Windham Life and Times – June 11, 2021

Scenes from Boat Parades past

My thanks to Kenny Greenwood for the wonderful photographs taken from his dock so long ago. By the way, if you haven’t tried the pub pies from Thwaites (Real English) Market in Methuen, you don’t know what you’re missing!  You can find them on their food truck at various times at Griffin Park. (In store try Tomato Sausage & Polony.) 

Windham Life & Times- June 4, 2021

Bella Vista Dance Hall – Cobbett’s Pond

The Dance Hall at Bella Vista Beach was built by John Evans in 1925. It was unique in that it was built right over the water. Many famous orchestras of the day came to play here and the hall held between 400 and 500 people. The strains of live jazz could be heard all over the lake. The hall was destroyed by a fire in 1931.

Windham Life and Times – May 28, 2021

West of Baker Farm…Did Mr. Horne Photograph the Old Simpson Road

So I was writing a few weeks back about the old Simpson Road in Windham. I think I’ve stumbled across a photograph taken by Herbert Horne of Simpson Road, early in the twentieth century. It is on the right and hand written on it was “West of Baker Farm.” The Baker Farm was owned by Julia Baker, who operated a boarding house there. It was located on the West end of the Range overlooking Cobbett’s Pond where Baker Road is today. Sorry for the poor quality photos of the farm, they’re all I have.

Windham Life and Times – May 21, 2021

Bank Swallows-Winged Acrobats flying over a Lake or Pond near you.

So I have been really impressed this year by the numbers of swallows flying over Cobbett’s Pond.  In early Spring, there were groups near the hundreds darting, dropping and rising over the water. I’ve never seen so many. The best time to spot them is at dusk and dawn. So on Monday night, I was standing on my wall near the shore admiring a pod of three sparrows, performing their acrobatics. Suddenly, they came following the shore, in a tight formation, inches from each other, and flew just past my face as if they knew I was watching them. My wife, a natural born skeptic, thinks this is just a quaint tale that I fabricated, but they really did soar past me, up close and personal and it was incredible!

    Audubon says the following: “The smallest of our swallows, the Bank Swallow is usually seen in flocks flying low over ponds and rivers with quick, fluttery wingbeats. It nests in dense colonies, in holes in dirt or sand banks. Some of these colonies are quite large and a tall cut bank may be pockmarked with several hundred holes. Despite their tiny size, tiny bills and small feet, these swallows generally dig their own nesting burrows, sometimes up to five feet long.”

    Also according to Audubon these swallows “migrate north relatively late in spring compared to other swallows. A long distance migrant, wintering in lowlands of South America. In late summer, may gather in huge flocks before southward migration.”

     According to the Cornell Lab: The svelte and speedy little Bank Swallow zips through the air with quick twists and buzzy wingbeats. Look for them in chattering nesting colonies dug into the sides of sandy cliffs or banks, or pick them out

of mixed swallow flocks as they catch insects over the water. These birds occur on all the continents except Australia and Antarctica—but in North America their numbers have mysteriously plummeted since 1970, and they are recognized as a Common Bird in Steep Decline.” Well, if Cobbett’s Pond is any indication, they are making a rapid recovery.

· “Bank Swallows are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world. In the Old World, this species is known as the Sand Martin.”

· “Bank Swallows nest in burrows in banks and sandy cliffs. In recent years, they have started to nest in gravel and sand piles in construction sites and freight yards. The small birds dig the burrows themselves, using their feet, wings, and bill.”

· “Male Bank Swallows are able to distinguish heavier, apparently more receptive, female birds in flight and preferentially chase them for mating.”

· “The oldest known Bank Swallow was at least 8 years old when it was recaptured and rereleased at a banding station in Wisconsin

     “Look for nesting Bank Swallows in banks and bluffs along rivers and lakes, where they can occur in colonies of up to 2,000 nests. These birds stick to open, wet areas and steer clear of forested habitats. Their harsh, doubled call note is distinctive as they pass overhead. Also, remember that flocks of swallows often contain several species—so linger with big flocks and keep your eyes out for a slightly smaller, brown swallow with quick, fluttery wingbeats—then look for the neat brown band across the chest.”

