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.
Babson, John. History of Gloucester
Copeland & Rogers. Saga of Cape Ann
Garland, Joseph. The Gloucester Guide
Pringle, History of Gloucester
By Jude Seminara
On June 27, 1629, the ship “Talbot,” from England to Salem anchored in Gloucester Harbor. Four men rowed ashore at the large island near their anchorage and picked strawberries, gooseberries, and roses. Fifteen years later, after the town of Gloucester had been settled, the town voted that the island should be used to pen “Rams onlie; and whoever shall put anie but great Rams” would be fined two shillings per animal. The island that the “Talbot’s” men went ashore on has been known as Ten Pound Island for those ram pens (or pounds) ever since.
Local lore (erroneously) suggests that the name of the island derives from the amount in silver money paid for the island. However, in 1700, the selectmen of Gloucester entered into an agreement with Samuel English, descendant of Agawam sagamore Masconomet, where English would sell all claim to the lands within the bounds of Gloucester (including present-day Rockport) for the amount of seven pounds in silver money. (There was once a smaller Five Pound Island in the inner harbor; it’s now the end of the State Fish Pier.
Rams weren’t the only animals associated with Ten Pound Island. In 1817, a large, heretofore unknown animal was seen plying the waters around the island, and sunning itself on the rock. Many prominent citizens attested to seeing the serpent, and the Linnaean Society even took enough interest in it to give it a Latin name.
Ten Pound Island was an ideal location for a lighthouse, and in May 1820, Congress approved funds to establish a light station. The fixed white light was lit the following year, atop a twenty-foot conical tower that was thirty-nine feet above sea level. By 1842, however, the tower and keeper’s house was in disrepair. This didn’t stop artist Winslow Homer from spending the summer of 1880 boarded at the keeper’s house. The next year, a conical brick-lined cast iron tower was constructed.
Still under the control of the United States Government, Ten Pound Island became home to two other federal institutions: a fish hatchery in 1889, and a Coast Guard air base in 1925.
In 1925, amid Prohibition, the Coast Guard engaged in smuggling interdiction, as Cape Ann proved to be well suited to smuggling illicit alcohol from outside of the three-mile limit then in effect. On the island, the Coast Guard constructed Base 7, consisting of an Army surplus canvas hangar and one scout plane. It was manned by a crew of two Coast Guardsmen. June 20 of that year marked the first use of an aircraft to chase rum runners. The first capture by an aircraft was made four days later. The success of Base 7 (or the challenge of chasing speedboat-borne rum runners) led to increasing the facilities and assets. In 1926, the Coast Guard built a permanent hangar blasted from the ledge at a cost of $5000. More aircraft were acquired: two amphibians were added, bringing the total aircraft to three; and the complement of men was increased to seventeen. The base was under the command of LtCdr Carl von Paulsen. Between 1925 and 1929, the Coast Guardsmen of Base 7 responded to 212 cases of distressed vessels and rum running activity off the coast of Cape Ann.
By Jude Seminara
Freedom of worship was not commonplace in the early history of Massachusetts. While the first colonists at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay left England because their right to worship was restricted by the Church of England, they created what was in essence a theocracy in the New World. The government of the colony was wed to the church. Religious dissenters such as Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were disarmed and banished from the colony. Quakers were whipped and banished, or in the case of the so-called Boston Martyrs Mary Dyer, Marmaduke Stephenson, Willam Robinson, and William Leddra, publicly hanged for their adherence to their faith.
Gloucester is the home of the first established Universalist Church in America. Adherents of Universalism, led by Reverend John Murray, adopted on New Years Day 1779 a covenant declaring themselves independent of the established Congregational Church in Gloucester’s First Parish. On Christmas Day 1780, the first Universalist public worship was conducted in their recently built meeting house on the corner of Spring and Water Streets (about where Walgreens and the Veterans Administration clinic is today).
