by Mabel L. Potter, 1945
The Millicent Library, Fairhaven, Mass.
There are numerous interesting tales–one, of an old Daddy, apparently Jethro Delano, who refused to leave home, “No one would harm him” — and they didn’t–but after they embarked, he decided on a venture from which his wife could not dissuade him–went to the beach and signalled to go aboard. Commander Gray ordered men to get him and treat him kindly–which they did–offered various wines, of which he did not partake but was told they would sail on Thursday “you can tell your neighbors.”
Another, the recollections of an old woman, living apparently at Little Bay, tells of leaving home with a five months’ baby—wandering in woods all night—being found by horsemen sent to look for, taken to Jesse Tripp’s—evidently a block-house on New Boston Road—where 60 people slept on the floor in one room—returning to her house she found “all clothes gone, flats, tongs and good many nice things that were hidden under a wall—and they were gone, too, but the enemy never took them”—and hints of a vessel owned in Rochester, which habitually “took” things every winter to sell in the south!
The original settlers from the Plymouth Colony were supposedly Congregationalists but it is evident there were many Quakers in Dartmouth and their resistance to taxes in support of the Plymouth church is common knowledge.
Settling on this side of the river was John Cook, a Baptist minister (fined one time for travelling on the Sabbath, doubtless in a preaching service), but the Baptist influence was evidently slight on later generations. That the West family were Quakers is inferred from the bequest to the Friends Society. The first record of any Church-going is of the one Samuel Hathaway sailing across the Bay in his own sloop to Falmouth on good Sundays—possibly to the Quaker Meeting there.
But in 1696 was established Bedford Meeting–a Congregational Society at Head of the River–and to this, devout Neck dwellers seeking spiritual sustenance or social contacts, repaired by foot and by horseback. Historian, Jabes Delano, relates that his grandmother, with others, went barefoot the five to ten miles, stopping by the “shoeing rock” to put on shoes and stockings “and perfectly respectable women, too” is added.
With the growth of Fairhaven village and establishment of churches there, attendance became less effort—whether more constant is questionable. After building of the school house on the Neck about 1830, it became the religious center as well—where at Sunday School and an occasional preaching service, a doctrine was taught as fundamentals as anything Tennessee could offer!
The school house, however, was far from satisfactory–and in the late 1890’s ambition was crystallized under the leadership of Cat. Franklyn Howland, of Acushnet–money collected locally and abroad to build in 1892 a Union Chapel. The Union being more in name than practice–strict orthodox views prevailed–anything educational or social barred by constitution–thus alienating some of more liberal families–the march of time weakened such strict views, however. It became necessary to feed the Conventions of neighboring chapels–a room was added with meager kitchen facilities–and finally the heavy seats screwed to the floor were made adjustable so socials could be held. There were occasional lectures, Red Cross sewing, a constant Sunday School for many years–as well as Sunday evening services, but gradually with better transportation, families associated themselves with churches in the centers–the older ones who had carried on, passed away–and the building fell into disuse. A sale was finally made, after permission by special act of the General Court with proof that a need no longer existed for such a structure–and a small sum was turned over to the Methodist Church.
Another chapter might be written of local schools. There were teachers in some of the isolated homes, supported by the town. One of those is reported on West Island in the 1820’s, where were two houses, one with six small girls.
The local school-house built about 1830, was typical of the period (far better than the first crude ones described by Mr. G. H. Tripp in his history of the town)–a one-story box with entrance hall for wood, coats, hats, boots in winter, cleaning equipment such as it was, water pail, with its tin cup; one room with double desks, an air-tight stove in front corner, teacher’s desk on a platform in the other, and a settee in front for the reciting class. Outside, a divided out-building in the rear.
The children varied in age from 6 to 16–with types quite as varying. One of my earliest recollections is of the teacher throwing one of the big boys onto the floor. Such disciplinary ability was considered at least one qualification, I believe–a later procession of teachers, often changing with every term, were less strict–perhaps accounting fro decline of the school! One teacher with ardent missionary leanings actually persuaded girls of ten to sign a pledge to abstain from tea and coffee as well as tobacco and spirituous liquors. Frequently girls just our of High School were the chosen teachers. One became so engaged with “drop the handkerchief” at recess that she forgot to call a halt until too late to resume the sessions!
An unvarying custom for the new teacher began with the questions of how far had we gone in arithmetic? “Well, you may as well begin at the beginnin. ” We should have known the tables forward and back, as they say. Unfortunately, that same questions seemed to be the crucial one when we entered the town schools–so regardless of any general intelligence or progress in other subject, or grade was determined on this basis. For on, there were compensations, however, in having the best secondary school teacher–one of the gifted Delano family.
A man whose mother taught here in the ’60’s, and boarded around, tells me he has a record of her having received $15.00 for six months’ teaching. In the 70’s, the salary was advanced and teachers paid their own board–usually town girls boarded from Sunday to Friday nights.
Transportation for those ambitious enough to go further was not thought of. In the 1850’s two girls, Emily Sherman and Kate Terry, walked to the newly opened town High School. One boy in the 60’s, rode a horse from the Point farm. Later, we still walked–rode horseback–had a horse and buggy for three of us. Of course, we missed out on social activities of town life with the young people, but perhaps fortunately the extra-curricular activities of school were few. With transportation tot the center, school was no longer a problem– and the building was sold for a dwelling years ago.