     According to New Hampshire Wildlife: Aerial insectivores (here including nightjars, swifts, flycatchers, and swallows) have recently received increased conservation attention due to significant declines in several species (Hunt 2009, Nebel et al. 2010). Because all species share a common prey base of flying insects, there has been much speculation on a potential common cause for many of the declines. Much current research has been directed toward swifts and swallows in North America, resulting in greater knowledge of potential threats. Swifts and swallows have several ecological characteristics in common. All are highly aerial, and feed entirely on insects captured during sustained flight – often quite high in the air column. Threats identified for the group as a whole include changes in food supply, effects of insecticides on adults or young, loss of nesting locations, climate change. It should be noted that any of these factors could be affecting birds at any point in their annual cycle, and knowledge of their winter ecology is currently largely unknown. Like many aerial insectivores, populations of Bank Swallow are in strong decline. Based on BBS (Sauer et al. 2014) data the species has declined at 9.25% annually since 1966 in NH (‐8.46% from 2003‐2013). Regionally, declines are higher in the north (BCR 14: ‐10.59%) than the south (BCR 30: ‐4.09%) (see also Nebel et al. 2010). Repeated Breeding Bird Atlases have documented declines in occupancy of 30‐45% (Cadman et al. 2007, McGowan and Corwin 2008, Renfrew 2013) Sources online.

   On the other hand, maybe birds aren’t even real:

Windham Life and Times – May 14, 2021

The Cutting Place – Simpson Road, Windham

Last week I identified this beautiful farm as the “Cutting Place” on Range Road in Windham. Your intrepid editor at the Windham Independent, Jon Carpenter, kindly corrected my mistaken identification of the road as Range Road. You see, the road that Mrs. Cutting and the boys are walking on could not be Range Road, because it did not exist in this location in the 1880’s. At that time the road that ran by here was actually Simpson Road. It ran from Cobbett’s Pond Road all the way to Simpson’s Mill, on Simpson Pond, which is now known as Moeckel Pond. I love learning new things, (that’s why I used to sit in the back of the classroom, in fifth grade, while the teacher droned on about something, reading the encyclopedia Britannica.) So, there was no Range Road at this location at the time of the photograph. On the 1892 map of Windham you can see Simpson Road, running from Cobbett’s Pond Road, further west than the current 111A and then making a sharp turn to the South toward Simpson Pond and mill.

Simpson Road once ran from what is Cobbett’s Pond Road today to Simpson Mill on the WIndham / Pelham line.

    In early Windham history this section of Windham with it’s schoolhouse was known as “the Dock,” for reasons I have not been able to ascertain. Jon Carpenter’s family came to Windham in 1953 and Simpson Road was still in use to be later replaced by a new Range Road built by the state of New Hampshire. It seems that prior to this, Range Road continued along what is now Cobbett’s Pond Road today. This is why Cobbett’s Pond Road is still maintained by the State of New Hampshire.

    At the 1962 town meeting, in a rare and unusual secret ballot, Simpson Road was closed to gates and bars, costing the land owners with frontage a ton of money. One of those who lost out was Bob Thorndike, who ironically was a Selectman. He and the Sullivan’s, who owned the farm in the photograph, went to court and sued the town over the road closing. They lost the case, then appealed and lost again. Sadly, there was also an old Cranberry bog, near Golden Brook Road, lost to the construction.  Thanks to Jon for all of the information about this area of Windham!

Windham Life & Times – May 7, 2021

Happy Mother’s Day- The Cutting Farm, Range Road, Windham

The Cutting Farm – Baldwin Coolidge Photograph Courtesy of SPNEA

In this photograph by Baldwin Coolidge, Eva Cutting is shown walking on Range Road with her two boys Charles and John. Eva was the daughter of Samuel W. Simpson who built the house in 1815.  This photograph was taken sometime around the 1880’s. It was a spectacular farm. When I was a child it was known as the Sullivan place and the property was rapidly falling into disrepair; then it burnt to the ground. Do something nice for your mother, she put up with a lot, raising the likes of you!

Windham Life and Times – April 30 2021

The Windham Auto Inn- Range Road, Windham NH

This is one of my favorite scenes from Windham because we all pass by the old “Windham Auto Inn” and the pretty house behind it travelling on Range Road. Rural Oasis says, “By 1924 most of the boardinghouses had closed. Then when the automobile became popular, John V. Mackenzie opened the Windham Auto Inn on Range Road in 1934” (1924?). The inn finally closed in 1947..” From the back of the post card it appears the Windham Auto Inn actually opened much earlier than this since it was dated April 8, 1929. E. Land says, “This is a view of part of the house. We have a very nice room twin beds and private bath. Have been on the go every minute. The food is excellent; and I intend to enjoy the change…” The property is now three condos and the house behind it is still there. What are those posts on the front lawn?

