Thursday, May 24, 2018

Spring Beauties at Halibut Point

Once again a revolution of the planet on its tilted axis has brought us to Spring. Warming weather has induced tender foliage in the trees, feeding the bugs and worms that support the arrival of birds spreading over the globe from winter retreats down south. Suddenly the woods and meadows of Halibut Point sparkle with the harlequin patterns of a tropical aviary. It is a brief festival for birdwatchers. The migrations conclude. The courtships quiet. Maturing leaves draw a curtain around procreative Summer.

Field Sparrow

Cedar Waxwing

Baltimore Oriole

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Northern Parula

Chestnut-sided Warbler

American Redstart

Wilson's Warbler


Eastern Bluebird

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Fox News

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you emerging news from the fox den.

Emerging news
One of the kits leaves no doubt of developing precocious hunting abilities.

Precocious hunter
With sharpened instincts it seizes its quarry in its jaws and tears it apart.

Leaves no doubt
It is coming to understand the necessity of sustaining life with life and the importance of killing only to eat.

A pause for paws
Virile it may be but itches have to be attended to.

Encouraging a sibling
Within a family leaders encourage followers out for a sibling romp.

Playing kit-and-kaboodle
It's a playful way to prepare for life's hurdles.

Daybreak at the den
That's the early morning edition of Fox News for your burrowing pleasure.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Finnish Music on Cape Ann

This Sunday evening May 13 at 7:00 you will have a chance to enjoy Finnish music presented with a glimpse of its vitality in the early generations of the immigrant community.

The program will include live music and vintage recordings at the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lanesville where services were conducted in Finnish during the same decades that music served as "probably the strongest glue in the culture," according to organizer Valerie Nelson whose grandparents arrived from Finland a century ago.
Valerie Nelson at the doors of St. Paul Lutheran Church

Planning began as a focus for the Third Annual Lanesville May Day History Festival with intriguing references in Barbara Erkkila's Village at Lane's Cove (1989). Valerie recalled that it "started with some 'wouldn't it be nice'  thoughts. Then we did all this research and talked to university professors. The first thing we learned was how central music was."
Brass bands established by military units, business companies, and unions among others had been a prominent part of life in mid-nineteenth century Finland. Along with choirs the bands performed competitively in summer festivals. Lullabies, folksongs and legends particularly from the national epic Kalevala added to the musical fabric that accompanied Finns to America. At the turn of the twentieth century they took pride in the international popularity of their countryman Jean Sibelius, composer of Finlandia and a trove of symphonic scores.
Wäinö Band of Lanesville, 1903

The Wäinö Band formed in the 1890s almost entirely of Finnish players. Notable in the photo above is the number of boys in the ensemble. Valerie Nelson points to this inter-generational encouragement as the seedbed for widespread musical appreciation and for the development in the 1920s and 1930s of several nationally prominent artists from the little community on Cape Ann.
Julius Kaihlanen leading the Wäinö Band c. 1930
Note the attentive children.

Barbara Erkkila relates stories of the Wäinö Band playing at dances, at Gloucester City Hall and on trolley whistle-stop tours around the Cape. As their audience and composition diversified their selections came to include other ethnic and particularly American music, in keeping with the common trend of assimilation into the melting pot.
Visiting musician Viola Turpeinen, right

For many years musical cultural exchanges among immigrant communities kept Finnish descendents engaged with each other across the country. On a less ethnic note, but arising from this rich village life, Cape Ann sent its prodigies out to play in prestigious ensembles of many genres.
Sylvester Ahola's Orchestra

The upcoming celebration flows in part from the energies of the newly founded Cape Ann Finns. Its membership has reached 166 descendents of the immigrant group. Sunday evening they will have on display a collection of gathered family memorabilia and are constructing a website relating to their Finnish roots. Rockport resident Rob Ranta leads the association.
Besides the natural interest in our predecessors, learning more about the Cape Ann Finns promises an inspiring story of resilience, cooperation, and self-reliance. The immigrants arrived in a strange land to work under brutal quarrying conditions. Before long they managed to build homes, churches, and social halls as well as be at the forefront of labor reform. By the time the granite industry collapsed in the 1920s they had created a resolute community on a scarred landscape that charmed world-renowned artistic immigrants to foster their own enclave here. That achievement of wholeness blended fellowship with individualism just like synthesis in the musical sphere.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Rare Moments

While I don't maintain a Life List I probably enjoy as much as the next fellow chancing on a bird I haven't seen before. My bailiwick for such excitement, you understand, is the immediate environs of Halibut Point. The other day I had a nice encounter with a Blue Grosbeak there. It turns out this is a rare and privileged experience anywhere in New England and a first occurrence among those I've been able to contact who keep records of sightings at the State Park.

