The towns of Rehoboth and Attleboro will celebrate their anniversaries in the month of October. The first will celebrate its two hundred and fiftieth anniversary on the third of October; and the latter, which was set off from the former, its two hundredth, on the eighteenth and nineteenth. Strictly speaking, Attleboro was not a part of Rehoboth, but under its jurisdiction. Certain inhabitants of Rehoboth owned the land, but it was not within the chartered limits of Rehoboth. The Plymouth court, under whose jurisdiction the land was purchased of the Indians by Thomas Willett, ordered “that the North-Purchase, so called, shall lie unto the town of Rehoboth, until it comes to be a township, and in the mean time to bear the seventh part of all the rates that shall be levied for the public charges of that town; and when the said Purchase shall become a township by itself, then the said township of Rehoboth to be eased in their rates.” It was really a plantation of Rehoboth; but was so closely allied to it that it was practically, though not legally, a part of the town.
Both towns have had a very interesting past, and both today are prominent factors in the life of Bristol County, in Massachusetts, in which they are situated, and exercise an influence wherever the famous products of Attleboro go, or wherever the staunch men and women whom Rehoboth sends out into the world are found.
There is a peculiar value attached to the history of places which have reached such an age, because their history takes us back to the time of the first settlers and covers practically the whole period of the country’s history. A few hundred years are but a brief time compared with the vast stretch of years which have passed, but looked at from the standpoint of the student of American history, they are full of significance.
The complete history of the two towns includes not only that of quiet, conservative, beautiful Rehoboth and its vigorous, growing offspring, Attleboro, but of Seekonk with its fertile fields and famous plain, of Pawtucket with its varied industries, of Cumberland with its picturesque hills and valleys, of North Attleboro with its long past, — all of which places were intimately associated in the early days, and have been bound by many close ties since. North Attleboro was a part of Attleboro until July, 1887, when two large and thriving towns were made out of the old town.
In 1641, Massasoit, king of the Pokanokets, sold to Edward Winslow and John Brown, two gentlemen from Plymouth, as agents, a tract of land eight miles square, afterward known as the Rehoboth Purchase, comprising the present towns of Rehoboth and Seekonk and the city of Pawtucket. In 1644 Rev. Samuel Newman, the celebrated author of the Concordance of the Bible which bears his name, came with a majority of his parishioners from Weymouth, and settled on this land, which the Indians called Secunke.
Samuel Newman, who may thus properly be called the founder of Rehoboth, was a remarkable man. Mather writes of him in his ” Magnolia as follows: He loved his church as if it had been his family, and taught his family as if it had been his church. He was a hard student, and as much toil and oil as his learned namesake, Neander, employed in illustrations and commentaries upon the old Greek pagan poets,
our Newman bestowed in compiling his concordances of the Sacred Scriptures; and the incomparable relish which the Sacred Scriptures had with him, while he had them thus under his continual rumination, was as well a mean as a sign of his arriving to an extraordinary measure of that sanctity, which the truth produces. But of his family discipline there was no part more notable than this one; that once a year he kept a solemn day of humiliation with his family, and once a year a day of thanksgiving; and on these days he would not only inquire of his household what they had met withal to be humbled, or to be thankful for, but also he would recruit the memoirs of his diary.”
Mather prints a fragment of his diary. Newman’s famous Concordance, prepared here in the wilderness, has properly been called a Herculean labor. It was the third in English ever published and greatly superior to his two predecessors. The first edition was published in London in 1643, just before Newman’s removal from Weymouth to Rehoboth. At Rehoboth, he revised and greatly improved it, using in the evening, according to President Stiles, pine knots instead of candles. The revised edition was published at London in 1650.
On the fourteenth of June, 1644, the tract was adopted into the jurisdiction of Plymouth Colony, and incorporated as Rehoboth. The word, as is well known, is from the Hebrew, meaning a broad way; and the settlers chose it signifying that the Lord had opened a way for them. A second purchase was shortly after made from Wamsutta, another chief, who was sometimes called Alexander. He was a son of Massasoit and an elder brother of Philip. This second tract formed part of Wannamoisett, or Swansea, and of Barrington. A third purchase was made in 1661, and is known as the North Purchase. It comprised the present towns of Attleboro and North Attleboro, Mass. and Cumberland, R. I. and parts of Mansfield and Norton, Mass. This purchase was made by Thomas Willett, the successor of Miles Standish as captain of the noted Plymouth military company, and who afterward became the first English mayor of New York. Willett and Mr. Myles, the first Baptist minister in New England, were the founders of Swansea. in 1665, Willett was given by the town of Rehoboth five hundred acres of land in the North Purchase, situated on both sides of Seven Mile River, beginning at Newell’s tavern. He died August 4, 1674, at Swansea, where his
grave is. His wife, Mary Brown, thought to be a daughter of one of the original purchasers, died about 1669, and is buried beside him. They had a large family and their descendants are numerous.
