Windham Life and Times – February 15, 2019

An Afternoon at the NH Historical Society Museum

The notorious, brilliant, womanizer, Benjamin Thompson, depicted in a painting with his wife, daughter and slave Dinah. He would soon abandon his American wife. One of the beautiful signs at the New Hampshire Historical Society, was a J. Stickney tavern sign from Concord, NH. The beautiful sign depicts the Indian Grand Sachem King Phillip, also known by his native American name of “Metacom or Metacomet.”

My wife is on a quest to find cheap things to do close to home…and thank God for the Hippo, because it really is the guide to what is happening in New Hampshire. This past Saturday, she took us to Concord for a nice lunch at the Barley House and a trip to a sign exhibit taking place at the New Hampshire Historical Society Museum.  The signs were great, but there were many other interesting things on display. My favorite was “White Mountains in the Parlor: The Art of Bringing Nature Indoors,” which included many works by the White Mountain School painters. There were several paintings by Benjamin Champney whose name has become synonymous with the White Mountain art of the nineteenth century. The landscapes of the mountains were sweeping and beautiful. There was also a well attended lecture taking place about how the railroads influenced New Hampshire and the grand hotels of the White Mountains.

One of the oil paintings that fascinated me was  “Benjamin Thompson’s Farewell.” by Daniel G. Lamont. What was interesting to me is that it is a rare visible example of how prevalent slavery was in New Hampshire. The caption states “Painted from memory, this paining was commissioned by Sarah Thompson, Countess Rumford, showing her parents Sarah Walker Rolfe Thompson and Benjamin Thompson, in a British army uniform, seated at a table in 1775. A loyalist, Benjamin Thompson is about to leave his family with British military forces evacuating New Hampshire. Sarah Thompson as baby is held by the Thompson’s African-American slave, Dinah, standing in the background…”Little did I comprehend what I didn’t know until I came across the book, “Sex and the Scientist, The Indecent Life of Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. (1753-1814) In it we learn more about the importance of Dinah in the life of Sarah Thompson.”

“…This would not be the paternal aunt to whom she went when she was four but a female slave in the household name Dinah, who became Sally’s surrogate mother, spoken of with lifelong affection. And who had fairly exclusive care of her. This a slave nurtured the child and also smoothed over things for her. All her life, being sensitive, Sally had the need to go to someone to perform this same function and give the emotional support the enslaved black woman had provided. By the time Sally had the wistful family portrait painting, in which her mother and father were placed in the foreground and Dinah held her infant self, the America South was sentimentalizing slavery, which fed into Sally’s nostalgia and the artist’s stereotypical plantation mammy depiction so at odds with the parents, who look like cutouts of New Englanders.”

Thompson had met his wife in Concord NH. “Apprenticeships in the importing trade and the study of medicine, too, absorbed much of his young life until at the age of 19 he became a schoolmaster in Concord (earlier called Rumford) N.H. There he met and married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Sarah Rolf, who was also the daughter of Reverend Timothy Walker. In this position of influence, young Thompson met Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire who was impressed enough to name him Major in the 2nd Provincial Regiment.” After this painted scene, Thompson would sail back to England and abandon his wife and child in America. He would eventually reconcile with his daughter Sally  (Sarah?).

On Saturday, March 9, 2019 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Genealogy Workshop: The Scots-Irish in New England.

“Three hundred years ago, in 1719, a group of sixteen Scots-Irish families established a settlement in Nutfield (later Londonderry), N.H. They were part of a wave of Scots-Irish immigration to New England that would bring thousands of people to the New World. In New Hampshire, the Londonderry settlement became a jumping-off point for what was essentially a Scots-Irish invasion in the eighteenth century.  Join us for a day-long program with special guest speakers from the Ulster Historical Foundation from Belfast, Ireland, to learn more about the history of the Scots-Irish and conducting genealogical research on Scots-Irish families. Time will also be set aside for Q&A and for some tips on overcoming brick walls in your research. In addition, the Society will present for viewing—for one day only—the Shute Petition, which initiated the Scots-Irish exodus to New England.” Space is limited, and registration is required. The cost is $75 for New Hampshire Historical Society members and $125 for nonmembers. The day we were there new memberships were being offered for $34.99 or half price.



