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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Women's Suffrage: A Victory Won

 

Larry Coffin & Abigail Robbins

Journal Opinion, Oct 28, 2020

The three documents pictured below are taken from the campaign for women suffrage in Vermont and New Hampshire.

  

In 1912, suffrage advocates used this flyer to lobby NH to become the seventh state to grant women the right to vote in state elections. The effort failed.  In 1919, the state became the 16th state to ratify the Constitutional amendment (Courtesy Ann Lewis Women's Suffrage Collection)

Call for a Special Session: In March 1920 the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association distributed this pamphlet calling for a special session of the Legislature to ratify the 19th Amendment in order to be the pivotal 36th state.  Governor Percival Clements vetoed the effort. (Vermont Historical Society)

     


Vermont v Solid South.  This flyer drew a hard distinction between Vermont and opposition among Southern states to the proposed Constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote. (Vermont Historical Society


     "The campaign for woman suffrage in America long since ended. Gone are the days of agitating, organizing, educating, pleading, and persuading. No more forever will women descend on State Legislatures and the national Congress in the effort to wrest the suffrage from state and national legislators. The gates to political enfranchisement have swung open. The women are inside."

     This statement was suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt's victory statement as she looked back over the battle. A century ago, women in Vermont and New Hampshire joined voters across the nation to cast their ballots. That right will be exercised by women across the region again on or before November 3. 

     The following column contains material from my granddaughter Abigail Robbins UVM senior essay, combined with a column I wrote a decade ago. This fine young woman, a political science major, is currently working in Washington D.C. and will vote for president for the first time this election.  

     In early America, a woman's legal identity was defined by relationships with the men in her life, and that identity granted her few legal rights. In her famous letter to her husband John Adams in March 1776, Abigail Adams admonished the delegates at Philadelphia to, "remember the ladies." She wrote, "Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." 

     That revolution was a long time coming. By 1784, New Hampshire, along with other new states that had granted women limited voting rights, revoked those rights. To restore them was considered so radical that it was not until 1848 that an organized effort began to give equal suffrage to women. It began with a women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, where the woman's suffrage movement was born. 

     It took another 80 years to achieve full suffrage for women. A brochure from The Women’s Rights Center in Seneca Falls states that the effort gained success only after, “480 campaigns to lobby state legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to the electorate, 56 popular votes on state amendments, 277 campaigns to get state political parties to adopt women’s platforms, 19 campaigns with successive Congresses, and the campaign to ratify the federal amendment in 1919-20.”

     In New Hampshire and Vermont, suffrage activities took the more moderate stand of women's right to vote in school meetings. A bill was submitted to the Vermont General Assembly in 1852. That year, Clarina Howard Nichols of Townshend, editor of the Windham County Democrat and the first woman to address that body, spoke on behalf of the bill. She told the assembly that granting this right "would not compromise a woman's femininity. On the contrary, it would simply extend a mother's accepted sphere of influence in the field of childhood education." 

     In a 1973 article about Nichols, Madeline Kunin wrote, “The then-editor of the Rutland Herald threatened to present her publicly with a pair of trousers.” Nichols reminded the legislators that “they had legislated our skirts into their possession…Time enough for them to taunt us with being after their wardrobes, when they shall have restored to us the legal right to our own.” It would take decades before this modest request was granted.

 

     Before the Civil War, the campaign was coupled with the abolitionist movement, but during that war, suffrage activities were put aside as women took active roles on the home fronts. That more active presence and the Constitutional amendments that defined citizens as males and granted the right to vote to Black men that re-energized the women's suffrage movement. 

     In 1869, a Special Commission on Women Suffrage recommended that an amendment granting suffrage be considered at the Vermont constitutional convention. They stated, “We see no good reason why the most ignorant man should vote, and the intelligent woman be refused…” Activities by supporters of the amendment brought the charge that the state was being invaded by, “strong-minded women.” Of the 223 delegates at the convention, only one voted for the amendment.

     That same year, Armenia White and her husband Nathaniel founded the New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association.  

     In July 1876, E. Anne Hinman made a speech entitled "A Plea for Equality" to a Bradford audience. She made not only "a demand for the suffrage, but also for higher education of women, and the breaking away of the rigid customs which have been established in society, and which prohibit her from sharing the benefits that accrue" from civilization. Her demand for a "wider sphere for women" included equal pay for equal work. 

     The Bradford Opinion reported that the lecture was "well written and forcibly delivered and contained much good sound common sense and considerable nonsense." It concluded, "that there are not ten men in the town of Bradford who are unwilling that women should have the privilege of voting if she wants it." The editor went on to predict that "women will be permitted to vote sooner or later," but doubted that the equality they expected to receive from the privilege would be realized. 

     This lecture, and its response, identifies some of the arguments raised against granting women a role in public affairs. Significant was the lack of wide-spread support from women. Additionally, the movement was coupled with other reforms, including the temperance movement. The South feared granting women the right to vote would weaken its newly enacting laws depriving black men of that right. These fears created powerful enemies. 

     Many opponents felt that granting suffrage was against the teachings of the Bible as well as unnatural, unfeminine, unhealthy, a danger to the home and family and upsetting to "the fragile composition of the fairer sex." One legislator from Rutland said that he was opposed to giving the ballot to "such a dangerous class as the women of Vermont."

     In 1872, two bills were introduced into the Vermont Legislature: allowing women who paid taxes to vote and holding office in school district meetings and the other granting full voting rights. Both were defeated, although the school district bill passed the House and lost by only one vote in the Senate. It was finally adopted in 1880.

      New Hampshire adopted a similar bill in 1878 but attempts to allow women to vote in municipal elections failed.  

     In 1883, national suffragist leaders Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe met with supporters in St. Johnsbury and helped organize the Vermont Woman Suffrage Association. One focus of the group was to expand the school suffrage to all municipal elections. A bill granting municipal suffrage was introduced every two years. “Rumors abounded that one house would consent to give women the right to vote as long as the other agreed not to.” The bill finally became law in 1917.

     At the national level, the focus was to gain full participation in state and national elections. In 1871, prominent suffrage leaders submitted a petition to Congress asking for the right to vote. Over the next 48 years, they were rejected and vilified for their efforts. They organized, petitioned, demonstrated and cajoled, gaining victories and suffering defeats state by state. One of those defeats was in New Hampshire when the male voters defeated a 1902 referendum granting woman suffrage.

     During World War I, the service of women helped tip the balance for a constitutional amendment granting full voting rights to women. By 1917, twelve states had granted equal suffrage to women and the following year Jeanette Rankin (R-Montana), the first woman elected to Congress introduced a suffrage amendment. Called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, it stated, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

     President Wilson opposed the idea when first elected in 1912, but in January, 1918, faced with a re-election campaign, he came out in support of the amendment. The millions of women who could already vote in state elections was a major factor in changing minds. Both supporters and opponents knew that women's right to vote would come eventually and those who opposed it would be the first victims of the new electorate. The proposed amendment passed both houses by the necessary two-thirds vote on June 4, 1919. 

      The battle for ratification in the required 36 states was the last battle in the long and continuous struggle. In both states, suffrage groups used many techniques to increase public pressure on elected officials to gain ratification of the amendment.  

    Some members delivered speeches while others networked with newspaper editors to gain their support. To this was added newspaper letters and editorials, pamphlets, flyers, and postcards.

     Using the motto "A Square Deal for Vermont Women," suffrage advocates increased the campaign. One pamphlet entitled "Seventeen Reasons" laid out the campaign's significant arguments. Another technique was to compare Vermont to the actions of other states. One flyer, listing states where women had achieved the vote, asked the question, "Why Not Vermont?" Appealing to Vermont's historic identity, other publications drew a hard distinction to Southern states' negative and blocking action.

