by Cheryl Lassiter, History Matters column
Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 2, 2015.
In his brilliant new book The Wright Brothers, historian David McCullough reminds us that in 1903, when the two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio proved to the world that powered flight was possible, America was not entirely onboard with the idea that machines could fly. Wilbur Wright made his first public flights in front of crowds in France, not the United States. It would take more time and flights before interest in the aeroplane took off here as it had abroad. When it did, the awed first spectators rushed onto the landing fields, not understanding that the open swathes were for the planes to land, not places for the audience to assemble. They thought the pilot would simply alight, balloon-like, in his craft.
Early Aviators Atwood, Redding, and Bushway
In May 1912 the heretofore quiet farming community of Hampton got its first look at a ‘noisy reaper in the sky’ when pioneer aviator Harry Atwood of Massachusetts buzzed the town in a Burgess-Wright biplane on his way to Portland, Maine. On the return trip he landed on the Hampton River after becoming lost in a fog bank.
The field of aviation advanced at warp speed, in part because it offered the public an exciting new amusement. Showmen immediately saw the potential of aerial exhibitions, the more daring the better, as they drew the largest crowds.
At Hampton Beach in 1915 an aerial act billed as ‘the most thrilling ever seen in New England’ made daily appearances at the new, end-of-summer Carnival Week. Two Massachusetts aviators, J. Chauncey Redding, who held the first aviation license issued by the Commonwealth, and J. Howard Bushway, heir to a Somerville ice cream company, demonstrated the art of ‘aerial warfare…in which a defended fort is bombarded and destroyed by intrepid aviators high in the air out of reach of the fort’s guns.’ Parachutist Phil Bullman demonstrated the tricky art of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. When Blanche Thompson was crowned Queen of the Carnival, Redding took her aloft for the thrill of a lifetime. Later in life she would recall to local reporters the excitement of flying up to 1,000 feet and then landing on the sands of Hampton Beach with a flat tire.
The Boy Aviator, Farnum T. Fish
The aviators were an immediate and memorable hit, and had Redding and Bullman survived when their plane crashed into a Saugus, Massachusetts marsh a month later, they likely would have been back for the 1916 Carnival Week.
Bushway instead procured the 19-year-old ‘Boy Aviator,’ whose daring aerial exploits, not the least of which was being shot at and wounded while flying a scouting mission for Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution, were all the current rage. ‘Nine months actual experience with Villa’s army in Mexico!’ hawked the exhibition advertisements.
This early war pilot and barnstormer was Farnum Thayer Fish of Los Angeles, the world’s youngest licensed aviator. At age fifteen he earned his pilot’s certificate after completing four hours of flight instruction with Orville Wright at the Wrights’ flying school in Dayton. Farnum quoted Orville as saying, “if you couldn’t learn to fly in four hours, you shouldn’t be flying anyway.” This suited Farnum’s need for speed, and he immediately bought a Wright Model B biplane, shipped it home, and entered what the Wright brothers had called the ‘mountebank business’—exhibition flying.
Although he was born and raised in California, Farnum’s namesakes were New Englanders. The first Farnum Fish was born in 1775 in Uxbridge, Massachusetts and settled in Swanzey, New Hampshire, where he married Rachel Thayer, a physician’s daughter. Their third son was the Boy Aviator’s grandfather, Ezra Thayer Fish, who went on to make his fortune in Pennsylvania coal. Ezra’s son Charles, a physician, left the weathery East in favor of sunny southern California, where he married Catherine Goodfellow and raised two boys, Winthrop and Farnum.
Farnum’s most interesting relation was his maternal uncle Dr. George Emory Goodfellow, a gutsy, perpetual motion machine, an expert on gunshot wounds and a pioneer in the use of sterile techniques. He kept an office above the Crystal Palace Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, so that he could gamble and drink when he wasn’t pulling bullets out of cowboys and lawmen like Virgil and Morgan Earp of O.K. Corral fame. Among his many other exploits, he hunted and then befriended the Apache warrior Goyahkla (Geronimo), got himself bitten by a Gila monster to see if its venom was as poisonous as was commonly believed (it wasn’t, but it still kicked like a mule), and survived the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
‘Hair-Raising Stunts Performed by Birdmen in Rattle Traps’
This early headline exemplified the adventurous, restless spirit of the times that had Doc Goodfellow’s nephew firmly in its thrall. Before discovering the thrill of piloting his own ‘rattle trap,’ Farnum channeled the zeitgeist into petty law-breaking. As an aviator he was at times suspended and blacklisted for not following the rules. He enjoyed performing dare-devilish, dangerous feats like the Death Dip and Texas Tommy Twist for his earthbound spectators. He also liked to ‘mushroom hunt’ (fly low) over the tops of their heads, which got him into trouble on more than one occasion.
