West Island Spyglass ♦ A Look Back
A Community Service provided by
An adventure in co-operative effort was launched on West Island, off Sconticut Neck, Fairhaven, when the Rev. Charles A. Wyman, president of the West Island Improvement Association, and G. Brooks Sayles, officially broke ground for a community house.
J. Stewart MacNamara has surveyed the plot and staked the building. Plans were drawn by architect Clarence Pratt. Construction began immediately.
Time and labor for wiring the community house will contributed by an electrical contractor on the island, two resident plumbers will do the work of installing the plumbing, and many other residents have volunteered their services for construction. There are 180 homes on the island and 90 percent of the residents are members of the association.
With more than 300 children and young people on the island, a community house has become a growing necessity as a place for indoor meetings and as a central gathering place for for programs for the youth of the community. The association has provided extensive lifeguard facilities for the last two years.
Mr. Wyman, president of the association for three years said, "This united effort to provide a place where programs of an educational nature, as well as just plain fun, can be held is but an expression of the spirit of the co-operation and neighborliness which has been growing on the island since the inception of association.
" In A world where there is so much selfish thought, this beginning of a community house to be built by our own efforts, with neighbor working beside neighbor to accomplish the plan, it is a small bright spot to which we all can look to find an answer to most of the world problems today.
"The Christian principle of not just living and letting live, but of living and helping others to live, as our forefathers did, is here expressed. With this spirit I dare say that five years from now we shall have a sizable community of permanent residents who will make all proud to be part of this beautiful spot.
Words of wisdom from West Island. The plaque (above) says it all: "If you're so damn smart...Why ain't you RICH?" This old plaque was given to MLBaron by an elderly neighbor 40 years ago. The plaque appears to have been hand made and nicely illustrated by someone on the island in the 1960's. It is signed West Island, Fairhaven, Mass. The artist unknown.
MUGS, STEINS, POST CARDS, APPAREL HATS, CAPS AND EVERYTHING WEST ISLAND. WE SHIP WITHIN 24HRS.
DID YOU KNOW.........?
Roger Chartier's Island Memories:
"My Grandparents Ovide and Stella Chartier had lived at 172 Cottonwood street since the late 1940's they are gone now. So I grew up visiting out there. I learned to swim at the small beach to the North of the causeway just when you get onto the island. My grandfather Ovide Chartier was the president of the West Island Association for a while.
I played with my band at the Community Hall on Causeway rd back in the 60's. I have a fond affection for the island. Just sayin' Did you know that at one time the addresses for houses on that street changed numbers? My grandparents were at a lower numbered address then it got changed by whatever local authorities to 172 Cottonwood St."
Roger is well known for his Sea Shanties
This small white building near the Association Hall once was a great little restaurant and ice cream shop. You could also get a pizza that could rival anything from the mainland. This was a favorite stop for islanders and visitors alike. It closed in the early 1970's. Recently some pizza ovens were seen being removed from the building. Carol Lee D'Alessandro, past island resident recalls her memories; "My grandmother and my Uncle George along with the man that owned Thad's Restaurant ran the luncheonette at the top of the hill on the corner of Ebony St. Both my grandparents had cottages on WI - one on Balsam St still owned by my aunt and the other (that was sold a few years ago) and the first cottage on Ebony St right side 1st house on the left. My grandfather had painted a picture that hung in earl's Marina for years. I remember when the causeway was a wooden bridge! And WI is where my parents met. (Though that didn't work out so well) ahhh, the memories!"
THEN AND NOW:
A typical West Island cottage built by it's owner in the late 1950's still stands today at 137 Balsam Street. These cottages where built with simplicity in mind. Although small, the living room was the most spacious with plenty of windows for ocean views and letting in the cool sea breezes during the hot Summer months. Most of these little summer getaways had minimal bathrooms with a shower hook up outside in the back or side of the building. Running hot water, telephone service or other utilities was unheard of in the early days of the island's development. The luxury of a television set was feasible with an outside TV antenna in which the island had excellent reception. Some cottages still use an outside TV antenna to this day in lieu of cable TV. Vintage 1963 photos above courtesy of Holly Hobson Lemieux - who's grandfather built the cottage in which she resides today (photo above - lower right) along with her husband Jean Paul Lemieux.
AND ACROSS THE STREET.....
This small cottage was once a "Superette" a small family operated grocery store which was open into the mid 1960's. The store which was painted green, was located at the northwest corner of Causeway Rd and Ebony St. which is now a private residence.
Below is part of a Standard-times news article referring to the establishments as early as June 1952:
"Originally it (West Island) had it's own private but unreliable and somewhat expensive power plant. Today it is served by the New Bedford Gas and Edison Light Company. Telephone connections are available to all and the island has it's own restaurant and market and regular milk deliveries."
The entrance path to the West Island State Reservation on Fir St. was once known as the "dump-road". About 300 yards down before a sharp turn to the left there is a cavity still visible approximately sixty by sixty feet., on the right hand side. This was where islanders dumped their trash before the town had trash pickup to the island in the late 1960's. There was a small bulldozer stationed inside a garage at 42 Causeway Rd. This tractor would be used to push the trash into the hole. At one point-almost "anything and everything" was dumped down the path., including waste from the mainland including alleged industrial wastes "in drums" being hauled in on flatbed trucks. It was a period in time were strict disposal regulations hadn't been put in place. The practice was wide spread. There are also many lots on the island (especially the north side) that were filled in with demolition material from factories and buildings during New Bedfords urban renewal projects in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
Summer and year round residents of West Island, Fairhaven deprived of electric power for more than a week while the fate of West Island Power, Inc. rested in the hands of Suffolk County Superior Court, discarded their candles and oil lamps at 11a.m. Sunday.
The tiny diesel power plant which is the sole source of electricity for most of the island?s 180 home owners was returned to 24 hour operation under the direction of S. Emory Bentley, New Bedford attorney, appointed temporary receiver of the company last Thursday by Judge Felix Forte.
Copies of the court decree were served Saturday on Avery C. Small of Fairhaven, president and general manager of the firm, and his wife Mrs. Eugenie Small, clerk. Company records and the key to the plant were turned over to Mr. Bentley at 5 p.m. Saturday and temporary repairs to the two diesel generators were completed by 2:30 the following morning with the aid of a diesel mechanic and an electrician.
Mr. Bentley?s appointment was on a bill in equity brought by John G. Buttrick of Concord, treasurer of the corporation: Charles P. White of Boston, a director and Fairhaven Estates, Inc. West Island realty firm. Petitioners claim the company is insolvent and asked that it be dissolved. They stated that funds are available for operation of the power plant by a receiver until Dec. 1, when the New Bedford Gas and Edison Electric Light Company is expected to extend service to the island.
Whether or not the receivership will continue in force until distribution of power on the island is taken over by the New Bedford firm will be determined next Monday, when the decree will come up for review before Judge Forte. Respondents in the bill in equity will be heard at that time.
March 17, 1946
Where Vikings, Indians and
By JOHN FLANAGAN
No beachcombers have gathered driftwood from her sandy white shores, no artist has set his easel to paint the glitter of the setting sun on her marshy woodland, but running tides have washed wave of legend upon the beaches of peaceful West Island. Relics and bone of Indians, first settlers lie buried beneath the swampy sod of her uninhabited soil, while tales, which date back to the Norsemen, are woven into the unrelated history of the tiny isle. Not more than 5 miles away a busy New Bedford sends out the din of her daily business and social whirl. Not more than 2 miles away, a more peaceful Fairhaven carries out her day's routine. Less than 1,600 feet away the laughter of children, the noise of the farmer's saw, sickle and plow create a din of progressive activity on Sconticut Neck.
