"Mattapoisett in the Making"
Chapter Four: Lieutenant John Hammond and Captain Benjamin Hammond
By Charles Mendell
It was along the banks of the Mattapoisett River that the first community of Mattapoisett sprang up. Samuel and John Hammond had soon been joined by their two younger brothers, Nathan and Benjamin, and these four brothers proceeded, with the customary large families of the time, to populate the western section of Mattapoisett with such astounding rapidity and thoroughness, that a generation later it was dubbed Hammondtown. (The four Dexter brothers did the same at Pine Island and the rivalry between the two families was sharp). Up and down the river and out on the Neck the Hammond children and grandchildren along with a Barlow here and there, built their houses, many of which are still standing, reared their children, worked and prayed.
Just up from the head of the salt pond where the sloops nestled at the landings and waited for the tide to ebb and carry them down to the harbor, Lieut. John Hammond raised his house in 1704. Built when Queen Anne was on the throne of England and Indians stalked sullenly past its comer posts, the square-framed two story building stood for two hundred years. Not a nail was used in it; yet 206 years later -- in 1910 when it was taken down, the wreckers couldn't get the frame apart. Its hand hewn oak timbers, a foot square, were mortised and pegged together; and two centuries of seacoast weather had swelled them as tight as if they were welded.
From its tiny-paned windows could be seen the saw and grist mills and all day long the noise of a pioneer community at work flowed through its low-ceilinged rooms -- the shouts of the ox drivers and the workmen at the mills, the rumble of the grist stones, the rasp of the heavy up-and-down saw, the creak of the huge water wheels, the splash of dropping water. When Lieut. John looked a few rods below the dam, he could see the salt pond gently widening to the harbor a half mile away, and the men on his landing lifting and bending as they loaded his sloop. Past the doorstep of the house, ox carts creaked from morning til night -- towering loads of salt hay from the Necks lumbering up country to Rochester, log teams from the forest turning into the mill yard, loads of anchors and heavy iron work bound from the blacksmith's shop to a sloop just building, boards and shingles and timber fresh from the saw swinging down the Neck Road headed for the landing.
The house itself was just as busy, for it was the center of this family community where the sea tides flooded up into the farms and timber and mills. On the broad front door were posted notices of the doings of the latest Town Meeting -- announcements of "sheep rams" running at large, of swine being ringed, of marks to show ownership of cattle, of herring inspectors, or a call for a gathering of the church members; for Rochester Center was six miles away, a long hard muddy ride, and the growing village of Hammondtown needed some means of being notified and getting the news. Here too were tacked up the proclamations of His Excellency the Royal Governor in far away Boston relative to the Queen's business in Her Majesty's Province of Massachusetts Bay. Lieut. John himself was good as a newspaper. He went to Boston as Representative to the Great and General Court. He knew the captains and merchants and Customs House officials in Newport and Nantucket. He was Selectman of the town. Lieutenant of the Militia, cornerstone of the church, and rode home with the news of what everyone was doing in other quarters of the sprawling town - the fanners of Snipatuit, the iron makers of Wareham, the mariners of Sippican.
Through this front door the increasing brood of Hammond and Barlow and Dexter children -- "doubly removed half-second cousins" -- trudged to school during the three months when it was Mattapoisett's turn to be educated by the town's schoolmaster. The house was also the center of the jollity of the village, for Lieut. John ran it as a tavern; and on winter days chilled travelers from Plymouth to Rhode Island, ox drivers with their hands brittle from frost, captains just in from a bitter voyage from Newport, burst open the big front door to thaw themselves at the tremendous fire while they gulped their grog and exchanged the news from the great world for gossip of the little.
A quarter of a mile up the winding, meadow-fringed river where the cart path ruts to Rochester swung over the bridge, sat the house of Lieut. John's younger brother, Capt. Benjamin Hammond; and it is from the narrow pages of Capt. Ben's homemade, pigskin-covered journal that we get our only personal glimpse of the coastwise trade that was dragging the Mattapoisett farmers from soil to sea until they landed there for keeps. So let us put out of the house of Capt. Ben at daybreak on a raw April morning 300 years ago, and plug through the frozen mud of the cartway along the riverside, down past Lieut. John's house, across the Dartmouth way, and take the path through the soggy field to the landing. Her we get aboard his sloop, the DOLPHIN. We haul up a headsail, cast off, and coast down the pond with the tide and river current. Out in the harbor we set the heavy mainsail and the other jibs. The bitter chill of April's ocean breeze on the beat around West Island hunches us in our great coats and drives our mittened hands between our knees. But when Capt. Ben lets the bow fall off, sets the square topsail, and heads into the wide harbor at the mouth of the Acushnet River, the wind is at our backs and loses some of its bite as the beamy vessel scoops before it. When we get up to the head of the river at Acushnet, we tie up and get to work, and Capt. Ben writes in his journal: "In 1703, April the 10 we loded at Cushnot for Jonathan Hathaway 7 cords of wood and 2 do. of rals and 40 posts. For Seth Pope 100 rals and 20 post and on Sat. ofwhol timber (one set of whole timber).