Windham Life and Times – April 23, 2021

Aunt Anne, My Grandmother Edith, Trixie and me.

My Grandmother Edith Dinsmore

She’s the One with the Bear Skin in Wyoming

So I loved my grandmother Edith Dinsmore very much, as well as her sidekick sister, my Aunt Anne. That’s us at Hampton Beach with her dog Trixie. Her love for my grandfather must have been pretty deep because it took her from Somerville MA to Pinedale Wyoming. My grandparents lived first in a tent then a small log cabin. After a few years in Wyoming, practicality brought them back to Windham.

My grandmother Edith Dinsmore with a bear skin in Wyoming.

I learned about what a sea-breeze was from her when I was five; the means of ruing a perfectly sunny New England day! One of my grandmother’s and Anne’s favorite treats with breakfast was Baked Honey Brown Sugar Grapefruit. My grandfather would cast aspersions on the concoction, calling it their “Hollywood Breakfast,” as in “there they are again, enjoying their Hollywood breakfast!” They were married for over fifty years so either love or tenacity must have endured in their marriage. THE HOLLYWOOD BREAKFAST: “Have a bubbly sweet start to your day with this simple breakfast recipe that’s both beautiful and delicious:” 2 halved grapefruits; 1 Tbsp melted butter; 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar; 2 Tbsp honey; salt to taste. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush each grapefruit with melted butter. Pour 1/2 Tbsp of honey then sprinkle 1/2 Tbsp of dark sugar over each grapefruit. Don’t spread. Let it melt while baking. 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Need a break from your significant other. Just prepare yourself a “Hollywood Breakfast.”

Windham Life and Times April 16, 2021

The First Female American Solider

Deborah Sampson Gannett: Revolutionary War Patriot

Deborah Sampson Gannett: Revolutionary solider. First female to serve in the U.S. military.

So…I am probably the last person in the world who has not heard of Deborah Sampson Gannett. I’m pretty well read, so imagine my surprise when I discovered the story of a woman from Massachusetts who disguised herself as a man so that she could serve in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

    We might never have known about the heroism of Ms. Gannett but for the fact that she petitioned the State of Massachusetts for a military pension. “XXIII. Resolution on the petition of Deborah Gannett, granting her £34 for services rendered in the Continental army. “On the petition of Deborah Gannett, praying for compensation for services performed in the late army of the United States. Whereas, it appears to this Court that the said Deborah Gannett enlisted under the name of Robert Shurtliff in Captain Webb’s company in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, on May 20th, 1782, and did actually perform the duty of a soldier, in the late army of the United States, to the 23rd day of October, 1783, for which she has received no compensation; and whereas it further appears that the said Deborah Gannett exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism, by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished, and was discharged from the service with a fair and honorable character therefore, Resolved, That the treasurer of this commonwealth be, and hereby is, directed to issue his note to the said Deborah for the sum of thirty-four pounds, bearing interest from October 23, 1788.” She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary army.

  The Mount Vernon website states that Gannett was “born on December 17, 1760, in Plympton, Massachusetts, Sampson grew up in poverty. Her father abandoned the family when Sampson was five. She was sent to live with relatives until the age of ten, when they could no longer afford to care for her. She was then forced to become an indentured servant to the Thomas family in Middleborough, Massachusetts. As an indentured servant, she was bound to serve the Thomas family until she came of age at eighteen. In exchange for serving them, she was given food, clothing, and shelter. Once she was free, she supported herself by teaching and weaving.” According to Wikipedia; “In early 1782, Sampson wore men’s clothes and joined an Army unit in Middleborough, Massachusetts under the name Timothy Thayer. She collected a bonus and then failed to meet up with her company as scheduled. Inquiries by the company commander revealed that Sampson had been recognized by a local resident at the time she signed her enlistment papers. Her deception uncovered, she repaid the portion of the bonus that she had not spent, but she was not subjected to further punishment by the Army. The Baptist church to which she belonged learned of her actions and withdrew its fellowship, meaning that its members refused to associate with her unless she apologized and asked forgiveness.”