Windham Life and Times September 28, 2018

Commuter Bus Crash

Route 28 Windham. September 25, 1961

9-25-61-WINDHAM NH– Smoke pours from fiery wreckage of a passengerless commuter bus and a truck that collided and burst into flames. Driver of the bus, Albert Trombly, 22, son of the owner of Trombly Motor Coach Lines, died instantly. Driver of the truck was hospitalized for shock, The vehicles collided on Route 28, Windham.” This bus route was established with the end of passenger service on the B&M railroad. In a related story published in the Union Leader in January 15, 1936 Windham was protesting the proposed bus line route. “Town Left Off Route; Will Meet B&M Official on Thursday. A group of interested citizens, led by Town Clerk John E. Cochran, has finally succeeded in having a representative of the Boston and Maine meet with the people in town to discuss grievances against the railroad in the proposed removal of passenger service on the Manchester-Lawrence branch of the Boston and Maine line. The meeting is to be held in the Town Hall Thursday, January 15, at 2:30. The present intention of the railroad is to omit Windham entirely in making out the new bus schedule to supplant the train service. The proposed router is along Rockingham Road, which will take  in every depot along the line except Windham. The group which will meet with Mr. Pearson, the representative of the railroad, wishes to have the bus leave the present route at City Point, pass through Windham Depot, and thence via Indian Rock Road to Canobie Lake Depot. This will benefit the residents of Windham much more. All citizens interested in such change in route are requested to be present at the mass meeting on Wednesday.” It appears from the crash location that the bus route remained on Route 28 rather than traveling on Indian Rock Road.


Windham Life and Times – May 4, 2018

My Grandfather’s Barn

Cutting Pine Trees with My Brother

For those  of you who have lived in Windham for a while, you’ll remember my grandfather’s barn, that stood on a small rise, across from his field-stone house on Route 111. I loved to crawl around in that old barn because it smelled so cool, and because there was always some treasure to be found inside. It was quite beautiful with its field-stone first floor and shingled, gambrel second floor. As a kid, I always fantasized about turning it into my house someday. That was not to be. The reason the pine branches are on the roof in the photograph, is because  the large pine grove behind the barn had just been cleared to make way for what would eventually be the Woodland Ridge office building, which was developed by my dad, George Dinsmore. I can still remember clearing those massive 100 foot pine trees with my older brother and a friend of his, without much of any supervision. We were high school aged. We almost killed ourselves; but we didn’t, and we became more confident in our own prowess. That’s what being young and “privileged” got you, as you were allowed to prove your own worth, back in the day. Today, boys are required to follow rules they were never meant to obey. A life worth living is a risk. Can a safe space ever provide a substitute for the bold adrenaline rush? I will always remember as my brother and I watched in awe, as by our own young hands, massive old pines, first cracked and hissed, and then whooshed, before they hit the ground with a glorious, loud thud.


Windham Life and Times – January 16, 2018

Avoiding the Civil War Draft


I grew up with the blood and guts of the Vietnam War playing in full color on our television during dinner time. Walter Cronkite solemnly intoning the body count: 10,132 North Vietnamese dead or wounded, 207 ARVN troops dead or wounded and 3 American dead or wounded. Of course, I exaggerate, but not by much. With numbers like these how could we possibly lose, but lose we did. This was my childhood Civil War, it was just fought half-way around the world, to make it safe for democracy.

