Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A One Of A Kind Desk

Daniel Takawampbait's Pulpit Desk
The museum of the Natick Historical Society isn’t the biggest space. We sometimes don’t have room to display all the unique artifacts from Natick’s past. Furniture in particular can sometimes be a problem. There is one piece however, that we always are sure to make room for. Daniel Takawampbait’s pulpit desk is one of the most special artifacts in our collection and rightly, gets a place of honor right in the center of the museum.  Today the pulpit desk sits at the center of our museum space in a case focused on the lives of John, Eliot, Daniel Takawampbait and other members of the early ‘Praying Indian’ community in Natick. The piece is not only a connection to an important figure from Natick’s history; it’s also a unique example of early American furniture.

Desk Foot, Shaped
Like a Deer's Hoof
The pulpit desk was made by Native Americans in Natick between the years 1676-1678.  Very few example of furniture made by Native Americans in this period survive. The desk is distinctive for a few reasons. The upper portion of the pulpit desk is removable and was designed so that it could be detached and carried as a small speaker’s podium. The sides of the pulpit desk are patterned with symmetrical lines, an unusual pattern for furniture made in the 17th century. The feet of the desk are carved to resemble deer hooves, another distinctive feature on wooden furniture from this period. Because few pieces of furniture made and designed by native people exist from the early years of European settlement a desk like this one is an interesting example of Native American craftsmanship and aesthetic.

Daniel Takawampbait, the previous owner of this desk is a fascinating figure from Natick’s past. Daniel Takawampbait was a Native American from the Nipmuc tribe who converted to Christianity and initially moved to a praying Indian village near Natick. Following the King Philip’s War in 1675, Takawampbait, like many ‘praying Indians’ was displaced from his community. Many of these displaced Christian Native Americans moved to Natick, where the Christian Indian community was able to mostly survive the bloody conflict which had displaced them. Takawampbait became integrated into the community and became an important leader in Natick. In 1681 he was ordained as a minister, the first Native American to become a puritan minister in North America. He took over the pulpit as leader of the congregation in South Natick after John Eliot passed away in 1690. Daniel Takawampbait remained minster in Natick for twenty six years, until his death in 1716. During his tenure as minister Takawampbait preserved a number of elements of native culture and language despite the growing incursion of English settlers. He was buried in South Natick and his headstone still stands, though it was moved in the 1980s to be in front of the Eliot Church of South Natick.
Daniel Takawampbait's Headstone

The desk was later used by Natick ministers Stephen Badger and Oliver Peabody. Today the desk is owned by the First Congregational Church, the spiritual successor to Eliot’s original meetinghouse, who have been kind enough to loan it to us so that it can be displayed and studied here in the museum.

For anyone interested to learn more about historic New England furniture be sure to come to our upcoming program on Sunday October 23rd! Professor Brock Jobe will be speaking about four centuries of furniture in Massachusetts. The talk will be at 2pm at Boswell Hall at the Walnut School in Natick.

We hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What's the Point? Projectile Points, Stone Tools and More

Part of our goal here at the Natick Historical Society is to collect anything and everything related to Natick’s past. Doing this allows us to better to tell every individual part of Natick’s story. These objects can vary pretty significantly. One particular collection that we have been working with quite a bit recently is our collection of stone tools, most of them made by native people from the Natick region thousands of years ago.

Though the town of Natick was founded in 1651, people had been living in this area for thousands of years before that. While we have little evidence of any major permanent settlement in most of Natick prior to the 1600s, archaeological evidence left behind can tell us quite a bit about the lives of the people who were living in what would day become Natick.
A Selection of Some of the Projectile Points 
Objects from the early years of Natick’s founding are relatively rare. We can consider ourselves lucky to have as many objects as we do from the early years of a human presence in this area. The majority of these objects are stone tools, which survive for a variety of reasons. These tools can be dated as far back as 8,000 to 5,000 years ago to the Archaic period, though we have  a few pieces from the more recent Woodland Period (3,000 to 2,500 years ago). Native people would have used a variety of different tools in their daily lives, not just stone tools however the stone tools and lithics are generally the only objects that survive. Stone is obviously much less likely to be broken or discarded than other materials and it’s significantly more long lasting. In temperate or wetter climates organic material deteriorates more easily overtime and we are left with very few wooded, reed or cloth materials from the distant past.  

