The Settlement of Cape Ann: What is the Real Story?

by Mary Ellen Lepionka

Collection of the Cape Ann Museum. Scan � Cape Ann Museum Photo Archive 2015.

Unveiling Tablet Commemorating First Settlement of Massachusetts Bay Colony.    1907 Postcard

Quite often the truth is unwelcome. Tablet Rock in Stage Fort Park, for example, bears a plaque commemorating the 1623 landing of the Dorchester Company as the first settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founding of Cape Ann’s fishing industry. This vertigrised plaque has been at the center of a dispute about whether and how to clean it, but more important to me is that what it says is not true. Neither is the tercentennial marker in Fisherman’s Field that talks about Roger Conant averting a violent confrontation there through diplomacy. Averse to complexity, we oversimplify. Real history is more complicated than we are allowed to know.

Massachusetts Bay Colony did not exist before 1628. Between 1623 and 1628 the Dorchester Company plantation begun by Rev. John White failed; Salem Village was founded in Beverly by its remnants, led by Roger Conant; and the New England Company took over the Dorchester Company’s assets on Cape Ann after debts were paid.

Rev. John White

The New England Company sent John Endicott to govern and subsequently morphed into the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was financed by merchants, including some former Dorchester Company investors. The Massachusetts Bay Company then negotiated a royal charter with Charles I giving them sweeping rights and abrogating all previous claims. (At one time there were as many as 22 claims to all or part of New England.)

Endicott replaced Conant, who since 1625 had acted as governor for the Dorchester Company investors, replacing Thomas Gardner and John Tylly, the original co-leaders of White’s failed fishing plantation of 1623. In 1626, with the aid of an Indian guide, Conant had led the surviving plantation settlers—those who elected to stay rather than be returned to England—and their cattle on the Squam Trail to the Pawtucket village of Nahumkeak (Naumkeag) on the Cape Ann side of the Bass River (Beverly). This small party of English men, women, and children survived through Native agency and planted side by side with the Indians over the next 50 years. They established Salem Village and became known as the Old Planters—but that’s another whole story.

Statue of Roger Conant in Salem MA.

Endicott moved the seat of government across the river to present-day Salem, along with the Dorchester Company settlers’ first meetinghouse, which Conant had transported to Salem Village from Fisherman’s Field. Then in 1630 John Winthrop succeeded Endicott as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, moved the capital to Dorchester, and established a General Court with a branch at Salem. He sent his son to prospect and protect Agawam, which became Ipswich in 1634. The Mass. Bay Colony expanded to absorb all the earlier settlements, including Plymouth Colony.

John Endicott

So, to say that Rev. John White’s Dorchester Company founded the Mass. Bay Colony (on the plaque) or even “founded the nucleus of the Mass. Bay Colony” (on the marker) is a bit of a stretch. That the fisheries “have been uninterruptedly pursued from this fort” (Stage Fort) since 1623 is essentially true, however. In 1637, before Gloucester was even founded, Endicott sent men from Salem to throw up earthworks at Stage Head to protect the fishing station there from possible Indian attack during the Pequot War.

Stage Fort Commemorative Tablet

However, the fishing industry on Cape Ann was founded by Plymouth, not Gloucester. From 1620 to 1626 fishermen from Plymouth established and operated fishing stations on Gloucester Harbor and at Stage Head; at Whale Cove, Straitsmouth, and Gap Head in Rockport; and at Great Neck, Ipswich, in the vicinity of Jeffrey’s Ledge. It was Plymouth’s stages for drying fish—and those of the Native Americans who also fished and dried fish there—for which Stage Head (aka Stage Point) was named.

Plymouth fishermen bunked in the Indians’ wigwams on Fisherman’s Field during the seasonal occupation of the fishing station. They complained to Governor William Bradford about the fleas. They were prompted to build their own wigwams, modified to have a chimney at one end, versus a smoke hole, and a rectangular door opposite—(until 1639, that is, when the General Court of the Mass. Bay Colony decreed that Englishmen may no longer live in wigwams but must build proper English houses).

In 1623 Governor Bradford resupplied Plymouth’s fishing outposts at Cape Ann and elsewhere. The fishermen included William Jeffreys and others who had sheltered at Plymouth following the failure of Thomas Weston’s colony at Wessagusset (present-day Weymouth), founded as a profit center for London merchants. Wessagusset lasted less than a year. Another refugee was Thomas Morton, who struck out on his own and founded the colony of Merrymount in Quincy. A second colony at Weymouth, founded by Robert Gorges (his father Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason also had a king’s grant to “New England”), also ended after a year. Both Weymouth experiments failed through bad decisions about relations with the Native people. Other fishermen at Cape Ann included free thinkers, outcasts, self-exiles, and DIY families from Plymouth, liberating themselves from what had turned out to be a strictly regulated society.

The earliest histories and accounts—Smith, Bradford, Winslow, Maverick, Hubbard, Phippen, Thornton—refer to Plymouth’s role in the founding of Cape Ann, but later ones—Adams, and especially Babson and Pringle—perhaps out of civic pride—gloss them over or omit them. In 1623 Plymouth bought a “Charter for Cape Anne” from Lord Sheffield, who had just received it from the Council for New England. Anxious to ensure the establishment of a successful Puritan colony in answer to the Pilgrim colony at Plymouth, the Council for New England had double-booked by issuing two “patents” that year—one to Lord Sheffield, and the other to Rev. John White, founder of the Dorchester Company. Without authorization and for unknown reasons, Sheffield promptly sold his charter to Plymouth. Governor Bradford later complained that he had been sold a “useless” (illegal) patent and that his Cape Ann had been “taken over by adventurers”.

Statue of Governor William Bradford in Plymouth MA

The “adventurers” were the 52 investors in the Dorchester Company. The venture capitalists’ plantation on Fisherman’s Field at Stage Head was intended to be a permanent agricultural settlement and fishery but was abandoned after three unprofitable fishing seasons, insufficient salt production, and two crop failures, even after resupplying from England. But theirs also is another whole story.

John White persuaded Roger Conant to lead any settlers who elected to stay at Cape Ann and to protect their cattle and other Dorchester Company assets, including their stages and the trappings of their salt-making operation. (Conant’s uncle was a friend of White’s and an investor.) Conant had left Plymouth to establish a trading post at Nantasket with John Oldham. Some fishermen with their families joined them there, including Conant’s brother, as well as Rev. John Lyford, whom Bradford had cast out of Plymouth for expressing “dangerous ideas”. These people came with Conant on the rescue mission to Cape Ann, except for Oldham, who turned down the offer of a monopoly in the fur trade with the Cape Ann Indians.

Conant found a sorry situation. Most of the survivors were brought back to England in ships the Dorchester Company sent for them, and some of Conant’s company also took advantage of the opportunity to return home, including Christopher Conant and John Lyford. In 1625, declaring Cape Ann unsuitable for anything, Conant made preparations to lead the party overland to another location to start over. This is where the plaque and historic marker come into the story again. They both refer to Roger Conant’s diplomacy that “averted bloodshed between two factions contending for a fishing stage.”

