Salem Village Historical Walking Tour 2021

In partnership with Salem Historical Tours and the Danvers Historical Society, on six Saturday mornings this fall I am giving a walking tour of several Salem Village historic sites in Danvers related to the 1692 witch-hunt. A portion of the ticket price goes to support the Danvers Historical Society.

For more info: https://www.salemhistoricaltours.com/salem-village-witch-hunt-walking-tour

Salem is where people visit to learn about the 1692 witchcraft trials, but Danvers, formerly Salem Village, is where it first began on a cold February day.

Two young girls began acting out and the local doctor’s diagnosis was that they must be under the Devil’s hand. The witch-hunt was off and running, turning neighbor against neighbor.

You’ll visit several significant historical sites including the remains of the parsonage where Reverend Samuel Parris’ 9-year-old daughter Betty and 11-year-old niece Abigail had their fits that began the witch-hunt.

This special tour will be held on six Saturdays in September and October. The walking tour will be all outside, and stops along the way will include the Training Field, Parsonage site, Ingersoll’s tavern, the Salem Village Witch Trials Memorial, and the First Church of Danvers (Salem Village Church).

Daniel A. Gagnon, a life-long Danvers resident and author of A Salem Witch, will lead the tour that will give you a greater understanding of one of the more compelling stories of our country’s early history.

Available to book now. Tickets are $20. Details on the meeting location in Danvers and directions will be in the confirmation email.

For more info: https://www.salemhistoricaltours.com/salem-village-witch-hunt-walking-tour

Dr. Samuel Holten – Danvers Patriot

Photo of the Samuel Holten House, June 2021

Last week the Salem News had two articles (see Erin Nolan’s reporting here and here) about a curious auction: the letters of Danvers patriot leader Dr. Samuel Holten. Taking place in Cincinnati, Ohio the auction of 200 letters between Holten and other famous patriot leaders was expected to go for about $10,000-$15,000 but instead sold for more than $46,000. Who is this Danvers revolutionary whose writings are so valuable?

Holten, a member of both the Continental Congress and the first US Congress, rose to prominence as a leader of the patriot cause well before the American Revolution. Educated by the Rev. Peter Clarke in the parsonage of the First Church of Danvers, he was destined for Harvard at age 12 before illness prevented him from attending. Instead, he studied medicine with Dr. Jonathan Prince, and opened his own practice at age 18. He became active in Danvers politics and the local militia, rising to the rank of Major.

His first steps towards becoming a revolutionary occurred in September 1768, when word spread throughout Massachusetts that British troops were being sent to the colony to restore order, and ostensibly to put down protests over British policies in Boston and other towns. An extralegal, unofficial meeting was called in Boston to decide how to respond to the approaching British fleet. One hundred and four Massachusetts towns and districts each elected a representative to attend, and Holten attended as Danvers’ representative.

Meeting even after the royal governor declared it an illegal assembly, these delegates voted to petition the government in London and to protest against the British troops. A month later, when British troops arrived, news of this convention had already reached them and this show of opposition so alarmed the British fleet that they feared Massachusetts may have already taken up arms. Upon their arrival, they therefore sailed their warships into Boston Harbor in battle formation, with their cannon aimed at Boston, and disembarked troops in full battle gear, as if invading an enemy land.

Holten continued to oppose British policies over the next few years, as events such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party occurred, and as the people of Danvers began boycotting tea and other British goods. Holten was Danvers’ delegate to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1774, when General Thomas Gage ordered the Massachusetts legislature to be dissolved because it was controlled by patriots opposed to Gage’s administration in Massachusetts. Instead, the House of Representatives declared themselves to be a “Massachusetts Provincial Congress,” the true representatives of the people, and therefore the legitimate authority in Massachusetts – not General Gage.

Portrait of Samuel Holten, painted circa 1790. Image from Wikimedia, portrait currently in the Danvers Archival Center.

After war broke out when the British advanced on Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the British soldiers retreated into Boston, leaving the Provincial Congress and the Massachusetts militia in control of the rest of Massachusetts. Holten was appointed to the executive committee that served in place of a governor – since General Gage still claimed to be the rightful governor of Massachusetts.

Recognized for his ability and dedication to the patriot cause, in 1777 Holten was among the Massachusetts representatives to the convention that drafted the Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitutional document, and he signed the Articles on behalf of Massachusetts alongside John Adams, John Hancock, and other revolutionary leaders.

From 1778 to 1780, he represented Massachusetts in the Second Continental Congress, returned home to help draft the Massachusetts Constitution, and then once the Articles of Confederation were ratified served in the Congress of the Confederation, at one point serving temporarily as its president during a brief absence by Richard Henry Lee. Since there was no executive branch under the Confederation, President of Congress was the highest political office in America.

After returning once again to Massachusetts to serve in the state senate, he was elected and served as Congressman from 1793-1795 in the third U.S. Congress under the new federal Constitution. Notable for being a supporter of Thomas Jefferson, he was an opponent of the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. After his time in Congress ended in 1795, he continued holding elected positions in Danvers, and was an Essex County Probate Court judge.

After he returned to Danvers, Holten continued to live in his family’s house at the intersection of what are now Holten Street, Centre Street, and Collins Street. This historic structure, located in the Salem Village Historic District, has been owned and preserved by the Gen. Israel Putnam Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution since 1921. Built in 1670 by his ancestor Benjamin Holten, the Holten family also played a prominent role in the 1692 witch trials, with members of the family among both the accusers and defenders of those accused of witchcraft.

Photo of the Samuel Holten House, in the 1890s. Frank Cousins photo, Digital Commonwealth.

Dr. Samuel Holten died in January 1816, and is buried in the Holten Burying Ground, which bears his name on Holten Street. Once Danvers established its first public high school in 1850, it was named Holten High School in his honor, the name used until the new Danvers High School was built in Woodvale in the 1960s. The old high school building and the old Richmond junior high building are currently used for the Holten-Richmond Middle School.

In addition to Holten’s letters that were recently auctioned, he has other letters in the collections of many major archives and libraries that were written to various leaders of the American Revolution, papers from his medical practice are at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine, and there are many of his documents located in the Danvers Archival Center.

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Dan Gagnon is a lifelong Danvers resident and the author of the forthcoming biography A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse.

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Sources:

Mulholland, Elizabeth. “Judge Samuel Holten and His House.” In 250th Anniversary of the Town of Danvers, 98. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers 250th Committee, 202AD.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Town of Danvers. The Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts, as a Seperate Municipality. Boston, Mass.: Fort Hill Press, 1907.

The Endicott Estate

In the Herald-Citizen 5/14/2021.

The Glen Magna mansion in May 2021.

