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When a boy in Medford

There comes to us a bit of information relative to a boy's life in the Medford of nearly a century agone and worth noticing, from the autobiography of William Wilkins Warren, son of Isaac Warren of old Menotomy. By some change in family fortune William was placed in the care of his paternal grandfather, Amos Warren of Medford, at the age of six years, in 1820, and lived with him eight years.

Amos Warren came from old Menotomy (then the west parish of Cambridge), now Arlington, in an early [p. 7] year of the century, and bought a small farm in the western part of Medford on the side of a hill, with an orchard of fifteen acres, and lived there until his death in 1831.

It was doubtless the old home of the pious deacon John Whitmore on which the later residence of James M. Usher was built. Across the street was the old Bucknam house, in recent years removed, making room for the West Medford post-office, and the cottage of Captain Wyatt, which still remains as a reminder of those early days. The great Whitmore elm was then in its prime, and for sixty years thereafter. Whitmore brook flowed through the Warren farm, but had not then acquired its modern habit of taking a summer vacation. Some rods to the west was the Middlesex canal, but no railroad was dreamed of when this boy came to his grandfather's to live.

He described his grandparents as very pious, and kind and affectionate to him, his grandmother especially so. Because of old associations they worshipped in the old meeting-house at Menotomy, but when his mother (and sister) came to Medford and lived in the old Bucknam house, she was taken into the Medford church and all her children baptized by Dr. Osgood who was a friend and contemporary of her grandfather, Dr. Cummings of Billerica. Thereafter William's Sunday school days were divided between Menotomy and Medford, where such an institution was then something new. Miss Lucy Osgood directed it and Miss Elizabeth Brooks was his teacher. Another innovation in William Warren's boyhood was the first stove in the Medford meeting-house in the winter of 1820. As his mother did not come till two years later, chances are that he went to Menotomy with grandsire Warren, and so did not witness the novel installation, and just here we are led to make some mental comparisons of that time, less than a century ago, with the present fuel conservation that would close our churches, and the “cold and shivering air,” we assume in a winter no more rigorous than in those times. [p. 8]

Mr. Warren in his autobiography written in 1884, attributes to the influence of his grandparents whatever of religious characteristics he possessed. He was “ambitious to study and earn money” and was careful of his earnings made in various ways. “Sticking cards” was one of these. This would be a lost art to the youth of to-day, who know more of playing cards than of those more useful articles used in the textile industries of many New England homes of that time. This was the placing of many crooked bits of wire in a backing of perforated leather by slow process of manual labor, and which a few years later was superseded by machine work in his native town. But this was a winter work.

Like other New England farmers, Amos Warren believed in the gospel of hard work, and so six months of the year William Wilkins became an “enthusiastic young farmer,” and in the winter months attended the town school, primary and grammar he styles them. As there was no school then in the West End, he was a “Fagender” at the old one near the meeting-house. He says “I never identified myself with the Medford fighting-boys who were hostile to the Charlestown boys on the frozen Middlesex canal, and had many hard fights.” The passage of the boats through the lock and the alewife fishing on the river near by were more to his taste.

Mr., afterward Dr., Furness and Luther Angier were his teachers in the town school. The latter recommended him, when twelve years old, to Medford Academy, as he styles Mr. John Angier's school, and for a time he was in Mr. Angier's family. While attending the town school he walked to Charlestown bridge, and alone, to see Lafayette and the great procession to the corner-stone laying at Bunker Hill, which was to him a most notable occasion. While at the academy he paid for his tuition by work in and about the place.

During his stay in Medford, his grandsire Warren had as tenants in his house a Mr. Reed and family. He mentions enjoying much the society of this family and their [p. 9] three pretty, intelligent daughters. One of these, Rebecca Theresa Reed is remembered by a story given to the press, prior to the disgraceful riot resulting in the destruction of the Ursuline convent at Charlestown. He probably little dreamed that his future wife would be the last survivor of that conventual school.

When fourteen years of age he left Mr. Angier's school to learn the printer's trade. He had read the life of Benjamin Franklin, which “inclined him to that mechanical art.” The proprietor of the New England Farmer was a relative, and in his family he found kind friends and a happy home. But while attaining some proficiency in the “art preservative” he seems to have relinquished the mechanical part for other activities, and followed his employers into that garden-seed business which still continues in Boston.

Of Mr. Warren's subsequent successful business life in the Danish West India Islands we need not here allude, only to say that he doubtless followed his old sea-captain friend's advice on starting thither, “Willie, my boy, always remember to look out for number one.” He early acquired a competence, and retiring from active business, attended to the wise management of his affairs and in many positions of trust which have been noted in a former issue of the Register. It is to his boyhood days and times we refer. In reading his autobiography, one is impressed with the worthwhileness of his early education in the Medford schools, both public and private, and the influence of the home of his grandparents that gave him a start in his business career. His interest in the life of Franklin read in his boyhood led him to secure (on opportunity) the old Ramage press, said to have been used by Franklin, for the Bostonian Society, in whose rooms in the Old State House it may be seen. May the many Medford schoolboys that throng our streets and schools with all the modern advantages, have as successful a career.

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