Hampton History Matters, the book ;-)

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Those who follow this blog know that for a number of years I’ve been writing History Matters, a column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, which is published monthly in the Hampton Union newspaper and republished on my social media sites at Facebook, Twitter, and lassitergang.com.

In 2017 I combined this collection of columns, plus extra photos and a few bonus articles, into a book titled (big surprise!) Hampton History Matters. The book is available on Amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton, New Hampshire.

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HHM BOOK COVER

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Major thanks to Karen Raynes for getting me into this newspaper gig to begin with, and to Betty Moore and the Hampton Historical Society for allowing me such generous access to the Society’s archives and for reprint permissions.

 

 

 

A very good business, while it lasted

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“Now for a while we shall buy & sell to get gain instead of trying to teach the young.”

Brave words for a young woman with no previous business experience in any era, but they were written in 1859, a time when the doorway to employment opportunities for women was as narrow as it had ever been. So it was with a risky leap of faith that the writer, Mary Page of Hampton, and her sister Susan, gave up their jobs as school teachers to buy Elizabeth Odlin’s millinery and fancy goods shop in Exeter for $2,300 and reopen it under their own names.

 An independent income seemed an imperative for these two as yet unmarried women. Susan was 29 years old and Mary was 26, and by virtue of their ages the odds of ever finding husbands were rapidly diminishing. Rather than panic at the prospect of becoming bothersome maiden aunts, they chose their path well, the decision to purchase shooting them right to the top of the custom millinery and dressmaking profession. Even in a small town like Exeter, they could now count themselves among the aristocrats of female needleworkers, able to enjoy a certain prestige and command the highest wages.

At the time, thirty-one of Exeter’s 3,309 residents worked in the needletrades, 28 women and 3 men. As tailors and hatters, the men occupied the top tier and were among the well-to-do of Exeter. The tailor Robert Thompson and the hatter Jeremiah Merrill had families and live-in domestics, with assets of $6,000 and $7,500 respectively. Women like Mary and Susan worked as lower-class seamstresses, dressmakers, and milliners; they were mostly single, lived in boarding houses, with assets that averaged $500. They could only dream of making the kind of money their male counterparts enjoyed.

Advert_01The Page sisters’ younger brother John approved of their venture. “I believe the girls will do well,” he wrote from Illinois to their mother in Hampton. “The millinery business is a very good business because the fashions change so very often. They are stepping into an extensive trade which will be of great service to them. I should advise them to expend a good sum each year in advertising. It will always be a profitable investment for them.”

The sisters generally followed John’s advice. Their first advertisement posted in the Exeter News-Letter in April 1860 and ran regularly for the ten years their shop was in operation.

S.L. and M.A. Page in Illinois

“Little transpired that was out of the daily routine of buying and selling and gathering gain, until August 21 [1860], when I diverged from the regular line and landed in the great west,” Mary confided in her diary while on a visit to John, who was teaching school in the Illinois town of Polo (named for the adventurer Marco Polo), some 110 miles west of Chicago.

 

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The Polo Weekly Advertiser, April 8, 1861. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

“Only a few years ago I was a teacher with 50 little children, all looking to me for direction and guidance, and watching my every action by which they would be influenced to either good or evil. Now here I am—and well may this land be called the Great West, for it has produced in me a desire to expand and enlarge my idea of things.”

Acting on that desire, and perhaps to “hunt a husband,” as John in his letters to their mother had hinted was eminently possible in the rapidly growing town, Mary decided to extend her visit into a residency. With Susan managing the Exeter shop, Mary opened a second shop, one that her brother believed would meet with success.

“There is not such a store within a dozen miles of Polo, one of the best business points in the State,” he told their mother, adding, “Mary is doing well for a stranger. I am inclined to think that bye and bye she will have as much as she can do.”

Soon after, Virginia “Jennie” Perkins, another young Hampton woman with a hankering for a little western adventure, joined her as a partner.

 

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M.A. Page and Company

Two years later, Susan announced that she was “a-going to give up her single blessedness” and marry William Cole of Portsmouth, a widower with three small children. As marriage for women generally precluded work outside the home, Mary reluctantly sold her share in the Polo shop to Jennie and returned to Exeter. The partnership firm of S.L. and M.A. Page dissolved and Mary became a sole proprietor under the name M.A. Page.

