Northampton’s River of Time
Class Lines Define the Town:
Wealth and Power for a Few
By BRIAN TURNER
The ideals of the American Revolution, the core principles of liberty and equality, divided Northampton along the class lines. Many of the town’s first families did not wish to challenge the system that had enriched them; nor did they care to question the privileges that came with wealth and power.
Liberty and equality were somewhat elastic concepts in
Northampton, it seems. Town records of 1765 enumerated the six or seven slaves here—and the names of the families that owned them: Stoddard, Strong, Clapp, Dwight and Hunt. These were the “River Gods,” as our local gentry were known, an elite sustained by ties of kinship and mutually profitable business interests, enriched by their control of the waters and floodplains of the Connecticut River.
In the pre-revolutionary tumult of the 1770s, one “River God,” Major Joseph Hawley, Jr., whose father’s suicide had cast a shadow on Jonathan Edward’s tenure in Northampton, served in the Provisional Congress and spoke for the cause of independence from Britain. Many of his Northampton peers declined to fight, even when escorted to the jail on Prison Street, now Pleasant Street, for a night’s stay. That these “Tories” were privileged is clear, for they were allowed to bring a servant and a bottle of spirits to while away the several hours they spent in custody.
Major Hawley shared his father’s melancholic tendency: he, too, suffered emotional breakdowns. In spite of his military rank earned during the French & Indian Wars, Hawley was not called to duty during the Revolutionary War, nor did he fulfill his promise as a political leader in the aftermath. In 1783, Hawley withdrew from public life, but retained the respect and admiration of his fellow townspeople.
Many local men took up arms in the cause of independence. Seth Pomeroy, a veteran of the French & Indian Wars, commanded the Hampshire militia, and at age 70, fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Pomeroy appears to have declined the rank of Brigadier General offered to him by General Washington, but most historical accounts still refer to him by that rank. Pomeroy died in Peekskill, NY on his way to the western front, where he was buried. A stone in his memory can be found in Bridge Street cemetery.
The Promise of Equality
The Revolutionary War produced our founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, in which all “men” are said to be created equal, a notion that has long roiled the nation. Agrippa Hull, an African American, was born free in Northampton and moved to Stockbridge as a child. During the war, Hull served as orderly for Col. Thaddeus Kosciuszko (later a general in his native Poland, where he was revered). The cause of liberty attracted other non-Americans, such as the Marquis de Lafayette (who would visit Northampton in 1825 for a parade in his honor along the town’s remarkably wide Main Street). Another Polish officer, Casimir Pulaski, regarded as the father of the US Calvary, has a small park that bears his name next to the
Academy of Music.
Monument to Pulaski in downtown Northampton
Ultimately, it was the intercession of France that tipped
the geopolitical scales in favor of American ndependence. After victory was achieved, the ideals of revolution persisted in some states. In 1783, the Massachusetts Supreme Court cited the principle of equality in its decision to abolish slavery. The logic of equality was inconsistently applied in slave-owning states, a disparity that would eventually bring about civil war.
After the Revolution was won, the soldiers’ mustering-out pay issued through the Continental Congress proved to be worthless, and upon returning home many veterans fell into debt. The Ely Outbreaks of 1782 in Northampton, led by Samuel Ely, a defrocked minister from Connecticut, were an early protest over post-war economic conditions and the business practices of bankers and speculators. Ely was soon clapped in irons, but the conditions that had provoked him and his followers went unaddressed.
In the late summer of 1786 the dispossessed and disgruntled of Hampshire County gathered by the hundreds at Northampton. Three judges from Boston, who had come to hold their session at the county courthouse, were forced to adjourn. The backcountry yeomen celebrated their successful protest by conducting drills on the town green and playing drums. Thus emboldened, the “regulators,” led by war veteran Daniel Shays, gathered in the winter of 1787 and marched on the Springfield Armory. Federal troops guarding the armory opened fire, killing several of Shays’s followers and wounding others. The rest were pursued into the snowy forests, most escaping. Shays fled to Vermont. (For more, see Shays’s Rebellion, The American Revolution’s Final Battle, Leonard L. Richards, 2002.)
Daniel Shays’s Rebellion, as the protests were known, prompted revision of the Articles of Confederation by which the 13 states were loosely governed. The Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia, and the Massachusetts delegation included Caleb Strong of Northampton. The Constitution was a web of compromises, some brilliant (checks and balances), some repugnant (slavery in some states), others intermittently annoying (the Electoral College). Strong missed the signing, but his career as Senator (1788-1796) and Governor (1800-1807 and 1812-1816) made him Northampton’s first political son, a distinction only eclipsed by the career of Calvin Coolidge.
The Politics (and Business) of Publishing
Appalled by the disorder of Daniel Shays’s Rebellion, and in order to promote their establishment views, Northampton’s leading men (including Caleb Strong) invited a printer from Hartford, William Butler, 22, to come to Northampton and publish the Hampshire Gazette. From 1786 on, Butler printed a weekly compendium of national and world reports, well-larded with advertisements and notices, accompanied by calls for law and order and the preservation of the status quo. (The newspaper was so successful that Butler opened his own paper mill.) The Gazette has been published here ever since.
After the death of Washington and the electoral defeat of John Adams in 1800, Thomas Jefferson’s Democrat-Republicans took national power. Whereas the Democrat-Republicans advocated states rights, territorial expansion, and agrarianism, the Gazette adhered to the Federalist faith of Gov. Strong whose every belief opposed those of Jefferson and James Madison, his successor.
Strong opposed the War of 1812, which threatened New England’s shipping trade, and he proclaimed a public fast in “atonement.” He also refused to allow state militia to serve in the coastal defense of New England, an early instance in which regional economic interests threatened the union.