The first settler in Rehoboth was William Blaxton (Blackstone), whom Governor Winthrop found living on the peninsula of Shawmut, the site of Boston, when he went there with his company in 1630. Blackstone was a man of considerable literary taste, with a retiring disposition, who did not like to mingle with his fellows; and the coming of what seemed to him a large number of people evidently disturbed him. As more kept following, he determined to move, and in 1635 he sold his land for J30 and settled in a part of Rehoboth known as Attleboro Gore, now Cumberland, R. I. It was, as now, a beautiful country, and he found himself favorably situated to indulge his love of nature and of books.
His retreat, called “Study Hill,” was on the bank of the charming river which to-day bears his name, a mile and a half above Valley Falls. There is a question as to the exact location, some claiming it was on the knoll which rises abruptly from the river, and others that it was in the meadow on the east side of the hill, the latter probably being the correct site. In this secluded and fertile spot, with the graceful river lending its beauty, he lived in undisturbed solitude, pursuing his own method of life. He had but few intimates, one being Roger Williams, whom he used to visit at Providence. His death occurred in 1665 at the age of eighty, and he was buried a few rods east of Study Hill. His wife, to whom he was married in 1659, died in 1673 She had children by a former marriage, but only one by this marriage, a son John.
He inherited his father’s property, but was a man of weak character, who sold his inheritance and grew poor through vicious habits. He lived for a while in Connecticut, but returned to Attleboro, from which he was expelled with his wife Catherine in 1718, after which time little is known of him.
Another famous personage who dwelt for a time in Rehoboth was Roger Williams. After being driven from Boston he took up his abode in Seekonk on Martin’s Neck. He was not allowed to remain undisturbed, however, for Governor Winslow wrote him that he had better move on, and so with five friends he sailed to India Point, where he received the famous salutation of “What Cheer” from the Indians, and founded Providence.
A detailed history cannot of course be given here. Those who wish for that will find it among the early records, in Bliss’s or Daggett’s histories. For fifty years after the land was divided among the proprietors, as the early settlers were called, the forests were felled, the land was cultivated, the population slowly increased, additions coming from other places on this side of the water and from the old homes across the sea, and the little settlement gradually became a fair-sized town. The church of course was prominent in the hearts of the people, church and state in their minds and habits being closely associated. These pioneers were a church-going, Bible-loving people, and ordered their lives in strict accordance with what they considered the divine will. They were a colony of brave, determined men and women, voluntary exiles from their far-off home, with definite ideas of life and destiny, fearing nothing earthly, wresting hard, persistent labor, — the women doing their full share of work in the humble home. Westward was a vast, almost untrodden forest, which few white men cared or dared to penetrate, and which it was expected would long remain a terra incognita. Their portion was to improve the land which was theirs.
In 1662 John Brown, one of the first purchasers, died. In 1663 Rev. Mr. Newman died, at the age of sixty-three; his wife Basheba surviving him till 1687. They were buried in the cemetery just south of the Congregational meeting-house in Seekonk. In 1667 Swansea was set off as a town. In 1668 King Philip gave a quit-claim deed relinquishing his right to all land purchased of his father. At this time he was apparently friendly with the white people. But a few years later, in 1675, his feelings had changed; for then what we know as King Philip’s war broke out. It lasted only a year, but was fierce and bloody, and it took a long while to overcome the bitter feelings engendered by it. Philip was slain in 1676, after which the conflict was continued briefly by his general Annawan. In October of that year this latter chieftain was surprised and captured by Capt. Church and his men, at a great rock which is in Rehoboth, still called ” Annawan Rock.”
He had committed atrocities, it is true; but they were such as were sanctioned by his savage training. His character as a whole was a noble one, and his hatred of the English was inspired by what in more civilized men would be called patriotism, by a determination to regain the land which had belonged for many generations to his ancestors. Against the wishes of Capt. Church he was beheaded.
