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Chapter 7 - Pages 105-114

HISTORIC REHOBOTH. 105

REV. E. G. PORTER OF LEXINGTON.

MR. PRESIDENT :—When I received the invitation of your committee to attend these exercises, I was uncertain whether I should be able to accept it. Remembering, however, a pleasant visit which I had here three years

 

HISTORIC REHOBOTH. 106

 

ago, when I gave a lyceum lecture in the church, I recalled the fact that I had on that occasion taken upon myself to advocate with some earnestness the possibility of organizing in your town a collection of local antiquities, which I felt sure would have great historical interest. I had a long consultation with Mr. Tilton upon this subject, and, perhaps, I gave him some encouragement to hope that a memorial building might be obtained at no very distant day. Having committed myself to such an enterprise before it had been even talked about much by others, I could not refuse the kind request to come and bring a word of congratulation on the completion of this beautiful edifice, which I am delighted to find so well adapted to meet the various important uses for which it was built. I do not know what provision the town is to make for its new library, but if your experience is any~ thing like ours in Lexington, it will not be long before it will be the most popular thing in the town. We began in 1868 with only a handful of books and a very small fund. After a while, it was proposed that the dog tax be appropriated for the purchase of books. This was willingly granted, perhaps because nobody knew exactly how much the dog tax was. It was not much, to. be sure, then, but it has gone on increasing thanks to the dog craze and now it amounts to several hundred dollars a year, a very handsome fund for our library which now has, I am happy to say, ten thousand volumes in its catalogue. I have not seen any cogs in Rehoboth yet, but I presume there are some, and I advise you to cultivate them more and more and give the library the benefit of the tax. And if perchance any one should object to the barking, tell him that every bark means a book and he will complain no longer.

 

HISTORIC REHOBOTH. 107

 

Your collection of relics, so well placed and labelled, is a surprise to us all. II can see that some one has been very industrious, and I can well imagine who it is. But you have not exhausted the resources of this grand old town in this direction. There are many treasures stowed away in garrets, in old chests and drawers, which are yet to see the light. Hunt for them. Bring them out from their hiding places and make them tell their story — and a wonderful story it will be — of the days long gone by. Few towns in New England are as rich as yours in materials of this kind. Make the most of them. They will constitute no small part of your fame. They will serve to educate your children and inspire them with patriotic zeal to maintain the high character and honorable achievements which have been the glory of the town.

I was thinking, in coming over from Attleboro, what an advantage it is to be ten miles from a railroad. You can live here in peace, as your fathers did, without being disturbed by the screech of the locomotive and the perpetual din of passing trains. I have several friends who are suffering from nervous prostration. They have tried various places without permanent benefit. Evidently the trouble has been that they could not get away from railroads. I shall advise them all to move to Rehoboth, where I feel sure they would gain rapidly under the favorable and unique influences of the place, And if I could follow my own inclinations I would come too and enjoy the rational life which one could lead here, breathing the untainted air, reveling in your delicious farm products, and (think of it) driving in all directions without having to cross a railroad This is a luxury, citizens of Rehoboth, which I fear you do not fully appreciate. When the world finds it out, there will be a great demand for real estate all about here, especially in the vicinity of this

 
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attractive hall. Your corner lots, gentlemen, will then be in demand. But never let the railroad come any nearer. If you do, the Rehoboth of the fathers will pass away.

I perceive in the audience a goodly number of elderly people, whose memory must run back to the early part of the century. They could relate to us many interesting incidents of their childhood and traditions which they heard from their elders. May I not ask that they will carefully preserve in writing all such facts and anecdotes as they can recall, and give them to this young Antiquarian Society, which is so full of life and promise.

I congratulate the president upon the realization of his long cherished anticipations, and I trust that his efforts will be seconded by all who have in their power to make this society the means of the greatest possible good to this whole community. And, in concluding, I beg to express my hearty appreciation of the value of this noble gift, which Mr. Goff has made to his native town. Long may he live to see the visible fruits of this wise disposition of his bounty.

HON. JOHN S. BRAYTON, OF FALL RIVER.

At this point John S. Brayton, Esq., of Fall River, whose maternal ancestors were natives Of Rehoboth was called by the President from the audience, and spoke substantially as follows:

MR. PRESIDENT: You well remember the reply of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, to that Other Roman matron, who had exhibited her own glittering treasures and in return asked for those of Cornelia. She with a mother’s affection pointed to her sons and proudly said "These are my jewels." Rehoboth to-day, after a municipal existence which covers over one-half of the period

 
HISTORIC REHOBOTH. 109

which has elapsed since the discovery of this continent, the mother of other municipalities in two distinct commonwealths, and with children scattered throughout the entire country, points to her sainted, heroic and honored dead, and to her sons and daughters now living, and proudly says "These are my jewels."

Well may every child of Rehoboth cherish with filial affection his birthplace. Here the Christian scholar, Samuel Newman, founded a town and gave it its scriptural name. Here he compiled the first concordance of the Holy Scriptures which was written upon this continent, and which to-day forms the basis of all modern concordances. By this he has made a name and a reputation among Christian scholars which will last as long as the language in which he wrote. Here John Myles, that eminent divine, established the first Baptist Church in Massachusetts. This church was consecrated by the prayers, the tears and the joyous hopes of your pious ancestors. The same Christian traits which marked the character of the earlier settlers have descended to these later days. More than two hundred years after the foundation of the church here, the Rev. Mr. Lum, who was one of the predecessors of the President of this occasion, in his sacred office of pastor, established the first church in the Territory of Kansas.