     On September 10, 1919, New Hampshire became the 16th state to ratify it. By March 1920, 35 states had approved, eight had voted against or refused to vote. Gaining the 36th for the required three-quarters was unsure. Some wanted Vermont to have the honor of confirming the right to vote for the women of the nation. 

     Fearing that giving women the right to vote might re-impose prohibition, Vermont governor Percival Clements opposed the ratification. When the presidential suffrage bill passed the Legislature, he vetoed it.

     By July 1920, the focus of the ratification movement was on Tennessee, one state in which there was a chance of success. The Legislature was equally divided. There Harry Burn, the youngest member of the body, was urged to drop his opposition on his mother's urging. That single vote in favor allowed the amendment to be ratified, giving women across the nation the right to vote in all elections.

     Women voted for the first time in a Presidential election in November 1920. It was not newsworthy to the editor of The United Opinion as there was no major article at the time. Neighborhood reports included some notice of the event. In September 1920, the reporter for West Fairlee Center noted eight local women voted in the primary. The West Newbury columnist wrote: "Not many women from this side of the town attended the primary. We hope to see more of them next November. It is now up to the men and women of the country to say what they will have." 

     On November 5, the Thetford column included the following: "Town Meeting drew a good number of voters, both men, and women. One hundred and sixty-six had registered to vote and probably most of them cast their vote. The young misses of twenty-one were there; also one lady of one hundred one and one-half years cast her vote for the first time. Mrs. Elizabeth C. Newcomb is the oldest person in town, if not the county. Chas. Douglas, the Republican candidate for town representative was elected. He made an informal speech in well-chosen words, thanking the people for the honor given him. He treated the ladies to chocolates and men to cigars."

     In 1920, Haverhill's Frances Parkinson Keyes, author, and wife of U. S. Senator Henry Keyes, wrote an article entitled "On the Fence" published in The Atlantic Monthly. She stated that while she had been an "anti-suffragette all my life," she had done nothing of consequence to prevent women suffrage. In fact, it was with her "entire approval" that Senator Keyes voted for the amendment. But, Keyes wrote: "I dread the very thought of voting." She felt that women had enough in their lives without the extra burden of an expanded role in society. With a combination of hope and concern, she challenged women to accept this newly granted right in such a manner as to prove the opponents wrong. 

     There is no doubt that the right to vote was the key for women to equality and influence in our society. A primary focus of my professional teaching career has been to inform both young men and women of their right to vote and the responsibilities that go with that right. I registered hundreds of young area residents. What once was a radical notion has now become the norm. Hurrah and hurrah.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Communal Living: A Different Way



 

COUNTERCULTURE INVASION: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of young people dropped out of mainstream society and migrated to Northern New England. Those who settled in Vermont had a profound impact on that state's culture. (Courtesy Goddard College Archives)





ONE BIG FAMILY: The Oneida community in up-state New York had its beginning in Putney, VT. Its founder, John Humphrey Noyes believed in complex marriage, a form of polygamy.  This one large family is pictured at its utopian community in Oneida, NY.  

SIMPLE LIVING: The Shakers established communities in Enfield and Canterbury, NH in the 1790s. Named for their use of ecstatic dancing in worship they believed in communal ownership and simple living.  Their belief in celibacy was a major factor in their decline.

Journal Opinion, Sept. 9, 2020 

A Different Way

Weaved into the fabric of American life, there runs a thread of voluntary co-operation to achieve common goals. It helped early settlers establish both individual and shared purposes. That duality is represented by Vermont's motto, “Freedom and Unity.”

From1760 to 1880, there were a number of communal experiments that, for some, went beyond the prevailing spirit of the times. Whether religious-based or secular, these communities experimented with alternative economics and different ways of living.  

They were mostly socialist in nature and utopian in their goals, departing from the traditional methods for improving society. They rejected the world as it was for a world they hoped it would become. 

Most of the early experiments in New Hampshire and Vermont were founded on religious belief. They were an outgrowth of the Greet Awakening that swept New England in the first half of the 19th century.

The first of these Vermont experiments was the Dorrillites, established in Guilford in 1798 by one-time British officer William Dorrill.  Claiming to be the "mouthpiece of God," he established iron rule over his followers, "with community of property and reputedly of women." They were vegetarians and used neither meat nor leather. He drew to his group some members of respectable local families.

When his claim that no one could harm him was challenged at one of his meetings by a man who knocked him down repeatedly, the group disappeared. 

In 1817, a group called the Pilgrims migrated from Lower Canada to South Woodstock under the leadership of Isaac Bullard. Their lifestyle, based on their fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, was characterized by wearing only skins and leather and full beards. Since the Bible did not command them to wash their bodies or bury their dead, they did neither.  When with the encouragement of area residents, they moved southward to seek their New Jerusalem, 100 local residents joined them.

Several other Vermont sects shared the extreme conviction that the world's end was near.  One such group was founded by Nathaniel Wood of Middletown, VT, who proclaimed that through divine inspiration, he had found that on January 14, 1801 the world would come to an end. It did not.

Vermonters play a vital role in establishing several of the most successful experiments that later flourished in other areas of the country.

A significant example of Vermont's contribution to the utopian movement was that of the Perfectionists.  This settlement was established in Putney in 1838 by John Humphrey Noyes. Noyes, a member of a prominent Brattleboro, VT family. Noyes believed that Christ had already come a second time making perfection possible.

Noyes’ ideas came under attack in 1846 when he announced his thoughts on multi-lateral or complex marriage.  Rejecting monogamy, the Perfectionists were polygamists.   Locals reacted strongly to this licentiousness.

 In the face of that opposition, Noyes led his group to up-state New York where they established the Oneida community. There the colony's property was commonly owned, and products were distributed equally. Women were given a full role in the community. The members lived together as one family in a large house known as the Mansion House.

They failed in their attempts to survive exclusively from agriculture. So Noyes took advantage of the artisans in the colony and turned to manufacturing.  At first, they manufactured animal traps with numerous other products, including silverware that made the community so famous.

By 1875, one observer commented that Oneida was more like a "large and prosperous manufacturing corporation with a large number of partners all actively engaged in the works, than a commune." Their works were characterized by "industry, thrift and mutual helpfulness."

Had it not been for the complex marriage practices, there would have been less to condemn. As New York made polygamy illegal, the colony disbanded in 1880. The Oneida Corporation continues today.

Another community in which Northern New Englanders played a vital role was the Mormon's State of Deseret, considered to be the most successful of all communes.  Prophet Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were both born in Vermont.

Though "castigated by the orthodox of Vermont on all occasions," the new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints drew both new members and additional leaders from both states.  Among the first converts were 27 men and women from Benson, VT. That Yankee influence is reflected in the Mormon symbol of a great beehive, above which is displayed a favorite Yankee word, Industry.

Under Young’s leadership, the Mormons sought refuge in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. A significant feature of the settlement was that the land and major water sources were held in common under the Council of Elders' control. This gave the leaders of the theocracy control over the economy while making provision for the distribution of goods from a common storehouse.

One of the most influential and successful communal experiments established two communities in New Hampshire in the late 18th century.  The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing was founded in England in 1747 and brought to America in 1774 by Mother Ann Lee.  Known as the Shakers because of their use of ecstatic dance in their worship, they established 21 self-contained farming communities from Kentucky to Maine.

The first New Hampshire community was established at Canterbury in 1792. At its height in the 1850s, 300 people lived and worked on the 3,000-acre property.  The last sister living there died in 1992 and the community is now operated as a museum.

The second community was established at Enfield in 1793.  The South Family that lived there build more than 100 buildings on their farm. Their main building, known as the Great Stone Dwelling, was the largest Shaker building ever built.  The community closed in 1923 but parts of the property are now operated as a museum.