A combination of skilled aerial showman and a cat with nine lives, Farnum had survived some pretty hairy crashes into a pond in Wisconsin and the ocean at Revere Beach. In June 1916, he had performed flawlessly over the Charles River Basin, but at Lynn the following month, as he was attempting his signature bomb-dropping stunt, several of the homemade devices detonated in the plane’s ‘bomb box’ beneath the passenger seat. His assistant received burns when his shoes and clothes caught fire, but Farnum was able to land the plane safely. At the Nashua fairgrounds a few weeks later he attempted to take off from the infield of the track as a motorcycle race was in progress. The airplane snagged on the fence at the far end of the field and crashed onto the track as ‘nine motorcyclists were tearing around it.’ Farnum received burns to his face and wrist and his parachutist Joe Schiber suffered several sprains, but they skirted any serious damage.
In September Farnum T. Fish, billed as the ‘Latest in Aviation,’ appeared at Hampton Beach as promised. For his Carnival Week debut he gave ‘one of the most successful aeroplane flights of the week, reaching a high altitude.’ In a time when the public could only read about the European war they would soon be fighting in, he gave them visual ‘demonstrations of aerial bombardment and of the various capabilities of the flying machine in time of war.’ After the bombing runs came the parachute jumps. The parachutist’s first fall out of the plane put him ‘near I Street,’ but in landing he fell and was injured. Not too badly, as his jump the following day was reported to have been ‘finely executed.’
Like Chauncey Redding the year before, Farnum took the Carnival Queen for a ride in the sky. This year’s winner was Clara Dudley of Hampton, who had won the title by selling the most chances to win a new Ford automobile on display in the Casino bowling alley. With her long skirts safely roped down, Farnum’s passenger enjoyed a ‘long trip to the southerly part of the beach,’ and returned to circle the Casino before landing.
It may have been a wishful guesstimate, but it was reported that a single day’s attendance ‘easily’ totaled 100,000—all on hand to cheer Farnum’s aerial maneuvers over Hampton Beach. If the numbers are true, his Carnival Week appearance was the high water mark in his career as a stunt aviator. He had exhibited in front of huge crowds before, but this may have been his largest ever.
The Boy Aviator grows up
Almost overnight, Farnum’s days as a daredevil birdman seemed to come to an abrupt end as reports of his high altitude antics no longer filled newspaper columns across the country. It was reported that he eloped in January 1917 with his childhood sweetheart, was ‘doing work for the government,’ and in 1918 went overseas as a test pilot for the Army Signal Corps.
Barnstorming lost its novelty and died out after World War I. No longer the ‘Boy’ aviator, Fish decided that he could, as he said, “make more money on the ground.” He left flying and the public eye for good, but temporarily surfaced in the early 1970s for an interview with a San Francisco area newspaper. He died in Napa on July 30, 1978, never having told the full story of his life as an early aviator.
Aviation humor in 1911: A Wright machine flew over a mining town. Was it Orville?
History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of ‘Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole.’ (2015). Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.
By Cheryl Lassiter, History Matters column
(Reposted from the Hampton Union, original print publication April 28, 2015.)
In the late fall of 1670, Hampton planter John Fuller discovered that someone had pilfered about twenty bushels of his unharvested turnip crop. John Hancock, Fuller’s partner in the patch, swore that if he could prove who did it, the “taker of them” would be prosecuted.
The taker, as it turned out, was a prominent citizen named Nathaniel Weare. To his friends John and Martha Cass he had admitted that he “did take about a bushel and a half” after “accidentally” stumbling upon Fuller’s turnip patch. And if the ground hadn’t been so darned hard, he “might have took a few more.” As he said, he took them because they were so “remote in the woods,” and with the frost and all, he thought they would be “lost.”