Universalist doctrine was at odds with the established Congregationalist church, in that Universalists believed in the universal salvation of mankind through Jesus’ death. The established church was concerned that if people believed that God would not judge sinners then morality would decay, and morality was the underpinning of a civil and orderly society. The church’s responsibility was to maintain “the good order of civil government” and to that end, ministers should “thunder out the doctrine of everlasting punishment.” Universalists countered that this was not the role of religion; only when the church was “illegally wedded to state-policy, that men in power dared to hurl the Thunders of the Most High at offenders against government” did Christianity’s role become to keep the populace in good order.
In a twist of irony, as American men were dying in the fight against unfair British taxation and the Second Continental Congress was debating independence from the Crown, followers of Reverend Murray stopped worshiping at the First Parish Church. Discord brewed in the community, and Murray’s followers were subject to insults and abuse. In 1777, the selectmen voted that Murray should leave town, but he refused. In 1778, Winthrop Sargent, Judith Stevens, Epes Sargent, David Pearce, and eleven others were suspended from the First Parish. The following year, they organized themselves into the Independent Church of Christ and erected the Water Street meeting house.
Taxation in Gloucester at the time included providing for the established church, in this case the First Parish Church. As the Universalists did not attend this church, believing themselves an independent and established sect, they refused to pay taxes that supported a church that was not their own. They believed that they were protected under the bill of rights appended to the Massachusetts Constitution that was adopted in 1779. The town of Gloucester was not of the same opinion, believing that the Universalists were not a legitimate sect, were led by an unordained minister, and thus outside of the protections of the bill of rights. The town’s argument was undoubtedly bolstered by the discord between the First Parish and Universalist churches.
Because the Universalist congregants did not pay the taxes levied upon them to support the First Parish Church, the town seized their property. This seized property, including silver plate belonging to Epes Sargent, linens from Winthrop Sargent, and the anchor from a vessel owned by David Pearce, was sold at auction, a move that resulted in the Universalists filing a suit in the name of Mr. Murray to recover the property. William Pearce, a prominent member of Gloucester’s elite merchant class and formerly an opponent of Reverend Murray before converting to Universalism, was jailed for his refusal to pay the tax.
The Massachusetts Constitution expressly stated that all taxes paid for the support of public worship could be paid to support one’s “own religious sect or denomination.” This was fundamental to the Universalists’ case. The dispute lasted for three years, through a series of litigious trials and appeals. Trial after trial ended in favor of the First Parish, but the Universalists were dogged in their opposition.
In June 1786, the Supreme Judicial Court heard the case. Despite the judge’s instructions to the jurors to rule on the basis of the constitutional question, the jury returned in disagreement. The judge sent them back to continue deliberations. Historian Babson states that the foreman of the jury made an impassioned plea in favor of the Universalists and their right to worship as they saw fit, and exhorted his fellow jurors to decide with compassion and tolerance and an adherence to the natural right of all individuals to worship as they chose. He then went to bed with instructions to wake him when they had agreed. Agree they did, and the following morning they presented their verdict to the court.
This case did not signal an easy road ahead for Universalism in Gloucester; Reverend Murray had his detractors and even the Supreme Judicial Court did not view his as an ordained minister. His struggles continued in Gloucester until he was induced in 1793 to become the minister for the Universalist Church in Boston. The case did however affirm the fundamental precedent of the separation of church and state and the right to the free exercise of the religion of one’s choosing.
Babson, History of Gloucester
Eddy, Universalism in Gloucester
McKanan, Documentary History of Universalism
Copeland & Rogers. Saga of Cape Ann
Pringle, History of Gloucester
The Girls on the Porch
In the collections of the Cape Ann Museum, there is a photograph of the building at 2 Middle Street, taken by Corliss & Ryan as they photographed homes of Gloucester businessmen. On the porch stand two girls, one white and one black, who look to be three or four years old.
In 1882, the year that the picture was taken, Frank R. Proctor, with his wife Carrie (Rust) and two daughters three-year-old Ethel and infant Edna, lived at that address along with a boarder, Edward K. Burnham, a fisherman. Procter was a clerk at Procter Bros., stationers, purveyors of stereoscopic views, and owners of the Old Corner Book Store, at 108 Main Street.
It is likely that the white child on the porch is in fact Ethel. Sadly, Ethel died of tuberculosis in 1903, at age twenty-four.