The majority of our stone tools are what are referred to by archaeologists as ‘projectile points’. This is a general term used by archaeologists, anthropologists and historians to refer to sharp, pointed objects that could be used for a variety of different purposes. Previously we had attempted to define the uses of individual artifacts more specifically, often just based on size or general appearance and while styles; materials and certain general statements can always be made about projectile points, knowing their exact purpose is quite challenging to us today. This is one of the reasons that the term ‘arrowhead’ is rarely used by archaeologists today. Stone tools would usually be used with some element that was made of wood, fiber or another organic material which would have decomposed over time. Without these pieces of archaeological context it can be very difficult to classify exactly how these objects would have been used. Though they were obviously used for cutting, piercing or similar activities the exact usage is difficult to state with certainty and thus the more general term of ‘projectile point’ fits better.  These objects were likely used for a variety of purposes including, but not limited to arrowheads, spearheads, darts, scissors, knives and scraping tools.

Most projectile points in our collection come from locally available stones like quartz or felsite. There are a few examples of objects found in Natick made of non-locally occurring stones which may have arrived here through various trade routes that existed between native communities of Algonquin speaking peoples along the East Coast.
Despite their seeming simplicity creating lithics like these took a high degree of skill to manufacture. Chiseling stone into very specific shapes, which would be almost identical in each manufactured piece, took years of training in skills that would have been passed down between generations.   

Not all the stone tools in our collection meet these descriptions of course. We have a number of other sorts of stone tools that were used by indigenous people living in the Natick area including hand axes, chisels, fishing sinkers and mortars and pestles. As is the case with our projectile points it can sometimes be difficult to determine the use of these artifacts without the natural materials that would have been used to use them. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Changes!

Just as the seasons are changing from spring to summer there are quite a few changes happening here at the Natick Historical Society. As usual, our programming slows down a little bit in the summer months (though a big thank you to everyone who came on our literary and John Eliot district walking tours last weekend! It was great seeing you!) We have some extra time to focus on improving our current exhibits and creating new ones. This can mean little things like installing more shelves for our geology specimens or printing fresh labels for some of the projectile points but it also means some bigger changes too!

An Illustration from Stowe's
Book Old Town Folks 
Though the summer is just getting started we’re excited to report two new exhibits already! The first is here in the Natick Historical Society museum where our long-awaited literary Natick exhibit is here. “Natick and the New England Character” is a brand new exhibit focusing on the lives of thinkers, writers and activists from Natick, who not only shaped the course of American History but also shaped the way America thought of Natick
and New England. Figures highlighted here included acclaimed authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Alexander Wheelock Thayer and Horatio Alger Jr. as well as politicians and activists like Henry Wilson and Lydia Maria Child. Many of the objects in our new exhibit have never before been on display and we’re thrilled to have the chance for people to see them.

Henry Wilson's School House
Farmington NH
Our second new exhibit opened just this week at the Morse Institute Library. This smaller exhibit focuses on one of our favorite former Natickites, Henry Wilson. Entitled “The Education of Henry Wilson,” this exhibit explores the unconventional but deeply impactful way that learning, reading and writing changed the life and opinions of Henry Wilson. In this exhibit we tried to highlight not only Wilson’s classroom education and reading habits but also experiential learning experiences like his time in the Natick Debating Society or his travels. This exhibit will be on view in the first floor Morse Room of the Morse Institute Library through November of 2016.

Lastly, we have some sadder news to convey. Our beloved director Jane Hennedy will be leaving us at the end of June. While we will miss her terribly she is moving on to a new exciting opportunity with Historic New England and we wish her only the best.

