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Highlights of Cohasset History

John J. Turner

From John J. Turner, "Cohasset for Beauty," Mirror Publications, February 11, 1976. Reprinted by permission of Michael Turner, the author's son.

The following verse is believed to be more than 200 years old, and the author is unknown:

Cohasset for beauty Hingham for pride if not for its herring Weymouth had died.

The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, but the first white man visited Cohasset in 1614. He was Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame from the Virginia Colony. Smith's diary says that in the summer of 1614 his two vessels lay off the coast of Maine near Monhegan island taking cargoes of fish. While the sailors fished, Smith, with eight or nine others who could be spared, ranged the coast in a small boat and made a map of the coastline from Maine to Cape Cod. During the trip they visited about forty Indian villages, one of which was named Quonahassit, the original Indian name from which Cohasset has come. The name signified "longrocky?place."

But Smith did more than identify Cohasset for the first time; he was the first white man to shed blood in Cohasset. For some reason, Smith and his men angered several Indians at the Cove, and four of them shot arrows at them from the rocks. Smith's men fired at the bowmen, killed one, and shot another through the thigh. The site of this encounter is believed to have been a clump of rocks on Hominy Point now named Smith's Rock.

The original inhabitants were Algonquin Indians who apparently used it as a summer resort, for at least three places along the shore were rich in relics indicating such use. Lobsters were abundant at that time, and Joseph Josselyn, an early visitor, wrote of an Indian lad spearing thirty lobsters from his canoe in an hour and a half.

Cohasset for many years belonged to the settlement at Hingham, and it was not until 1770 that it achieved separation from the mother town?and that only after many unsuccessful requests and finally an appeal to the General Court of the Massachusetts Colony. Although a Clement Bates seems to have lived near King Street as early as 1676, it was not until 1685 that Daniel Lincoln was listed on the Hingham records as a Cohasset resident. Mordecai Lincoln, Daniel's brother and the ancestor of President Abraham Lincoln, also settled in Cohasset. Among the first homes was that of Israel Nichols, a weaver, on what is now Jerusalem Road.

Another important settler about the same time was Aaron Pratt. The fourteenth child of Aaron Benjamin Pratt, he became colonial chief justice of New York. Another family of somewhat smaller proportions (only twelve children) was that of Ibrook Tower, whose home was near Daniel Lincoln's on North Main Street. Tower was a cooper and a selectman in 1668.

Industry began in 1703 when an ironworks was set up on Bound Brook at Turtle island and operated by the blacksmith Mordecai Lincoln. His Cohasset backers in this enterprise were Thomas Andrews, Daniel Lincoln, Thomas James, and Aaron Pratt. The ore used was bog iron brought from Pembroke in two?wheeled oxcarts. Five years later George Wilson and Joseph Souther set up shipyards at the Cove to build vessels for fishing and shipping cordwood to Boston. The fishing business gradually gained in importance so that from eight vessels in 1737, the local fleet increased to thirty vessels in 1768. The first wharf at the Cove in 1754 was owned by Samuel Bates, whose descendants were kings in the Cohasset fisheries for over a century. From 1815 to 1840 the business furnished a living for more than 600 men and boys and their families.

During the French and Indian War 11754?1763], when the French army of 8,000 men was marching on Fort William Henry in northern New York and a plea was sent to the Colonies for reinforcements, 20 men from Cohasset responded to the call?a remarkable response when it is considered that there were only 150 men in the entire settlement at that time.

During the ten years of excitement in Boston prior to the Revolution, the memorable Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773. Among the fifty men dressed as Mohawk Indians who took part in the protest were three men from Cohasset: Jared Joy of Beechwood aged 24, Abraham Tower, 20; and James Stoddard, 17. Stoddard feared discovery the next morning when he noticed that bits of tea were lodged in his clothing and upon the floor of his boardinghouse in Boston, but he was not apprehended.

Cohasset took the first step toward liberty when, on January 5, 1775, the town voted that the town's taxes be paid not to the king's treasurer but to the Patriots' provincial treasurer, Henry Gardner, in Stow, Massachusetts. On June 12, 1775, fifty?six men from Cohasset under the command of Captain Job Cushing marched to Roxbury, where they joined the extreme right of the American line around Boston. Several Cohasset men were in the battle of Bunker Hill five days later, and one, Joseph Bates, after running out of ammunition, stood his ground and threw stones at the British pouring over the barricade.

