Philadelphia and these people will stay here two weeks more. Her look of distress was caused by her father's impatience over her stopping in her tramp to the 'bushelman' at our photographer's request. Witness, E.F. Brown. Location: Pemberton, New Jersey." [National Child Labor Committee Collection, U. S. Library of Congress].

Smallest One Merilda, Picking with Her Sister, photograph by Lewis W. Hine, September, 1911.
The photograph was taken at the Eldridge Bog in neighboring Rochester, Massachusetts. [National Child Labor Committee Collection, U. S. Library of Congress].

Merilda Carrying Cranberries, photograph by Lewis W. Hine, September, 1911.
"Witness, Richard K. Conant. Location: Rochester [vicinity] - Eldridge Bog, Massachusetts." [National Child Labor Committee Collection, U. S. Library of Congress].

National Child Labor Committee Collection, U. S. Library of Congress.
Old Colony Memorial, October 28, 1893, page 4.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Panesis' Fruit Store

Shown in the photograph above is the original Center Street fruit store of Greek immigrant Thomas Panesis (who appears second from the right). Panesis had entered the fruit selling business at Taunton in 1899 and later became familiar with Middleborough where he operated delivery carts following 1901. In 1906, Panesis relocated to Middleborough, occupying a small building which stood between the Middleborough Savings Bank Building and B. F. Tripp's ice cream parlor and which had been constructed in 1895 by L. P. Thatcher for use by George F. Bryant as a coal office. In addition to the great variety of fresh fruit sold by the Center Street firm (a portion of which is displayed here), tobacco and candy were also available and in 1909 a cigar case was added in the small space. Fresh roasted peanuts were also retailed (even following mid-June 1909 when the peanut roaster at the store exploded, injuring employee Peter Zamfes). Residents of the period would long afterwards recall the smell of freshly roasted peanuts wafting from the store. So successful was the business that in late 1909 Panesis was compelled to rent additional space elsewhere in Middleborough for storage. Ultimately, in 1913, Panesis relocated his business to a larger building on the opposite side of Tripp's where it remained for another three-quarters of a century, becoming a Middleborough institution.

Panesis Fruit Store, photograph, c. 1906
Although the copy of this photograph is marked "1907 May 30" at the bottom, a different photograph which was clearly taken on the same day and which appears in Mertie E. Romaine's History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts, is labelled July 4, 1906, the more likely date. The Middleborough Savings Bank Building is recognizable on the left of the picture while the window on the right advertising ice cream, Moxie and Coca-Cola belongs to Tripp's.

Middleboro Gazette, March 15, 1895, p. 4
Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Vol. II. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Middleborough Town Hall Cupola

Since its construction in 1872-73, Middleborough Town Hall has settled to such a degree that it has thrown off the pitch of its iconic "cupola". The situation was first noted within a decade of the building's construction when efforts were undertaken to rectify the situation:

A recent examination of the cupola of the Middleboro town house, discloses the fact that it has settled from two to three inches on one side. To prevent damage to the building, which not many years ago was erected at a cost of over $50,000, it will be necessary to get the cupola back to place. [Old Colony Memorial, January 24, 1885, p. 4]

Accordingly, in the winter of 1885, repairs were made within the building's superstructure in order to realign the cupola over the building:

Workmen have straightened up the cupola of the town house, in Middleboro, and secured it in position. It was concluded it was thrown out of plumb by the settling of the building and not from effects of heavy gales. [Old Colony Memorial, March 12, 1885, p. 4]

Despite the best efforts of workmen in 1885, and later, the cupola has been continued to shift torsionally, essentially twisting under its own weight. Though the shift has been relatively minimal, it nonetheless remains noticeable to this day, and the tower sits slightly askew relative to the main building below.

Middleborough Town Hall Cupola, photograph by Michael J. Maddigan, May 27, 2006

Old Colony Memorial, January 24, 1885, p. 4; March 12, 1885, p. 4.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Health Insurance in the 1850s

In 1852 when the Old Colony Mutual Health Insurance Company was established in Middleborough, commercial health and accident insurance was a novel idea. Only five years earlier in 1847 was "sickness insurance" first offered by Massachusetts Health Insurance, a Boston-based firm, while the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts had begun offering accident insurance only in 1850. At the time, most health and accident insurance worked more like modern disability insurance, compensating policyholders for the loss of income in the event of illness or accident. Nonetheless, firms offering these new forms of insurance were revolutionary, so much so that many of them, including the Old Colony, would discontinue operations within months of being established.