In Gloucester, there were seventeen black residents, according to the 1880 Census. Only two were young enough children, both members of the Joseph Green household. Joseph Green and his wife Lizzie (Bradley) lived at 58 Perkins Street with their two daughters: Loretta and Edith, aged six and three respectively in 1882. The girl in the photograph seems younger than a child approaching seven years old; likely it is Edith.
The story of the Green family is a tragic one. Joseph Green was born in about 1843 in St. Thomas in the West Indies. He was enslaved for a portion of his life (evidenced by the fact that one of Edith’s most prized possessions was Joseph’s manumission papers, signed by many Gloucester residents), but was free by 1864, when he joined the Navy in the last years of the Civil War. He served as a landsman with the USS Jamestown until his discharge in 1865. In Gloucester, he worked in the textile trade. Joseph was in Gloucester before 1871, the year he was wed to Lizzie Bradley in a ceremony officiated by Austin Herrick, a Methodist Episcopal clergyman.
The Greens’ efforts to start a family met with repeated misfortune. Lizzie’s first pregnancy ended in the stillbirth of a female child on October 11, 1872. Their first son Waldimer was born on March 1, 1874, but he died from hydrocephalus in September 1875. (Lizzie May have conceived immediately following Waldimer’s birth, though the record is unclear; this pregnancy also ended in the still birth of a female child in October 1874.) Loretta was the next child born, in 1876. She survived until the summer of 1883, when she died of diphtheria. Lizzie again lost a child through still birth, this time a son, on November 1, 1877. Edith was born on May 31, 1879. She would be the Greens’ only child to survive into adulthood. On September 5, 1881, Lizzie’s final known pregnancy ended in the still birth of a male child. Lizzie herself died of heart disease on May 15, 1889, and was buried along with her children in the Clark Yard.
Joseph remarried some years later, to Rhoda Cox, a member of the extended Freeman family of West Gloucester, whose parents were born in Kingston, Jamaica. She was twelve years his junior. Rhoda died at the Short Street Hospital in 1909 during surgery to remove uterine fibroids. She was buried in Beechbrook Cemetery. Joseph Green outlived all of the members of his family except Edith; he died of prostate and bladder cancer at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea in 1916 and was buried in the Clark Yard.
Edith Green, Joseph’s and Lizzie’s only child to survive into adulthood, left Gloucester in 1895, when she was sixteen years old, to join the Shaker community at Canterbury, New Hampshire. Edith was the only black member of the community. She worked at making the renowned and sought-after “Shaker knit,” had charge of the creamery, and participated in the other cottage industries characteristic of the Shaker lifestyle. Edith Green left no children, as the Shakers are celibate. Not only was she the last of the Green family, upon her death on March 4, 1951, she was the last African-American member of the Shaker community.
Close up of the girls on the porch
Edith Green, circa 1915 (https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/6626)
Edith Green, undated, http://www.shakers.org/education/the-shakers/
Ethel Proctor’s death certificate
By Jude Seminara
In May 1735, the coastal settlement of Kingston, NH, suffered an epidemic of throat distemper, now known to be diphtheria, which, over the course of the next five years, would claim the lives of approximately 2000 colonists (a thousand in New Hampshire and between 950 and 1600 in Massachusetts Bay), the vast majority of which were under the age of 20 years old.
The first victim was a child in Kingston who died in three days from the “throat ail,” which then rapidly spread among the towns of coastal New Hampshire, Maine, and northern Essex County. The following year, amid what was probably a diphtheria epidemic, another distemper (possibly diphtheria scarlet fever is a likely culprit as well) outbreak occurred in Boston. The two illnesses made their way south and north respectively along the routes of travel and commerce, converging on eastern Essex County where they lingered. The New Hampshire outbreak, over the course of the next three years, afflicted most if not all of the coastal settlements along the Bay Path to Boston. At the time, the rapid onset and quick death that accompanied the disease despite efforts to quarantine, led people to believe that the illness was a result of “some occult quality in the air,” or God’s vengeance for mankind’s sins. Ministers’ sermons, and broadsides of verse exhorted humanity to repent doe their sins lest God send his angel “to visit you with sickness/which you cannot withstand.” Speculation went so far as to blame the distemper on an invasion of caterpillars, which ate the trees bare and whose remains littered the countryside decomposing in the sun and poisoning the air. Historians are fairly certain that the affliction was diphtheria.