Without Susan in the shop, Mary struggled to find and keep skilled employees willing to work for what she could pay them. To promising young ladies she traded her knowledge of the millinery and dressmaking trades for their unpaid work. But as often happened, once they were trained the good ones “got the fever” and struck out on their own. With so many new competitors entering the field of female fashion, profits were getting harder to come by.

Mary economized by living above the shop in a frugal flat she christened the “Old Maid’s Hall,” and scrupulously tracked every penny spent. She found working partners willing to invest in her firm, which became known as M.A. Page and Company.

MAPage&RATiltonAt some point, Mary became the object of attention of one Joshua Getchell, a wealthy but aging dry goods merchant whose nosing around the subject of her living arrangements she found offensive. But her opinion of him changed when his wife died, and, after observing a proper mourning period, they were united in marriage on August 3, 1869, thus ending her career as an independent tradeswoman.

Mary sold her share of the business to her partners and joined her husband, his daughter, and a servant in the Getchell home on High Street, only steps away from the Old Maid’s Hall. While nearly twice her age, acquired in the secondhand-husband market, he was a glorious catch for a woman whose parents fretted that she was too homely to get a man (foreseeing that Mary’s own single blessedness might accompany her to the grave, they had bequeathed her one-half of their Hampton homestead). 

The New Mrs. Getchell

For the new Mrs. Getchell, the timing couldn’t have been better. Small, female-owned millinery and dressmaking shops would provide women with employment for years to come, but the future was in ready-made garments, churned out in factories that competed directly with the independent, highly-skilled artisans. And marketers of the new “scientific” methods of garment making sold women on the idea that they could create their own fashionable clothing at home, using their own sewing machines and modest skills. Just one year after her marriage, many of Mary’s former partners and competitors were selling Singer sewing machines as their primary product offering. The victim of post-war industrial expansion, the “very good business” that Mary and Susan had entered a decade earlier was now teetering toward its deathbed.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, April 27, 2017.

A Page Out of History, based on the personal papers of Mary Page Getchell, is available for $10 through the Hampton Historical Society museum store.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

Featured image (top): Susan Leavitt Page (left) and Mary Anna Page, c. 1860. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Images (below): Jennie Perkins c. 1860. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society. Her advertisement in the Polo Press, May 16, 1863. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

 

 

First women officeholders in Hampton NH

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In 1872 the adult male citizens of New Hampshire received from their government the right to vote for women candidates in local school board elections. It wasn’t an earth-shattering development, and the measure passed by with little attention paid to it. A few eyebrows were raised the following year when several citizens’ petitions for the right of women themselves to vote in school elections appeared before the legislature, but in 1878 this, too, passed into law. Between these two milestone years, women were elected to school committees in over twenty New Hampshire towns, a small but reassuring start to the larger woman’s suffrage movement.

Lucy Ellen Dow (1840-1896)

Lucy Ellen Dow

At the 1877 town meeting, Lucy received the majority vote as Superintendent of the School Committee. She was elected to a second term the following year, but the new suffrage law giving women the right to vote in school elections was not enacted until August, five months too late for Lucy to cast a vote for herself.

 In 1888, while helping her father with his History, Lucy wrote and published The Beautiful Place of Pines, a historical monograph of the town. Said to have been very popular at the time, it remains a fine piece of writing. After Joseph’s decease the following year, she finalized his work and in 1893 arranged for it to be published. But the undertaking had left her exhausted. Her friend Lucy Godfrey Marston once remarked that her life had been considerably shortened by the effort of completing the two-volume work.

At the time of publication, Lucy and her sister Maria, both single women, were living in Warren, Massachusetts. They sold the Dow family house in Hampton and traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to live with their brother Joseph Henry, a minor inventor and father of Herbert Henry, the young, soon-to-be founder of the Dow Chemical Company. Unfortunately, Lucy died before her entrepreneurial nephew became an icon in the chemical industry.

Shortly before her death on January 21, 1896, Lucy conveyed to Maria her interest in their remaining Hampton properties. Both she and Maria, who went on to live with the Herbert Dow family in Midland, Michigan until her own passing, are buried in the Dow plot in Hampton’s High Street cemetery.

