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Ten Hills Farm, with Anecdotes and Reminiscences

by Alida G. Sollers.

It will be necessary, in writing a history of Ten Hills Farm, Somerville, Mass., to go back to 1588. On June 12 of that year, there was born in Groton, Suffolk County, Eng., John Winthrop, who, with others, sailed for New England in the bark Arabella. This was in 1630, when he was in his forty-third year.

Winthrop had the original charter of Massachusetts Bay-Colony, and was vested with the title of ‘Governor.’ He landed at Salem June 17, and on June 18 sailed up the Mystic river, stopping at Fort Maverick, Noddle's Island, now East Boston; thence he went to Charlestown, where he built a house.

Sometime in 1631, probably in the early spring, Governor Winthrop built a farmhouse on the right bank of the Mystic river, about three miles from the site of the present State House. This he used as a summer residence, Charlestown, and later Boston, being his winter home, in which latter place the Green, the governor's town house, included the land owned by the Old South church, Washington street, the house being about opposite to School street.

It is recorded that the first vessel ever built in New England was launched by Winthrop at his summer home on the Mystic. The keel was laid oil July 4, 1631, and in October she spread her sails. This vessel he named the ‘Blessing of the Bay,’ and the ‘ways’ from which she was launched were until recently in existence near a point where the Edgworth (Wellington) bridge now stands.

On October 6, 1631, the General Court granted to Governor Winthrop six hundred acres of land adjoining his estate on the [10] Mystic. This, with the original possession, he called ‘The Ten Hills Farm,’ from the fact that it contained ten hillocks. Probably the original farm contained about seven hundred and fiftyfive acres, or a goodly portion of what is now the city of Somerville and the city of Medford.

On the death of Governor Winthrop, March 26, 1649, the property fell to his son, John, Jr., then governor of Connecticut, by whose executors it was deeded in 1677 to Lieutenant-Colonel Lidgett, afterwards to his wife Elizabeth, she c ceding half to her son Charles in the same year. The Lidgetts and their heirs, among whom were the wife and children of Lieutenant-Governor Usher, of New Hampshire, deeded a portion of it to Sir Isaac Royal in 1731. This was about five hundred and four acres, and was in what is now the city of Medford, the remaining or Somerville portion, which I will hereafter describe, containing about two hundred and fifty-one acres, the Lidgett heirs sold to Sir Robert Temple.

Sir Robert Temple built a new house on the site of the original Winthrop house. From old papers, and the material used in the construction of the ‘Manor House,’ as Temple called it, it is evident that the building was designed and executed in England, brought to this country, and set up.

The sills, which were eighteen inches square, and the handmade clapboards were of English oak; wrought-iron nails were used in its construction, and it was brick-lined throughout. These facts alone point to its great age and origin. It may be well to add here that Mr. George Jaques had at one time a plan of this estate dated 1637.

I will attempt to describe the house as I knew it, for it was my old home. We will rendezvous at a point where Temple street, formerly Derby street, joins Mystic avenue, formerly called the Medford Turnpike, and going up the winding driveway, fringed on either side with the fragrant I aim of Gilead, we notice on our left the magnificent English awn, ornamented with marble statues mounted on granite pedestals. We arrive at [11] a small, but imposing, porch, which fronts the house on the westerly side, the house itself being a square two-and-a-half-story wooden building, with an ell. The door to the main entrance hall is very imposing. The planks of which it is constructed are two inches thick, laid diagonally solid, instead of being panelled, and the only ornamentation is a ponderous brass knocker. Entering the main entrance hall, the stairs, broad and of low tread, went up from west to east to a platform two-thirds of its height, then divided and terminated in two alcove recesses, one at each end, with fluted columns and deep windows. On the ground floor, on the left, as we enter from the west, was a large room called the west parlor. Back of this room were the diningroom and kitchen; on the right of the hall was a small parlor, and back of this a very large room called the east parlor. The second floor, including the ell, contained two large chambers and several smaller ones; the garret was divided into rooms, but not finished.

