In Olde Massachusetts - Charles Burr Todd - ebook

In Olde Massachusetts ebook

Charles Burr Todd



'In Olde Massachusetts - Sketches of old times during the early days of the commonwealth' is a collection of articles taken from papers first printed in 1880-1890 in various journals not generally accessible. The chief historical and literary interests are given of the following cities: Cambridge, Lexington, Concord, Quincy, Plymouth, Salem, Marblehead, Barnstable, Nantucket, Provincetown, Martha's Vineyard, Northhampton, Deerfield, Pittsfield, and Lenox. The book is full of interesting information and anecdotes about old New England landmarks and her distinguished sons.

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In Olde Massachusetts







In olde Massachusetts, J. Burr Todd

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9



ISBN: 9783849652487

[email protected]






































TO the sons and daughters of Massachusetts, who love her history and traditions, this little book is dedicated.

Many things given therein were dug from mines never before explored by the literary craftsman and have the value of original discoveries. They were first printed in various journals between the years 1880-1890, which fact should be borne in mind by the reader who discovers that certain conditions portrayed in the descriptive articles no longer exist.

C. B. T.

May, 1907.




Cambridge in midsummer is vastly different from the Cambridge of the college year. Except for a few members of the summer classes, undergraduate life is still; professors and tutors are off to mountain or seashore; only the bursar and janitors remain, while under the classic elms, instead of grave, spectacled scholars one meets painters, glaziers, upholsterers, and other members of the renovating corps. Most of the wealthy and cultivated families who make the place their winter home have also gone, and one discovers how dull, so far as mere physical animation is concerned, a university town may be without the university life. To the dreamy or reflective visitor, however, the place presents now its most interesting aspect. He can loiter about the college quadrangles and assimilate whatever about them is venerable in history, grand in effort, or noble through association, without being stumbled over by hurrying undergraduates or eyed askance by officious proctors. Then, too, the historic houses in the town are more accessible, and the aged citizens who remain, more chatty and gossipy than in the busier season.

Could anything be more worthy or venerable, for instance, than Massachusetts Hall — a moldy, mossy brick pile on the west of the quadrangle, built in 1718 at the expense of the Government, and christened with the name of the colony? All the glory of the State seems to invest it. Or the Old Wadsworth House, on Harvard Street, built in 1726, the home of the early presidents of the college, the headquarters of Washington and Lee, the gathering place of all the patriot leaders of the Revolution — one feels that the authorities cannot be aware of its history, to have put it to the uses which it bears — a dormitory for students and an office for bursar and janitor. Harvard Hall is another of the time-honored structures in the quadrangle. It was built by order of the General Court in 1765, and from its roof, in 1775, 1,000 pounds of lead were taken and made into bullets for the needy Continentals. Washington was received there in 1789. In the first Stoughton Hall, also within the quadrangle, the Provisional Congress held its sessions, and mapped out the plan of the opening campaign.

The present Stoughton Hall, erected in 1805, is notable for the many eminent men who have been sheltered within its walls; Edward Everett, Josiah Quincy, the Peabody brothers, Caleb Cushing, Horatio Greenough, Sumner, Hilliard, Hoar, Hale, and Holmes being among them. Hollis Hall, next south of Stoughton, was also noteworthy in this respect; Prescott, Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Charles Francis Adams, and Thoreau having been among its occupants.

But Harvard is not all of Cambridge; there is as much without as within the campus to interest the tourist. One scarcely realizes the historical importance of the place until he stands beneath the Washington elm beside the ancient Common. This Common is noteworthy because here the first American army was marshaled, the American flag was first unfurled, and the raw Continental levies were organized and drilled for the attack on Bunker Hill. The elm is famous because under it Washington took command of the army, and because from a little stand built high up in its branches he could watch the movements of his antagonists in any direction. The old tree has been surrounded by an iron railing, in front of which is a granite tablet bearing this inscription, written by Longfellow:

"Under this tree Washington first took command of the American army, July 3, 1775."

The old relic has long been engaged in a pathetic struggle with age and decay. Nearly all of its original limbs have decayed from the top down, leaving only their stumps attached to the parent trunk, and most of what is green about it has sprung from these stumps, or from the vigorous old trunk.