Just outside the borders of Rehoboth was shed the first blood in King Philip's war, and here was the scene of that brilliant exploit, the capture of Annawan, which brought to a close that most sanguinary conflict, and resulted in the downfall of a great Indian empire. The heroism displayed during these trying times by the Rev. Noah Newman, the then pastor of the church, and by the yeomanry of Rehoboth, makes a record of which their descendants may well be proud. Many of the earlier

 

110 Historic Rehoboth

Views of the "Three Houses" into which History tells us the settlers of Rehoboth were gathered for safety during King Philip's War:

 

Hatch House, North Attleboro, part of 
"Woodcock's Garrison" in the North Purchase

Bishop House, East Providence,
 on site of the Garrison house at Seekonk Common

 

John Myles' Garrison: built of stone and still standing near Myles' bridge, Swansea.

 
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settlers of this town were men of note. Capt. Thomas Willet, the successor of Miles Standish, in the command of the military company at Plymouth, settled here about the year i66o, and purchased of Wamsutta a large tract of land, which was called "Rehoboth North Purchase." He afterward became one of the founders of the town of Swansea, and was also the first Mayor of the City of New York, and in the quaint ‘anguage of the day "twice did sustain the place." Samson Mason was a soldier in Cromwell’s army. Upon the restoration of the House of Stuart settled here, raising a family of nine sons, six of whom lived in Rehoboth and Swansea until the youngest was seventy years old. One of his sons, and three of his grandsons, were settled pastors of the Church of Christ in Swansea. Mr. Mason also subsequently became one of the founders of Swansea.

Here in Rehoboth have been nurtured many men of letters. Two of the Presidents of Brown University, one of whom addressed you this morning, were born within its limits. Here, too, was the birthplace of that distinguished mathematician and philosopher, Benjamin West, upon whom the university conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws, for his valuable services in the cause of science. Nathan Smith, M. D., the projector of the medical department of Dartmouth College, and who was also a professor at Yale, was born here. That eminent divine, Samuel Angier, one of the Board of Fellows of Harvard College, was the third pastor of the First Church, and he was followed by the Rev. Thomas Greenwood, and he in turn was succeeded by his son John, a native of the town, both of whom graduated at Cambridge. A long line of educated clergymen have ministered unto this people here, and their mantle has now fallen upon him who presides on this occasion a graduate of Amherst College one who

 
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by his broad and varied culture, by his zeal in his work, and by his fervid piety adds lusture to the ministry of Rehoboth.

Fifty years ago, Mr. Leonard Bliss, Jr., whose portrait hangs upon the walls in the hail below, wrote a history of his native town of Rehoboth, it being among the earlier of town histories published in this commonwealth, and which reflected great credit upon its author. Upon their ancestral acres, in this town, were born Abraham Blanding, L.L. D., an eminent lawyer of South Carolina, the originator of that great interstate enterprise of constructing a railroad between Charleston, S. C., and Cincinnati, 0.; William Blanding, M. D., the noted naturalist whose extensive collection in natural history is now at Brown University, where both graduated, and their brother James Blanding (the father of the treasurer of the Antiquarian Society), a life long citizen, who for nearly a third of a century was the clerk of the town, and who by his sterling integrity and high character left behind him a cherished memory.

Rehoboth has given to the country many eminent physicians. Here were born those two brothers, Nathaniel and Caleb Miller, who were foremost among the distinguished physicians and surgeons of their day, and whose reputations were as wide as their country. If time were allowed I would speak of others, born here, who in this and other states have upheld and honored the medical profession.

Thus we see that Rehoboth, in scholarship, culture, and in the high professional attainments of her sons, will compare favorably with any sister town. The Sons of Rehoboth, who now reside in the town, pursue to a great extent the avocation of their fathers. There are few towns in which so many farms are tilled by the lineal descendents

 
Historic Rehoboth 113now cultivated by the sixth generation.

Within the original limits of this ancient town, at Pawtucket, Mr. Samuel Slater built a factory, which is said to be the first erected in the country for the spinning of cotton. In examining this morning the interesting collection of antiquities in the hail below, I noticed the letters patent which were granted to Mr. Dexter Wheeler for an improvement in tide mills. This document was issued in 1811 and bears the signature of James Madison, the then President of the United States. Mr. Wheeler was born in this town, as were his ancestors. He was a machinist and a manufacturer of rare skill for those early days. In 1807 he ran a mill here, by horse power, for the spinning of cotton yarn. In 1813 Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Anthony, who was then residing here, and whose mother was a native of the town, and who had been in the employ of Mr. Slater for four years, went to Fall River and built, filled with machinery, and set in operation (what is now the Fall River Manufactory), the first mill for the manufacture of cotton cloth erected in that city. One-fourth of the capital of the company was owned by citizens of Rehoboth. Almost contemporaneous with this event the "Troy Cotton and Woolen Manufactory" was established, in which enterprise Mr. Nathaniel Wheeler, another of your citizens, took an active part. From these beginnings have arisen in that city those colossal mills, whose aggregate spindles exceed in number that of any other city in America.

There have gone out from here skillful mechanics, intelligent business men and successful manufacturers — the Goffs, the Bakers, the Marvels, the Hortons, the Earls, the Carpenters, the Pierces, the Pecks, the Blisses, the Blandings, the Wheelers, the Perrys, and many others,

 
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who have been potent factors in building up the cities which surround Rehoboth. One such of her sons has built this Hall which we to-day dedicate. By this generous act he has raised in the hearts of his fellow citizens a monument more lasting than the stately pile which he has erected. And I know you will all unite with me, upon this his seventieth birthday, in the invocation of Horace to Augustus —Serus in coelum redeas, diuque lueto intersis populo.