Glen Magna, the beautiful mansion at the center of Endicott Park, started as a haven from the British during the War of 1812, and went on to become a center of high society, and the site of a near-assassination of the British politician who governed the worldwide British Empire.

During the War of 1812, Salem merchant Joseph Peabody moved to Danvers because he feared that the New England coast could be attacked by the British Royal Navy, with the port of Salem a likely target. Peabody rented the inland farm in Danvers from Capt. Jonathan Ingersoll, a shipmaster in Salem, and later purchased it in 1814.

A cousin of George Peabody, the famous London banker and philanthropist, Joseph Peabody was the wealthiest ship-owner in Salem until his death in 1844. His fleet of merchant ships traversed the globe, trading in ports in Europe, Africa, and the East Indies. He bought additional nearby land, and increased the estate’s size to 300 acres. As a very wealthy man, Peabody greatly enlarged the mansion on the property, which served as a private home for more than 140 years.

Joseph Peabody (1757-1854), Salem merchant. Wikimedia Commons.

Peabody became an integral part of business in Danvers in addition to his Salem ties, and employed many Danversport men on his ships. One Danversite in his employ was William Endicott, who served on Peabody’s ship Glide that was wrecked in 1829 on an island near Fiji inhabited by cannibals. Endicott survived, living among the natives for four months before he was rescued, and his story became famous among the seamen of Salem.

After Peabody died, the farm was inherited by his daughter Ellen Peabody Endicott and her husband William Crowninshield Endicott Sr. – the son of the William Endicott who sailed on Peabody’s ship Glide. This family traced its roots back to the Crowninshields of Salem, another wealthy family in the maritime trade, but also to the Endicott family of Danvers, descendants of Governor John Endicott, the first resident Governor of Massachusetts, whose farm had been along Endicott Street.

William Crowninshield Endicott Sr. was a successful lawyer, a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Massachusetts. In 1885 President Grover Cleveland appointed him to be Secretary of War, a role that he held until 1889. While living at Glen Magna, Endicott and Ellen Peabody had two children, William Crowninshield Endicott Jr. and Mary Endicott, who were raised among the political elite and high society.

Due to Endicott’s official position, many important figures in world politics and society visited him at Glen Magna and in Washington, including the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. As this was the height of the British Empire, Chamberlain was one of the most powerful figures in the world, managing an Empire on which the sun never set. Soon after he first met Endicott’s daughter Mary at a British Embassy ball in Washington in 1888, Chamberlain proposed to her, and the President was in attendance at their wedding.

Joseph Chamberlain and Mary Endicott Chamberlain in 1903. British National Portrait Gallery.

The married couple spent most of their time in England where Chamberlain served in the cabinet and on Her Majesty’s Privy Council, governing Queen Victoria’s realm. In England, the couple was at the height of power of influence, with Mary Endicott Chamberlain accompanying her husband on official visits to various British overseas colonies and Dominions.

The portico side of Glen Magna, May 2021.

They summered at Glen Magna in Danvers, where Joseph Chamberlain temporarily established his office, and while not working he designed one of the estate’s elaborate manicured gardens, known still as the Chamberlain Garden. He often brought his children from two previous marriages to Glen Magna, including future Nobel Peace Prize-winning British Foreign Minister Austen Chamberlain, and also future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Infamous today, Neville Chamberlain is known for his policy of appeasement in the 1930s that allowed Hitler to take Austria and Czechoslovakia and rebuild the German Army without any consequences.

While Joseph Chamberlain was fêted in London as a leading advocate of British imperialism, his policies were less popular in America. Chamberlain was loathed by Irish Americans for his decades-long opposition to Irish Home Rule – the movement to allow Ireland, a British colony for centuries, a degree of self-government. Additionally, during the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1901), Chamberlain’s office led the war effort that included the world’s first modern system of concentration camps, in which the wives and children of the Dutch Boers were imprisoned and starved. They were only given sufficient food if their husbands gave up fighting, as a way to convince the Boers to surrender to British troops.

Boston Globe, October 27, 1902.

During one summer visit to Glen Magna, Mary Endicott Chamberlain was sitting with Joseph Chamberlain on a bench in the elaborate gardens when he was nearly killed. An assassin, enraged by Chamberlain’s oppression of the Irish, crept up to the hedge behind the couple with the goal of killing the Colonial Secretary. However, upon seeing him sitting beside his wife, he wavered, not wishing to murder him in front of her, and the assassin was then caught by the British security detail.

The estate stayed in the Endicott family through the first half of the 20th century. In 1901 Ellen Peabody Endicott, wife of William Crowninshield Endicott Sr., purchased the Derby Summer House – also known as the Tea House, the small two-story structure built in 1793 by Samuel McIntire for Elias Haskett Derby – and moved it to Glen Magna, where it now stands. 

The summer house was willed to the Danvers Historical Society in 1958 by Louisa Thoron Endicott, the wife of William Crowninshield Endicott Jr., and a few years later, the whole estate was put up for sale and expected to be subdivided into 276 house lots.  In 1963 the Danvers Historical Society purchased the central portion of the Glen Magna Estate to preserve the historic mansion, and after a public campaign by local residents the Town purchased the rest of the property to establish Endicott Park and save the open land from development.


Sources

“A Topic of Discussion.” Boston Daily Globe, November 11, 1888.

“Chamberlain Going to South Africa.” Boston Daily Globe, October 27, 1902.

“Danvers Buys 130-Acre Estate For Green Belt, Recreation.” Boston Globe, July 19, 1694.

Danvers Historical Society. “Glen Magna Farms.” Danvers Historical Society, 2020.

https://www.danvershistory.org/visit-us/glen-magna-farms/.

———. “National Historic Landmark, Derby Summer House.” Danvers Historical Society, 2020. https://www.danvershistory.org/visit-us/national-historic-landmark-derby-summer-house/.

Endicott, William. Wrecked among Cannibals in the Fijis: A Narrative of Shipwreck and Adventure in the South Seas. Salem, Mass.: Marine Research Society, 1923.

Forman, Ethan. “First Phase of Work on Tea House Complete, $100K in Work Remains.” Salem News. Accessed July 21, 2020. https://www.salemnews.com/news/local_news/first-phase-of-work-on-tea-house-complete-100k-in-work-remains/article_fd64b600-7e57-5a62-9d0d-3546c9aa1e77.html.

“His Treaty of Love.” Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922). November 15, 1888.

Marris, N. Murrell. The Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain: The Man and the Statesman. London: Hutchinson, 1900.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783-1860. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921.

 “Night Was Long, Costly for Many Voters: Danvers $270,000 Appropriated To Buy Endicott Estate.” Boston Globe (1960-1989). March 19, 1963.