Startled Song Sparrow
It seemed in this picture as if the resident Song Sparrows were as surprised by the apparition as I was. But I've been warned before about ascribing human thoughts or feelings to birds, the flabby sin of anthropomorphism. I'll stick to my own reaction.
Blue Grosbeak
The Blue Grosbeak would add an uncommon spark to almost any natural setting in our latitude. Other than the flashy feathers of Blue Jays we have few blues to delight us below the dome of the sky, which never attains the hue nor the chromatic intensity of the bird unexpectedly before me.

I want to say beautiful, a complicated word that depreciates the stunning but commonplace features of the nearby Song Sparrows. I might think 'artistic' because of the pleasing contrast between the wing tones and the rest of the body that looks like a work of painterly genius to make the blue seem bluer, but this is certainly not a result of the bird's choice or desire. Birds don't make art. 

The Blue Grosbeak looks like a Cardinal re-dipped in an alternative primary color for equally vivid effect. The novelty no doubt amplifies my sense of its beauty.

Readers will recall my disquisition with Chris Leahy on  A Good Bird. Naturally I contacted Chris about the Blue Grosbeak. He confirmed that "despite the fact that the species is showing up [in the north] with increasing frequency, it is still very much a 'good bird.' Halibut Point is the kind of coastal migrant trap where such rarities are most likely to occur."
The rarity of the occurrence of course gratified me but I was less warm to his terming Halibut Point a 'coastal migrant trap.' Chris reframed that soulless ecological jargon into a helpful explanation.
The word “trap” is somewhat misleading. Especially during spring with the prevailing SW winds that migrant songbirds are in part guided by, birds arrive and depart in “waves” responding to weather variations. In addition, they tend to follow “leading lines” such as river valleys and coastlines to orient. As dawn arrives and these nocturnal migrants are looking for landing habitat, they tend to “pile up” in coastal areas that provide food and cover. These may also be “islands” of open space surrounded by more developed land. Such places can “trap” both large numbers and high diversity of species (which implies good chances of rarities) and therefore also capture birdwatchers.
Consider me captured.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Recorded History and Gloucester Vessels

Pigeon Cove merchant David Wallis Babson acquired in 1820 the considerable acreage on Halibut Point that became known as Babson Farm. Up until 1840 this area was part of Squam Parish in the Town of Gloucester. Tax records of 1823 show that he continued to operate his fish market in Pigeon Cove and that he owned the boat Criterion, 8 years old, 30 tons, valued at $350.

Note on David Babson's Boat Criterion
Squam Parish Valuations, 1823
Gloucester City Archives
It would be interesting to know whether Criterion was part of his commercial enterprise, catching or trading fish. I brought the question to Erik Ronnberg, Maritime Curator at the Cape Ann Museum, who had studied a text from the period at the Sandy Bay Historical Society. Based on Criterion's tonnage he surmised it would have been a Chebacco boat rather than a schooner. He produced from his files this unique illustration of contemporary vessels by a local young man who gave business instruction to aspiring fishermen. Erik values it as one of the clearest depictions in existence of a Chebacco boat.

Watercolor illustrations in Jonathan Parson's Exercise Book, 1833
Schooner at left, Chebacco boat at right
Courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
Our conversation took in a literary novel we both admire, set in Pigeon Cove in the early nineteenth century, Peter Gott, Cape Ann Fisherman. The story draws on the same economic relationships, hardships at sea, and village character that we can imagine surrounding Criterion.

Cape Ann garnered its first regular news reporting when the Gloucester Telegraph began publication in 1827. Three years later it carried a petition for incorporation of the Pigeon Cove Harbour Company envisioning the construction of a stone breakwater, with signatory David Babson among those "employed and interested in the Boat Fishery there carried on."

Excerpt from Gloucester Telegraph, August 7, 1830
I was not able to find newspaper references to Criterion. It may have passed from existence by the time the Telegraph came into print in 1827. If it was still in service, we might at least appreciate that it didn't generate headlines as being lost at sea.

