The Silhouette Lady of Hampton Beach

Standard

After falling out of fashion in the 1970s, the black-paper silhouette portrait seems to be making a comeback, if its 6,200 search results on the handcraft site Etsy.com are any indication. With roots in ancient Greek pottery painting, silhouettes first appeared in the early 18th century as “shades,” an art form in which likenesses were quickly and easily cut with scissors from black paper. Initially adopted by European aristocrats, “having your shadow taken” became an inexpensive means of portraiture among the lower classes. The art form got its nickname from Etienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister whose unpopular frugality made his name synonymous with doing things fast and on the cheap. Anything deemed affordable was labeled “à la Silhouette.”

Silhouettes soon crossed to America. In 1802 the painter and inventor Charles Willson Peale installed a silhouette-making machine called a physiognotrace in his Philadelphia museum. According to the Smithsonian, the public loved it, with more than 8,500 silhouettes cut the first year. Peale’s slave, Moses Williams, earned enough money from operating the machine to buy his freedom.

 By mid-century, however, photography had eclipsed the shadow portrait. Yet the romantic allure of the flat black silhouette ensured that it would never completely disappear from popular culture, and in the 20th century silhouette makers recast themselves as scissor artists, cutting on-the-spot black-paper portraits at popular venues like fairs, sideshows, and vacation resorts. Traveling, “internationally renowned” silhouettists became all the rage, with some even appearing in vaudeville shows.

1946Jul24 Beachcomber 1st advertThe Silhouette Lady comes to the beach

The middle class popularity of silhouette portraits bred elitist detractors who questioned whether the making of silhouettes was an art form at all, since, as one writer put it, “there is so little art about them.” But then, the critics weren’t referring to the famous French painter Henry Matisse, who began “painting with scissors” when an illness confined him to a wheelchair in the 1940s—around the time that Lillian Clarke was snipping her way to renown as the “Silhouette Lady” of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

Lillian was born in Massachusetts in 1900, just one year after the opening of the Hampton Beach Casino, where from 1933 on she would spend nearly 50 summers in a small shop on its promenade, cutting silhouettes portraits and drawing pastel profiles for the vacationing public. Before coming to the beach she studied at the Boston Museum School (now the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University), worked as a jewelry designer, and devoted a few years to teaching with the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts. In the off-season she snipped portraits all around the Boston area, at charity bazaars, home and flower shows, and Jordan Marsh’s Toyland.

1958-60 Lillian Clarke

Top: Lillian G. Clarke and husband John P. Bunker, c 1960. Bottom: Lillian at Hampton Beach studio, 1958. Courtesy Hampton Historical Society.

Lillian didn’t just work at the beach, she was literally invested in it. Over the years she had owned at least five properties, most with multiple dwellings and situated on Town or Hampton Beach Improvement Company leased land. Her first Hampton Beach cottage was The Gables on K Street, which she bought in 1943, one year after the death of her first husband. Others she would later buy with her second husband, John Bunker, who ran John’s Popcorn on the boulevard.

1959 Popcorn Stand 2

John Bunker and popcorn stand, Hampton Beach. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

 

Lillian’s limericks

Lillian was also known to occasionally “cut a few shadow pictures in limerick form.” In 1934 the Hampton Beach News-Guide published her limerick about life at Hampton Beach.

If to the ballroom you wish to retreat
To do some dancing with nimble feet
Billy’s Arcadians are very good.
And so I think you really should
Spend lots of nickels to make it complete.

In Hal’s Hampton Beach Band is a sweet gracious man
Who’s admired by many a feminine fan
For it’s “IT” he possesses
And who ‘tis you’ve three guesses
Adolph Blazer’s the one who’s so grand!

Now Hal has a Daddy, in the band he does toot
He’s a little fat man from his hat to his boot.
When his son says “obey”
He ne’er tells him “nay”
Want to see him? He wears a tan suit.

Hap Rowell the “Sheriff” in the band is getting old
>He wears flannels and boots to keep out the cold.
I’ll be blest where he’ll go
When we get ice and snow
Let’s give him a cold range to hold.

On Monday nights at the bandstand is a very good show
And who thinks he’s Bing’s double? Why Lawrence you know.
After attempt number three
An endurance prize got he
Now we’ll endure him as long as he’ll go.