Believing that they needed to withdraw from the world and its sinful ways, the Shakers "challenged almost every mainstream idea of the times." They believed in communal ownership, pacifism, celibacy equality of the sexes and simple living. The practice of celibacy meant that the communities grew from converting new members and adopting orphans.

The communities produced not only their own necessities but also a surplus for sale.  Mother Ann urged her followers to “do all your work as thought you have 1,000 years to live and  as  you would if you knew you must die  tomorrow.”  The Shakers produced craftsmen of the highest skill.

This ingenuity led to the first sale of package seeds and the development of the round barn and circular saw. They invented new farm tools, patent medicines, milk paints and distinct furniture as well as the machines needed to produce these in large quantities.

 The Shaker brand was well established by the 1830s. By 1860 there were at least 6,000 Believers living in their communes.

Their lifestyle was not without controversy. There were rumors that orphans and other children were kept against their will. In 1815, Mary Dyer left her husband and children at the Canterbury farm where they had lived for several years. When she was unsuccessful in reclaiming her children, she began a decades-long unsuccessful attempt to besmirch the Shakers with a number of publications.

Shakers were also criticized for their refusal to participate in public life by voting or serving in the military.  Some individuals took advantage of the Shakers' charity and arrived in the fall, stayed for the winter and then left. They became known as "winter shakers."

 With few recruits, Shaker numbers dwindled in the 20th century until only several elders remain, living at their last community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

By 1880, there were no longer attempts to create utopian societies as a way to solve the problems of the nation's working classes. Instead, workers turned to labor unions and co-operatives for solutions to economic issues.

The earliest co-operatives in Vermont were established to assist dairy and apple farmers in purchasing supplies and the process and market their products. Early labor unions were limited in their appeal in both states, but found some success in the textile and stone industries.

In Vermont after 1930, there two early attempts to create experimental living situations.  In 1932, Scott and Helen Nearing purchased a run-down farm near Winhall. For two decades they operated the self-sufficient farm and welcomed an increasing number of guests. 

In 1946, Irving Fisk and his daughter Isabelle created an "intentional community" in Rochester, one owned and operated by all who lived there.  Offering an alternative lifestyle dedicated to the arts and writing, it became "Vermont oldest and, at times, largest," commune.  It recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

In the mid-1960s, thousands of young urban refugees invaded Vermont and New Hampshire.  Disenchanted with their possession-centered upbringing and opposed to government policies such as the Vietnam War, civil rights, and nuclear proliferation, many of them created scores of experimental communes in both states.

It is estimated there were at least 75 communes and other experiments in Vermont, many in rural areas as part of a back-to-the-land movement. They varied in their size, organizing purposes and goals, structure, attitudes toward private ownership and prevailing lifestyles Some had a strong leader; others had none. How long they lasted varied, with disillusionment causing failure in the experiments.  No commune was typical.

Accused of nudity, lack of cleanliness, their drain on social services, and being advocates of free love and drugs, these "hippies" shocked many locals. There was concern that they would overrun the state, a situation only heightened by a 1972 Playboy article about the counterculture taking over conservative Vermont.

The following are some of the communities chosen to show the variations among them.  They are randomly chosen from communes found in every corner of the two states.

The Wooden Shoe in Canaan NH, founded as part of the peace movement, was "a place for experiment and rewriting the rules." The High View Church Farm Community in Lemster, NH was a conservative Christian community.  The Total Loss Farm in Guilford, VT was established and still exists as a cultural community. The Earth People's Park in Norton, VT had a notorious reputation for its resident's behaviors. Huntington Open Women's Land in Huntington, VT continues as a commune for women.

Jimmy’s House, located in South Newbury from 1969 to 1974 came close to being a commune. According to a 1997 article by the late Isabel Whitney, it was created as a safe house for disaffected young men and women from down country, many of whom rejected authority in their lives. There was some negative reactions when the young people used the nearby brook for nude bathing.    

In August 1968, the United Opinion Newbury column mentioned that a group of 8 adults with children from Long Island had purchased land “over the Bradford line near Roger’s Hill.” If this was a commune, I could find no other mention of them.   

UVM Professor Peter Woolfson concluded that Vermonters were generally accepting of those who seriously tried to survive the challenges of living in the state.  “Vermonters, he wrote, “were more concerned about drugs and crime than about people being or thinking differently than they.”

Montpelier attorney Charles Martin, who was part of a commune in the 1960s, wrote, "Some of the locals looked askance at the skinny-dipping and other things we did, but they were basically OK with us because we did not frighten the horses."

Some communes disappeared in the mid-1970s whereas others survived and new ones have been established since. More importantly, many former members moved into the mainstream and became significant contributors to local and state cultures. Their dedication to "alternative energy, alternative schools, art collectives, community gardens, farmers markets, food co-operatives, daycare centers, and women's rights" has significantly transformed northern New England.

They can be found in every profession and liberal movement today. One only has to look at the candidates and issues in the current election to find their lasting impact.  From that same examination, one can find the lasting opposition to what Vermont has become due to the counterculture influx.  For some, the "Take Back Vermont" attitude is still very much alive.

There have been many retrospective books and newspaper articles on the counterculture of the 1960s and ‘70s. The Vermont Historical Society has been especially prolific in documenting it with programs, interviews, and displays.

For those interested in a more in-depth review of specific communes or the movement in general, there are many online sources.  In the interest of full disclosure, my social studies students at that time would not have described me as a member of the counterculture. I never lived in a commune.

For 200 years, some experiments have sought a different way.  In doing so, especially during the past 50 years, they have caused our states' culture to bend significantly along a somewhat similar path. Perhaps Vermont more so than New Hampshire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Summer Tourist Trade



The Breezy Point House at the base of Mt. Moosilauke's Carriage Road hosted summer tourists seeking relief from the stifle of the city.  It featured a challenging golf course.
Below: Around 1902, Hope Farm in Bradford offered large airy rooms and a good table to those looking for a moderately-price summer lodging.  With spectacular views of the New Hampshire mountains, it touted its location above the fogs of the valley. (Bradford Historical Society)



ournal Opinion August 5, 2020 “It is not to be forgotten that many classes of our people derive direct benefit from the host of summer tourists who are coming to our State and spending the heated term at hotels and boarding houses and in some instances buying summer places for themselves.” Burlington Free Press, Dec.14, 1905

For over 200 years, area residents have invited strangers to visit, enjoy and explore the pristine environment while sampling the local way of life. We have invited them to stay at our hotels and cabins, youth camps, and even our farms and village homes.
As early communities grew, local entrepreneurs provided housing for both tourists and commercial guests year-round. The first major hostels developed along stage and railroad centers whereas others developed near physical attractions. The following are examples from area towns. Significantly greater coverage of this topic is included in Over the River and Through the Years, Book Five by Katharine Blaisdell.

Sadly, most of the establishments mentioned have disappeared. Many burned and were not rebuilt. Others were re-purposed or torn down.
Early hotels that prospered because of their location near stagecoach roads included hotels in Haverhill Corners. The Exchange Hotel, the Hotel Merrill, and the Bliss Tavern met the needs of scores of passengers who arrived each night. Sessions of the nearby county court brought additional guests.

The village of Orford offered an equally attractive setting as well as a stopover for those traveling through. Washington Irving is quoted as saying “In all my travels in this country and Europe I have seen no village more beautiful. It is a charming place. Nature has done her upmost here.”