Under this elm the thinker is prone to yield to Cambridge priority among American historic places. Lexington and Concord were mere emeutes. This was the point of decision, the matrix of nationality, the birthplace of concerted, organized resistance, while Putnam, spurring here on the news of Lexington, taking command of the excited, unprovided farmers, sending hourly expresses to Trumbull at Lebanon for arms, powder, provisions, and finally leading the organized battalions up to Bunker Hill, is the true historic figure piece of the Revolution.

No town boasts such a wealth of ancient and noteworthy houses as Cambridge. A few minutes' walk from the old oak, on Brattle Street, is a fine old-time mansion, seated on a terrace a little back from the street, which possesses a character, a dignity, that would render it a marked house even to one unacquainted with its history. This is the old Washington Headquarters, better known during the last forty years as the home of Longfellow. Its history dates back to 1739, when it was built by one Col. John Vassal. In the troubles of 1775, Vassal espoused the British cause, and was obliged to flee into the English lines, whereupon Col. John Glover, with his Marblehead regiment, took possession. In July, 1775, Washington fixed his headquarters here, and remained until the following February. Madam Washington and her maids arrived in December, and held many levees and dinner parties here, it is said, through the winter. After the war several gentlemen owned it for short periods.

During Dr. Craigie's occupancy Talleyrand and the Duke of Kent were entertained there. Jared Sparks resided there in 1833. Edward Everett was also a resident at one time. In 1837 Longfellow, on his return from Europe to assume the professor's chair in Harvard, took possession of the mansion, and in 1843 purchased it. Of its subsequent history it is not necessary to speak.

The park about the house comprises some eight acres. Passing up the broad graveled walk, we sounded the old-fashioned knocker on the door, and presently a pleasant-faced matron — the housekeeper — answered the summons. To our inquiry if visitors were now admitted to the library, she replied that they were not, as the family was away, and the rooms had been closed until their return; then, seeing our look of disappointment, she inquired if we had come far, and on our informing her that we were from New York and members of the guild, she kindly admitted us to the study. From the wide hall we stepped at once into this study — a large, airy front room on the right as one enters. A round center-table occupied the middle of the room, on which were grouped the poet's favorite books, several manuscript poems as they came from his hand, his inkstand, pen, and other familiar articles.

Mr. Ernest Longfellow's fine portrait of his father in a corner of the room is a noteworthy feature. The furniture, table, and all the appointments of the room are as they were left by the former occupant, and we learned that it was the intention of the family to preserve them in this condition.

Down Brattle Street a quarter of a mile further, on the opposite side, is Elmwood, the home of the Lowells for two generations, and for years the seat of James Russell Lowell. This house, too, has a history; it was built about 1760, and previous to the Revolution was the home of Lieut.-Gov. Thomas Olivers, the last of the English colonial rulers. Olivers abdicated in 1775, in compliance, as he explained, with the command of a mob of 4,000 persons who had surrounded his house. A little later it was used as a hospital for the wounded in the skirmish on Bunker Hill, and the field opposite was taken for the burial of the dead. Elbridge Gerry resided here for a term of years, his successor being the Rev. Charles Lowell, father of the poet. The house and grounds could not be quainter or more delightfully rural if they were a hundred miles in the interior. The original mansion, the great pines and elms, the old barn, outhouses, and orchard, have been preserved as they existed a hundred years ago.

Another mansion notable in letters is the Holmes House, near the Common, between Kirkland Street and North Avenue, an old gambrel-roofed structure, with the mosses of more than one hundred and fifty years clinging to its clapboards. Here the Committee of Safety planned the organization of the army; it was also for a short time the headquarters of Washington. Some years after the war the place came into the possession of Judge Oliver Wendell, maternal grandfather of the poet, from whom it passed to the Rev. Abiel Holmes, the father of the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. "Old Ironsides" was one of the many poems written within its walls. It is now the property of the college.

The Lee, the Fayerweather, the Brattle, the Waterhouse, and other mansions have famous and interesting histories; but we have perhaps said enough to give the reader an idea of what a midsummer walk in Cambridge may develop.