Life in old Rehoboth was primitive. No railroads then, nor telephones, nor factories, no pianos for the young women nor sewing machines for the older ones, no tools for the men such as to-day make farming a pleasure. The men made their own tools and furniture; the women wrought at the spindle and loom. There were almost no books or papers. There was almost no communication with the outside world, each community supplying by its own industry about everything it used. Ample provision for the preacher, so far as land went, was almost the first thing considered. His pay otherwise was very small; there was little money, and provisions had to take its place. It is a pleasing thing to chronicle that one of the first acts of these humble folks was to set apart lands to the value of £50 for the schoolmaster. Rehoboth claims the honor of being the first place in America to establish an absolutely free public school. The old-fashioned schoolmasters and later the little red schoolhouses sent out manly men and womanly women for many generations.
In 1640 a dispute occurred between the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies regarding the boundary line, and commissioners were appointed who undertook to run a correct line between them. But when they were about three miles from their destination they found the line would end south of where it should. Instead of rectifying their error, they made an angle to a large oak tree known afterward as the Angle Tree. In 1790 the tree was supplanted by a stone with a suitable inscription, which is known as the Angle Stone.
In October, 1694, Attleboro was set off from the mother town. It was so named in remembrance of Attleborough in England; and a small stream in the town is named Bungay for one in the English town. The English names in this section are numerous, keeping alive the memory of the old places from which the first inhabitants came. ‘The first Attleboro town meeting was on May II, 1696. The boundaries between Rehoboth and Attleboro were established in 1697. The first settler in what is now Attleboro territory was John Woodcock, who built a public house on the old Bay road in North Attleboro. He had a farm of three hundred acres on Ten Mile River. He began his house in 1669 and was licensed in the following year “to keep an ordinary” and enjoined “to keep good order, that no unruliness or ribaldry be permitted there.” His house was one of several garrisons built for the protection of the people from the Indians in case of need. There were such garrison houses in Dedham, Seekonk, Swansea and other places. A portion of Woodcock’s still stands at North Attleboro. In 18o6 the house was mainly supplanted by a large three-story building. Woodcock’s son was killed by the Indians during King Philip’s war — in April, 1676. The Indians had attacked the garrison, but the son, Nathaniel, was at work in a corn field with others when the party was fired upon. The workmen fled. The Indians cut off Nathaniel’s head and stuck it on a pole and set it up in front of the house. From this time Woodcock was an implacable enemy, killing an Indian wherever he found one.
The son was buried where he fell, and the land today is reserved for a cemetery, with his grave in the centre. The place is now being cleared up, and those engaged in the work have found a stone in the centre, which from its age and position is supposed to be that of Nathaniel Woodcock. Woodcock sold the farm in 1694 to John Devotion for £390. The latter occupied it until 1711 when he sold it to John Daggett. The latter sold a portion of it in 1722 to Alexander Maxcy for £550. After the death of his son Josiah, who inherited it, another son, Levi, occupied it until 1780, when Col. Israel Hatch bought it. Col. Hatch continued to keep the house as a hotel for some years.
When the larger, new house was built, the main building of the original garrison was torn down, but an annex was moved a little way from the place. This new house was known as Hatch’s tavern long after it ceased to be a public house, until it was destroyed by fire a very few years ago. The colonel was a very famous landlord in his time, and kept at different dates the White Horse, the Lion and the Royal Exchange in Boston. While in charge of the White Horse he issued the following advertisement, paying proper respect to his Attleboro origin —
“TAKE NOTICE. ENTERTAINMENT FOR LADIE5 and GENTLEMEN
At the White Horse Tavern, Newbury Street,
My friends and travelers, you’ll meet
With kindly welcome and good cheer,
And what it is you now shall hear.
A spacious house and liquors good;
A man who gets his livelihood
By favors granted; hence he’ll be
Always smiling, always free;
A good large house for chaise or chair,
A stable well exposed to air;
To furnish all and make you blest
You have the breezes from the west,
And ye who flee th’ approaching sol,
My doors are open to your call.
Walk in, and it shall he my care
To oblige the weary traveller.
From Attleboro, sirs, I came,
Where once I did you entertain;
And now shall here as there before
Attend you at my open door,
Obey all orders with dispatch,
Am, sirs, your servant, Israel Hatch.”