The Orford Hotel and Hale’s Hotel/ Elm House offered early lodging. In Aug 1871, it was reported, "There are now in Orford a large number of city boarders who have come to stop through the hot weather…”

In Groton village, two hotels included the Railroad House and the American House. Lodging serving travelers along the Bayley-Hazen Road and Route 5 in Ryegate included Peters’ Tavern and Long Meadow Farm. The Rowe tavern in Corinth Center did a thriving business during stagecoach travel on the Old Post Road.

There were two commercial hotels serving the mining industries with were the Ryegate Granite Works Hotel and the Eagle Hotel in West Fairlee operating near the Ely Mine in Vershire. Of the latter it was written, “There is no better place to study human nature than in the bar-room of the old Eagle Hotel in West Fairlee.”

The commercial centers of Bradford, Wells River, and Woodsville each had at least one major hotel. Each hosted guests who first arrived by stage and later rail and auto. In Bradford, the Trotter House offered downtown accommodations from 1846 until it burned in 1887. Just before it was destroyed, the local newspaper reported, "A party of Boston ladies and gentlemen are rusticating in our village."

The Hotel Low replaced that hotel in 1890. It was common for tourists to stay at the hotel for a month or more during the summer. In July 1895, the United Opinion reported, "Hotel Low is rapidly filling up with summer boarders." It was renamed the Bradford Inn in 1924 and a golf course was built with the first tee on its rear lawn.

The dominant hotel in Wells River was the Coosuck House built about 1830. It was renamed the Wells River House before being destroyed by fire in 1892. In 1895, Hales’s Tavern opened on the site. It was described as having 39 pleasant and nicely furnished rooms and all the modern conveniences of the day.

The arrival of the railroad created the need for hotels in Woodsville. The Parker House was built in 1872, followed by the adjacent Hotel Wentworth in 1890. The latter had 25 large guest rooms. Their clientele was primarily commercial travelers.

Mountain locations were especially appealing to summer tourists. The Breezy Point House at the base of Mt. Moosilauke’s Carriage Road opened in 1886. Later renamed the Moosilauke Inn, it hosted wealthy summer guests at a time when they arrived in July and stayed until Labor Day, trading the stifle of the city for the fresh air of the mountains. Its challenging golf course, nicknamed "the St. Andrews of the Mountains," was a major attraction.

Maplewood Tourists’ Inn was a summer resort located in the hills of West Corinth. From its establishment in 1886, “the fame of Maplewood grew as guests, some of them famous in the theatrical and business world, poured in from all over the country.”

Another early location for Vermont tourist hotels was adjacent to mineral springs. The only local site that offered hotel guests the opportunity to “take the waters” was in the village of Newbury. The Spring Hotel and the Montebello House were both located there, attracted by the nearby sulphur and iron springs.

In addition to bathing in the curative waters, tourists were invited to hike the neighboring hills, cruise, swim and fish in local waters or just relax. In August 1873, some of the guests of the Spring House tried something different. They took a ride to Bradford in primitive fashion, riding in spring board wagons.

If a community had the luck of having a lake, summer tourists were more likely to visit. The Connecticut River did not have the same impact. One only has to compare the effects of Lake Morey as a tourist attraction on Fairlee and the lack of impact of the same acreage of Connecticut River waters on riverside towns.

Fairlee had the fortune to have one lake and the part of another. Many private cottages hosted guests from both adjacent towns and down country. There was also the Glen Falls House that hosted up to 75 guests until it was destroyed by fire in 1912. The United Opinion in August 1895 suggested that lakefront facilities "was especially desirable to that large and increasing class of tourists of moderate means who desire quiet and retirement and restful recreation."

Kaulin Inn was built at the south end of the lake in 1909. The following summer, the United Opinion wrote that its accommodations featured “every modern improvements”. It was later renamed the Lake Morey Inn and the golf course was added. Added to these was the nearby Rutledge Inn and, at the other end of the lake, Bonnie Oakes.

Fairlee shared Lake Fairlee with Thetford. That town's inns were influenced by the need for housing for summer visitors to the lake as well as the earlier stagecoach routes and the copper mining industry. Each village in Thetford had at least one inn, including the Commodore House in Post Mills and the Porter Tavern in Thetford Center.

In Piermont, the largest hostelry was the Lake Tarleton Club. First established as a tavern serving turnpike travelers, it later became a private residence. In 1910, it was developed into a lakeside resort catering to urban tourists. One observer described the throngs of wealthy tourists who “began to crowd the place which had a few years before been very nearly a wilderness.”

At a time when Jewish tourists were not welcomed at many establishments, the Club offered a luxurious summer resort for “unrestricted clientele". It was reported that during the height of the season there were hundreds of guests at the Club at any one time. The Club closed in the late 1960s.

At Groton's Ricker Pond was the Lake House, a hotel for summer boarders. It was a two-story facility with a beautiful view of the pond plus opportunities for fishing.

After 1870, farm abandonment was having a major impact on both local population and tax receipts. Agencies in both states, along with the railroad companies, began a major campaign to sell farms to new residents, either as permanent homes or summer residences.

By 1911, spurred on by The New Hampshire Plan,” 4,000 New Hampshire farms had been sold to summer residents. The campaign “Vermont As Home” preceded the “Vermont the Beckoning Country” campaign by a full century. In 1875, The Vermont Farmer mentioned, "many towns have farms for sale that would make fine summer homes. Available farms in 1891 included an East Haverhill 300 acre farm with a 10-room house and barn for $800. A similar one in Bradford was available for $1,500.

Farmers "awoke to the fact that city boarders paid better than farming." Many came to understand that "milking the city people for their money" was more profitable than milking cows.

One Vermont newspaper published a letter entitled "The Vermont Farmer and his Wife." It indicated, "They do not ask too much for board." It praised “the role of the farmer's wife in bringing in more ready money than the land ever yields.”

The Hope Farm on Goshen Road in Bradford is a good example of farm tourism. In addition to large airy rooms and a good table, the farm offered a spectacular view of the New Hampshire mountains above the fogs of the valley. This was especially important at a time when tuberculous was epidemic. Nevertheless, not all were welcomed. Advertisements stated "Protestants preferred."

In each village, there were also businesses such as tourist homes, tea rooms, and livery stables that prospered from the summer trade. As the auto traffic increased, roadside stands and tourist cabins began to appear.

Some village homes were purchased for part-time residency. Some of the luxurious homes on the Ridge in Orford became summer homes for individuals who spent the rest of the year elsewhere.

Orford historian Art Pease writes that the 1905 newspaper notice that “Helen Dana (of Boston) has opened her home on the Ridge for the summer” is the first mention of the Ridge houses as “summer homes.” Subsequent notices refer to the coming and goings of Ridge folks from their winter homes. These summer homes were opened as early as March and some residents stayed as late as November.

After 1885, the Old Home Week movement in both states was part of the effort to stem the population exodus as well as draw new residents. These elaborate celebrations, as well as alumni reunions, were a great success and offered a major attraction for summer tourists. Residents and tourists enjoyed a variety of events to celebrate the towns and their histories. In Fairlee, residents work with “summer people” to hold an annual Fairlee Day, a partnership that has lasted.

Residential youth camps have flourished in the Upper Valley from early in the 20th century. Some were established by individuals who are considered pioneers in the youth camping movement. The earliest were Miss Farwell’s Summer Camp for Girls on Hall’s Lake and a short-lived summer camp at Maplewood Farm in West Corinth. By 1910, other camps had been established. Those included Camp Aloha on Lake Morey, Hanoum in Thetford, Billings on Lake Fairlee and Moosilauke in Orford and Pemigewasset in Wentworth.

Within the next decade, there was Tahoma on Lake Tarleton, Pinnacle in Lyme, Stinson in Thetford Center, among others.