Be sure to come by the museum sometime this summer and take a look at some of the changes we’ve already got underway. Thanks for reading and have a great Fourth of July! 
Early twentieth Century Fourth of July card from Natick

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Trip Down Memory Lane

As the weather starts to get warmer and spring begins to unfold it’s time once again for the Natick Historical Society to host school trips from just about every public school in Natick. These young museum visitors keep us quite busy and can certainly be quite exciting. Having so many school groups come to visit is a nice reminder of all the great resources we have here in our archives related to schools, education and past classes of Natick students.

Front Cover of 1925 Sassamon
We have a large collection of materials related to education, including graduation programs, schedules of course and classes photos from various points in Natick’s past. One of the biggest and most useful collections in our archives is our collection Natick High School Yearbooks. Originally called “the Sassamon”, the Natick High School Yearbook has been published for over a hundred years by the Natick High School and serves as an invaluable resource for anyone visiting our archives to learn more about genealogy or their family’s history in Natick. Our earliest Sassamon is from the class of 1925 and it’s amazing to see how much the yearbook and Natick have changed since then. The 1925 Natick High School Sassamon was published in paperback and contains just over a hundred students, none of whom have pictures to accompany their entry in the yearbook. Instead, there are a pair of class portraits in the center of the book where most of the graduating seniors are pictured. For contrast, the most recently acquired yearbook in our collection, from 2014, was published in full color and contains over 330 students. Looking at the survey of these books it’s easy to see the many different ways Natick has changed over just a short period of time. Changes in fashion and growing populations are all readily apparent when one looks through a few years’ worth of Natick High yearbooks. The style changes overtime have produced some really memorable fashion choices!

Doug Flutie's Yearbook
Flutie playing baseball
 It’s possible to even find a few recognizable faces when flipping through the old copies of our copies of the Natick yearbook. Perhaps the person most famous we’ve noticed recently in our yearbook collection is famous quarterback and recent Dancing with the Stars contestant Doug Flutie. Flutie graduated from Natick High School in 1981 and already seemed to have started quite an impressive athletic career. He played both football and baseball and is mentioned in the class history for having been elected to the High School Hall of Fame for his athletic achievements.

Though our collection only dates back to 1925 there are other places to see Natick High School Yearbooks going back even further. The Morse Institute Library has digital copies of many of the Natick Sassamons going as far back as the year 1916 that are available to be viewed online here:

We are always looking to expand our collection to be better able to tell the history of Natick,  and filling in some of the gaps in our yearbook collection would be a great way of doing this. Currently we are only missing twelve copies of the Natick High School yearbook and would be happy to receive any of them. If someone was looking to donate their old yearbook from 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1937, 1939, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2013 or 2015 we would be very grateful!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What's in a Name?

When Natick was founded in 1651 it was established to be a community of “Praying Indians.” Christian Native Americans from a variety of tribal backgrounds came together to form a community separate from both the European and Native American communities nearby. Like many other communities of this type, the town took its name from an Algonquin word. There has been quite a bit of debate over the years about the exact original meaning of “Natick.” Some have claimed that Natick translates to “Place of Hills” which may be true, though most visitors to Natick will notice that it is not an especially hilly place. Another proposed translation has been “the Place that We Were Looking for” which also may be true.

Runners of the Boston Marathon in Natick, 1996
While many other towns that had previously been founded as Native American towns changed their names as more European-Americans moved there, Natick kept its original name even after its demographics began to shift. Grafton, Canton, Lowell and a number of other Eastern Massachusetts communities initially began as some form of praying Indian community similar, though smaller, to the one in Natick. Keeping our original name has made Natick stand out among the many English named towns nearby. Traditional English town names often end with the suffixes ‘ham’ or ‘bury’ and anyone familiar with this area can likely think of at least half a dozen towns or cities that fit this description.

