Showing posts with label Dorchester Historical Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dorchester Historical Society. Show all posts

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Davenport Tileston House Dorchester, MA

Dorchester Illustration of the Day no. 1929 Tileston House by Earl Taylor

The Tileston House at 13 River Street was built ca. 1770 and ranks among the oldest houses in the Lower Mills West area. Although altered by vinyl siding, this house's distinctive 5-bay, 2-pile, gambrel roof form provides clues to its early origins. During the 19th century, this building was owned and occupied by Charles Tileston whose stove, heating, and plumbing store was next door on the very busy corner of River and Washington Streets.

Reader's comment:

When we look at architectural features evident in the photo, the gambrel roof, single room depth, and 5 bay facade especially the early gambrel roof) all suggest ca. 1740-1780 18th century English Georgian Style features, compatible with the proposed circa 1770 first build date. The gambrel roof first made its appearance in Massachusetts in the early 18th century Georgian Style buildings [such as the Derby and Cabot houses here in Salem]--and then was later re-introduced most strongly in the Colonial Revival (also called Georgian Revival) period after the 1876 U.S. Centennial.

The 6/6 windows, and nice Federal Style fence were evidently installed later, in the ca. 1780-1830 period after America won the Revolutionary War, to give the Tileston House the more up-to-date Federal Style associations, which became the most preferred fashion once the United States achieved Independence. Charles Bulfinch in Boston and Samuel McIntire here in Salem were two of the most influential architects and designers who helped introduce and popularize the Federal Style after the Revolutionary War, although of course others like Asher Benjamin, Jabez Smith, Samuel Melcher III and Alexander Parris (who typically worked as housewrights and builders as well as architects and designers) were also influential. Jabez Smith is known mostly here in Salem, just as fellow Federal Style housewright and designer Samuel Melcher III who also helped spread the new fashion north of Boston is known now mostly in Mid-Coast Maine. Several of Asher Benjamin's pattern books have been reprinted and are easily consulted. For a nice web site devoted to interpreting Parris's work, see
--John Goff, September 2005

Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 Marriage of James Davenport and Grace Tileston

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dorchester North Burying Ground

From Dorchester Illustration of the Day by Earl Taylor and adds from Melissa Berry
The North Burying Ground Dorchester, MA 

A receipt for $3 from Daniel Davenport to David Clap for digging a grave for David’s wife Azubah Clap in August 1835. Davenport tolled the bell and furnished the horse for the hearse.

The following is from The Clapp Memorial. Record of the Clapp Family in America Ebenezer Clapp, compiler. Boston: David Clapp & Son, 1876.

David Clapp, oldest son of David and Ruth (Humphreys) Clapp, was born in Dorchester, Nov. 30, 1759, and died there May 15, 1846, in his 87th year. He married, Dec. 9, 1794, Susannah Humphreys, daughter of Henry Humphreys, of Dorchester (who in 1752 married Abigail Clapp, daughter of Ebenezer and Hannah Clapp). Mrs. Susannah Clapp died Jan 27, 1800, and David married second, July 28, 1801, Azubah, daughter of Deacon Jonathan Capen, of Stoughton, born there March 20, 1766. She was a woman of much energy of character, and was ever ready to give assistance when needed among friends and neighbors. She brought with her from her first home the then common household utensils of the hand-loom and spinning-wheel, and for many years after marriage made use of them in supplying cloth for family use. She died in Dorchester, of a cancer, Aug. 10, 1835, aged 69 years.

From article Relics of Ye Olden Times. The Historical Magazine: And Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History, and Biography of America pics added
The old Dorchester burial ground on the corner of Boston and Stoughton Streets can stately be called the oldest, most historic and most interesting of any burial place in this State, if not in the whole country. It is the oldest, because it contains, or did contain, the oldest tombstone known to exist in America.


Photo by Don Blauvelt This stone stood over the graves of Bernard Capen, who died November 8, 1638, and Mrs. Capen, his wife, who departed this life March 26, 1653.

Bernard Capen House Photo from Dorchester Atheneum
It was found many years since by Mr. George Fowler, who had charge of the grounds, slightly imbedded in some loose earth near the grave, while another stone of slate, with a fac simile of the original inscription, stood and still stands over the oldest known grave in America, and this duplicate is thought to have been erected some time about the beginning of the present century. The original slab, which is of real sandstone, was taken in charge by the Antiquary Society, and is at present on exhibition at the rooms of that society on Somerset Street, Boston. Some would naturally think that the oldest gravestone would be found at Plymouth, but, although the Pilgrims lost many of their number, long before the colonization of Massachusetts Bay by the Puritans, they strove to keep secret from the hostile Indians the true facts of their loss and weakness, and to do this they secretly and quietly buried their dead comrades without leaving behind them either mound or stone. Photo by bill Llott

Mr. Fowler is a jolly old gentleman, who bears his eighty-four years with resignation. He was superintendent of this graveyard for twenty-eight years, being first employed by the town of Dorchester, previous to its annexation to Boston in 1869, and since then by the city of Boston.

