Lady Tavern keepers of Hampton

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Lady Tavern Keepers of Hampton, New Hampshire

Hampton Tavern mapSecond only in importance to the meetinghouse, taverns in colonial New England were charged with meeting the public’s expectations of hospitality. To accommodate travelers, every town was required by law to provide a tavern, also known as a “public house of entertainment,” and those that failed to do so could be fined. And while taverns were meant to be places of rest and refuge, unless strictly controlled they could easily become dens of immoral (and therefore illegal) activity. To curtail such common sins as drunkenness, gambling, dancing, and singing bawdy songs, the town selectmen looked for tavern proprietors who were “meet and suitable” persons—those individuals who would maintain good order in their houses and prevent inhabitants from drinking away their livelihoods.

Tavern keeping was primarily a male occupation, but there were circumstances under which a woman could be granted a tavern license. In Hampton, as elsewhere, she was typically a widow who needed employment to keep her family out of poverty and off charity. In most cases, she had been running her husband’s tavern before her widowhood, and was trusted to continue the tavern after his death. From Hampton’s founding in 1638 to the late 18th century, the town approved eight women—Joanna Tuck, Sarah Roby, Love Sherburne, Joanna Lane, Mary Leavitt, Rachel Freese, Anna Leavitt, and Rachel Leavitt—all widows save one, to keep taverns within its bounds.

Joanna Tuck

At the request of the town, Robert and Joanna Tuck established Hampton’s first tavern in the early years of settlement. By the time Robert died in 1664, they had been in business for over a quarter century. His death happened suddenly during the fall session of the court, held every October in the Hampton meetinghouse, and to keep the beer flowing legally the magistrates’ first order of business was to issue Joanna a license. She ran the Tuck tavern under her own name until the following year, when Henry Deering, a Portsmouth innkeeper, was hired in her place.

Sarah Roby

Sarah Roby was the third wife of Henry Roby, who had been granted his first tavern license about the year 1670. They married in 1678, but had no children together. When he died ten years later, she received little more than the use of the house she lived in.

Now a widow, Sarah was granted a license to run the Roby tavern in her own name. Over the next decade her health declined, and in 1698 she asked for relief from paying excise taxes on liquor. In her petition, she described herself as a “pore widow of about sixtie years of Age,” who had for “this ffower or five years lost the use of my limbs and hath not bin able for the above sayd time to stand on my feet nor to dress or undress myself no more than a child.” Her sole means of support was “by keeping a publick House of entertainment as I have done for neare twentie years,” and she was “very much streightned to pay ye person I keep to tend my house.” T

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he colonial assembly in Portsmouth granted the suspension of the excise, “so long as she keep her license in her owne Hands but no longer.” With this concession Sarah was able to keep the tavern until her death in 1703.

Love Hutchins Sherburne

Born in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1647, Love was the wife of Captain Samuel Sherburne of Portsmouth. In 1678 they bought the old Tuck tavern and ran it together until 1691, when Sherburne was killed during a military expedition to Maine. Now a widow with eight children—four younger than thirteen and one not yet born—Love ran the Sherburne tavern under her own name.

In the fall of 1701, a man named Ebenezer Webster assaulted at her tavern. Witnesses testified that Webster “did strike her some blows which was the cause of her sore eye, and took her by the neckcloth and was in danger of choking her,” and that she was “all bloody” from the attack. The reason for the assault is unknown, but a short time later she moved to Kingston, New Hampshire, having leased the tavern to Webster’s kinsman, John Lane of Boston. Love died in 1739 at the age of 91.

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 Joanna Lane

Joanna Davidson Lane was the wife of John Lane, the new keeper of the Sherburne tavern. John was a military man, and in his absence in 1703 the Hampton selectmen gave Joanna permission to run the tavern under her own name. Because of John’s military duties, the Lanes moved around a lot, and probably did not stay in Hampton the full year.

Mary Carr Leavitt

With her husband Moses, Marr Carr Leavitt started what was to become a Leavitt family innkeeping dynasty, in which branches of the clan had entertained travelers and townsfolk from one end of Hampton to the other and at both ends of the beach for over 150 years.

Between 1700 and 1703, Moses and Mary sold illegal liquor from their home on Post Road (now in North Hampton), then ran a legal tavern from 1706 until Moses died about 1730. After his death, Mary ran the Leavitt tavern under her own name. A fire destroyed the tavern in 1733, but her neighbors pitched in to build her a new one. She was soon back in business, and, with help from her son John, continued to run the tavern until her death in 1747.

Rachel Chase Freese

In 1697, Joseph Chase bought a homestead at the riverfront Landing, where 59 years earlier the first Hampton settlers had come ashore. The spot would become a busy trading and fishing wharf, in part due to Joseph’s success as a merchant. He died a rich man, and his daughter Rachel, married to the merchant Jacob Freese, inherited most of his estate.

While Rachel did not need to work, her father had stipulated in his will that she was to entertain “Strangers, more particularly Quakers” in the house he had bequeathed to her. Widowed in 1727, by 1731 she saw a way to honor his wishes—by opening a tavern that would serve the salt marsh farmers. In approving her license request, the selectmen said that they were “very sensible of the hard labor and toil that many of our men have in hay time, some of them are from their houses twenty four hours at a time and want refreshment.” Rachel kept the Freese tavern until her marriage in 1737 to Andrew Wiggin, the Speaker of the New Hampshire House. She moved to Stratham and sold the Landing property to her son.