Elizabeth Butler Norris (1864-1939)

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Nottingham, New Hampshire native Lizzie Norris was the second woman elected to office in Hampton, and the first to sit on the High School Board. She was the namesake of her great-grandmother Elizabeth Butler, the daughter of Revolutionary-era General Henry Butler, one of the “Four Generals” memorialized by the 16-foot-tall Minuteman monument in her hometown square. She lived with her family in Texas and North Hampton, and in 1882 graduated from Putnam Free School in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Four Generals MonumentIn 1885, the year before the Norrises took up residence in Hampton with Lizzie’s aunt Laura Norris, a school teacher, the State replaced the local school districts and their superintending committees with a single, town-wide district overseen by a three-member School Board. Also that year the privately-held Hampton Academy merged with the public high school, giving Hampton an additional three-member board.

In 1887 Lizzie began her career as a Hampton grammar school teacher, and soon became the highest paid teacher in the district. Pretty, popular, and smart, she made quite an impression on School Board Chairman Dr. William T. Merrill, who paid homage to her almost magical teaching abilities. “The degree of excellence our Grammar School has attained,” he declaimed, “is due to the experience, zeal, and ability of Miss Norris. Her earnest study had been to enlarge and make her work more fruitful. A systematic, thorough teacher, with dignity that commands love as well as respect, every word has a meaning which is perfectly understood and appreciated. We can but express our individual wishes that she may be induced to remain the teacher of the Grammar school for a long time.”

In 1891 Elizabeth was voted to the high school board. Unlike Lucy, who had served the local schools for just two years before retiring to concentrate on other pursuits, she remained a board member for the next quarter century, and from 1911 until her retirement in 1915, served on both high school and school boards.

Elizabeth never married. After her retirement she traveled and spent time with her brother William’s family, becoming a director of his lumber company in Houston, Texas. She died in Portsmouth Hospital on November 22, 1939 and is buried in the High Street Cemetery.

Other Hampton ‘first’ ladies

1921—Library trustee, Sarah Hobbs Lane

Sarah Hobbs Lane

Sarah Hobbs Lane

1952—Town auditor, Wilma Toppan White

1953—Town clerk, Helen W. Hayden

Helen Hayden 1940s Blackout Warden

Helen Hayden

1962—Tax collector, Hazel B. Coffin

1972—Selectman, Helen W. Hayden; State Representative, Ednapearl Flores Parr

Ednapearl Parr c1979

Ednapearl Parr

1988—Town Moderator, Louisa K. Woodman

Louisa Woodman 1987

Louisa K. Woodman

(Thanks to Hampton Historical Society vice president Karen Raynes for research assistance.)

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 30, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at nh.historymatters@gmail.com or through her website lassitergang.com.

Seacoast Citizens Soldiers at Saratoga

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On the afternoon of September 6, 1777, Colonel Jonathan Moulton of Hampton received orders to ready his regiment of citizen soldiers to march to Bennington, Vermont, where they would place themselves under the command of the intrepid General John Stark. Since his promotion to commander of the New Hampshire Third Regiment of Militia two years ago—at a time when he and his family were still quarantined in their mansion house by the outbreak of smallpox that had killed his wife Abigail—it had been Moulton’s responsibility to guard the seacoast south of Portsmouth. Other than spotting a few ships, his men had little to do. Now, with the seemingly unstoppable British army marching south toward Albany with a plan to seize control of the Hudson Valley, all that was about to change. In less than two weeks the Continentals and British would clash at Freeman’s Farm, just south of the village of Saratoga, New York. It was not a decisive action, but it forced British General Burgoyne to dig in and wait for much-needed reinforcements and supplies.

Drake’s regiment

In charge of New Hampshire’s war effort was the Exeter-based Committee of Safety. Under pressure to provide troops to halt the British advance, the Committee authorized Moulton’s staff officer, 61-year-old Lt. Colonel Abraham Drake of North Hampton, to form his own regiment. While it may have been the only choice, still it was a good one. Drake was a former cavalry officer in the French and Indian War; by his first wife he was brother in law to New Hampshire President Meshech Weare; his regimental surgeon was Dr. Levi Dearborn, the cousin of Major Henry Dearborn, one of the future heroes of the Revolution; and his company captain, Moses Leavitt of North Hampton, would go on to become a general in the state militia. Also serving with Drake were six Hampton men, including Adjutant Nathaniel Batchelder and Quartermaster Thomas Leavitt.

