Wednesday, July 31, 2013

29882. John Leavitt


The Western Association of Leavitt Families has left us quite a memorial for John Leavitt and family, four plaques, one on each side of a spire, telling the story of his arrival and listing the many children he sired with each of his wives, Mary and Sarah.

There's nothing spectacular about his tale. He arrived at 19 years old, moved to Hingham from Dorchester in 1636 and stayed for the rest of his life. He was a civic leader for sure - a deacon, a magistrate, a representative, a selectman - and helped get the Old Ship Church constructed. So were the legacies of many early settlers, the people who built our little corner of the New World. We - if we love Hingham - certainly owe him a debt of graititude.

What caught me on the marker, though, was the description of his property: "His homestead ran along Leavitt Street, the land grant extending from the Weir River to Turkey Hill." We can't think in those terms today. We can locate each of these places on a map, but to take it from ground level, we think in terms of modern landmarks. Ok, so I'm on Leavitt Street. If I turn right at the library I can follow it to Turkey Hill Lane and climb the hill, but where the heck is the river from here? We've gridded out so much of our land, it's difficult to see historical geography.

Oddly, I lived on Turkey Hill Lane as a kid, meaning I am part of the Leavitt land legacy. But I'll bet you his experiences on the land were much different than mine.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

29860 and 29861. Joan Gallop and Thomas Joy

Joan and Thomas' stones got late placement, perhaps replacement, in the twentieth century, which allowed us to learn more of their stories, thanks to a descendant willing to spend the time (and cash) to share them.

Joan, though, like many women from the 17th century, gets the short end of the stick. Her claim to fame, aside from marrying Thomas, is that she is the "Daughter of Captain John Gallop of Boston." Even on the second go, the most important fact about her life were the accomplishments of somebody else, "a coastal trader whose sea fight with Indians off Block Island opened the Pequot War 1636-7." Mind you, that's pretty impressive, personally starting a war. But how about Joan herself? In 1633, she joined her mother and brothers on her transatlantic journey, departing England on the Griffin for the strange new world of New England, leaving all of her friends behind, to start a new life where her father had set up shop just three years in the past. Sixteen days after she landed she turned 15 years old. Boston was the new home, but John Gallop had set up a farm as well, on the Boston Harbor island that still bears his surname today.

She married Thomas Joy, Jr., quite a rabble rouser. He left England as a 25 years old in October 1635 on the Constance and moved into Boston. Talented with a hammer, he built several important structures in the early city, including the "first state house" according to his stone, though there would be no actual states for another century and a half. In the meantime, he got involved politically, to the consternation of Governor John Winthrop. Described in the Hingham history as "too ardent a lover of liberty," he, according to his stone, was "kept in irons four or five days by Governor Winthrop for getting hands to Dr. Child's memorial, 1646," the same year he moved to Hingham and started building mills. His sin in the eyes of Winthrop was supporting Dr. Robert Child's attempt to spread voting enfranchisement, actively petitioning for increased suffrage. But in the end - after he married Joan, acquired large tracts of land, spread it amongst their kids - he was exonerated. He was a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company and even named a freeman.

So, perhaps Joans's new life in America wasn't so bad after all. It certainly had its share of excitement.

Monday, July 29, 2013

29853. Thomas Hersey

Whenever my friend Don and I set out to write a new pictorial history (we're up to ten published, I believe), we go through the same routine. Hey, it works, why change it? We split up the workload and go for it. After a week, he calls me and says that every picture he's charged with interpreting has become a "research project unto itself."

And so it goes with these big 'ol stones I'm checking out. While it may be hard, practically impossible to believe, I do not know everything. I do spend time looking stuff up, to use the scientific term. Sometimes these stones just throw me curveballs. Graveyard baseball.

Take Tom Hersey, for instance: Soldier in the French and Indian War (got it), Survivor of the Massacre at Fort William Henry (don't got it), Captain in the Revolution (ok, got that one).

Well, that middle story was so tragic - and one can debate the veracity of the use of the word "massacre," based on the number of people really killed or wounded compared to the inflated estimates that have wafted down through time - that James Fenimore Cooper used it as the basis for his novel The Last of the Mohicans. Having lost a patch of northern New York ground to the French, British troops (which at that time included Colonials), prepared an orderly, nearly gentlemanly withdrawal from their fort. The French agreed to the terms, but their Native American allies either did not understand or did not care, and harrassed and killed a number of men, women, children and servants (who, yes, were also men and women) as the British marched out of the fort.