Anna Dole Leavitt

With the selectmen’s approval, in 1746 the court granted a tavern license to Ensign Jonathan Leavitt. Over the years he attained the status of a gentleman, and his tavern on the Country (Lafayette) Road became the most prominent, and at times the only, drinking establishment in Hampton. In 1755 he married his second wife Anna Dole, and they had one child, Thomas. In 1783 Jonathan killed himself, his body found hanging from a rope in the barn. Anna kept the Leavitt tavern in her own name, but eventually gave it over to Thomas. She lived to be 99 years old.

Rachel Philbrick Leavitt

Thomas’s wife Rachel was the last of the meet and suitable ladies of Hampton’s early history. When Thomas died in 1791, Rachel ran the tavern under her own name, with help from Philip Burdoo, a former slave, and her mother in law Anna, now in her seventies. When Rachel retired she sold the tavern to her son in law Josiah Dearborn, who rebuilt and renamed it Dearborn’s Inn.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on January 4, 2019.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. A Meet and Suitable Person: Tavernkeeping in Old Hampton, New Hampshire is available through amazon.com. Hampton History Matters, a collection of new and previously published essays, is available through amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton.

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The Hampton Saltworks

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(Above: Mid-19th century view of a Cape Cod saltworks wind-driven pump, which supplied sea water to the evaporation vats. Nudd’s Hampton windpump would have been similar. Library of Congress.)

In 1840 the Eastern Railroad was built through Hampton, New Hampshire, bringing a new era of commerce to the area. As it turned out, the first persons to ride the rails over the Hampton marshes on those early steam locomotives were also the last to see the local salt making industry in operation. Easy to spot, the saltworks were located just east of the tracks on a winding bank of the estuarine Taylor’s River. Owned and operated by local entrepreneur David Nudd, for 13 years the saltworks had annually produced some 1,200 bushels (approximately 48 tons) of salt crystals for Nudd’s fishing operations. Now, however, with cheaper salt from places like New York State supplying the market, the saltworks had outlived its usefulness and was shut down.

1841 Hampton Map

Location of the Eastern Railroad and Nudd’s house, saltworks, wharf, and canal. From the 1841 map of Hampton, courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

It was nothing new. Commercial salt making had never been a steady industry in the coastal environs between and around the Piscataqua and Merrimac Rivers. In the 1620s, men of the Laconia Company made salt at Odiorne’s Point to support their fishing operations, and when they left, so did the salt. In later times saltworks were built and eventually shuttered in Rye, Smuttynose Island, Kittery, and Salisbury. Local salt seemed like a good idea, but the reality was that without protective tariffs, it could never truly compete with the quantity and quality of salt from places like Liverpool, England and Turks Island in the Caribbean. Besides, foreign salt was a valuable trade item, as it provided a return cargo for Yankee ships carrying lumber and salt fish to the West Indies.

Nudd and his saltworks

“Liberty is power,” declared President John Quincy Adams in his First Annual Message to Congress in 1825. And the “tenure of power by man is, in the moral purposes of his Creator,” to improve economic and social conditions, not only for himself, but for his fellow men. Men who followed this creed were, in the 19th century, called “improvers,” and they took their responsibilities seriously.

Like Adams, David Nudd was an improver (he even named his son, born just eight days after Adams’s inauguration, in honor of the new president). While his sphere of influence was limited to a small geographical area, his commercial interests were large, extending to trade, shipping, fishing, a river canal, and several beach hotels. When he saw that he could make salt more cheaply than he could buy it, he literally tested the waters with his new idea.

As the tests showed that the salinity of Taylor’s River was higher than the waters nearer the seashore, Nudd laid out his saltworks on a two-acre tract adjacent to his wharf and warehouses. He modeled it on those operating on Cape Cod, where the salt making industry had begun in earnest when British embargoes during the Revolution had caused shortages of every kind of good, and it continued to grow until peaking at nearly 700 individual saltworks in the 1830s. Writing in the early 1930s, nonagenarian James Warren Perkins recalled Nudd’s works as a series of wooden vats (or “rooms” as they were called), each measuring fifteen feet square and 3 inches deep, standing 3 feet above the ground, and protected from the rain by a moveable roof. A windpump, “located about one hundred yards down river,” supplied salt water to the vats.

The salt making process consumed 350-400 gallons of seawater for every bushel of salt crystals produced, and, depending upon the amount of available sunshine, took anywhere from three to six weeks to complete. With a yearly output in the neighborhood of 48 tons, Nudd’s saltworks would have supplied a little over half the salt needed for the approximately 300,000 pounds of dried and pickled fish produced by the entire Hampton fisheries (1840 data).

1830 Hampton map.

Location of David Nudd’s house, saltworks, wharf, and warehouses. From the c.1830 map of Hampton, courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Remnants and Revivals

With the shuttering of the saltworks, Nudd salvaged its timbers and used them to build the Granite House Hotel on Boar’s Head (later renamed the New Boar’s Head, this hotel was destroyed by fire in 1908). Remnants of the saltworks could still be seen in the early 20th century, languishing alongside the riverbank near the old Landing place.