However, nothing more than the gentle spill of salt foamy breakers upon her barren shores disturbs the solitude of the tranquil isle. Soon the quiet of this little island will be a thing of the past. Carpenter and mason, bricklayer and road maker will convert into a colony of Summer homes to be known as the Fairhaven Estates. Soon gay beach parties will drown out the sonorous splash of the breaking waters and people once again will inhabit her wooded slopes. That will put an end to a maze of transactions which has seen this tiny island a buffet of land courts and registries since the time of it's Indian owners, Wesamequen (better known in history as Massasoit) and his son Wamsutta. However the new stage into which West Island passes will obliterate the saga of its almost fantastic history. It was back in 1650 that recorded legend gives up its first tale about West Island. Long before then the Norsemen, also known as Vikings, led by Leif Ericsson was supposed to have sailed the waters of Buzzards Bay. That was about the year 1000 A.D. They put in on many shores to gather booty, food and grapes. Among their stopping points may have been the beaches of West Island and Sconticut Neck.
Sold By Indians
Whether it was before or after the visit of the Vikings that the Indians took possession of West Island and surrounding areas, history does not state specifically. However, according to legend on Nov. 29, 1653 Wesamequen (Massasoit) and his son, Wamsutta sold a grant of land including the island to the colonists. In return the colonists were supposed to have given the Indian owners 20 yards of cloth, eight moccasins, eight blankets, 15 axes, 15 hoes, 15 pairs of breeches, two kettles, one cloak and 10 shillings in other commodity. This is in direct contrast to another tale in which old seafaring men relate that the Indians sold West Island to a man named West for a jug of rum or a horse saddle. However, history has it that in 1664 the township of Dartmouth was incorporated and included in the area was the present town of Westport, then known as Coaksett, along with New Bedford, Fairhaven (including West Island) and Acushnet. The latter three then were called Achusens. In 1787 the Town of New Bedford was incorporated including in its area Fairhaven and Acushnet. West Island at that time came under the jurisdiction of New Bedford. In 1819, when political feeling ran high, the Jeffersonian democrats of Fairhaven, derivatively called Corsicans, effected a division of the township of New Bedford and Fairhaven, including the present town of Acushnet, was incorporated.
Included in Fairhaven
West Island since that time has remained under the jurisdiction of Fairhaven. The last hold any other town ever had on the island passed in 1860 when Fairhaven and Acushnet were divided into their present respective areas. However, while West Island was included in the various area townships numerous mention of her name can be found in history linked with various epic events. In 1675 the little island did not escape the ravages of King Phillip's War which saw many killed and homes laid waste in the town of Dartmouth. Perhaps the greatest claim to fame in war annals, however came on May 14, 1775. Legend and piecemeal history has it that the first naval battle of the Revolution was fought off the shores of the tiny island. Lieutenant Nathaniel Pope and Captain Daniel Egery, this story goes, commanding the sloop success captured two tenders of the British sloop of war Falcon off the shores of West Island. A rusty swivel gun, lashed to a timberhead, was the only carriage weapon on board the craft. The tale is related that the men on the Success made their attack more potent by adding two or three buckshot to each charge of their muskets.
British Soldiers Captured
Legend and history differ as to the number of prisoners taken during the battle. Regarded as the first naval capture of the Revolution, some accounts say 15 British sailors were taken prisoners. Other accounts give the names of only four. However more persistent reports are that 27 prisoners of war were taken and sent to Taunton for disposition. Also, it is reported that other British warships landed parties at West Island. According to legend, the British believed that sheep were grazing on the island and wanted the cattle for food. Another story is that during the time of the siege by the British, the Red Coats moved from Clarks Cove, around the shores, which now houses Fort Phoenix, taking possession of what they wished. There is one report of the British easily overtaking Fort Phoenix. Another says they met stubborn resistance from a group commanded by a Major Fearing. It is also said that troops from this group set up a Garrison on West Island and when the Red Coats swept onto that side of the shore, drove them back into the sea. Many of the reports have been inaccurate; many have been figments of the imaginations of seafaring men. But even though no record of the sale of West Island by the Indians for a jug of rum can be found, it is almost certain that a man named West was the first white owner.
Old Records Traced
We've traced actual ownership through in the Registry of Deeds office back to 1832. In that year a man named Joseph Kinney and his wife, Experience, from Westmoreland, N.Y. and Nehemiah West were the owners. From this year back, however it is almost impossible to trace the ownership history. At that the transfer or sale of the property was merely recorded as a "tract of land in Fairhaven." Unquestionably, judging from records, the original colonist to purchase the island was either Bartholomew, John or Isaih West. Since that time there have been frequent change of ownership, a series of planned developments and innumerable legal entanglements involving the island. The first accurate record that Nehemiah obtained the property from Stephen West. Stephen previously had inherited it from his father Samuel. Evidently Samuel had inherited the island from one of his earlier ancestors.
United on Deed
At the time Nehemiah's ownership was recorded in 1832, the Kinney's owned Long Island. Long Island, which lies west of West Island and Gull Island, which lies west of West Island, years later were unified with West Island on the deed. In 1880 however, Squire G. Crapo became a part owner of West Island. In 1867, Henry Akin purchased Long Island. In 1880, Nehemiah West became part owner of West Island and full owner of Gull Island. In 1893, Pardon Nye purchased part interest in West Island, as did George W. Nye in 1885. Anthony V. DeCosta of New Bedford purchased all three islands in 1886 and had the three registered in one deed. In the same year he sold the property to Horace S. Crowell of Marlboro. On Aug18, 1886 Crowell sold the island to Wilbur S. Peele. No changes of ownership were recorded during the next 17 years, but on Aug. 1, 1903 Lewis Biersman and his wife Emma of St. Louis became the owners. Henry Semple Ames, an unmarried man of St. Louis was the next owner, but in 1919 he sold the property to Frank C. Ball, also of St. Louis.
Photo Caption: Rich in legend and history is West Island, shown in the large upper photo, which has been renamed Fairhaven Estates and is the site for a $1,000,000 land and housing development project of the Fairhaven Estates Corporation. Arthur F. Gobron (left) organizer of the corporation , is shown in conference with Frank Linhares, who has the contract for the construction project.
The home of the late Captain John T. Besse. The only house now on the island, is said to be more than 150 years old.
A Boston land development company with offices on Washington St. in that city purchased the property on Jan29, 1926 but it returned to Ball's ownership Sept. 26, 1927. Clyde Powell of St. Louis was the next owner, the deed being recorded May 23, 1929. Later in the same year the property was sold to Birch O. Mahaffey also of St. Louis. In 120 the Fairhaven West Island Company of St. Louis purchased the property and has held it to this year. Officers of the company listed on the deed are K. McB. Kelley, president; Merle Becker, vice president; E. R. Christman, treasurer and R.D. Fitzgibbon, secretary. Although activities carried on by these various owners are not available in records, veteran residents of Fairhaven can recall a causeway being built across the waters from the mainland, crossing Long Island, and extending to West Island. Breakwaters protecting the causeway were constructed. Rocks still stand in the water as evidence of this work, old-timers say. They also recall former elaborate plans of land development companied for Summer colonies on the island. The name of an unidentified Mississippi Valley trust company is linked with ownership of the island by the old salts.
