The Devil’s Soldiers in Gloucester

By Jude Seminara

Photo by Marty Luster

During the summer of 1692, while all of Essex County was gripped by the Witchcraft Hysteria, a Gloucester husbandman was plagued by nightly visitations by a spectral raiding party. England and her colonies were involved in King William’s War, the first of the colonial French and Indian Wars.  Brutal attacks on the settlements at the Eastward (Maine) flooded Essex County with traumatized refugees. The Province of Massachusetts Bay had been operating without a charter in a sort of legal ambiguity since the overthrow of the Dominion of New England under the hated Sir Edmund Andros. The new Charter arrived in February of 1692, and the new governor, Sir William Phips arrived in Boston in May.  One of his first acts was to establish a Court of Oyer and Terminer to deal with the increasing number of witchcraft accusations being dealt with by the Essex County courts. 

The Province of Massachusetts Bay contributed men and material to the efforts of England during King William’s War, and the prospect of French and Indian raids were an ever present fear. So when Ebenezer Babson returned to his home at The Farms behind Good Harbor Beach late one evening in early July 1692 and saw two men rushing from his door yard, he rightfully grabbed his gun and gave chase. The intruders fled into Babson’s corn field but not before he heard one remark to the other that, had he not returned, they would have “taken the house.” 

Twenty-five year old Babson hurriedly assembled his household, which included his widowed mother Elinor, and repaired to the local garrison house, two miles distant. The garrison was a fortified house of the type commonly found in 17th century Massachusetts towns as protection against Indian raids. Gloucester had at least one garrison house, located for a time on the site of the rectory of St. Ann’s church on Prospect Street.

Local Connection to Famous “Anthony!” Prince Macaroni Commercial

By Jude Seminara

Recently, Anthony Martignetti — “Anthony!” from the Prince Macaroni commercials — passed away. Martignetti was a local celebrity, court officer, and Italian immigrant. 
The following is the story of another Italian immigrant, my great grandfather Giuseppe Seminara, one of the founders of the Prince Macaroni Mfg. Co.  Prince Macaroni got its start less than half a mile from the North End tenement on Powers Ct. where Anthony burst panting through the door for supper in the advertisement. Antonino Seminara, Giuseppe’s father, ran a bakery at 92 Prince St.


The Seminara family arrived in the United States aboard the SS Trave in 1901 and settled in the North End, Boston’s Italian neighborhood. Following Antonino’s death in 1911, Giuseppe Seminara (who earned his citizenship in 1905), his brother-in-law Gaetano LaMarca, and LaMarca’s cousin Michele Cantella began Prince Macaroni with some baking equipment, a horse and cart, and $150. Their macaroni was sold from the storefront at 92 Prince St. to the Italians in the neighborhood. By 1917, these three “off-the-boat” immigrants had so much success that they purchased a lot on Commercial St. to erect an eight story plant in order to keep up with the growing demand for semolina pasta. 
During this time, anti-Italian sentiment ran high in the United States. Known as “guineas,” “wops,” and “dagos,” Italians were regularly discriminated against. In fact, the largest mass lynching in American history occurred when eleven Italians were murdered in New Orleans in 1891. Louisiana would see two more mass lynchings of Italians in the 1890s. Anti-Italian prejudice was not limited to the South either. The KKK held a mass protest in Vineland, NJ in the 1930s, and even closer to home, in Boston, Italian immigrants were suspected of causing the Molasses Disaster of 1919; and Sacco and Vanzetti were subject to an unfair trial which resulted in their execution in 1927 for a crime they did not commit. Prejudice certainly touched Giuseppe as well  In 1919, he, LaMarca, Cantella, four other Italians, and one German and one Jewish applicant were all denied gun permits. Almost forty permits were issued, all to applicants with Irish and English surnames. 
Despite the obstacles presented by bigotry, the Seminara, Cantella, and LaMarca held their course towards the American Dream. Twice, tragedy struck the Seminara family (Giuseppe and his wife Elvira lost their second son Salvatore to jaundice one day after he was born; and Elvira herself died after a long illness in 1923 when she was only 28 years old), yet Giuseppe persevered. 
Prince Macaroni continued to grow through the Roaring Twenties and survived the Great Depression. In 1939, the business moved to Lowell. In 1941, despite having done $600,000 in business, LaMarca, Cantella, and Seminara were seeking new management, which came in the form of Italian immigrant New Yorker Joseph Pellegrino, who purchased a controlling share in the corporation. By 1955, Prince was turning out a million pounds of pasta per week and doing ten million dollars in business. Prince Macaroni was a household name. 
Giuseppe Seminara died in 1961 at age 76, nine years before Anthony Martignetti burst through the door for supper at Powers Court, He was survived by his wife Rosalia, his oldest son by Elvira (my paternal grandfather) Antonino, and a son Joseph and daughter Elvira, as well as several grandchildren of which my dad was one. 
Part of Giuseppe’s legacy is that anyone, despite their circumstances or the obstacles they face, can achieve the American dream with perseverance and hard work. 