John Cass asked if he…
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By Cheryl Lassiter
(Reposted from the Hampton Union, original print publication, April 7, 2015.)
The Post Office. You either love it, hate it, or find no practical modern use for it. Yet there was a time, let’s say two centuries or so ago, when it was The Post Office Department – a revered government agency with its own clause in the Constitution and a seat in the chief executive’s cabinet. That Post Office was hailed by Benjamin Rush as the “true non-electric wire of government” and praised by James Madison as the agency that would check the abuse of governmental power by carrying news of political shenanigans to an ever-watchful public. Congressman John C. Calhoun called it the “nervous system of the body politic,” and it was admired by French historian Alexis de Tocqueville as a “great link between minds.”
It was during those halcyon days, in 1805, that the Post Office first came to Hampton. Which is not to say that a system of mail delivery had not existed before then. Post Road and Benjamin Franklin’s milepost in North Hampton remind us of the postal route that ran between Portsmouth and Boston, established by information-hungry colonists in the late seventeenth century. In 1761 John Stavers’s stagecoach began carrying both mail and passengers along the road, passing through Hampton on the way.
By the time President Washington had passed through town on his grand tour of New England in 1789, there existed throughout the country 75 post offices (roughly 1 for every 50,000 inhabitants) and some 2,000 miles of post roads. By 1805 there were 1,558 post offices (roughly 1 for every 4,000 inhabitants), and postmasters comprised nearly 70 per cent of the federal civilian work force. Contemporary writers likened this rapid expansion of the Post Office to a romantic tale. Processing and delivering the mail was by far the largest enterprise in the country, not to be outdone until the rise of the railroads in the 1870s.
So it’s hardly surprising that for most people in the small villages and towns of the time, the Post Office was the central government. Here in Hampton, the people may have felt, perhaps for the first time, part of the larger, far-flung country when Postmaster General Gideon Granger granted the town’s request for a post office and approved its choice of 45-year-old James Leavitt as postmaster.
A Man of His Times
Like just about everyone else in Hampton, including his wife Betty Batchelder, Leavitt was a descendant of town founder Stephen Bachiler. He was born in the Bride Hill section of town in 1760. His father died when he was young and he was raised by his stepfather Benjamin Tuck. As a boy he would have attended the Bride Hill grammar school, but where or if he continued his education is unknown. His various adult occupations – tavernkeeper, merchant, justice of the peace, early venture capitalist – demanded a good head for business and knowledge of the law. Judging from his account book at the Tuck Museum, he stuck to his business, almost to a fault. When his youngest daughter Lavina and her children came to live in his house, he treated them as paying customers, charging his son-in-law Moses Coffin $2.00 per week for their board and recording each week’s bill. This continued for over a year, until June 1835, when according to Leavitt’s own notation, Moses was “found dead in Newbury river.” Leavitt handled the probate affairs and charged Coffin’s estate accordingly. In another personal matter, he sued his future son-in-law Simon Towle for non-payment of a 57-cent bar bill and a note for $4.25 plus interest. To us he seems like quite a stickler, but he was a man of his times, his stern character an essential part of his stature in the community.
A writer in the 1840s observed that many early postmasters were former military men who took pride in being the “herald of all news, foreign and domestic, and the medium of all the good and evil tidings.” It’s impossible to say if Leavitt threw himself into the role of town crier, but he had served as a private at Peekskill in 1776 and Ticonderoga in 1777 (for which the Town of Hampton rewarded him with a suit of clothes).
In 1781 he married and received his portion of his father’s estate. In 1793 he was just another 33-year-old yeoman with eight children, but not long after, he hit his stride. He became involved in town politics, holding a selectman’s seat for ten years and that of town moderator for four. In 1803 he was appointed justice of the peace, a post he would hold for the rest of his life.