Erik advised visiting the regional office of the National Archives in Waltham for the possibility of finding fuller information on Criterion. Among its collections are registrations of vessels submitted by the Gloucester Customs Officer who routinely visited local coves and harbors to monitor import duties. While it was not unheard of for Gloucester coasters to bring back undeclared goods from Canadian ports, the main focus of supervision was on vessels larger than the Criterion's 30 tons.

The United States Customs Service at the time was the primary source of revenue for the federal government. It maintained two types of records: registrations for ships engaged in or capable of foreign trade, and enrollments of smaller vessels. Only the lists of registrations were forwarded to Washington, DC and preserved in the National Archives. Hence Criterion is not mentioned in the Essex Institute publication Ship Registers of the District of Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1789-1875 (1944) derived from those lists.

Early records for small vessels such as Criterion are scarce but fortuitously mentioned in the Town of Gloucester Valuations. Through the extraordinary diligence of City Archives Committee volunteer Stephanie Buck all the local vessels between 1797 and 1859 have been indexed on a searchable digital data base enumerating name, owner, age and tonnage. She extracted the information page by page from assessors' records like the one pictured above in City Hall vaults. The volumes from 1860 forward changed to a very large format inconducive to the limited storage space at City Hall and are presently in the basement of the Cape Ann Museum where Stephanie works as Librarian/Archivist. Those volumes have yet to be winnowed for their vessel listings.

Stephanie Buck with Fred's compilation
Stephanie's husband Fred came in to the Museum initially to help her as a volunteer but soon joined the staff as the Photo Archivist. In response to people's frequent inquiries on family history and the Gloucester fleet he transcribed the vessel listings published annually by Procter Brothers from 1869 through 1906, compiling in a simple digitally-searchable format the port's registrations and captains. Stephanie notes that "there is a ten-year gap [1859-1869] between my stopping and Fred's starting. Somebody could fill in that gap, if they felt like it." She savors opportunities to help with discoveries. "Anybody who is studying their family genealogy loves to have the little tiny details of their great-great-grandfather."

Stephanie will be retiring next month after fifteen years as the Museum's Librarian/Archivist. Fred passed away in February, having summoned over recent years every moment and ounce of energy to fulfill requests despite failing health.

Fred and Stephanie Buck
the wedding day of their oldest daughter
Local author Paul St. Germain recalls the couple's unstinting support on his book projects. "Fred was something of a magician, not only searching out the photographs but fixing them so they look good. You know Fred's sense of humor. Shall we say acerbic? I'd show up and the banter would go back and forth. But he was more than solicitous, more than helpful. Anything you asked him he'd be happy to do--'But I can't do it now! I've got this other project!' The amazing thing is he not only knew what he had in the archives but he had amassed so much metadata on each photograph. I'd get an email from him at two o'clock in the morning with a couple of pictures. 'I came across this. This might be good.'

"Every time I went in I'd let Stephanie know what I was looking for, which was usually captions for the photographs. I'd work at the big round table in back. She'd come over every now and then to drop off books or documents. 'You might find this useful,' she'd say, even before I asked her about a particular subject.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Recorded History, Valuations, and "Cow Rights"

Evening, Pigeon Cove, engraving by Kruseman Van Elten, 1873 1
Permanent settlement of Cape Ann centering on the most arable land where the Rte 128 rotary now sits led to the incorporation of Gloucester in 1642. Distributions of common land slowly grew and dispersed the population so that in the days of entwined civic and religious government the original parish became the First Parish. Land on the north side of the Cape was parceled out by grants of 6-acre lots to all male citizens in 1688. Sales and consolidations over the next twenty years put the ownership of Halibut Point and its uplands within the farms of William Woodberry and Samuel Gott, on the order of fifty acres each. 2

Methodical study of Vital Statistics, Deeds, and Probate Records can produce an interesting record of who lived on the land. The nature of those people and what they actually did remains a more elusive subject enriched by the beginnings of newspapers and tax assessment records in the nineteenth century.

The 1800-1830 volume of Squam Parish Valuations 3
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Halibut Point existed in the Town of Gloucester's Fourth, or Squam Parish, which extended from Riverdale to about Rowe Avenue in Pigeon Cove. As of 1823 the Halibut Point property boundaries had not changed greatly. The eastern portion was owned by Joshua Gott 4 and the western by David Wallis Babson. 5 The assessor's  Valuations summarize the worldly dimensions of these men in terms of their taxable holdings.

Joshua Gott, 1823
The assessor records Joshua Gott with modest circumstances, taxed for 6 acres of mowing and tillage valued at $240. He also notes 4 Cow Rights worth $120. Evidently most of his land was not considered productive, unlike the bottom land acquired by David Babson.