Reinvented by the artisanal foods movement, salt has become the new beer. Cape Cod Saltworks, 1830 Sea Salt, and Wellfleet Sea Salt, small companies which provide specialty cooking salts to consumers, have revived the salt making tradition on Cape Cod. Who knows, beer came to Hampton, and someday salt might, too.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, November 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, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

 

Pardoning Goody Cole

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Hampton, New Hampshire, 1938. Three hundred years since its founding and 257 since the death of the accused witch Goodwife Eunice Cole, the town had grown to nearly 2,000 inhabitants. Almost everyone in this small, close-knit community was a descendant of at least one early settler, and some were descended from five or more founding families. As Hampton prepared to celebrate its 300th birthday, residents became intensely interested in the history and legends of the town their ancestors had founded.

But they also had to contend with the Great Depression, during which unemployment levels reached as high as 25 per cent. In New Hampshire, expensive government programs meant to fix the country’s economic problems were met with skepticism and more than a little apprehension by conservative newspaper editors and their vocal, middle class readers. In Hampton, welfare expenditures nearly doubled during the Depression years, giving local residents cause to voice similar concerns.

Americans also worried about the political machinations “over there” in Europe. They sensed that the world was on the brink of war, one that Secretary of State Cordell Hull observed would not be just “another goddamn piddling dispute over a boundary line.” Fears of renewed worldwide conflict, coupled with the never-ending march of economic misery, had a way of outstripping even the most optimistic person’s ability to cope. As the world went to hell in a handbasket, many Americans turned to escapist fantasies served up by Hollywood, while others turned to nostalgia for the good old days.

 

Founding members of The Goody Cole Society (l-r): James Tucker, Phyllis Tucker, William D. Cram, 1938. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

A ‘somewhat mystic society’ is formed

In Hampton, anticipation of the town’s 300th year exemplified the latter trend. In the 12 months leading up to the official celebration, scheduled for the week of August 21-28, 1938, the Hampton Union & Rockingham County Gazette regularly published stories about Hampton’s olden days. The first in the year-long series was “The Story of Goody Cole.”

It was no accident that this story of Hampton’s most famous witch had been written by William D. Cram, a newspaperman who penned a regular column called “Little Stories of Old New England.” With Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce employees Phyllis Tucker and her father James, Cram had recently formed The Society in Hampton Beach for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Goody Cole of Having Familiarity with the Devil (thankfully shortened to The Goody Cole Society). The trio’s objective for their “somewhat mystic society” was to draw attention to the town’s upcoming anniversary by “making restitution to Goody Cole and restoring her citizenship” of which she had been deprived by years of imprisonment in the Boston jail.

Besides the original threesome, other known members were district court judge John Perkins, “Singing Cop” Bill Elliot, Governor Francis P. Murphy, Highway Commissioner Fred Everett, and, from California, Beatrice Houdini, widow of the famous illusionist.

‘Vacillating Yankees’ make amends

While Cram worked up membership cards and fed stories to the press, James Tucker wrote and presented a resolution at the March 1938 town meeting, which read: “We, the citizens of the town of Hampton in town meeting assembled do hereby declare that we believe that Eunice (Goody) Cole was unjustly accused of witchcraft and of familiarity with the devil in the seventeenth century, and we do hereby restore to the said Eunice (Goody) Cole her rightful place as a citizen of the town of Hampton.” The resolution called for the destruction of certified copies of the original court documents, to be ceremoniously burned at the 300th anniversary celebration in August.

As the town’s legal counsel, Judge Perkins pointed out that while “the incident holds a strong warning for people of today concerning the conviction of innocent persons through mob hysteria,” Hampton in the 17th century was part of England, and it was therefore impossible for 20th century voters to reestablish Cole’s citizenship in a country to which they did not belong. Nevertheless, the resolution received unanimous voter approval, making Hampton the first community to publicly pardon an accused witch.

In the media, the vote was treated as a quirky publicity stunt. As columnist Howard Baker of the New Yorker magazine wryly observed, “The voters of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire are taking steps to absolve a woman who was imprisoned for witchcraft in 1656. That’s the way with those vacillating Yankees—always changing their minds.”

Boston Sunday Post illustration. October 3, 1937

Boston Sunday Post illustration, October 3, 1937. Judge John Wilder Perkins Collection, Hampton Historical Society.

‘A few bars of something weird’

Hollywood was not alone in its ability to concoct escapist fantasies. Two weeks after the historic (and somewhat silly) town vote, the NBC-Blue Radio Network broadcast a dramatized version of the event called The Witch of Hampton: A Tale of Early New England. Staged at the NBC studios in New York, the imaginative radio drama featured voice actors who portrayed the real-life persons of James Tucker, Margaret Wingate, and meeting moderator John Brooks. Having met them in person, the script writer advised the program director that “there is not the slightest suggestion of the ‘New England Rube’ about any of them,” and suggested how the actors were to play the characters. “Mr. Tucker,” he wrote, “is a well-educated gentleman who speaks with faultless diction and a Yankee accent barely discernible, Mrs. Wingate is a pleasant-spoken lady with a low, well-modulated voice,” and of Mr. Brooks he observed that “there is nothing of the political orator in his manner.”

