the membership list of the Historical Society is steadily growing.
There are three Life Members: Hon. E. Boynton
, Rosewell B. Lawrence
, and Walter C. Wright
Additional names will be welcomed.
the handsome marble clock in the Society rooms was the gift of Sarah Bradlee Fulton Chapter, D. A.R., presented to the Society as a surprise, at the Daughters' public observance of Washington
at one of the Saturday evening ‘chats,’ some one contributed a jug of new cider.
D., ‘We know we are not Hindoos, but it remains to be seen whether we are devotees of the jug or not
the Mystic Camera Club
has leased the large room in the annex of the Historical House
This is a posilive
fact, although the Club
has many negatives
an interesting informal talk was given by Mr. Benjamin P. Hollis
on Saturday evening, Feb. 19.
His subject was ‘The Seals of the United States
, and the Several States
Many choice bits of coloring were shown.
After the talk the combination most popular was the olive
blended with cracker
white and cheese
the paper on Sarah Bradlee Fulton
was first read by Miss Wild before the local chapter of the D. A.R. Later it was published in the ‘American Monthly,’ Washington
, by whose permission it appears in the register.
the Annual Meeting
of the Historical Society was held in its rooms, March 21.
Reports of officers and committees were presented, and officers for the ensuing year elected.
The list will be found elsewhere.
Facts and figures showed the Society to be in a flourishing and progressive condition.
During the year past the following papers and addresses have been given before the members:
April 14.—‘The Early Physicians of Medford
Dr. Charles M. Green
in the First Half of the Present Century
Hon. T. S. Harlow
's Interest in the Metropolitan Park System
Mr. Sylvester Baxter
, of Malden
November 15.—‘The Hancock-Clark House
, of Lexington
Rev. Carlton A. Staples
, of Lexington
December 20.—‘Maps of Medford
at Different Periods.’
Mr. William Cushing Wait
January 17.—‘Roads and Bridges of Old Medford.’
Mr. John H. Hooper
February 21.—‘Governor Cradock
Mr. Walter H. Cushing
. To be followed
in the War
of the Revolution.’
Miss Helen T. Wild
May 16.—‘The Life and Work of Mrs. Lydia Maria
Mrs. Richard P. Hallowell
. [p. 67] England
, and John Winthrop
succeeded to the chief executive office.
From that time, Massachusetts
became to a large degree self-governed.
The earliest information we get concerning the circumstances under which Medford
was settled comes from a letter written by Governor Dudley
, March 28, 1631.
After a recital of the events connected with the arrival of the colonists, he says: ‘We began to consult of a place for our sitting down, for Salem
, where we landed, pleased us not. And to that purpose, some were sent to the Bay
to search up the rivers for a convenient place, who upon their return reported to have found a good place upon Mistick. . . . We found a place liked us better three leagues up Charles River
After stating that they shipped their goods with much cost and labor to Charlestown
, he goes on to say: ‘There receiving advertisements by some of the late arrived ships, from London
, of some French preparations against us, we were forced to change counsel, and for our present shelter to plant dispersedly; some at Charlestown
, which stands on the north side of the Mouth of Charles River
; Some on the south side which we named Boston
; . . . Some of us upon Mistick, which we named Meadford.’
And then he proceeds to name the other settlements which they made at Watertown
, and Dorchester
Without going into further details, it is plain enough that the men specially engaged in the service of Mr. Cradock
, probably with others, settled on the east side of Mystic river
, nearly opposite the Ten Hill Farm, where Governor Winthrop
It may be reasonably supposed that Governor Winthrop
himself suggested the location.
Here the General Court afterwards made to Governor Cradock
large grants of lands covering all the territory of Medford
lying on the north side of Mystic river
Let us see who these men of Cradock
's were, and what was the nature of the work he had laid out for them.
Some light is thrown upon [p. 68]
this matter by letters from the London company directed to the authorities here.
In one they say: ‘We have sent six shipwrights of whom Robert Moulton
These men's entertainment is very chargeable to us, and by agreement is to be borne two-thirds at the charge of the general company, and the other one-third by Mr. Cradock
, our Governor, and his associates interested in a private stock.