In early September Drake’s regiment marched to Bennington, where they would come under the command of General William Whipple, whose own orders were to place himself under the command of General Gates of the Continental Army at Saratoga.

Moulton’s regiment

Colonel Moulton’s regiment set out for Bennington at the end of September. With the 51-year-old Moulton was his son Josiah, serving as adjutant, Captain John Dearborn of North Hampton (the brother of Major Henry Dearborn), Captain William Prescott of Hampton Falls, two lieutenants, four sergeants, four corporals, a drummer, a fifer, and 39 privates. Although Moulton’s command encompassed Hampton, North Hampton, Hampton Falls, Seabrook, Kensington, and South Hampton, the majority of his present force was drawn from the towns of Hampton and Hampton Falls.

Camp Now or Never

By the time Drake’s regiment arrived at the American encampment near Saratoga—dubbed “Camp Now or Never” by Colonel Alexander Scammell of the 3rd New Hampshire Continentals—the total patriot force had swelled to over 12,000 men, while the British force had dwindled to under 7,000. Separated by less than two miles, the two armies played a waiting game. After the realization dawned on Burgoyne that reinforcements were not coming, on the afternoon of October seventh he broke the stalemate by launching an attack on the Americans’ left wing.

Now attached to the brigade of General Learned, Drake’s regiment formed up at the center of the battlefield to support the Continental line. Colonel Moulton’s regiment was still with Stark, somewhere on the east side of the Hudson River. After six hours of chaotic fighting the British pulled back, the Americans moved forward, and in the days to come Stark’s militias crossed the Hudson to shut the door on a British retreat.

Surrender of Burgoyne

Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, October 17, 1777 (John Trumbull, 1821). New Hampshire officers Cilley, Stark, Dearborn, Scammell, and Whipple are present. Library of Congress.

Ten days and numerous negotiations later, the British surrendered their arms. The Seacoast militia regiments lined up with the Americans, muskets shouldered and bayonets fixed, to witness the Revolution’s first capitulation by a British general. To the defeated troops trudging by, militia officers like Moulton and Drake, who had fought without proper uniforms, appeared to them as prosperous businessmen in want of clean clothes.

Going home

Escorted by General Whipple and under guard, the British army marched to Cambridge. Burgoyne was eventually allowed to return to England, but his army would remain imprisoned in Massachusetts and Virginia until the end of the war.

At his headquarters in Saratoga, General Gates sat down to pen a letter to his wife about his victory. “If Old England is not by this lesson taught humility,” he wrote, “then she is an obstinate old slut, bent upon her ruin.”

Colonel Drake was ordered downriver to New Windsor, where his regiment received its Continental pay and mustered out in mid-December. While one of his four companies lost nearly half its men to desertion after Saratoga, Moses Leavitt’s company returned to the seacoast with a full complement of soldiers. Colonel Moulton’s regiment went directly home and mustered out on October 30, 1777, receiving State militia pay only. Their only casualty had been the loss of rank by a lieutenant, whom Moulton had busted to private.

In Paris, the American commissioners Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane were finally in the catbird seat, and when the British prime minister’s agent came calling to broker a secret deal to end the war, they politely declined. Soon after, France formally recognized American independence and took up sides against Britain. Saratoga had turned the tide to victory, and the citizen soldiers of the New Hampshire seacoast could be proud of their part in it.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, February 23, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at nh.historymatters@gmail.com or through her website lassitergang.com.

 

NH History Matters: February’s Birthstone

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“Wear amethyst and from passion and care you will be kept free.”

Amethyst 2 FebruaryFebruary’s birthstone is the clear-headed sobriety stone, AMETHYST. Ancient Greeks associated its purple color with Bacchus, the god of wine, and they wore amulets of amethyst to prevent drunkenness.  So beware, if you’re planning a night of drunken debauchery, leave the amethyst jewelry at home. If, on the other hand, you wish to retain your sobriety, wear an amethyst in the spot on the body where the stone purportedly does its best work—the navel.