Leavitt Buys a Mansion
Congress was reluctant to spend money on public buildings of any kind, and not until after the Civil War would it authorize construction of post office buildings. Even in New York City the post office was located in the postmaster’s home. And so it went in the hinterlands, where post offices were located in privately-owned taverns, law offices, stores, and apothecary shops. One was even located in a brothel. It seems safe to say that along with a military record, having a roof over one’s head was an important qualification for the job of postmaster. Leavitt may have had a future appointment in mind when he bought General Moulton’s mansion house from lawyer Oliver Whipple. Situated on the stage line between Newburyport and Portsmouth, it was an ideal location for a post office.
For Whipple the sale could not have come too soon. He had once practiced law in Portsmouth, but an association with the royal cause had forever tarnished his reputation among the town’s elite. Not so in Hampton, where his presence was welcomed, and where for nearly a decade he was moderator of the town meeting. Yet no doubt he felt that he had been banished to the sticks with the proletariat. Since the mid-1790s he had been trying to obtain a political appointment, anywhere, it seems, other than New Hampshire. His letters to sitting president John Adams, with whom he had a slight acquaintance, carry the taint of desperation. “Have I not a Right to feel a Pride,” he declaimed, “that the President of these States, once condescended, in a friendly Manner, occasionally to advise & instruct me, & teach the Young Ideas how to shoot?” Poor Oliver, reduced to begging. After selling to Leavitt in 1802, he moved out of the area. He died in 1813, never having received a government appointment.
Leavitt and his wife Betty moved down from Bride Hill, bringing the kids, now numbering eleven, and an ox cart full of furniture. According to his great-granddaughter Anna May Cole of Hampton, this was a major step up for the Leavitts, as the new house was “fine with its carved stairway and high paneled walls, very different from the low posted farmhouse from which [they] had moved.” From then on, it’s doubtful the house ever enjoyed another moment’s peace.
All Work and No Play
Leavitt had spent some time at the tavern house of Widow Rachel Leavitt, where he learned the trade of an innkeeper. Now in his own house he opened a tavern, a store, and, when Hampton Academy opened its doors in 1811, a boarding house for students. When the Academy decided to put on a second story, classes were held in Leavitt’s house until construction was completed.
Leavitt did a lively business in rentals of his horses, chaises, sleighs, and wagons. He also hired out his grandsons Greenleaf Dearborn and Simon Franklin Towle, boys who would plant, dig, and haul anything from seaweed to dung.
Being postmaster in a town of 1,000 people was not a full-time job, nor did it pay a regular salary. Letters were paid for by the receiver, not the sender, postal rates were determined by mileage, and Leavitt earned commissions on all items that arrived for his patrons. If anything in the early nineteenth century illustrates Hampton’s size and level of business activity relative to neighboring towns, it’s the commissions earned by their respective postmasters. In 1816, for example, Leavitt’s commissions totaled $16.61. His counterpart in Hampton Falls earned $12.47, in Exeter $130.89, and in Portsmouth $1,669.73. Postmasters could also earn extra money renting letter boxes, but most earned less than $100 per year. Like other small town postmasters, Leavitt kept accounts and extended credit. One Hampton patron, the tailor Ezra Drew, famously failed to pay his post office account for nearly nine years.
As justice of the peace, Leavitt engaged in land deeds, probate, and estate administration. This was not a salaried position and fees charged for these services were set by the State. One of his cases involved managing the financial affairs of Jeremiah Lamprey, whom the court had declared non compos mentis. “Uncle Jerry” ran a hotel on Boar’s Head and was known as “a character, a merry fellow, who loved rum more than anything else.” After various attempts to sell Uncle Jerry’s assets to pay his debts, Leavitt himself came into possession of the hotel. Almost immediately he sold it to local entrepreneur David Nudd, who built the Hampton Beach Hotel (otherwise known as The Folly Castle) on the premises.
Leavitt had more than enough work, children, grandchildren, and church and civic duties to keep him occupied, yet he still found the time and money to invest in such local enterprises as Hampton Academy, Nudd’s canal (to straighten a portion of the Hampton River), and the Hampton Causeway Turnpike Corporation (to build a road and bridge over the Taylor River). His lifetime of hard work had taken him from a middling farmer with few assets to a well-respected gentleman with a mansion house and over 100 acres of land. In all but one respect, then, he must have considered his life a success. While he had produced 14 children, only two of them had been sons, and neither lived to carry on his name or inherit his estate. Rather than to divide the estate among his six remaining daughters, he gave one dollar to each of them and to his grandchildren whose mothers had died, and devised the rest to his grandson Simon Franklin Towle.