A division of lands was first made in the North Purchase, of fifty acres to a share, in 1668, at which time there were about ninety shareholders. Similar divisions continued to be made to July, 1714, after which there were small allotments as late as ‘833, at which time there were a few acres of very unproductive land in the north part of the town, called Fisherville, still undivided. This latter has since been disposed of. In 1745 Cumberland was set off to Rhode Island by royal charter. It has continued to grow, though not rapidly, and is to-day an enterprising farming community, with a little manufacturing.
The people of Attleboro and Rehoboth were intensely patriotic, and as a rule joined heartily in the movement of the liberty-loving men of the colony in the years preceding the Revolution. In 1773 Rehoboth gave its representatives instructions full of vigor and patriotic sentiment. In 1775 two companies of minute men were formed, one of forty-three men under Capt. Samuel Bliss and one of thirty-six men under Capt. John Perry. Later, in an eight-month regiment, commanded by Col. Timothy Walker, these two companies were enlisted with substantially the same men. In 1776 a regiment was raised in this and adjoining towns under Col. Thomas Carpenter of Rehoboth, which joined Washington at White Plains; and in all a large number, for the small town, entered the Continental army, — most of them for three years. Nor was Attleboro less patriotic. She raised many men who served faithfully. Prominent among them were Col. John Daggett and Col. Elisha May. The former rose from the rank of ensign to that of captain in the militia before the war, and was sent to the legislature as Capt. Daggett. For many years the representatives are recorded as ” Capt.,” ” Col.,” ” Esquire or “Deacon.” Col. May served in military and civil life, in both winning fame. He was a member of the legislature for forty years. He was a friend of Washington, and in all the relations of life appears to have been a model man and citizen.
At the beginning of the Revolution the regiment to which Daggett belonged, the Fourth, was divided, and Daggett was made a colonel; Ephraim Lane of Norton, lieutenant colonel; and Isaac Dean of Mansfield, major. At one time the Committee of Safety gave notice that Nathan Aldis of Franklin was selling British goods contrary to the requirements of the General Court. Col. Daggett sent four Attleboro companies, under Capts. Moses Wilmarth, Stephen Richardson, Jonathan Stanley and Jacob me very cold night in December, to his muse, which they surrounded, and ordered aim to come out. He declined to do so it first; but threats of shooting soon induced him to obey, and he took off his hat and swore not to sell any more British goods during the trouble between the king and the colonies.
When the news of Lexington and Concord reached the town, a company of minute men, under Jabez Ellis, started at once, and marched to Roxbury, where they stayed a week, and were then dismissed. Capt. Caleb Richardson raised i company of sixty-four men, who served eight months. In 1776 a company, partly from Attleboro and partly from Norton, took part in the battle of White Plains, under Capt. Elisha May.
After the Revolution the town grew rapidly, and was divided into several villages, North Attleboro being the prominent one. The Attleboro of to-day was an outlying village, with but little promise of its future growth. In 1830 the whole town contained about thirty-two hundred people. There was a factory at Farmer’s Village, and one at Falls Village. There was a mill at Dodgeville, and the town had three hundred and fifty looms and thirteen thousand spindles. At Robinsonville, about half way between the north and east villages. the button business had been started, and has since developed into considerable proportions. A shuttle shop with twelve men was in operation at East Attleboro and — this is the first which we hear of Attleboro’s jewelry— there was a very little jewelry business.
In 1835 the Boston and Providence Railroad was built, and Attleboro village took a start and rapidly caught UI) with its sister village.
During the civil war the town did its full share in furnishing men and money and in home work. It contributed a company each to the Seventh, the Forty- Seventh, and the Fortieth regiments, quite a number of men to the Twenty-fourth and 1 fifty-eighth, and had men in all branches )f the army and the navy. Rehoboth was not behind at this time, her sons also being found in all departments of the service.
Attleboro grew rapidly after the war, in consequence of the jewelry business, till in 1886 it numbered fourteen thousand people. Unfortunately its growth was not concentrated; there were two large villages, four miles apart, nearly equal in all respects, each with a high school, a fire department, a water supply system, and everything pertaining to a large and prosperous town. The idea of a separation was discussed for some time before it took place, which was in July, 1887. At that date Attleboro, the east village, was made a town with the old name, with a population of six thousand nine hundred, a valuation a little over $3.ooo.ooo. and one thousand six hundred and thirty voters. North Attleboro was made a town under that name, with a population of seven thousand one hundred, a valuation of $ 300 000 and one thousand six hundred and twenty three voters. The two places had very nearly the same number of school children.