With “a few bars of something weird…down behind” to set the mood, the live radio drama commenced. “The National Broadcasting Company presents a special program entitled…The Witch of Hampton!…A story of New England based on historical facts and legends.”

The program opens to a chatter of townspeople. The meeting moderator bangs his gavel, reads aloud the article, and asks Tucker to make the motion to accept.

“Mr. Moderator, fellow townsmen,” Tucker responds, “there has been some talk of opposition to this resolution on the grounds that in clearing the name of Goody Cole we smear the names of those who were her accusers. I feel certain when I say that if those men and women were alive today, they would vote for this resolution themselves.”

The drama then turns back to seventeenth century Hampton, where a fishing vessel has just gone down off Boar’s Head and all onboard are drowned. Sure that Goody had cursed the ship, an angry mob of villagers prepares to go after her.

“Pshaw!” she scoffs when a sympathetic townsman warns her of the impending danger. “The villagers are a lot o’ nincompoops! Is it Goody Cole’s fault if a ship is destroyed at sea?”

Apparently it was, as the “fear-maddened people of Hampton” drag her off to court, followed by a melodramatic retelling of her trials, imprisonments, lonely old age, and death, after which the villagers waste no time hammering a stake through her body and burying it.

Back in the present, the voters readily pass the resolution. The broadcast concludes with a question posed to Arnold Philbrick, the real-life descendant of one of Goody Cole’s accusers. “If Thomas Philbrick were alive today, how do you suppose he would react to what the people of Hampton have done?” To which Philbrick replies, “I’m sure he would congratulate them for proving that ignorance is a horrible thing, even if it does take nearly three hundred years to prove it.”

Goody Cole Day

Listening to the program from her home in California, Beatrice Houdini was inspired to write a letter to the “Mayor of Hampton Beach,” which read, “May I, in the name of Houdini, thank you for the honest and clear-sighted effort the officials of your lovely town are making to clear the name of one of your former citizens. For centuries the belief in witchcraft has permeated the nation. Definite action, such as yours, will go a long way to tear the veil from superstitious reaction. Your town has led the way; more power to you.—Sincerely, Mrs. Harry Houdini.”

She also traveled 3,000 miles to attend Goody Cole Day, which, as part of the tercentenary celebration, was held at the beach bandstand on August 25, 1938. As the day’s special guest and a member of The Goody Cole Society, Mrs. Houdini gave a short speech, then witnessed the selectmen’s ceremonial burning of the court documents that had so long ago sealed Eunice Cole’s fate.

As the now-pardoned woman’s symbolic tomb, the metal urn in which the papers were burned was to have been buried in an appropriate spot. Whether from forgetfulness, fear of vandalism, or a change of plans, the urn never made it into the ground. It remains to this day on display at the Tuck Museum, along with other Goody Cole Day memorabilia, as a physical reminder of, depending on how you look at it, a work of unabashed hucksterism, an absurd civic melodrama, a sincere effort to atone for a past wrong, or all of the above.

1938 GCS memorabilia

Goody Cole arrowhead coin and GCS membership card of Philip N. Blake, 1938. Harold Fernald Collection, Hampton Historical Society.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on October 26, 2018.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole” is available at amazon.com, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

 

More Than a Poet’s Fancy

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John Greenleaf Whittier, 1852. Library of Congress.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1852 (Library of Congress)

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier of Haverhill and Amesbury, Massachusetts, spent many a summer on the New Hampshire seacoast. Well-acquainted with its natural beauty, history, and local legends, he penned a number of ballads set in the Hampton area. His visits to the shore gave us “Hampton Beach” (1843) and “The Tent on the Beach” (1867), and the legend of Hampton’s witch Goody Cole was the supernatural inspiration for “The Wreck of Rivermouth” (1864) and “The Changling” (1867).

Another tale of the supernatural was “The New Wife and the Old,” published in 1843. It was, he wrote, “founded upon one of the marvelous legends connected with the famous General Moulton of Hampton, New Hampshire, who was regarded by his neighbors as a Yankee Faust, in league with the adversary.” The ballad recounts a visit to Moulton’s new wife on her wedding night by the ghost of his dead wife, who had come to reclaim the jewelry—her jewelry—that the new wife now wore.

“I give the story as I heard it when a child, from a venerable family visitant,” Whittier wrote in his preface to the ballad. As he was born in 1807, just 20 years after Moulton’s death, the original story could almost qualify as news, and his “venerable” visitor had likely known Moulton in the flesh. Equally fascinating, the story has a basis in discoverable fact, thanks in part to Winnacunnet High School history teacher Harold Fernald, who generously donated to the Hampton Historical Society his storehouse of local history, including several Moulton family letters.

The Story Behind the Story

In 1775, Moulton’s first wife Abigail died of smallpox. She left behind eight children, six under the age of fifteen. A year later Moulton married Sarah, the daughter of local doctor Anthony Emery. His choice, it seems, was not popular with his children, as one of Moulton’s sons, likely Josiah, a Harvard graduate who had assumed ownership of his father’s store, complained in writing that Sarah had wrongfully appropriated his mother’s belongings, “which of right belonged” to the oldest daughter, Nancy.