Amethyst is also believed to be a cure for drug addiction, gambling, and even pimples, and as a mystical healing stone it exudes a calming energy to relax the mind. The Hebrew word achlamah translates to “dream stone,” and sleeping with the stone is said to bring strong dreams. (these same powers are assigned to lavender, also purple-colored).


Amethyst in New Hampshire

Amethysts have been found in many places throughout the state, from the White Mountains in the north to the southernmost locales of Hampton Falls and the Isles of Shoals.

Geologists estimate that New Hampshire’s mineral deposits are between 350-400 million years old, long before plate tectonics pushed North America off as a separate continent. (Those beautiful rock ledges at the shoreline? They were once attached to Africa!)

A variety of quartz, amethyst owes its purple color mainly to the presence of iron. Formed deep within the earth, a single one-inch crystal, growing at the rate of one atomic layer per year, took some 10 million years to create.

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Origin of Birthstones

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Birthstones are thought to have originated with the 12 gemstones embedded in the magic breastplate of the high priest of the Israelites. Amethyst, like January’s garnet, was one of the stones. The concept was later fused with the 12 signs of the zodiac, which led to the belief that a particular gem protected those born during a particular month.

The National Association of Jewelers created the modern list of birthstones in 1912.

Next month: Aquamarine


Brought to you by Cheryl Lassiter and History Matters New Hampshire. nh.historymatters@gmail.com

How Hampton Voted in the Revolution

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In 1738, while Hampton was exercising its taxing authority upon residents no longer wishing to pay the minister’s portion of the town tax, America’s future egregious taxman, George William Frederick, was born in London. As King George III, a man who once commented that “everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor,” he lit the long, slow fuse that eventually ignited the American Revolution.

Angered by the 1773 Boston Tea Party, the King forced the British Parliament to enact a series of punitive measures known as the Intolerable Acts. While these acts were aimed mainly at Massachusetts, British intervention in colonial government was seen as a threat to all. In Hampton, as in many communities throughout the country, townsmen gathered at the meeting house to consider the “unseasonable and unconstitutional power and claims which the Parliament of Great Britain have assumed over the rights and properties of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in America.” Later they would send representatives to a convention in Exeter to choose New Hampshire’s delegates to the First Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774. That first Congress responded to the Intolerable Acts by enacting the Continental Association, which required Americans to boycott British goods and declare their loyalty (or not) to the United Colonies.

Association Test

Association Test

First page of the Hampton Association Test with signatures, dated June 4, 1776. Courtesy of the New Hampshire State Archives.

A few weeks after the fighting at Lexington and Concord had opened the war, the Hampton men met again, this time to choose delegates to attend the provincial congress held at Exeter in May 1775. They chose Captain Josiah Moulton and Mr. Josiah Moulton, and empowered them to “adopt and pursue such measures as may be judged most expedient to preserve and restore the rights of this and other colonies.” Based on advice from the Exeter meeting, Hampton voted to station a nightly four-man guard at Hampton Beach and to create a thirteen-member Committee of Safety.

In 1776 the Committee of Safety conveyed a (Continental) Association declaration or “test” to the selectmen, who were directed to see that it was signed by every sane white male, twenty-one years and older, in their jurisdiction, and together with the names of those who refused to sign, to return it to the Committee. Hampton’s declaration, dated June 4, 1776, bears the signatures of 174 men (whose names are commemorated on the Bicentennial Park monument). Only two men, Captain Jeremiah Marston and Daniel Philbrick, refused to sign.

New Hampshire Constitution

In late 1775, after Governor John Wentworth’s “sudden” departure from New Hampshire, the provincial congress at Exeter voted to draft a new constitution. On January 5, 1776, six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the New Hampshire representatives made history by enacting the first independent government in the colonies. Intended as a temporary framework and never submitted to voter approval, the hastily constructed constitution proved to be unpopular with the people of the state. Hampton chose not to join with the eleven other seacoast towns that formally objected to the new form of government.

In 1778 the provincial congress called for a second convention, to be held that June in Concord, to draft a permanent form of government. Hampton, which had originally dissented from the proposal, voted to send as their delegates Captain Josiah Moulton and Colonel Jonathan Moulton.