The first view of North Attleboro makes a good impression upon the visitor. Washington Street, the main street, is long, level and straight, being a stage route from Boston to Providence. It has several good business blocks, a large hotel and many handsome residences, and the whole town shows evidences of prosperity. Its people are noted for their love of their pleasant homes and of good horses. Among the buildings is the Odd Fellows’ block, a noticeable structure, occupied, so far as not needed by the craft, by business offices and stores. There is now being built the Richards Memorial Library, a gift to the town from the children of the late E. I. Richards, formerly one of the prominent jewelry manufacturers. It is to be of red brick with terracotta trimmings and a roof of red slate.
There will be stained-glass windows, and the whole building will be finished in handsome carved wood and other ornamental work. The main library hall is thirty feet long.
from which the village gets its name, in the rear. The building is a massive, five-story stone structure, fitted up with the latest machinery, including one thousand five hundred braiders. One hundred and fifty or more hands are employed, and the output comprises several of the choicest braids known to the trade in cotton, silk and worsted. A branch railroad from Attleboro to North Attleboro was built in 1869 and 1870. It has contributed much to the prosperity of both towns. Two years ago the route in North Attleboro was changed, a new road was laid to Walpole, and communication established with Boston by way of Dedham.
Attleboro is situated on the Providence division of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, thirty-two miles from Boston and twelve from Providence. It is also connected by rail with Taunton, twelve miles east. An electric road connects it with North Attleboro and Pawtucket, eight miles away, and a branch also runs between Pawtucket and North Attleboro. Its position and other circumstances have given Attleboro certain advantages over its sister town, so that to-day it exceeds it in valuation and population. It is a thrifty-looking place, with large business blocks, a fine opera house, and many residences which give evidences of wealth and taste, all denoting that the people are intelligent, skilled workers who believe in keeping their town clean, well ordered and attractive.
The opera house is a decidedly elaborate structure to be found in such a town; hut its owner has looked ahead to the city which must exist in a few years. It was built in 1885 by J. M. Bates, the largest manufacturer in East Attleboro, who is the owner of several factories and who has been prominent in business matters for several years. It stands in Park Square, at the junction of Park and North Main Streets, is most attractive in its architecture, and a valuable addition to the appearance of the town. The main building contains a café, the post-office and stores, and the entrance to the theatre on the first floor; the second floor is fitted for a hotel; the third floor is used by the Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythias, and has one of the finest halls in the state. The entrance to the theatre is broad and lofty, leading to an elegant and spacious lobby. The house, with its gallery, artistically decorated, has a seating capacity of a thousand. The proscenium is a little over thirty feet wide and high, with a fine drop curtain. There are numerous dressing-rooms, orchestra room, and in fact every convenience for actors and audience. None but good plays are allowed upon the stage, and the people of the town and vicinity are thus given an excellent dramatic education.
Besides the jewelry business there are various branches of manufacture in Attleboro, including the mills of Messrs. B. B. & R. Knight. The Knights’ cotton mills are large establishments, one at Hebronville and one at Dodgeville, respectively four and two miles from the centre. In each of these places mill villages have sprung up. In the two mills, which are nearly equal in capacity, there are about forty-one thousand spindles, and nearly one thousand looms. There is a small mill at Adamsdale, in North Attleboro; but as at Attleboro the principal business is the manufacture of jewelry.
The population of the two towns today is: Attleboro, about eight thousand; North Attleboro, about seven thousand two hundred. The valuation is : Attleboro, $4,600,000; North Attleboro, $3,800,000.
Attleboro, including both towns, has had three periods of growth: the first that during which church and state were connected; the second, the short period between that and the outbreak of the civil war; then, since the war, the period of rapid growth largely due to the great development of the jewelry business.
The first church, now situated in Seekonk, was that founded by Rev. Mr. Newman. The feeling of the early settlers toward the church and the clergy has already been dwelt upon. The first parish in Attleboro was at West Attleboro. At a town meeting on February 10, 17 10, it was voted to build a meeting-house thirty feet square. This was not completed until 1714. The first pastor was Rev. Mr. White, who, however, was not ordained, — the first who was ordained being Rev. Matthew Short, who received as his stipend £50, one third in money and the balance in provisions. The third pastor was Rev. Habijah Weld, a man of considerable note.