The draft and draft dodging were a huge topic during the Vietnam War. Many young Americans burned their draft cards and went to Canada to avoid going to Southeast Asia. On a family vacation, to Ausable Chasm, I remember seeing  burned draft cards in the rocks. Of course, during Vietnam, the rich man’s sons procured college deferments, which kept them out of the fighting, until the end of the war. When these provisions changed, the war ended pretty quickly. I still remember my brother getting his number in the mail, and it was low and caused a lot of foreboding, because he was going, except for the luck of the war coming to an end.

Well it seems that draft dodging was a part of the Civil War, more than 100 years before Vietnam. Again, it was the son’s of the rich who could afford the loop-hole of buying a substitute. I came upon this subject when reading Morrison’s History of Windham. “In 1863, the quota of the towns not being filled as promptly as was desired, a draft was made; and at a meeting of the town, Sept. 5, 1863, it was voted ‘to pay a bounty to all of its citizens who are, or who may be drafted into the services of the United States, or who procure substitutes under the calls of the President to put down the rebellion,’ the sum of ‘two hundred and seventy-five dollars to each citizen so drafted, or who procures a substitute.’ The money was to be paid after the soldier was mustered into the service. The selectman were chosen as a committee to carry the vote into effect and to hire (borrow) money at a vote ‘not exceeding six percent,” to pay said men. Nine men were drafted, and seven of them sent substitutes.”

This seems, really incredible to me, of the nine men drafted in Windham in 1863, only two actually joined the troops to fight in the war.

The website,, explains the civil war draft and substitution nicely, in an article entitled, “Hired soldier, Substitutes During the Civil War.”

“When the Civil War began, there was no shortage of able bodied men who volunteered for service in both the U.S. Army and the Confederate Army. Eager to show their patriotism, convinced that their cause would be victorious in a matter of months at the most, men gathered in cities and towns throughout America to form volunteer regiments, clamoring to assist in the war effort.”

“However, by late 1862 and early 1863, the patriotic fervor that had characterized the war effort early on was wearing thin in both the Confederacy and the United States, and finding men to replenish the armies of both nations was becoming difficult. Those who wanted to serve were already engaged; those who did not had either refused to serve, or, having volunteered and found the experience to be much more arduous than it seemed at first, had deserted or refused to re-enlist. This necessitated instituting a draft to choose men for service, and, in both the North and the South, the practice of hiring substitutes to serve in the place of those who were called and did not want to serve.”

“Long before the United States began the draft process, the Confederate Congress had allowed men to forgo service in the Confederate Army if they met certain occupational criteria – criteria that mostly exempted owners of large plantations or other enterprises, leading to the phrase “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” to describe the Confederate war effort. Southern men who did not meet exemption criteria but whom were otherwise able to fight often hired substitutes to serve for them. Yet by 1863, exemptions were outlawed in the Confederacy, where men willing to fight were becoming too scarce to exempt from service. This practice was just beginning, however, as it traveled north.”

“When the draft laws – known as the Enrollment Act – were first placed on the books in the United States in 1863, they allowed for two methods for avoiding the draft – substitution or commutation. A man who found his name called in the draft lotteries that chose men for mandatory service could either pay a commutation fee of $300, which exempted him from service during this draft lottery, but not necessarily for future draft lotteries, or he could provide a substitute, which would exempt him from service throughout the duration of the war.”

“With the Enrollment Act, the Civil War truly began to be known as a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight throughout the entire nation. The $300 commutation fee was an enormous sum of money for most city laborers or rural farmers, and the cost of hiring a substitute was even higher, often reaching $1000 or more.

In small towns where the potential loss of their entire population of able-bodied men became an imminent possibility, taxes and other means were raised in order to pay commutation fees, and, as commutation was outlawed, substitutes. These “bounties,” as the fees were called, would pay substitutes in lieu of townsmen.”