Once again, New Hampshire made history. The Concord convention was the first in history to meet for the sole purpose of framing a constitution, one that would be adopted only if ratified by the people. With only two dissents, Hampton voted to approve this second constitution as written, but the statewide result was a “total rejection of the new-formed constitution.”

In 1781 the state’s third constitutional convention convened in Concord, with less than sixty members in attendance. Captain Josiah Moulton again represented Hampton. When the draft constitution was submitted for approval, towns that had decided to vote in the negative were asked to suggest amendments. At a meeting held on Christmas Day, Hampton townsmen appointed a committee of leading citizens to examine the convention’s latest effort and report back their findings. After consideration, the committee was not in favor, and as a result the town voted to reject the draft constitution.

1781 Meeting Notice

Notice to the Town of Hampton to elect one person to the General Assembly to be held at Exeter on December 19, 1781. Courtesy of the New Hampshire State Archives.

Rather than offer amendments, the town gave three reasons why it had voted against the draft. First, even though the American victory at Yorktown in October 1781 had effectively ended the fighting, the war had so agitated and disturbed the people that they were unfit at the present time to take “so important a matter under consideration.” They also worried that if the form of government should be accepted by so few towns, it would surely cause “great uneasiness in the State.” Lastly, they were concerned that the western towns that had seceded to Vermont were not represented. While some believed the threat of secession was real, the men of Hampton didn’t see it that way. They felt that those “disaffected” towns would eventually “return to their duty,” and when they did, they would be “justifiably aggrieved” if they had to conform to a government they had no voice in framing. As it turned out, Hampton was not alone. The constitution was flatly rejected by town meeting voters across the state.

With the news that a preliminary peace treaty had been signed in November 1782, the State decided to try again. In April 1783 the towns had to decide whether to accept the new form of government “as it now stands,” or make recommendations for alterations. As before, Hampton townsmen voted a committee of their best citizens to reexamine the constitution and report their findings. The committee returned with six amendments, which were accepted unanimously by the 76 voters present, but as it turned out, only their recommendation that the chief executive of the state be styled “president” instead of “governor” was implemented. The other recommended amendments were 1) that the legislative and executive functions be vested in one body, 2)that civil and military officers be appointed by the Senate, 3) that the waiting period for amendments be shortened from seven to three years, and 4) that the wording of the 28th article in the Bill of Rights, which they felt erroneously implied that the power to lay and levy taxes was transferrable, be clarified.

Hampton voters approved the final version of the constitution, which went into effect on June 2, 1784, less than one month after the Treaty of Paris officially ended the Revolutionary War. Four years later, Christopher Toppan, Hampton’s delegate to the convention to adopt the federal constitution, was privileged to be among the men who cast their “Yeas” in a close 57-47 vote—“in the name and behalf of the people of the State of New Hampshire”—thereby making the Constitution the new law of the land.

HHM BOOK COVERHistory Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, is available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at nh.historymatters@gmail.com or through her website lassitergang.com.

 

 

NH History Matters: January’s Birthstone

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January’s birthstone is Garnet. Although not as sought after as the ruby gemstone, garnets are treasured for their protective powers. Even Noah carried a large carbuncle garnet aboard his Ark. Tradition says that when worn as an amulet, the garnet gemstone protects its wearer against poisons, fevers, wounds, bad dreams, and depression.


Garnet in New Hampshire

We usually think of garnets as red in color, but they can appear in a variety of colors, including green. They are formed under the same high temperatures and pressure that created the highly metamorphosed or granitic host rocks in which they are found.

With its reputation as the Granite State, it’s strange that New Hampshire has only one (previously mined) large deposit of garnet, in North Wilmot, north of Lake Sunapee. Still, small quantities have been found in mines throughout the state.

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Origin of Birthstones

HoshenBirthstones are thought to have originated with the 12 gemstones embedded in the magic breastplate of the high priest of the Israelites. The concept was later fused with the 12 signs of the zodiac, which led to the belief that a particular gem protected those born during a particular month. Garnet was one of the twelve.

The National Association of Jewelers created the modern list of birthstones in 1912.