Campers, many of them from urban areas, arrived on special train cars that stopped at area stations. Whether they came for the whole season or just a part, the campers learned to swim, sail and canoe on area lakes and rivers. Along with their counselors, they practiced handicrafts, played group games, hiked local mountains, tented in wilderness areas, and went horseback riding on wooded trails. For city youth, this was “fun with a purpose,” a fulfillment of the back to the country movement, nature up close and personal.

The summer camp industry had a major impact on the local economy. It offered employment to locals and a market for area businesses and farmers. Parent’s weekend or alumni gatherings had a significant impact on local hotels and restaurants.

In subsequent years, the summer tourist trade in both states evolved into a year-round economic boon with millions of visitors annually. While the Upper Valley may not have the same attractions as other areas of the Northeast, the economic disruption of the current pandemic indicates just how important that trade is to the local economy. We look forward to the time when the typical flood of tourists will again be welcomed.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Wed and Gone To Housekeeping



Journal Opinion, July 1, 2020

WED AND SET TO GO: This mid 19th century couple are ready to go to housekeeping.  Local weddings at that time were likely to be simple. Her gown would be chosen for later use and his suit was his Sunday best.  The wedding was probably held with only family and close friends attending. (Bradford Historical Society)



This 1922 advertisement for the wedding services of Bradford's Opinion Publishing Company was similar to those offered by other publishers. Invitations and cake boxes were sold and wedding announcements were included in local columns.  Editors often requested a piece of  wedding cake in return. 


"Shall we marry when we are young and poor, or wait until we get older and better off? And that is the real question in their minds when they inquire as to the 'right time to be married.'"
Bradford Opinion, Aug 16, 1876

The questions of whom and when to marry have perplexed young New Englanders for four centuries.  This column explores marriage stories before the 1960s. Information is from online sources, local histories, and newspaper archives.  I have also included insights gained from three books I have written on my wife's and my New England ancestors. 

The Protestants who settled New England brought wedding traditions from Europe. Marriage contracts had both a religious and civil significance. While Puritan marriages were held in connection with religious services, many others were, by provincial law, performed by magistrates or justices of the peace.  Later, the laws in both New Hampshire and Vermont added ministers to the list of those who could solemnize marriages. 

The province or state usually demanded a small fee for a marriage license, as did the officiant.  One poor Warren groom offered a bushel of beans as payment to the magistrate.  In the end, he paid only half as his new wife kicked him out of bed. 

Young men and women were expected to marry. Given the division of labor between men and women, it was difficult for single individuals to maintain a household.  After one partner died, remarriage was often immediate. It was not unusual for a widower to married the sister of his deceased wife.

In the case of second marriages, a "smock wedding" was sometimes held.  The bride, hidden in a closet and dressed only in a smock, would reach out a hand to accept her new husband. It was thought that this prevented the man from being responsible for her debts or those of her previous husband.  

Premarital fornication was prohibited and could be cause for punishment.  My 7th great grandfather was James Ross, a Scottish prisoner of war and an indentured servant in Groton, MA.  In 1657, he received 39 stripes on his bare back for fornication with Mary Goodenow, daughter of his master. The punishment was for "shameful abuse and violence toward his master."  Within the year, however,  they were married and became prominent members of the community. 

The diaries of 18th and 19th-century midwives reveal that many first-born children came less than nine months after the marriage of their parents. These early babies, however, suffered no stigma.  Bundling was one way New Englanders dealt with the ardor of young lovers. In need of some privacy, but not too much, the couple was allowed to lie together, fully clothed, in the same bed, but with a board dividing their natural appetites.

Early New England marriages were as much about economics as romance.  For many, marriage was like a business agreement between partners, one of whom might be the father of the bride.  One was expected to marry within their class and economic situation and with the permission of the bride's parents.  It was expected that wedding intensions would be published in advance. Sometimes youthful eagerness upset this expectation.

 The following is an example involving other great grandparents. The wealthy parents of Mary Loker of Sudbury, MA rejected the suit of Jonas Prescott. Just a blacksmith, he was not considered suitable for their only daughter. The parents sent her away to a frontier town 22 miles away. Jonas sought her out and, despite her parents' refusal to provide a dowry, they were married in November 1672. For the first years, their household was sparse. But their fortunes changed.  Mary lived to see 176 of their descendants. 

Elopement such as this allowed a couple to escape from the boundaries placed on them. In 1898, a 15-year-old Fairlee girl ran away with a Newbury man to be married in Ryegate.  A similar flight caused an Orford couple to trail their daughter and her lover to St. Johnsbury in 1920. When, in 1903, a prominent Bradford businessman eloped with a woman, not his wife, it made front-page news. 
 
Sometimes a couple wished to keep their marriage secret. But it’s hard to keep secrets in a small town. In 1897, one of Orford's "young townsmen  having decided to take unto himself a wife laid plans to circumvent everyone by bringing home a charming bride in the middle of the night."  The couple was surprised at 12:45 am by friends, family and a band.

Cohabitation without a license was known as common law marriage and was recognized by early courts. But in the 1800s, states began to enact laws expressly to prohibit such legal arrangements.  Vermont has never recognized them as legal. New Hampshire does for probate only, thus recognizing the rights of the survivor.

By the 1850s, young couples had greater choice in whom to marry.  The Ladies Indispensable Assistant, published in 1852, suggested the following "preliminaries for marriage."  "According to the urges of society, it is the custom of the man to propose marriage, and for the female to refuse or accept the offer as she may think fit. There ought to be perfect freedom of the will in both parties."  It went on to suggest that the man should seek from her parents or guardians “permission to address her."  

 It was common in early marriages for couples to be from the same town or county. The couple was likely to have known each other for a time, gone to the same church or school.  In our area, that extended across state lines to adjourning river communities.  After the coming of the railroad in the mid-19th century, one of the two individuals might have come from as far away as New York, Ohio, or even Texas.    

Still, long-distance travel was not common. As a result, marriage between cousins was not uncommon. Until the mid-19th century, cousin marriages were legal in most areas. My great grandparents, Ida Rice and Lyman Randall were married in Windsor, VT, in 1878.  They were first cousins.  That gives an example to the saying that sometimes a guy would "go to family reunions to pick up girls."

Even as laws were enacted to prevent this practice, they were not enforced.  In 1867, a bill was introduced in the Vermont Legislature to prevent first cousin marriages.  It did not pass.  New Hampshire made such marriages illegal in 1902 but grandfathered in those that already existed.

Local marriage between couples of different religions or races was extremely unusual until the mid-20th century. A bride that broke that rule might be disowned by her family, a repudiation that might extend to her children.  Growing up Catholic before the 1950s in predominantly Protestant Bradford meant that a young man had few choices for courting.   

Marriages were usually held in the home of the bride or groom or in the home of the officiant.  Those in attendance were only the most intimate friends and family members and limited by the size of the house. These weddings have been described as small, sober, and simple. No doubt, at some weddings, the self-restraint was washed away by a bit of whiskey or rum.  Weddings could be a "season of excess."

Both bride and groom dressed in their finest. While white bridal gowns became more popular after Queen Victoria wore one in 1840, many brides continued to wear colorful dresses that could be used for later occasions. The groom might buy a new suit, expecting to wear it to church and perhaps even to the grave.

Increasingly, the couple was married in a church. Sometimes a wedding in an important family was “a principal social event." Among my New England ancestors, June weddings were the exception.  In an agricultural community, there was more time during winter months for taking time off for a wedding.  

But one extravagant June wedding took place in the Bradford Congregational Church in 1891. The bride was Florence Farnham, the daughter of ex-Governor Roswell Farnham. An extensive article described the bride who entered the church, "leaning on the arm of her father, who gave her away.”  The reception was held a few doors down Main Street at the Farnham home.  Both the wedding and reception sites were elaborately decorated with arches of flowers and evergreens. 