Philpott, A. J. “Chamberlain’s Wife Puritan Aristocrat.” Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922). July 5, 1914.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

“The Bridegroom Cometh.” Boston Daily Globe, November 13, 1888.

“To Marry the MP.” Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922). November 8, 1888.

Trask, Richard B. Danvers: From 1850 to 1899. Images of America. Dover, NH: Arcadia, 1996.

“Treaty Concluded.” Boston Daily Globe. November 16, 1888.

Lane Memorial Parkway

(Forthcoming in the Herald-Citizen)

Lane Parkway in November 2020.

Passed by many in Danvers each day, the blue memorial marker on the street sign for Lane Parkway near the Holten-Richmond Middle School stands in remembrance of a Danvers veteran: Lt. Ralph W. Lane, who died defending the United States in World War I. During the war, 730 men from Danvers entered the service, and 15 were killed either in combat or from the flu pandemic that ravaged military bases.

Born in Springfield in 1894, Ralph Lane later attended Worcester Academy and the University of Maine before moving to Danvers in 1911. A single man in his early twenties who was new to town, Lane lived in a boardinghouse at 20 Lawrence Street and was very active in the community. He was a member of the Maple Street Congregational Church and several clubs and bible study groups associated with the church, along with the Amity Lodge of the Danvers Masons, and the Danvers I.O.O.F.

Lane served in the Massachusetts state militia and was briefly deployed to the Mexican border in 1916 as part of an expedition sent to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had led an army across the border and attacked New Mexico. After this campaign, Lane returned to Danvers and was appointed drill instructor at the state armory on Essex St. in Salem.

Lt. Ralph William Lane in uniform, 1917. All departing Massachusetts troops were photographed by the Boston Globe before embarking for France. Massachusetts State Library.

Once it became clear in 1917 that the US would likely join the ongoing world war, Lane’s state militia unit was federalized into the National Guard. Promoted to second lieutenant in August 1917, Lane and his regiment were under the command of Col. (later Major General) Edward Lawrence Logan, for whom Logan Airport was named, and were assigned to the newly-formed 26th Infantry Division in September 1917. Known as the “Yankee Division” because it was made up of New England National Guard units, the 26th Infantry Division is the namesake for Route 128: “The Yankee Division Highway.”

Lane’s draft card. Even though he was already in the National Guard, he was still required to fill out the form. National Archives.

Arriving in France as the first unit of the National Guard deployed overseas, Lane and the Yankee Division trained with the French army to learn trench warfare techniques before entering the front line in February 1918 along the Western Front under the command of a French army corps. As soon as the Germans realized that Americans were in the line for the first time, there was a heavy German offensive in the area to try and break these new arrivals, but the line held.

That summer, Lane and the Yankee Division fought to slow the Germans’ spring offensive. While fighting along the Marne River, the Germans used poison gas against Lane’s position on the front line, causing him to be seriously hurt and hospitalized.

In a bizarre twist, when Lane was recovering in an Army field hospital, he encountered another Danvers man who served on a different section of the front with a field artillery regiment: Corp. Harold P. Sillars. Not only were these two men from Danvers, but they were friends who lived in the same boardinghouse on Lawrence Street! This unique “joyous reunion” was noteworthy enough to be mentioned in the Boston Globe.

By October, Lane was back with his unit to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final push that ended in the armistice of November 11, 1918. But, he never lived to see the Allied victory.

The Yankee Division was along the front line north of Verdun, near Belleau-Bois just below the French-Belgian border. This area was desolate, charred, and cratered land that had been destroyed during the Battle of Verdun two years prior, and known as “Death Valley” to the troops. The Yankee Division, as one of the most experienced American units in France – which previously survived bullets whizzing overhead, charges of German shock troops, constant shelling, mud, rats, and poison gas – was given the task of fighting through difficult hills and ravines in this wooded region of the front.

The area of Belleau Bois is in the bottom left quadrant of the map. American Battle Monuments Commission. (To see where this location is in GoogleMaps, click HERE).

As the offensive began in other sectors, Lane and the Yankee Division assaulted Belleau, a wooded ridge alongside the road to the village of Crépion. They advanced into the wood on the 23rd, had to withdraw that night due to heavy shelling, and then advanced 500 yards on the 24th starting the attack under a smokescreen, at which point they encountered fortified German positions of timber and concrete. Four times that day the Germans withdrew, called in heavy artillery on the Americans, and then the moment the shelling ceased, charged the American line inflicting heavy casualties.

After a full day of brutal fighting, at 2:30am the next day, October 25, the Yankee Division charged back into the woods, in the pitch dark and pouring rain, as German shells fell around them. They took the wooded hill, but Lane was killed – only 18 days before the end of the war, and only three miles from where the front line ended up on Armistice Day.

On December 8, 1918 Lane’s obituary ran in the Boston Globe, alongside a large list of Massachusetts men reported killed overseas. The Globe noted his father John S. Lane as his only surviving relative. Back home in Danvers, the Maple Street Church held a memorial service on February 9, 1918 for Lane and Sgt. Hadley McPhetres, two members of its congregation who died in the war. This was the closest thing to a funeral that Lane ever received.

Lane’s obituary in the Boston Globe, December 6, 1918.

Lane Parkway’s memorial sign, dedicated November 11, 1929, notes Lane’s death on that October night, and the Army records likewise note his death that day, but he has no grave. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission that oversees the American cemeteries in France, Lane’s remains were either never recovered or never identified, and therefore his name is inscribed on the “Tablets of the Missing” at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Closer to home, the sign on Lane Parkway keeps his memory alive.

Boston Globe, November 8, 1929.
Lane’s name on the Tablets of the Missing in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. From FindAGrave.com.

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 “Airplane Drops Wreath at Danvers Dedication.” Boston Globe, November 12, 1929. Boston Globe Archive. http://bostonglobe.newspapers.com/image/431193458/?terms=ralph%2Blane%2Bdanvers.

American Battle Monuments Commission. 26th Division Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015051180605.

“Dedicate Danvers Park to Lieut. Lane Monday.” Boston Globe, November 8, 1929. Boston Globe Archive. http://bostonglobe.newspapers.com/image/431182143/?terms=ralph%2Blane%2Bdanvers.

“Eight Infantry.” Boston Globe, January 9, 1916. Boston Globe Archive. http://bostonglobe.newspapers.com/image/430938131/?terms=ralph%2Bw%2Blane.

Forman, Ethan. “Danvers Veterans’ Squares Get New Plaques.” Salem News, May 4, 2017. https://www.salemnews.com/news/local_news/danvers-veterans-squares-get-new-plaques/article_6ae3f460-be41-5d0c-ad99-21ce23eb7e18.html.

