Tag Archives: Massachusetts

ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 July 2020.]

Façade of 9 Ashburton Place, NEHGS headquarters in 1920.

During this 175th anniversary year, I wondered how we marked an earlier NEHGS milestone, one hundred years ago. To learn about the state of the Society in 1920, I looked at Boston newspapers online and NEHGS Proceedings and a scrapbook in our R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

On Thursday, 18 March 1920, NEHGS celebrated its 75th anniversary of incorporation—to the day—and recognized the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. From 2 to 6 p.m. that day, the Society welcomed the public to an open house at “its spick and span headquarters,” then located at 9 Ashburton Place in Boston, near the Massachusetts State House. Guides greeted the visitors and introduced them to the Society and its collections. Tea was served. Continue reading ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

Those phrustrating Phelpses

The reason I have not been active on Vita Brevis recently can be laid at the feet of the Phelps family of Salem. Five members of the family will “soon” be published together as the Phelps Cluster despite their complete refusal to cooperate. Here is a little of what I have untangled so far.

The story has been that widow Eleanor Phelps (husband unknown) came to Salem with her three “minor” sons prior to 1639, when she and her second husband Thomas Trusler joined the Salem church. The Phelps boys have been deemed minors because they do not appear in Salem records until 1645 and 1655, and the implication was that the boys all grew up in Salem. However, that claim is complicated by the record of Henry Phelps arriving in Salem by ship about 1645. This and other circumstantial evidence suggest the boys were older, and that none of them came with their mother. Continue reading Those phrustrating Phelpses

Outdoor classroom: Part Two

It was a glorious late October day in Plymouth. If only that could be said without qualification but, alas, we are still in the midst of Covid … mandatory face mask zones and digital signs warning of fines for scofflaws. But the sun was shining and a fresh breeze wafted in from the harbor as I resumed my lessons in the outdoor classroom, determined, as I have been all year despite the restrictions, to make the most of the Mayflower quadricentennial.

There has been something of a silver lining with the virus in that the explorations that might have taken me farther afield have kept me close to home. Continue reading Outdoor classroom: Part Two

Summer spots: Part Three

“World’s End” in Hingham

Finishing up this series on places my family enjoyed during our socially distant summer, I move now from the North Shore to the South Shore, to “World’s End” in Hingham. This Trustees property was designed by the well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1890 at the request of owner John Reed Brewer, with the intention of creating a 163 home residential subdivision. While the drives were cut, the development never came to fruition, and the land, consisting of four coastal drumlins extending into Hingham Harbor (with views of the Boston skyline), has been preserved as a setting for recreation since 1967, after the land was donated by John’s grandson, the poet [John] Wilmon Brewer (1895-1998). Continue reading Summer spots: Part Three

Outdoor classroom: Part One

Proof that fears and concerns still prevail six months after the country was plunged into lockdown, isolation and quarantine could be found in the empty streets of Plymouth on the day that eager Mayflower descendants and philatelists should have been lining up for the first day issue of the long-awaited Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor stamp. All the empty parking spaces along the main thoroughfares were the first clue that the event, like so many others, had been scratched from calendars. But not mine. Continue reading Outdoor classroom: Part One

Summer spots: Part One

Even the birds are socially distancing at Crane Beach. August 2020

With this most unusual summer now coming to an end, my family of four spent a lot more time together and got to enjoy some outdoor spots within an hour’s drive from Boston. We visited several spots owned by the Trustees of the Reservations and, as a way to remember this time, I’ve done some genealogical research on people historically associated with these places. The first place I’ll discuss is Crane Beach on Crane Estate.

Last summer, our staff outing was to nearby Castle Hill – obviously this summer we were unable to do any such outing. This property was purchased in 1910 by Richard Teller Crane, Jr. (1873-1931), president of the Chicago-based Crane Co. (manufacturer of plumbing supplies and other goods), which he had inherited from his father. Continue reading Summer spots: Part One

Caring for the land

From the author’s collection

Prior to my career at American Ancestors, I worked at the living history museum called Plimoth Plantation (now referred to as Plimoth Patuxet). For five years, I had the remarkable opportunity of learning and telling the story of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Natives. I first started in the Group Sales Office, where we assisted school and tour groups with their planned visits to Plimoth Plantation. Throughout the fall season, we could accommodate up to 2,500 children per day. After about a year, I was promoted to work in the Education department and was responsible for scheduling all the programs offered through the interpretation staff – off-site classroom visits, workshops, overnights at Plimoth Plantation, and summer and winter day camps. In this role, I learned to love the seventeenth century. Continue reading Caring for the land

Rooted in history

A detail of the Clapp pear tree

As a genealogist, when I hear the word “tree” I typically think of family trees, not the outdoor variety used for shade on a sunny day. However, I came across an interesting newspaper article about a gentleman named James Raymond Simmons who gave a lecture on trees at the New England Historic Genealogical Society one hundred years ago. Simmons, who served as secretary-forester of the New York State Forestry Association and assistant state forester of Massachusetts, described trees as “the oldest living witness of our past history.”[1] He compiled a list of Massachusetts trees and their connection to people and historic events, which he included in his book The Historic Trees of Massachusetts.[2] Although a few of his examples have tenuous connections, I appreciate the message Simmons attempted to convey to his audience. Continue reading Rooted in history

ICYMI: Four hundred years local

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2020.]

Plymouth Harbor at dusk

For whatever reason, my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put. They ignored the call to go west (“young man!”) or to secure the nation’s manifest destiny. Maybe they had political objections and instead manifested disdain for American imperialism and conquest. Maybe they felt comfortable where they were, and bred wanderlust right out of the gene pool. Wasn’t it enough that many of their ancestors had traveled thousands of miles to get to Plymouth in the first place? Plympton is west; Marshfield and Kingston are north; and that is just about as far as they went.

And here is the humble brag: because my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put, and let’s face it, married their extended relatives (folding the family tree in on itself numerous times), I can prove descent from many Mayflower passengers, many times over. Continue reading ICYMI: Four hundred years local

Of Plimoth Plantation

Watching the videos of Mayflower II being escorted through the Cape Cod Canal brings weird thoughts to my mind. What if there had been a canal in 1620? Would “Plimoth Plantation” have been “Long Island Plantation”? Things would have been different, but since there was no canal, that stray thought is of no importance.

Of great importance, however, among the celebrations of the settlement of Plimoth Plantation is the new publication by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and New England Historic Genealogical Society: Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford, The 400th Anniversary Edition.[1] I highly recommend that if you buy only one four hundredth anniversary souvenir, it should be this book, which will be a legacy for your descendants. Continue reading Of Plimoth Plantation