Happy New Year’s day! While thinking about 2021, I was looking back. 1900 seemed as good as any to share a fresh new chapter “then” story.
Let’s just say fasten your seat belts; reading about Mayor Merchant’s term is a bumpy ride for the entire year as reported in the Boston Globe. Heated exchanges dominate. Smaller items about conservation and deed issues related to Dogtown, Good Harbor Beach, and Briar Neck real estate development are detailed. I knew some details about Mayor French’s terms but did not run into Mayor Merchant before. I recognize the surname Merchant/Marchant as Gloucester history. Prior to this post I mostly associated Merchant with the street that was one of so many in Gloucester to inspire work by American artist, Edward Hopper.
On some lists of Gloucester Mayors, he’s (conspicuously) not there. (Biographical details unroll at the end. Also, photographs of all the Mayor portraits.)
All heads south immediately following the swearing in, and I mean immediately. The Mayor address advanced to the paper is standard, rosy and prickly, not uncommon.
New Year’s Day, 1900 – Mayor Merchant of Gloucester
Gloucester, Jan. 1- Establishment of a City Workhouse, and Investigation of Assessing and Fire Alarm Systems Urged
The inauguration exercises of the city government for 1900 took place this morning in city hall. As usual, a large number were in attendance, the especial point of interest being the reading of the inaugural. Those who expected to hear a plain and straightforward statement of certain facts were not disappointed, as the inaugural certainly treated certain matters in a trenchant manner.
The chapters in relation to the administration of highways, the debt of the city, revaluation, the need of better discipline in the police force, recommendations in regard to an equitable reduction of water rates were received with especial favor. The inaugural made a distinctly favorable impression.
In considering the finances, he said that the city’s liabilities were $829,243.72. The net debt is $368,211.04, an increase of $77,713.72. The reserve amount which the city now can borrow is $22,496.78.
The following recommendations were made: The appointment of a special committee to investigate and report to the city council as to the present system of valuation of the city by the assessors, and what action, if any, is needed to secure more equitable taxation; an investigation and report by the committee on fire department as to the needs of an improved fire alarm service and the probable cost; the abolishment of the public library fund, a special committee to consider carefully the question of the scale of the poor farm property, and what may be done toward the establishment of a city workhouse, which would be such in fact as well as in name; the appointment of a joint special committee upon water, to act with the water commissioners upon all matters relating to the purchase of the work, the improvement of sources of supply, and to suggest in what manner an equitable adjustment of the rates may be made; that no claim made against the city be paid without first having had a reference to the proper department and report thereon in accordance with the advice of the law department, and the appointment of a special committee of the city council to investigate all matters relating to the collection of taxes, and to suggest how best a way may be found for better service in this connection.
The mayor advocated a gradual revaluation of the city, saying he believed it to be the duties of the assessors to look carefully into the matter. Under the subject of highways, the mayor took occasion to criticize adversely those having them in charge the past year, while those officials who were brought in close contact with the work performed were roundly scored. The schools, fire department and trust funds were kindly criticized in the interest of advanced ideas and business judgement. Regarding the police and the matter of license, the mayor emphasized the statement that while not looking for any difficulty in this line the police must do as they were bidden and observe discipline.
City clerk Somes administered the oath to the Mayor elect Merchant, after which the keys of office were delivered to him by Mayor French. Mayor Merchant administered the oath to the following aldermen: Ward 1 Alphonso Davis; ward 2 Osborne Knowles; ward 3 Levi J. Hotchkiss; ward 4 Edward H. Quigley; ward 5 Albert H. McKenzie; ward 6, William J. Sleep; ward 7, William L. Allen; ward 8, James W. Ingersoll.
The following members of the common council were also sworn in: Ward 1, Austin F. Coombs, Addison W. Bailey, John W. Gaskell; ward 2, John F. Riley, Samuel J. Somers, Melvin Parsons; ward 3, John J. Cunningham, Frank W. Lothrop, John A. Stoddart; ward 4, Ernest S. Parsons, John J. Sullivan, Ray S. Friend; ward 5, James E. Tolman, Samuel W. McQuinn, Thomas Hodge; ward 6, Addison G. Stanwood, Samuel P. Favor, James A. Lawrence; ward 7, William Stephens, Charles C. Smith, Thomas F. Wherty; ward 8, Ephraim R. Andrews, James M. Chadbourne, Howard T. Bray.