THE drive from Boston to Lexington is one rarely taken by tourists, but is a most interesting excursion nevertheless, particularly if one has for cicerone one familiar with the towns and their history. Getting over the Charles and beyond the suburbs, one is surprised to find himself in a region so wild and sparsely populated. The land is sterile, the hill pastures covered with sweet fern and whortleberry bushes, and the farmhouses few and far between. We followed pretty definitely the route of the British on the fateful morning of the 19th of April, and in an hour and a half drove into Arlington, the only considerable town on the way. In 1775 it was a little hamlet bearing its aboriginal name, but famous for its tavern — the Black Horse, — which was the meeting place of both the town committees of safety and supplies. "The floor of this tavern was stained with the first bloodshed in the Revolution," observed my friend as we drove past. After Paul Revere dashed into Lexington at midnight with his note of alarm, scouts were sent down the Boston road as far as Arlington to give notice of the

enemy's approach. One of these videttes was nearly surprised in the tavern by the British advance, another, Samuel Whittemore by name, was shot, bayoneted, and left for dead in the street opposite, and after his assailants left, was borne bleeding into the tavern where his wounds were dressed. He eventually recovered.

Three hours after leaving Boston we drove into Lexington. The village has escaped the fate of many Massachusetts towns and is as quietly rural now as a hundred years ago. A long main street, shaded by elms, and a pretty green of perhaps an acre, surrounded by straggling village houses, are its prominent features. At the south end of the green is a tall flagstaff, bearing aloft a motto which informs the tourist that on that spot American Freedom was born. Further north, on the mound where many of Captain Parker's men "abided the event" that April morning, stands a monument, erected by the citizens of Lexington at the expense of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in memory of their fellow-citizens. Ensign Robert Monroe, and Messrs. John Parker, Samuel Hadley, Jonathan Harrington, Jr., Isaac Muzzey, Caleb Harrington, and John Brown, of Lexington, and Asahel Porter, of Woburn, " who fell on this field, the first victims to the sword of British Tyranny and Oppression, on the morning of the ever memorable Nineteenth of April, 1775."

"The die was cast. The blood of these martyrs, in the cause of God and their country, was the cement of the Union of these States, then colonies, and gave the spring to the spirit, firmness, and resolution of their citizens. They rose as one man to avenge their brethren's Blood, and at the point of the sword to assert and defend their native rights. They nobly dared to be free. The contest was long, bloody, and affecting. Righteous Heaven approved the solemn appeal. Victory crowned their arms; the Peace, Liberty and Independence of the United States was their glorious reward."

Some of the local incidents of the fight, as narrated by my friend, are given in the books and need not be repeated here; to others, however, he imparted so novel and realistic a tone that I shall venture to repeat them. Leading me to a spot on the Common a little north of the site of the old meeting-house, he remarked: " Right here fell Jonathan Harrington. His wife stood in her door yonder watching him, and saw him fall, partly rise and fall again, with the blood streaming from his breast; at last he crept across the road and died at her feet. The ammunition was stored in the meetinghouse, and four men were there filling their cartridge boxes when the firing began. One of them, Joshua Simonds, cocked his musket, and ensconced himself beside an open cask of powder, declaring that he would blow the building to pieces before that powder should charge His Majesty's muskets." "Another instance of resolution is found in Jonas Parker, who had often sworn that he would never run from the British. As they appeared he loaded his musket, placed his hat with his ammunition in it on the ground before him, and remained there loading and firing until killed with the bayonet." "In the old glebe house yonder, on Hancock Street, then occupied by the Rev. Sylvester Clark, John Hancock and Samuel Adams watched the progress of the fight; they would no doubt have taken part in it had they not been restrained by a guard of a sergeant and eight men. As the British left the town, marching toward Concord, they withdrew to a hill partly covered by forest southeast of the house. Waiting here, Adams, from the bare summit of a rock, observing the commotion in the town below, remarked with a prophet's insight, ' What a glorious morning for America is this! ' "