     “On May 23, 1782, at the age of twenty-one, Sampson disguised herself (again) as a man named Robert Shurtliff and enlisted in the Continental Army under the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. She and the other new recruits then marched from Worcester, Massachusetts to West Point, New York. While at West Point, Sampson was chosen to serve as part of the Light Infantry Troops–– the most active troops in the Hudson Valley from 1782 to 1783. To be inducted into the Light Infantry Troops, soldiers had to meet specific requirements. They needed a height of at least 5’5” and had to be physically able to keep a fast and steady marching pace. They were referred to as “light” infantry because they traveled with fewer supplies and took part in small, risky missions and skirmishes.”

     “Sampson spent most of her time in the army in the Lower Hudson River Valley Region of New York, which was then known as Neutral Ground. Neutral Ground spanned throughout what is today Westchester County in New York and was termed ‘neutral’ because it sat, unclaimed, between British-held New York City and American-held Northern New York. Neutral Ground was a lawless land filled with both Patriot and Tory raiders who terrorized the local citizenry.” George Washington spent much of his time in the Hudson River Valley just north of Neutral Ground in Newburgh.  “Sampson fought in several skirmishes. During her first battle, on July 3, 1782 outside Tarrytown, New York, she took two musket balls in her thigh and sustained a cut on her forehead. She begged her fellow soldiers not to take her to a doctor out of fear her sex would be discovered, but a soldier put her on his horse and took her to a hospital. A doctor treated her head wound, but she left the hospital before he could attend to her leg. She removed one of the balls herself with a penknife and sewing needle, but the other was too deep for her to reach. She carried it in her leg for the rest of her life and her leg never fully healed.” “After the war ended, Sampson returned home and married a farmer, Benjamin Gannett, in 1784. They had three children and adopted a fourth. In 1792, she successfully petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for back pay for her service in the army and was awarded 34£. In 1797, she petitioned Congress, claiming disability for the shoulder wound she received during the war. Her petition ultimately failed. However, starting in March 1802, Sampson began a lecture tour of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York.” “Sampson embarked on a year-long tour, delivering lectures about her sensational experiences as a soldier. Sometimes, she would dress in full military regalia during these speeches. But there is reason to suspect that Sampson inflated some of her accomplishments, as the newly unearthed diary makes clear.” “After the lecture tour, Sampson petitioned Congress again. This time, her petition succeeded. On March 11, 1805, she was placed on the pension list for disabled veterans. She continued campaigning Congress for the entirety of the money she was due until she was denied the remainder of her pay on March 31, 1820. Deborah Sampson Gannett died in Sharon, Massachusetts on April 29, 1827, at the age of sixty-six.”

   She is one of the earliest examples of a woman serving in the United States Military.” Her headstone in Sharon honors her as “The Female Soldier.”

Jessie Serfilippi The College of Saint Rose https:/

    An official record of Deborah Sampson Gannett’s service as “Robert Shirtliff” from May 20, 1782 to Oct 25, 1783 appears in the “Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War” Volume 14 p.164 series

Windham Life and Times – April 9, 2021

Black History in New England

Dinah and the Hemphill Family.

We know very little about the lives of the African American slaves and free-men that once lived in Windham. We have some idea about Pomp and Jeff, who are buried on the Cemetery on the Hill, because of log-books and journals that record when they were leased out by their owners to do work for other residents of the town. We know what their masters were paid and we know to some degree what they did for work. There is one African-American slave for whom we know quite a bit. Her name was Dinah and her life was outlined in Morrison’s genealogy of the Hemphill family.  I looked for more information about her in the Dunstable history but could find nothing. One problem is that so many African American female slaves were named Dinah; the reason why I could not ascertain. Dinah was the daughter of Jacob in the Old Testament and means “judged, avenged or vindicated,” in Latin.