In 1852, a group of southeastern Massachusetts men, led by a large contingent of professional and businessmen from Middleborough, established the Old Colony Mutual Health Insurance Company. Based in Middleborough, with offices in the Wells Block on (North) Main Street, the firm had a 13 member directorate consisting of Peter H. Peirce, William H. Wood, Philander Washburn, Sidney Tucker, Eliab Ward, Attorney Everett Robinson, Noah C. Perkins and James Harlow of Middleborough; Foster Hooper of Fall River; Dr. Samuel Shaw of Wareham; Attorney C. B. H. Fessenden of Sandwich; Attorney Amos Otis of Yarmouth and Dr. John Pierce of Edgartown. (Washburn appears to have withdrawn from the board in late October or early November, 1852). Officers of the company were Wood, president; Perkins, vice-president; Harlow, general agent; and Tucker, secretary and treasurer.

The avowed purpose of the company was "the mutual relief of its members in case of sickness or accident." As only a few items survive from the company, it is not clear how this relief was provided, though it is unlikely that provision was paid for the payment of medical bills. More probable was that the company paid a settlement in the event a policyholder was incapacitated by sickness or injury. Unlike other early health insurance providers, however, the Old Colony provided members with annual plans rather than one based upon a lifetime commitment. "Profiting by the experience of other Similar Companies, and determining to place this Association upon a firm and permanent basis, the Directors have fixed the terms of membership 25 per cent higher than those of some other similar Associations. They have also determined to issue Policies for a term of years, instead of life. With these and other safeguards which are thrown around this Institution, the Directors feel confident that by judicious management on their part, they shall be able to secure to its members all the benefits which such an Association in intended to confer." Weekly premiums ranging from $2 to $8 were accepted and provided for insurance from $2,500 to $10,000. And while the premiums may sound small by today's standards, in 1852 they represented a substantial investment.

To help promote its offering, the company included an impressive list of references including Nathaniel B. Borden of Fall River, and Middleborough residents Major Elisha Tucker, J. W. P. Jenks, Nahum M. Tribou, Ebenezer Pickes, Eleazer Richmond, Dr. John Perkins, and Dr. Franklin Gilman.
Sadly, there is little record of the operation of the company. Following its annual meeting held on April 9, 1853, however, it was reported that "this Company is understood to be on a good foundation for further successful operations." Yet, sometime between this announcement and late summer, the company seems to have mysteriously become defunct. At the prodding of the North Bridgewater [Brockton] Gazette, Middleborough's own Namasket Gazette looked into the affairs of the curiously inactive company in late August. Its conclusions regarding the Old Colony Health Insurance Company were uncompromising:

Like the rest of such companies, this seems to be, at least, inactive. The letters addressed to this company, or its reputed officers, are not taken from the Post Office, but remain dead letters. They had a lot of handbills struck off by us, the early part of the season, and these bills, most of them, except some that were sent to Linus W. Snow of Bridgewater, remain in our office as dead bills. We would have given the North Bridgewater gazette , answer to its enquiries some weeks ago: but we waited to see some signs for the better. They are not apparent and it seems to us that when a Company's Officers disclaim connection with it, it is time to the public knew it.

Nothing is known of the demise of the Old Colony Mutual Health Insurance Company. It is probable that the organization was simply ahead of its time, and that local residents believed that they could ill afford such a modern novelty. Not for another half century or more would modern health insurance become popular locally.
"Deutsches Apotheken-Museum" by William A. Franklin, published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Old Colony Mutual Health Insurance Company advertisement, Old Colony Memorial, October 23, 1852, p. 4
Namasket Gazette, November 4, 1852, p. 4; April 15, 1853, p. 2; "Old Colony Health Insurance Company", September 2, 1853, p. 2.
Old Colony Memorial, October 23, 1852, p. 4.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thompson Genealogies

John Tomson was one of the earliest English owners of what is now East Middleborough and presumably the first settler of Halifax where his original house was located on present-day Thompson Street just north of the Winnetuxet River.

Tomson (his descendants would later adopt the "Thompson" spelling) would become an iconic figure as the original settler of Halifax, as progenitor of the large Thompson family of Halifax and Middleborough, and as commander of the Middleborough garrison during King Philip’s War. Particularly in the century between 1835 and 1935, Tomson’s legacy would be nurtured through the publication of two genealogies (1841, 1890), the establishment of a Thompson family association in 1893, the efforts to erect a monument at his gravesite in Nemasket Hill Cemetery in 1893-94 and 1911, the unveiling of a memorial tablet at the site of his second Halifax home (1934), and countless other efforts. Relics associated with Tomson, including the infamous long gun which Isaac Howland used to kill a Native at the start of King Phillip's War, were equally revered and once prominently displayed in local historical collections.

One of Tomson's descendants, identified only as M. F. T., recorded not only the perspective of the family but that of the communities of Middleborough and Halifax in the following words which were written in 1855 and reflected the generally high historical regard in which John Tomson was held:

He was, if tradition speaks truth, as good a specimen of the ancient puritan fathers as could well be furnished by the times in which he lived. Kind, generous, humane, forebearing, and to sum up every virtue in three words, a consistent christian. He well deserved the reputation and the name by which he was always called, viz: "Good John".