He was ordained October 1, 1727. He was a short, corpulent man, vigorous in speech, fervent in piety, strict in his creed, methodical in his habits, rigid in his demand upon others, yet kind-hearted and helpful, devoted to his profession and earnest in all he did. He had the use of a parsonage and the sum of £220. On this salary, with the aid of his farm, he lived well, and brought up and educated fifteen children. He filled the pastorate for fifty-five years. A second house was built in 1728, very near the site of the first; and this was replaced by the present church edifice in 1828. There was a succession of pastors until the present, Rev. John Whitehill, who has served since March,28, 1869. He has been a faithful servant of the church, and a useful citizen.
The second parish was set off from the first in April, 1743. In June of that year, it was voted “to build a house on the plain where the roads meet or cross each other.” ‘l’he house stood on the common near the present railroad track in the centre of Attleboro. It was forty-five by thirty-five feet in area, and high enough for one tier of galleries.
This common is part of four acres laid out by John Sweet. It was purchased and a portion of it laid out as a burying ground in 1744. The church stood near two trees which still keep watch over its resting place. A granite post marks the place of one corner, and a plate with a suitable inscription placed there by Senator B. S. Horton notes tile fact. The common itself has been graded and much improved during the last few years. The old cemetery, known as the Old Kirkyard, has been curtailed some by taking land for the railroad, but the most of it remains, holding the ashes of many of the early people of the town.
Rev. Peter Thacher was ordained October 30, 1748. He had a long and successful pastorate, being dismissed in 1784. He was succeeded by Rev. Ebenezer Lazell, who in time was succeeded by Rev. Nathan Holman, who was ordained October 14, 1800. He served for twenty-two years, making a marked impress on the life of the town. Rev. John Ferguson, Rev. Jonathan Crane, and Rev. Mr. Lothrop came after him, each with an honorable record. In 1866 Rev. Francis N. Peloubet was ordained, and was dismissed in 1871. He is the well-known author of Peloubet’s notes on the Sunday-school lessons. Rev. Samuel Bell, a man of much force, came next, and after him Rev. William Spaulding and Rev. Walter Barton, who was dismissed in September, 1893, after very useful work in the pastorate and in many other ways. His successor is Rev. E. L. House, who bids fair to maintain the prestige established by his predecessors. To-day almost every denomination is represented by a substantial church edifice, with able and earnest pastors.
Church and state were divorced about 1833, up to which time everybody had to contribute in taxes, according to the prevailing New England custom, toward the support of the church.
There had been grumbling here as elsewhere as divisions and differences had arisen, which culminated in the separation; but the dominant power in town affairs for years after was of course the old Congregationalism.
To 1850 the Roman Catholics in town were scattered; but in that year a wooden Church was built by St. Mary’s Society of Falls Village. In 1877 land was purchased at North Attleboro and services have been held in a building there fitted up for temporary use. An elegant brick church is to-day nearly completed. At Attleboro mission services were held for a time in Union Hall; but in 1883, Bishop Hendricken of Providence set off Attleboro, and Rev. John O’Connell became the first pastor. In September of that year the corner stone of the present church was laid. To-day Roman Catholics are numerous in both towns.
During the second stage of growth in Attleboro there was little of importance to be chronicled. The condition of the town in 1830 has been described. ‘The great growth has been since then, and especially during the past forty years, during which the name and fame of Attleboro have been spread, not only all over this country, but in other lands, even in Africa, where it is said that some of the natives who as yet wear no clothes do wear rings made in Attleboro.
The first manufacturer of jewelry in Attleboro was a Frenchman, who late in the last century had a small shop and made creditable jewelry in a rude way and in small amounts. In 1810 Obed Robinson, commonly known as Col. Robinson, began business at Robinsonville. In 1827 his sons, Richard and Willard, built a brick shop near by. A little later they associated with W. H. Jones, under the firm name of Robinson, Jones & Co., and in 1833 they issued copper medals of about the size of an old-fashioned cent, which had a large circulation. On the obverse, at the top, were the words
American Institute; ” at the bottom, “New York;” while in the centre was a figure seated, surrounded by mechanical implements. On the reverse was the inscription, “Awarded to Robinson, Jones & Co. for the best military and naval, sporting, plain fiat buttons, 1833.”
At different dates a number of men came to this country from England, who were skilled in jewelry manufacture or its branches, — and Mr. Jones was one of them.