In 1836 Leavitt retired as postmaster and was replaced by local attorney Edmund Toppan. After he died in 1839, Betty and 17-year-old Simon continued to run the tavern and store. Betty died in 1841, followed two years later by Simon, and the Leavitt-Towle estate was parceled out and sold at auction.
Cheryl Lassiter is the author of The Mark of Goody Cole: a tragic and true tale of witchcraft persecution from the history of early America (2014). Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.
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Outside my house this morning I heard the gleeful song of a male cardinal. Despite the heaps and mounds of snow everywhere, his song held the promise that we’ll be seeing bare ground someday soon. Well, maybe not soon, but certainly some day. As we yearn for that currently rarest of sights to make its […]
In the archives of the Hampton Historical Society reside the yearbooks and associated records of the now-defunct Hampton Monday Club (1907-2007). Produced by a group of civic-minded women who took their record keeping seriously, it is an impressive historical collection that spans nearly the entire 20th century. There are lists of club officers and members, reports, letters, activities, and photographs, as well as original member-written essays which were presented orally at club meetings.
Among the more interesting artifacts is an undated script for a radio play titled “A Haunted Town,” written for the club by an unknown author. In 1937, according to a history printed in the club’s 100th Anniversary program (2007), “…Five Club members assisted in a broadcast on the local radio station WHEB. They presented the History of the Hampton Monday Club, told a NH Folk Tale, and special music was provided by the Musical Committee.” A handwritten note in the script’s margin reads: “Monday Club Broadcast over Portsmouth Radio Station Tuesday [morning?] 11 o’clock”.
Hampton in the 1930s was defined largely by the Depression and the town’s 300th anniversary; as a result, it seemed that everyone took a giant, collective step into the past to remember the “good old days.” Yet those days were not so good for all involved, and in the 1930s, as now, you could not talk about Hampton’s past without acknowledging the lone historical figure whose wretched life story is a wart on the nose of our generally benevolent history: Goodwife Unise Cole, the Witch of Hampton.
And so it is with “A Haunted Town.” At first accusatory, then finally sympathetic, the play depicts some of the better-known tales about the reputed 17th century witch. Significant probably only to myself, there is no mention of her magic well or witch’s hovel at the beach, lending support for my finding that those story elements were created in 1938 by Haverhill newspaperman William D. Cram to promote his newly-formed Goody Cole Society. In the play, Mother explains to daughter Betty that Goody Cole “lived in a little hut in the rear of the Academy near the Meeting House Green” – completely ignoring John Greenleaf Whittier and seeming to draw from Edmund Willoughby Toppan’s then-unpublished history (it was published in 2009 by his descendant, Hampton Academy teacher Lori White Cotter).
The play’s two actors, Bernice Palmer (1899-1985) and Emma Young (1860-1952), were both long-time members of the Hampton Monday Club. Bernice was an artist and some of her watercolors are on display at the Tuck Museum. It’s said that she preferred to pronounce her name “Bur-nis,” with emphasis on the first syllable. Emma contributed to the club in a writerly way, and she may have written the script. In another posting I’ll share her c.1926 composition of a Folk Tale of Hampton, N.H. in 1836. Meanwhile, if anyone can confirm the script’s authorship, please let us know.
The Mark of Goody Cole, my 2014 biography of Goodwife Cole, is available for purchase through the Hampton Historical Society.
Here’s the script, reprinted in its entirety~
A Haunted Town
Scene: Living Room
Characters: Mrs. Waldron [played by Emma Young] and her daughter Betty [played by Bernice Palmer]
Betty: Mother, is it true that once upon a time there were ghosts in Hampton?
Mother: well dear, my great grandmother used to tell me some very interesting stories about it.
Betty: Tell them to me, won’t you? I would love to hear all about ghosts.
Mother: She told that Hampton was called “A Spirit Haunted Town.” Ghosts and witches, and even the evil one himself often appeared to its inhabitants.
Betty: I should have though they would have been terrified.