Helping foster this 19th century view of John Tomson were two genealogies published during the 1800s by Tomson descendants. Ignatius Thompson was a grandson of John Tomson who left many handwritten notes regarding the family and who is stated to have remembered the funeral of Tomson's widow, Mary (Cook) Tomson. While his Genealogy of the Descendants of John Thomson, Who Landed in the Month of May, 1622 (1841) provides an early foundation for recording the family's history and is remarkable for having been published at what is a relatively early date for local genealogical studies, it is flawed by a number of inaccuracies. Better and more comprehensive is Charles Hutchinson Thompson's A Genealogy of Descendants of John Thomson of Plymouth, Mass. (1890) which corrects and updates the family record. Links to both of these sources (which may be read and searched in their entirety) have been added in the sidebar.

Namasket Gazette, "A Legend of Winnatuxet" [sic], September 14, 1855, p. 1.
Thomson, Ignatius. A Genealogy of John Thomson, Who Landed in the Month of May, 1622. Taunton: E. Anthony [printer], 1841.
Thompson, Charles Hutchinson. A Genealogy of the Descendants of John Thomson of Plymouth, Mass. Lansing, MI: Darius D. Thorp [printer], 1890.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

School Street Engine House

Middleborough’s first “Central Fire Station” was the School Street Engine House which stood for just over a century on the east side of School Street opposite the School Street School. Raised in 1855 by the Middleborough Fire District (forerunner of the Middleborough Fire Department), the engine house was a two and one-half story building, with two bays for engines on the ground floor, and a commodious hall on the second floor. It was Middleborough's second firehouse (the engine house on Oak Street predated it by a mere two years) and was built in response to calls by Four Corners’ residents and businesses for improved fire protection in the neighborhood.

The School Street engine house was built to house Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 which had been only recently organized at the time. The Fire District appears initially to have leased the land upon which the building stood, for it was not purchased until May, 1859, when the owners, Perkins, Leonard & Barrows, which operated a shoe manufactory on the corner of School and Center Streets, sold the back 200 square feet of their lot.

Though the School Street station played an invaluable role in the provision of fire services throughout the Fire District, this role was sometimes overshadowed by the engine house's social aspect. Its second floor "Engine Hall" hosted numerous social functions throughout the years, including the firemen's ball. At one point, in 1873, drinking in the hall had to be banned by the Fire Engineers "on account of the barbarous actions of young men from out of town." This seems to have been an exception, for the entertainments provided were generally sedate and in keeping with the dignified nature of the department.

Over the years, the School Street station housed a number of hand-drawn companies. The last were the Enterprise Hook & Ladder Company No. 1, Chemical Engine No. 1, and Central Hose Company No. 1. Beginning in 1912, however, the Middleborough Fire Department initiated a conversion to motorized apparatus when it acquired its first motorized engine (and its first new addition since 1889) in the form of a Knox combination engine. The Knox Combination No. 1, became the showpiece of the department. Housed at the School Street house, the Knox made redundant and replaced both the chemical engine and hose company stationed there.

The recognized need for a second motorized engine coupled with eventual dissatisfaction with the district’s Knox model prompted Chief Engineer Carlton W. Maxim to develop his own combination fire truck. This model, which Maxim designated simply as Model F, became the first Maxim-built engine and was proudly delivered to the Middleborough Fire Department in 1914, to be housed at the Oak Street station.

In the autumn of 1914, proposals were made and ultimately adopted for the rationalization and centralization of Middleborough's fire services. The School Street engine house was enlarged by a one-bay addition on its south side in 1915 at which time the original portion of the structure was remodeled and updated. The Maxim Combination No. 2 was relocated into the newly renovated building from Oak Street, as was the fire alarm equipment, and the Oak Street house was abandoned, as were the other engine houses, thereby conferring upon the School Street building the status of "Central Fire Station." (The East Main Street fire house was sold in 1920 and its Oak Street counterpart in 1923).

Apparently, however, when the alterations were made to the School Street facility, neither the Maxim's length nor the street's width at that point (40 feet) had been duly considered, leading to an unanticipated problem: "There is not room enough for the truck to make the turn from the street." The matter was resolved in time, and the engine house, despite its age and wood frame structure became noted as "one of the best appointed fire stations of any place in this part of the state."

The School Street engine house witnessed the complete motorization of the department when in 1915 the aging hand-drawn Enterprise Hook & Ladder was replaced by a motorized Maxim "Cities Service" truck. At this time, the Middleborough Fire Department was one of the area's first completely motorized fire departments.