The sails are hauled up, the lines cast off, and either Capt. Ben or Seth Pope sail her down with the tide; for Capt. Ben doesn't always have the time to sail off with the cargo and hires Seth as skipper. Capt. Ben is a busy man. He has a great farm in Hammondtown with one hundred head of cattle and hundreds of acres of fresh and salt meadow to look after. He has a commission from Queen Anne to dispense Her Majesty's justice along the wooded shores of Rochester, and has to listen to boundary disputes and ride to Plymouth to register deeds. He is Selectman and has to attend top the Town's business here, there and everywhere. Some years later he becomes Rochester's Representative to the Great and General Court and has to spend a couple of months a year in busy Boston wrangling with the Royal Governor over taxes and customs duties. He is one of the most noted land surveyors of his day and is in constant demand to lay out land and highways in the rolling forests of Rochester, Dartmouth and other sprawling townships.
Besides, Capt. Ben can't go on this voyage. He and Lieut. John and the other Hammonds and Barlows and Dexters have to ride through the mud to Town Meeting at Rochester Center and wrestle with some mighty problems. First, those cussed dogs. How can a man grow a decent crop if every dog in Christendom digs up the corn hills to eat the herrings put in for fertilizer? So, the harassed farmers vote that starting on the 20th of April, "every dog. Bitch, or dog kind" should have "one of their fore feet fastened up to their neck," and should be kept fettered in such a fashion for forty days. (i.e., till the herring rot). And if anybody let his dog go loose, the brute could be shot. That takes care of that! Now, what's this ruckus about not getting a fair share of the herrings? Those who live some miles away from the weir, claim they don't get as many as those who live close. So, the gruff farmers and the tanned seamen raise their voices and make acid remarks about each other, and finally appoint a keeper "for the weir at Snipatuit from pond or River.. .to devid out to each inhabitant 500 of fish apiece as far as they hold out."
Then comes a new matter -- to see if the Town will hire a schoolmaster. There are scads of youngsters getting brawny shoulders, doing chores from daybreak till dark. In a few years their fathers will give them a piece of land and they'll hew out a farm for themselves. A man's got to know how to read and write and figure, if he's going to keep straight accounts in his journal of business transactions in cattle and timber. And then Capt. Ben and others in the coastwise trade make an even more earnest plea. Many of the young Hammonds and Barlows and Dexters in the Mattapoisett quarter of the town have made voyages with their fathers and are planning to take to the sea for a living. The homespun coastwise trade is expanding, creeping down the coast to New York and further South to the Carolinas and the West Indies. At Newport or New York they can sign on a vessel in the European trade and work up to shipmaster -- wealth, social position, influence. These youngsters need to know navigation, they need a school teacher.
So "the Selectmen of sd Rochester are fully impowered to seek for and in corage some person to be in the place of a Schoolmaster to teach children and youth to Reed and write in sd-town." There is no thought of building a schoolhouse. Didn't think of it for seventy years. School for freckled young men is held three months each in Mattapoisett, Sippican, the Center and Weeweantit; and the teacher lives, and wields the ferule, in a centrally located farmhouse in each quarter, where he gets "dyet washing and lodging" and two shillings a week. Instruction in navigation is extra, and many a youth on a cold winter's evening wades through the snow drifts to the teacher's house and by the light of a candle before the fire, wrestles with the tangle of latitude and longitude and altitude on a ship fifty miles northeast of Nantucket with Boston bearing northwest by west.
The above was written by Charles Mendell, and edited for The Wanderer by his son, Seth Mendell. Charles was curator of the Mattapoisett Museum from 1958 until his death in 1975, and Seth is currently President of the Mattapoisett Historical Society. This is the third in an ongoing series to be published throughout the year in commemoration of Mattapoisett's sesquicentennial. This and all previous chapters can be found online at www.wanderer.com on the Mattapoisett page under the "Tri-Town Information" link.