The event this refers to happened in 1625, but early historians got it wrong. Their take on it has been repeated ever since. It actually was a three-way confrontation over possession of the fishing station at Stage Head. It was between 1) Conant’s party, who were preparing to abandon the site; 2) Myles Standish, whom Bradford had sent to claim the area officially for Plymouth under the authority of the Sheffield Charter; and 3) West Countrymen from Plymouth under the leadership of John Hewes, representing disgruntled former Dorchester Company investors in London who had heard (from John Lyford) about the Dorchester Company’s bankruptcy. They were seeking to take possession of its assets to try to recover their losses.

Captain William Peirce, master of the Anne for the Plymouth Company, fishing Cape Ann waters, was anchored in Gloucester Harbor at the time. Peirce sent word to Governor Bradford about Hewes’ imminent takeover, and Bradford sent back Myles Standish to protect Plymouth’s interests. When Hewes’ men occupied the Dorchester Company stages and barricaded themselves behind hogsheads of salt, Standish threatened to open fire on them. At that point, according to Bradford (and to Hubbard who interviewed Conant in 1682), Conant and his men “rushed from their huts” (i.e., wigwams—for Conant had also complained to White about fleas) to intervene. Conant explained that the stages, equipment, salt, and patent for Stage Head were still the legal property of the Dorchester Company until further notice. I suppose you could call this diplomacy.

William Bradford recalled Standish and Peirce to Plymouth. Hewes and the Plymouth fishermen abandoned Cape Ann for the Kennebec River in Maine, where they established a fishing and fur trading post at Cushnoc. And Conant and his party left for Naumkeag. But I guess a historic plaque or marker can’t say all that. What they should say is that Tablet Rock was a sacred place for the Native people who lived on Fisherman’s Field and that the first English who came here would not have survived without their help.

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA. Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

The Ghosts of Sacco and Vanzetti, Or Fear of the “Other”

Judith Winslow Walcott

Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco.  Ben Shahn (1898–1969) © MOMA

“Deep in my subconscious the names Sacco and Vanzetti struggle to reach the surface. Their pain and sacrifice are mirrored in the news I see everyday about travel bans, the exclusion of Muslim ‘terrorists’ and Mexican ‘rapists’ from the US, and the push to build a wall along the US-Mexican border to prevent ‘undesirables’ from entering our country.”

I wrote the above in January a year ago, and the fear of immigrants is ever present this year as we watch the painful struggle over the Dreamers. If we look back to Immigration Reform in 1924, the parallels to today are striking.

Vivian Yee, writing in the New York Times on January 13, 2018, sheds light on this:

The argument was genteel, the tone judicious, the meaning plain: America, wrote the senator leading Congress’s push for immigration reform in 1924, was beginning to “smart under the irritation” of immigrants who “speak a foreign language and live a foreign life.”

There were some familiar refrains in the 1924 immigration debate. Cheap immigrant labor had depressed wages, the restrictionists said. Immigrants had seized jobs from Americans, they said. But it was also heavy on racist rhetoric aimed at preserving what eugenicists and social theorists of the time called the “Nordic” race that, in their telling, had originally settled the United States. 

Just a couple of weeks ago “Nordic” appeared in the national conversation between the President and the Prime Minister of Norway. Paul Thornton says this in the New York Times, on January 11, 2018:

By now, we’ve all probably heard that Trump used a scatalogically charged epithet to say what he really thinks of those countries in Latin America and Africa that, contrary to all available evidence, continue to send their wretched refuse to our shores. What the roughly 4 million of us with parents, grandparents or long-ago Viking descendants from the smallest Scandinavian nation also noticed was Trump’s idea of the prototypical non-shithole country: our humble Norway.

The names Sacco and Vanzetti have now been forced into my consciousness as I see and read about the same bigotry, racism, and hate that surrounded their case in the news today.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, an Italian fishmonger and a shoemaker, were accused and later convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the April 15, 1920, payroll robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts. The case dragged on for over seven years before they were executed in the electric chair here in Massachusetts at the Charlestown State Prison, on August 23, 1927.

The arguments against them are not very different from what we are hearing today. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian and Anarchists. The country was stirred up by the Palmer Red Raids of 1919-1920, during which suspected radicals, many of whom were immigrants, were detained and deported from the US. The Establishment in Boston was terrified of these immigrants and what they feared they might do.  But there was a Defense Committee for Sacco and Vanzetti with many supporters here in Boston and around the world.  We thought The Women’s March the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated was enormous; but pictures taken during the seven years the two immigrants suffered in jail show massive crowds also.

Funeral procession for Sacco and Vanzetti in Boston, August 28, 1927.

As a child, there was a strangeness surrounding certain things to do with family—my own family of Republicans, and my paternal aunts and uncles, Democrats. The lightning rod was my maternal grandmother Gertrude L. Winslow, a supporter and defender of the innocence of these two men.

In the last years before they were executed my grandmother was allowed into the jail to visit them. It is from this correspondence that we see their humanity. In August of 1927, my grandmother and a good friend who spoke Italian made the trip to Italy to visit both Sacco and Vanzetti’s families.

Gertrude Winslow (right) leaves the Charlestown State Prison with Mrs. Glendower Evans (left) and Mrs. Rosina Sacco (center) after a visit to Sacco and Vanzetti.

In a letter from the Dedham Jail House June 27, 1927, Bartolomeo Vanzetti writes to my grandmother:

“Dear Friend Mrs. Winslow:

Now, when you will reach my native home-just think to be at your own. You will be tired by the long trip and that is a good place for rest and restor. To went and left in a day, would be a senseless fatigue and there would not be time enough to explain things to my people. Besides that, the interpreter could be out of home or busy-while if you can stay there longer, all of you will have time to understand and explain one another. My sisters will be happy to have you there-they love all who help us and are proud of them. So please, just think to be at home and don’t leave the place until you feel well.”

As a child, I didn’t have these letters as a testament to the defendants’ humanity.  I only had concrete objects like the pink and blue baby blanket knitted by Mrs. Sacco for my brother Nick. He was 14 years older than me, born in 1928, a year after they had been executed. That blanket wrapped me as a baby many years later.  It was a blanket that fascinated me because it had blue yarn on one side and pink on the other, possibly knitted that way before we were able to determine the sex of the unborn baby, so it was a true gender-neutral gift. The importance was the new life, not the gender.

I also had other experiences.  It was the innuendos and comments that were difficult for me to understand.  I was being taught something, but I was not sure what.

Mary Martin, stirring up controversy in racist America of the 1950’s, sang loud and clear in the musical “South Pacific,”

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The insidious thing is that the teaching is not overt and a child is left to figure out the subtext often denying their own humanity.

When my grandmother called “Nana” by our family and “Windblow” by all the cousins because, as children, they could not pronounce “Winslow,” would be coming to dinner, my parents would say, “We will not talk politics”.

Then there is a very clear image of meeting Mrs. Sacco on Mt. Vernon Street in Boston. I think I was with my mother; but there was a strangeness to the encounter and somehow it is intermingled with the Hurdy Gurdy man I was fascinated with, who was always near that spot and also happened to be Italian.

Looking back now, I see the tensions that must have existed between my father, an investment banker, and my mother’s father, a successful electrical engineer, and my paternal grandmother— this radical feminist, who was also one of the founders of the ecumenical Community Church of Boston.   Fear of difference and loss and “other” was at the root of it all, then as it is now.