Sadly, however, the School Street engine house soon afterwards began showing signs of its advanced age, particularly its floor which sagged under the combined weight of three engines and was propped up by makeshift timbers. The condition of the firehouse touched off a discussion concerning its continued viability and prompted repair work in 1923 by local contractor George Starbuck. Eventually, a decision was taken to replace the School Street engine house with a new Central Fire Station, erected on North Main Street in 1926.

The souvenir program for the dedication of the 1926 station recalled its predecessor: "The real veteran of the department is the School Street station, ... now battle-scarred and supported by a veritable forest of timbers and posts in its basement, and now after three score and ten years gracefully laying down its responsibilities, and yielding up to its handsome and spacious successor the duty and privilege of housing the thoroughly up-to-date department of 1926."

Following its abandonment by the fire department in 1926, the School Street engine house serve a variety of purposes which were documented in Mertie Romaine's History of the Town of Middleboro:

The building was used in 1928 by Alvin C. Howes and Dr. Willard Howes of Detroit who operated the Howes Manufacturing Company which made microscopic slides. When they vacated, it became the home of E. W. Peirce Post 8, Grand Army of the Republic, the members having been forced to look for a new home after demolition of Peirce Academy in 1932. At the advent of World War II, the Post shared its quarters with Middleboro Chapter of American Red Cross. Both floors of the old building were filled with workers busy rolling bandages, making compresses, packing finished articles for shipment overseas, working day and night to provide the hospital supplies so vitally needed in those harrowing days of war. [Romaine:566].

Following a period of disuse, the School Street engine house was pulled down in 1958.

School Street Engine House, photograph, c. 1930
This snapshot of the facade of the School Street Engine House depicts the original gable-roofed two and one-half story 1855 building on the left and the flat-roofed 1915 addition to the right. Built in an age of hand-drawn "engines", the fire house was constructed close to the street, too close in fact to permit the motorized Maxim engine which was housed there after 1915 to be turned easily into School Street.

School Street Engine House, photograph, c. 1930

Middleboro Gazette
Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. (Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969).

Monday, September 14, 2009

J. & G. E. Doane

J. & G. E. Doane, hardware dealers, advertising trade card, Mayer, Merkel & Ottman, lithographers, New York, late 19th century
Cousins Jeremiah and George Emerson Doane succeeded to the Middleborough hardware and tin business of George's father, George Hobbs Doane, upon the elder Doane's death in 1880. Following Jeremiah's death in 1903, the business was conducted solely by G. E. Doane, occupying a prominent location on South Main Street. In 1938, following George's own death, the business was acquired by Geroge A. Shurtleff. Doane's Hardware, particularly under the guidance of George Doane, was noted for its remarkably creative advertising in contrast to the more mundane example depicted above from the firm's earlier years.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


The following poem was written as a paean to Teweeleema (Melinda Mitchell) of Lakeville by Timothy Otis Paine (1824-95), Reverend of the Swedenborgian Church at Elmwood in East Bridgewater. In the poem, Paine, an avid local historian, makes note of several local features including the Satucket River in East Bridgewater, Nunckatesett (Town River) in Bridgewater and West Bridgewater, and closer to home Nahteawamett (Betty's Neck) in Lakeville. Wonnocooto was a location along the Satucket River in East Bridgewater. Ousamequin was one of the names of Massasoit. (Paine's spellings have been retained as written).


Princess Massasoit,
Daughter of the chieftain,
Long descended, hail I
Thee the lineal ruler
Of these natal wildwoods.

The Satucket River
And her bordering valleys
And the hills above them
Crowned by Wonnocooto
Claim their pristine monarch.

Spindles of the cornfield
Fingers multitudinous
To the Indian heavens,
Silent and unanimous,
Raise in attestation.

Every year the flowers,
With traditional memory
Of they great grandsire
And new childlike wonder,
Open to behold thee.

And the great-eyed squirrel
In the sinewy oak top,
Mindful of thy fathers,
Holds the acorn breathless
Watchful of thy fingers.

I, too, lore instructed,
See the awful moccason
On thy foot imperial,
And dread Metacomet
Rises up in vengeance.

In the flying car train
Sitting at a window
Looking on the woodland,
Thoughts of Ousamequin
Smooth thy troubled forehead.

Merciful and pitying
Was the mighty peace king
Sent to make it easy
For the band of pilgrims
Driven to thy forests.

In thy crown of feathers,
Lonely Tewelema,
Thou art going silent
To the Nahteawamett
On the Assowamsett;

To the Reservation
Held by old tradition;
And thy aged mother
Looking from the cabin.

Gone to the Ponemah
We shall miss you absent.
When the sparrow twitters
Then we will remember
Thee, O Chic-chic-chewee.