In one of these apartments a dark brown spot was shown, said to be a blood stain, which no amount of washing could remove. The legend was to the effect that a free lance, commanding a vessel which was part trader and part pirate, was in the habit of mooring his craft at the old wharf. He had a colored man who was his body servant. The captain was a frequent visitor at the house, and on one of his calls enticed a young girl into the garret, and, with the aid of his servant, killed her there. It is said that on stormy nights her spirit could be seen hovering over the roof at the window of this room.

The cellar was a labyrinth of rooms, the wine room being reached by a trap door from the pantry, which led from the east parlor. The house itself was very large and roomy, containing beautiful specimens of English and colonial mantels, some being elaborately carved and fluted. In one room the fireplace was tiled with Scriptural scenes in blue. In the east parlor the back piece of the fireplace was brass plate, showing Saint George and the Dragon. In the kitchen was a large Dutch oven, and a [12] bench for warming plates, decorated with red tile, and another Dutch oven was in the dining-room.

Now, retracing our steps to the beginning of the driveway, let us follow its graceful curves till we come to a small, but attractive, grass plot; the driveway diverging encircled this grass plot. We arrive at the large piazza, from which hung for so many years the old lantern, and where on hot summer evenings our friends were entertained, for it was spacious, and easily accommodated many guests. From this piazza could be seen the chicken yard, and it was here dial Colonel Jaques fed his birds (spoken of in another part of this paper), and here was the grapery, where were cultivated the hothouse Hamburg and Whitewater grapes, which always, with other fruits and vegetables, took first prize at the horticultural exhibits.

In the chicken yard were two ponds, one of fresh and one of salt water, almost side by side. Back of the grapery was the barn shed and carriage house; back of these was a hill where, in summer, the militia were invited from Charlestown for target practice. Colonel Samuel Jaques several times during the summer also opened his grounds to his neighbors, who were invited to help themselves to the cherries, pears, and other fruits, which grew in abundance. You may rest assured they were not slow in accepting.

On the death of Sir Robert Temple, the property came into the possession of Robert Temple, Jr., who retained it until after the Revolutionary war. The wile of Robert Temple, Jr., was the daughter of Governor Shirley. Ten Hills was the landing place of Gage's night expedition to seize the powder in the Province Magazine (Old Powder House) in September, 1774.

The vicinity of Ten Hills was that chosen by Mike Martin for the robbery of Major Bray. It was near the Temple manor, on what is now known as Temple street, that the robbery took place.

At the battle of Bunker Hill the Americans drove the English from the house (Sir Robert Temple was a Royalist), and [13] when the Continentals fell back from Breed's hill, they made a stand at Ten Hills, but were obliged to retreat, and the British established themselves in the house, using the large east parlor as a stable for their horses, while the men and officers occupied the rest of the rooms.

The house was unoccupied for a long time after the Revolutionary war, but finally in 1801 came into possession of General Elias Hasket Derby, who for thirteen years kept the place as a stock farm. The principal noteworthy incidents which occurred during Derby's occupancy were the opening of the Medford Turnpike in 1804, and of the Middlesex canal, both of which ran through the place. The latter, started in 1793, was completed in 1803, and discontinued in 1843. It was twenty-seven miles long, thirty feet in breadth, four feet in depth, and cost nearly a half million; its income from tolls amounted to about $25,000 annually.

From 1814 to 1831 various owners were in possession, but in 1831 a syndicate of wealthy gentlemen bought the farm. In 1832 the estate came into the possession of Colonel Jaques, of Charlestown.

The family of Jaques trace their origin by tradition to Sire Rolande de Jacques, who was a feudal baron in Normandy, France, in the year 878. Authentic records are in existence from 1066, when Rolande de Jacques was one of the knights who attended King William ‘The Conqueror’ at the battle of Hastings (see ‘Doomsday Book’). The family continued to be of much consideration in Sussex and Suffolk. Sir Richard Jaques, as the name was then called, was the head of the family in the county of York. In 1503 Sir Roger Jaques, Lord of Elvington, was made mayor of York. Henry Jaques was the first to settle in America. He came to Newbury, Mass., in 1640, in company with Benjamin Woodridge. Samuel Jaques, the sixth from Henry, and the subject of this sketch, was born September 1, 1777, in Wilmington, Mass. He married Harriett Whittemore. In 1814 Colonel Samuel Jaques came to Charlestown, and here [14] he was engaged in the West India goods business, being one of the firm of Jaques & Stanley. He was also inspector-general of hops, and interested largely in the exportation of this article.