Last year Bill Stickney was a cop
And tagging cars kept him ahop
But he got a chance
For a little advance
As a captain now, he’s no flop.

Now we’ve Jim and we’ve John of the family Dineen
As two corking brothers as you’ve ever seen
Who own half the Casino
And no wives in Reno
Now, girls, you can’t make a real choice between.

If the future or past you wish to know
To Madame Cooper you want to go
She’s as clever as can be
Just take a try and see
She’s a whiz as a palmist ‘tis so.

This beach, it is great for Conventions of late
If you wish to have any be sure not to wait.
If all rooms are not taken
For vacations, you may be mistaken
And our transients think Hampton Beach is just great.

In 1936 the Hampton Beach Advocate gave us Lillian’s poem of wind-blown woe titled, “North-easter? Watch Out!” In 1955 the Beachcomber published her poetic testimonial to Bill Elliot, the town’s singing cop, of whom she had cut a full-length silhouette 19 years earlier.

No longer a thing

Not only had the Silhouette Lady cut an untold number of black-paper portraits in her forty-plus years at the Casino, but she had captured in silhouette and poem a piece of Hampton Beach history. She was as much a beach institution as the Singing Cop and the Carnival Queen, both of whom she outlasted. But by the 1970s hand-cut silhouettes were no longer a thing, and when the Casino’s new owners took over in 1976, they replaced old-timers like Lillian Clarke with a new generation of retailers.

Fortunately for us, her daughter presented to the Hampton Historical Society a set of Lillian’s silhouette portraits—which includes full-body profiles of all 17 members of the Hal McDonnell Band, the beach “house” band from 1925-1936. These original portraits can be seen at the Tuck Museum, 40 Park Avenue, Hampton. For anyone interested in the history of Hampton Beach, they are worth a look.

1934 Hal McDonnell Band members

Lillian Clarke silhouette of Hal McDonnell Band (1 of 6). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 1, 2019.

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.

Uri Lamprey, “Old Seaweed” of Hampton

Standard

His political cronies called him “Old Seaweed.” The town historian lauded him as a man of “great business ability and forethought.” But to Uri Lamprey’s political enemies he was a dictator, thug leader, Copperhead, seller of Peruvian guano, a hard line Democrat who callously looked the other way at the issue of slavery.

It was once rumored that he had designs on the governor’s seat, but the Civil War was over, Reconstruction had begun, and the Democratic Party to which he had pledged his loyalty for over 30 years was on the ropes. His wish for the leadership of the state would remain just that.

His occupations were as many and varied as the names thrown at him—he was a farmer, justice of the peace, deputy sheriff, constable, collector of taxes, bank director, president and agent of the Rockingham County Farmers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company. And when he was still young enough not to know any better, he had been the Hampton agent for a quack product called Dr. Holman’s Jaundice Powder.

Political career

Uri Lamprey, 1871

Uri Lamprey of Hampton, 1871. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Born in 1809, Lamprey became politically active during the Age of Jackson. He was drawn to the party of power in New Hampshire, the anti-federalist Democratic-Republicans, who saw as evil both the national bank and the “fanatical doctrines of universal emancipation.” He rose through the ranks as selectman, town meeting moderator, and state representative, and, as a delegate to the 1850 state constitutional convention, had tackled a slate of vexing issues, including a proposal to remove the provision barring any but Protestants from holding public office (in Hampton as well as statewide, voters soundly rejected this measure).

In the 1852 presidential election, three of the candidates were New Hampshire natives—Brigadier General Franklin Pierce, Democratic ticket; U.S. Senator John P. Hale, Free Soil ticket; and U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster; Union Party ticket (he, however, died a week before the election). Pierce had set up his campaign headquarters at the Ocean House in Rye, just a short carriage ride from Hampton, and Lamprey, who would be elected to the state Executive Council in 1853, was one of his most active campaigners. His relationship with Pierce went back a decade or more, and it was likely around 1842 that he received from then-U.S. Senator Pierce the gift of a black walking cane, which was said to have come to him “through the late Hon. Tristram Shaw.” Shaw, who died in 1843, is the only person from Hampton to have been elected to Congress, serving his term of office when Pierce was in the Senate, 1837-1842. In 1931 Lamprey’s granddaughter Caroline Lamprey Shea presented the Pierce cane to the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association (now the Hampton Historical Society).