The British General Howe evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776, and a few days later a British vessel, loaded with rum, which had not learned of Howe's withdrawal, came sailing past Cohasset toward Boston. James Stoddard, leading several other Cohasset men, sailed out and captured the vessel, brought it into Cohasset Harbor, and sold the cargo for a considerable sum. On June 8, 1776, Richard Henry Lee in Congress at Philadelphia submitted the resolution which became the Declaration of Independence. Six days later, not even knowing if Congress would adopt it, the Cohasset town meeting pledged to support it with their lives and fortunes. Thus the Fourth of July began in Cohasset on June 14, 1776.

There were at least ten men from Cohasset in the Battle of Saratoga when the British General Burgoyne surrendered his large army. When the Patriot soldiers were suffering at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777?78, the clothing needed by the Cohasset men was paid for out of the town treasury. When the long, weary struggle was ended, Cohasset was burdened with debt and her industry was paralyzed. She had sent 120 into the ranks of a total of 165. The financial embarrassment of the town can be inferred from the fact that in May 1782 not even the interest on the town's debt was paid, and new taxes to support the state were so hard to collect that the town petitioned the General Court for an abatement. Even the church janitor had to wait three years for his yearly salary of one pound four shillings.

In 1786 there came to the town a man whose wealth and energy had a lasting effect on the community. He was Elisha Doane, son of the Elisha Doane who was called the richest man in New England. His estate was valued at 125,000 pounds sterling, and he owned 100 ships engaged in worldwide commerce. The Cohasset Elisha Doane was one of five heirs to this enormous fortune and lived in a house at the corner of the present Sohier and Main Streets. He began at once to build up the fishing industry and to build shipyards, sawmills, and gristmills. In the twenty years following 1789, forty?six vessels were launched at the Cove.

The most extensive owners of farmland and stock in 1796 were Thomas Pratt; his brother Aaron Pratt; John Pratt, a nephew; and Samuel Bates.

Prosperity in the town again ground to a halt when, on June 8, 1812, war with England was declared. Mr. Madison's War, as it was called, was not popular in Cohasset because of the crippling effect on the fishing industry, whose yearly revenue dropped from $8,000 in 1811 to $25 in 1814. The historic naval battle between Captain Lawrence's U.S. frigate Chesapeake and the British frigate Shannon, in which Lawrence's dying words "Don't give up the ship were uttered, was fought off Cohasset in June 1813. Crowds lined the Cohasset shore hoping to see the fight, but the ships drew out of sight before the battle began, and only the shooting of their cannon reached shore.

In the summer of 1814 the British navy was attacking towns along the Massachusetts coast, burning the towns and shipping. Wellfleet paid $2,000 tribute to escape destruction, Brewster $4,000, and Eastham $1,200, but on June 17, when the British warship Bulwark, seventy?four guns, and the frigate Nymph sent 400 men and ten pieces of artillery toward shore to destroy Cohasset, they were faced with 1,200 militia from Cohasset, Hingham, Weymouth, Hanover, and Randolph and decided to withdraw.

The largest ship built at Cohasset was probably the Greenwich, in 1850. She was 160 feet long and displaced 788 tons. The last vessel was the Henrietta Frances, a 74?tonner built by William Eddy in 1883. In 1845 Cohasset was the fourth fishing port in Massachusetts in the amount marketed, but from 1848 the catch dwindled until the fisheries closed in 1885.

It was during this period that a new nation of people was introduced into Cohasset, . . . the Portuguese from the Azores. The first to arrive in the town was said to be a boy named Antoine Martin, who was brought in a whaler from the island of Pico in the Azores before 1840. The fame of the New England fisheries soon brought many more Portuguese fishermen. The first family to be established in Cohasset was that of Manuel Antoine, and after his, those of Joseph F. Martin, Joseph R. Enos, Joseph Jason, John Morgan, Joseph F. Ennice, Frank Thomas, Frank Silvia, and George M. Ennice. The number of Portuguese families continued to increase, and they have intermarried with the native stock, so that dark eyes have become commonplace in Cohasset.

The men of Cohasset were not immune to the excitement of the California Gold Rush of 1849. Captain Henry Pratt, with nineteen others, sailed in the little brig Pianette around Cape Horn and up through the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, and after a voyage of five months joined the famous California "Forty?niners." Some of them returned the next year and others remained to gather the yellow metal.

Cohasset gave of her men and treasure in the Civil War and both World Wars, but despite the convulsions, trials, and tribulations of three centuries, she has retained all of her beauty and remains the brightest jewel in the pendant of the Massachusetts South Shore.