Our Governor, Mr. Cradock
, hath entertained [paid the expenses of] two gardeners, one of which he is content the Company
shall have use of, if need be.’
In a second letter we find the following:
The cattle now and formerly sent have been all provided by the Governor, Mr. Cradock, except the three mares that came out of Leicestershire.
The provisions for building of ships, as pitch, tar, rosin, oakum, old ropes for oakum, cordage and sailcloth in all these ships, with nine firkins and five half barrels of nails in the “Two Sisters ” are two-thirds for the Company in general, and one third to the Governor, Mr. Cradock, and his partners; as is also the Charge of one George Farr, now sent over to the six shipwrights formerly sent.
They further say: ‘William Ryall
and Thomas Bude, carpenters and cleavers of timber, are entertained by us in halves with Mr. Cradock
, our Governor.’
In 1630 Mr. Cradock
provides a man, Richard Waterman
, ‘whose chief employment will be to get you good venison.’
Earlier, in 1629, the company had sent over a seine, salt, lines, hooks, knives, boots, etc., for the fishermen.
It is pretty evident from these and other records that the plans of Mr. Cradock
embraced the planting of fishing stations along this portion of the coast of Massachusetts
, and it would appear that he made Medford
the headquarters of his business; although he had establishments at Marblehead
and in the vicinity of the Merrimac
, and perhaps elsewhere.
And now, at last, I reach my special topic; for it was in furtherance of this great colonial enterprise of the fisheries that the first vessels were built on the Mystic
, as they were in fact at various places along the coast.
They were craft of small size suited to the purposes for which they were designed.
Yet I have no doubt that some of them made considerable voyages, as to the West Indies
, with which islands New England
carried on a considerable trade from the earliest times, taking out salted fish, staves, and lumber, and bringing back the products of the islands; and you must remember that until within a century or two even those vessels intended for ocean navigation were very small.
of the vessels that composed the squadron of Columbus
was decked, and the ‘Mayflower’ that brought over the Pilgrim Fathers
was but 180 tons burden.
Hume the historian tells us that in 1582, only 48 years before the settlement of New England
, the merchant marine of the kingdom consisted of 1,232 vessels, and of these only 217 were of 80 tons burden-probably not a half dozen of them reached 200 tons.
To Governor Winthrop
belongs the honor of building the first vessel whose keel was laid in the colony.
It was built on the banks of the Mystic
, probably not far from the governor's house, at the Ten Hills
It was a bark of 30 tons, built of locust cut on the governor's farm, and was called the ‘Blessing of the Bay
It was launched July 4, 1631. Mr. Brooks
finds that it cost 145 pounds, and that the owner said of it, in 1636, ‘I will sell her for 160 pounds.’
Now hear Mr. Brooks
: ‘There was something singularly prophetic that the first vessel built “at Mistick” should have increased in price after 5 years service.
Our day has seen the prophecy fulfilled; as it is no marvel now for a Medford ship to command a higher price after having had a fair trial at sea.’
Well, I don't know; to me it seems very like the case of a trader who marks up his goods, thinking that thereby he increases the value of his stock.
We have no information that the governor ever got his 160 pounds. I sincerely hope he did. Our excellent historian, whom I thoroughly love, is a little apt to lapse into rhapsody when he comes in sight of anything which redounds to the glory of Medford
, and he can come to conclusions very satisfactory to himself on very slight data.
Yet something can be pardoned to the spirit of local pride.
By the by, there is a plaster bust of Rev. Charles Brooks
in the Brooks School-house
in this city.
I don't know whether any copy of it exists.
I wish we could procure one, for the bust of the first historian of the town would form a most appropriate feature in the decoration of these rooms.
To return to the ‘Blessing of the Bay
’—it must not be assumed that this vessel was the first ever built in New England
In 1607 a vessel of 30 tons, called the ‘Virginia
,’ was built at the mouth of the Kennebec river
, by the Popham colonists, who started a settlement which ultimately collapsed.
This vessel made several voyages across the Atlantic
An account of the colony, written by William Wood
, who resided in the colony several years, published in 1634, gives us a glimpse of Medford
in the earliest days of its settlement, and it incidentally refers to the next piece of ship-building which was done on the Mystic
, or, as he calls it, Mistick
‘The next town is Mystick, which is three miles from Charlestown
by land, and a league and one half by water.