1852 Pierce Campaign broadside

1852 Pierce Campaign broadside, Library of Congress.

After Pierce won the presidency, Lamprey resigned his agency with Farmers’ Mutual and went to Washington. It’s not clear what role he played there, but in 1854 we find him back in his old haunts, serving as State Insurance Commissioner and lobbying for Pierce’s agenda. Like his hero in the White House, he was fatally attached to the idea that for the sake of the Union slavery must be tolerated. The opposition press called him a “Thug leader,” one whose interest in politics started and ended with the spoils system. To criticize his lobbying efforts they lampooned him as an “agent of the New York Guano Company,” who had set out in the back room of a Concord hotel his samples of “Peruvian or Chincha Islands sugar, commonly called guano,” which some Democratic members of the New Hampshire legislature had liberally imbibed with their liquor.

During the early years of the Civil War, Lamprey threw his support behind the “irascible old physician” Dr. Nathaniel Batchelder of Epping, who had been arrested and temporarily imprisoned for leading a group of antiwar protestors in tearing down the U.S. flag at the Epping post office and “shouting hosannas to the Confederate regime.” Batchelder became an overnight martyr to the anti-Lincoln crowd, and Lamprey proudly introduced him at the next party convention (which opponents called “slaveholder rallies”), where Batchelder expounded his theory of the “divinity of human slavery” to an appreciative crowd.

Charges of jury tampering

The war was still ongoing when William Young, a Deerfield, New Hampshire physician, was indicted for the murder of Sarah Atwell, alias Fannie Morgan, a 24-year-old factory worker from Clinton, Massachusetts. Sarah had arrived at Dr. Young’s house in early August 1864, “in a condition of pregnancy” with the intention of “procuring an abortion.” She never left the house alive, and Young was arrested and charged with her murder.

Lamprey’s interest in the case is a mystery, but during the trial held in Exeter he was accused of attempting to influence a member of the jury. The judge ordered him arrested and held for trial, but later released him without charges. The trial ended with an acquittal for Dr. Young.

A legacy, of sorts

While he was loathed by his political opponents, Old Seaweed had the esteem of supporters who saw him as a “bigger man than Old Jackson.” Fifteen years after Lamprey’s death in 1881, Lewis K. H. Lane of North Hampton wrote the following edited anecdote, which serves to illustrate his iconic stature in the minds of his admirers, and the sort of men, in Lane’s opinion, they tended to be.

“One day in the autumn of a certain year, an advertising team drove through Hampton, painting the fences and rocks alongside the road with the letters T  L for the purpose of exciting curiosity and to cause people to inquire as to their meaning. A second team was to follow a few days later and supply the missing letters, which would then spell the name of a patent medicine. But before that could happen, two men, loaded with ozone blown over from the classic shades of Newburyport, came walking into town from a late night gunning trip off Boar’s Head. When they saw the mysterious first letters they wondered what they meant, and the mystery deepened as they continued up from the beach, encountering more and more of these strange symbols. At last one of them threw up his hands and shouted, ‘T is for Uri and L for Lamper! Oh holy, how plain I see it.’”

Lane concluded his story by saying that while the “days of Uri Lamprey are no more, the quaint saying T is for Uri, and L for Lamper is a common proverb in Hampton today.”

Originally published in the Hampton Union, January 25, 2019.

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.

 

Lady Tavern keepers of Hampton

Standard

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 selectmen approved eight women to keep tavern with the town’s bounds—Joanna Tuck, Sarah Roby, Love Sherburne, Joanna Lane, Mary Leavitt, Rachel Freese, Anna Leavitt, and Rachel Leavitt—all widows save one.

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 occurred suddenly, during the fall session of the court, which was held every October in the Hampton meeting house, 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

sarahroby_autograph

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 her 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.

lovesherburnemark

 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.

cover_final

The Hampton Saltworks

Standard

(Above: Mid-19th century view of a Cape Cod saltworks wind-driven pump, which supplied sea water to the evaporation vats. The Hampton windpump owned by David Nudd 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

Standard

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

Standard
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

Standard

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.