Mother: By what she told me, I should think they were. One could not lie down in bed at night with peaceful certainty that no alarming spectre would stalk through his rooms to trouble his slumbers. Nor could one jog along the country lanes without the disturbing possibility that some broom stick rider might be hard upon his track.
Betty: Don’t you think Mother, that the Hampton people were over superstitious?
Mother: I understand that the good people of Hampton were no more superstitious than men and women usually were who lived in rural communities in Colonial days, and especially those living near the sea, but it is certain that they peopled the quiet village with personages our modern eyes do not see. However it might be with ghosts, witches were tangible enough and the Hampton authorities made short shrift of them. The delusion found its chief victim in the person of Goody Cole, widow of the late William Cole.
Betty: I never knew much about witches. I know this will be interesting.
Mother: The evil powers were ascribed to her by the people of Hampton.
Betty: Did she ever do any harm through her evil spirits?
Mother: It is related that at one time some young people looked into her window and saw her busily engaged turning a bowl, they said it was in the shape of a boat. At last she turned it over and exclaimed, “The devil has got the imps now.” That night news came that Peter Johnson and James Philbrick were drowned at that hour. It was believed that the boat overturned through her agency and this greatly increased the fear and hatred of the old woman.
Betty: Where were they drowned?
Mother: They were drowned near a Creek, now known as Cole’s Creek.
Betty: What a terrible thing for her to do. Did anyone ever see the evil one?
Mother: The children reported having seen him. They too, used to indulge in the fearless pleasure of peeping into her windows, and the story they told was that the evil one was in the shape of a little black dwarf with a red cap on his head. He sat at the table and frequently she cuffed his ears to keep him in order. There was another story that was common at the time and it was that Goody Cole turned Goodwife Marston’s child into an ape.
Betty: Was there no way to stop her from doing such awful things?
Mother: In 1656 she was tried before the County Court of Norfolk. At the trial Thomas Philbrick testified that she had said that if any of his calves should eat her grass, she wished it would poison or choke them. Immediately after one of the calves disappeared. The other one came home and died about a week later.
Betty: Were there any others to testify against her?
Mother: Yes. Goodwife Sobriety Moulton and Goodwife Sleeper testified that while talking about Goodwife Cole and Goodwife Marston’s child, they heard on a sudden a scrape against the boards of the window but after they had gone out and looked around they could see nothing. They went into the house and began to talk as before. The noise was repeated so loud that if a dog or cat had done it they should have seen the marks in the boards and such evidence was conclusive.
Betty: On, this is really spooky. Just like a Halloween story. What happened then?
Mother: The poor woman was sentence to be whipped and imprisoned for life.
Betty: Did she really have to stay for life?
Mother: No. She remained there in prison for fifteen years and was then released. The Town was ordered to contribute to her support.
Betty: Well, I suppose she lived happily ever after, didn’t she?
Mother: Oh, no. Shortly after she was arrested again on a new charge of witchcraft but after a few more months of confinement she was discharged. The Court rendered this remarkable decision, “In ye case of Unis Cole, now prisoner at ye bar, is legally guilty according to indictment, by just ground of vehement suspicion of her having familiarity with the Devil.”
Betty: She certainly was familiar alright. I am glad she is not living now. Did she still continue the evil work?
Mother: No. She returned to Hampton to die soon after in bitter poverty and distress.
Betty: Where did this wonderful Goody Cole live?
Mother: She lived in a little hut in the rear of the Academy near the Meeting House Green.
Betty: Mother, did you ever hear anything about her burial?
Mother: Yes, the malignant hatred of persecutors followed her to the grave. The tradition still lingers among the older people of the Town that the witch was denied a Christian burial and that her body was dragged and then thrown into a hastily dug trench in the ditch by the side of the road near her home, and that a stake was driven through her with a horseshoe attaché to drive away the evil spirit and prevent her from again troubling the good people of Hampton.
Betty: After all, I think the poor woman was a martyr, don’t you?
Mother: Yes, I do. With her quarter of a century of persecution and suffering she was surely as much of a martyr as those to whom death came quickly on the scaffold of Witch’s Hill. Now as the hour is getting late I must not talk any more about ghosts and witches. Some other time I will tell you what I have heard about the Quakers.