“The practice of hiring substitutes for military service took hold quickly in the North, becoming much more widespread than it had ever been in the South. For one thing, there was a much larger pool of men to draw from; immigrants that flowed into the ports of the North, even in a time of war, provided a large number of the substitutes hired by those who did not wish to serve. As the duration of the war lengthened, African-American soldiers, who’d thus far been only nominally accepted by the U.S. Army as viable soldiers, also became part of the pool of potential substitutes; many of the recruitment posters from the time explicitly solicit African-Americans for substitution.”

“Although the hiring of substitutes seems mercenary, and in many cases, resulted in the desertion of the substitute, many who went to war as hired men went because they were unable to enlist through the regular channels. This included the recent immigrants who were anxious to fight for their new country, and, importantly, the African-Americans who found going to war as substitutes the only way to fight for their freedom. For these men, the war was indeed a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight,” but from the perspective that poor men were more willing to fight for the possibilities they saw in their country.”


Windham Life and Times – January 12, 2017




Ben and Josefa Markewich owned Castle Hill Farm in West Windham. It was one of the largest farms in town, running along both sides of Castle Hill Road and up Mount Ephraim  to where Heritage Hill and Bennington Roads are located today.   They ran a successful dairy farm which at one time had more than 65 cows, during the 30’s and 40’s. Josefa is shown above with the cows in front of her house. Winter brought different chores to the farm, like cutting ice for the household refrigeration and milk.




Windham Life and Times – February 5th and 12th, 2015

The Famous Artists Born in West Windham NH

A view of West Windham, New Hampshire

A view of West Windham New Hampshire

There must have been something in the water of West Windham, that was the catalyst for two children that were born and raised here, to become noted American artists. Mary Braddish Titcomb and Howard E. Smith both spent their early childhood in this scenic village overlooking Beaver Brook. Miss Titcomb lived here for much of her early life, becoming a teacher in the Windham schools. Smith lived in the village until he was fourteen and his family moved to Boston Massachusetts.

This blog post was inspired by an article in the Exeter News-Letter, written 100 years ago, by William Harris in 1915.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

“WINDHAM, February 9.— A native and former resident of Windham has painted a picture which has been purchased on its merits by President Wilson and now hangs in the White House. Miss Mary Braddish Titcomb as a girl in West Windham had no unusual advantages except such as came from her excellent parentage and her own ambition and persistence. In 1880 and 1881 our correspondence to the NEWS-LETTER shows several commendatory references to Miss Titcomb as teacher in Windham Center school and as an elocutionist. Even then she was interested in painting. Later she was a teacher of drawing in the schools of Brockton Mass. Now as we learn from last Saturdays’ Boston Journal, Miss Titcomb has a studio on Clarendon Street in Boston where she does work which is seen at all large exhibitions throughout the country. The particular painting which took the president’s fancy as he saw it at the recent biennial exhibition at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington is entitled, ‘Portrait of Geraldine J.,’ and shows a pretty young woman wearing a beautiful mandarin coat of blue. The Journal article refers to Miss Titcomb as a conscientious and painstaking artist who ‘has worked while others played, and painted better each year.’ Miss Titcomb was born here September 27, 1858, the daughter of Edward and Sarah Jane (Abbott) Titcomb.”

Examples of Mary Braddish Titcomb's work. "Two Girls on Right sold for $120,000 in 2011.

Examples of Mary Braddish Titcomb’s work. “Two Girls on right, above, sold for $120,000 in 2011.

“Mary Bradish Titcomb was described as an independent woman. She is listed as a portrait painter but is best known and appreciated for her impressionist paintings of rural and coastal New England scenes. She is described as taking the traditional stylistic ideals of the Boston Impressionism and infusing it with a modern sensibility. Mary was born in Windham, NH and supported her artistic education by teaching school in the Boston area. She studied at the Boston Normal Art School and the Boston Museum School under such well-known American painters as Edmund Tarbell, Philip Leslie Hale and Frank Benson. She was a frequent exhibitor at the Copley Society.”

"Gerraldine J." now hangs of over a bedroom fireplace in the Wilson House in Washington D.C.