Sarah, he said, had taken Abigail’s gold necklace, had added to it more gold given to her by her husband, and had “worked [it] up to make herself a larger one.” She also took Abigail’s gemstone ring, monogrammed china, linens, and several items of costly clothing. She cut up the linens and clothing to disguise having taken them, and “at every opportunity” had robbed the house and conveyed items, including money, to her mother and others. Along with the list of items taken, the writer filled the page with his stepmother animus, saying that “Intermixed with lying deceit, backbiting, misrepresentations, every evil practice to answer her interest, and malevolent temper against the true heirs and children of the family and estate and their friends, [all] to such a degree that nothing short of a representation of images of Hell can represent her true conduct and character on Earth.”

In 1777, then-Colonel Jonathan Moulton of the 3rd New Hampshire militia was busy preparing his citizen soldiers for war, yet found time to engage in several ink-and-paper wars with his kinfolk. In a letter dated March 1, Moulton accused his father in law of reneging on Sarah’s dowry, and, with Sarah, of “Schem[ing] to defraud me by deed.” He implied that he might bring these actions into public should Emery not pay him what was due. Two days later he received Dr. Emery’s reply. “If you go into publick,” Emery warned, “I shall divulge those things which you never will wipe off, nor yours after you.” He closed by saying, “God forbid there should be such another on the face of the Earth as you are.”

That same day, Moulton wrote to his son regarding a situation that was just then “disturbing the Peace & Tranquility” of the family. His son replied on March 10, scolding him for his “evasive denials” and “indecent and malevolent reflections,” and warned that he would pursue “a more publick way for satisfaction” if the problem was not resolved. He signed the letter, “Your much injured, yet in all due respects, your Dutiful Son.”

These letters, of course, are only hints to a much larger story. But the accusations leveled by father and son against Dr. Emery and his daughter Sarah—the haunted heroine of Whittier’s ballad—make it plain that the Emerys were profoundly at odds with the Moultons, who, in turn, were at odds with each other. In consequence, their bitter, real-life family drama had fashioned for Whittier the perfect cauldron of greed and resentment in which the poet could brew his fanciful tale of ghostly (and righteous) retribution.

And the tenderest ones and weakest,
Who their wrongs have borne the meekest,
Lifting from those dark, still places,
Sweet and sad-remembered faces,
O’er the guilty hearts behind
An unwitting triumph find.
—from The New Wife and the Old by John Greenleaf Whittier

 

In grateful remembrance of Harold Fernald (May 18, 1931 – May 21, 2018), who in his day created a few legends of his own.

Harold Fernald

Harold Fernald as Franklin Pierce, c. 1995.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, September 28, 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, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com

The Cold Water Army

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Wine connoisseur Benjamin Franklin once said, “If God had intended man to drink water, He would not have made him with an elbow capable of raising a wine glass.” But for typical Americans of his era, drinking alcohol was more than a mere exercise of the joint between the humerus and ulna: it was becoming a national crisis. By the time of Franklin’s death in 1790, the annual consumption of distilled spirits by persons 15 and older was five gallons. By 1830, when solo and communal bingeing were common occurrences, it had exceeded nine gallons. Social and economic anxieties, cheap and plentiful rum, and the low-class, bland-tasting, and often polluted status of water were cited as reasons for Americans’ heavy consumption of alcohol. Whatever the causes, it led 19th century observers to conclude that the United States had become a nation of drunkards.

 Long before the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, mostly male groups such as the American Temperance Society, Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, and Sons of Temperance had formed great armies of sober men to do battle with Demon Rum. All enthusiastically promoted the idea of cold water as a substitute for alcohol.

Most New Hampshire towns had a temperance movement. In Hampton, Rev. Josiah Webster spearheaded the anti-liquor crusade, scoring a temporary victory in 1830 when voters instructed the selectmen to stop issuing licenses for the sale of spirituous liquors. That vote was reversed the following month, but in 1833 selling liquor was again prohibited.

The temperance convention was the most popular method of delivering the anti-alcohol message to the masses. Like one big, catered camp meeting, it was a day long festival of marching, music, and speechifying by reformed drunkards. One of the first conventions in Hampton was held in 1841, for the purpose of organizing a Rockingham County chapter of the Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, an early form of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose motto was “The Cold Water Army, conquering by love, the best mode of warfare.” The proprietor of the Railroad House carried the day to a roaring success by putting his stock of spirits “into the hands of the Washingtonians, who amused themselves by pouring them on the ground.” The most notable and well-attended conventions, however, were those held in 1844 and 1849.

1844 temperance convention

The local Washingtonians hosted Hampton’s first general temperance convention, held at Boar’s Head on July 4, 1844. The country’s birthday was favored by anti-alcohol forces of all stripes, because, they reasoned, by taking the “dry oath” on that day, participants would more strongly feel their abstinence as a virtuous act, akin to the Founding Fathers’ struggle for independence.