No matter the numbers lost, the event itself was heart-rending for those folks close to it, like the family of Thomas Hersey. Who knew that a Hingham guy was there. Small world. Especially back then.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

29695. Benjamin Lincoln


And then there was the big man himself. Benjamin Lincoln was a Major General in the Army of the Revolution, and an important one at that. He had his less than stellar moments - like, oh, taking a ball in the ankle while retreating in the face of British troops about to take over his headquarters, or losing the entire southern half of the colonies to the enemy after the siege of Charleston - but he also had his glories. And he did anything that Hingham, Boston and his country needed when called upon. He stood in for George Washington at Yorktown to accept the sword of surrender from Lord Cornwallis, ending the war.

He was fat. You can't tell that from his tomb, of course, but it was a fact. He often fell asleep in the middle of sentences. He had trouble breathing. And after his escape from the raid on his headquarters, he limped. But let's face it, he was an American hero in his day. And we should all always put ourselves in his place before we judge - how would we have done when the bullets started flying? Would today's leaders have stood up to the tyranny of absentee rulers? Would you?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

29634. Madam Sarah Derby


There are, though, those people who do stand out over time. Nobody will remember Madam Sarah Derby 2 million years from now, when Earth is overtaken by Plutonians (banished from Earth and punished with export from an overcrowded planet, a race of pickpockets and safecrackers living on the former ninth planet stage a coup and take over Earth using nothing more than a wet dry vac and 500,000 pounds of gummy bears - but that's a story for another day). But we, in our little window of time in our fledgling little town of Hingham in our fledgling little country remember her very well.

She's the Derby in Derby Academy, the matriarch of the oldest coeducational school in the United States, founded in 1784. The boys and girls studied separate subjects in her days, but within the same walls, which for its time was a novelty, perhaps anathema to some. Not only do we remember her through the school, but the Hingham Harbor Islands, Ragged, Sarah and Langlee; she started life as Sarah Langlee.

She left us no words of wisdom on her stone, but she did leave us with a reminder to practice open-mindedness, dashes of which do need to be spread around, from time to time.

Friday, July 26, 2013

29531. The Whitons

The Whitons, and the rest of their clan through time, as well, found an interesting way to memorialize the family history, by marking the family tomb with a bronze plaque bearing the names of all family members interred within born from 1826 onward, a total of 15 people. I, of course, have no way of knowing whether or not they're actually in there, but in the end that doesn't matter.

To show the fleeting futility of human life on Earth, the family chose the work of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, and a line from one of his most famous works, "Tam O'Shanter": Like A Snowflake On The River, We Are Here A Moment, Then Gone Forever.

At times, when I step back and look at life with the widest possible scope, I laugh at how ridiculous most of our squabbles are. We fight tooth and nail over the choice of bottled water vs. tap, never considering that the water we drink today, no matter where it came from in the past few days, is the same water the dinosaurs drank millions of years ago. We are insignificant in time. Be we paupers or kings, we vanish into the continuum, fade into nothingness. Live and let live, people!

Robbie Burns got it. The Whitons got it. You got it? Good.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

29505. William Hersey


We certainly learn a lot about William Hersey from his memorial stone: "Born in Reading, England, 1596. Inspired by the Love of Liberty this Puritan Pioneer sailed for America & settled in Hingham 1635 he served as a Selectman 1642 47 50. Died March 22, 1658." What days those must have been! Forging a life in the New World, seeking out new lives and new civilizations, bolding going where no white European had gone before.

And the selectman part should not be overlooked. Who do you look to for leadership, surrounded by the unknown on three sides, possibly four (who knew what could come sailing into Hingham Harbor without a moment's notice? Hey, I like that phrase...) You went to not just any men, but a few select men for guidance, strength and support.

So what kind of women stood with these selectmen? We can't tell from William's stone. "Elizabeth, his wife, died October 8, 1671." That's all we get. It must have sucked to be a woman in seventeenth century America. There are a few stories of strong-willed and accomplished women of the days, but it was for the most part a secondary life, no voice in politics (at least not directly; there had to be conversations behind closed doors) and little prospect of doing more than overseeing the home. And Elizabeth didn't even get a birth date. Sigh...their day would come.