“Gerraldine J.” now hangs over a bedroom fireplace in the Wilson House in Washington D.C.

“Although primarily associated with New England, Mary was known to have gone on sketching trips to Arizona, Mexico and California.In 1901 Mary left teaching to dedicate her life to painting. After living in the Fenway studios she bought a house in Marblehead, MA where she could paint the kinds of coastal scenes she loved. President Woodrow Wilson admired Titcomb’s “Portrait of Geraldine J.” and bought it to hang in the White House. Mary died in Marblehead, MA in 1927.”

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

“WINDHAM, February 23.— Since writing the little story of Miss Titcomb’s success as a painter, we have been informed by Mrs. M. Eva Pratt of Revere, Mass., formerly of this town, that another Boston artist of distinction, Howard Everett Smith was also born at West Windham, scarcely more than a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Miss Titcomb. He was one of several children born to Charles Smith and his wife, Sarah (Goodwin) Smith, while the father was the proprietor of the village store at Wes Windham and postmaster. He also served the town several years as selectman. The son, who was born April 27, 1885, received a scholarship for travelling abroad from the Boston Museum School, and is a teacher in the School of Drawing in Boston. He is especially good a illustrating, but also paints; he has recently married and gone to the Northwest to paint winter scenes. Perhaps the picturesque surroundings of the little hamlet of West Windham, with its babbling Beaver Brook flowing between pine and hemlock crowned ridges, had their influence in awakening the artistic sensibility in these now noted artists, whose childhood was passed there.”

“A portrait painter, illustrator, etcher, and painter. Born in West Windham, NH on April 27, 1885.  His mother encouraged his interest in art, and he studied both drawing and watercolor at a young age. One of his earliest instructors was a veterinarian, who had Smith closely study the anatomy of his subjects. This was to stand him in good stead, as he later became recognized as a master of portraiture. In 1899, his family moved to Boston. He attended Boston Latin School before continuing his art studies, first at the Art Students’ League in New York and then two years with Howard Pyle. Returning to Boston in 1909, he studied with Edmund Tarbell at the School of Art of the Boston Museum. His illustrations appeared in ”Harper’s” and ”Scribner’s” between 1905 and 1913, and for several years he taught at the Rhode Island School of Design.”

“Having been awarded the Paige Traveling Scholarship in 1911, he left for Europe. The scholarship enabled him to study and travel throughout Europe for two years. Smith financed additional year’s travel through his profitable and long time association with Harper’s Monthly. In 1914, he returned to the United States and began teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design. Here he met Martha Rondelle, whom he married later that year. They were to have three children, Jeanne, Jacqueline and Howard E. Jr. Smith’s  career took off in the teens and twenties. He won numerous prizes including the Hallgarten Prize in 1917 and the Isidor Medal in 1921, both from the National Academy. In the twenties, he and his family spent many of their summers in Rockport and Provincetown. He was one of the founders of the Rockport Art Association. While in Provincetown, the family became friends with Eugene O’Neill, who asked Smith to illustrate his first published play.

“In 1936, the Smith family visited Carmel and in 1938 settled there. His work continued to be exhibited on the East Coast, while he became active in the local art community of the Monterey Peninsula. He served on the Board of Directors of the Carmel Art Association from 1942 to 1949 and again in 1963 and 1964. After his wife’s death in 1948, he moved to Mexico for a number of years, often spending summers in Carmel. He returned to Carmel, living there until his death in 1970”

“Smith was an American impressionist who was known for his illustrations, his portraits and his equine paintings. He worked not only in oil and watercolor, but did a wide variety of graphics, often using as subject matter the horses and cowboys of the West. Jacqueline Cagwin said of her father ”He was a gallant, a gentleman in every sense of the word. People always mistook him for a banker. He always said he would loathe going to an office and keeping rigid hours, yet he worked in his studio until five and spent his evenings etching and reading.”