David Babson, 1823
The upper half details property at Pigeon Cove,
the lower half at Halibut Point
David Wallis Babson of Gloucester married into the Wheeler family (The Old Castle), operated a fish market in Pigeon Cove, and in 1820 purchased the western side of Halibut Point that ultimately contained the Babson Farm Quarry and the Old Farm Inn as well as lowlands across Granite Street. His 1823 Valuation points to the diversity and prosperity of his enterprises. He owned 23 Cow Rights worth $690 as compared to $800 for his house, barn and gardens; $800 for 20 acres mowing and tillage; $560 for 56 acres of woodland.

What exactly were Cow Rights? First I consulted Ann Banks, who had begun research as a member of the Gloucester Archives Committee.

Ann Banks
Ann had discovered a deed transferring one Cow Right in the Sargent Pasture at Done Fudging (the ferry landing behind the present day high school)  to the overseers of the Poor Farm when it was founded there in 1821. This suggested to Ann that the Cow Right was either a share in a corporation or the legacy of a Commoner's pasturing grant from colonial times.

Part of a document deeding a Cow Right in 1821
The Cow Rights held by Babson and Gott were quite valuable, and evidently gave them access to pasture land that was not their own property per se. Possibly they were entitled to graze cattle on public land in Dogtown Common, although that would seem to be an untenable distance to walk cows daily to and from milking in the barn.

In trying to find a fuller account of Babson's and Gott's Cow Rights I received generous research assistance from legal secretary Ann McKay of Gloucester and the staff of the Essex Law Library, adjunct to the Salem Registry of Deeds and Courthouse. They turned up illuminating accounts of British and colonial traditions, as well as related decisions of the General Court, but not specific references to local practice. At the time of Babson's and Gott's decease Cow Rights were not mentioned in probate of their estates.

The provenance of Cow Rights gives depth and color to anyone interested in forming a deeper picture of life for the earliest generations here. 6 John S. Webber describes in 1885 how the consolidated purchase of Cow Rights in 1846 enabled George Rogers to amass property for the upscale development of Bass Rocks. 7 I am indebted to Professor Dan Beaver of Penn State University for summarizing his own research in the Gloucester City Archives. 8

Driving cows at Folly Cove toward Halibut Point, early 20th century
Courtesy of Sandy Bay Historical Society, Hale/Clements Collection
Notes and Sources 
1. Image from eBay, Internet.
2. Allen Chamberlain, Pigeon Cove, Its Early Settlers & Their Farms, 1940.
3. The Valuations are preserved in the vaults of Gloucester City Hall by the Archives Committee.
4. See Notes from Halibut Point Babson Farm, 1/12/2017.
5. See Notes from Halibut Point The Gott Ancestry, 1/5/2017.
6. See John J. Babson, History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Including Rockport, 1860; William L. Davisson and Dennis J. Dugan, "Land Precedents in Essex County, Massachusetts," Essex Institute Historical Collections, October 1970; Allan Greer, "Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America,"  The American Historical Review, April 2012; and Barry C. Field, "The Evolution of Individual Property Rights in Massachusetts Agriculture, 17th—19th Centuries,"  Northeastern Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, August 1989.
7. John S Webber, In and around Cape Ann.
8. The thoughtful reply of Professor Dan Beaver:
Thanks for your note. Unfortunately, the specific institution of "cow rights" took place later in Gloucester's local history than my study, so I have no specific information about it, nor does the term occur in the part of the First Book of Town Records--basically the record of the local land court--that I've worked on. So what follows is speculation on my part that may have occurred to you already, rather than resources in the form of books or articles on the subject. Still, some general discussion of the questions you listed may be helpful.

Although "cow rights" don't appear in the early records, several local ordinances in the 1640s and 1650 involved the management of local cattle and the officers responsible for it. The longer history of "cow rights" should certainly take these ordinances into account as well as the clear evidence of common grazing lands, including a stint that imposed fines for the introduction of any cattle "taken in" from other townships, other than those intended for the direct use of town members. In my opinion, a "cow right" would have entailed a specific use of and access to common lands, possessed by a member of the town or corporation of Gloucester (or their assigns/tenants), and defined either in the public records of the corporation or by custom (as something so obvious it didn't require a record; this seems unlikely by the late 1700s/early 1800s, but still possible). It also seems unlikely that the nature of the "right" would be routinely spelled out in the probate process, though this could happen in cases of disputed rights. Otherwise, I think you can assume that the "right" was exercised within the territorial confines of the Gloucester corporation, with matters of use and transfer subject to the same limitations as those attached to other property rights in the corporation.