Mr. Fowler has had a great many visitors, and particularly on Sundays. Men come with their wives and children to see the old graves and quaint inscriptions, and from showing them around and pointing out those of particular interest, he has come to know the location of each grave so that he can point out any particular one and give the history of the person buried, from one side of the burial ground to the other.

The power of the old gentleman's retentive memory is plainly seen in his reading of epitaphs and inscriptions, written in ye olden time style, while standing at the head of these old tombs. The old Capen grave is situated in the extreme corner of Boston and Stoughton Streets. In this corner arc all the older graves, it being the original burying ground, a great many of the graves being covered with huge slabs of rough stone imbedded in the earth.

"Well," said Mr. Fowler, •' I suppose you'll only laugh at what I am going to tell you now, but it's truth, sir, living truth. When our forefathers first commenced to bury here the wolves used to come at night and dig into the graves for the dead bodies. So whenever anyone was buried a great slab of stone was placed over the grave to prevent the wild animals from getting at the bodies." To the left of the Capen grave, and in a line with it, stand seven slabs of slate, each bearing the name of Capen, the latest date being 1746. The second oldest gravestone in the ground gives no surname to tell who is buried beneath, but simply bears this rather odd inscription:

Abel, his offering accepted is His body to the grave his soule to bliss On October's twentye and no more In the yeare sixteen hundred 44." On the other end of the stone is the following epitaph, which tells that a child is also buried beneath.

                                 "Submite submitted to her heavenly King  Being a flower
                                  of that Eternal Spring Neare three years old she dyed,
                                  in heaven to wate. The year was sixteen hundred 48."

John Foster headstone Photo from Dorchester Historical Society
Next we come to the Foster plot of ground where is buried •• "The Ingenious Mathematician and Printer, Mr. John Foster." John Foster was the first printer of Boston, and died in 1681, at the age of 33. Beside his grave is also buried his father, Hopestill Foster, who died in 1676, and his brother Elisha Foster, who died a year after him.

To the right of Hopestill Foster's grave is the tomb of General Humphrey Atherton, who died in 1661.

On the cover of the tomb, which is of sandstone, is carved the representation of a sword, and the following epitaph:

                               "Heare lyes our Captain and Major of Suffolk was withall
                                 A Godly Magistrate was he and Major General!
                                Two trups of hors with him here came such worth his love did crave
                                Ten companyes of fort also mourning march to his grave
                                Let all that read be sure to keep the faith as he hath done
                                With Christ he lives now crowned, his name was Humphrey Atherton."

A few feet to the left of this is the tomb of Richard Mather, the grandfather to Cotton Mather, who died in 1669.

James Humphry, one of the ruling Elders of the Town of Dorchester " was buried beside him in 1686, it being his wish to be buried in the same grave if there was room.

Gov. William Stoughtn Portrait from Harvard University Collection
Governor Stoughton is another of the old tombs, as he was buried here in 1671, but the tomb was partly rebuilt in 1828 by Harvard College, to which institution he had given considerable money. Photo by Kim G

Other old gravestone names and dates are Miriam Wood, a school teacher, 1653; William Poole, a schoolmaster, in 1682; Clement Topliff, 1672; Parson Flint, "late pastor of ye Church in Dorchester," 1680; and Thomas Joanes, after whom Jones Hill (Pic below) is called, 1678.

This is certainly the only cemetery in America in which there has been a constant and regular interment for 250 years, from 1638 to 1888, for there are still people being buried in this old ground. An interesting grave and monument is that of old " Uncle Daniel Davenport," who was sexton of the burial ground for many years, and dug and completed his own tomb, and had his epitaph written years before his death. He attended 1.135 funerals in his time and dug 735 graves. His son William was sexton from 1848 to 1865, and had buried in that time 1,267 people. Mr. Fowler has broken the record of his predecessors, having buried up to January I, 1890, 1,532.

Mr. Fowler tells many a quaint, odd story, one being of a woman who didn't like the idea of her surviving female relatives wearing her fine dresses when she was gone, and in consequence had the choicest ones in her wardrobe put in the coffin with her.