It is seated on the waterside very pleasantly; there are not many houses as yet. At the head of this river are great and spacious ponds, whither the alewives press to spawn.
This being a noted place for that kind of fish, the English
resort hither to take them.
On the west side of the river the Governor
has a farm, where he keeps most of his cattle.
On the east side is Mr. Cradock
's plantation, where he has impaled a park, where he keeps his cattle till he can store it with deer.
Here likewise he is at charges of building ships.
The [p. 71]
last year one was upon the stocks of a hundred tons; that being finished, they are to build one twice her burden.
Ships, without either ballast or loading may float down the river, otherwise the oyster bank would hinder which crosseth the channel.’
We can go down the river now without running foul of oyster banks.
built another vessel, called the ‘Rebecca.’
It seems very probable that these vessels were built on the site of what was afterwards called Foster
And now, so far as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are concerned, we have come pretty much to the end of our record of any ship-building done in Medford
Doubtless some small craft were built here; lighters, ketches, and boats employed for river transportation—perhaps some small fishing-vessels; but we have no reason to believe that ship-building was carried on as a considerable industry.
The fact is, the patronage which Medford
received from Governor Cradock
was by no means an unmixed blessing.
almost died of it. The governor monopolized almost all the land, and small holdings were rare.
There was little chance for the honest yoemen, the bone and sinew of any land.
And Mr. Cradock
died early, in 1644, and his works (material) followed him; certainly, few of them remained behind—only his house, which was a fine thing for antiquarian purposes, and the bridge which his agent half built, and which was everlastingly appealing to the General Court for the repairs which were very grudgingly bestowed.
The governor's establishment was probably soon withdrawn, and his fishermen, and coopers, and shipwrights, and wood-choppers sought fresh fields and pastures new. The people left were few in number, and so poor that they could not support a settled ministry—the last humiliation a Puritan community could be called upon to endure.
Yes, it was a bad case of too much patronage—patronage, a reliance always uncertain, and disastrous [p. 72]
when it is withdrawn.
How thoroughly Dr. Johnson
appreciated this fact appears in those famous lines of his in which he deplores the situation of the poor scholar:
Alas! what ills the scholar's life assail—
Toil, envy, want, the patron and the jail!
After the governor's death, his executors sold his lands in very large parcels to speculators, in whose hands they remained without doing much good to anybody.
And so Medford
became what the folks in the General Court called a ‘peculiar’ town.
It was exempted from taxation and received a grant of public territory in Maine
, from which I imagine it never realized much benefit.
As late as 1707 Medford
had only 46 ratable polls, with an entire population of 230 souls; but after that it grew more rapidly, so that in 1736 its population had nearly trebled.
People from outside had begun to get possession of the land, and they found that Medford
was a very good place to live in—as they have ever since.
If we are to be historical, let us tell the truth.
I recall these facts of the olden time with no spirit of disparagement, either in the case of the early inhabitants of Medford
, or that magnificent man, Matthew Cradock
The evils to which I have referred were simply the result of exceptional circumstances.
I find confirmatory proof of my assumption that few vessels were built in Medford
in the seventeenth century.
In Volume VII.
of the Massachusetts Archives
, which is in manuscript, is to be found a ‘Register of all such ships and vessels concerning the owners and property whereof proof hath been made upon oath before William Stoughton
, Lieutenant Governor
of Massachusetts Bay
in New England
, etc., according to the directions of the Act of Parliament, passed in the seventh and eighth year of the reign of King William the Third, entitled, An Act for preventing frauds and regulating abuses in the Plantation
I have examined this register, [p. 73]
which covers about 300 pages of manuscript.
It records the name, tonnage, and ownership of each vessel, with the place where it was built.
More than 1,200 vessels are entered in the register, and out of them all there is but one Medford-built vessel, the brigantine ‘Joanna
,’ of 70 tons, built in 1699, and owned and commanded by one Bailey
, of Boston
In this same register we find 130 vessels built on the Merrimac river
, of which 100 were built at Newbury
, and perhaps as many more at Scituate
and other towns on the North
The register contains a record of vessels built from 1680 to 1714.