Support for Gov. Strong was not unanimous, even in his hometown of Northampton. In 1805, native son Andrew Wright printed The Republican Spy, an upstart weekly that heaped vituperation upon all Federalists, especially Northampton’s first citizen, Caleb Strong. The newspapers of the Early Republic made no effort to achieve “journalistic objectivity” and, like the Spy, promoted a political agenda.
In spite of the rough and tumble of political discourse, and the many incendiary charges that had appeared in Federalist papers such as the Gazette, Andrew Wright’s Spy was singled out for prosecution. Wright was tried for libel, jailed and fined, and his press and type were seized (including the only set of musical type in Western Massachusetts).
Wright claimed not to have written the offending articles. The probable author, the Spy’s publisher, Charles Shepard, escaped prosecution and continued to publish (anonymously) a diatribe-filled weekly, the Anti-Monarchist and Republican Watchman. Once Wright was released from jail, he published the proceedings of his trial, and later aimed his barbs at his ex-publisher, Shepard, in The Anti-Shepard-Crat; or, an Appeal to Honest Republicans.
Music Publishing Center
If Northampton was remarkable for anything, it was for the vitality of its music publishing. Wright had already made his mark with American Musical Miscellany and The American Musical Magazine, compilations of secular tunes, psalms and hymns (the latter thought “dangerously original” by Puritans because they did not come straight from scripture). During the early 1800s, Northampton’s music-lovers attended singing schools led by Elias Mann and other singing-masters, and learned to read musical notes printed in shapes to indicate how they were to be sung, called “shape-note singing.” Having learned these harmonies, local singers performed their music at home and in church.
In addition to being a center for music publishing, Northampton printers produced inspirational verse, sermons, orations, school texts, many of which were sold in Boston and New York. John Metcalf printed “toy” books for children, such as The Good Boy and The Good Girl, featuring tiny woodcuts to illustrate moral virtues. (Today, instead of Christian morals, the Valley’s many children’s book authors impart multicultural values.) The publications of the Gazette’s William Butler had a prominent place in the bookshop of Simeon Butler, his cousin. The Butlers published the children’s verse of Jonathan Edward’s grandson, Timothy Dwight, Northampton native and president of Yale. Another firm of local printers/booksellers who issued their own imprints was S. E. Bridgman and sons. The town’s scrappy publishers and booksellers gratified the general appetite for a richer, more various life, one that reached beyond Northampton’s borders.
By 1845 Northampton had four weekly newspapers—two representing the Whigs, a party that evolved out of Federalism, the Hampshire Gazette and the Northampton Courier; one seeking to promote the abolitionist cause, the Hampshire Herald; and the Northampton Democrat representing the party of Jefferson and Andrew Jackson—a remarkable number of newspapers given the town’s size. In the late 1850s, the Gazette absorbed its remaining rival, and took the name Gazette & Courier for a time. It was in the 1850s that the Gazette & Courier began to devote more column inches to local news.
The first successful daily newspaper was not the Gazette, but the Northampton Herald, founded in 1886. In 1890 the Gazette became a daily as well, and two newspapers slugged it out for more than 30 years, with the Gazette emerging victorious. No one has started a daily newspaper here since, though the weekly “alternative” paper, The Valley Advocate, has flourished in the Connecticut River valley since the 1970s.
Notable Editors As Historians
The illustrious 19th century editors of the Gazette—Sylvester Judd, James R. Trumbull, Henry S. Gere—also served as historians. Their tradition has been carried on in recent years by the late Richard Garvey, once a Gazette reporter, later the editor of the Springfield Daily News. The Judd manuscripts at the Forbes Library defy description, consisting of intensely detailed research and seemingly endless cross-references, all drawn from the oldest records of the cities and towns of the Connecticut River valley and recorded in Judd’s own hand. Northampton’s historians have long drawn from the Judd manuscripts, and James Trumbull in particular dedicates his two volume history to Judd.
The longstanding collaboration of publishers and book retailers in Northampton, while not as vibrant as in the first half of the 19th century, culminated in the 1920s with Hampshire Bookshop. The Hampshire Bookshop was something of a rarity for its time in that it was woman-owned and operated, for the most part by Marion Dodd. The bookshop issued its own books from the 1930s to the early 1950s, one of which proved indispensable for this survey, Barbara Gilmore’s A Puritan Town and Its Imprints (1942).
Today’s independent sellers of new and used books carry on in an age of large-scale book chains and Amazon.com; surviving bookstores such as the Broadside no longer publish imprints as Marion Dodd did. Developments in desktop publishing and print-on-demand copy machines have made the means of publishing ever more accessible; limited book runs on topics of local interest can be produced without risking bankruptcy. The recent series of chapbooks produced by the 350th Anniversary Publications Committee, such as the excellent Paradise Built (Patricia Wright, Faith S. Wolfe, Steve Strimer, 2004), Paradise Printed & Bound (edited by Barbara Blumenthal, 2004), and The Jews of Paradise (Penina and Myron Glazer, 2004) are excellent examples of micro-publishing, and of “micro-history” as well. All have been designed and printed by Steve Strimer of Collective Copies, whose lively integration of images and text has set a local standard.
(Next: Newcomers Change the Nature of Northampton)
Images of Caleb Strong and Daniel Shays, courtesy of Historic Northampton.
Brian Turner, who teaches composition at Smith College, is co-author of The Hurrah Game: Baseball in Northampton , 1823-1953 (2002) and co-author of a History of the United States Air Force (2004).
Downstreet.net editor Edward Shanahan prepared the series of articles for publication.
downstreet.net©2001. All rights reserved.