I see this mirrored so clearly today as the Republicans and the corporate world they represent are so terrified that their vast wealth will somehow be diminished by opening our country to immigrants that they are blind to the rest of the world, a world that is already diminished by poverty, bad health care, racism, horrific natural disasters, and so much more.

The poet Emma Lazarus understood the vision that this country was founded upon.  In 1883 she wrote these lines, which appear on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The power and vision of that lamp is what we must never let be extinguished.

So once again the brave and courageous among us outraged by this inhumanity must speak up. More importantly, the Congress of the United States must speak out.

A thread that runs through the letters of both Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to my grandmother is the need to be brave, and so I leave you with the words of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, written four months before he was executed:

“April 19, 1927, Dedham Jail

Dear Mrs. Winslow:

Oh! Your mayflowers are dear and sweet and most heartly accepted. They remember me of Plymouth and of the woods: the woods which I love so much. They are the flowers of the woods. I thank you very much.

Was not that foolish and unjust to deny you admission? It seems impossible. I was sorry for me and for you. Let’s hope that I may see you again before to die.

Meanwhile keep up a brave heart, dear Mrs.  Winslow.”

My grandmother was never to see him again, as she writes in her memoir:

“…when we reached Rome having successfully concluded our visits to the homes of both Italians, we sent a cable to them in the Death House in Charlestown, telling them that we had seen their families and delivered their messages. I have always hoped that this may have brought them a ray of comfort in their last hours.

“Mrs. Ratcliffe and I read of their execution on August 23rd in an Italian newspaper as we sat on a bench in the little village of Argentiere in the French Alps.”

 

Judy Walcott retired in 2014 after over 20 years of teaching at the Adult Learning Center at North Shore Community College. She also taught reading in the Gloucester Public Schools and is a Certified Dyslexia Therapist. Before becoming involved in education focused on reading, she worked at Facing History and Ourselves, an education project dedicated to the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. It was here that the parallels concerning racism and bigotry and the work of her grandmother began to germinate.

EZRA PHILLIPS: AN ARCHITECT FOR GLOUCESTER 1870-1937

Prudence Fish

One man, Ezra Lunt Phillips, changed the face of Gloucester. There is no doubt about it.

My acquaintance with the legacy of Ezra Phillips began about 1987.  At a yard sale, I discovered a photograph reprinted from a glass plate negative.  It was labeled “Ezra Phillips in his new car”.

Ezra Phillips in His New Car

My friend was curious and said, “Who do you suppose that is?” to which I replied that I knew exactly who he was …the architect of the very house on Edgemore Rd that was built at the turn of the 20th century and in 1987 being restored.  It was called Balmaha.  Then I realized what Ezra Phillips was looking at.  It was Balmaha under construction. This is the very same beautiful house that in 1987 was in the midst of being restored by Susan and Rick Richter.  I had seen the original plans with his name on them. In this photo he is visiting the work site, surveying the progress. Copies of the photo were given to the Richters, their brokers, the new owners and others.

Balmaha, Edgemoor Rd.

Ezra’s father was a flour dealer.  His business was on the right-hand corner of what is now Main St. and Duncan St.

By the early 1890s, Ezra had opened an architecture office at 4 Pleasant St. and was still boarding at home but by 1896 he owned the property on Gloucester Avenue that was to be his home for the rest of his life. The address changed several times but it was always the same house.

His wife’s name was Grace and they had two children, Elizabeth and Nathan.

Ezra Phillips, throughout his life, contributed more than his architecture to the community.  He was very active at Trinity Congregational Church and the YMCA.

In addition to volunteer organizations he was an officer or board member of many institutions including vice president of the Gloucester Safe Deposit and Trust Co., the Cape Ann Savings Bank, treasurer of the Cape Ann Anchor Works, the Russia Cement Co., the Gloucester Coal and Lumber Co. the Rockport Granite Co. and a charter member of the Rotary.  Where did he find the time to design all the beautiful buildings?

By 1902, after living for many years on Washington Square, his father, Nathan, and mother, Maria, moved to 159 Washington St. at the corner of Derby.  This is a lovely house but it is not known if their son had a hand in renovations.  They also had a summer home at Agamenticus Heights (Wolf Hill area) overlooking the Russia Cement Company. (LePage’s) with which the family was involved.

4 Nathan Phillips House, 159 Washington St.

Nathan Phillips passed away in 1905 but his widow continued on living in the large house on the corner of Derby St.

By 1926 Timothy Holloran had joined the architectural firm which then became known as Phillips and Holloran.  They continued as partners at least through 1935.  Ezra Phillips died in 1937. Timothy Holloran continued on alone.

Timothy Holloran’s son, Robert Holloran, joined his father after graduating from Wentworth Institute.  Eventually, Robert went to work in Boston at Shepley Bullfinch, the prestigious firm founded by Henry Hobson Richardson.

But during all these years there was a miracle in the making.  Ezra Phillips had never thrown away a set of plans and neither had his partner Timothy Holloran.  They were carefully kept and after the death of Timothy this treasure trove, like a big pot of gold, descended to Robert Holloran who thoughtfully preserved them.

Robert Holloran died at a very old age in 2008 and in 2011 the plans were given to the Cape Ann Museum.  Here is what is so astonishing.  There were more than 300 plans mostly for local buildings! Is it hard to get your head around this?  There are existing plans for 300 of some of the best and most beautiful and important buildings on Cape Ann. These plans span the period from about 1890 until the middle of the 20th century.

Municipal buildings include renovations to the former town-house, now known as the American Legion building in preparation for the returning veterans of WW1.

There were renovations to Central Grammar by Phillips, originally designed by another architect and native son, Tristram Griffin of Riverdale whose practice was in Malden.

Phillips designed at least one hotel, the Tavern, located on the Boulevard, replacing the Surfside.

In short, any building of any consequence renovated or built during that more than half a century can often be credited to Phillips or to Phillips & Holloran after they became partners.

But how about the countless houses for which they were responsible? Do you recognize these landmark houses?

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When all is said and done we now have concrete evidence of the magnitude of the work of Ezra Phillips and continuing with the firm of Phillips & Holloran.  Imagine three hundred plus sets of drawings documenting the development of this city for more than half a century.  What a wealth of information is stored in those tightly rolled-up sets of plans; plans that thankfully have found a permanent home at the Museum.  What a legacy for Gloucester!

Ezra Phillips’ funeral took place at Trinity Church on Middle Street.  Rev. Dwight Cart conducted the service in the place where Phillips had long been a deacon. He was assisted by the former pastor, Rev. Dr. Albert A. Madsen and Rev. Edmund A. Burnham, pastor of the Essex Congregational Church.

It is fitting that Rev. Cart quoted from Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr., “The Chambered Nautilus” beginning with “Build thee more stately mansions.  O my Soul”.

He went on to describe the life of Ezra Phillips as “well designed with nothing cheap and shoddy in its building.  A life founded upon faith, built upon quiet service enhanced by joy and humor, active, alert, community-minded, true to friendship, honest and sincere.  One who loved many things, and served many interests tirelessly, but whose first love was still his last…his home, and those who have made these walls live by the constancy of their service and affection.