Of the early houses there are several worth noting, built in the early 1800’s after recovery from the Revolution. Those later Cape Cod ones, after the simple square type, were enlarged by a kitchen ell and a dining room in the main house. The Terry-Stoddard is the best present example. Capt. Terry added a dignified front hall and bedroom beyond the kitchen called the “after cabin”, the name clings to this day. The Captain Whitfield house on the east side half-way to the shore “down the lane” was another of this type, with a setting and a view of the bay to dream about. Unfortunately, it passed through various indifferent hands and fell into disrepair until David Valley conceived the idea of scrapping the ell and moving it onto an ordinary lot – one of his unforgivable sins!
The especial claim to fame is that to this home Captain Whitfield brought his Japanese boy, Manjiro Nakahama, the first of the race to leave the Islands, when for any to leave and return there was a death penalty. John Mung, as locally called, went to the District, and to Gould’s private school, in his middle teens, and so mastered navigation that his ability to translate Bowdich’s “Navigation” authenticated the story of his wanderings and probably saved his life. Since then, members of the family coming to visit the Whitfields, as other Japanese groups have always come to view the old house on the Neck.
One perfectly ordinary house in a good location was built by money from the Alabama claims, nearly a generation after the whalers were destroyed in the Arctic. The Mackie-Hiller house, one of the largest at present with an 1800 doorway, was originally built by a Pope. And the Deane house already mentioned was perhaps the most dignified, the front a prefect Georgian type. The last house near the Point – simple, square – a Cape Cod, was built with ship’s knees, visible in the open attic.
Farms are much the same in all our eastern country and probably little variations here – food for families and stock, hay, grain, vegetables, fruit; and as markets developed, the Neck proved equal to the Cape in Choice asparagus, strawberries and melons. Almost every farmer kept cows for his own use – meat, milk and butter.
But besides there more universal crops, the Neck farmers were also fishermen in the spring of the year. Everyone with a shore farm, set in early March, a net off his beach called a Pound which by devious lines of nets led the fish into an enclosure from which when drawn up, the fish could be slipped into a waiting boat. It was hard work, wet and cold – but with ice and trains available, as in most fishing, were on the whole on the profit side of the ledger. One man boasted a $500.00 catch one day – but that was once in a season, or a lifetime.
Up at three in the morning, several days in the weeks, with the catch ready between seven and eight, each must transport his own to the New Bedford Wharf. Small wonder on returning naps were frequent and the horse found his own way home, But such wholesale destruction was depleting the supply and the Legislature in response to pressure from line fishermen, prohibited all net fishing in Buzzards Bay. The heyday I think was between the 50’s and 90’s. No more fresh fish – no generosity to those who had not nets, but lobsters and scallops took their place for clams and quahogs from far afield or shore.
There have been several “invasions” worth noting – each changing to some extent the character of this community.
The first about the middle of the 19th century, of Block Islanders – who took advantage of one of brief real-estate booms to sell their island homes and better themselves in the mainland. I do not know their history – their names were English and I think I have heard some reference to the Channel Islands from which they emigrated.
They were superstitious, lacking in public spirit and generosity – not too ambitious or possessed of typical Yankee ingenuity – yet friendly, kindly, do anything for one in an emergency – but they proved true to the reputation given to my father – “They are good neighbors – but don’t have any business dealings with them.” Many an amusing illustration could by told. Do you remember Whittier’s “Legend of the Palatine?” How the Block Islanders set false lights to lure the good ship, Palatine, on the rocky shore, to plunder. “And then over the rocks and the seething brine, they burned the wreck of the Palatine. The year went round – They heard the line storm rave and roar – And beheld again the flaming wreck of the Palatine.” Old Reuben Paine, living on the Neck in the 80’s said, “Yes, seen the ghost ship – of course, I’ve seen it – every year.” Some of the Island characteristics, though vastly attenuated, still show in the present generations.
The next invasion was that of the Portuguese, the first foreigners to come to us locally it numbers. The beginning was of the boys who ran (or swam) away from the Islands, the various Azores, to escape military service. They shipped on the whalers and earned, or were supposed to, their passage over, New Bedford was the larger port of entry and they spread from here, but tended to cling to shore regions – and did the only thing available, hired as help in the farms.
The advent of the summer population might truly be called the third invasion – and this has well nigh overwhelmed us.
Let us not forget West Island for long that lovely island an isolated mecca for sailing parties, picnics and for clamming expeditions. Then came the news in the 80’s that the Island had been bought by a syndicate from St. Louis, an engineer boarded in the neighborhood and the beginning of a causeway was built; it proved too expensive. Years later came a younger couple from the West who wintered in the one old house, but such living was too isolated. Years more past, finally in the mid-40’s a development firm bought the entire island, connected it by a road and causeway for summer travel though not strong for hurricanes, high tides and winter storms of which summer dwellers know not. Thus have developed the Neck and the Island, as now an integral part of the town.
Written for the Roundabout Club in 1945.
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