 A few people may know that for crossword enthusiasts Natick has an entirely different meaning. In a Sunday crossword for the New York Times back in 2008 there was a clue referring to a certain town at mile 8 on the Boston marathon route. That town was, of course Natick. Natick has proudly played host to the Boston Marathon since its inception. Over four miles of the marathon route between Framingham and Wellesley are here in Natick. However, a large number of crossword solvers couldn’t figure out the clue-- or gain hints from any of the intersecting clues! This incident actually ended up becoming a bit famous in crossword puzzle circles. The term ‘Natick’ came to mean any answer, usually a proper noun, that couldn’t be solved with the clue or any intersecting answers. Crossword puzzle writer now use the “Natick principle” to avoid having more obscure proper nouns be made up of letters from difficult intersecting clues.

 This coming week the Natick Historical Society will be doing our part to celebrate Patriots Day as well. Stop y the museum between 10-11 April 19th through the 23rd, for our new self-directed family program ‘Marathon around the Museum’ which explores Natick’s history, the society’s collections through the lens of the Boston Marathon.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Harriet Wilson's Parasol

Harriet Wilson
One of the most prominent figures in Natick’s past was a Vice President of the United States, Henry Wilson. We’ve previously discussed Wilson on our blog and it’s more than likely he’ll come up again. Wilson was one of the most famous people to have ever lived in Natick and he spent the better part of his life here, really immersing himself in the community (Wilson was originally born in New Hampshire). This immersion included his marriage to Natick native Harriet Howe. Harriet and Henry met in 1837 and were married just a few years later in 1840.  Their wedding was attended by both families and was presided over by their good friend, the Congregationalist minister Samuel Hunt.

Henry and Harriet seemed to have had a very happy marriage; the couple had one son, Henry Hamilton Wilson, who was born in 1846. Harriet was a strong proponent of women’s suffrage and rights for women, views that influenced her husband, who would argue for greater rights for women in his political career and push legislation he thought would benefit women.  Mrs. Wilson suffered from ill health for much of her life which unfortunately limited the amount of time she could spend outside her home or on the campaign trail with her husband, sometimes remaining in Natick during his trips to Washington. Wilson remained an attentive husband throughout their marriage. He even retired from political life for years at a time to tend to Harriet’s health when needed. Sadly, Harriet Wilson passed away in 1870, just before Henry became Vice President.

Harriet Wilson's Silk Parasol

Our collections relating to the life of Henry Wilson contain a large variety of objects. While many of these are political pieces, like Henry Wilson’s writings against slavery, many are simple household objects. These kinds of pieces-- teapots, eyeglasses, pens etc.-- give us an idea of Wilson as a man, not just as a famous politician. Personal items owned by members of the Wilson family further humanize this important historical figure and put his personal relationships into a more human context and illuminate the lives of people who did not leave behind as much in documents.

One of these objects, which is currently on view as part of our exhibit on the life of Henry Wilson, is a parasol owned by Harriet Wilson. The parasol was donated to the Historical Society by Margaret Coolidge Sturtevant, who had purchased it from Harriet Wilson’s estate. Parasols were quite common among members of the upper classes in the mid-nineteenth century. Mrs. Wilson’s parasol is made of black lace, and while it wouldn’t do much in a rain storm, it would certainly help her stay out of the sun and maintain a fashionably pale complexion.  

Parasols were more than just a shield from the sun. They also served as fashion accessories and would have been a part of any society woman’s ensemble.  Women were generally expected to carry a number of accessories in the Victorian period including not just parasols, but also fans, gloves and a purse. Like fashion accessories today, these were expected to match the outfit in question. Harriet Wilson’s parasol’s black color may have meant it was used with a mourning outfit, possibly bought after her son Henry tragically passed away in 1866.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Happy Saint Patrick's Day from Natick Historical Society

We hope everyone is enjoying the surprisingly warm weather for the past few days. We've been very busy here at the museum with new programs, getting ready for our visiting school groups and designing several new exhibits. Details about our new installations will be up soon, but in the meantime here are a few postcards to celebrate Saint Patrick's day! They're both from our archives and were sent here in Natick over a hundred years ago.