His was a life well lived.

But that’s not all.  Here is an example of how he is still contributing eighty years after his death.

The  Sawyer Free Library is in the midst of discussions concerning the expansion of the library or complete replacement.  One of the sections of the library, the stacks section, was built in 1913.  Its future is up in the air.  The building committee turned to the Cape Ann Museum, and of course, it was almost predictable that they would have the plans for the “fireproof” building.  In ascertaining its value this new information about its fireproof construction adds another element in the evaluation and worth of the building.  Fireproof!  Who knew?

After the plans arrived in Gloucester at the museum, I had the pleasure of trying to track down his descendants, none of whom were here in Gloucester.  After making calls to places and people in Vermont and in New York I finally found his grandson in Northbridge, MA.  Although in his eighties, William Christopherson was still very active.

When I reached him I asked him if he had any heirlooms, keepsakes or trinkets that had come down to him from his grandfather.  He told me that he had one thing that belonged to Ezra.  I should have been sitting down when he said, “I have his last automobile”.  One could predict after looking at the early photo of Ezra in front of Balmaha that he would have a special car.  It had a name of which I had never heard.  It was from the late 1920s and a rare and expensive automobile. His grandson was perhaps seven or eight years old when Ezra died but he begged his mother to keep the car.  She did keep the car and can you believe that it is in perfect condition and still on the road!  I don’t think it gets driven much but the fact that he still has it makes me smile.  I can picture it in the driveway on Gloucester Ave. Now if I could only remember the name.

We must remember Ezra Phillips for his contributions to his hometown and for all he accomplished in and for the City of Gloucester.  We must also pay attention to endangered buildings that with a little research might prove to be attributed to the firm of Phillips or Phillips and Holloran and reconsider their worth.

Few of us have realized that in almost any neighborhood in the City of Gloucester one could look around and see the fruit of the three hundred sets of plans designed by him and his partner if only we knew which ones they are.  But thanks to the museum, there is now a master list and they can be identified.

Ezra Phillips changed the face of this City, one building at a time.

 

 

Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.

Gloucester Christmas Memories

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I’m inside the Lobster Trap Tree on Main Street thinking ….. Gloucester is a great Christmas town, my memories go back to the early 50’s.

Back in time before Sammy lost his eye and Johnnie Ray cried for the first time. I can hear Carol of the Bells & I’m spinning around, digging those riffs . I like this as much as the intro to Crazy Rhythm by Harry James on an old 78. I loved the Christmas carols & sang in the Junior Choir of the Old First Baptist Church at the end of Middle Street.

I see the Alexander kids at 18 Washington Square posing in pajamas & bathrobes, halfway down the stairs with gleeful faces on Christmas morning. My mother snapping pictures with her Brownie Hawkeye camera: my sister Janice Elaine holding a doll, my brother Bobby with a baseball glove, and me with my View Master thrilling me with its 3d scenes of the world across the bridge. Those were black & white pictures that my mother Madeline took, no color yet.  We didn’t have a television either, so I’d go next door on Saturday nights to watch the Lone Ranger and the Boston Blackie with my pal Billy Ruggiero. His grandma would always bring me something to eat, even though I’d already had my supper. I could never say no.

These were the best times-when the family was all together, all still alive.  Later on we would drive around “ rubber necking “ in the fancy parts of town enjoying the decorations in the huge yards & driveways. The A’s are driving an old luxurious, black Oldsmobile, given to us by the Emerson sisters who attended my Dad’s church. They gave me a stuffed gila monster once, they were travellers.
I still see diamonds reflected from street lights and hear the crunch crunch crunch of walking on fresh snow.

New memories include the surprise of a String Quartet last Saturday morning at the Cape Ann Savings Bank; looking forward to Gordon Baird hitting that high note singing his traditional solo O Holy Night at the UU church on Christmas Eve, and best of all seeing Greasy Pole Champ Salvi Benson walking around town looking like Santa Claus himself these days.

 

Photo Credit Anne Rearick.

Willie Alexander. The Alexander family arrived in Gloucester in 1950; we left in 1955. I returned here in June 1997 to live with my wife, photographer Anne Rearick.  I’ve been making music & art my whole life. I made my first recordings for Capitol Records in 1965 with The Lost. I am currently recording with Tony Goddess at Bang a Song Studios in Gloucester.

1644: A Turning Point in Cape Ann History

Masconomet.                       William Henry Tappan (1821-1907)

By Mary Ellen Lepionka

Histories are benchmarked with turning points—significant events that change all that follows. In large and small ways they affect the lives of persons, nations, species. A turning point for me in my work on Cape Ann’s past was discovering how subjective history is, a hard fact for a truth-seeker. Native people did not write history at first. The English, therefore, thought they had none, nothing of significance anyway, and barely mention them in town records. But in scraps of ancient texts and translations, I had found a long, rich, Native history—a kind of parallel universe. Was there a way to bridge the disconnect between the histories of Cape Ann’s early English settlers and the Native people living here at the time?

I decided to look at a single year—and chose 1644, which had turning points for both the Indians and the colonists. The colonists had just made the Cut connecting Ipswich Bay with Massachusetts Bay via the Annisquam River. They built the first cut bridge, the first meetinghouse on the green, and the first mill at Alewife Brook. Gloster Plantation had become a town, and it was a happening place. The first fishing vessel was built and launched. Ten Pound Island was reserved for rams. People were not allowed to cut trees without permission of the town proprietors. Mandatory church attendance was in effect as well as mandatory drills for men on the military training field adjacent to Meetinghouse Green. Towns were supposed to admit Indians to church services, but a decree of the General Court of the Mass. Bay Colony in 1644 barred them from randomly entering towns or townspeople’s homes without invitation.

In 1644 fishermen were not allowed to fish on Sundays, a frustration that contributed to the downfall of Rev. Richard Blynman, who had control of the Cut, Cut Ferry, and Cut Bridge in lieu of pay as the town minister. The minister was unpopular also as a Puritan hardliner in a town containing Pilgrims and freethinkers as well as fishermen. Records of the Circuit Court in Salem and the Court of Assistants in Ipswich include several cases of Gloster men being whipped and/or fined for blasphemy against Rev. Blynman. He and his party left or were driven out a few years later, including the first Town Clerk, Obadiah Bruen, appointed in 1644 after the General Court decreed that all towns must keep vital records.

The “cut bridge” aka Blynman Bridge, connecting Gloucester Harbor via the Annisquam River (a saltwater estuary) to Ipswich Bay. Mid 20th century postcard.

In 1644 Masquenomenit (Masconomet)—hereditary sagamore of Kwaskwaikikwen (Newbury), Agawam (Ipswich), Wanaskwiwam (Cape Ann), and Nahumkeak (Beverly-Salem)—was also in Circuit Court at Salem. He was there on March 8 with leaders of remnants of the Massachuset and Pennacook confederations. There was Cutchamakin of Neponset, brother of the late grand sachem Chicatawbut, lost in the smallpox epidemic of 1633, and Josias Chickatawbut of Nonantum, the late grand sachem’s grandson. There was Nashacowam of Nashua, New Hampshire, a Pennacook, and Wassamagin of Wachuset, a Nipmuck. And there was Squaw Sachem, tributary to Pappiseconewa (Passaconaway) of the Pennacook and widow of Nanepashemet—late grand sachem of the Pawtucket Confederation of Abenakis.