Another is that of a man whose wife had died and was buried in a temporary grave until such time as he could have another lot set off. After years had elapsed, he married again, and together with his second wife came to see the removal of the coffin of wife number one to the new grave about seven years after her death. When the coffin was taken up, wife number two expressed a great desire to have it opened that she might see the body. Mr. Fowler did not like the idea and told her it would be an offensive sight, but when she had gotten her husband's consent, her wish was complied with. The coffin was opened, and though nothing remained but the skeleton, there shone on one of the fingers a beautiful diamond ring that looked as bright as if it had just come from the jewelers. She looked at it a moment, and then, stating that it was too great a temptation, deliberately took it from what had been the dead woman's finger, and wiping it with her handkerchief placed it on her own finger, where Mr. Fowler saw it displayed on the train a short time ago after the manner of ye traveling man.

While my neighbor Fowler was superintendent of the Dorchester burying ground. Governor Gardner's son called at the grave yard and desired to go into an opened vault. He was given permission and ordered not to touch anything. Soon afterward he was seen leaving the yard with something hidden under his arm. On being questioned, he replied: "It's only a skull; I'm taking it home to study and I'll bring it back again."

Daniel Davenport 1773-1860(pic from Dorchester Historical Society) Sexton in Dorchester 1806-1852 Headstone reads

As Sexton with my spade I learned
To delve beneath the sod,
Where body to the earth returned,
But spirit to its God,
Years rwenty seven this toil I bore,
And midst death's oft was spared;
Seven hundred graves and thirty four
I dug, then mine prepared.
And when at last I too must die,
Some else the Bell will toll;
As here my mortal relics lie,
May Heaven receive my soul.

Book on Old Burial Ground Dorchester
Miller Anderson Histories

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Amos Upham and Abigal Humphreys Upham Dorchester, MA

Amos Upham with note b. March 11, 1789; m. Dec. 28, 1819; picture taken May 1858, and scan of framed image owned by the Dorchester Historical Society of Abigail Upham with note b. January 24, 1789; m. Dec. 28, 1819; picture taken May 1858, both by McElroy. Amos Upham came to Dorchester in 1817, purchased a tract of land and established a grocery store at the place now known as Upham’s Corner, which he carried on for the rest of his life. He was prominent citizen. He was married December 28, 1819, to Miss Abigail Humphreys, daughter of Deacon James Humphreys, of Dorchester. They were the parents of four children: James H.; Charles Amos, born March 10, 1822; Abigail, who died at the age five and half years; and Amos, Jr., who died in Philadelphia when about thirty-two years old. Amos Upham, the father, was an active member of the old fire department. He was a Free Mason and member of the First Church of Dorchester. His death took place January 25, 1872. His wife died December 19,1878.
 Dorchester Historical Society Collection

Friday, August 16, 2013

Captain John "Mad Jack" Percival and Lydia Clapp House

Lydia Clapp House at 6 Percival Street.  The house was featured in the very first episode of the PBS show “This Old House” in 1979.
Full text on Clapp Family Photo from Dorchester Historical Society

Percival Street, which runs between St. Peter’s Church and this house, was named for Captain John Percival (“Mad Jack”), a naval hero of the War of 1812 and later the champion of the restoration of the USS Constitution. His house stood opposite this one on the location of St. Peter’s Church.

Article from the Dorchester Atheneum

Captain John Percival, or "Mad Jack," was a native of Barnstable. He went to sea when but a boy, and later entered the merchant service. While still young he was impressed on board the British vessel Epervier, but managed to escape by placing his pistol at the Sentry's head.

During the War of 1812 Captain Percival became the sailing-master of the Peacock, and, by a strange coincidence, had an engagement with the Epervier, on board of which he had been impressed. His services during the wear were so valuable that he was promoted to the line officers, and became lieutenant and afterwards captain. Congress gave a further proof of the esteem in which he was held by his country by presenting him with a handsome sword.

After the war he was sent in the United States sloop Cyane to the West Indies, to destroy the pirates, who were at that time committing many indignities to those came within their reach; and Captain Percival?s efforts were so effective that, before he left the scene of so many depredations, he had broken their force, and they were no longer to be feared. Few men had led such eventful lives as that which fell to his lot. Hairbreadth escapes followed one another, and on many occasions it seemed as if death was staring him in the face; but he passed through all in safety, and died a peaceful death at his home in Dorchester.