The day began with a march from Dearborn’s Inn at the center of Hampton to the beach, with Old Glory and the temperance banners unfurling in the breeze. The featured orator was future president Franklin Pierce, a man who struggled with hard drinking most of his life, eventually succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver in 1869. A choir sang such refrains as “The teetotalers are coming, the teetotalers are coming, the teetotalers are coming, with the Cold Water Pledge. We will stop the course of stilling, alcoholic drink for killing, and all fermented swilling, with the Cold Water Pledge.” To the objections by some temperance advocates that, since rum was sold there, Boar’s Head was the wrong place for the event, the Exeter News-Letter commented, “if anybody took rum or brandy [that day], they did it very slyly.”

1849 temperance convention

Hampton’s second and largest temperance convention, held on July 4, 1849, was hosted by the local branch of the Sons of Temperance. Led by a uniformed, mounted marshal and the Newburyport Brass Band, a parade of children with banners and flags, clergymen, and the Sons marched from the Congregational Church to the convention site on the Thomas Ward estate, just south of the main village. The featured speaker was John Hawkins of Baltimore, a rehabilitated drunkard and early member of the Washingtonian Society. The warriors were out that day, eliciting pledges of alcohol abstinence from among the estimated 2,000 attendees.

Cold Water Army

“Cold Water Army,” depicting temperance groups marching to Hampton, c. 1841 by unknown artist. The road sign reads “Hampton 2 mil.” The banners read “Cold Water Army,” “Hampton 1841,” and “Temperance Army.” Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

The hole in the dike

Cold Water armies not only encouraged abstinence, they agitated for mandatory prohibition, and in 1855 the New Hampshire legislature enacted a ban on the production and sale of most kinds of distilled spirits. The prohibition lasted until 1903, when it was replaced by local option. As it had in the 1830s, Hampton vacillated between yes and no on the liquor question.  New Hampshire had its share of flip-flopping problems, too, as pro- and anti-alcohol forces struggled for dominance in the state. In what would become the antis last big win, statewide prohibition was reinstated in 1918, two years ahead of national prohibition.

With the repeal of national prohibition in 1933, New Hampshire again allowed local option, but reserved the right to issue licenses to hotels in “dry towns” that wanted to serve liquor to their registered guests. Hampton voted to remain dry, and social pressure ensured that no hotel in town or at the beach would seek a liquor permit. That changed in 1957, when Lamie’s Tavern in Hampton Center sought and received a license. Worried residents feared that the license was the first “hole in the dike” that would eventually flood the beach with liquor. From some points of view, the dire prediction has come true. For others, water remains the wettest thing at Hampton Beach.

 The free water custom

Humans have to drink something, and in the mind of temperance advocates, that “something” should be water. To lure drinkers away from liquor, they worked to make cold, clean water widely available, and in doing so created a tradition that is still with us today. So the next time a restaurant server presents you with a free glass of ice water, whether you’ve requested it or not, be aware that this faintly peculiar custom had its beginnings in the great temperance crusades of the 19th century.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 24, 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, Tuck Museum, and Marelli’s Market. Contact Cheryl at hamptonwriter@gmail.com or lassitergang.com.

The unusual life of Chester Grady

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Born in 1894, Chester Grady’s life spanned the first three-quarters of the 20th century. His prime years were pillared by world wars, shotgunned by economic depression, and energized by a dynamic new culture of music, films, and radio. He was a gifted tenor, a stage and club performer who lived and worked in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; traveled and studied internationally; and counted among his friends European royalty and Hollywood stars. He achieved minor fame in the early 1920s touring the country with Elsie Janis, a popular musical-comedy entertainer, with whom he remained friends until her death in 1956. His voice received the imprimatur of Ernestine Schumann-Heinke, a well-known German operatic contralto who encouraged him to study for the opera. And he was a psychic medium to boot.

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Chester Grady and Elsie Janis, 1922 (New York Herald).

Chester Michael Grady was born in Lakeport, New Hampshire and grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his mother died in 1903 during a bout of diphtheria that left her young son unscathed. His father remarried and the family eventually grew to eight children, the last born when Chester was 32 years old. In his youth Grady waited tables at Hampton Beach, sang in church, and at age 23 did his first acting stint in a Detroit, Michigan theatre. He performed at venues around the Seacoast and, in winter, St. Petersburg, Florida, often accompanied on the piano by his lifelong friend, John Creighton. After settling permanently in Hampton, he founded the Hampton Players theatrical group, joined the local Kiwanis, and enjoyed antique collecting, crewel embroidery, and cooking. He lectured on extrasensory perception in the Seacoast region, where his reputation was as an authority on the subject.

If anyone should have written their life story, it was Chester Grady. He must have thought so, too, as he said in a 1970 interview that he was working on his memoirs. But when he died two years later, his work-in-progress went missing.

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The Creighmore summer boarding house, Hampton NH, c. 1940. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

The Creighmore

Maude Morey, a wealthy widow from Lowell, Massachusetts who liked to entertain guests at her Hampton Beach cottage, took a shine to the two young musical talents Grady and Creighton and put them under her wing. In 1923 she bought the former High Street residence of Josiah Cate Palmer and converted it to a summer boarding house named Creighmore, a high-toned portmanteau of Creighton and Morey. That winter, while Grady donned a tux and sang for his supper around the Seacoast, he and Creighton got the 22-room house ready for the summer season. Grady purchased a small cottage from the Coast Guard and moved it to the rear of the property as his private sanctuary, which he expanded over the years by adding both new construction and existing structures. The old Little Boar’s Head post office became a dining room, the Creighmore ice house a bedroom. But it was not until his marriage to Rae Cannon in 1947 that he made the patchwork cottage his full-time home. Over the years, Maude conveyed pieces of her property to John and to Rae, who later conveyed them to Grady, so that by the late 1950s he was the sole owner of the Creighmore and its grounds.