There is quite a history and some romance connected with the presence of the two patriots in Lexington that morning. On the arrival, a short time before, of King George's orders to hang them in Boston, if caught, they became proscribed men, and sought a refuge with the Rev. Mr. Clark, of Lexington, a relation of Hancock. Mrs. Thomas Hancock, widow of the great merchant, and aunt of the Governor, with her protegee. Miss Dolly Quincy, then affianced to the Governor, were also present. Miss Dolly was the belle of Boston, very beautiful and willful withal, and on this occasion the cause of some trouble to her somewhat elderly lover, for against his urgent entreaties she persisted in viewing the fight from her chamber window. Learning that their capture was one of the objects of the expedition, the two patriots, as the British passed on, retired to the house of the Rev. Mr. Jones, in Woburn, the ladies accompanying them. Next day the willful Miss Dolly proposed returning to her father. Judge Edmund Quincy, in Boston, but Mr. Hancock said decidedly that she should not return while there was a British bayonet in Boston. "Recollect, Mr. Hancock," she replied, "that I am not under your control yet: I shall go in to my father to-morrow." She was overruled, however, and the whole party, a few days later, passed down through Connecticut to the seat of Thaddeus Burr in Fairfield, where, in the following August, Miss Dolly and the Governor were married. Tradition says they rode on this occasion in a light carriage drawn by four horses, with coachmen and footmen in attendance.

Meanwhile, in Lexington the Committee of Safety had dispatched a swift courier to Watertown, with news of the morning's affray, and the committee there at once commissioned a messenger. Trail Bissel, to alarm the colonies. I have seen the credentials which this messenger carried, stating that the bearer. Trail Bissel, was charged to alarm the country quite to Connecticut, and desiring all patriots to furnish him fresh horses as needed. From indorsements on it by the committees of the various towns it appears that it left Watertown at 10 a.m. on April 19th (Wednesday), reached Brookline at 11 a.m., and Norwich at 4 p.m. on Thursday; New London at 7 p.m., Lyme on Friday morning at 1, Saybrook at 4 a.m., Killingworth at 7 a.m., Guilford at 10 a.m., Branford at noon. New Haven in the afternoon, Fairfield at 8 a.m. on Saturday, New York on Sunday at 4 p.m.. New Brunswick the next day at 2 a.m., Princeton at 6, and Philadelphia in the afternoon.



CONCORD is, or should be, the Mecca of the cultivated; one might search far in the Old World or the New and not find a town of such varied literary and historic interest. Memories of Hawthorne and Emerson, of Thoreau, Channing, and Margaret Fuller invest it, and there still remains the scholarly society that properly-accredited visitors have long found so pleasant.

One cannot walk far in the old town without finding something to please the fancy or stir the pulse. The goal of most tourists is the river and its famous bridge — a half-mile from town; but on the way thither one meets a structure quite as famous in its way — the Old Manse of Emerson and Hawthorne. It is quite old and stands mossy and stately behind an avenue of elm and maple, with its numerous narrow-paned windows in front, and one lone outlook from its quaint dormer; still habitable and inhabited, although nearly one hundred and twenty years have passed since its stout frame was raised. A pretty green lawn surrounds the house, and an apple orchard slopes in the rear to the Concord. The house was built for the ministers of the town, and, save a short interregnum filled by Hawthorne, has always been occupied by them or their descendants. The room above the dining-room is the most notable. There Emerson wrote many of his best poems, and there the "Mosses from an Old Manse" were put into form and sent out to delight the world. From its northern window, it is said, the wife of the Rev. William Emerson watched the fight on Concord Bridge. It is but a stone's throw — a few steps along the road, a sharp turn to the left, and down a little knoll through the gloom of somber pines, until, under two ancient elms that saw the volleys of 1775, appear the river and the bridge.

It cannot be said that the people of Concord are indifferent to the preservation of their historic places. Two monuments mark the battleground, and when the old bridge became unsafe they built a new one — an exact copy of the old. On the hither side of the stream is a plain granite shaft, erected in 1836, bearing this inscription by Emerson: "Here on the 19th of April, 1775, was made the first forcible resistance to British aggression. On the opposite bank stood the American militia, and on this spot the first of the enemy fell in the war of the Revolution, which gave independence to these United States. In gratitude to God, and in the love of freedom, this monument was erected A.D. 1836." But after many years it was perceived by the people of Concord that to commemorate with monuments the spot where your enemy fell, and leave unmarked the ground where your patriot forefathers bled, was neither appropriate nor patriotic, and Mr. D. C. French, a young sculptor of the town, was commissioned to design a bronze statue to commemorate the minute-men's stand for liberty. Few statues of historic meaning are so simple and appropriate. The central idea is the minute-man in toil-stained attire, with ancient flintlock firmly grasped. The stern, tense visage of the man is admirably shown. The figure leans upon an old-fashioned plow, and stands on a simple granite base, on which are chiseled Emerson's well-known lines:

" By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April's sun unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood.