Squaw Sachem—her name was never recorded—had lost two of her three Christianized sons in the smallpox epidemic of 1633 and in 1639 had sold Cambridge, Watertown, Newton, Arlington, Somerville, and Charlestown to the English. She and her surviving son, Wenepoykin (disfigured by smallpox and known to the English as George No-Nose and later as George Rumney-Marsh) soon also sold the land that became Lynn, Saugus, Revere, Medford, Wakefield, Woburn, Stoneham, and Winchester. They threw in their lot with Passaconaway, who himself appeared in the Circuit Court at Salem the following year to add his signatory mark to the Oath of 1644.

In 1644 John Endicott was Governor of the Mass. Bay Colony and John Winthrop was Deputy Governor. Winthrop’s son, John Jr. was preparing to return to New London as founder of Connecticut Colony and to his new wife, having lost his young first wife and child in childbirth at Ipswich ten years before. In 1644 he gave Castle Hill, which Masquenomenit had deeded to him in 1637, to his brother-in-law Samuel Symonds, Deputy Governor of Ipswich. In 1644 the General Court voted to allocate 100 pounds to build up the nearby fort on Castle Island, lying just north of Hog (Choate) Island on Castle Neck River. The fort was to receive the benefit of 150 tons of lumber from Nantasket, a garrison, artillery, and a commander.

That was Masquenominet’s fort. The Sagamore had invited the English to occupy it—to help defend the Pawtucket from their enemies. Pawtucket enemies were the Tarrantines, mainly Micmac and Maliseet from Nova Scotia and the Canadian Maritimes. They annually raided Pawtucket farms for corn, which would not grow at their latitudes. They also abducted women and carried out intergenerational blood vengeance. It was for vengeance that in 1631 one hundred Tarrantines had come down the coast in canoes (another account says it was one hundred canoes) to attack Masquenomenit at Castle Hill. In another attack the following year a dozen Englishmen from Charlestown exploring in the vicinity, including John Winthrop Jr., came to Masquenomenit’s aid just in time to prevent a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Tarrantines. Masquenomenit had sold Castle Hill and his farm on Argilla Road to the English in gratitude and subsequently encouraged them to settle Ipswich. For the English, it was a chance to prevent further French incursions down the coast on the Gulf of Maine.

In 1644 William Stevens was Gloucester’s Deputy to the General Court. He had also been appointed to a three-man “Commission for Ending Small Causes” (i.e., handling local complaints). The Court insisted on Stevens’ participation because he was elected by the townspeople. Gloucester had sent the Town Clerk Obadiah Bruen in Stevens’ place, because Stevens was one of those unfortunate citizens who had expressed disapproval of the interpretation of the gospel being offered by the controversial pastor Richard Blynman (and who also stood accused of anti-royalist sentiment). The General Court wasn’t having any of Gloucester’s politics, however, and insisted that the rightfully elected Deputy attend. Stevens was at Circuit Court in Salem on March 8 and witnessed the signing of the Oath of 1644. I wonder what he thought of the six Indian “chiefs” with their retinues.

Richard Mather (1569-1669), c. 1665.          Attributed to John Foster (1648-81)

They had come to petition the Court, to place themselves under the protection of the English. That protection, against both the Tarrantines and the increasingly unfriendly colonists, came at a price. They had to swear that they “voluntarily & without any constraint or persuasion, but of our own free motion, put ourselves, our subjects, Lands, and estates under the Government and [will be] protected by them according to their just laws.” They also had to swear an oath to accept certain conditions, expressed in the following nine questions, put to them by the Puritan cleric Richard Mather, who recorded their answers.

  • Will you worship the only true God, who made heaven and earth, and not blaspheme?
  • Ans: “We do desire to reverence the God of the English and to speak well of Him, because we see He doth better to the English, than other gods do to others.”
  • Will you cease from swearing falsely?
  • Ans: “We know not what swearing is.”
  • Will you refrain from working on the Sabbath, especially within the bounds of Christian towns?Ans: “It is easy to us, — we have not much to do any day, and we can well rest on that day.”
  • Will you honor your parents and all your superiors?
  • Ans: “It is our custom to do so, — for inferiors to honor superiors.”
  • Will you refrain from killing any man without just cause and just authority?
  • Ans: “This is good, and we desire so to do.”
  • Will you deny yourselves fornication, adultery, incest, rape, sodomy, buggery, or bestiality?
  • Ans [after some explanation]: “Though some of our people do these things occasionally, yet we count them naught and do not allow them.”
  • Will you deny yourselves stealing?
  • Ans: “We say the same to this as to the 6th question.”
  • Will you allow your children to learn to read the word of God, so that they may know God aright and worship him in his own way?
  • Ans: “We will allow this as opportunity will permit, and, as the English live among us, we desire so to do.”
  • Will you refrain from idleness?
  • Ans: “We will.”

To seal the deal the six sagamores and sachems paid 26 fathoms of wampum (that amounts to a minimum of 6,240 shell beads, roughly 624 colonial dollars in value), essentially buying protection by paying tribute. Wampum was legal tender in Mass. Bay Colony at that time for both colonists and Indians. In turn, each “chief” was given 2 yards of red woolen cloth and a pot of wine. The Puritan ministers wrote home to England that a new age of spreading the gospel among the Indians had begun. And the Indians went home with the news that a new age of coexistence had begun under the justice of English laws.

So 1644 was a turning point in Cape Ann history for all its peoples, even if things didn’t turn out as expected, or perhaps because of that. Turning points can be thrilling, uplifting, or horrifying, and the actors heroes, villains, or fools. However subjective, one thing rings true to me about history: It is strange, and as a body of personal narratives, nothing if not sad.

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA. Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

Urgent Meeting on the Future of Addison Gilbert Hospital.

Addison Gilbert Hospital

On Wednesday, December 6th at 5:00 pm in the GHS Auditorium, the Mass Department of Public Health will conduct a public hearing on the application for Determination of Need filed by CareGroup Inc, Lahey Health and Seacoast Regional Health System with respect to their intent to affiliate to create a new comprehensive and distributed healthcare delivery system in the Eastern Massachusetts marketplace. The applicant intends to establish and incorporate a new parent organization, NewCo, which will function as the sole corporate member of the entities.

What does this mean for us on Cape Ann? Our local hospital, Addision Gilbert, currently under Lahey Health, will be merged into this new organization NewCo, who will then deliver our health care.

Please attend this important meeting to express our interest in keeping current service levels at AGH.

 

Learning Outside the Box: Yoga at Gloucester High School

Standing Bow on the Beach                                             @ Melissa Abbott

By Holly Clay

When something transforms our life, it’s a big deal. When it’s for free, even better! “I never would have imagined that a class I took in school, just to get more gym credits, would change my life in the ways that it did. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to yoga through the school system because it has changed my life, for free, and it has been extremely rewarding,” reflects a Gloucester High School (GHS) student.