And when fairs are crowded
On the Nunckatesett,
Then thou, Indian maiden,
Shalt appear in vision
From the isles of chieftains.

"Tee-we-lee-ma the Last Surviving Descendant of Massasoit", postcard, c. 1905
A number of postcards were published at the turn of the century depicting both Teweeleema and her sister Wootonekanuske. This view depicts Teweeleema in the modified Native dress she was accustomed to wearing. While the title on the front of the card labels Teweeleema as the last descendant of Massasoit, her sister survived her and Native tradition holds that there are in fact descendants of the great Wampanoag sachem living today.
Paine, Timothy Otis. Selections from the Poems of Timothy Otis Paine. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1897.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"An Heir to King Philip"

During the last quarter of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th centuries, Teweeleema (1836-1919) and Wootonekanuske (1848-1930), perhaps better known by their English names of Melinda and Charlotte Mitchell, claimed themselves to be the last lineal descendants of Massasoit. While viewed with some skepticism today, the claim was little challenged at the time, and the women were regarded by the non-Native community with a mix of attitudes ranging from reverence to racism. Along with their mother, Zerviah Gould Mitchell (1807-98) who became an early spokeswoman for the rights of the Native peoples of Massachusetts, the sisters settled on Betty's Neck in Lakeville in the late 1800s following the comment of a judge who advised the ladies to go and take possession of the land they claimed for themselves. Increasingly in their struggle to acquire legal title to the land, their resistance to non-Native ways and their staunch vocalization of a Native perspective on history, the women garnered the attention of the press, both locally and nationally, and numerous reporters, writers, artists and photographers made the trek to document the family at Lakeville. Among the many pieces published as a result of this journalistic quest was the following article from an unidentified (though likely Boston newspaper) dated October, 1895, and written three years before the death of Mrs. Mitchell. In it, not only is a glimpse of the sisters' lives at Lakeville given, but also an indication of the non-Native attitudes prevailing at the time. Ironically, while the article was titled "An Heir to King Philip", the sisters were not descendants of the Wampanoag sachem, but of his sister who had married Watuspaquin (Tispaquin).


Daughter of Long Line of Royalty.

Last Scion of Heroic Family Lives in Lakeville.

Of Majestic Height and Carriage and Proud of Her Descent.

A lineal descendant of kings, a claimant of the title of princess, lives near the quiet little city of Lakeville, on Lake Assawampsett, which is one of the most charming of those many small bodies of water that form what is known as the lake region of Massachusetts, says the New York herald. She, for it is a woman of whom I speak, is no renegade or exiled pretender. Her own people acknowledge her claim to the royal name and station. She lives on the soil that she and they look upon as hers in immemorial rights. In the very rooms which her ancestors have made famous in history and in legend, and in the midst of an alien race who have dispossessed her and hers. They are the parvenus, the usurpers, the false claimants, not she.

To those barbarians she is content to be known as Melinda Mitchell, condescending to acknowledge the dull, unromantic, commonplace conditions which have resulted from their coming. But to her own people she is the Princess Teweelema. In the same way her great kinsman, King Pometacom, consented in times gone by to drop that significant and euphonious name for the meaningless Philip, making the new name glorious among his own, and terrible to his foes. It as as the nearest heir of that regal and regnant character and the direct descendant of his father, the almost equally famous King Massasoit, chief Sagamore of the Wampanoags, that she has a birthright to her title and a right acknowledged even by the strangers’ lawless law to the very land on which she and hers reside. This is known as Betty’s Neck, named after one of its former owners, Assowetough, whom the English ignobly called Betty. It is a long high strip of land, situated on the south shore of lake Assawampsett. Here, under the shade of the primeval trees which sheltered their ancestors, live the last pitiful remnants of the opnce powerful tribe of the Wampanoags, and here, in their midst, in a small house sequestered and well nigh hidden by dense woodland, dwell the princess, her mother, Mrs. Mitchell, and her sister, Charlotte, whose Indian name is Wootonekanuske.

Proud of their descent and tenacious of the right of exclusiveness claimed by royalty and its heirs the world over, the members of this small family are averse to notoriety and unwilling to receive visits of mere curiosity from members of the race they have reason to distrust and fear. But through the genial influence of the firend who accompanied me, I have had the honor and pleasure of being received by them.

Our three gracious hostesses were Indians to the core, with rich brown skin, high cheek bones, flashing eyes, and straight, lithe and graceful figures, and possessed, moreover, of much natural and acquired refinement, both of speech and manner.

Shorter in stature than her daughter, Mrs. Mitchell has settled into the fleshy solidity of age. In spite of her 89 years she is hardly feeble in body, although her mind is somewhat blighted. She has a motherly, winning face, with kind eyes and a friendly mouth; but when we listened to her pleasant tones we realized that her greatest charm was her voice, so soft, so sweet, so mellow, and then so strong, so incisive and so indignant.