A single anecdote may be related to show what dangers he survived. On one occasion he set sail on a sloop from Africa with only a boy and an old man on board for crew. When they were hardly out of sight of port, Captain Percival and the old man were taken down with African fever, and the boy alone was left to man the sloop. It was not long before the boy was washed overboard, and the vessel left entirely at the mercy of the water. Captain Percival was able to summon strength enough to lash the helm, and then went below again, caring little, in his wretched condition, what might befall the vessel. The sloop sailed in the trade winds, and in time arrived at a port, when Captain Percival came on deck, and inquired where his course lay. Much to his astonishment, he found that without guidance the vessel had continued in her course, and that better voyage could not have been made had she been manned by an entire crew.

Captain Percival and the Constitution took their last trip around the world together, the captain dying in 1862. His Dorchester home was the site on which the Catholic Church now stands at Meeting-House Hill, on the corner of the street now called by his name. The house was originally built by Dr. Harris for his son, before it came into Captain Percival's possession. This house was moved back at the time of the erection of the church, and still stands on Percival Avenue. The life of Captain Percival was so eventful that it has been made the subject of a romance, entitled "The Cruise of the Juniata." The captain is not called by his real name in the story; but as Captain Percy he has become in fiction the hero that he proved himself to be in life.

Note: Percival is described in an article in American Heritage for April, 1971, vol. XXII, number 3, titled: "Mad Jack" and the Missionaries -- Although an affable man under most circumstances, he was fiery tempered. His rages, quickly triggered and as quickly ended, had earned him the name of "Mad Jack" or "Crazy Jack" among the sailors. He was a great favorite with the men, who accepted his swearing as a mark of affection; he shared the cabin wines with the sick, and when there were fresh provisions to be distributed, the men on the gun deck shared equally with the officers. Percival?s methods were unconventional, as might be expected of a naval officer who had begun his career as a sailing master. A colleague described him as "the roughest old devil that ever was in his manners, but a kind, good hearted man at bottom." Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was to meet Percival at the Boston Navy Yard in later years, thought he saw an eccentric expression in his face, which seemed partly willful, partly natural ... He seems to have moulded and shaped himself to his own whims, till a sort of rough affectation has become thoroughly imbued throughout a kindly nature.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Joseph L. Levis, Olympic Fencer from Dorchester Historical Society

Joseph L. Levis, Olympic fencer who loved to dance died in Brighton, May 20, 2005 at the age of 99. His obituary appeared in the Boston Globe on Saturday, June 11, 2005. Mr. Levis represented the United State in three Olympic Games and became a ballroom dancing champion in his 80s and 90s. While Mr. Levis won many national fencing championships, his biggest accomplishment was winning the silver medal at the 1932 Olympics in men’s foil fencing. It is still, as of 2005, the highest record in men’s or women’s foil in Olympic history for a US fencer.
Joseph on left 1932 Olympic Games
The son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Levis was born and grew up in the North End, where he worked part time in a butcher shop to help his family. He graduated from Boston English High School in 1922 and from MIT in 1926 with a degree in civil engineering.
Mr. Levis learned the basics of fencing from his father. When he arrived at MIT, he was chosen captain of the fencing team and won three intercollegiate championships. He was adept in the use of saber and epee in fencing, but favored the foil.
After graduating, Mr.Levis joined the Freeport Marble and Tile Co. of Dorchester, founded by his father in the mid-1920s. He retired in 1985 as its principal owner and CEO.
Between 1927 and 1936, Mr. Levis won eight national foil titles and one three-weapon title of the Amateur Fencers League of America, now the US Fencing Association.

In the 1930s, Mr. Levis sent to Havana to compete in an exhibit match against gold-medal Olympian Ramon Fonst. While in Cuba, he met Yvonne Rodriguez. They married in 1939 in New York, where Mr. Levis was living at the time.
In 1937 he retired from competition, and two years later he took a job as fencing coach at MIT. Construction work was down during the Depression, and he needed another paying job to supplement his income from the tile company. He stayed at MIT for 10 years.
Mr. Levis missed fencing competition and in 1949, he applied for reinstatement of his amateur status. It wasn’t granted until 1954. On his first attempt at competing again, after a 17 year retirement, he came back and won his eighth and last national foil championship.

Joe Levis wins 1954 National Championship title after 17 years of retirement. Congratulating Levis are:  Larry Dargie (Boston University Coach), Edo Marion (Harvard University Coach), and Silvio Vitali (MIT Coach).
After Mr. Levis gave up fencing, he began competing in golf and ballroom dancing. About 20 years ago, Mr. Levis and his wife started lessons at the Dan Radler and Suzanne Hamby Ballroom Dance Studios in Watertown and Southborough.
Mr. Levis only stopped dancing a year ago, after his wife’s death. He leaves son Robert L. Levis of Miami, son Christopher J. Levis of West Roxbury and two grandchildren. Burial was in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Hyde Park.
by Earl Taylor Dorchester Historical Society