One or more wedding cakes were standard for weddings in all classes. Many believed that sharing the cake showed hospitality and would lead to prosperity and fruitfulness. 

Often slices of spiced cake were pre-boxed for the guests to take with them.  For a time, local newspaper editors expected a slice in return for the inclusion of the wedding announcement. Sometimes, editors were not hesitant to remind readers that no cake had been presented.

 Until the middle of the 19th century, there was little notice of a post-wedding trip. 
Couples often just "went to housekeeping" in their new home.  Among the Scottish residents of Ryegate, that short trip was accompanied by a crowd of well-wishers. Depending on the economic means of the groom, it was not uncommon for the bride to remain in her parents' or employer's home for a time until a new home could be provided.

By the 1880s, bridal tours to romantic locations were expected for middle-class couples. Newspaper accounts reported that the happy couples left by wagon to the local railroad station for a trip to Burlington or Manchester, or perhaps, even to Montreal or Boston.

After 1910, newspaper accounts sometimes mentioned that the couple left on their wedding trip by auto.  There were several examples in local columns of trips of up to eight weeks. But most could not afford that time or the expense. The Groton column for Dec 7, 1912, reported, "The happy couple took a short wedding trip to Newbury."   

The gifts that couples received, along with the bride's trousseau of linens and blankets, helped them to establish their home. A "wedding quilt" and a set of coin silver teaspoons from Bradford's Hardy Jewelry store were typical. Otherwise, new couples often had few possessions, to begin with.  

During the Great Depression, the number of marriages dropped significantly as couples were unable to afford to establish a new home.  During the first half of the 1940s, with so many in the service or working in war production, weddings were postponed.  If men were going overseas, weddings might be hurried. 

At that time, double rings ceremonies became more frequent, perhaps to serve as reminders of partnerships during long periods of absence. The increase in the number of weddings during the post-war years led to the baby boom. The post-war prosperity was reflected in more of the weddings of the period.

Following the tradition of posting wedding intension, the United Opinion printed the announcement along with the photo of the bride-to-be.  A picture of the couple and a description of their wedding often followed.  

While weddings took place year-round, the summer of 1956 brought many weddings to the area. Two stand out for their similarities. They involve sets of high school sweethearts, members of the Bradford Academy Classes of 1952 or 1953. The brides were from Piermont and the grooms from Bradford.  Their romanceboth survived four years of college. 

Their weddings took place at the Piermont Congregational Church before at least 100 guests.  A common practice in that small town was for some to attend uninvited. Both brides and grooms were dressed in the expected outfits of the times, the brides in white, and the grooms in formal attire. The brides were presented by their fathers. Each ceremony was followed by a reception at Piermont’s Robbins Inn.

When asked, both brides mentioned that they feel their nuptial event was one of the social events of Piermont's summer that year and were representative of the many local weddings at the time.  One added that most were "meant to last and did." 

AS a Justice of the Peace, I have officiated scores of weddings.  Those in attendance have ranged from just the couple alone to hundreds of guests. Some have been quick to meet an immediate need, whereas many have been elaborately planned.  Virtually every couple had been living together before the ceremony.

As our definition of what constitutes a family has changed, so have those who asks to be married or choose to ignore the marriage ceremony altogether. If two individuals are willing to live their lives together, to actually go to housekeeping together, that’s what really counts.  


Friday, June 5, 2020

Murder Most Vile (Part III)


THE STONE CRIES MURDERED.  Despite speculation that Piermont's Alma Emerson's death may have
been an accident, there is still suspicions that she was murdered in 1875 by Moses Sawyer.  After  two
trials in Plymouth, Sawyer was freed. ( Courtesy photo Valley News)

ORFORD'S UNSOLVED MURDERS.  In November, 1922, John and Charles Davis were bludgeoned to death
at their home in Orford.  Despite an extensive investigation, authorities were never able to fine anyone responsible for their deaths.  (Courtesy Orford Historical Society)
Journal Opinion, May 27, 2020

“This is a chapter we would most gladly omit, but we should not be deemed a faithful historian if we did not write it.” William Little, “The History of Warren, New Hampshire.” 1870    

 Little’s introduction to his chapter on two local murders begins each of the three columns covering untimely local deaths prior to 1923. The first two parts were published in March and April and are posted at larrycoffin.blogspot.com. As with the first two, the following stories involve local homicides.  

What makes these cases different from those covered previously is that either no one was found guilty of the crime or that there was not actually a crime committed. Sources for the column are locally printed and online histories and newspaper archives.

There were two incidents that involved children. In July 1843, The Caledonian carried the story of a “serious and fatal occurrence” in Topsham.

 An 8-year old boy was following two older lads on a hunting excursion. The older ones told the youngster to go back, and when he refused, one of them deliberately aim his gun and fired. “The whole charge entered the breast of the small boy, causing his death.” The article reported, “It is said the lad who commuted the act made no denial or excuse whatever.”

The following March, The Vermont Watchman reported “The story of a murder in Topsham is put to rest. After a long examination, the person implicated has been discharged.” As there was no other incident in Topsham at that time, we can assume this referred to the boy who committed the act the previous year.

In October 1914, the bodies of two boys were found in West Fairlee. They were Gordon Bell, age 11, and Harold Whitney, age 12. The two boys had been missing since the previous day. A search party was led to the bodies in a nearby field by the barking of their dog. The bodies were found side by side with Whitney’s arm resting on Bell’s body. Both had been shot in the left breast. A revolver, taken from a local barn, was found nearby.  This “puzzling tragedy” was never solved. Was this a murder-suicide, and if so, which boy was the perpetrator? There was no gunshot residue testing at the time, and no further investigation was undertaken.

As the prosecution in a criminal case has to prove the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, there have been homicides in which the accused, and only suspect, was found not guilty.  Where there was an actual murder these “cold cases” remain unsolved. 

An 1860 quarrel over debt led to the murder of Vanness Wyatt of Warren. The other party in the quarrel was James Williams. Fearing a physical confrontation with Wyatt, Williams had armed himself.  On July 27, the two confronted each other. Wyatt was shot and Williams was arrested.

 The following January, his trial was held in Plymouth. Witnesses from the deeply divided village were called to testify. After deliberation, the jury deadlocked, although they apparently agreed it was not a case of murder. The case was continued for a year before it was dropped.

Quarrel also led to the death of Joseph Eggleston on June 1, 1896. Eggleston and John Evans were returning separately from the Wells River Creamery. Evans stopped to talk with two men working roadside.  Eggleston came along and demanded he move out of the road.

 The St. Johnsbury Caledonian reported, “There had been trouble between the men. The wife of Eggleston, a women of violent passions, had her full share of it.” That trouble erupted that day into a “sad affair” with verbal threats, a battle of horsewhips and finally a hand-to-hand “real fisticuffs.”  Eggleston was thrown to the ground.  Injured, he was taken to a neighboring house, but died upon arrival.

It was first thought he had been kicked to death, but an autopsy indicated he had died of a heart attack, perhaps “frightened to death.”  Evans turned himself in and was incarcerated in Chelsea.  After the testimony of two doctors, the grand jury did not bring charges against Evans. The newspaper account concluded, “This whole unfortunate affair seems to be a case of accidental discharge of violent temper.”   

In January 1906, George Baird shot and killed Samuel Howe of Benton. Baird and his wife had recently moved to a remote section of Haverhill. Baird told the authorities that Howe came to the house late at night and “upon being refused admittance broke in a window and threatened to kill him.” Baird picked up a revolver and shot Howe through the window.