After the reading of the inaugural the boards proceeded to their respective chambers for organization.”– From “For Year 1900: Recommendations Made by Bay State Mayors. How Government of Cities Can Be Improved. Necessity of Practicing Economy Where It Can be Done Without Detriment to the Public Good. Questions of Finances, Schools, Water. Lighting and Sewage in Various Municipalities of the Commonwealth.” , Boston Globe, New Year’s Day, 1900
MUNICIPALITIES INCLUDED IN THE ARTICLE: SOMERVILLE. HAVERHILL. LAWRENCE. EVERETT. MEDFORD. SALEM. GLOUCESTER. FITCHBURG. BROCKTON. LYNN. BEVERLY. MARLBORO. WOBURN. NORTHAMPTON. SPRINGFIELD. NORTH ADAMS. NEW BEDFORD. QUINCY. WALTHAM. HOLYOKE. PITTSFIELD. TAUNTON. MALDEN. WORCESTER. BEVERLY CITY FATHERS. FOR THE SECOND TIME.
This was uncommon.
Then all hell breaks loose- on the very same day~
Jan 1 Day one whiplash- Council upends Mayor’s first day.
At the organization of the government today there were two unusual incidents.
“Mayor Merchant read a communication from ——-, protesting against administering the oath of office to Councilman elect Thomas Whearty, announcing that Chairman should contest the election. Mayor Merchant decided that there was nothing for him to do but take the returns of the election as they were rendered to him, and accordingly swore Mr. Whearty in.
“This had an important bearing on the contest of the presidency of the common council. When that body proceeded to elect as president James E. Tolman, who was a candidate for re-election offered an order that Mr. Whearty be not allowed to take part in the deliberations of the board until his case was finally settled. After several points of order had been made it was decided, to sustain chairman Lawrence, in adding Mr. Tolman’s order out of order. Councilman William Stephens was elected president of the council…In the afternoon Mayor Merchant announced his committees…
“Immediately on their announcement Alderman Sleep moved that the communication of the mayor be laid on the table. Mayor Merchant made no reply. Alderman Sleep insisted that his motion be put. Mayor Merchant contended that the committed announcement was simply a communication from the Mayor.
“Alderman Sleep produced the rules that urged that the aldermen by the rules could elect their own committees. Alderman Hotchkiss offered and order, if the mayor would entertain it, that the whole matter be referred to the city solicitor for his opinion as to the right of the aldermen to appoint the committees.
“Alderman McKenzie said there were committees to which he was appointed on which he did not care to serve.
“Mayor Merchant, after asking for further business, stated that he did not care to appear in the light of bulldozing the aldermen and should give them every opportunity to act except in the illegal expenditure of money, and then he should interfere. He therefore withdrew his nominations, and an order previously introduced by Alderman Hotchkiss that the aldermen reassemble at 7:30 in the evening and ballot for committees was passed.
“The mayor stated that the appointment of the committees had always been a prerogative of the mayor and he had proceeded in the matter as did former mayors.
“This is the first time in the history of the city that a mayor’s committee appointments have been protested or withdrawn. The incident caused somewhat of a sensation, and resulted in some animated conversation after the board adjourned.
“At 7:30 all the aldermen but Allen were in their seats. Mayor Merchant not putting in an appearance, President Sleep presided.
After the adjournment a conference was held, and a committee list satisfactory to the aldermen was arranged. The aldermen then, for the first time in the history of the city, proceeded to elect their own committees…Alderman Knowles offered an order that the city solicitor give his opinion in regard to the legality of the action of the aldermen in electing committees after the mayor had announced the appointment of committees. This was not seconded.”Boston Globe, 2nd article of the day Jan 1, 1900
Apparently this balking at Mayoral appointments was trending as Haverhill was in the same boat. Unsurprisingly, by the ides of March the Mayor and council are
by March 17 At Loggerheads
Gloucester Aldermen on their Mettle. Render Useless Several Vetoes of Mayor Merchant. Mr. Sleep Proves a Sharp Critic of His Honor.