Globe Newspaper Company. Photograph of Lieut. Ralph W. Lane, 101st Infan. 1917. Massachusetts State Library. https://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/211551.

“Lieut. Ralph Williams Lane (Obituary).” Boston Globe, December 6, 1918. Boston Globe Archive.

“Lifelong Chums Meet in French Hospital.” Boston Globe, September 5, 1918. Boston Globe Archive.

American Battle Monuments Commission. “Lt. Ralph W. Lane Memorial Certificate.” Accessed October 29, 2020. https://www.abmc.gov/print/certificate/291473.

 “Nine of 17 New Majors Made At Plattsburg Are Boston Men.” Boston Globe, August 11, 1917. Boston Globe Archive.

Palmer, Frederick. Our Greatest Battle: The Meuse-Argonne. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1919.

“Plattsburg Men Join 26th Division.” Boston Globe, September 2, 1917. Boston Globe Archive.

American Battle Monuments Commission. “Ralph W. Lane.” Accessed October 29, 2020. http://www.abmc.gov/decedent-search/lane%3Dralph.

FamilySearch. “Ralph Williams Lane, ‘United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940.’” Accessed October 29, 2020. /ark:/61903/1:1:W3CV-9TN2.

“Salem Church Honors Memory of Two Soldiers.” Boston Globe, February 10, 1919. Boston Globe Archive.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Tuoti, Gerry. “Danvers Residents Remembered for Efforts during World War I.” Taunton Gazette, April 6, 2017. https://www.tauntongazette.com/news/20170406/danvers-residents-remembered-for-efforts-during-world-war-i.

“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9BRN-C17?cc=1968530&wc=9FH6-T3X%3A928311301%2C928801701 : 24 August 2019), Massachusetts > Peabody City no 26; A-Mazurkiewicz, Witold > image 3860 of 4811; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

War Department – Office of the Quartermaster General. Graves Registration Service. “Card Register of Burials of Deceased American Soldiers,” 1922 1917. National Archives Identifier: 6943087. National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference(RDT2). https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9BRN-C17?i=3859&cc=1968530&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AKZNF-BNK.

War Department – The Adjutant General’s Office. Massachusetts World War I, Dead, A.E.F. Series: Compiled Data on Casualties of the American Expeditionary Forces by State or

Nuclear Missiles in Danvers

(In the Herald-Citizen, 9/4/2020)

Nike Hercules missiles - US Army - Nat Park Service
Nike Hercules missiles in firing position. US Army press photo/National Park Service.

Just north of the Putnamville Reservoir in Danvers was one of the frontlines of the Cold War. Pointing skyward in their launchers atop a fortified concrete bunker, white-and-gray nuclear-tipped missiles stood ready to defend the United States from Soviet attack.

Army bases with Nike missiles, such as the one in Danvers, were built surrounding major American cities, with 12 such bases around Boston. The three sites on the North Shore – at the Beverly side of Beverly Airport, Nahant, and Danvers – came online by 1955. In the era before intercontinental ballistic missiles, the biggest nuclear threat facing the United States was the possibility of Soviet bombers dropping atomic bombs on American cities, especially along the coast. Originally carrying only conventional warheads, the missiles in Danvers had a range of just 25 miles and were designed to be launched into the Massachusetts skies to destroy enemy planes if Soviet bombers were attacking Boston.

Each missile battery was split into two halves, a radar/control site and the launch site. In Danvers, the radar/control site was on a hill off North Street, which today is the Lt. John A. Fera United States Army Reserve Center. Fera, a Danvers resident, was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968. This site hosted several radar emplacements that would track the enemy planes and guide a missile towards them.

Today, many of the original buildings at the radar/command site remain, but are used for other purposes, and although the radar towers were removed, the large concrete pads that they were situated on remain visible. When originally built, this radar post was isolated, surrounded by fields and forest, though today the nearby neighborhood comes right up to the fence surrounding the site.

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Photo of Radar/control station off North Street in 1959, with view of the reservoir to the north. From: http://coldwar-ma.com/

Army Reserve 2020
A similar view in 2020. Google Earth.

The second half of the base, the missile launch site, was across the Putnamville Reservoir, along the Danvers/Topsfield line off Route 1. This installation, which could be seen from the radar site across the water, was a long rectangular area split into thirds. The first part was a circle of identical ranch-style houses right off Route 1 built for the base’s officers. Beyond that is a gate and guard tower that led into the section of the base with the barracks and armory. The final section was the launch area at the farthest end of the base, in the woods north of the reservoir.

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Photo of Nike launch site on north side of the reservoir in 1959. From: http://coldwar-ma.com/

Nike Launch Site 2010 Google Earth
A similar view in 2010. Reservoir at bottom left, and the road at top is Route 1. Bridle Spur Road is the development being constructed alongside the base, in the field that was previously kept cut short as a fire break.

The launch area had small outbuildings in which missiles would be assembled. These buildings were surrounded by tall dirt berms that could contain a blast should there be any accidental rocket fuel explosions. Beyond these structures, on a slight rise a distance away, was a large rectangular concrete pad that had a long metal track that the missiles would slide across to reach their launchers, and three large steel doors that were flat with the ground. These doors covered elevators that brought the missiles up from the underground concrete bunker so that they could be launched.

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Image from a US Army brochure showing the launch area of a Nike site.

DentonNikeBase02a
This is an image of the launching area of a base in Texas that was identical to the launch area of the Danvers base. Note the missiles on the metal track and the three elevator doors at ground level that brought the missiles up form their underground storage bunker.

Although the Danvers base was known to exist, and its rough mission was known, in later years the original Nike Ajax missiles with conventional warheads were secretly switched out for nuclear-tipped Nike Hercules missiles – a fact unknown to most locals until years later. Although the payload changed to an atomic device roughly equivalent to what was dropped on Nagasaki and the range was increased to 75 miles, the mission did not change. The reason for the upgrade was that the original Nike Ajax missile could only take down one enemy aircraft per launch, and the radar could only guide one missile in flight at a time. What if the Soviets sent a whole formation of bombers? It was possible that not enough missiles could be launched in time to take down the planes one by one.

The US Government, therefore, decided that the best way to counter Soviet bombers was to add the nuclear element. If there was a fleet of enemy bombers approaching Boston, a Nike Hercules missile would be launched into the skies, the missile would collide with an enemy plane, and then the missile’s nuclear warhead would detonate in the skies over Massachusetts – or over the Atlantic along the Massachusetts coast. Sure, this weapon could bring down an entire formation of enemy planes, but even in the best-case scenario, there would be a Nagasaki-sized atomic blast detonated in the skies over Massachusetts, which seems…. less than ideal.