GHS has been offering yoga as a physical education elective for four years. Inspired by his personal toe dip into yoga, high school teacher John Sperry launched the GHS program. A scholarship made yoga training possible. Sperry attended the highly respected Kripalu Center program, earning certification to teach. The training paid off and the GHS yoga offering came to surpass his wildest expectations.

John Sperry

“Yoga’s the most popular elective at GHS,” Sperry says. “We’re up to offering three classes a day [2016-17 academic year].” The sessions take place on the stage, in the school auditorium. The first couple years the space was dark, the ceiling needed patching, and dust caked the stage. Still the students, as many as 35 at a time, filed in one after another, happily anticipating the yoga ahead. This year a facelift has improved the physical surroundings, but the participants’ facial expressions needed no such adjustment. Receptive as always, the high schoolers melt into a yogic groove.

“Being introduced to this class was the best thing to ever happen to me,“ one student comments at the close of term. And, says one of the boys, “Yoga has been very beneficial for me… I have taken more away from this one class, than most of the other classes I find myself in as the year comes to a close.” Praise like that lets Sperry know yoga’s accomplishing something.

The high school experience is loaded with stress. Teen worries loom large and depression can follow in their wake. Yoga and mindfulness strike right at the root of agitation. The young people in Sperry’s classes point again and again to reduced anxiety and improved mood as fundamental yoga outcomes.

“I have struggled with severe anxiety for the past year of my life. I had never had anxiety prior to last year, and since taking yoga I have seen a major difference in my mental stability,” one student says.

“I have a somatoform disorder that causes me to have physical pain/symptoms when I get anxious and stressed out. Because I have trouble expressing my emotions and opening up to others, I tend to stress myself out and cause myself pain,” explains a young man. He says through yoga class sessions, “I have learned to better understand my mind and how I can prevent my self-destruction…By the end of class I feel much better than I did at the beginning of class.”

Sperry teaches coping strategies, explicitly, in the yoga classes. The kids try them on for size in class, regularly, and then adapt them for use “off the mat,” in real life.

“…It’s crazy to think that a class I have only been taking for two months has taught me better coping skills than …therapists…,” a student asserts. She continues, describing a challenge she overcame with yoga techniques. “…I started having an anxiety attack about two weeks ago in the middle of the night. I couldn’t calm down and was in full-blown panic mode for no reason. I didn’t have my medication with me, so I decided to sit on my bedroom floor and do some of the breathing techniques and stretches I learned during my yoga class. After about 15 minutes … I began to calm down…” Clearly, what she was learning in class felt relevant.

Breathing and the breath lie squarely at the center of any yoga practice. In fact, awareness of breathing patterns lies at the heart of most mindful arts and ancient meditation traditions. In westernized yoga, elongating and softening the rhythm of the breath not only help us synchronize our movements, but also ease tension. The pressure lifts.

“ I never really thought about the importance of breathing until I felt the changes that it does to your mind,” a female sophomore comments.

A junior agrees, noting an enduring effect on the nervous system. “Before I took the class I was very stressed to the point that I had to take anxiety medicine, and now I haven’t been needing to take it, at all.”

“Slow the breath, slow the mind,” goes the adage. With the down tempo, we experience a release from recurring or obsessive thoughts. Solid science backs up this ancient premise. In laboratories fMRI’s record brain waves and show a cessation of electron hyper activity. Studies on people employing breathing techniques point to reductions in heart rates. Monitors demonstrate a build-up and release of pleasant and calming endorphins like dopamine. An unperturbed state of mind aids concentration. It leaves us receptive to studying or focusing on mental tasks.

“When I think about filling my belly, bottom of my lungs, top of my lungs, and expanding my chest with air to make room for my heart, I am able to better focus,” one girl writes in a reflection piece.

Students learn the ‘Resting Pose’.

It’s not only mental faculties that respond to conscious movement and breathing. Comments corroborate what science tells us about yoga’s effect on the whole body. Athletes, for example, notice a shift.

A lot of the time during a workout I tend to breathe quickly and heavily. Yoga has a helped me learn to control my breath and pace myself better,” says one of the young people. When I control my breathing, I can focus more on the exercise I’m doing and work out better. It also helps me quiet my mind and focus on what is actually going on instead of on distracting thoughts.”

Yoga this semester has taught me to control my body better … and clear my mind,” adds a second student, with another chiming in about sore muscles and joints. “There have been new poses, such as the frog pose, that I find really help with pain that I consistently deal with because of skateboarding. [The pose] really stretches out my hips, and I have been having problems with pain and soreness in my left hip for a few months.”

Sperry works numerous yogic and mindfulness approaches into the curriculum. He invites guest teachers and takes students on yoga studio “field trips.” Some kids report liking gentle yoga; others prefer something more energetic and taxing. One thing is clear from the responses the students are writing: the combination of movement and a concluding rest or mindful period strikes a chord.

“It was nice to incorporate quick movements for more of an ‘exercisy’ feel,” notes one o the young women. “I think that moving my body a lot helps me stretch deeper and then I can relax and feel the benefits of corpse [resting] pose more.”

Sometimes Sperry devotes an entire class period (classes range in length from about 30 minutes to almost an hour) to guided relaxation or mindfulness. That means, Sperry softly tells a story or describes a scene, while the students visualize, lying or sitting quietly on their mats.

“As for relaxation techniques,” says one male student, “I have found the beach meditation to work the best for me, says one male student. “I really connect with this technique, the sensation of being in the pool of water is very relaxing for me. …My mind felt like it had been massaged…, and my muscles felt like jelly.”

“I find that the relaxations where you tell a story work better for me because I can immerse myself in the scene and don’t get distracted,” notes another. “I also liked doing the relaxation where we focus on one part of the body at a time. It allows me to make sure I relax every muscle and I can realize when I hold tension in certain muscles. I can also focus on parts of the body I normally ignore. … Relaxations have been really helpful for me because I feel like they make me more tuned into my body and I now have techniques to quiet my mind and deal with stress,” notes another.

Sometimes the young people talk about bringing “on the mat” practices to bear on school success.

I’m happier in class and can get work done easier without the stress,” says one senior, a boy. “… yoga took [stress] out of my body. … My grades have gone up and I’m more relaxed.”

“After partaking in the class in the morning I feel like I have earned a sense of calmness. I am then able to carry that sense of calmness and openness with me to class,” one female, a senior, comments. “This has helped me not only to focus more efficiently, but it also helps with my anxiety. I have clinical anxiety so I always have a million and one thoughts running through my head, but after finishing…I feel more at ease with myself…that short amount of time…can change the entire mood of my day. “

Another girl reflects, “…[sometimes] people talked [during yoga class], and…[they] did not even try to do the poses.. I found I was able to focus my attention on my breath and on my yoga, instead of getting bothered and distracted by others. That was a great learning experience for me. It helped me learn more self-control and concentration.” As a result, she was able to generalize the yoga session experience to other classroom situations.

Students also talk about new-found strengths, such as the courage to explore the unfamiliar. Finding ease while building a repertoire of accomplished, physically-demanding poses, encourages moving outside comfort zones, both intellectual and physical.