Money is RefundedAlso, the story is told of one land development agency selling house lots to individual purchasers. However, the company reportedly went bankrupt and had to return all the money to the purchasers. The story is told of how this company sold portions of the island that were underwater. Only the poor spots and marshland were sold at first, the owner keeping the better land at the southern end of the island for future sales inducement, the tale goes. George M. Mclane of 91 Main St, Fairhaven, caretaker of the island since 1915, recalls stories told him about the island by the late Captain John T. Besse. Captain Besse was caretaker of the island during the days Mr. Crowell owned it. Mr. McLane says there used to be 2 farms on the island. In fact Mrs. McLane's grandmother, daughter of the late Captain Joshua Grinnell, was born in one of the farmhouses. Three families once lived on the island. They raised vegetables and grazed their cattle, Mr. McLane says. In more recent years the federal Government took possession of a 14-acre tract on the south end of the island and set up a lighthouse. During the War, Navy barracks were built up on the government property. The barracks were removed and today only the lighthouse, still in operation, stands on the tip of the land. The only other remnant of former life is the old homestead of Captain Besse. The house, nearly 200 years old, is located on the west side, clearly visible from the mainland. Recently it was shingled and still is in livable condition according to Mr. McLane. New faces, new life soon may come to this picturesque spot off Fairhaven's coastline, but the memories which have been built on its tranquil silence of ebbing tides never will drift from the memories of men or the pages of history. It will always regarded as "quiet little West Island".
WEST ISLAND LOOKING WEST, SCONTICUT NECK IN THE BACKGROUND JUNE 1946
May 25, 1886
The Draw in West Island Bridge.
THE HARBOR COMMISSIONERS DO NOT REQUIRE IT.
The Harbor and Land Commissioners,Messr. John E. Sanford, John I. Baker and J.K. Baker, have made the following decision in the matter of the petition of D.C. Potter and others for a drawer in the causeway building by Horace S. Crowell, between Long and West Islands, Fairhaven.
This causeway was especially authorized by chapter 298 of the acts of 1885, which provided that the causeway should be built with or without a draw as this board should determine.
When application was made to this board to approve and license the plans for the causeway, it appeared that the legislative committee who reported the special act aforesaid had advertised notice of the hear-ing to be had afore it upon the petition for the causeway, and that committee, or before in the legislature, to oppose the causeway or to ask for a draw.
This board gave to the selectman of Fairhaven the notice required by law of the time and place fixed for a hearing before it upon the plans of the causeway, and before the day assigned for the hearing, the board visited and examined, in company with the councilor and senator of the district, the site of the proposed causeway and the waters in the vicinity. The facts relating the this visit by the board and the purpose of it were fully reported in the news columns of the New Bedford newspapers giving probably as effectual notice to the public of the pendancy of this matter as any advertising could afford.
At the subsequent hearing of this board in Boston, no person appeared to ask for a draw, nor did the board before deciding upon the plans receive from any quarter a suggestion that the convenience and necessity of the public, or individuals, required a draw, and the investigations of the board, including the examinations and study by the aid of charts of the depth and character of the channel to be crossed by the causeway, and its relation to other navigable waters, did not seem to indicate that was of such importance to navigation as to require a draw for the passage of vessels or boats through it. The board accordingly Aug. 13, 1885, prescribed and approved plans for building the causeway without a draw, but with a clear opening of 30 feet in width spanned by a bridge with a clear height of 5 1/2 feet above mean high water. This opening is at or near the deepest water of the channel and will afford simple facilities for passage of all craft without masts.
Some seven or eight months after this action by the board petitions signed by residents of Fairhaven, New Bedford, Bourne, Mattapoisett and Marion, describing themselves as "fisherman, yachtsman and others" have been presented to the board, asking that a large, commodious and convenient draw may be required in the causeway in question. It may be stated that some of these petitioners have since in writing or verbally withdrawn their names from these petitions, upon the ground that they signed inadvertently or without knowledge of a facts. petitions, upon the ground that they signed inadvertently or without knowledge of a facts.
It appears that Mr. Crowell, the licensee, at the time of the filing of these petitions had made his contract for building of the causeway, and has made considerable progress in the construction of the causeway. He does not waive, but expressly reserves, the question whether the board now has the power to reconsider its former action, and engineer of the board made a few days previously, it appears the channel between Long and West Islands is a somewhat rocky and circuitous, but affords passage for those familiar with it for yachts and boats drawing up to 3 1/2 to four feet of water at mean low tide; and that in certain conditions of wind and tide, this passage, though not shorter, is preferred to the course outside West Island in the open bay. It does not appear that this passage is used, to any considerable extent for business or commerce, or evens by fisherman; but that its chief use is for pleasure boating and yachting during the summer season. This is a legitimate use of the tide waters, and tide waters that admit of pleasure boating are in the eye of the law to all intents navigable waters, and entitled to full protection as such; but it is competent for the legislature to authorize the construction of navigable waters, if and to such extent as, it deems the greater public interest may require.
This causeway is only part of a feature of a large enterprise, by which it is intended to make West Island, containing 800 acres of land, available for improvement and residence, and for the use and enjoyment of many persons. It is claimed that this scheme, if carried out, will not only develop the island, but the mainland on Sconticut Neck, and will add considerably to the valuation of real estate in the town of Fairhaven, and the town has recognized the importance of the enterprise by the appropriation for the improvement of the public road on Sconticut Neck, of which this causeway will be practically an extension to West Island. Now if this enterprise can be carried out and succeeds, there can be little doubt that that the interests and convenience of those owning property on Long and West Islands, and the mainland to its vicinity, will soon require and will soon supply the means for the maintenance of a draw for the causeway. If the enterprise does not succeed, the causeway will probably not be maintained for any length of time and will not continue to obstruct navigation.
Without intending to intimate that the decision of this board would have been different in respect to the requirement of a draw, we cannot acquit the petitioners of some negligence in failing to make their views and intents available to the legislature and this board. The cost of building and maintaining and opening a draw would be considerable, and the requirement of a draw would have been a serious objection, if not a fatal discouragement, to the undertaking of the causeway. It would seem to be a hardship if not an injustice, to now object to the promoters of the enterprise, to a burden and an expense from which they supposed themselves exempt and which they did not contemplate when they entered upon its execution. We do no think, therefore, that while we regret that the petitioners should be subjected to any inconvenience, however slight or temporary, that it is unreasonable for them to await, under the present circumstances, the further development of this enterprise and, while we do not underestimate the importance of the interests of navigation involved, we do not think they are of such magnitude to require or justify, under the circumstances, the interposition of the board.
New Bedford Evening Standard
June 21, 1922.
STARVING CASTAWAY BABBLES
AND CHORTLES IN COURTROOM
Flotsam of Sea Mumbles Frequently
and Tells Weird Tales
Man Who Ate Grass on Island Turned
Over to Chaplain Thurber
Truly weary and worn and "one more unfortunate," as Judge Milliken said in Third District Court this morning, Ormund Erikson, a starved, demented sailor, who was found eating grass on West Island, was given into the kindly hands of Chaplain S. Thurber of the Mariners Home after the court discharged him on a vagrancy count.
This noon the chaplain gave the castaway a square meal and arrayed him in clean garments at the Mariners Home. Then Mr. Thurber and his son, Wesley, started for Boston, with Erikson, by automobile. There the wanderer will be placed in one of the larger sailor havens, and it is hoped he will recover enough to tell who he is and how he came to West Island.