In the eighteenth century, which comes nearer to our times, we have no evidence that the business of shipbuilding was prosecuted, and it is improbable that any craft larger than a lighter was built here.
But the time came at last when ship-building was to be established as a great local industry, and the noble vessels launched from our yards were to carry the American
flag all over the world.
The pioneer in this movement, so eventful to the town, was Thatcher Magoun
This great ship-builder was born in Pembroke, Mass.
, June 17, 1775, the day on which the battle of Bunker Hill
He early took up the trade of a ship-carpenter, and served his time with Enos Briggs
, at Salem
, where he remained five years. From Salem
he went to Mr. Barker
's yard, in Charlestown
(now the Navy Yard
), where he worked and studied two years, assisting in moulding, for which art he showed a marked aptitude.
There, it is said, he made the model of the first vessel he ever built, the brig Mt. Aetna. Mr. Magoun
was not a man to remain content with a subordinate position in his trade, and he determined to begin business on his own account.
Living then alongside the Mystic river
, he did not fail to observe the advantages which its sloping [p. 74]
banks and open reaches presented to the ship-builder.
After careful examination he selected a piece of ground nearly opposite the end of Park street, where he established a ship-yard, and, in 1803, he proceeded to build his first vessel, the ‘Mt. Aetna
He continued in the business from that time until 1836, and during that period built 84 vessels.
I well remember Mr. Magoun
, a portly gentleman, of extremely dignified bearing, then considerably advanced in age. He accumulated a handsome fortune as a ship-builder and ship-owner, and died, I believe, somewhere in the fifties.
Mr. Calvin Turner
was the next ship-builder to establish himself here, and his ship-yard was located on Riverside avenue, opposite the end of Cross street. (I say Riverside avenue
with a mental protest, for it is a shame and disgrace to us that the old historical name of ‘Ship street,’ a name that had a meaning in it, should be changed to the commonplace name of ‘Riverside avenue,’ duplicated in every town in the United States
which has got a river in it.)1
I say, then, that Mr. Turner
's ship-yard was located about opposite the westerly end of Cross street, and it was afterwards known as ‘Lapham
was esteemed as one of the most skilful draughtsmen, as well as one of the most faithful builders, in New England
He began business in 1804, and rapidly acquired reputation in his profession.
And here let me proceed at once to mention the location of the ship-yards which were, from first to last, established in Medford
, with the names of those who occupied them.
There were ten of them.
I will begin with the one which stood lowest on the river, and will take them in their order, going up the stream:
I. A ship-yard at the foot of what is now Foster
's court, off Riverside avenue. It was first used by Sprague
, in 1817.
Afterwards used by Foster [p. 75]
, and finally by J. T. Foster
In 1847 Isaac Hall built one vessel here.
2. Yard on Riverside avenue, opposite the end of Park street. Established in 1803 by Thatcher Magoun
; afterwards used by Curtis
& Co., Paul
& J. O. Curtis
, F. Waterman
& H. Ewell
, and Hayden
3. Yard on Riverside avenue, opposite end of Cross street. Occupied in 1805 by Calvin Turner
& E. Briggs
, and at successive periods by Calvin Turner
, E. & H. Rogers
, G. B. Lapham
, and S. Lapham
4. Yard off Swan street, site of present city stables.
Here James O. Curtis
commenced ship-building in 1839, and the yard was exclusively used by him except in one instance, when B. F. Delano
used it to build a small schooner.
5. Yard on northerly side of river, opposite the old high school-house on High street. Here George H. Briggs
built a schooner in 18—.
6. Yard on South
street, opposite the end of Walnut street. Occupied by James Ford, where he built two schooners in 1814.
They were intended for privateering, and were built in the short space of thirty-six days. This yard was afterwards used by George Fuller
7. Yard on South
street, northerly end of Curtis street. Here Paul Curtis
established himself in 1839, and he remained here until he removed his business to East Boston
8. Yard on South
street, just above Winthrop-street bridge.
Occupied by Jotham Stetson
from 1833 to 1853.
built one bark here in 1854.
9. Yard on South
street, on land adjoining Boston & Lowell Railroad.
Here Peter Lewis
built one schooner in 1845.