In 1843 gilt buttons were less in fashion, and then came reverses. Before this a Mr. Hatch had planned a machine which should do all the work of making a suspender button complete from the tin. He and Mr. Willard Robinson perfected it, and together they began the manufacture of trouser buttons. They were very successful, and during the late civil war had numerous government contracts. After Mr. Hatch’s death Mr. Robinson bought his interest, and carried on a large business until his death in 1879. The business has changed hands. since, but is to-day a very interesting one. It has been more strictly a button business than a jewelry business; but some of its processes are similar, and the Robinson family have been agents in building up a section where the jewelry business has been carried on quite extensively.
A very early firm in the beginning was that of Draper & Sandland. A. H. Draper is now an insurance agent at Nokomis, Ill. His old partner, Thomas G. Sandland, died at North Attleboro a few years ago. They began business in 1846, at West Attleboro, near Newell’s tavern, making buttons; but later they went into the manufacture of plated goods. Mr. Draper, a few years ago,gave the writer some reminiscences which will be of interest here.
“There was no jewelry manufactured in East Attleboro during my residence there. Before my going there Obed Robinson & Sons were doing quite a large business in gilt jewelry at Robinsonville. Most of their goods were sold in the southern states by Otis Robinson, who made many trips there with very good success. There were several, then or later, who made plated goods, — Draper & Tuft, Ira Richards & Co., Stephen Richardson, H. M. Richards, Richard Everett, Henry Blackinton, Felix G. Whitney, and others. In those days the great bazaar for the purchase and sale of jewelry by the trade was the Western Hotel, on Cortlandt Street, New York, where the manufacturers had rooms, and where the merchants met them. After a while one or two started offices on Maiden Lane and Broadway, near Cortlandt Street, and the rest soon followed; but they boarded at the Western Hotel, and continued to meet the trade there for some time. William Guild and Lewis Robinson at South Attleboro, and Henry Robinson & Co. at West Attleboro, were among the pioneers of the gilt jewelry business, and pursued it many years. The story used to be told of some of these pioneer manufacturers, that at one time they were returning from New York by steamboat, when a heavy storm overtook them, and they became very much frightened, and thought the boat was going down with all on board. One of them began to pray and promised the Almighty that if his life was spared he would be a better man, and make a better class of goods in future. In 1835 the largest manufactory in Attleboro, except the cotton mills, was Robinson’s gilt button factory, which employed more men than any jewelry concern. About 1845 some of the above-named firms began making plated jewelry. There was not any jewelry manufactured in East Attleboro up to the time when I moved to New York. Many firms at this time had offices in New York, where they sold their goods at a hundred per cent profit, on eight months’ time, taking notes in payment. In 1850 there was a great improvement in the character of the goods; and they have continued to improve up to the present day, so that goods made in the Attleboros are in demand in all markets. The jewelry to-day will compare .n quality and style with the very best.”
The first jewelry made in the Attleboro of to-day was made by J. B. Draper, who after moved to Mansfield, the next town north, and became a member of the firm of Merritt & Draper. This firm was succeeded later by H. D. Merritt & Co. of 4orth Attleboro, who started about 1830. From 1830 to 185o new firms started, and the business began to assume some prominence.
The first firm established at North Attleboro was that of Draper & Tuft, composed of Josiah Draper and John Rift. In 1825 they began the manufacture of plated goods in one end of a blacksmith shop belonging to Mr. Tifft’s Father, which stood at the juncture of Washington and Park Streets, beside Ten Mile River. Later they built a factory, and did a good business in watch cases and seals.
As indicated in Mr. Draper’s letter, it was twenty years before the business assumed large proportions. The business was given quite an impetus during war times, and since then has grown rapidly, until to-day there are sixty or more firms in the jewelry business and its branches at North Attleboro, and as many more at Attleboro. At the latter place J. M. Bates has built up a large business in watch cases, and owns several factories besides the one where the cases are made. Two large factories have lately been completed in the same town. One of these, for R. F. Simmons & Co., celebrated chain makers, is two hundred and thirty-five feet long, three stories in height. This firm is not only a leading one for all kinds of chains, but makes a bewildering variety of guards, seals and lockets. The other factory, of nearly the same size, is W. H. Wilmarth & Co.’s —also large manufacturers and exporters.