Before he left, the sea waif inquired in bewilderment, what place he was and what kind of a city was where a man could get food and clothing without paying for it? "I never knew anything like it before," he said. "Oh no, I don?t want to go to the Seaman?s Home," he mumbled when asked by Court Officer Parkinson if he wanted to be turned over to Mr. Thurber, who would give him a bed, good food and clothes. "That would be too fine for me." And he said something about washing dishes or "working on a farm."
Although many more mysterious and pitiful things have come from the sea, there has been nothing stranger or more pitiable than the mystery sailor and his mystery craft, swept into Buzzards Bay, it is believed, by the Southeast storm of last Sunday.
The patchwork craft can scarcely be called a boat, for it was made by himself, in Tarrytown, New York, the man has muttered, of boxboards and stray pieces of lumber and daylight can be seen through it most anywhere. It is about thirty-five feet long, but only four feet wide, open like a whaleboat, except for a few boards nailed across one end, which served as a cabin. It had holes for the mast, but no masts in it, only a stick for a jury mast about six feet high, rigged with the remnants of a shirt.
"That's not a boat, that's a coffin," Constable Walter H. Francis of Fairhaven, who was called to West Island to see the man, remarked.
Aboard it, as it lay high and dry at low tide on Crescent Beach, on the southeast side of the island yesterday afternoon, there were no identifying marks that could be discovered.
Aboard it there was no food, except a can of peanut butter, into which the salt water had swept bits of cork and other debris, a can of molded flour and a can of rotten potatoes and carrots.
The can of peanut butter showed traces of finger marks, where the man, with his bare hands, had clawed out handfuls of the contents.
Those who have seen the boat agree that Erikson, the name the castaway goes by, must have been demented before he put to sea in such a craft. This morning he proved a volauble talker, but little could be made from what he babbled, and that little, when compared did not agree.
He told Probation Officer Edward A. Dewolf, who questioned him in the court dock, that he had left New York to go to Portland, Maine to see his wife and family. He said he had planned to go through the Cape Cod Canal, despite the fact that he had no money to pay tolls. But he had previously told Constable Francis that he was single and he had no near relatives. The only folks he had, he said, were in Norway. He told Mr. Egbert that he had a father and mother in Seattle, Washington.
This morning he bobbed up and down in the court dock and occasionally broke forth with weird babblings. Now and then he laughed. Court Officer Parkinson had to quiet him several times.
He is 43 according to himself and is a man of slight build. He is emaciated and his eyes are red rimmed. His black hair is closely cropped. He has a ragged, reddish beard and moustache. His eyes are blue, his ears are rather particularly pointed.
He wore a once black frock coat, a black undershirt, two pairs of trousers, which together do not make one whole pair, and two pairs of shoes, the outer pair huge for his size, shot full of holes, which revealed gray socks.
After he had been fed at the Fairhaven Town Hall last evening by janitor Seth Hiller, he spent last night at police headquarters, where he was booked on a charge of vagrancy, until it was determined what should be done with him. He willingly submitted to an arrest, when assured that he would be given something to eat.
Monday morning, Egbert, whose winter home is in Saint Louis, Missouri, but summers on West Island, which he largely owns, was informed by three boys that a crazy man was down on the beach. When he neared the beach, he said he saw Erikson tugging two boards down to his boat, which was fast in the sand.
"When he saw me," Egbert said, "he took a small board and started to dig, like mad, in the sand, as though he was trying to dig his boat out and float it."
I noticed that he was chewing grass, and asked him if he was hungry, and offered to get him some food from the house."
"No, I've got plenty aboard the ship," the man replied, "I just want to get my ship floated, so that I can get away with the tide."
Mr. Egbert had a small motor boat, which he had reached the mainland, but yesterday morning he noticed that it was gone. Believing the weird stranger might know something about it he telephoned Constable Francis.
When Constable Francis with Special Policeman Edward Mello, went to the island about three yesterday afternoon the pitiable condition of the man was revealed. When the Constable went aboard the flimsy boat at high tide the castaway was baling desperately, but the water was rushing in through the many holes faster than he was throwing it out. No trace of the missing motor boat was found nor could the castaway enlighten the constable about it.
In dozens of places along the hull of the sea waifs boat there were pieces of zinc and tin that had been tacked over holes. There was no skiff in the boat. There were piles of rocks in the bottom for ballast. The anchor was a five-gallon kerosene can, weighted and made fast with pieces of linoleum twisted together for a cable. The bunk on which the man had been sleeping was partially under water, where the vessel listed. The bunk was only a couple of planks.
The wrecked mariner's clothes were soggy with water, his eyes were bloodshed and he was black with dirt. He admitted later that he had not taken a bath in six months. When Mr. Egbert saw him in the dock at the court this morning, after he had been washed, he did not recognize him.
He babbled incoherently and all the constable was able to get from him was that his name was Esmond Erikson a and he gave his address as "the water." He said he hadn't worked for two years and he had no money. Constable Francis believes, although hardly believable, that the castaway had been drifting about here and there in the boat and going ashore when a storm threatened the unseaworthy makeshift craft.
An occasional word indicated that he had been a sailor since he was sixteen, most of the time a fisherman and that he had sailed over much of the world. He had said he built "his ship" at Tarrytown, New York. The constable offered to have him sent to a farm, having the State Farm at Bridgewater, in mind, where he would be given care and a chance to recover, mentally and bodily. The man eagerly welcomed the chance, and as soon as Francis said food, he was ready to accompany him anywhere. Constable Francis believes that the mention of a farm is responsible for the subsequent babblings of a farm.
At the Town Hall, where Mr. Miller before he fed him in the Police station, was obliged to open all the windows, he ate everything that Mr. Miller was able to bring him. "He couldn't get it down fast enough," the janitor said. "I actually was afraid he would that he was going to eat everything, plates and all."
The castaway in court this morning did not at all comprehend the proceedings. When Clerk of Court Mitchell asked him to plead to the charge of being a vagrant since May 1, he burst forth, "I built it myself, I came down from Tarrytown."
After several futile attempts Judge Milliken ordered a plea of not guilty to be entered for him. He was then left sitting bolt upright in the dock until the other cases were disposed of. Constable Francis, Special Officer Mello, and Mr. Egbert told from the witness stand of how they had found the man and his patchwork craft.
"What are your plans for the future," the court asked?
"The wind was driving and the boat was leaking," Erikson replied. "I laid on the deck. I just kept bailing. I had no oars."
"No! No! Have you any relatives? Any relations living anywhere?"
"Yes, in the state of Washington," he answered.
"What do you want to do? Do you want to ship aboard a ship after you have recovered?"
The defendant said something about a farm again, and the court gave up the attempt to question him. Judge Milliken ordered Court Officer Parkinson to notify Mr. Thurber at the Mariner's Home on Johnny Cake Hill and ask him to come to the court to see if he could offer any solution as to what to do with the demented sailor.
Mr. Thurber, when he arrived a short time later, said that he would try to care for the castaway, temporarily at the Mariners Home and then transfer him to a Sailors Home in Boston. He said that it was customary to transfer unfortunates sailors to one of the larger homes in Boston where he would be cared for until he was sufficiently recovered to go on his way.
At first the Chaplain planned to send Erikson to Boston with a letter of introduction, but when he realized that he was not fit to travel by himself and said he would probably accompany him to Boston.
In case the stranded sailor does not his mental balance, he will, in all probability, never sail away from West Island in the strange craft, for it is resting far up the beach and will undoubtedly stay there until it is pounded to pieces. Constable Francis could discover no papers, nor any name on the boat yesterday afternoon, and believed it will be impossible to discover the castaway's identity and homeport from any search of the wreck.