Next month: Amethyst

 

 

Brought to you by Cheryl Lassiter and History Matters New Hampshire. nh.historymatters@gmail.com

 

Puritans to Parades – Christmas in Hampton

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Of the 221 towns and 13 cities in New Hampshire, only the settlers of the original four—Hampton, Exeter, Portsmouth, and Dover—can claim to have once banned Christmas. For those 17th century Puritans, the holiday was a pagan ritual rife with excesses of merrymaking, drinking, dancing, and binge eating. Like the Pilgrims of Plimoth Plantation, they worked on the day instead.

By 1659, the immigration of Anglicans to New England had become as onerous to the Puritans as the influx of Quakers, so to prevent the disorders “ arising in several places” by their celebration of Christmas, the General Court of Massachusetts declared that anyone found keeping “such festivals” would be fined five shillings for the offense. After several decades of this law “derogatory to His Majesty’s honour,” in 1681 King Charles II forced the General Court to lift the ban. This didn’t matter much in New Hampshire, which had been made a separate colony with its own laws the year before. Instead, in 1682 the King ordered the new colony’s administrators to allow “liberty of conscience,” and to “particularly promote” the rites and rituals of the Church of England. For those who wanted it, Christmas was back on in the colony.

While Puritanism continued to shape the Yankee character well into the 19th century (some say it still does), the belief spread that it was “unchristian” to scorn Christmas. In 1817, an Exeter newspaper observed that denominations other than Episcopalian were warming up to the idea of public religious services on December 25. This was the year Governor William Plumer raised a few eyebrows when he declared that thanksgiving, traditionally a harvest time celebration, would be held on Christmas day that year. By the 1820s, advertisements for Christmas and New Year’s presents began to appear in New Hampshire newspapers, and by mid-century the phrase “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” was a common holiday greeting.

Lane Family Journal

daybook; Lane Family

Page from the Lane Family journal. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

An early reference to Christmas in Hampton comes from the Lane Family journal, now in the archives of the Hampton Historical Society. Drawing from prognostications whose origins date to the Middle Ages, the journal lists the seasonal and natal effects of Christmas for each day of the week. A Monday Christmas portended a dry winter followed by a wet, tempestuous summer, and those born on that day would have a strong constitution. A Sunday Christmas meant a moderate winter and a fruitful year, and luck to those born on that day. A Saturday Christmas meant “a dark and cloudy winter, thick foggy and unwholesome tempestuous spring. The fruit will be scarce, the corn dear and sickly.” Anyone unlucky enough to be born on that day would be “poor in disgrace,” and the chances of recovery from sickness were slim. Christmas on Tuesday yielded the opposite result.

 In 1856, our neighbor to the south boldly stepped forward to make Christmas a legal holiday. The holiday fell on Thursday that year, foretelling good things to come, but as Harvard professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed, not everyone was happy with the law. “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England,” he wrote that year. “The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” New Hampshire made his point by waiting until 1899 to declare the holiday, making it one of the last states to do so. 

First Church Commemoration

Even as New England warmed to the tradition, the village of Hampton proceeded at its own conservative pace. In 1838 Christmas fell on Wednesday, which portended a very cold winter and a hot summer, with “fruit indifferent, not very plenty.” A person born on that day would be short lived, but projects started on any Wednesday would meet with success, auguring well for Hampton’s First Church, which commemorated its 200th anniversary on Christmas day.

No one knows why the church members chose that day. In his address, Hampton Academy principal Joseph Dow wasn’t particularly helpful to future historians, either, as he did not attribute any uniqueness to the choice of day. Perhaps the significance was so obvious to his audience that it didn’t merit special attention.

Other evidence of Christmas (or not)

In 1843, the year Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, December 25th was just another working day for the men who attended the public auction of Simon F. Towle’s estate, which included the mansion that once belonged to General Jonathan Moulton. With a high bid of $330 ($10,000 in today’s dollars), carpenter Jabez Towle took possession of the now-famous house.