     Captain Nathaniel Hemphill: Morrison Says, “He is called captain in town records; he was probably a captain of the training-band. His is one of the most interesting, prolific, and remarkable families of the town.” He was born on May 11, 1737. He married Agnes, the daughter of Robert Park on December 28, 1764. “They were the parents of eighteen children. I believe the largest family ever raised in town.” He was a signer of the Association Test and served as a Selectmen and Moderator for many years. “This good man was a slave-holder. As his family increased, he and his wife saw the necessity of having more household assistance, so they went to Boston and purchased a colored girl named Dinah, paying forty dollars for her, which was probably cheap, and brought her home. She was a faithful friend and servant. She assisted much in taking charge of the children. Seating herself in a chair with a large bowl in her lap, which held the broth or the pudding, with the little ones gathered in a circle around her, she would ladle out to each the appointed share. Dinah was probably freed by the adoption of the state constitution in 1784, but remained for several years after that date with the Hemphills. The good housewife would go to market and purchase articles for the family. On one occasion the articles for each was mentioned, but Dinah’s portion was not alluded to, though it was the intention to procure articles for her. She was deeply grieved to be thus neglected, and exclaimed, “Me nothing! Me nothing!” Mrs. Hemphill went to market, purchased the several articles, and Dinah’s too; but when she returned Dinah had departed, to return no more as a member of the household. She went to Dunstable, found some of her own people, and was married…she possessed and affectionate, confiding, trusting nature. The kind master who had gone down to the grave, the good mistress and dear little ones were not forgotten; and years after she returned and visited the family bringing her own flock of little ones…” Dinah had named her own children after the names of the Hemphill children.

     “Mr. Hemphill was an active and strong man, of probity and worth, a wise old man, and possessed in an eminent degree that rarest and most uncommon qualities which we call good common sense. He was cut down in full strength of his vigorous manhood. His death was sudden. He was taken severely ill with lung-fever, and in two to three days it was evident that he must die. As the hour was at hand, he called his wife and large family of children about him. And in an unfinished invocation commended them to the God of the widow and the fatherless, in this his last prayer: ‘Lord, look down in mercy on this little squadron before Thee. Take them into thy heavenly care and protection; make them to remember Thee their Creator in the days of their youth…Lord I can say nothing!’ With this petition in his heart and the

sentence unfinished upon his lips, his soul left the earthly tabernacle, and followed the winged petition to God.” He died Nov. 10, 1796 at 59 years old.

    “By the death of her husband, a double share of responsibility and burdens fell upon the widow, but she did not shrink from them. With great mental strength and physical endurance, she managed unaided the affairs of her large family for eighteen years. She had ten daughters, and each had a spinning wheel,—like all their Scotch neighbors. The flax was prepared, and she and her ten daughters in one large room, which also served as the kitchen, spun their linen thread. They would thus work for three months, when the thread would be gathered together . The webs of linen cloth, bleached and whitened, would be arranged and ready for sale, and at two o’clock in the morning, on horseback and alone, Mrs. Hemphill would start for market at Salem, Mass., some thirty or forty miles distant. The children were generally alone during her absence. The journey to market took one day,—one day to trade, and one to return. While at market she would buy the articles for family use, for the succeeding three months, bringing mementos to each, thus adding to the joys of all. In this manner she bore her burdens and managed her family, and prospered. When her daughters were married, each was generously provided for by the mother…”

While Morrison’s story of Dinah and the Hemphill is sympathetic and sentimental in its character, nobody should believe that slavery in New England was benign. One story from the town of Dunstable history will make this point clear: Robert Blood was a slave owner in Dunstable MA. On September 10th, 1756 he sold a five year old slave girl named Dinah to John Abbott of Andover. 

Dunstable, September ye 10th, 1756.

“Received of Mr. John Abbott, junior of Andover, Fourteen pounds

Thirteen shillings and Two pence. It being the full value of a Negrow

Garl, Named Dinah, about five years of Age of a Healthy Sound Constitu-

tion, free of any disease of Body and I Do hereby Deliver the Same Garl

to the said Abbott and Promise to Defend him in the Improvement of

her, as his Servant forever. Witness my hand, “

Robert Blood.

John Kendall.

Temple Kendall.. The paper has this indorsement : — Oct. 28, New Stile, 1756.

This day the Within Named Girl was Five years old.”

     “Robert Blood lived on the place now occupied by Dexter Butterfield, and many stories are told of his peculiarities. He is said to have called an Indian doctor to prescribe for him in a case of sickness; but fearing lest the medicine might contain poison, he administered it to his negro boy, who died from its effects. The place of his burial is called to this day ” Negro Hill.” (Imagine being so monstrous as to test a possibly poisonous medicine on a little boy.) A sheriff once came into church to arrest Mr. Blood, who, seeing his pursuer, raised his handkerchief to his nose as if it were bleeding, and quietly left the meeting. On being asked’ afterwards why he left the church so suddenly, he said, ” The sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.” (Job 1, 6.) His wife was a noted swimmer, and frequently swam across the Merrimack River. She was, however, drowned at last, as it is said, among the lily-pads of Massapoag Pond.”