And fired the shot heard round the world."

The two British soldiers left dead on the ground were buried on the afternoon of the Concord fight, by the stone wall nearby. The grave is now protected by a railing, and marked by the inscription, " Grave of British soldiers," on a stone in the wall above it.

Except the Old Manse, the houses of literary interest are all on the other side of the town. If from the village green one strolls down the Lexington road, a leisurely walk of five minutes will bring him to a fork in the road, facing which, on the right, is a plain, square country house, painted white, with the traditional picket fence in front, and sundry pines and maples bending protectingly over its square roofs. A drive leads through the road to a yellow barn in the rear and flanking this is a garden of half an acre, in which, in their season, roses and a rare collection of hollyhocks may be found. This was for many years the home of Emerson. It has received and entertained the notables of two generations.

The left branch of the fork — the old Boston Road — leads in an eighth of a mile to Wayside, the former home of Hawthorne. The house pleases the esthetic taste rather more than that of the philosopher. It is nestled under one of the sharp spurs that define the Concord Valley, and deep groves of pines on the hillside and at its base contrast prettily with the green of the lawn and the neutral tints of the cottage. The house was later occupied by George P. Lathrop, the son-in-law of Hawthorne. The Orchard House, the former home of the Alcott family, adjoined Wayside on the north. Mr. Alcott removed from it as the infirmities of age came on, and resided in the village with a widowed daughter, Mrs. Pratt. In the winter Miss Louisa M. Alcott also made her home with them. In the same yard with the Alcott house stood a little, vine-wreathed chapel, in which the lectures and discussions of the School of Philosophy were held.

The only house in Concord that can be said to have been distinctively Thoreau's home was the little shed on a sand bar of Walden Pond, which he built as a protest against the follies and complex wants of society. This house contained one room ten feet wide by fifteen long, a closet, a window, two trap-doors, and a brick chimney at one end. Its timbers were grown on the spot, the boards for its covering were procured from the deserted shanty of a railway laborer, and the whole cost of the structure did not exceed $30. In this house, through the most inclement season of the year — from July to May — the philosopher lived at an expense of $8.76 — a striking reproof of modern folly and extravagance. The house on the Virginia road where Thoreau was born was standing in 1883, and the house where he died was later the residence of the Alcotts.

Perhaps the tourist will derive his most novel and permanent impressions of Concord from the cemeteries. The Hill Burying-ground, rising directly from the town square, is the most ancient, its oldest stone bearing date of 1677. Major John Buttrick, who commanded the patriots at the bridge, and the Rev. William Emerson, who by example advocated resistance to tyrants that morning, are interred here; and here Pitcairn stood to watch the fight and direct the movements of his troops. No other yard, I think, can furnish such novel and distinctive epitaphs. There is one, for instance, which shows when white marble, emblematic of purity, first began to be used for memorials, the favorite material before that having been red sandstone. Here is the inscription:

"This stone is designed by its durability to perpetuate the memory, and by its color to signify the moral character, of Miss Abigail Dudley, who died January 4, 1812, aged 73."

The epitaph to John Jack, an aged slave who died in 1773, is said to have been written by the Rev. Daniel Bliss, a former minister of Concord:

"God wills us free; man wills us slaves. I will as God wills; God's will be done. Here lies the body of John Jack, a native of Africa, who died March, 1773, aged about sixty years. Though born in a land of slavery, he was born free. Though he lived in a land of liberty, he lived a slave; till by his honest though stolen labors he acquired the source of slavery, which gave him his freedom. Though not long before death, the grand tyrant, gave him his final emancipation, and put him on a footing with kings. Though a slave to vice, he practiced those virtues without which kings are but slaves."

It would be difficult to imagine a more charming resting-place than Sleepy-Hollow Cemetery, Concord's modern place of interment. Originally it was a natural park of hill and dale, shaded by forest trees, with a beautiful hollow of perhaps an acre in extent in the center. The grounds were laid out in 1855, art being content to adorn rather than change nature's plan.