As far as a law literature is concerned, you could usefully consult the extensive literature on the history of stinting common lands in the Atlantic common law tradition. A "cow right" in this context becomes only one local variant of this longterm effort to control/limit access to and use of common grazing lands. I hope this is somewhat helpful, and I'm sorry that I can't offer anything more specific from my own work.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Recorded History

Until the separate incorporation of Rockport in 1840 Halibut Point had for two hundred years formed the northern tip of Gloucester on Cape Ann. Paths of inquiry for the early settlement and affairs of Halibut Point therefore lie in records pertaining to the Town of Gloucester.

Left: Selectmen's Records, 1756-1781
Right: Town Records, 1753-1800
In the current exhibition Unfolding Histories at the Cape Ann Museum you have a chance to see how unusually rich the existing records are. Various volumes, documents, and artifacts on display represent more than a storehouse of antiquarian facts, more even than a trove of unique community treasures. A quiet moment with this array conveys the solemn beauty of church.

The Selectmen's Records, opened to the minutes of May 19, 1766, authorizes expenditures for "a cask of Powder to be used toward expressing our Joy for the repeal of the Stamp Act by Parliament." The Stamp Act had been one of the 'taxations without representation' that  provoked colonial Americans to revolt from England.

In the margin of the Town Records revolutionary debate on April 21, 1775 you will notice a paroxysm in the hand of Selectmen's moderator Captain Peter Coffin that "American Blood was spilt at Lexington by British Robbers."

Exhibition curator Dr. Molly Hardy
Unfolding Histories curator Dr. Molly Hardy has appreciated Gloucester's long timeline since spending childhood summers here in her grandmother's colonial-era house. She evolved professionally to a position with the eminent American Antiquarian Society in Worcester and will soon succeed Stephanie Buck as Librarian-Archivist of the Cape Ann Museum. Like many researchers in New England lore she marvels at the breadth of resources preserved here in the private collections of the Museum and in the Gloucester City Archives. She credits a significant initial conserving impulse to "antiquarians in our midst in the mid to late nineteenth century."

South steps of Gloucester's rebuilt City Hall, 1874. *
I believe City Clerk John J. Somes sits at lower left.
The raw records survived storage in the old wooden Town House, and in the vault of the first City Hall when it burned to the ground in 1869. They provided material for John J. Babson's epic History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Including the Town of Rockport (1860). Babson was eased in his monumental study by a municipal grant to hire a team of women with legible script: "It was also voted that a sum not exceeding four hundred dollars be placed at the disposal of John J. Babson Esq. for the purpose of transcribing the records of the town and arranging the Town papers and preparing an index for them with the concurrence of the Selectmen." Town Records May 7, 1849. * The transcription in precise, flowing handwriting is a boon to modern researchers in the City Hall Archives.

1646 excerpt from the original Town Records
as seen on the City of Gloucester website
A year ago Gloucester hired its first professional archivist with duties split between the Sawyer Free Library and Gloucester City Archives. Katelynn Vance has filled that position with a zealous effort. Over the last year, eight volumes from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries have been conserved and digitized at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts. Funding for this project was provided by private donations given to the Gloucester City Archives. A grant was recently submitted to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners requesting additional funds to continue the conservation and digitization of the oldest Gloucester records. Access to the digitized records is currently available on the Gloucester City Archives website,

Dr. Hardy applauds the digital scanning because of the greater access it gives researchers while sparing fragile originals further wear and tear. "But that doesn't mean we don't need the original materials. There's an aura about them which I believe in deeply. There are also very practical things that you can't tell from a digital surrogate, such as size, binding, and paper or parchment materials.

"Objects clearly deserve a kind of reverence. They capture time. They're vessels. You share human qualities. The marginalia. Look at the case of Captain Coffin. He had to get a little note in there. That's not exactly pertinent to the Town Record. It's an editorial moment for him. If you just wrote a transcript of the official record you'd miss that.

"As I take over the Librarian position I'm very interested in the history of collecting here, how things came to be here, particularly in the Museum. City Hall is more a repository for its own records. Why so much stuff ended up here, I need to learn a lot more about that."

* Courtesy of the Gloucester City Archives Committee.