“The session of the board of aldermen this evening was one of the most sensational for some time. The old feud between Mayor Merchant and Alderman Sleep again broke out.
The mayor when “communications from the mayor” was reached, resigned the position of presiding officer to chairman Sleep and departed from the chamber. The chairman then proceeded to read the three vetoes to the aldermen and two presented in the council, which came up for action.”Boston Globe March 17, 1900 excerpt
VETO TOPIC 1- conflicts of interest and spite
“The order adopted in relation to the payment to Sleep Bros. for certain services on Beacon Street was vetoed by the mayor on the ground of illegality and that it was work done on private land…Mr .Sleep said that despite the veto, the mayor had paid the bill of W.R. Cheves for stone and E.H. Griffin for cement, but objected to that of Sleep Bros. for labor ($97.50) on the same job because the members of the firm were unfortunate enough to bear the same name as the speaker…the action of the mayor was simply a matter of spite against him for certain matters which had occurred on inauguration day…The order to pay the money was carried…”Boston Globe March 16, 1900 excerpt
Veto topic 2- PROTECTING GOOD HARBOR BEACH
“Some sharpshooting occurred on the veto of the mayor of the order that signs be placed at Good Harbor Beach by the committee on police and that all persons be prohibited from taking sand and ballast from the beach. The mayor informed the board that the proper way to proceed in this matter was for the committee on public property…Sleep denied there was any politics in this measure, and said the committee on public property attended to its work, but as it received no pay it was not its duty to lay around Good Harbor beach all the time and protect the property.”Boston Globe March 16, 1900 excerpt
VETO TOPIC 3 – Protecting Dogtown
The order that the mayor and city register the land known as Dogtown commons, under the provision s of the Torrens law, was vetoed by the mayor on the ground that it was not the duty of the mayor but of the committee on public property.Boston Globe March 16, 1900 excerpt
Veto topic 4- pay Raise for Firemen
“…The mayor vetoed the order for an increase in the salaries of firemen because he said that the city was not in a financial condition to make the raise…Sleep stated that some of the business men are raising money to put through the defeated charter which the mayor favors and which provides for salaried commissioners and clerks. Money for their friends was all right, but when it came down to the firemen it was a decidedly different matter…”Boston Globe March 16, 1900 excerpt
Governor Crane named ex-Mayor French to Gloucester Police Court
september 1900 Briar’s neck free for all origin story continues
And the Mayor is in the story.
“Gloucester has had a little Oklahoma boom. The place in question where this excitement has occurred is at Briar neck. The strip of land has for many years been vacant, with the exception of one (shack)…although it is claimed by two capitalists, who assert that they have deeds…
“Early in the season an attorney inserted a small item in a local paper to the effect that there was no valid title, and that anyone who settled down on the property could hold it. Mayor Merchant was the first one to squat down on the property and his example was followed by others, and there was a veritable rush for the place for several days. All the available sites were staked out and the names of those who had located claims were written on the stakes. There was a rumor circulated that the mere staking of the land was unavailing and that nothing less than the erection of a building of some sort would hold the land. A nondescript settlement immediately sprung up, and the sound of the hammer and saw was loud for several days…”Seashore Boomers“
“There has been a great hunting up of old deeds and a revamping of family genealogies, …The Parsons of Joppa do not believe that the present squatters can hold the land, but eventually will be ousted. Mayor Merchant, by the way, claims descent from the Parsons.” Two capitalists of the city, George R. Bradford and George J. Tarr assert ownership of the tract, and have taken measures to protect their property…”-excerpts from wild story about Briar Neck origins in the Boston Globe (Thacher is spelled Thatcher’s Island in this one)
Assuming its veracity, how did this Briar Neck business sort out? Two years earlier, a Boston Globe report stated Mayor Davis had plans for Briar:
Long standing Briar Neck controversy –
The controversy as to the ownership of Briar Neck property, between the street railway company and Mayor Davis, resulting in the company acknowledging the city’s rights in an old road there, has become further complicated. Today two of Gloucester’s wealthiest capitalists, George R. Bradford and George J. Tarr, entered the fight, and served papers on the street railway company. The plaintiffs claim that they own 36 acres of land at Briar Neck, which extends from the stone wall to the beach, including the fresh water pond, lowlands and uplands traversed by the street railway company. Meanwhile Mayor Davis has something up his sleeve in regard to ownership of the property which will be developed later.August 1898 Boston Globe
October 24, 1900 Checkmate
The Mayor was limiting the amount of the council’s loan request.