Betty: Thanks, Mother. It has all been very interesting and I expect I shall see ghosts and witches in my sleep. Good night.
© 2015 Cheryl Lassiter lassitergang.com
Happy first day of 2015!
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Hampton Historical Society and Tuck Museum, founded in 1925 by Reverend Ira S. Jones and others. To celebrate this milestone the Society has planned several events throughout the year. Also, this summer museum visitors can experience our Retrospective exhibit, a decade-by-decade visual exploration of the museum’s history set against a backdrop of important town, beach, and national events. And here at our blog we’ll be highlighting the history of the Society, the museum, and the staff of dedicated volunteers who keep it all running.
THE FOUNDING OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
On February 28, 1925, over 70 people signed Articles of Agreement to establish the corporation whose purpose was “to erect a suitable memorial to the founders of the first settlement in Hampton.” The following week the Articles were approved by the New Hampshire Secretary of State and The Meeting House Green Memorial Association came into being.
Part of the “suitable memorial” included creating a repository for the town’s historical treasures. For that purpose the Frank Fogg house, located adjacent to the historic meeting house green, was purchased for $4,000 and a small addition with fireplace was built at the rear of the house. The house was named in honor of Edward Tuck, the philanthropist who funded the project and whose mother was born and raised in Hampton (Tuck, who was born and raised in Exeter, also funded Stratham Hill Park, the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, the library at the New Hampshire Historical Society, and, of course, the Tuck playing fields in Hampton).
FIRST GIFTS TO THE MUSEUM
Donations of historical items were needed to furnish the new museum – which in the early years was called either “Tuck Hall” or “Tuck House.” The museum still holds the original list of items donated in 1925. Most are still part of the collections.
–Caroline Campbell Lamprey Shea (1860-1933), a descendant of early Hampton settlers and the granddaughter of prominent local lawyer and political figure Uri Lamprey, was the Association’s first secretary. She gave the museum one of its most historically significant donations: a walking cane that had been given to her grandfather by President Franklin Pierce.
–Mrs. Joshua James, whose house would be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, gave a c. 1740 box pew chair that was used by generations of Jameses in their pew at the old meeting house.
–The Locke family gave a family-made quilt sewn from coats of both English army Redcoats and Continental army Yankees.
–Irene Trefethen Burnham gave the first organ used in the Hampton Methodist Church in the early 19th century.
–Mr. Frank Leavitt gave a late 19th century hair wreath that had belonged to Mrs. Abbie Leavitt Lamprey.
There are a few first items that are no longer in the collections (and won’t be missed, either) – a set of stuffed, arsenic-laced Hampton marsh birds and a 100-year-old (in 1925) coconut. I always smile when I wonder who donated the old coconut and why, but I have an inkling that it was brought home as a souvenir from some exotic tropical locale by one of Hampton’s intrepid seafaring men.
NO LIGHTS FOR YOU! THE FIRST ANNUAL MEETING
On October 14, 1925, the Association formally dedicated the Meeting House Green and Memorial Park, across the road from the Tuck House, as “a tribute to the heroism of the early settlers and a mark of respect to the Rev. Stephen Bachiler, the Father and Founder of the Congregational Church and the Town of Hampton.”
After the dedication ceremonies and a banquet held at the Dance Carnival on Boar’s Head (“the Prettiest and Coolest Spot on Hampton Beach”), the Association held its first annual meeting in the log cabin that had been built on the museum grounds as a “replica” of the first meeting house.* Caroline Shea’s tart New England sense of humor shines through in this brief first record:
At the closing of the Celebration of the Meeting House Green Memorial Park Association which continued for two days exclusive of the Exercises in the Congregational Church on the preceding Sunday, a Meeting was held in the Log Cabin.
The Secretary’s report was not read as there was no light in the room.
The Treasurer was not present and had sent no report.
A Committee for drawing up by-laws was appointed as follows: Mr. Barker, Mr. Chas. F. Adams with Mr. Jones.
Officers for the coming were elected as follows: Mr. Jones, President and Superintendent; Mrs. C. C. Shea, Secretary; Mr. Oliver Hobbs, Treasurer.