A dead man and a flapper

Of all Grady’s interests, the most unusual was his involvement as a trance medium—communicating with the spirits of the dead. He was also interested in psychic research, and to that end joined the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) and participated in the psychic investigations of Duke University psychologist Joseph Banks Rhine and Columbia University psychologist Gardner Murphy.

His first published spirit encounter came in the spring of 1930, as he was attending an Easter Sunday service in New York City. While sitting in the balcony of the church, he was visited by a young man who had committed suicide and wanted Grady to tell his mother that he was doing fine in the spirit world. When the spirit showed Grady a vision of his mother, Grady recognized her as a woman who had sat with him a month earlier. Acknowledging his obligation, Grady wrote her a letter to tell her what her son wanted her to know.

His most famous instance of mediumship occurred in New York the following year, when he was contacted weekly throughout the spring and summer by the spirit of Olive Thomas, the original “flapper girl” and Hollywood silent film star who had accidentally ingested poison in a Paris hotel room and died four days later, on September 10, 1920. Fueled by her youth, fame, and the exotic setting of her demise, rumors swirled through the scandal sheets that she had committed suicide over her supposedly dissolute lifestyle and unhappy marriage to Jack Pickford, the younger brother of actress Mary Pickford. Like the young man at the church a year earlier, Olive wanted Grady to contact her mother; not only to reassure her, but to set the story straight about her death.

The story of their contact was told not by Grady, but a year after his death by J. Gay Stevens, a man who said he was present at the sittings and took notes of what the “golden-haired” Olive revealed through Grady. Armed with the intimate information provided by Olive’s spirit, Stevens contacted her mother and convinced the troubled woman of the reality of her daughter’s survival after death. Olive then came to Grady one last time, repeating loudly in his inner ear, “We did it! Now she knows the truth and she’s free. And thanks to you two, so am I.”

Early Stargate Project?

Beyond the psychological aspect of a man, whose mother had tragically died when he was a child, attracting the spirits of tragically-dead young people reaching out to their still-living mothers, the fact is that Grady believed in his psychic abilities, even listing himself in Hartmann’s Directory of Psychic Science as a “Trance Medium.” And then there’s this interesting intersection of facts: in 1942—the year he cited the ASPR as his employer on his draft registration—Grady revealed to a local newspaper that he was in the employ of the “United States Intelligence Service,” or OSS. It seems far-fetched to suppose he had been involved in some sort of early Stargate Project, attempting to use his psychic talent to sniff out Nazi spies or break German codes, but Grady himself said that he was “at his best in research concerning identification of unseen objects.” Perhaps if another unseen object—the memoir he was writing in the years before his death—ever resurfaces, we might know for sure.

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Chester Grady, 1952. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

End note: they had me at bacon

For nearly half a century, Marjorie Mills had been a staple personality on the women’s page of the Boston Herald and on WBZ radio. Known as “Dame Boston,” she had interviewed such noted celebrities as Lionel Barrymore and first ladies Grace Coolidge and Jackie Kennedy. Chester Grady, it seems, was one of her local favorites—she had interviewed him on her radio show multiple times and was fond of quoting his witty remarks in her newspaper column. In 1966, when she stowed the typewriter and microphone after a long career in media, he made the guest list at her retirement dinner.

In the spring of 1954, Mills invited Grady and John Creighton onto her radio show to talk about cooking. Dubbed by her the “inspired Comrades in Cuisine,” the foodies shared their recipes for crustless pecan pie and bacon-wrapped chicken, and, in true New England style, they recommended that cooks use grated cheese to punch up their favorite johnnycake recipes. Today we call these vintage dishes “comfort foods,” but in the ‘50s they were just delectable eating. To try them for yourself, no psychic awareness is required, just go online to https://lassitergang.com/comrades-in-cuisine.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 3, 2018.

Featured image (top) courtesy of Chester’s grandniece, Kate Norton Kelley.

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.

Horseless in Hampton

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An anecdote passed down in the early 20th century by Reverend Edgar Warren of Hampton, New Hampshire, says that the first horseless carriage to appear on the streets of town was brought in 1878 by Loring Dunbar Shaw, a fireman with the Boston Fire Department and the son of local residents Dearborn and Clarissa Shaw. Loring was an up-and-coming inventor of mechanical devices, having received several patents for an automatic steam relief valve which he licensed to the fire department for use in its horse-drawn fire engines. His patents became the foundation for the Boston-based Shaw Relief Valve Company, formed in 1882.

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Sylvester H. Roper handbill advertising, 1869.

Loring’s interest in motorized vehicles may have been sparked by the pioneering work of Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts, an inventor who had exhibited a steam-propelled carriage and velocipede not far from Shaw’s engine house in South Boston. In any event, a steam carriage was a convenient way for Loring to demonstrate to prospective buyers and investors the effectiveness of his relief valves. He brought his carriage to Hampton by rail, and upon arrival at the depot “curious bystanders” helped him push it to a nearby water pump to fill the boiler. Once the steam was up, Loring started down the beach road “at the dizzy pace of five miles an hour.” He was seen jaunting around town for a few days in his “teapot on wheels,” until the selectmen deemed it a nuisance and ordered it off the road.