Colonel Jaques, at first major, acquired his title by long service in the militia, and was engaged for a time during the hostilities of 1812 in the defense of Charlestown bay, and was stationed at Chelsea. He was in manners and habits of the type of the English country gentleman.

When a resident of Charlestown, he had, like Craddock's men, empaled a deer park. This estate became celebrated as a place where things excellent and extraordinary in this line were collected and could be seen and obtained. His short-horned Durham cattle, his common cattle of good points, and Merino sheep could be seen grazing in the pastures, while strange and rare birds of beautiful plumage could be seen swimming in a little pond in one corner of the estate. At one time buffaloes could be seen by passers-by, as the colonel had two or three feeding in his pasture. He also had fine dogs, greyhounds and spaniels, and a kennel of fox hounds, kept not for ornament, but for use; and he often awakened the echoes of the neighboring hills in the early morn by his bugle or the cry of his pack. Many a resident of Charlestown and Somerville still remembers being awakened from his sleep by the sound of the fox hunter's tally-ho.

Colonel Jaques' Charlestown house is now standing, on Washington street, between what is called Washington place and Washington square.

He is particularly worthy of remembrance, for such early times, as an horticulturalist, agriculturalist, and breeder; a great fondness for animals was his distinguishing trait. He owned the famous thoroughbred stallion, beautiful in form and of the richest bay in color, ‘Bell-founder,’ which was of extraordinary pedigree, and the best trotting and running horse in the country, and the first horse to ever run twenty miles in an hour. This horse had one rival only, called ‘Captain McGowan,’ who accomplished the feat in 1885. [15]

At the laying of the corner-stone of Bunker Hill Monument, June 17, 1825, Colonel Jaques was the chief marshal. General Lafayette was the guest of honor, and was met on the bridge by Colonel Jaques and his aids, and was conducted to the square, where a procession was formed. From there he was escorted by a regiment of light infantry and a battalion of artillery to Bunker hill. It might be of interest to mention here that George, the son of Colonel Samuel Jaques, was chief marshal on the occasion of the semi-centennial anniversary of the laying of the corner-stone of Bunker Hill Monument. After the ceremony Colonel Samuel Jaques entertained the distinguished guests of the day at his Washington-street house in Charlestown. Among these were Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Marquis De Lafayette, and Rufus Choate. The decanter from which the marquis helped himself to wine is still preserved, and in the possession of Mr. George M. Jaques, of New York.

In 1832, as above stated, Colonel Jaques removed to the Ten Hills Farm, where he at once began the breeding of fancy cattle. The old gentleman was very fond of relating that he was undecided as to whether he should purchase Noddle's Island, now East Boston, or the Ten Hills Farm; both were offered at the same price, $30,000. On due consideration, he found that the trouble and expense of ferriage to the island was against it. When he took possession of the house at Ten Hills Farm, it was in a deplorable condition, but it was thoroughly renovated, and expensive paper put on the walls. Some idea might be given of the size of the rooms from the fact that for each of four rooms it took one hundred yards of carpeting one yard in width. The holes in the east parlor where the spikes were driven in by the Englishmen to tie their horses were left unfilled, however, and, much to the disgust of the family, the colonel always showed them to his visitors by poking his fingers through the expensive paper into the holes.

Colonel Jaques wore a distinctive costume; his blue dress coat, with brass buttons, blue trousers, buff vest, and his ruffled [16] shirt were well known to everybody. Daniel Webster was a lifelong friend and frequent visitor at Ten Hills Farm, and always admired the colonel's dress. One day he asked the names of the colonel's tailors, and was told that Messinger & Cahill, of Court street, were the men. The great statesman asked to be introduced to them, and together the pair visited the shop. Mr. Webster ordered a suit made precisely like the one worn by Colonel Jaques, and, stepping upon the block, was measured for it. Before he came down he said he might as well have two suits, as he proposed to adopt the style for the future.