Melinda, or the Princess Teweelema, is something past 50. Of most majestic height and carriage, her picturesque appearance is much enhanced by her complete Indian attire and the crown of beads and feathers which she always wears upon her stately head.

When questioned concerning this insignia of royalty, she says in explanation, “I am the daughter of a king.” And as the words leave her lips there comes over her fine face a look of mingled sorrow and scorn that she is denied her birthright and forbidden her heritage. Her voice is resonant and under good control, her gestures are at all times well chosen and dramatic. She was educated at Abington, Mass., as was also her sister Charlotte, or Wootonekanuske.

Charlotte’s Indian name was given her in honor of the wife of King Philip, and she does no discredit to the “beloved wife of Philip of Pokanoket,” who was a sister of Weetamoe, the unfortunate squaw sachem of Pocassett.

While of less distinguished appearance than her sister Melinda, Charlotte Mitchell possesses in large degree the air of proud and pathetic resolution which so characterizes her mother and Teweelema, and although she was most cordial in her welcome, her domestic duties soon called her and we could hear her busy in the little lean-to kitchen, or flitting with light step through the dining room. Once or twice she stood for a moment in the curtained doorway and chatted with us.

Mrs. Mitchell responded most willingly to all our inquiries. Teweelema stood beside her, correcting now and then a date, with beautiful and charming deference. It was more than touching to watch the look of expectant recollection in the old woman’s face as she endeavored to recall, sometimes fruitlessly, the incidents of her past life, and we could tell whether the memory for which she was groping was glad or sad by the deepening lines in her expressive face.

She told of the evolution of their home on the Neck, which, starting as a canvas tent, has reached the culmination in a comfortable but small house. It was with a proud sweep of her arm that she called our attention to their present cosey [sic] surroundings; then, with scarcely a breath between, she reverted to her school teaching in Boston when she was a young woman. Suddenly her face grew hard and stern, as she spoke of cords and cords of wood cut upon her woodland by the agents of the state, for which the commonwealth still refuses to reimburse her. As her voice rose in the passion of remembered and existing wrong, her aged figure seemed to assume majestic proportions and her dull eyes blazed. It was then that Teweelema stepped forward, and placing a quieting hand upon her mother’s shoulder, brought her to tranquility and forgetfulness.
In reply to a question concerning their famous lineage, Teweelema, her hand still resting upon her mother’s shoulder, replied, with uplifted head, and slow distinct enunciation:

“My mother is the grandchild of Massasoit, seven generations removed, and the niece of King Philip, six generations removed. Her descent is through Amie, the daughter of Massasoit, who married Tuspaquin, the Great Black Sachem. My mother is also, through Assowetough, or Betty, the sixth generation in lineal descent from Sassacus, the earliest chief of the Pequot tribe.”

Being somewhat surprised at the number of pretty baskets piled in one corner of the dining room, we were told that they were made to sell at the harvest moon festival at Onset. This is well known as the summer rallying place of the Spiritualists of the United States, and is but a few miles from the home of the Mitchells and within sight of Gray Gables. It is presumably under Indian control, and spirits of departed chiefs and braves are said to appear on the streets on the night of the harvest festival, or, to give it its full title, the harvest moon festival and pow-wow of Indian spirits, so that the general Indian atmosphere especially permeating the place at that time makes the sale of Indian trinkets easy and lucrative.

Teweelema is the traveling salesman for the little family. When she goes upon a commercial trip she arrays herself in her bravest Indian finery, and makes a circuit of the nearby towns, in each of which she is a well known figure.

We were especially fortunate, a few days later, in seeing her at Onset, on the afternoon of the harvest festival, gorgeous in scarlet and yellow, and beads and wampum, her fur trimmed leggings reaching to her embroidered skirts, her long, black hair floating free beneath her crown of beads and feathers, and her bodice nearly covered by the many strands of large beads which formed her necklace.

In these days of intense realism, when one’s sensibilities are coerced into a forgetful apathy, a bit of romance is as warming to one’s heart as a blazing fire on a brisk December day, and what could be more romantic when the thought of this Indian princess living unwedded, because, as she says, “would the daughter of a king wed one of the race which robber her fathers?” – and there seems to be no fit mate for her – none unless, indeed, it be the materialized spirit of an Onset chief.

Teweeleema (Melinda Mitchell) at Betty's Neck, Lakeville, MA, photograph, 1885
Typically for visits and photographs, Teweeleema dressed in a modified version of Native attire, including beads and a feathered head dress. In contrast, her sister Wootonekanuske generally dressed in less traditional garb.