The Locomobile

The next horseless carriage of note in Hampton was an early Stanley steam car called the Locomobile, driven by its inventor and builder, Freelan O. Stanley of Newton, Massachusetts. As Stanley passed through town in August 1899, en route to the White Mountains to attempt the first-ever motorized ascent of the Mount Washington Carriage Road, he stopped to show off the Locomobile at the Whittier Hotel on Lafayette Road, where local resident Mary Toppan (Clark) photographed the man and his machine.

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Inventor Freelan O. Stanley with unknown woman and Locomobile in front of the Whittier Hotel, Hampton New Hampshire (August 1899). Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Stanley and his twin brother and business partner Francis had been in the embryonic automobile industry for less than three years. They were better known for their photographic dry plates, which they manufactured through the Stanley Dry Plate Company of Lewiston, Maine. Miss Toppan must have been pleased to make Stanley’s latest invention the subject of her photographer’s lens, perhaps even using plates made by his own company.

 Hampton’s early auto laws

In 1904, a quarter century after the selectmen had banned Loring Shaw’s horseless buggy, the town posted its first ever automobile laws to combat the “reckless manner” in which the rapidly proliferating motor vehicles were running over the roads. The speed limit through town was set at 8 miles per hour and vehicles were required to stop when approaching a team of horses that seemed spooked (this was a serious problem, and some New Hampshire towns wisely arranged meet-and-greets at the town square where their horses could acclimate to the noisy contraptions before going under harness). For some years it appeared that the new speed limit law, while not always obeyed, was carefully enforced, with $400 in fines assessed in 1907 alone. But like the tramp laws of an earlier era, enforcement eventually fell by the wayside, and in 1910 and 1912 town meeting voters requested the selectmen to again enforce the speed limit laws.

Hampton’s first woman driver

Before Charles Kettering invented the electric starter in 1911, only a handful of women owned and operated cars. Kettering’s invention helped change all that by eliminating the need to hand crank, making cars much easier to operate. That is unless your car was a Ford, which didn’t begin installing electric starters until 1919.

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Hampton’s first woman driver Bernice Glidden (Palmer) and grandmother Anna Victoria Glidden in a sporty Ford Model T Roadster (1915). Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

With that in mind, it was at the wheel of a hand cranked Ford Model T Roadster that 26-year-old Bernice Glidden took to the road in 1915, giving her the distinction of being the first woman in Hampton to drive a car. Bernice had been born in Medford, Massachusetts, grew up in Hampton, graduated cum laude from Tufts University in 1910, and worked as a designer in Boston before marrying Charles D. Palmer of Hampton. She was an artist, and a collection of her hand-drawn notecards depicting familiar Hampton scenes is owned by the Hampton Historical Society, of which she was a longtime member.

Get a decent job

Also in 1915—the year the one-millionth Tin Lizzie rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line—a 24-year-old former chauffeur named Frank E. Brooks opened the Hampton Center Garage, near the train depot, on land purchased from the Boston & Maine Railroad. The garage was one of the earliest service stations in Hampton, and, as Brooks Motor Sales, one of the first Ford dealerships in New England.

To Frank’s parents the horseless carriage was a passing fad, and they had urged him to get a “decent job.” But he knew automobiles were the future of transportation. The following year he expanded to Portsmouth, where, from the barn of his father in law’s residence, he started out as a sub-dealer for pioneering auto dealer and blacksmith Hiram Wever. “Your best friends in those days, if you owned a car, was the blacksmith,” Frank said in a 1966 interview. “They had the mechanical ability to replace broken springs and make other repairs in the days before there were garage service stations.”

Within a year Frank moved his operation to the old Portsmouth Forge building and became a direct dealer of Ford automobiles. At least four brothers and a brother in law found employment in the growing Brooks auto empire, with Frank’s brother John, who served as Hampton’s town moderator from 1937 until his death in 1952, as a sales manager. In 1961 Frank parted with the Hampton Center Garage, which reopened that same year as C&B Ford Village. In 1966 he sold Brooks Motor Sales, which reopened under the name Brady Auto Sales and is today Portsmouth Ford.

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Top: John Brooks on right, in front of Hampton Center Garage (c 1930 Ford Model A). Bottom: Hampton Center Garage with a Model T at front of building (c. 1925). Photos courtesy of Hampton Historical Society.

Going, going, gone

In 1900, Hampton’s annual valuation included 270 horses—almost one for every four residents in town. By 1920 the number had dropped to 157, and by 1940, when a car could be found in most driveways, the number of horses had fallen nearly 90 per cent. By mid-century Hampton was truly horseless, with only 4 equines among the resident livestock counted in 1963, the last year they appeared in the records.

Early Horseless Humor

“Horseless vehicles may do well for long distance excursions on the road, but it is plain they will never answer for making neigh-borly calls.”

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 22, 2018.

Featured (public domain) photograph: Sylvester Roper and his steam carriage, c. 1870.

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.