Diphtheria is a bacterial infection. It was spread by both contact and in the air, and the life of an early-18th century child was ideally suited to contract this disease, as children sat together in church, at school, and were even attendees of their schoolmates’ funerals. The dominant characteristic of diphtheria are swollen glands in the throat, a croup-like barking cough, and a windpipe-blocking mass of infectious matter near the tonsils, which lent it the name “putrid sore throat.” Children were most often affected, and would frequently and quickly die in suffocating agony. The highly contagious infection often killed all of the children of a household in short order.
Medical care was archaic by modern standards. Most physicians still ascribed to the four humors theory, and treated illness by bloodletting, blistering, or administering an emetic or laxative. Needless to say, bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhea often killed as many patients as the illnesses the physicians were treating.
In 1738, the “strangling angel” visited the Fifth Parish of Gloucester at the Farms near Little Good Harbor, and at Sandy Bay in present-day Rockport. Given the minimal impact on the rest of Gloucester, and the disproportionally high death toll in Sandy Bay, it is possible that the disease was transmitted by a healthy carrier.
More than any other on the Cape, the extended Pool family of Sandy Bay was hardest hit by the distemper. Fourteen children in five Pool households were killed in the spring and early summer of the year. Some households lost multiple children per day following a short infection. Based on the dates of death of victims of the distemper, 1738 (March, and again in June) was the peak year for Cape Ann. Some evidence indicates that the distemper was in Gloucester as early as 1736, and it likely lingered after 1738.
First to die, within 23 days, were the four children of Caleb and Martha Pool: Martha, age 3; Josiah, age 5; John, age 9; and Anna, age 13 months. The homes of Jonathan and Hannah Pool (Miriam, age 8; Hannah, age 13; Jonathan, age 2; and Mary, age 10), John and Jemima Pool (Jemima, age 6 months; Sarah, age 4; John, age 8; Job, age 2), Ebenezer and Elizabeth Pool (Moses, age 2), and Joshua and Deliverance Pool (Mark, age 3) were visited by tragedy throughout the early summer of 1738. Jonathan Pool and Mary Pool died on the same day. Also killed in the epidemic were Rachel Baker, almost 3; Daniel Barber, age 4; William Holman, age 16; Abigail Jumper, age 2 1/2; Hannah Riggs, age 4; Anna (age 4) and Moses (age 3) Witham; and Benjamin and Thomas Harris. According to Historian John Babson, the distemper lingered in Sandy Bay for two years, “and took from the settlers…’thirty one of their pleasant children by death.’ There were then in the place twenty-seven families.” Elsewhere in Gloucester, as a search of the Vital Records will illustrate, there was nearly no impact of the diphtheria outbreak that ravaged Sandy Bay. Several children died in the summer of 1738, but the records do not indicate a cause of death.
The throat distemper would visit Cape Ann again in outbreaks in 1833, 1841, 1846, 1847, 1848, and 1849, but not on the scale of or with the death toll that accompanied it in the 1738 epidemic.
Caulfield, Ernest. The Throat Distemper of 1735-1740
Caulfield, Ernest. The Pursuit of a Pestilence
Caulfield, Ernest. History of the Terrible Epidemic
Babson, John. History of Gloucester
Gloucester Vital Records to 1849
We have visited the Adirondack Mountains in N.Y. on a regular basis since 1972. Over the years, I scaled 38 of the 46 Adirondack peaks with summits over 4,000 feet. Most of my climbing was with my son and my brother-in law. My climbing days are over, but I’m still drawn to the region to enjoy the majesty of the mountains, its intricate history and its gleaming waterways. These photos were taken a few weeks ago when we enjoyed a wonderful family reunion in the Saranac Lake area of the Adirondack State Park.