Patrick Riley, Gloucester Yoga Collective Instructor and GHS Graduate, in an ‘Inversion’

“Another learning experience I had during this half-year of yoga was how to try new things without being nervous. I tried many new poses when I was not sure if I was able to do it. I was able to do a lot more than I had expected,” says one of the students. This confidence extends into other parts of life.

As one freshman says, “I enjoy learning new poses that challenge me to exceed my comfort level.”

As students communicate their reactions, they’re developing and practicing critical thinking skills. The student is talking and/or writing analytically, and so, sharpening mental teeth and flexing the cognitive muscle. In addition, she/he is developing “metacognitive awareness,”* an understanding of one’s personal learning style. With that understanding, the student can tweak approaches to studying. The practice of reflecting on the practice paves a path to improved learning.

On one end of the spectrum we have, “Since I joined the class, there has been a noticeable improvement in my perception of my body and my surroundings. Yoga is a way for me to connect with myself and be aware of the things that usually go unnoticed, like the quiet flow of air filling our bodies as we breathe. This class gives me the opportunity to be more in touch with the intangible forces of nature.”

And on the other, the straight-forward side we hear, “I think I may become a yoga instructor, or something along those lines, to help me be more calm and happy everyday,” or even better, for the teacher who brought yoga to Gloucester High, “I would like to say thank you. You have a seriously great role model in my last two years of high school. … I have learned so much and gained so much confidence… Thank you, Mr. Sperry.”

** Metacognitive Awareness: “All learning processes and behaviors involving any degree of reflection, learning-strategy selection, and intentional mental processing that can result in a student’s improved ability to learn.” http://excellenceinschoolcounseling.com/develop-a-cba/define-student-excellence-overview/self-knowledge-overview/metacognitive-awareness/

Holly Smith demonstrates an ‘Arm Balance’.

Writer Holly Clay offers classes at the Gloucester Yoga Collective (GYC) at 114 Main Street, next to Sugar Magnolia’s. Sperry has organized GHS yoga “field trips” to the GYC studio on Main Street and GYC instructors have taught at the High School. The studio offers classes for people at all ages, and stages and instructors, some in their 20’s and others in their 50’s and 60’s, run the studio cooperatively. The 11 am Thursday class for veterans and people living with post-traumatic stress is free for vets with a $5 suggested contribution for all others.

Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society.  With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.

Dogtown Headed for National Register

Public meeting on November 29 in Kyrouz Auditorium in Gloucester City Hall, 7pm

Dogtown. 1934           Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)

By Mary Ellen Lepionka

During the week of November 13 a team of archaeologists from the Public Archaeology Laboratory (PAL) in Providence will be conducting fieldwork in Dogtown. They will begin mapping and describing an area to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, a National Park Service program to honor historically significant buildings and landscapes. National Register listing confers special status on a property or area as a cultural heritage to be proud of and to preserve.

As an honorary designation, National Register status carries no restrictions on the use of property, which is entirely up to the owners and communities to decide. The only condition is that state or federally funded projects will be subject to review by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which will issue a statement on whether or not a given project will be harmful to any historical and cultural resources identified in the listing.

The PAL archaeologists will identify and scientifically map all the historical and cultural features in Dogtown, including trails, stone walls and bridges, cellar holes and mill sites, quarries and motions, boulders with names and stories, and rock piles and scenes that inspired artists and writers. As a result of National Register status, Dogtown will become more eligible for grants for rehabilitation projects and educational programs. The hope is that our communities will be inspired to undertake landscape restoration and maintenance for public safety and public access and for the protection of Dogtown as a cultural as well as a natural resource. The hope is also that Dogtown will be preserved as the “wilderness” everyone loves for everyone’s recreational enjoyment. National Register status will lay a new groundwork—a first step—for the future of Dogtown.

A public informational meeting about the Dogtown project will be held on November 29 in Kyrouz Auditorium in Gloucester City Hall, 9 Dale Ave., starting at 7pm. Presenters will include Betsy Friedberg from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, who will explain how the National Register program works and what it does and does not do, and Kristen Heitert, the lead archaeological on the PAL team, who will present an initial plan for defining the boundaries of Dogtown as a National Register District. People attending the meeting will be asked to respond to that plan and to express their views about what makes Dogtown special. What should be the boundaries of the proposed National Register District? What cultural features should be described as part of it?

The Dogtown archaeological survey is funded through a matching grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Dusky Foundation and is financed by the City of Gloucester. The Gloucester Historical Commission (GHC) applied for the grant and is coordinating the project in collaboration with the Rockport Historical Commission (RHC). The local project coordinator is Bill Remsen, and the committee includes GHC co-chairs Mary Ellen Lepionka and Bob Whitmarsh, Jude Seminara, RHC chair Jim Ugone, and Tom Mikus of the Rockport Rights of Way Committee. The PAL team will also have the assistance of members of the Dogtown Advisory Committee, the Cape Ann Trail Stewards, the Gloucester Archives, and the Friends of Dogtown, who will be serving as information sources and trail guides.

We hope everyone with an interest in Dogtown will come to the informational meeting on November 29, but anyone who cannot may also send their comments to Bill at wremsen.ipa@gmail.com and/or Mary Ellen at melepionka@comcast.net.

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA. Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

Appropriations of Native Identity: Pocahontas and the Last Wampanoag

Mary Ellen Lepionka

Frederick Mulhaupt (1871-1938) painted “Native American Life on Cape Ann” for the old Maplewood School in 1934. It was later moved to its current location at the O’Maley Middle School.

Erasure narratives, in which the Indians disappeared, reached even into science. Many early archaeologists and ethnologists believed that New England Indians were of little interest or consequence, not worthy of study. Archaeological sites in New England consisted only of shell heaps and burial grounds, paling in comparison to the monumental architectures of the Native civilizations of Mexico and South America. But the more the Indians were thought to have disappeared, the more people began to lament their loss. The “vanished Indian” was invented, and New Englanders began to exploit, and distort their memory. In the process, they misappropriated Native culture and identity.

Impersonating Indians and dressing up as Puritans and Indians became fashionable around the turn of the century. The history of English-Native relations had been reduced to iconic moments—deed signings and massacres. In the celebration of Gloucester’s 250th anniversary in 1892, Robert Pringle designed four horse-drawn floats with costumed actors frozen in significant poses: Samuel de Champlain warily greeting the Pawtucket on Rocky Neck in 1606; Roger Conant arbitrating the feud between Captain Hewes and Myles Standish on Fisherman’s Field in 1625; Samuel English, the “Last Sagamore of Agawam”, deeding Gloucester to the English in 1701; and Gloucester militiamen drawn up against the British in the War of Independence. Pringle also had a Myles Standish—diminutive red-bearded soldier with fiery temper and Napoleonic hauteur—circulating through the throngs of thrilled spectators with “Puritans and Savages” in tow.

Bicentennial celebrations throughout the Northeast included speeches in honor of someone in the community identified as the last Indian. In the 1890s Zerviah Gould Mitchell of Lakeville was billed as the “Last of the Wampanoags”, for example, despite the fact that she (a) was Mahican, not Wampanoag, and (b) had two daughters with descendants whose descendants are living to this day. Her designation as the last had to do with the concept of racial purity. To be authentically Indian you had to be pure-blooded.