Unless Erikson, with good care and food, recovers sufficiently or relatives or friends learn of his story the strange mariner and his stranger boat, may remain as unexplained mystery of the sea.
New Bedford Evening Standard
June 22, 1922.
MYSTERIOUS MARINER OF WEST ISLAND
IS SEEKING JOB TODAY
Castaway, Cleaned and Fed in
Much Better Shape Now
(Special to the Standard) June 22
Osmund Erikson, mysterious mariner, who was skipper, cook and crew of the decrepit vessel which washed up on West Island Tuesday, was doing the rounds of the waterfront here today looking for a job.
Erikson was brought to the Seaman?s Rest Society haven here yesterday by Chaplain Charles Thurber of the New Bedford Seamen's Bethel. He had been found munching grass along side his crazy craft, nearly starved and apparently mentally unbalanced as a result of the privations suffered from a voyage he said he made from New York. Upon his arrival in Boston yesterday, he immediately set out to look for work, but returned in the evening unsuccessful. He was given a shave, bath and a good supper and put to bed but bright and early this morning he was up, had a good breakfast and was off in quest of a billet again.
Authorities at the home said he was much improved, physically and mentally since his arrival, but would not talk about himself or his family.
It Might Have Sailed.
"It might have sailed."
Such was the verdict of one person who on a visit to West Island, viewed the craft, which brought to that strip of land surrounded by waters, the weird sea waif, now know in the annals of Third District Court as the "West Island Castaway."
The boat itself, well that's another matter. According to those who have seen it, there probably isn't another like it in the wide, wide world.
Homemade, it certainly, is or was whatever tense you desire. It's builder, owner and skipper, in one constructed it apparently out of box boards, and a whaling boat must have been his model. There was no floor. Pieces of tin and zinc plastered its sides in various forms and shapes, a coat of tar had been given and its numerous cracks and crevices had been plugged with bits of rope. The mast was still a cedar tree, with its bark stripped off, and the lonesome voyager, probably nailed the remnants of his rigs sail to it, for no halyards could be seen.
Inside the boat was a number of stones, apparently used for ballast and these stones bore mute evidence that the voyager had built his fire upon them.
Both ends of the boat were rounded, following the styles of the whaleboats, and on one end was erected a crude shelter. In this there was no floor either, but a shelf was there and crude coffeepot and a frying pan. It contained a crude bunk. For a stovepipe there was a tin pail.
A crude rudder also was in place.
And in view of all of this, one person still has said, "It might have sailed."
New Bedford Evening Standard
June 23, 1922.
HEART BROKEN MOTHER HOPES MYSTERY
MAN IS ONE OF HER SONS
Both Believed Lost in Shipwreck
-See Details of West Island Castaway.
New Bedford mystery man Ormund Erikson, who with his un-seaworthy craft, was washed up on the shores of West Island, and was later turned over to Chaplain Charles S. Thurber of the Mariner's Home after he had been discharged by Judge Milliken on a vagrancy charge was the subject this morning of a letter received by Mayor Remington from Israel F. Fischer, a United States appraiser of New York. In the letter Mr. Fischer said that he was inquiring of the mans present whereabouts and the fullest information regarding him because a mother who had lost both of her sons in a ship wreck and lives in the hope that the sailor washed up on the shores here might possibly be one of her missing boys.
The letter received by the Mayor within which was enclosed a clipping of the finding of the demented sailor here.
"I enclose here with a newspaper clipping of regarding the finding of a demented sailor on West Island and would kindly ask that I be supplied with the fullest and most detailed information available concerning the subject."
"My interest in the matter is due to a most heart rendering appeal of a mother who lost her two sons, presumably in a shipwreck. Although she parted with them nearly two years ago, the deep anguish and grief over this distracted mother has aroused sympathetic interest in the community in which she lives. The sadness of which her two boys went out of her life and the complete absence of the slightest clue to their fate has almost unbalanced her reason and she spends both day and might searching and praying for some clue to her loved ones.
I know that you will appreciate the overwhelming tragedy to this devoted mother's life and that you will lose no time in granting this request, since her heart will be torn with anxiety until she has exhausted this forlorn hope that it might be one of her boys. You will earn her undying gratitude by giving me all of the details at the earliest possible time.
Mystery Man Leaves Boston Mariners Home
(Special to the Standard) Boston June 23-
The name of Osmond Erikson, port unknown did not appear on the register of the Seaman's Friend Society Home in Boston last night and the authorities of the institution are of the opinion that the skipper of the of the queer craft, which was washed up on the beach of West Island, Tuesday, has been successful in his search for a new billet. After a good nights rest, a shave and a hearty breakfast, Erikson clean shaven and neat appearing for the first time in several days, left the haven to look for work yesterday morning. He did not reappear at the sailor's home last night and it was supposed he either found a job or resumed his wanderings.
by Mabel L. Potter, 1945
When I first began some researches, a New Bedford friend said, "There isn't much, is there?" there is always history where people have lived, not necessarily of national import, but still illustrative of numberless communities which are comparable in development.
The name Sconticut is obviously Indian and was applied to the region before Dartmouth was ordered so called in 1664. As to the meaning, one guess is as good as another. The spelling as pronounced seemed simple but variations are almost legion—none improves on the original.
Sconticut is the longest peninsula making into Buzzard's Bay - 4½ miles by road from Mattapoisett Route 6—but really the true Neck begins at the Narrows a mile below this—where high tides all but cut off the lower part, and hurricanes rush across, usually stranding a house in the middle of the road. The highest elevation is just over 40 feet, and the lowest scarcely above sea level. On the west is the Acushnet, or lower New Bedford harbor, bordered by Clark's Point and the Dartmouth and the Dartmouth shores with an outlook towards Cuttyhunk and the open sea. Easterly extending to the Mattapoisett line is Nasketucket Bay and further across, the Falmouths and Woods Hole and near the Point 700 acres of the easterly West Island always closely associated with Sconticut. From the Point southerly lies the range of Elizabeth Islands, enclosing Buzzard's Bay—Naushon not more that twenty (20) miles away, so that deer have been known to swim across to the mainland.
Today the view is enhanced by the line of New Bedford lights the length of Clark's Point, besides which even the flash of Butler's Flat pales, and so dim as scarcely to be seen are the Dumpling and Hen & Chickens.
A thrill always came with the three whites and a red of Gay head, seen at selected points through Quick's Hole—alas, no more; but from the east shore Tarpoline Cove still flashes on the Vineyard Sound side of Naushon.
As in the town itself, there is an underlying granite ledge, outcropping here and there, notably at the Point, as extensive but far less bold and picturesque than at Fort Phoenix.
Geologically this region was the southern limit of Arctic glaciers which ploughed our the harbors and brought a mass of boulders with which much of land was over laid—still seen in uncharted pastures and the wealth of stone walls. Two of the largest rocks called the Devils and the Lean-to may be mentioned. On the first could be seen or imagined the print to a human foot, but unmistakable are the imprints of several cloven hoofs. The second tradition says, served as a support for a lean-to where was born the first white child, Lemuel Delano.
Variously, the upland extends to the beach but in the main there is a fringe of salt marshes protected by barrier beaches with slight upland. Like all the new England coast, a gradual erosion is taking place seriously accelerated by recent hurricanes of 1938, 1944 and 1954. There are numerous springs, several fresh water ponds, one larger was formerly found by the migrating wood ducks.