“A long and tedious period of silence, lasting over 40 minutes, followed. Mayor Marchant holding his chair through fear that his seat might be usurped by Alderman Sleep, who is president of the board. In the meantime two of the aldermen had gone out in search of legal advice…”
“…Alderman McKenzie: “Since the mayor refuses to entertain my appeal, I appeal to you.” Mr. Sleep put the motion and Mr. McKenzie was sustained by the unanimous vote of the board…the portion of the loan not approved by the mayor was then passed over his veto by a unanimous vote…Having accomplished their purpose the board adjourned.”Boston Globe October 24, 1900
Mayor French is back in the saddle. (The prior November, ex-Mayors Cook and French, Alderman Hotchkiss and ex-Alderman Barrett vied for the nomination.)
1899 New Year’s message for the Boston Globe by Mayor William French — who was back in as Mayor for 1901.
and his 1902 address published in the Gloucester Daily Times. I had read about French before.
photo caption: Gloucester Daily Times archives retrieved at Sawyer Free November 2018. Read more about 1902 and Haskell Dam in my prior post here on GMG, .
Honorable George E. Merchant Fast Facts
He was described as a modest man from a well known and well regarded “old Cape Ann family”, and endearing accounts about his enthusiasm at reaching his 50th wedding anniversary milestone suggest a loving one, too. (Gloucester Daily Times obit)
Prior to serving as Mayor, he served a term as an alderman 1886-87 (and many appointments/commissions before. Waterways after Mayor).
|Occupation||Adult – Printer/printing since 1870 when he began his career at John S.E. Rogers, owner and printer Gloucester Telegraph, various newspaper jobs. And printing press from his home at advanced age after retirement.|
Boyhood 1870 census- 16 years old, working as a fisherman (family lore he was the cook on father’s boat; father in business with his sons) giving it a go for 8 years like generations of his family. Education unknown, presumed self-taught. Prior to Mayor-1886-87 served as city councilor (overlapping with his father) and more since 1870s. After Mayor, appointments, too. Master gardener. Family historian-writer. Photography.
Master mariner, fisherman, owner; founded seine net repair business 1873; fisheries advisor; served years as city councilor Ward 1
Affinity & skill for art- studied painting with FH Lane; fisheries display models, etc. (And his father was an incredible violinist.) Full & busy life, family man. 31 Main Street family residence
See Shute & Merchant
|Mother||Mary Douglass Merchant (1832-1923) |
Oak Grove Cemetery
Parents had 9 kids
|Mary Jane 1851 – 1944|
George Edward 1853 – 1929
Orlando 1856 – 1930
Flora Estelle died at 2 1858 – 1860
Eugene Howard died at 2 1861 – 1863
Robert Clifford 1864 – 1936
Joseph Carleton 1867 – 1961
unnamed son 1870 – 1870
|Wife||Charlotte E. Lufkin (1857-1945)|
|Children||twins died at 8 days and 9 days |
Ernest H (16 years old when his father was Mayor; GHS 1904)
–buried in Santa Barbara–
George E. Jr. (14 years old when his father was Mayor; GHS)
|Residences||1900 33 Eastern Avenue|
family compounded variously split up before/after
eventually 31 Eastern Ave where Charlotte remains
see 50th wedding anniversary
Mt. Pleasant Cemetery
|Obit both “well known member of old Cape Ann family”|
George E. Merchant, Gloucester, Mass.
George Merchant, Gloucester, Mass.
George Merchant, grandfather, fisherman and accomplished violinist
Such creative, multi-talented family members! George E.’s photograph and family historian piece on the occasion of his grandfather’s 90th birthday was published in the Boston Globe
Portraits of many Gloucester Mayors are exhibited in Gloucester City Hall. These are photographs of (most of the) Mayor portraits I took back in 2017, after another inauguration. Paintings, photographs and drawings of Mayors have been commissioned or gifted then installed after the term(s) years of service.