Christmas was also a day of work for Charles M. Perkins, who kept a journal of his travels to the California gold fields in 1849 and again in 1857. In his journal entry for December 25, 1850, he notes that he earned $13.65 prospecting gold at Chilly Flat. Further entries show the same pattern of work: December 25, 1857, Blue Gulch. It froze this morning for the 10th time; December 25, 1860, Flintville, prospecting rock for the Merced Falls Mining Company; December 25, 1861, Rum Hollow, looking out for the mill. While Charles faithfully kept the commandment to rest on Sunday, it was pretty clear that he did not celebrate Christmas.

On Christmas day 1862, Lt. Simon Lamprey of Hampton was in Hilton Head, South Carolina with the Third New Hampshire Volunteers. “We had a very fine day here yesterday for Christmas and it was the pleasantest day I ever saw,” he wrote to his brother in Exeter. “But it was very dull, we did not have anything to do except dress parade. Wish you all a Happy New Year.” On Christmas day 1863, he wrote that besides “stirring up the Rebs a little in the morning with shell,” the day was a quiet one for his regiment. That Christmas, as it turned out, would be Simon’s last. He was killed in battle the following August.

Anna May Cole was a First Church member whose letters written from college in the 1880s reveal that Christmas was part of her family’s traditions. “What are the Christmas plans? I must send a note about Xmas to Hattie in this letter,” she wrote to her brother in 1885. “Just think, it is almost Xmas time and I’m not coming home! I’m almost homesick when I think of it,” she wrote in 1886. Two years later she wrote, “My big brother; Merry Xmas, and a week from now, Happy New Year!”

Into the 20th century

Bernice Palmer 02

Mid-20th century hand-drawn Christmas card by Hampton resident Bernice Palmer (1899-1985). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Secular traditions took off in the early decades of the twentieth century, with the first Christmas Seals for tuberculosis issued in 1907 and the first White House holiday greeting, issued by President Calvin Coolidge, in 1927. The Hamptons Union newspaper, established in 1899, published a yearly holiday Souvenir Edition featuring photographs of the town’s leading citizens, along with Christmas advertising (as today, every new gadget was a must-have for holiday gift giving). With a speed that would astound even Santa’s magical reindeer, Christmas became its own season, with sales, clubs, cards, trees, vacations, bazaars, pageants, parties, and plays, in addition to holiday-themed decorations festooning the streets and homes of every town. But family togetherness, forgiveness, and charity were not forgotten, and Christmas became a special time of giving to others. A notable example was Luigi Marelli of Marelli’s Market, who honored the season by sending dozens of Christmas boxes each year to Hampton’s servicemen and women during World War II.

The Christmas Parade

In 1959 the Hampton Chamber of Commerce put on what is likely the first annual Hampton Christmas parade. That year Santa landed at Hampton Beach aboard the Coast Guard’s amphibious duck boat and joined the parade on its High Street route from the Academy to Depot Square. In 1960 Santa came to town on the Fire Department’s new ladder truck, and for an entire week he headquartered at the old railroad station in Depot Square, which that year was named for Luigi Marelli. For a time the parade switched between the High Street-Marelli Square route and one that marched down Lafayette Road to Centre School. As the parade grew in size and popularity, Lafayette Road became the permanent route.

In 1987, for the first time, Hampton taxpayers were asked to help defray the parade expenses, with the funds paid directly to the Chamber of Commerce. Since then, voters have denied their approval only once, in 1990.

From 2004-2006, the name of the parade was changed to “Children’s Christmas Parade.” In 2007, after the death of a child in the 2006 Portsmouth parade caused insurance rates to skyrocket, Hampton’s parade was replaced with a Christmas Carnival, which the voters chose not to fund. In 2010 Experience Hampton brought the parade back to town, and when the taxpayers were asked to contribute $3,000 the following year, they did so by a large margin, voting also to change the name of Holiday Parade to the traditional Christmas Parade.

Hampton celebrates the spirit of Christmas

Once shunned as a pagan ritual, now a beloved religious and secular tradition, Christmas has come a long way on the seacoast. Karen Raynes summed it up perfectly in her 2014 Marelli’s Market memoir. “Hampton,” she wrote, “is still one of those quaint New England towns that as a community comes together to celebrate the spirit of the Christmas season.”

So, to everyone in our quaint little town, may the true meaning of the holiday season fill your heart and home with many blessings. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Originally published in the Hampton Union on December 22, 2017.

Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.