At an inquest in Woodsville, Blaird was charged with the death. In June, Blaird’s week-long trial was held in Plymouth. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Baird’s lawyer, Robert Simonds, was “warmly praised by the Manchester and Boston papers for his defense.” 

The demise of Newbury’s Orville Gibson in 1957 was not the first time the issues of suicide vs murder have been raised locally. In September 1900, Burns Nelson was found dead in Wells River.  Nelson had recently sold his failing grocery store and had gone drinking with Charles Bostock. They had gone to Nelson’s father’s house to spend the night. But later that night Nelson was found in his bedroom, dead from a gunshot to the head.

Bostock was arrested and charged with manslaughter. At trial in Chelsea in June 1901, Bostock testified that Nelson had gotten out a shotgun that Bostock had wanted to purchase.  He went on to say that he had left the bedroom, but, upon hearing a gunshot, returned and found Nelson dead.  The prosecution argued Bostock must have fired the gun after introducing evidence that the gun was a distance away from the body. The defense claimed the gun was defective and could discharge if dropped or hit.

 In support of a suicide theory, it was claimed that Nelson was in debt and despondent. Even Nelson’s father testified that he thought Nelson had shot himself.  The jury initially voted 6 to 6 for manslaughter, but as the evidence was all circumstantial, eventually brought a verdict of not guilty. It was concluded by the press that the deceased had been “killed by Woodsville whiskey.”

There are murders in which no suspect was identified. One example arose from a riot between Irish railroad workers in Newbury in September 1847. The disturbance was between men from the Irish counties of Cork and Connaught and was over the availability of work on the unfinished railroad.
Railroad overseer Michael Kelly and a deputy sheriff arrived at the Irish workers’ shanties and attempted to arrest Patrick Gallagher, a leader in the row. A group of Gallagher’s friends surrounded them and Kelly was shot dead. The deputy barely escaped with his life.  Gallagher and several others fled before reinforcement could arrive.

Despite an offer of a $500 reward, none of the “inmates of the shanties” provided information.  Later, one of the men being held identified Michael Welch as the person who caused the death of Kelly. A court hearing was held in Wells River in January 1848, and some of the rioters were sent to the state prison.  As the actual shooter was never determined, no one was found guilty of murder. 

In Piermont’s Cedar Grove cemetery a headstone stands with the inscription “Was Murdered.” This is the grave of Alma Emerson, who on January 22, 1875 was killed with a blast from a shotgun as she sat sewing in her home on River Road. A double-barrel shotgun was found nearby. The Bradford Opinion carried a graphic description of the murder scene and reported “that hundreds flocked to the scene of the tragedy.” 

Moses Sawyer, a visitor to the home from Massachusetts, was arrested and charged with the murder.  The victim’s husband, John Emerson, was never considered a suspect.

Sawyer’s trial was held in Plymouth in July. The court house was filled to capacity. Sawyer testified that he had heard talk of lynching him. His counsel indicated there was no possible motive for the crime.

 As the jury could not come to a unanimous decision a second trial was held in February 1876. That jury deliberated for 20 hours and voted five for conviction and seven for acquittal.  Sawyer was freed under $12,000 bail. No further action was taken against him.

Because of the interest in this “Piermont tragedy,” the Bradford Opinion printed 500 extra copies of its weekly and carried a full description of the trials.  After the trials were over, it was suggested the death might have been a tragic accident caused by the gun falling over and discharging. The lonely grave marker still cries out “Murdered.”

The last murder to be covered in this series was a double murder. In November 1922, the bodies of brothers John and Charles Davis were found at their Orfordville home. 

Both had been killed by blunt force from an ax several days earlier. They had been employed as lumbermen and were known to carry considerable sums of money on their persons. They had reported that their home had been broken into earlier. 

The investigation team included the High Sheriff along with a prominent Boston detective and a fingerprint expert from Dover, NH, The Selectmen of Orford offered a reward of $500.  Robbery was considered the main motive although Charles’ body had not been robbed. Some other money may have been missing, but other potentially valuable items were left. A theory of possible revenge was short lived.

The bloody ax was found concealed in the nearby woodshed, but no clear fingerprints were produced. Investigators tried unsuccessfully to locate two young men seen recently with the two brothers. Evidence seem to indicate that the murders had been carried out by someone familiar with the brothers’ home and habits.

Within the month, Orford was further shocked when two other men associated with the local lumber industry committed suicide.

On Nov. 15, lumberman Earl Hubbard committed suicide at an Orford lumber camp.  On Dec. 8, lumber merchant Frederick Bedell took poison and then shot himself in the head.  Both were clear cases of suicide. Hubbard had left a suicide note that read “I am tired of life. Something ails my head.”

 While speculators wanted to create a connection between these suicides and the Davis murders, there as none found.  The Davis murders remained unsolved. 

The crimes covered by this series brings one characteristic into sharp focus. That is the male dominance of the criminal system. Not only were most of the defendants men, so were the law enforcement personnel, the judges, lawyers and jurors. Women were thought to be too emotionally vulnerable for involvement in such affairs.

 The inclusion of women in the judicial system was tied to the women suffrage movement. While the first woman to become a lawyer in Vermont was in 1902, it was not until 1929 that the first female lawyer independently tried a murder case. In the 1940s women were first allowed to serve on juries in New Hampshire and Vermont. The first female trial judge was appointed in 1965 in Vermont and in 1970 in New Hampshire. Women still make up a significant minority of law enforcement officers at the local and state levels.

It seems reasonable for readers of this series to ask the question, “What about murders in Bradford?” Bradford was one of the largest communities in the area during this time and there were undoubted motives for murder during the period. But I found none.

Had I found one, to paraphrase William Little, I should not be deemed a faithful historian if I had avoided writing about it.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Murder Most Vile (Part II)


This is a chapter we would gladly omit, but we should not be deemed a faithful historian if we did not write it.”  William Little, The History of Warren, New Hampshire, 1870

I am using Little’s introduction to his chapter “A Brief Account of Two Murders” for each of the three columns on local untimely death prior to the 1920s. Part one of this series was published last month and is posted on my blog at larrycoffin.blogspot.com.  As with those in the earlier column, most of the following cases involve proven criminal actions.

The information for the series is taken from local histories, online sources and newspaper archives.
When compared to modern day, the era covered by these articles had relatively few murders.  While New Hampshire and Vermont are currently considered two of the safest states, they reported 21 and 10 murders respectively in 2018. New Hampshire’s Attorney General’s Office receives reports on 40-80 deaths annually. Many of these are eventually ruled accidents or suicides. Over the past decade the number of homicides in New Hampshire has ranged from 15 to 32.

Alcohol plays a role in violent crime. In Nov 1859, The Caledonian reported the murder of Mrs. Frank Wright of Woodsville. The family had moved from Bradford the previous summer and 30-year old Frank Wright worked as a shoemaker.

On Nov 25, Wright, after drinking rum, attacked his family in the home with a butcher knife. His sister Mrs. George Campbell was cut on the back. She fled seeking help. Wright then turned on his pregnant wife, stabbing her through the heart. Wright was arrested and held in the Haverhill jail.
The newspaper reported that “He acknowledged both the deed and the intent of committing it.” He claimed he was either “drunk or crazy.” It went on to say that folks were not surprised as “Wright has always borne the worse reputation, and had more than once threated murder.” A considerable amount of arsenic, perhaps secured for that purpose, was found at his home.

On April 1, before the court at Haverhill, Wright pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to 30 days of solitary confinement and 30 years imprisonment at hard labor in the state prison. The editor of The Lancaster Republican wondered why it was not capital punishment.

On April 28, 1905, Richard Harvey, a 35-year old farm hand from South Ryegate killed Perley Hartson of Hardwick on Central Street in Woodsville. Both had been drinking. Harvey met Hartson on the street and attacked him without provocation. They apparently did not know each other. Hartson was knocked down, striking his head on the curbing. Harvey started to run toward the nearby bridge but was pursued and arrested.