Believing there were no more pure-blooded Indians left east of the Appalachians, beginning in the mid-19th century New Englanders developed a nostalgic, romantic craze for them. We got Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Hiawatha”, the Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper, and “The Bridal of Pennacook” by John Greenleaf Whittier. Henry David Thoreau canoed up the Concord and Merrimack. Monuments were erected in town parks throughout the Northeast in memory of famous Indians—Uncas, Canonicus, Miantonomo, Masconomet, Samoset, Squanto, Massasoit. Streets are named after them in Winniahdin (“In the vicinity of the heights”), a neighborhood on Little River in West Gloucester developed in the 1890s as a summer colony. No less than twelve statues of Massasoit stand in twelve different cities and towns, all eager to claim him for their own.

By 1900 it became popular to impersonate Indians on stage as well as in parades, in addition to writing romantic fiction harking back to the days when there were Indians. Most notably, the famous actor Edwin Forrest played Metamora, “the Last Wampanoag” in a melodrama about the vanished Indians. Metamora toured internationally and was a sellout equivalent to Hamilton today.

Appropriations of Native identity were not new. Pocahontas, for example, first appears in a 17th-century engraving by Simon de Passe as a dour Englishwoman-by-marriage (to John Rolfe in Virginia Colony). Then, in an anonymous 19th-century etching she is a chaste but ravishing (or ravished) beauty holding a calumet (peace pipe). Now, in a 21st century Disney cel she appears as a competent, liberated, athletic (but still sexy) girl. As in Snow White, forest animals and little birds adore her.

The acme (or perhaps the nadir) of appropriation was the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM), a fraternal organization and secret society for white men that spread in the late 19th century. Their stated intentions were to preserve beliefs and values of the vanished Indian and his way of life. It involved organizing as a tribe, meeting at council fires, and dressing up as Indians. Until the mid-1900s actual Indians, blacks, those of mixed race, immigrants, and the unemployed were not allowed to join.

On parade in Gloucester’s 250th anniversary celebration in 1892 were IORM Wingaersheek Tribe No. 12 of Gloucester, Wonasquam Tribe No. 23 and Winnekoma Council Daughters of Pocahontas No. 41 of Rockport, Chebacco Tribe No. 93 of Ipswich, Ontario Tribe No. 103 of Wenham, Manataug Tribe No. 1 of Marblehead, Naumkeag Tribe No. 3 of Salem, Masconomo Tribe No. 11 of Peabody, Chickataubut Tribe No. 13 of Beverly, Passaqui Tribe No. 27 of Haverhill, Taratine Tribe No. 24 of Swampscott, and three tribes from Lynn: Sagamore Tribe No. 2, Winnepurkit Tribe No. 55, and Poquanum Tribe No. 105. In “Degree of Pocahontas” parade floats, white women in the IORM women’s axillary impersonated squaws.

The Improved Order of Red Men

The Red Men remained active on Cape Ann—I remember them in parades when I was a child—perhaps you do too–with black braided wigs, mysterious loincloths, bloodied tomahawks. They made war whoops, and we would shriek. They would prowl on the fringes of parades and menace onlookers, pretending to scalp the boys at the curb, taking pretty girls captive. They would reach into the crowd and grab the girl, tie her hands or put a rope around her neck, and force her to walk a ways in the parade before letting her escape. (I shudder now to recall how badly I wanted to be that girl.)

The IORM movement did not start to wane until the 1950s as the American Indian Movement began. Wingaersheek Tribe No.12 of Gloucester was not officially disbanded until 2009. Participants thought they were preserving the best of authentic Native American culture when they more often were passing on distorted and mythologized interpretations of Native history and culture and perpetuating the narratives of erasure. The wrong stories and stereotypes even became enshrined in our social institutions. Charles Allan Winter’s beautiful mural in Kyrouz Auditorium in Gloucester City Hall, created in 1934—the masthead for “Enduring Gloucester”—features a solitary seated “naked” Indian smoking a peace pipe, no doubt representing legendary Pawtucket neutrality toward the English throughout Agawam during the colonial period.

Elsewhere in City Hall, Frederick Mulhaupt’s mural misrepresents the Indians while meaning to commemorate them as a part of Gloucester’s history. No Pawtucket ever dressed like that or had pots and blankets decorated thus, nor did they ever conduct trade with Vikings. (Actually, there is not a shred of evidence that Northmen ever set foot here, and Thorvald is not buried on the Back Shore. Robert Pringle and others promulgated this idea during the Viking craze of the 1890s, while earlier histories of Cape Ann do not mention them at all—but that is another whole story.)

Meanwhile, Mulhaupt can be forgiven for artistic license and not knowing better. We must all be forgiven, I think. We are all products of our time and place and cannot be held accountable for what happened in the past. Plus, most people in any time and place don’t really know what’s happening to them most of the time or understand how their actions and beliefs are shaping human history. We can only be responsible for how we respond once we figure it out. As FDR says in the legend under the Kyrouz Auditorium mural, we must build for tomorrow.

Pocahontas (1910 silent film)

In our special place that is Gloucester, over the sweep of time, I see that in the first hundred years of contact colonists’ admiration for Native Americans as noble savages was replaced by fears of Englishmen becoming savages themselves and by derogatory views of Indians. The red man became the white man’s enemy and after that the white man’s burden as conquered people. Over the next hundred years, the narratives of erasure were written and acted upon. Then in the hundred years following their “disappearance”, Native Americans were remembered, lionized, impersonated. Native identity was appropriated and they became romantic heroes and victims in literature and in art. In the last 50 years New England Indians have been rediscovered as not so vanished after all, nor so romantic. I wonder what the next 50 years will bring.

Many Native Americans today are politically active. They have been risking rediscovering and redefining who they are–intent on language revival, cultural preservation, and the reconstitution of true communities, incorporating western as well as eastern expressions of Native culture. As a scientist and historian, I see great interest and consequence in this enterprise, certainly worthy of study. I think all our early literatures need to be reread, our histories rewritten, and new narratives put together for more accurate, integrated, truths. I wonder what that would look like—a history that integrates colonial and Native lives and events. Hmmm….

Cigar Store Indian Princess. Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum
Unknown Carver c. 1855
On display at H. C. Brown Tobacco Shop, Gloucester, from 1905 to 1945.

 

 

Mary Ellen Lepionka lives in East Gloucester and is studying the history of Cape Ann from the Ice Age to around 1700 A.D. for a book on the subject. She is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with degrees in anthropology. She studied at Boston University and the University of British Columbia and has performed archaeology in Ipswich, MA, Botswana, Africa, and at Pole Hill in Gloucester, MA.  Mary Ellen is a trustee of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and serves on the Gloucester Historical Commission.

 

Fred Buck’s Footsteps by Willie ‘Loco’ Alexander

Photo © 2017 Anne Rearick

For Your Listening Pleasure ~

© Anne Rearick.

 

Willie Alexander. The Alexander family arrived in Gloucester in 1950; we left in 1955. I returned here in June 1997 to live with my wife, photographer Anne Rearick. I’ve been making music & art my whole life. I made my first recordings for Capitol Records in 1965 with The Lost. I am currently recording with Tony Goddess at Bang a Song Studios in Gloucester.