C. C. Shea, Secretary
*This was not a building style used by English colonists in America, and I am still trying to find out whose idea it was to build the log cabin as a supposed replica of the first Hampton meeting house. With a roof of bark-covered slats, it’s amazing this building was still standing well into the 1940s. When it finally collapsed, it was never rebuilt. According to Harold Fernald’s notes for a talk he gave at Lamie’s Restaurant in 1970, the cabin was replaced in 1950 by the restored one-room district school house (which still inhabits the spot).
Special thanks to retired teacher and historian Harold Fernald, whose amazing personal stash of Hampton history contributed to this article.
–Wishing you a prosperous and magical 2015, Cheryl
Visitors to the Tuck Museum are always impressed with our eclectic collection of period furniture. For example: a 1740 Hampton-made chair that was used by the James family in their meeting house pew and was one of the first donations to the museum at its opening in 1925; two 18th-century six board chests from the Hampton summer home of artist Charles Henry Turner; a c.1850 velvet armchair from the now-defunct Farragut Hotel; and a recently acquired 18th-century turned crest rail armchair attributed to southeastern New Hampshire. One of our most interesting acquisitions, however, is a beautiful 18th-century tall case clock, a 2013 gift from the Leavitt family whose roots go deep into the bedrock of Hampton history. At the 2014 annual meeting of the Hampton Historical Society, Betty Moore presented the following program on the clock.
I chose the grandfather clock as my item [to present at the annual meeting]. It is special to me because we have a documented history, the building it is associated with is still in existence, and the connections I have made with the donor.
The Leavitt family was among the original settlers in Exeter in 1638. They were listed in Hampton by 1644. Moses Leavitt, great-great-great grandson of Thomas, the original settler, was a tailor. Records show that he lived in central part of Hampton for a few years and in 1802, at the age of 28, he with his wife Sarah, according to Joseph Dow, “bought of John Elkins his new house on Nut Island, near the fish houses at the beach… moved thither and kept a house of entertainment to service the fishmongers who would travel down from Vermont and Canada among other places”. Moses’ father and grandfather had been tavern keepers, too.
Across the road from the tavern were the local fish houses; which at that point numbered around sixteen. Local families owned these small buildings where they kept their dories, sails, bait and equipment. Leavitt carried on fishing and farming, as well as owning and operating a nearby gristmill. Moses and Sarah had twelve children. Their son Amos carried on the operation of the building as a summer boarding house welcoming overnight guests in 1865, and after Amos, two of his sons, Jacob and Moses continued into the next generation.
During 2010 I was involved with the Leavitt Family reunion when they gathered in Hampton. It was then I met Laurence Leavitt and his family who ended up giving us the Leavitt Family cradle and later several other family items. Mr. Leavitt and I kept in contact and in 2013 he called and asked if we would like the grandfather clock that had stood in the Leavitt Homestead for generations. There was a catch….we needed to come to Maine to pick it up. No problem – from the photo you can see the clock had inches to spare in the back of the SUV.
And now this beautiful tall case (or grandfather) clock is back in Hampton. The clock is estimated to be from the late 1700s. The case of the clock is made out of maple which has been refinished over the years. The original clock face is enamel with a hand-painted floral design in the four corners and a group of three birds above the dial. The hour numerals also have regular numbers over the top. As would be expected with an item of this age, there is some wear and crazing of the enamel on the face.
The bonnet of the clock has carved and scrolled moldings accented with a center and two side brass finials. The glass in the door over the face of the clock is original showing lines and imperfections consistent with age. The weights, pendulum and skeleton key are all present. The waist of the clock has a rectangular door and the clock rests on ogee bracket feet. It is simple and graceful and best of all, in working condition.
I wonder how many people have stopped and looked at this clock to check the time over the years?
Moving through history – the original 1709 Tuck’s Grist Mill was replaced by Moses Leavitt in 1815 with the current building. The homestead barn where horses were stabled became the Barn Theater in the 1930s, a restaurant and then Randy’s Gay 90s. In the 1970s, the barn was torn down for condominiums. The homestead has been known as the Aqua Rama Motel, Bailey’s Motel and today is called the Windjammer Hotel. It is located at 935 Ocean Blvd.
– presented by Betty Moore, Tuck Museum Executive Director, at the 2014 annual meeting of the Hampton Historical Society.