Colonel Jaques laughingly told the tailors that he would not be responsible for the payment of the debt. Those who know Mr. Webster's peculiarities about money matters will readily understand that when the time came for settlement of the bill, the money was not forthcoming, and Colonel Jaques had to pay it.

In addition to his frequent visits to Ten Hills, Mr. Webster kept up a correspondence with the colonel, and was constantly sending copies of his speeches to him. At the time of Colonel Jaques' death, the letters and pamphlets received from noted men filled a two and one-half bushel meal bag; but so* little was thought of their value, present or prospective, that they were sold for old waste paper, and here it might be well to say that nearly everything of historic value has passed out of the possession of our family.

Among other and frequent visitors at Ten Hills Farm were Professor Agassiz, Colonel Thomas Handyside Perkins, and Kirk Boot, who enjoyed a ramble over the vast acres and studied the remarkable cattle. On one occasion Agassiz said to the colonel, ‘I don't see how you do it, it is wonderful. How do you do it, Colonel Jaques?’ And the colonel answered, ‘Not by studying books, professor, not by studying books,’ and, tapping his head, said, ‘Brains.’ On another occasion Agassiz was studying the clay in which the Ten Hills Farm abounds. Colonel Jaques remarked to him, tapping him familiarly on the shoulder, ‘It is all very well for you to say what is in the ground, for who would dispute you?’ [17]

Colonel Jaques was a generous host; his family were fond of his society, and the children were always expected to be present at the table, both when guests were present and when the family were alone, which was seldom, to join in the topics of conversation, or to listen to words which were spoken by his distinguished friends.

Colonel Jaques was of imposing stature, stern in features, but very kind, considerate, and just when the iron rules with which his house was governed were not infringed upon. As children we were allowed the liberty of the estate and house so long as no offense was committed, but when once his rules were interfered with, we were ranged before him. He was at once judge, court, and jury, and in clear-cut, crystallized words imposed our sentence, and for the time being we were ostracised from the liberties which we had hitherto enjoyed. He never forgot the motto on his crest, ‘Foy Pour Devoir’ (Faithful to Duty), and expected all of his family to remember it and abide thereto.

He was always able to interest his visitors in his horses and other stock, and in his peculiar views as to their management and the possibilities of their improvement. He had peculiar ideas about breeding, the result of much study and observation, and was very successful in the experiments which he made in changing the form and color of animals, thereby increasing their value. He claimed he could put his name in white feathers on the back of a hen, if he had time enough. He proved part of his theory by crossing a common red and white cow with a purebred Durham short-horned bull, and in thirty-seven years produced a pair of twin heifers, which were without a white hair, with the characteristics of both breeds, but with short horns. These calves were born on the day of his death. He had been given up by the doctors weeks before, but so great was his interest in the birth of the animals that his strong will kept him alive. They were born in the morning; in the afternoon they were washed and brought to his room. Each in turn was lifted [18] on the bed, and after he had examined them carefully, he laid back on his pillow, and in a few hours passed away. Richard S. Fay, of Salem, bought them when they were six weeks old, and paid six hundred dollars for the pair.

He also was the importer of the Bremen goose. His ‘Creampot’ cows were famous throughout the country. His daughter, Harriett Jaques, made butter, before the Legislature, from the cream of these cows in thirty seconds, and served it at table then and there, the governor being present.

Captain Kidd was credited with burying treasures on the place, and even as late as during the occupancy of Colonel Jaques, attempts were made to find the money, and a long trench was dug near a big elm tree, whose branches swept the house. I remember often being awakened by the sound of spade and shovel by men who came to seek for the hidden treasure supposed to be buried in the knoll on which the house was built. Captain Kidd, when pursued, hid himself in what was Sir Robert Temple's smoke room, as it was called, built in the chimney place, where the servants smoked the hams. This room was entered by means of a trap door leading out of a bedroom closet.