Hartson was taken to the Cottage Hospital where he died of a skull fracture. Harvey was charged with manslaughter by a grand jury meeting at Plymouth. A Randolph newspaper reported that Harvey had been previously charged with stealing in Bethel, but escaped authorities. That report concluded “Harvey was considered the most dangerous character in the vicinity.”
Before the court, Harvey claimed he remembered nothing. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was given a sentence of eight to ten years at the state prison. 

Marital infidelity can also be a cause for murder. On Sept 9, 1842, Adaline Comings of Bath was found dead in her bedroom. Around her neck was her own handkerchief, tied in a “halter knot.” The other end of the handkerchief was tied to the bed causing her strangulation.   

Her husband William admitted that his wife knew he had been unfaithful to her and was depressed. The couple had suffered financial hardships and had actually separated for a while. The inquest ruled that Adeline Comings had committed suicide.

People in a small town are often aware of others’ personal lives and it is unlikely that an individual could commit a crime like this and not become a suspect.  William could not find employment and his former lover indicated their affair was over. He left town and moved to New York.  On Feb 21, 1843 he was arrested and returned to New Hampshire for trial.  

A grand jury meeting in Plymouth indicted Comings of beating and strangling his wife. The trial jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree. An appeal was unsuccessful and, in 1844, he was sentenced to be hanged. However, at this time the continuance of the death penalty was in question, with a bill to abolish it stuck in legislative committee. The sentence was delayed and, in 1853, after being in prison for nine years Comings was pardoned.

The killing of Orrin Steere of Lisbon in 1888 has the elements of alcohol and family discord.  On April 18, Steere, his wife Jennie and his brother-in-law Louis Williams had gone to Lisbon village to drink. Upon returning to their home, a quarrel ensued. Orrin was described as an “intemperate man and had a bad reputation generally.” The family was said to bear “a hard name.”  

Later that night, Steere was found shot to death. His discharged double-barreled gun was found next to his body. Williams and Jennie Steere were taken into custody, jailed in Haverhill and indicted for first degree murder.
At trial in November, Williams testified that Steere had been shot by someone outside the house. Jennie and a young man who was there at the time collaborated this testimony. The two were acquitted by the jury. Many of those present believed they were guilty, but the evidence was purely circumstantial.  As with others found “not guilty”, but still guilty in public opinion, they found “life decidedly uncomfortable” in their community.

Marital infidelity played a part in what one 1916 newspapers call “one of the most atrocious murders ever committed in Vermont.” It was the April 22nd death of Joseph Felch of Topsham. His body was found in his sugarhouse the next morning with a bullet hole through the temple. Not satisfied with a suicide theory, the authorities’ investigation led them to the victim’s wife Anna Felch and their hired man Otis Williams.

It was discovered that Anna and Otis “were on friendly terms” and conspired to get rid of Joseph. They had planned that Williams would divorce his wife, leaving them free to relocate to Meredith, NH.  It was determined that the victim had been shot through a small crevice in the outside wall and that the rifle found near the body was Williams’.

While being held in the Chelsea jail, Williams gave separate confessions to two private detectives acting as inmates. He said that Anna had tried to poison her husband prior to asking him to shoot Joseph. He added that Anna had asked him to bring his rifle to the farm and that she was the actual shooter.

After Anna was arrested, the grand jury indicted both on first degree murder. Separate trials were scheduled. Williams’ trial was held during two of the hottest weeks in July. Despite that, the Orange County courtroom was filled to overflow capacity daily. In addition to the known details, the prosecution brought out the fact that Anna was “in a delicate position” with Otis’ child.

The jury found Williams guilty of second degree murder because, while not actually shooting the victim, “he had known the facts of the crime.” He was given a sentence of life imprisonment.
Anna Felch’s trial was not held until June 1917. She had been held in the jail across the road from the Orange County court house and during that time her infant daughter was born.

As with Williams’ trial, impaneling a jury was difficult because of the widespread publicity and interest. The prosecution introduced witnesses that testified to Anna’s apparent lack of grief over the death of her husband. Otis took the stand to testify to their relationship and plans. Anna took the stand in her own defense and was “emphatic in repudiating” the charges against her. 

After only four hours of deliberation, the all-male jury returned a verdict of not guilty. A “wave of revulsion” in both the lawyers for the state and the community at large, led the prosecution to appeal the verdict to the Vermont Supreme Court. Anna was remanded to jail awaiting that appeal.

This was the first time that a case had come to the Supreme Court following the acquittal of a defendant in a murder trial. The Court ordered a retrial. It was later determined that such a trial would constitute double jeopardy and, that further, the Supreme Court had acted beyond its jurisdiction.
The debate continued both in the courts and in the Vermont Legislature during which time Anna had remarried and had a second child born in jail.  In June 1919, Anna was released, a free woman.  Otis Williams was granted a parole in 1924 and in 1946 he received a full pardon from Governor Mortimer Proctor.
 An individual who commits murder while mentally deranged creates a problem for the judicial system. Although the policy for dealing with the insane differed between the two states, individuals who were determined to
 be insane were not always held criminally liable.

 State mental asylums that opened in Vermont in 1836 and in New Hampshire in 1840 provided assistance for those individuals who were mentally ill and violent. This led to a decline in both spousal and family murders. It is generally true that juries are reluctant to accept a plea of insanity. What follows are two cases in which mental illness played a role.

On Feb 19, 1880, Aaron Ferin attacked and killed another aged pauper at Corinth’s poor farm. Newspaper reports described the following: Just after breakfast, Ferin asked where the sharp ax was. After sharpening it further, “He, by a stealthy movement, advanced upon William Terrill, 79, killing him with a single blow.” By the time the farm overseer arrived, Ferin was found on his bed having cut himself and bled to death.

 At the farm Ferin had often talked of visions or dreams about murder and death. He thought he was insane and  that the overseer’s wife was paying more attention to Terrill than to himself.

On Sept 30, 1904, Laura Wilkins of Wentworth was found dead in bed, her head crushed with an axe. Her husband William Henry Wilkins was missing. The selectmen offered a $200 reward. On Oct 4, Wilkins turned himself in, stating that he was tired of wandering around the nearby forest, surviving on berries. He believed that he “must just as well face the music now as at any time,” but repeatedly stated the murder was justified.

Wilkins was held in jail in Woodsville until brought before the county court at Lebanon the following November. At that time, he was sentenced to the state prison for an indefinite period after the government accepted a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The presiding judge explained the sentence was not a punishment, but rather a way to keep the public safe.

 Each of the above cases turned on its special circumstances. Added to the actual events are questions about guilt and punishment as well as the role of law enforcement and the courts.

Murder has an impact on the individuals directly involved and on the community at large. Murder disrupts the community, often dividing it into factions. Some of the cases mentioned above were covered by the press in great detail and sometimes the coverage was “intense and lurid.” As in the case of Frank Almy, mentioned in the previous column, the public was so inflamed that 1,000 armed men joined in the search for the accused and called for his lynching. 

That coverage, as well as community gossip, draws people to the crime scene and to the trial. In 1880, the death of William Terrill at Corinth’s poor farm brought the following reaction: “There was great excitement in Corinth and adjoining towns and hundreds flocked to the scene of the tragedy during the day and the next forenoon.” 

This is the same morbid interest that brought so many thousands to watch public hangings in Haverhill, Portsmouth and Burlington before that practice was halted in both states.
Part three of this series will be published in May and  will involves cases of homicide  in which no one was found guilty or in which it was determined that no crime had actually been committed..