According to the first records, the upland was heavily wooded even the bog before the 1938 hurricane and today there are still white oaks, wild cherry and tupelo of unusual size—and cedars as gnarled and picturesque as the reported cedars of Lebanon. Botanically it is not as rich as more inland regions, yet there is still a wealth of huckleberry, beach plum, wild grape, clethra and white azalea, bayberry and inkberry, holly and sassafras and cranberry formerly. For more rare flowers, there have been fringed gentians, pitcher plant, purple geradia, rock rose, several orchids columbine and the pink mallow, half an acre of it and until entirely obliterated by a summer development.
But this is just the setting—history in terms of men and events claim present interest.
The first know occupation was by the Indians of the Wampanoag tribe. They came down from winter camps in the Middleboro woods and pond regions to the shores where in addition to hunting were abundant shell fish, ample fishing and long seasons for their staple crops, pumpkins, corn and beans.
Some stayed on Sconticut as friendly Indians and in early 1800's we find mention of a reservation. The last of the race was one Martha (Martha Simon who died in 1855) a portrait of whom hangs in The Millicent Library — is significant of the race rather than the individual. There were two burying grounds, one most obliterated; the other, on a picturesque knoll with wind-blown gnarled oak and graves marked by unlettered field stone. A New Bedford man, much later, acquired this property, capitalized on the location by naming it Wigwam Beach and building for some of the first rentable beach property hereabouts two-story-boxes as unlike wigwams as could possibly be designed, but named them Hiawatha, Nakomis, Minnehaha, Wenanoh, etc.
As early as 1630 pioneers came out from the Plymouth Colony, establishing themselves in favored spots in Cushenas, Ponogansett and Cocksett. In 1652 those lands were granted by the Colony to William Bradford and thirty -fur others with the provision that the grantees were to satisfy the Indians for the purchase thereof. And it is recorded that a number of commodities were given Massasoit and son, Wamsutta. With this recognition and assignment new settlements were encouraged though John Cook was the only one of these thirty-four to make permanent settlements.
In 1694 a new division was made, apportioning 800 acres to each of the 56 persons, and one Manassah Kempton was assigned 129 additional acres lying in Sconticut at the south-west end of said Neck. This was after a survey by Benjamin Crane (an able surveyor commissioned under Queen Anne) and this was the first mention of the Neck as Sconticut lands. The extent and changes of ownership are difficult to obtain and not overly important for this paper, but the old names, many of the original 800-acres proprietors are of more interest, Delano, Spooner, Anthony, West, Hathaway, Besse, Pope, Crapo, Fuller, Brownell, with Christian names of Manassah, Lot, Elnathan, Zoah, Resolved, Seth and Yet Seth (so named after the father said, "And yet there's room for one more Seth"), Jethro, Joshua and Ephraim.
There is no record of any buildings in the 17th century until the map under order of Viscount Howe (1776, for sounding s of the bay) which shows cleared lots and buildings thereon. So there must have been clearing of lands building of boundary walls and probably log cabins of the first settlers, but the type of wall indicates a less settled and less prosperous land-holder in the more fertile districts of Dartmouth across the river. But the wide extent of shore full of shellfish, the salt hay, the harbor for early fishing ventures all proved attractive and insured a good living if not a competence.
The first roads were the Indian trails, following the line of least resistance—the first known are from the narrows along the wooded upland adjoining the marshes on the east side. In 1731 a way was laid—about a mile straight down from the Narrows, extended another mile in 1792, always to gates and barns with a right through—and finally in 1850 as now to the Point property. It is doubtful if any money was spent thereon for many years. In winter it was often snow-bound or ice rutted, and with mud in spring, and sand in summer. I have known the time when it took the horse an hour, walking the three miles from Fairhaven centre—and I have myself when "on foot" taken to the boundary wall to avoid getting mired in the mud.
But the roads, poor though they were, stimulated building and the taking up of lands. Perhaps a fairly comprehensive picture may be gained by following several families whose settlements were most potent in the Neck up-building.
The first authentic homestead was built near the Head of the Neck by one Seth Pope who came about 1650 to Sandwich, was warned out for fear he might become a public charge—apparently the town fathers of that day were either overly cautious or lacking in any psychological foresight. Seth Pope became one of the first citizens and at one time the richest man in Dartmouth, a large property owner, which land included several hundred acres of the Upper Neck—and here were built the best stone walls. That he was a man of intelligence and judgment is attested by the fact that he was a justice of the County Court, a representative to the General Court and an officer of the Crown. Pope Beach derives its name from him and very probably Pope's Island, though I've found no record of this. Seth died in 1727 in his 79th year and is buried in the old Acushnet Cemetery at the Head of the River. He had a large family, left a farm to each son and a substantial legacy to each daughter, and we find later members of the family owning various tracts. Yet Seth, born in 1755, bought in 1795 the house which is now considered the oldest standing, a simple Cape Cod type, a central chimney with fire-place and a brick oven. It was built about 1765 and is now known as the Old Dunn house. Here in 1803 was born another Seth who became a Sea Captain, married about 1835 in London, a girl from the Isle of Wight and brought her to the old house where his mother, a widow, was still living. Evidently deciding to retire from the sea, he bought a farm and built the house which my father bought in 1879—a quite ordinary story and a half farmhouse which however lent itself to remodeling into a house of much originality and charm.
To the girl from the Isle of Wight we have been everlastingly grateful for setting the house further back from the road so she could have an "English" lawn. Here two sons were born, but the mother died when the boys were small—they were put into Gould's Academy on Alden Road and Captain Seth sold to his brother Ephraim and went to California in the Gold Rush, about 1850. He later sent for the boys who became established in Portland, Oregon. The older, Seth Louis, returned in 1910 for a visit—whence came these facts. He died in 1912.
Returning for a moment to Ephraim, he was a bachelor and sister Sarah his spinster housekeeper—one of the "poison-neat" kind. Miss Alice Fish, whom many of you knew, told of her recollections of visiting her as a child, fearful to do anything but sit quietly on a stiff parlor chair, seeing the frying pan taken to the cellar-way to turn the meat, etc. The Pope name was not carried on here, on the Neck or in the town. These two brothers were the last of the early Seth Pope family.
The farm next south of Pope's was that of Stephen West who married a daughter of John Cook, and claimed 266 acres. Here he built a large two-story house about 1700 which finally fell into decay and was not pulled down until 1895 after which the huge chimney stood as a landmark for some years. Also with this tract was included the east lying island of Mackatan which was them changed to West—but the land below the West farm was not homesteaded until after Crane's survey.
Thus, Mackatan, or West Island, for 250 years has been almost a part of the Neck. In the first purchase of Dartmouth the town line was drawn across the island, leaving the west half in Dartmouth, the east in the lands of Sippican. Doubtless this division presented problems and by act of the General Court in 1671 the entire island was included in Dartmouth and granted to John Cook. In the Plymouth records is the deed signed, "P, the mark of Philip, the Sachem," conveying in consideration of ten pounds sterling (about $50.00) "a parcel of upland and meadow lying and being in an island called Mackatan, with liberty to make yards upon for pasturing of cattle, and also for free range of cattle in winter, but to take them away about planting time." One infers the colonists clung to the idea of the softer English climate—a free range in winter would have meant neither food nor water to say nothing of freezing to death! From 1780 on, however, the seasons were reversed, young cattle were pastured in summer and the swimming across in spring and fall was a picturesque affair.
The final clause of the above deed reads, "If any Indian finds a whale within the above-mentioned premises, the said John Cook and Philip or their assigns are to divide it equally."