VERA LYNN DIES AT 103

Vera Lynn, known as the sweetheart of the British armed forces, has died at age 103. Perhaps best known for We’ll Meet Again (1939), Vera ‘s music inspired not only the armed forces during WWII, but all those who face great challenges and uncertain futures. Her music is as timely now as it was during the Nazi’s war on Europe. As we face a viral pandemic, a suddenly unstable economy and a great civic awakening, Vera’s voice, her constructive sentimentality and her passion can help us all through this difficult time.

Listen to this and tell me if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes and hope to your heart.

THE CUT

Photo by Marty Luster 2011

By Jude Seminara

Gloucester Harbor’s importance as a safe harbor was established early in the history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The passage around Cape Ann was perilous in heavy weather, as the loss of several vessels on our rocky shores in the 1630s can attest.  As early as 1638, the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony considered opening a canal through the marsh at the head of the Annisquam River.  The General Court designated three men to determine whether the marsh could be cut through efficiently, yet no work was initiated for five years. 

Richard Blynman, the minister then at Gloucester, was given permission in 1643 to dig a canal through the beach and to maintain the passage through to the harbor.  Passage was free.  Blynman’s canal was wide enough only for small shallops with bulkheads of field stones and spanned by a bridge which swung on a pivot.  The canal was a great convenience to the masters of small vessels spared from making the sometimes treacherous passage around the cape.

After Blynman’s removal to New London, responsibility for maintaining the Cut passed to William Stevens. Apparently, vessel operators were remiss in their obligation to close the bridge, much to the disdain of land-bound travelers.  As a result, in 1704 a fine of six shillings was imposed upon those who failed to close the bridge.  This issue was moot a few years later, however, after a storm and the attendant high tide filled the canal and rendered it unnavigable.  Nathaniel Coit owned the Cut at this time, and he neglected the clearing of it until compelled to do so until compelled by the General Court.  He charged a six shilling toll for its use.

Again, in 1723, a storm and attendant high tide (recall that the harbor did not have the protective bulwark of the Dog Bar Breakwater to prevent southerly swells until 1905) again filled the canal with sand.  Again, the owner, now Samuel Steven, Jr., neglected to have it cleared out; and again, a resolution to the controversy fell upon the government.  The townspeople threatened a lawsuit in 1727, and the selectmen discussed whether the town should pay for the upkeep of the canal but this was voted against.  In 1728, the town gave liberty to any person who cared to clear and maintain the cut.  This must have been a daunting undertaking, since no person came forth, and the canal remained unnavigable for the next 95 years.

The early nineteenth century saw a marked increase in coastal commerce as well as the advent of steam power. Coupled with the depredations of the Royal Navy which ravaged New England’s maritime trade during the War of 1812, these factors inspired the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to enter into a contract with the stockholders of the Gloucester Canal Corporation.  In 1822, the stakeholders in opening the canal raised $13,500: the Canal Corporation’s stockholders provided $600 each, which was matched by the United States Government. The Commonwealth provided $1500.  Work on clearing the canal and installing the drawbridge was completed in August 1823.  The canal was two hundred feet in length and twenty-five feet wide. William Pearce, one of the wealthiest men in town, was first to pass over the bridge; to commemorate the occasion, he held a celebration with cheese, bread, and liquor for the spectators.

Six years later, in 1829, on its passage around Cape Ann, the “Tom Thumb” became the first (and only) steam vessel to pass through the canal. The vessel barely fit between the bulkheads.  Despite the large investment of money and effort, the canal was too narrow and too shallow to be of any use to the vessels of the day, and it once again fell into disuse.

The following year, a fixed bridge replaced the drawbridge, and in 1848, after the construction of the fixed railroad bridge near Dunfudgin rendered the canal useless, it was filled in altogether to make a solid roadway.  Four citizens of the town received land abutting the Cut as compensation for their efforts.  The Cut remained that way for the next two decades until the Aberdeen Granite Company, then working the quarry at Wolf Hill, had it reopened.

In the 1880s, following troubles with the City water supply which inspired the use of the West Gloucester ponds, a water main from the Bond Hill reservoir was installed under the canal.  A hand-cranked drawbridge (which opened upriver) was built in 1900.  Increased pleasure boat traffic on the Annisquam resulted in the dredging of the river, and the canal was deepened and widened from Hangman’s Island (the mainland embankment of the railroad bridge) at Dunfudgin to the harbor.

From 1643 until 1953, the Blynman Canal bridge was the only road into Gloucester until the A. Piatt Andrew bridge brought Route 128 into Gloucester.  The Joan of Arc statue in front of the Legion Building attests to this — modern travelers using Rte 128 approach the horse rump-first; travelers before the opening of the highway would have come into town up Middle Street from Western Avenue (once Canal Street).  Interestingly, the Cut, used by hundreds of boaters each day in the summer, spanned by one of the busiest drawbridges in the country, was closed for almost two hundred years of its existence.

Sources

Babson, John. History of Gloucester

Copeland & Rogers. Saga of Cape Ann

Garland, Joseph. The Gloucester Guide

Pringle, History of Gloucester