Cohasset’s First Town History
From David Wadsworth, "Narrative History of Cohasset Now Available,"
Cohasset Mariner, November 14, 1986 Reprinted by permission
of the author.
During the nineteenth century several South Shore communities produced
definitive history books of their towns. The early years of the century
saw publication of Dean's history of Scituate and the compilation of
an early Hingham history by Solomon Lincoln. In the latter 1800s the
monumental four volume set covering the entire history and genealogy
of Hingham was compiled by George Lincoln, and a town history and genealogy
of Hanover was written by historian Jedediah Dwelley.
In 1894 the move to compile and write a town history spread to Cohasset,
where at Town Meeting on March 5 it was voted to establish a Committee
on Town History. The committee's first six members, chosen at that meeting,
were: the Reverend Joseph Osgood, who for more than fifty years had
been pastor of the town's original First Parish; the Reverend E. Victor
Bigelow of the Second Congregational Church; Dr. Oliver H. Howe, prominent
local historian who would become, years later, one of the founders of
the Cohasset Historical Society; Beechwood historian and prominent public
figure Aaron Pratt, Esquire, known as "Squire" Pratt; Newcomb
Bates Tower, owner of the town's largest maritime business and town
clerk; and Edward Pomeroy Collier, son of Cohasset's most illustrious
"Deep Sea Captain," James Collier, Jr. Given authority to
enlarge its own membership, the committee added citizens Ira B. Pratt
and George Collier to its group. The latter was another son of Captain
Within two years the Committee on Town History had amassed a large
collection of documents and artifacts relating to Cohasset's past and
began to consider the writing and publishing of a comprehensive history
of the town. Committee member Bigelow volunteered to do the writing,
using information compiled by the members of the committee. Each was
assigned a specific area of town history, to form the various chapters
of the book. The committee then read each section as it was presented
at meetings. Proven facts and verifiable traditions were included in
the new book. Long hours of research and extensive culling of historical
records were needed to ensure accuracy.
For two centuries Cohasset had been an agricultural and maritime community,
with shipbuilding, fishing, and commerce as its main industries. By
the time the town's history was being written, however, far-reaching
changes had already begun. The shipyards at "Ship Cove" were
gone, so were the mackerel schooner fleets, and only the very last of
the "Deep Sea Captains" of Cohasset were still living. The
community was on its way to becoming a modern big city suburb. The Town
History Committee was well aware that much of the story of early Cohasset
would be lost if not soon preserved in writing.
Thus it was that chapter by chapter, beginning with the town's underlying
granite?ledge geology, extending to the new settlers' first arrival
in the late 1600s, through its development first as part of its parent
town of Hingham, then later as a separate and individual town, and finally
"up to date" in 1898, Rev. Bigelow's book took final form.
In all, the book was a committee undertaking, with Bigelow providing
the final writing in a uniquely flowing narrative style. The various
chapters of Bigelow's Narrative History of the Town of Cohasset, Massachusetts
explore such topics as "How the Soil Carne" (the story of
the ancient glacial epochs); "The Aborigines" (the Quonahassit
Indians from whom the town finally took its name); "The 'Quonahassit'
Pioneers" (earliest visits by Hingham settlers); "Dividing
the Land (the 1670 land division of the Conahasset upland); and "The
First Homes" (early Hingham families who settled in Conahasset).
Also included is the story of the town's separation from Hingham; the
growth of its earliest industries; the development of its earliest churches,
schools, and libraries; its participation in the new nation's wars for
survival; and its growth and decline as a seafaring and maritime community.
The story of shipwrecks, lifesaving, and Minot's Ledge Lighthouse were
presented in detail.
The Narrative History was ready for publication by early 1898. At this
time the venerated chairman of the committee, Rev. Osgood, died, and
Newcomb B. Tower succeeded to the chairmanship as the book went to press.
A promotional flyer issued by the committee noted that the new volume
"starts with the formation of the granite rock and follows the
romance of nature and of human life which has transpired here. This
is the only history of our town ever written, and the committee in charge
of the matter desire to place it within reach of every household."
The book appeared in late 1898, to be greeted both by acclaim and by
some constructive criticism. The Reverend Bigelow copyrighted the volume
in his own name on December 15, 1898; then on January 18, 1901, he assigned
the copyright to the Committee on Town History. That original printing
of Bigelow's Narrative History soon was sold out and the book became
increasingly difficult to obtain. A limited reprint was issued in 1970
as part of Cohasset's own Bicentennial celebration [and again in 1981.
Most recently, the book was reprinted in 2002 as part of a three-volume
set with the two succeeding narrative histories of Cohasset. Now readers
can follow the history of Cohasset from the Ice Age to the twenty-first