The Nike launch site in Danvers was decommissioned in 1974, once intercontinental ballistic missiles replaced bombers as the main Soviet threat to the US. The radar/control site on North Street remains an army post that has had varying uses in the years since. Nike missiles remained in use in Western Europe until the 1980s, when they were replaced with Patriot missiles that are still in service around the world.

Today, the former officers’ housing along Route 1 at the entrance of the launch site is now aptly named “Nike Village” and serves as community housing. Beyond that is a rusting chain-link gate with a decomposing wooden sentry post that guards the entrance to an abandoned and overgrown clump of deteriorated buildings. The underground missile storage bunker was sealed when the base was abandoned, no longer needed to defend the skies over Massachusetts.

2020 Base Gate
Gate to the launch site at Nike Village off Route 1 as it appears in 2020.

2020 Base Guardhouse
Guardhouse next to the main gate totally overgrown with brush.

2020 Base Road
Looking past the main gate at the road leading further into the launch site. What was once a wide road with buildings and open mowed areas on either side has been almost totally reclaimed by nature.

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ColdWar-MA. “B-05 Danvers.” Accessed August 26, 2020. http://coldwar-ma.com/B-05_Danvers.html.

Cummings, Nathan A. “Flying Treadmills, Cold War Whales: A Trip to Concord Field Station,” March 10, 2016. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2016/3/10/concord-field-station/.

Nike Hercules Story, 1960. http://archive.org/details/nikeherc01.

Western Electric. U.S. Army Nike: In Defense of the Nation. Accessed August 26, 2020. http://www.usshelena.org/1nike.html.

Zollo, Richard P. From Muskets to Missiles: Danvers in Five Wars. Danvers, Mass.: R.P. Zollo, 2001.

Livestreamed Tour of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead

On August 1, 2020, I presented a livestreamed tour of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead that was broadcast online as part of America’s Summer Roadtrip 2020, a program that allowed people to virtually ‘visit’ historic sites that otherwise might not be accessible during the coronavirus. The Nurse Homestead, the only home of a victim of the 1692 Salem Village Witch-Hunt that is preserved and open to the public, was chosen as one of 12 significant sites in American history to participate in this program that drew thousands of viewers from across the world.

The recorded tour of the Nurse Homestead can be viewed here: Nurse Homestead – America’s Summer Roadtrip 2020

Turn-Of-The-Century Danvers

(In the Herald-Citizen 7/10/2020)

Gasolene Engine

As the 20th century dawned, Danvers’ long-held farm town traditions became mixed with a new century of business and commerce that revolutionized daily life for Danversites. The program for Danvers’ 150th celebration in 1902 reveals much about what life was like in Danvers that year. The anniversary events are significant – with a grand parade led by Penn Hussey (whose equestrian statue is on Water St.), band concerts, a bicycle race, a “Rube” who gave a “unicycle exposition,” and races between the Danvers volunteer fire companies – but what is truly interesting and revealing are the advertisements. With ads such as a pig seller’s notice that declared “All the hogs are not found on the end seat of street cars,” those for horse products such as iron shoes, farm supplies that included new “gasolene” engines, the new “steam laundry” in town, and the electrician who advertised “speaking tubes,” the program provides a picture of a small turn-of-the-century agricultural town.

The vast majority of businesses noted in the program were clustered around Danvers Square, and one business advertised free telegram delivery within a mile of the Square. There are some similarities between the Square of 1902, and the center of town today. Luciano Zollo, a self-described “champion hair cutter” advertised a “Bay of Naples shaving parlor” at 64 Maple Street, and Zollo’s barbershop has been a fixture ever since.

Zollo ad

Perley’s Corner Market, a combination grocery store and general store that opened in 1800, stood where CVS is today, and CVS serves more or less the same function as Perley’s store did then. Another grocer advertised that they were a distributor of King Arthur Flour, still in stores today. Though there was no Knights of Columbus on Elm Street, there was the Catholic Order of Foresters, a fraternal organization that provided life insurance to its members – a function of the K of C today.

Perley's Corner

Order of Foresters

In contrast, many business practices have changed in the past century. Several business ads give not only the address of their business, but also the proprietor’s home address where business was also transacted. In 1902 some businesses did not have their own telephone number, and their ads simply note “telephone connection,” and one had to call the operator to be connected through. Moving goods was its own issue in the day of horse carts, and several freight carriers advertised their services. One such company announced its four daily trips into Boston where goods could be transferred to “railroads and steamboats,” and also reminded its customers that it “Runs direct to Danvers Asylum daily.”

Freight Express

Some businesses seemed to provide odd combinations of services: An express freight delivery company also sold sod cutters. One Salem business advertised “Balletto tables” (now known as pool/billiards tables), along with cameras, and “All kinds of talking machines. All kinds of records. All kinds of talking machine supplies and repairs.” J. F. Porter in Danvers Square sold “refrigerators” (what we know as an ice box) for $11 and also screens to keep flies out of the house.

Cameras and Pool Tables Porter Refrigerators

Specialization was coming to Danvers, though, as one insurance agent’s ad noted: “The time has passed when the insurance agent was also bill poster, white washer and general utility man. Insurance is a business by itself.” One other specialist was Ferdinand A. Butler, who sold bicycles, though the ad refers to them by their nickname: “a wheel.” They were billed as efficient transportation, but also relaxing: “Drop that nerve tonic and buy a wheel, and we guarantee ‘that tired feeling’ will soon disappear.”

Outside of the Square, there was a coal yard on Holten Street, a greenhouse near Walnut Grove Cemetery, a man on Endicott Street who ran a sand and gravel business out of his house, a wagon maker on Andover Street, and mills and foundries in Tapleyville and Danversport. One such mill was Lummus & Parker’s grist mill on Water Street, which was standing at least as late as 1969. Another business outside the Square was the Calvin Putnam Lumber Company, noted in a previous article in this series, which was located at the Mill Pond.

Lummus and Parker

Calvin Putnam Lumber Company

What is most fascinating are the medical and dental ads. Dr. E. F. Carter, a dentist on Maple St., had an ad that noted “Electricity employed in desensitizing teeth in order to render the work of filling practically painless.” At this time laughing gas had been in use for decades, so apparently electricity was seen as the new innovative treatment. Fortunately, Novocain was developed only three years after this ad was published. Elsewhere, dentist Dr. Walter G. Fanning took out a full page ad that showed him in a cap and gown – proof that he actually had gone to school.