To continue the story of this farm on the upper Neck—how authentic I know not—one Mrs. Baker, a New Bedford widow, fell in love with a priest, one of the officials of the Boston Catholic College, and as some satisfaction to her soul proposed to buy the West farm for the College. This the priest accepted, and for many years, this tract which then included Pope Beach, was known as the Catholic Place. A large dormitory was built on the beach (Pavilion now) and occupied every summer in the middle and the late 1800's by groups of student priests. I well remember them tramping the roads and playing ball, never molesting anyone. The place was finally sold with the present small lot development, which rather tends to improve with the years.
The Delanos—though none are on the Neck at present—are the only early family who have maintained themselves and become able, influential citizens. Later than the first apportionment of shares, Philip De La Noye came to Plymouth and his son, Jonathan, was one of the 1694, 800-acre proprietors.
He married Mary Warren, had two daughters and six sons: Nathaniel, Jabes, Jonathan, Nathan, Jethro and Joshua. Jethro in 7127 married Elizabeth Pope and their child, Lemuel or Reuben (accounts vary) was the first white born in the lean-to as above mentioned. Reuben's daughter married a Besse, lived on West Island, and thus began the Besse association of Lot, Seth and John with West Island and the Point farm for 150 years.
The three last-mentioned Delano brothers, Nathan, Jethro, and Joshua, settled variously on the Neck. The Headley house, a Cape Cod type, is the only one existing and is beautifully situated at the "head of Little Bay" and is probably the second oldest on the neck today. Joshua evidently prospered as in 1742 he bought the Point farm of William Kempton, son of Manassah, and built a large house similar to the West one, long since fallen into decay. He divided his property by will into four farms, the north-east section to son Jethro, which included Shipyard Hill where was built more than one sloop. The south-east section went to son Joshua who with his wife and unmarried daughter is buried in the neglected walled plot just west of the road on the Wilbur property. Joshua's grandson, Seth, living on the new Boston road in the '80's, used to tell of visiting there as a boy, and walking the six miles to town fro snuff for the aforementioned daughter. Salt works were built here and a house for salting fish, but all were carried away by the gale of 1815—a hurricane today.
A later seafaring Jabes built about 1850 the dignified stone house on Washington Street, near town—and devoted the years of his retirement to log books of local history—probably more detailed and authentic than anything existing—but by an unfortunate accident, none of the ten were destroyed.
The Delanos were a family of strong individuality and force of character sometimes to queerness, of artistic talent, executive ability and intellectual acumen in various directions, and more of personal charm variously distributed than the run of English colonists—perhaps a persistent French inheritance. To even mention the later descendants is beyond the scope of this paper—but the many families in Fairhaven and New Bedford trace back to Philip De La Noes and his six grandsons who had such a large part in settling the Neck. And one cannot but mention Frederick A. Delano, long chairman of the Washington Planning Board; Warren Delano Robbins, Ambassador to Canada; and not the least in the public eye, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
To return for a moment to the Delano settlement: Nathan bought of his brother a mid-Neck farm on both sides of the road, established his house on the west side, built salt works, and one of the best wells of the vicinity—long a land-mark on the road. He and his son sold about 1800 to Noah Deane of Norton, the grand-father of Daniel W. Deane. His wife, Hannah Goodwin—1773-1866—is described as a "lady," educated at Wheaton Seminary, of elegant appearance and cultivated taste. She was certainly a woman of character and personality who retained her mental powers to age of 93. Many tales of her have come down through her grandson who evidently inherited much from her and whose early influence was more potent than that of his parents.
Noah and Hannah built on the existing Delano house a dignified two-story front one room deep with end chimneys. And this house with the kitchen a good deal of a "hole," with a well on the south, an open sink drain on the north and outbuildings but little removed, served three generations until the house burned in 1907. D. W. Deane, the last of the family, a successful farmer rose from a meagre district school education to some prominence in the region and served as town selectman for a number of years. He married the daughter of an Episcopal rector, and their home stands out as the only local one I knew as a child where there were books and pictures. I suppose better furniture but only the general impression remains of more beauty and culture.
The one incident in which Sconticut figures in local history is the British raid of 1778 and is almost too well-know to dwell upon—but in brief—in September of that year the English entered the bay to destroy shipping and ship yards chiefly—landed at Clark's Cove, divided, one part to burn the business section of New Bedford, the other made for Head of Rover coming down Alden Road, burning wherever they were attacked and doing some foraging—repulsed from Fairhaven Village, continued down the Sconticut Road—slept overnight or over Sunday amid some salt hay stacks near the narrows and reembarked further down on the west side near the Deane-Sylvia road, were the ship came to pick them up.
The news of such an invasion naturally spread and caused consternation. Families left their homes, hiding or carrying with them whatever possible—near the head of the road, John Alden was overtaken with an ox load of goods and chattels. He and his wife made their escape, but the oxen were forfeited, slaughtered and roasted at the their Sunday foray. They stopped at the West house bayoneting a pig—big or little!—no other damage—most of the cattle had been driven off into the woods.
by Mabel L. Potter, 1945
The Millicent Library, Fairhaven, Mass.
There are numerous interesting tales--one, of an old Daddy, apparently Jethro Delano, who refused to leave home, "No one would harm him" -- and they didn't--but after they embarked, he decided on a venture from which his wife could not dissuade him--went to the beach and signalled to go aboard. Commander Gray ordered men to get him and treat him kindly--which they did--offered various wines, of which he did not partake but was told they would sail on Thursday "you can tell your neighbors."
Another, the recollections of an old woman, living apparently at Little Bay, tells of leaving home with a five months' baby—wandering in woods all night—being found by horsemen sent to look for, taken to Jesse Tripp's—evidently a block-house on New Boston Road—where 60 people slept on the floor in one room—returning to her house she found "all clothes gone, flats, tongs and good many nice things that were hidden under a wall—and they were gone, too, but the enemy never took them"—and hints of a vessel owned in Rochester, which habitually "took" things every winter to sell in the south!
The original settlers from the Plymouth Colony were supposedly Congregationalists but it is evident there were many Quakers in Dartmouth and their resistance to taxes in support of the Plymouth church is common knowledge.
Settling on this side of the river was John Cook, a Baptist minister (fined one time for travelling on the Sabbath, doubtless in a preaching service), but the Baptist influence was evidently slight on later generations. That the West family were Quakers is inferred from the bequest to the Friends Society. The first record of any Church-going is of the one Samuel Hathaway sailing across the Bay in his own sloop to Falmouth on good Sundays—possibly to the Quaker Meeting there.
But in 1696 was established Bedford Meeting--a Congregational Society at Head of the River--and to this, devout Neck dwellers seeking spiritual sustenance or social contacts, repaired by foot and by horseback. Historian, Jabes Delano, relates that his grandmother, with others, went barefoot the five to ten miles, stopping by the "shoeing rock" to put on shoes and stockings "and perfectly respectable women, too" is added.
With the growth of Fairhaven village and establishment of churches there, attendance became less effort—whether more constant is questionable. After building of the school house on the Neck about 1830, it became the religious center as well—where at Sunday School and an occasional preaching service, a doctrine was taught as fundamentals as anything Tennessee could offer!
The school house, however, was far from satisfactory--and in the late 1900's ambition was crystallized under the leadership of Cat. Franklyn Howland, of Acushnet--money collected locally and abroad to build in 1892 a Union Chapel. The Union being more in name than practice--strict orthodox views prevailed--anything educational or social barred by constitution--thus alienating some of more liberal families--the march of time weakened such strict views, however. It became necessary to feed the Conventions of neighboring chapels--a room was added with meager kitchen facilities--and finally the heavy seats screwed to the floor were made adjustable so socials could be held. There were occasional lectures, Red Cross sewing, a constant Sunday School for many years--as well as Sunday evening services, but gradually with better transportation, families associated themselves with churches in the centers--the older ones who had carried on, passed away--and the building fell into disuse. A sale was finally made, after permission by special act of the General Court with proof that a need no longer existed for such a structure--and a small sum was turned over to the Methodist Church.