There has been a great improvement in machinery for making jewelry, and the epithet “Attleboro jewelry” no longer conveys of necessity, as it once did, the idea of cheap quality. The use of seamless wire, or wire coated with gold, so as not to show a seam where it is put on, has been a great help. Several firms have branched off into the manufacture of silver novelties. The Whiting Manufacturing Company at North Attleboro has for years stood at the head perhaps for this line of goods, including not only novelties, but standard silverware. This section of the industry has kept up to all requirements. New and attractive styles of chains, pins, lockets, bracelets and collar and cuff buttons, besides every conceivable thing in the way of silver ornaments for the hair, for belts, for pocketbooks, for match safes, for innumerable purposes, are made in astonishing quantities.
The Attleboros have an invested capital of three millions, and employ nearly four thousand people, a goodly percentage of them women. They turn out annually five and one half millions dollars’ worth of goods, pay in wages one and three quarters millions of dollars, and consume stock to the value of a million and a half.
Both towns rank high in the character of their schools, each has a good public library, an efficient fire department, good waterworks, and electric street lighting. ‘~hey have all the common social organizations, and they have a large agricultural association which owns considerable property and gives an excellent annual fair. In fact, in the estimation of their own people, at any rate, who enjoy their privileges and know their good points, they are pretty nearly model towns. Harvard and Brown, Smith and Wellesley contain many Attleboro names. Ex-President Robinson of Brown University, who lately died, was born in Attleboro.
Rehoboth has grown in grace and goodness, but not much in numbers. Her children have risen up to call her blessed, and there are many who look back lovingly to her quiet home life and her fertile farms. Manufacturing has not been large in her territory. No railroad vexes her borders, and no great enterprise of any kind attracts her people; but she has an enviable record of patriotism and good citizenship, a good record for her schools. her churches and her homes. She has lost much territory to make new towns. The largest town among these offshoots has been that which is the principal theme of this article. Others have kept on in the quiet way marked by the mother town. Rehoboth’s population in 1890 was seventeen hundred and eighty-six; the population of Seekonk was thirteen hundred and seventeen; and that of Swansea, fourteen hundred and fifty-six.
On the tenth of May, 1886, the Goff Memorial Hall was dedicated at Rehoboth. The laud was given by Darius Goff, a prominent mill owner of Pawtucket. The hall occupies the site of his old homestead. The old house was removed to make place for the modern building. This cost about S14,000, of which Mr. Golf contributed $10,000 the balance being given in different sums by friends of the work, largely townspeople. It contains a high-school room, an antiquarian room with many interesting relics of bygone days, a library and a town hall. The building is the headquarters of the Rehoboth Historical Antiquarian Society, which largely owes its existence and prosperity to the efforts of Rev. George H. Tilton, recently one of the Rehoboth ministers. This society has done a work which might well be imitated in many a New England country town. The library contains, with its other volumes, six hundred and twenty-five volumes, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Bicknell. Mr. Bicknell was born in Barrington, formerly a part of Swansea, and his wife was born in Rehoboth. The library is called the Blanding Library, in honor of the parents, of Mrs. Bicknell, who were Rehoboth people the name always having been an honored one in the town. Mr. Goff was present at the dedication, and Mr. Bicknell delivered the address; while other descendants of the old town took part in the impressive exercises.
Rehoboth has produced a goodly number of notable men. Some of them have been already mentioned. Nathan Smith, professor in the medical schools of Harvard, Yale and Brown, Benjamin West, the distinguished mathematician, and a long list of learned clergymen, lawyers,and others have reflected credit upon the old town.
Among those born in Attleboro have been Rev. Naphtali Daggett, D. D., president of Yale College; Rev. James Maxcy, S. T. D., president of Rhode Island, Union and Columbia colleges, one of the most eminent pulpit orators the country has produced; Hon. David Daggett, LL. D., chief justice of Connecticut, and professor of law at Yale; and Samuel Robinson, the distinguished geologist.
Another century now opens for Attleboro; and the mother town is half a century older. Whatever changes the coming century may bring in of methods of living, in travel, in ways of doing business, Rehoboth, we may be sure, will be true to her traditions and to her opportunities. Her now quiet meadows may awake to greater activity; but her honorable history will still remain a crown of glory. The towns which have sprung from her must feel the impulse of the new life coming, and they will profit by it. The city of Attleboro, soon to be, with new industries infusing life into her people, with her homes multiplied, her facilities increased, her privileges greater, her beauty unspoiled, shall continue to go forward, a glowing jewel among the many jewels which form the crown of the old Bay State.