Dentist Electricity

Fanning Dentist ad

The turn of the century was prime-time for weird medical “cures,” and one Danvers “laboratory” on Oak Street marketed “Anti-Itis,” that was “antiseptic, hygroscopic, prophylactic, hydro-absorbent and anodyne” that “has the affinity to increase osmosis.” This strange miracle drug would supposedly treat “lung troubles, pneumonia, pleurisy, etc., tonsillitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, consumption, inflamed breasts, rheumatism, synovitis, dysmenorrhea, eczema, sprains, burns, boils, abscess, bruises, felons, enlarged glands, insect bites, milk leg, myalgia, neuralgia, neuritis, phlebitis, whitlow, wry neck, housemaids’ knee, sunburn, frost bites, corns, enlarged joints.”

Ant-Itis

Anti-Itis was advertised around New England in medical journals, and the product was a paste that was sold by the pound, which was to be applied hot to the skin. As if the modern reader were not already skeptical that Anti-Itis was effective at all, further digging through copyright records revealed that Anti-Itis was manufactured by the Standard Crayon Company!

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Sources

Official Program: Danvers’ 150th Anniversary, June 15, 16, 17, 1902. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Mirror, 1902.

Sutherland, John P., and W.H. Watters, eds. The New England Medical Gazette: A Monthly Journal of Homeopathic Medicine. Vol. 43. Boston: Medical Gazette Publishing Company, 1908.

United States Patent Office. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office. Vol. 315. Government Printing Office, 1923.

250 Years Ago, Danvers Moves towards Revolution

(In the Herald-Citizen 5/1/20)

Page House
The Page House with its rooftop porch where Sarah Page supposedly drank tea. Today it is the office and shop of the Danvers Historical Society. Author’s picture, 2020.

This month begins the 250th anniversary of the start of Danvers’ role in the American Revolution. While the 250th anniversary of the 1776 Declaration of Independence is not until 2026, the people of Danvers played important roles during the years leading up to the Revolution: protesting injustices, briefly (and unhappily) hosting the headquarters of the British Army in North America, declaring themselves independent from the king long before the Declaration of Independence, and answering the call to fight the British when they marched on Lexington – to say nothing of other events that occurred during and after the War for Independence.

May 1770 – 250 years ago this month – was an important turning point for Danvers because the town meeting passed a resolution against the importation of tea and began shaming those who continued to support His Majesty’s Government instead of local elected authority. As Parliament leveled more and more taxes on the colony without the agreement of the Massachusetts legislature, and without any colonial representation in Parliament, the people of Massachusetts protested against this unfair taxation without representation.

During the 1760s, patriotic merchants in Boston signed agreements not to import any taxed goods from Britain. The resulting economic harm forced Parliament to withdraw the taxes on many items – but not the tax on tea. On May 28, 1770 the men of Danvers gathered for a town meeting at the First Church to discuss the issue. Unanimously, they voted to boycott any merchant who imported British goods and agreed “That we will not drink any foreign tea ourselves, and use our best endeavors to prevent our families and those connected with them, from the use thereof” until the tax was repealed.

First Church - North Meetinghouse - DHC v2
The First Church of Danvers as it appeared in 1770, when the town meeting met there to vote on the tea ban. From Danvers Historical Collections, vol. 2

To emphasize their determination, a committee was elected to bring a copy of this town meeting resolution to residents and have every head of household sign it. If someone refused, the town meeting voted that “he shall be looked upon as an enemy to the liberties of the people, and shall have their name registered in the town [record] book.” Additionally, these resolutions were published in the local newspaper, the Essex Gazette, so that all were warned.

Because of this threatened humiliation and damage to one’s reputation, there seems to be only one recorded instance of someone publicly refusing to sign: A man named Isaac Wilson who lived in the southern part of Danvers, now Peabody. Due to his opposition, he was taunted about being a “Tory” (one who remained loyal to the king). Though, as the Revolution approached, a few other families in Danvers aligned themselves with the Tory side and remained loyal to the king, leaving town when the war began.

In addition to this example of outright opposition, some of the households that publicly signed the ban privately violated it. Tea was often bought in bulk, so why shouldn’t tea that a family had purchased before the ban be consumed? The tax had already been paid, so Britain received no further gain whether they drank it or dumped it out. Nineteenth-century historians note several instances of families acting this way, especially instances where wives decided to consume the tea they already had on hand with or without the knowledge of their husbands.

The most famous story of thwarting the tea ban in Danvers – though apparently kept secret at the time to not tarnish the family’s patriot reputation – was Sarah Page’s covert tea party on the roof of the Page House. This legend was enshrined in the poem “The Gambrel Roof” by Beverly writer Lucy Larcom (1824-1893), who knew Sarah Page’s granddaughter. Though potentially based on true events, Larcom’s poem is a romanticized version of the story that was published in 1874 during the lead up to the US Centennial in 1876.

Sarah Page’s husband Capt. Jeremiah Page was a Danvers militia officer and an ardent patriot who later fought in the Revolution. He agreed with the tea ban, and Larcom’s poem supposes that he said “none shall drink tea in my house.” One evening when her husband was out, Sarah Page is said to have invited several women from the neighborhood up to the porch atop the Page House’s gambrel roof, not doing so until sunset so that they would not be noticed. Larcom quotes Page as telling her friends, “Upon a house is not within it,” thereby finding a loophole around her husband’s directive.

The Page House remained in the family for two more generations, and was originally on Elm Street where “Instant Shoe Repair” and “Nine Elm” are today. Sarah Page’s daughter in-law Mary Page died in 1876 and her will put the property into a trust with the stipulation that once there were no longer any Page descendants to live there, the historic house was to be torn down. After Mary Page’s daughter Anne Lemist Page died in 1913, the trustee planned to demolish it according to her wishes.

Losing a house in which two local figures prominent during the Revolution lived would have been a tragedy, and the still relatively new Danvers Historical Society sued to oppose the will. The Essex County Probate Court sided with the Historical Society, and allowed the organization to purchase the house from the estate to preserve it, which it did in August 1914. The Page House was later moved a short distance around the corner to Page Street where it stands as the Society’s office and book shop, still with its gambrel roof and porch atop it.

 

Original location of Page House - DHC v3
Original location of the Page House shown along Elm Street at bottom. It’s second location is labelled along Page Street as “Danvers Historical Society.” From Danvers Historical Collections, vol. 3.

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Sources:

Addison, Daniel Dulany. Lucy Larcom: Life, Letters, and Diary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1895.

Gill, Eliza M. “Distinguished Guests and Residents of Medford.” The Medford Historical Register 16, no. 1 (January 1913): 1–14.

Larcom, Lucy. The Poetical Works of Lucy Larcom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1884.

“Newspaper Items Relating to Danvers.” In The Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society, 1:61–64. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1913.