Mitchell House, Betty's Neck, Lakeville, MA, by George Dorr of North Middleborough, photograph, c. 1901
Contrary to characterizations which termed the Mitchell House at Betty's Neck as little more than a hut, the house in which the family lived, though modest, was comfortable and well kept. The ell in the foreground of the picture was likely the earliest portion of the structure built.

Unidentified newspaper clipping, "An Heir to King Philip", October, 1895.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lakeville Hog Mistaken for Black Bear, 1889


During the early autumn of 1889, southeastern Massachusetts, and Plymouth County in particular, was in an apprehensive state, the consequence of a black bear which was on the loose and reported roaming the countryside. While black bears certainly had not been unknown in this section of Massachusetts, by 1889 their range had largely been reduced to the central and western portion of the state and Old Colony residents typically had little to fear from the animal.

On October 26, 1889, however, the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial reported that a bear had earlier escaped its owner and trainer and had "been roaming the woods around Rockland and Weymouth for some time." A few nights preceding this report, the bear had been sighted by a train crew travelling between South Weymouth and South Braintree. "The train was stopped and the big brute growling stepped into the woods. He has done some damage to stock, and is likely to do more.... Winter with its cold and snows impels him to desperate measures in providing for his expansive appetite."

Closer to Middleborough and Lakeville, milkman A. H. Stone who resided at the common in Berkley, reported seeing a bear on the night of Saturday, October 19, "nosing among the milkcans near the door.... Seeing the open door Bruin started for it and was set upon by [Stone's] dogs. One got knocked a long way and had his scalp about torn off. By this time the door was shut, and the bear failing to open it, started off for the woods. Stone fired several shots at him but thinks he did not hit. Taunton gunners have been to look for him, but so far without success."

A bear on the loose likely to depredate livestock and late crops, and dangerous to those who might encounter it unexpectedly, filled local communities with unease and a bounty was accordingly offered for the bear. This, in turn, led to some amusing consequences, one of which was left on record as concerning an unnamed Lakeville resident.

Not long ago, a Lakeville man who read about the multitudinous bear which has solved the problem of being in several places in the woods of the Commonwealth at the same time, went to bed dreaming of $75 rewards, bears, guns, fur coats, bear steak and other Nimrodical adjuncts. He was awakened by a peculiar noise in his door yard and in the dim, uncertain light, saw a big animal moving about. The bear had surely come to be shot! He got his gun, turned it loose on the creature, and being satisfied that he had hit it, considered discretion the better part of valor and stayed in the house until daylight. Then he went out to view his game, and danced and swore when he found out he had shot his hog which had got loose during the night.

The bear, in fact, was shot some two weeks later at Norton by farmer Jonathan D. Oakes, following which the Old Colony Memorial proclaimed "Dead! Dead!! Dead!!! The bear which has been everywhere in the county at once is dead.... The large bear was perfectly black, savage in appearance and had probably never been in captivity. It weighed 415 pounds and measured 5 feet, 11 inches when standing on its hind legs." The Memorial failed to comment on the anomaly that the bear which was attributed as having created such disruption had reportedly escaped captivity the previous month on the South Shore, while the bear shot at Norton "had probably never been in captivity." In all likelihood, there was probably more than one bear, a circumstance which would have explained the bear's seeming ability to be in several places at once.

"American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)", John James Audbon, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, lithograph, 1845-48.

Old Colony Memorial, October 26, 1889; November 9, 1889; November 16, 1889

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School, 1953

A mass-produced church program cover entitled "School 'Daze' Again" from 1953 depicts a brother and sister headed for their first day of school while their proud parents watch from the steps of their large colonial revival home. Billy in his snappy saddle shoes carries a wicker lunch basket and dutifully holds sister Susie's hand. She is equally smartly attired in her skirt, gingham-print blouse and hair ribbon. In the apple-shaped inset, Tommy smiles somewhat sheepishly as he has bitten into the apple which was perhaps intended for the teacher.

The picture with its comforting emphasis on family and home presents an idyllic view not wholly accurate at the time.

"School 'Daze' Again", Harold M. Lambert, photographer, mass-produced church service program cover, First Baptist Church of Middleborough, September 6, 1953

Monday, September 7, 2009

Church Membership, 1840s

Up through the 20th century, local evangelical Protestant churches maintained a relatively rigid control over their membership. Worshippers desirous of joining a particular church were vetted by a council of church members who evaluated the applicant's suitability, sincerity and religious views, and decided whether the applicant could be a member. When a member wished to relocate and join another church, they were expected to apply for dismissal in the same manner, which the governing body of the church would either grant or not grant.

