Over the years book dealers tend to accumulate books about the places in which they live. You don’t even have to be interested in local history. You could be a specialist in the history of science, but somehow books, documents, and ephemera relating to the local scene just seem to pile up – leakage, perhaps, from libraries of yore, or Christmas gifts, or orphans left on your doorstep. Next thing you know, forty years have gone by and you’ve got yourself a nice collection.
Well, I happen to be interested in local history. In fact, I cut my teeth as a bookseller in 1978 assembling an annotated bibliography of books about Cape Ann, and over the years I’ve read almost all there is to read in that department. One of my favorite novels about Cape Ann is a book called The Yankee Bodleys,
written by a woman with local roots, Naomi Lane Babson. The story takes the form of a multi-generational reminiscence by an old woman, Jessica Bodley, who relates the triumphs and heartbreaks of the Bodley family, from the founding of the clan to its dissolution. It’s a moving, if somewhat melodramatic saga, but it’s set right around the corner from my house here in Lanesville, and I feel like I’ve known the characters all my life. Come to think of it, I first read the book fifty years ago. I suppose I have known them most of my life.
Anyway, last month at Papermania I lucked into a collection of diaries written by a woman named Hannah Gott, who lived around the corner from me, in Rockport, Mass.
It was a remarkable collection because Hannah recorded every single day between 1849 and 1877… All the comings and goings, and doings about town,
the family dramas, tragedies, and celebrations, the weather, political events, and her own private musings. It was as if I were reading The Yankee Bodleys all over again.
But something else made it even more remarkable.
An enduring New England legend is the story of Hannah Jumper, of Rockport.
She’s also called “Hatchet Hannah” because, the story goes, she and a gang of like-minded temperance ladies tore through town in the 1850s, seizing kegs of booze and smashing them up with hatchets. Rockport has been a dry town since that day, and only now, in the 21st century, is it beginning to relax its liquor laws.
Well, as it happens, Hatchet Hannah was the house cleaner for my Hannah, the diarist Hannah Gott. She records dozens of times in her diaries, right up through the 1860s, that Hannah Jumper came to help her with the wash, or to help her clean.
In 1856, Hannah Gott recorded the following:
“a large delegation of ladies in Rockport… marched around the town carrying a flag before them… they rolled barrels into the street, knocked in heads spilled the whole contents smashed locks broke bottles…”
This was nothing less than the famous temperance rampage led by Hatchet Hannah. The remarkable thing is that Hannah Gott makes no mention of Hannah Jumper in her report of the temperance rampage
What are we to make of that? How odd is it that Hannah Gott, who makes careful note of Hannah Jumper’s appearance at her house, says not a word about Hannah Jumper as the leader of the temperance demonstration?
Just another instance where the historical record calls the legend into question. Ultimately, that’s why the manuscript material we buy and sell is important. These contemporary manuscript records are the stuff of which history is made. In this case, the diaries suggest that perhaps history needs to be re-made.
The diaries now reside in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, if anyone wants to do any further digging.
Manuscript. Daily Journals of Hannah Gott, Rockport, Massachusetts, 1849 – 1877, and Ellen (Gott) Burt, 1878 – 1906. Five folio ledger books, about 1500 pages, 50,000 words.
This is an unparalleled granular record of goings-on in a small New England town in the latter half of the 19th century. Hannah Gott’s husband Jabez was a deacon in the local Congregational church, and much of her life revolves around religion, with each sabbath, preacher and topic of sermon noted – sometimes with editorial comment. Hannah’s interest in religion spread over into births and deaths, the latter noted in some detail, the grislier the better. Also political events, news from the fisheries and quarries, and the status of the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill, the town’s major industry. Despite her attention to family and local matters, Hannah did not ignore events in the greater world. In 1849, for example, she gives a list of the local men who departed for the Gold Fields on the ship “Argonaut”, and aboard the schooner “Sea Serpent.” She records events in the Civil War and gives her reactions to national political happenings. Most importantly, at least from a local point of view, she was an avid supporter of the temperance movement, and records several of the meetings and rallies that took place in Rockport. Interestingly, she employed as a house cleaner, at least until the 1860s, a woman named Hannah Jumper, who was famous in Rockport lore for leading a posse of women through Rockport, smashing whiskey casks with hatchets (see her Wikipedia entry). On July 8, 1856, according to Hannah Gott’s diary, the great temperance raid took place. Hannah Gott participated in it, and devoted a rather long description to the actions of “a large delegation of ladies in Rockport” who “marched around the town carrying a flag before them… they rolled barrels into the street, knocked in heads spilled the whole contents smashed locks broke bottles…” in short, a feminist temperance rampage. The fascinating thing about this description and other similar ones that follow, is that Hannah Jumper is not named as a leader or participant. Hannah Gott faithfully records each time Jumper came to clean her house, but does not mention her once in the temperance raids. Five volumes, bindings broken, manuscript entries clean and legible. In custom acid-free storage box.