Nichols, Andrew. “The Original Lot of Col. Jeremiah Page.” In The Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society, 3:101–9. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1915.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Danvers Fallout Shelters

(March 13, 2020 in the Herald-Citizen)

During the Cold War, Americans across the country feared the outbreak of nuclear war – a conflict with the potential to end all life on earth. Once the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb using stolen US intelligence in 1949, both sides had the capability of annihilating one another. Danvers, like towns across the country, took preparations in case the “hell bomb” fell.

During the 1950s, some citizens built makeshift fallout shelters in their cellars and constructed small concrete buildings in their backyards. The Danvers Chamber of Commerce worked with the VFW to construct an example home shelter on display near Danvers Square for interested Danversites to use as a model for their own homes. In 1961 and 1962, Massachusetts and local communities began planning and marking public fallout shelters in coordination with the local Civil Defense volunteers responsible for emergency preparedness.

Fallout Shelter Map-1
State CD fallout shelter map for Danvers. There are several errors including addresses and wrongly listing Our Lady of Assumption (which is in Lynnfield)

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Saint Mary of the Annunciation School with fallout shelter sign, March 2020.

Danvers had public fallout shelters in all sections of town, which were located in the lowest levels of sturdy brick buildings and were to be used only if one could not take shelter in their own cellars. The fallout shelters in Danvers included Xavier Hall at St. John’s Prep on Spring St., St. Mary’s School on Otis St., Great Oak School on Pickering St., Danvers Savings Bank in the Square, the telephone exchange (Verizon building) on High St., Creese and Cook Tannery on Water St., Danvers State Hospital (with 11 shelters and a total capacity of 3,000 people), and the Sylvania building at 75 Sylvan St. These shelters were overseen by the local Civil Defense Committee, which stocked them with supplies such as snacks, flashlights, water, radios, and flashlights, but those taking refuge were expected to bring supplies with them.

Telephone Exchange 1
Verizon Telephone Exchange (63 High St.) with fallout shelter sign, March 2020.

Civil Defense had a chain of command, and at the state level it was headquartered in the governor’s nuclear bunker in Framingham, where the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is based today. In addition to the state director, there was a regional director, town director, and local volunteer neighborhood wardens. Unlike the military side of national defense, women had important roles in the Massachusetts Civil Defense, serving as local wardens and assistant regional directors.

Danvers’ Civil Defense Committee was established in 1950 and was based in the cellar of town hall before moving to the cellar of the old police station on Maple St. across from Hotwatt. On the tower atop the old Central Fire Station (where Atlantic Ambulance is today) next to the old police station was a radio antenna that, along with a second one at the DPW garage on Hobart St., could communicate with all sections of town. For public warning, air raid sirens were constructed at Plains Park and on Route 1 near the state hospital. These sirens were regularly tested, though there was one incident during the summer of 1964 when the air attack sirens went off accidentally and threw the town into a panic.

Air Raid Sirens
Danvers air raid sirens, 1959.

Civil Defense trained locals in first aid, showed preparedness films such as “You Can Beat the A-Bomb” to local civic groups, established an emergency electrical generator system for Hunt Hospital, organized blood drives, and established a volunteer  auxiliary police force for emergencies when Danvers did not have enough regular officers. Interestingly, during several years in the 1950s this special police force was called out on Halloween to manage the shenanigans of teenagers, which must have been quite out of hand. Civil Defense even had its own marked cars and trucks that were given to local communities from army surplus.

Civil Defense Trucks
Danvers Civil Defense vehicles at Hobart St. DPW Garage, 1957.

In addition to the nuclear attack preparedness associated with civil defense, the organization was also responsible for all types of emergencies: epidemics, floods, earthquakes, large fires, hurricanes, release of radiation from the Seabrook and Plymouth nuclear power plants, aircraft crashes, blackouts (such as the 1965 Northeast Blackout), and riots. If the town’s Civil Defense Director received the secret code word – in 1973 it was “MAYFLOWER” – from state officials he would mobilize all local resources to deal with whichever type of disaster was occurring, alerting the police and fire departments, the selectmen, the Civil Defense volunteers, the police auxiliary volunteers, and the Civil Air Patrol volunteers at Beverly Airport.

CD First Aid Kit (1)
This Civil Defense first aid kit from 1955 and Geiger counter were kept in the Public Health Dept. at Danvers Town Hall until March 2020. Pictured here after it was donated to the Danvers Archival Center, March 2020.

Geiger Counter (1)

Along with these public programs, the threat of nuclear annihilation also spurred private citizens to act. One private endeavor in Danvers that dwarfs all others was Galo Putnam Emerson Sr.’s “doomsday motel” project. Emerson, the then-owner of Putnam Pantry Candies on Rt. 1, planned to build a “bomb shelter motel” – an ordinary motel with an enormous fallout shelter in the cellar.

Noah's Ark-1
Boston Globe article on the planned fallout shelter motel, 1961.

The motel fallout shelter was meant to contain 6 months of supplies, including four giant underground tanks filled with fuel oil, kerosene, gasoline and water. Those saved by this shelter would be local Civil Defense officials, town leaders, medical professionals, a lawyer, estate planner – one might think that his job needed to be completed before the bomb fell – mechanic, farmer, fisherman, chemist, cook, teacher, and machine gunner, among other specialists. In addition to these professionals, the shelter was designed to include local citizens and whichever motel guests happened to be there, whose job was to repopulate Oniontown. To aid them in reestablishing humanity, the shelter included what the Boston Globe referred to as a “nuclear Noah’s Ark” – a cow, bull, rooster, chickens, seeds, farm equipment, and fishing gear.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for this last resort were held on November 14, 1961, and included guests such as the project’s engineer F. Parker Reidy, Danvers Town Manager Daniel J. McFadden, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Baron Mayer, and Massachusetts Civil Defense Director John J. Maginnis. However, it does not appear that the project continued any further then this ceremony due to the costs involved.

To directly counter the atomic threat, Danvers and Beverly each had a missile base equipped with Nike nuclear-tipped missiles to defend against the “Red menace.” These bases, which will be described in a future article, made Danvers and Beverly frontline communities during this period of atomic fear.

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Sources:

Danvers, Town of. 1950-1970 Annual Town Reports. Danvers, Mass.: Town of Danvers, 1956.

“‘Doomsday Motel’ Dream: The Danvers Candy Man Who Hoped To Build Underground Bomb Shelter.” Boston, Mass.: WBUR, March 2, 2017. https://www.wbur.org/news/2017/03/02/danvers-doomsday-motel.

Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency. Community Shelter Plans: Essex County, Middlesex County, Suffolk County, 1979. http://archive.org/details/communityshelter00mass_1.

Massachusetts Civil Defense Agency, and United States Office of Emergency Preparedness. Massachusetts State Disaster Plan, 1973. http://archive.org/details/massachusettssta00mass_2.