"Individuals become members of the church, on application, and on giving evidence of the above named qualifications [such as conversion], by election…. A person believes he is converted, and, as is common with those truly converted, he desires to join the church. He expresses his wish to a member of the church, who proposes him. Or some member believes him converted, and suggests that it is his duty to join, and, with his consent, proposes him. He then appears before the church, and relates his Christian experience. Any member proposes such questions as seem suitable to obtain an understanding of his views. He then retires, and if no member objects to him, he is elected to come into full membership…. It is the duty of all members removing from the vicinity of the church, to take letters of dismission to other churches of the same denomination.” [Haynes: 227, 230].

While the practice may appear strict, members were understood as entering into a solemn covenant with both God and each other. Consequently, joining or leaving a church were decisions not to be undertaken lightly and were to have the full consideration of the church.

It was within this context that Maria Otis Alden of North Middleborough asked to be dismissed from the North Middleborough Congregational Church in late 1849. Miss Alden, the youngest child of Job and Lydia (Shaw) Alden of Middleborough, had joined the North Middleborough church on January 8, 1843, at the age of 27 in the company of several other Middleborough residents in a general revival which had commenced earlier the previous year. Apparently, over the course of the following few years, Miss Alden became dissatisfied with and "alienated" from the church, so much so that on November 15, 1849, she wrote a letter to Reverend Philip Colby, pastor of the church, applying for dismissal. Her failure to provide the North Middleborough church with either the reasons for her request, or the name of the church she proposed to join following her dismissal, prompted a reluctance on the part of the church to grant her request. Subsequently, Colby, penned the following letter to her in an effort to convince Miss Alden to be more forthcoming with her reasons for requesting a dismissal:

No. Middleboro', Nov. 19th. 1849.

My dear Friend,

Your letter of the 15th inst. I just received. I laid your request for a dismission &c. before the church immediately after I received it. The ch'h voted to lay it on the table - ready at any time to be called up.

I expected that you would of course, call upon me to know the result of your application, in which case I could have had opportunity to explain or advise, if advice was sought, and I was competent to give it.

The church probably considered the solemn covenant obligations they were under to you, to watch over you for your best good, incompatible with granting your request to be dismissed without giving any reasons, and to go, no-body could tell where - as your request was to "go where you pleased".

I am not aware that any church of Christ is accustomed to dismiss and recommend their members in so loose and indefinite a manner as this.

Some good reason or reasons should be given; and the church should have a pledge, as far, at least, as the selection of some ch'h unless in case of going abroad to reside and then an evangelical denomination should be named - that the dismissed member will become connected with an evangelical church.

I am ever ready to attend to any suitable request in your case, as well as that of any other member. And will have your original request call[ed] up, at a suitable time, if you persist in it. But, do not know that it would be of any use unless you will appear and offer reasons, and designate some church which you wish to unite with, and be under their watch and care.

As you live among us, and are under covenant engagements to worship and commune with us, it seems to me that you had better review the matter and consider it prayerfully and thoroughly before you leave the fold into which you united with the most solemn vows.

At the same time, as far as my own feelings are concerned - and I speak here only for myself - but have no doubt I speak the language of the church - I feel and act upon the broadest principles of true liberality and charity.

I have been pained at your apparent alienation, and the course you pursue and am not aware of any occasion I have given for it. I hope as an heir of the grace of[torn] you will exercise that charity which hoping all things - and yet remain in harmony with us: and that your path may be "like the shining light that shineth more and more to the perfect day." -

Very affectionately, yours truly.
Philip Colby

Following the receipt of this letter, Miss Alden appears to have met with Colby to explain her reasons, for on record is her dismissal from the church dated November 30, 1849, "to Evangelical Church her choice."

Rev. Philip Colby to Miss Maria O. Alden, letter dated at North Middleborough, MA, November 19, 1849.
The letter which Colby wrote Maria O. Alden regarding her request for "dismission" from the congregational church at North Middleborough.

Rev. Philip Colby to Miss Maria O. Alden, letter dated at North Middleborough, MA, November 19, 1849.
The first page of Colby's letter displays his fine legible hand. In the letter, he writes to persuade Miss Alden to reveal her reasons for requesting a dismissal from the North Middleborough Congregational Church.

Signature and Seal, Rev. Philip Colby
Colby (1779-1851) served as the pastor of the North Middleborough Congregational Church from 1816 until his death in 1851.

Letter, Rev. Philip Colby to Miss Maria O. Alden, North Middleborough, MA, dated November 19, 1849 (author's collection).

Emery, S. Hopkins. The History of the Church of North Middleborough, Massachusetts. Middleborough, MA: Harlow & Thatcher [printers], 1876.
Haynes, D. C. The Baptist Denomination: Its History, Doctrines, and Ordinances. New York, NY: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1856, pp. 227, 230.
Townsend, Charles D. History of North Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, North Middleborough, Massachusetts. Sarasota, FL: Aceto Bookmen, 1982.