10. Yard at Rock Hill landing, at the foot of the hill.
Probably used for the building of lighters.
I am much indebted to my friend, Mr. John H. Hooper
, for assistance rendered me in locating these [p. 76]
yards, and for other information.
No man can safely deal with the old topography of Medford
without consulting him.
I have not the information which would enable me to write biographical notices of the ship-builders of the town, and I must content myself with saying that they were men of high character, of great executive ability, thoroughly trained in all the knowledge of their profession.
They had the courage of men of strong will, and were not afraid to build a good ship in advance of orders, and if they sometimes lost money in doing so, they found their advantage in giving employment to their faithful and trusted men until better times should come.
It bound employers and employed in closest bonds of respect and affection.
Of the ship-carpenters themselves it may be said that there was never, in any employment, a body of mechanics more intelligent or respectable.
They were nearly all, as were the master-builders, natives of Scituate
, or of towns in its vicinity, and it may well be said that the establishment of ship-building in Medford
was a second settlement of the town.
The impress which the newcomers made upon the character, and especially the physique, of our population is favorably felt up to the present time.
It remains that I should speak of the results of the work performed by the ship-builders of Medford
Rev. Abijah R. Baker
, formerly pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Medford
, delivered a discourse on this subject on Thanksgiving Day, 1846.
The sermon was full of valuable information, and was published.
Through the kindness of Mr. Dean
, Librarian of the Massachusetts Historical
and Genealogical Society and our respected associate, I have been permitted to consult a copy of Mr. Baker
's printed discourse which is contained in the library of the society.
This document gives a complete register of all vessels built in Medford
from 1803 to 1846, with name of each ship, date of [p. 77]
building, the yard in which it was built, builder, owner, and tonnage.
This register was afterwards supplemented by Mr. Brooks
, and brought up to 1854.
The whole will be found in his history (pp. 366 to 380). Mr. Usher
, in his edition of ‘Brooks
' History,’ fails to complete the register down to the close of shipbuild-ing, 1873, and, for some inscrutable reason, Mr. Brooks
' register does not appear in his book.
gives, however, some tables of statistics which are of interest in this connection.
To return to Mr. Baker
's discourse: After stating that the greatest number of vessels constructed in any one yard was 185, and in any single year 30, he goes on as follows:
The tonnage of the vessels built here In that year, 1845, was nine thousand seven hundred and twelve tons; and their aggregate value, as they left our yards, about half a million of dollars.
The shortest space in which a vessel was ever built in the town was twenty-six days. Her name was “The Avon,” a ship of four hundred tons, which, with two others built here about the same period, served as privateers in the last war with the mother country.
In the five years preceding April first, 1837, sixty vessels were built in this town, which employed two hundred thirty-nine workmen, and of which the measurement was twenty-four thousand one hundred and ninety-five tons, and the value one million one hundred and twelve thousand nine hundred and seventy dollars. All those constructed in the county, except eleven, were built here.
The value of these sixty was about one-sixth of all the shipping built in the Commonwealth during the same period.
In the year preceding April first, 1845, twenty-four ships were launched here, whose tonnage was nine thousand six hundred and sixty, and whose value was half a million of dollars.
In that year, one-quarter of the ship-builders in the [p. 78] Commonwealth were employed in this town, and built nearly one-quarter of the ships constructed in the State, one-third of the tonnage, and one-half the value of the whole.
From this result, so creditable to our town, it appears that a given number of workmen here build larger and more valuable vessels than those which are commonly constructed in other parts of the Commonwealth.
As an addition to the statistics of Mr. Baker
, I will state that Mr. John Stetson
, our venerable fellow-citizen, informs me that he saw 19 vessels in process of construction at the same time, in the ship-yards of the town.
He does not remember the year.
I will now give you the aggregate results of the shipbuilding of the town as shown by Mr. Usher
You will see that in the 70 years which covered the life of this industry in Medford
568 vessels were built, with an aggregate of 272,194 tons, and at a cost, as estimated, of $12,500,000. In the later decades of the industry, the size of the vessels very much increased.
In the decade following 1803 the average was 263 tons, and in the last decade it was 860 tons.