Most of Concord's famous dead are buried here. Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Emerson lie on the same ridge, and almost in adjoining plots. Ascending the Ridge Path from the west, Thoreau's grave is seen on the brow of the ridge, beneath a group of tall pines. The lot is unenclosed. A brown-stone slab marks the author's grave; the grave of his brother John, a youth of great promise, is close beside, and those of his father, mother, and two sisters share the lot. "May my life be not destitute of its Indian summer," Thoreau once prayed, and one learns from the stone that he was cut down before the summer had fairly come to him.


Hawthorne's tomb is but a few steps away, covered with myrtle, and marked by two small stones, one at the foot and one at the head. There are but two other graves in the plot — those of his grandchildren, Francis H. and Gladys H. Lathrop.

Emerson was laid on the same hill summit, a short distance south.



THE illustrated magazines in their wide search for topics seem to have missed Quincy — most prolific in subjects for both pen and pencil. The town is almost in sight of Boston, but seven miles away, with its granite quarries and manufactories, a town of today; but in its ancient churchyards and fine old mansions hidden in the suburbs a wealth of interesting historical material lies buried. Take, for instance, the ancient mansion of the Quincys, a half-mile north of the village, on the old road opened to connect Plymouth Colony with Massachusetts Bay, one of the first highways of the nation. The house stands in a sunny hollow on the banks of a little brook that enters, a short distance beyond, an arm of the sea. Looking on it from the street between two fine old English lindens that grace the entrance and rows of elms beyond, one can but consider it one of the finest specimens of colonial domestic architecture extant — an impression which the interior, with its broad hall and gently ascending staircase, with carved balustrade, the wide but low-studded rooms, with their ancient furniture and relics, heightens rather than diminishes. Its occupant, when we visited it, Mr. Peter Butler, had made a study of the history of his dwelling, and placed the date of the erection of its earlier portion in 1635, on the authority of the venerable Josiah Quincy, President of Harvard College, who died in 1864, aged ninety-six, and of his son, the late Edmund Quincy of Dedham, an accomplished antiquary. Its builder was that Edmund Quincy who came to Boston in 1633 with John Cotton and became the ancestor of the Quincys who later figured so prominently in the history of their country. He died in 1637, shortly after the allotment of a large tract of land in Braintree, now Quincy, had been made him. His son Edmund enlarged the original structure, and lived in it to a green old age, dying in January, 1698. He too was a notable citizen, representing his town many times in the General Court, acting as magistrate, and serving as lieutenant-colonel of the Suffolk regiment. "A true New England man," said Judge Sewall of him, in his diary, "and one of our best friends "; while another writer pictures him as reproducing "the type of the English country gentleman in New England."

It is in the famous diary of Judge Sewall, under date of 1712, that we find the first printed mention of the old house. He is noting a journey from Plymouth (where he had been holding court) to Boston, made in March of that year, and proceeds: "Rained hard quickly after setting out; went by Mattakeese meetinghouse, and forded over the North River. My Horse stumbled in the considerable body of water, but I made a shift, by God's Help, to set him, and he recovered and carried me out. Rained very hard and we went into a barn awhile. Baited at Bainsto's, dined at Cushing's, dried my coat and hat at both places. By that time got to Braintry; the day and I were in a manner spent, and I turned into Cousin Quinsey. . . . Lodged in the chamber next the Brooke." A pleasing glimpse of the "free-hearted hospitality" of that day this little extract affords; "the Brooke" is still there, and the chamber too, but little changed in general appearance since the distinguished guest left it. Judge Sewall's chamber was a corner room, with an outlook on both the turnpike and across the brook over the fields on the north. The adjoining room is still known as " Flynt's chamber," and the room beneath, connected with it by a narrow, winding stair, as " Flynt's study," from a former occupant, Henry Flynt, known to his contemporaries as "Tutor Flynt," from his having filled the office of tutor at Harvard College for fifty-five years. His father was the Rev. Henry Flynt of Dorchester, and his sister Dorothy married Judge Edmund Quincy, and became the ancestress of a long line of noble sons and daughters.

There was a personality about Tutor Flynt that caused him to figure quite prominently in the diaries