Situated at such a convenient distance from the city, Ten Hills, with its broad acres and commodious mansion, drew crowds of visitors, and a dozen or fifteen carriages were often seen in the yard, and on one memorable Sunday forty-two carriages, all coming by chance, were lined up before the stables. In the summer, Sunday always brought a lot of people, and a large lunch was always prepared. With so many coming and going, you will easily understand that no attempt was made at ceremony, but arrivals were first ushered into the dining hall, and then told to make themselves at home. The family were somewhere about the place, either in the house, on the lawn, or on the hill. On either side of the house were magnificent elm trees. One, in particular, was unusually large, girting more than eleven feet, three feet from the ground. The spreading branches [19] formed a fine support for a platform at a distance of thirty feet from the ground, and tea parties were given among the leaves, as many as eight or ten participating.

About the year 1840, an ourang-outang, said to be the first ever brought to America, was on exhibition in Boston. It was taken sick, and Colonel Jaques was applied to as being an authority on animals, to see if the creature could be cured. The colonel thought it could, and took charge of it. To accommodate the monkey, he built a two-story structure with two rooms. Upstairs was a chamber, and downstairs was a parlor. No dumb animal, before or since, ever had such luxurious quarters, nor was so much money spent to cure a brute. It took a year to restore the ourang-outang to health, and the owner went on his way rejoicing.

The colonel had many valuable fowl, both domesticated and in their wild state. His manner of feeding the birds was peculiar. At a given signal from his whistle, his domestic fowl would cluster about him to receive their portion from his hand, and after they had finished their meal, another signal was given from the same whistle, and the wild fowl from miles around would congregate and feed upon the colonel's shoulder.

He also imported and owned the famous stallion ‘Bucephalus’ and the mare ‘Lady Suffolk,’ who lived to be thirty-three years old without ever having a harness on her back. This mare the colonel had ridden bareback over the place, and ‘Dick,’ her brother, who was thirty years old at the time of the colonel's death, also the pacer, ‘Paugus,’ and a running horse, ‘Black Joke.’

When the Ursuline Convent was raided by the mob and burnt on August 11, 1834, some of the nuns sought refuge at Ten Hills. They were pursued by an infuriated mob, who sought to kill them. Colonel Jaques met the men on the lawn, and stayed their progress. He told them he would not allow a hair of the nuns' heads to be touched so long as he had breath in his body. His undaunted courage in standing alone against hundreds so [20] impressed the mob that they retired, leaving the nuns in peace. He gave them shelter for several days.

While driving old Dick from Boston, down what is now Temple street, the colonel, who had just presented this street to the town, was thrown from his carriage. Dick caught his foot in a ring in a corner of a cistern in the street, and, in falling, threw Colonel Jaques on his shoulder, dislocating it. He was taken home, put to bed, and lay there for nine months without leaving it. He died March 29, 1859, eighty-three years of age. This was the first time in his life he was ever ill or had a physician.

On his death the property was divided between his sons and heirs, who for a time engaged in the manufacture of bricks, which was one of the chief industries of the place. The property was finally sold to Mr. Samuel Oakman and others, the greater part, about one hundred and ten acres, being now in the possession of the Ames estate, F. O. and J. T. Reed, the Parson estate, and the heirs of Mark Fisk (who in 1869 owned the house), and is still called Jaques' Land and Ten Hills Farm,--one of the few estates which have retained their name from the original grant to the present day. The Temple manor house was torn down in 1877.

To the antiquarian this place is of unusual interest. The fact that almost from the first it has been in the possession of governors, their heirs and executors, is in itself significant. One point, in particular, strikes me as being peculiar, the coincidence of the dates ‘77. In 1677 the property passed from the Winthrops, the original owners; in 1777 Colonel Samuel Jaques was born; in 1877 the house was demolished.

Through the courtesy of Mr. Timothy T. Sawyer, president of the Warren Institution of Savings in Charlestown, and Mr. George M. Jaques, of New York, I am indebted for many trustworthy facts here presented.

Mrs. Alida G. Sellers (born Jaques), Boston, Mass. December 19, 1900.

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