Sullivan, Jerome. “General Putnam Descendant Builds Nuclear Noah’s Ark.” Boston Globe; Boston, Mass. November 15, 1961.

Gen. Israel Putnam House

Putnam House
(The Putnam House on Maple St. in Danvers, 2020. Author’s photo)

The c.1648 Putnam House, known for its connections to both the 1692 Salem Village Witch-Hunt and the American Revolution, is one of the most significant historic structures in Danvers. It is best known as the childhood home of Major General Israel Putnam, the American commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Born January 7, 1718 into a farming family, Israel Putnam was the 11th of 12 children. His father, Joseph Putnam, was an opponent of the 1692 Witch-Hunt, despite many members of the Putnam Family being among the leading accusers. Israel Putnam only received a minimal education, attending the local grammar school during the winters when the farming season was over. He married Hannah Pope in 1739, and continued living on his family farm for several years before he moved to present-day Brooklyn, CT.

IMG_2032
(DAR plaque on the Putnam House. Author’s photo)

Birth_Room,_Gen._Israel_Putnam POSTCARD
(Postcard showing the room in which Israel Putnam was born)

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(View from Route 1. Author’s photo)

Beginning in 1755, Putnam fought in the French and Indian War with the Connecticut militia. He entered as a private and rapidly rose through the ranks due to his bravery, and he served in the unit that was the precursor to the U.S. Army Rangers. Putnam fought in upper New York at Fort Ticonderoga, supervised the building of the major fort at Crown Point, NY, was captured and almost burned alive by French-allied Native Americans, commanded 1,000 colonial militiamen during the invasion of Spanish Cuba, and at the French and Indian War’s end he was a colonel who had been wounded 15 times.

Putnam returned to his farm in Connecticut where he lived and worked until April 19, 1775 when British soldiers advanced on Lexington and Concord and the American Revolution began. He was ploughing his farm when he heard about the battles, so he left his plough in the field immediately and departed to ask the governor for orders to go to Boston, and then departed for Massachusetts. The image of Putnam leaving his plough to join the fight is carved on one side of the Connecticut capitol building.

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(Putnam in his Continental Army uniform, printed in Hasbrouck, Israel Putnam)

When Putnam arrived, Boston was surrounded by Massachusetts militiamen, some of whom had confronted the British on the day of Lexington and Concord, like those from Danvers, as well as those from farther away towns who marched on the capital once they heard the news of the battles. The militiamen surrounded the British-occupied city which at that point was effectively an island, with only a sliver of land connecting it to the mainland.

Putnam, now a brigadier general in the Connecticut militia, set up headquarters in Cambridge while he oversaw the construction of defenses on that side of the Charles River. During this time, he received a message from British commander Gen. Thomas Gage in Boston – a friend from the French and Indian War – who offered him the position of major general in the British Army if he joined the Crown’s side against the American patriots. Putnam refused.

On the morning of June 17, 1775 British sailors on Royal Navy ships in the harbor awoke to see that during the previous night the Americans had moved onto the Charlestown peninsula and constructed fortifications there. The cannons aboard the British ships began firing on the Americans, starting the Battle of Bunker Hill, and soon after landing craft dropped off British soldiers to attack the Americans. The American commander-in-chief Major General Joseph Warren was ill, and the major general of the Mass. militia refused command, so Putnam served as the American commanding officer of the battle. It was as the British soldiers approached the poorly-supplied militiamen on the hill that he reportedly ordered them to conserve ammunition until the British were close: “Don’t fire until you can see the whites of their eyes!”


(Bunker Hill. Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/pga.11535/)

At the Battle of Bunker Hill, Putnam fought among the troops, giving orders from the midst of battle. He carried a pistol that had been used by a British officer at Lexington – it was the gun that reportedly fired to signal for the British soldiers to open fire on the Americans on that fateful morning and therefore potentially the gun that fired the first shot of the Revolution.

The British soldiers attacked twice and were repelled. After receiving reinforcements they attacked a third time and pushed back the Americans, who were by then almost out of ammunition, ending the battle. Though, the Americans had inflicted heavy casualties onto the attacking British. When George Washington took command of the American forces the following month, Putnam was named a major general in the Continental Army, a position earned by his leadership at Bunker Hill and reputation from prior wars.

After Bunker Hill, Putnam fought at the Battle of Long Island – where he saved Washington’s army from destruction by covering the commander’s retreat – and at other battles in New York and Connecticut. At this time, his staff included his aide-de-camp Aaron Burr, future US vice president – and killer of Alexander Hamilton.

During the war, a captured British officer challenged Putnam to a duel. He accepted, and was given the choice of weapons. The next morning, the British officer saw Putnam sitting in a chair next to a barrel, the kind that was typically used to store gunpowder. Putnam invited him to sit in a chair on the other side of the barrel. Putnam inserted a fuse into the top of the barrel and lit it with his pipe, telling the British officer that they both had an equal chance of surviving. The fuse burned down to the end and the British officer jumped away in the nick of time – or so he thought, but it never exploded. It was actually a barrel of onions, and the British officer had mistakenly assumed it was gunpowder. Putnam considered that he won the duel.

Image result for general putnam gunpowder barrel
(Image of the onion barrel duel, printed in Hasbrouck, Israel Putnam)

Putnam’s military career ended in 1779 when he suffered a stroke. He returned to Danvers for the last time in 1786 to visit with his family and friends, and died on May 19, 1790. His legacy is seen in the various monuments and places named for him, including: Putnam Memorial State Park in Redding, CT that features an equestrian statue of him, his preserved Putnam Farm in Brooklyn, CT, a statue of him at the Connecticut State Capitol, the counties that bear his name in nine different states, several towns named for him, and the Putnam House in Danvers, as well as a motel named after him in the film My Cousin Vinny (1992) and a character in several versions of the videogame Assassin’s Creed.


(Image of Putnam in the Connecticut militia uniform he wore at Bunker Hill, from Assassin’s Creed)

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Sources:

Frothingham, Richard. History of the Siege of Boston, and of the Battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. 6th ed. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1903.

Hasbrouck, Louise Seymour. Israel Putnam (“Old Put”): A Story for Young People. New York: C. Appleton, 1916. http://archive.org/details/israelputnamoldp00zimm.

Hubbard, Robert Ernst. Major General Israel Putnam: Hero of the American Revolution. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2017.

Humphreys, David. An Essay on the Life of the Honorable Major General Israel Putnam: Addressed to the State Society of the Cincinnati in Connecticut. Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1788. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008586085.

Massachusetts Historical Commission. “General Israel Putnam House.” MACRIS. Accessed January 12, 2020. http://mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=DAN.51.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.