From 1850 to 1855 33 vessels were built, of a capacity of more than 1,000 tons each.
This was in the flush times of the California
trade, when the finest clippers that sailed the ocean were Medford-built.
The largest ship ever launched in Medford
was the ‘Ocean Express,’ of 2,000 tons, built by J. O. Curtis
; and ships of more than 1,000 tons were built above, Cradock bridge.
The ship-yards play an important part in the recollections of those who, like me, remember them in the heyday of their prosperity.
They furnished the favorite playgrounds of the boys, and we were never tired of watching the growth of a vessel from the time the keel was laid and the frames uplifted, till the last touch of the ship-joiners was put upon the cabins and state-rooms.
The busy scene was always picturesque, and the multifarious processes of construction to the last degree interesting.
We might have said with Longfellow
, had his lines been written at that time:
what a wondrous thing it is
To note how many wheels of toil
One thought, one word, can set in motion:
There's not a ship that sails the ocean
But every climate, every soil,
Must bring its tribute, great or small,
And help to build the wooden wall!
The schools were sometimes given half-holidays when a great ship was to be launched.
It was thus I witnessed the launch of the ‘St. Petersburg
,’ built by Mr. Magoun
, in 1839.
It was a ship of 828 tons, the largest ship which up to that time had been built in [p. 80] Medford
It was the first launch I ever saw. How beautiful the brightly painted ship, with her graceful outlines, appeared to me, and with what a thrill I saw the last block knocked away, and the slowly increasing movement of the mighty mass!
I can still see the hundred stalwart men on the shore manning the great hawsers, checking and guiding the vessel as she swings into the stream on her way to the wharves of Boston
I can remember when one of Paul Curtis
' ships grounded while going through the draw of Cradock bridge, where she had to stay till the next tide, and the bother people had in getting from one side of the river to the other; vehicles bound for Boston
were compelled to make their way through Arlington
, for there were no bridges above the Cradock then.
Our secretary informs me that he was once present at a launch of one of James O. Curtis
The vessel moved for a short distance and then stopped.
A hawser was attached to her, and a tug-boat endeavored to start her down the ways.
After several ineffectual efforts, the boat gave up the job and lay idle in the stream.
Suddenly the great vessel ceased to sulk, and, of her own volition, rushed down the ways, advanced on the tug-boat before she could get out of the way, and landed her high and dry upon the opposite bank of the river.
Vessels on the launch-ways had many caprices, and it sometimes required a deal of coaxing to get them into the water.
But it is useless for me, by any indulgence in pleasant reminiscences, to defer the painful catastrophe with which this narrative must close.
You have seen that in the last decade of ship-building in Medford
(1863-1873) there was a marked decline in the prosperity of the industry: only 14 ships were built in that period— hardly more than one ship a year.
In 1873 the last ship ever built in Medford
, the ‘Pilgrim,’ was launched from the yard of J. T. Foster
, and from that time the sound of the shipwright's hammer was never more [p. 81]
heard on the banks of the Mystic
The first gun of the Civil War
had sounded the knell of the merchant marine of the United States
The large carrying trade which our ships had enjoyed passed into other hands, and, in the interval, iron had superseded wood in the construction of ships.
Competition with foreign builders had become impossible, for they had the advantage of us both in the cheapness of labor and materials.
Worse than all—we had lost our grip.
It is a matter of regret and shame to all lovers of the Republic
that the flag that once floated in every harbor of the world has now almost disappeared from the ocean; that the once successful commercial rival of Great Britain
is now abjectly dependent upon her for the carriage of its own exports and imports.
It is contrary to the genius of our people that this state of things should be permitted to continue forever; and when the conditions become more favorable, as they surely will, in the further development of our great industrial resources we may hope for the triumphant reestablishment of American commerce.
In the meanwhile we who can look back through a long vista of years dwell, perhaps too fondly, upon the past.
The ship-builders of a generation ago, masters and men, have nearly all gone over to the silent majority; but they have left behind them the memory of successful industry and sturdy honesty, and of a matchless skill in the noblest of all arts—the building of ships.
should never cease to do honor to the memory of those great mechanics, and it has done well to engrave upon its municipal seal the beautiful and appropriate device of the launching ship.