Another chapter might be written of local schools. There were teachers in some of the isolated homes, supported by the town. One of those is reported on West Island in the 1820's, where were two houses, one with six small girls.
The local school-house built about 1830, was typical of the period (far better than the first crude ones described by Mr. G. H. Tripp in his history of the town)--a one-story box with entrance hall for wood, coats, hats, boots in winter, cleaning equipment such as it was, water pail, with its tin cup; one room with double desks, an air-tight stove in front corner, teacher's desk on a platform in the other, and a settee in front for the reciting class. Outside, a divided out-building in the rear.
The children varied in age from 6 to 16--with types quite as varying. One of my earliest recollections is of the teacher throwing one of the big boys onto the floor. Such disciplinary ability was considered at least one qualification, I believe--a later procession of teachers, often changing with every term, were less strict--perhaps accounting fro decline of the school! One teacher with ardent missionary leanings actually persuaded girls of ten to sign a pledge to abstain from tea and coffee as well as tobacco and spirituous liquors. Frequently girls just our of High School were the chosen teachers. One became so engaged with "drop the handkerchief" at recess that she forgot to call a halt until too late to resume the sessions!
An unvarying custom for the new teacher began with the questions of how far had we gone in arithmetic? "Well, you may as well begin at the beginnin. " We should have known the tables forward and back, as they say. Unfortunately, that same questions seemed to be the crucial one when we entered the town schools--so regardless of any general intelligence or progress in other subject, or grade was determined on this basis. For on, there were compensations, however, in having the best secondary school teacher--one of the gifted Delano family.
A man whose mother taught here in the '60's, and boarded around, tells me he has a record of her having received $15.00 for six months' teaching. In the 70's, the salary was advanced and teachers paid their own board--usually town girls boarded from Sunday to Friday nights.
Transportation for those ambitious enough to go further was not thought of. In the 1850's two girls, Emily Sherman and Kate Terry, walked to the newly opened town High School. One boy in the 60's, rode a horse from the Point farm. Later, we still walked--rode horseback--had a horse and buggy for three of us. Of course, we missed out on social activities of town life with the young people, but perhaps fortunately the extra-curricular activities of school were few. With transportation tot the center, school was no longer a problem-- and the building was sold for a dwelling years ago.
Of the early houses there are several worth noting, built in the early 1800's after recovery from the Revolution. Those later Cape Cod ones, after the simple square type, were enlarged by a kitchen ell and a dining room in the main house. The Terry-Stoddard is the best present example. Capt. Terry added a dignified front hall and bedroom beyond the kitchen called the "after cabin", the name clings to this day. The Captain Whitfield house on the east side half-way to the shore "down the lane" was another of this type, with a setting and a view of the bay to dream about. Unfortunately, it passed through various indifferent hands and fell into disrepair until David Valley conceived the idea of scrapping the ell and moving it onto an ordinary lot - one of his unforgivable sins!
The especial claim to fame is that to this home Captain Whitfield brought his Japanese boy, Manjiro Nakahama, the first of the race to leave the Islands, when for any to leave and return there was a death penalty. John Mung, as locally called, went to the District, and to Gould's private school, in his middle teens, and so mastered navigation that his ability to translate Bowdich's "Navigation" authenticated the story of his wanderings and probably saved his life. Since then, members of the family coming to visit the Whitfields, as other Japanese groups have always come to view the old house on the Neck.
One perfectly ordinary house in a good location was built by money from the Alabama claims, nearly a generation after the whalers were destroyed in the Arctic. The Mackie-Hiller house, one of the largest at present with an 1800 doorway, was originally built by a Pope. And the Deane house already mentioned was perhaps the most dignified, the front a prefect Georgian type. The last house near the Point - simple, square - a Cape Cod, was built with ship's knees, visible in the open attic.
Farms are much the same in all our eastern country and probably little variations here - food for families and stock, hay, grain, vegetables, fruit; and as markets developed, the Neck proved equal to the Cape in Choice asparagus, strawberries and melons. Almost every farmer kept cows for his own use - meat, milk and butter. The development of sanitary dairies came later.
But besides there more universal crops, the Neck farmers were also fishermen in the spring of the year. Everyone with a shore farm, set in early March, a net off his beach called a Pound which by devious lines of nets led the fish into an enclosure from which when drawn up, the fish could be slipped into a waiting boat. It was hard work, wet and cold - but with ice and trains available, as in most fishing, were on the whole on the profit side of the ledger. One man boasted a $500.00 catch one day - but that was once in a season, or a lifetime.
Up at three in the morning, several days in the weeks, with the catch ready between seven and eight, each must transport his own to the New Bedford Wharf. Small Wonder on returning naps were frequent and the horse found his own way home, But such wholesale destruction was depleting the supply and the Legislature in response to pressure from line fishermen, prohibited all net fishing in Buzzards Bay. The heyday I think was between the 50's and 90's. No more fresh fish - no generosity to those who had not nets, but lobsters and scallops took their place for clams and quahogs from far afield or shore.
There have been several "invasions" worth noting - each changing to some extent the character of this community.
The first about the middle of the 19th century, of Block Islanders - who took advantage of one of brief real-estate booms to sell their island homes and better themselves in the mainland. I do not know their history - their names were English and I think I have heard some reference to the Channel Islands from which they emigrated.
They were superstitious, lacking in public spirit and generosity - not too ambitious or possessed of typical Yankee ingenuity - yet friendly, kindly, do anything for one in an emergency - but they proved true to the reputation given to my father - "They are good neighbors - but don't have any business dealings with them." Many an amusing illustration could by told. Do you remember Whittier's "Legend of the Palatine?" How the Block Islanders set false lights to lure the good ship, Palatine, on the rocky shore, to plunder. "And then over the rocks and the seething brine, they burned the wreck of the Palatine. The year went round - They heard the line storm rave and roar - And beheld again the flaming wreck of the Palatine." Old Reuben Paine, living on the Neck in the 80's said, "Yes, seen the ghost ship - of course, I've seen it - every year." Some of the Island characteristics, though vastly attenuated, still show in the present generations.
The next invasion was that of the Portuguese, the first foreigners to come to us locally it numbers. The beginning was of the boys who ran (or swam) away from the Islands, the various Azores, to escape military service. They shipped on the whalers and earned, or were supposed to, their passage over, New Bedford was the larger port of entry and they spread from here, but tended to cling to shore regions - and did the only thing available, hired as help in the farms.
The advent of the summer population might truly be called the third invasion - and this has well nigh overwhelmed us.
Let us not forget West Island for long that lovely island an isolated mecca for sailing parties, picnics and for clamming expeditions. Then came the news in the 80's that the Island had been bought by a syndicate from St. Louis, an engineer boarded in the neighborhood and the beginning of a causeway was built; it proved too expensive. Years later came a younger couple from the West who wintered in the one old house, but such living was too isolated. Years more past, finally in the mid-40's a development firm bought the entire island, connected it by a road and causeway for summer travel though not strong for hurricanes, high tides and winter storms of which summer dwellers know not. Thus have developed the Neck and the Island, as now an integral part of the town.
Written for the Roundabout Club in 1945