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  • Occupations and Mobility in Hull, Massachusetts, Before and After the Civil War

    Philip S. Thayer

    Published Date : April-May 1988

    The history of Hull, Massachusetts, has not been thoroughly researched, especially the history before the era of its summer colony, Paragon Park, and tourism. The writer’s interest was piqued when he recently moved there and also because he knew that one of his ancestors, a John Benson, was one of the original proprietors of Hull in 1657 or earlier who lived there until his death in 1679. Benson owned land in several parts of the town, including what was then called “Hogge Island,” now called “Spinnaker Island” since condominiums were developed there. The history of the 17th-century proprietors has been studied by Ethel Farrington Smith, and an article by her will appear in the April Register. The present studies were initiated to examine the general population, its characteristics and changes in the middle of the 19th century.

    The most accessible source of information on a town’s population is a census. There were five censuses taken in Hull from 1850 to 1870 - the Federal in 1850, 1860, and 1870, and the State in 1855 and 1865. During this period, the population of the town did not change appreciably, from 253 in 1850 to 292, 285, 260, and 260 in successive five year periods. Starting in 1860 there were more houses than resident families. This was the beginning of the summer home era, which resulted in there being 102 houses, but only 57 resident families, and 45 summer homes in 1870. The census enumerators did not count summer people as residents.

    As had been true from the earliest days, the main occupation in Hull related to the sea, followed not too closely by farming. In 1850, there were 47 men identified as “laborer,” many of whom were probably hands in various maritime activities, and others may have been farm hands. Another 25 are clearly maritime workers, a number which rose to 59, 56, 58, and 56 in subsequent censuses. (See Table 1.) Census enumerators were not consistent in their nomenclature, which makes this kind of comparison difficult.

    Table 1


    Occupation 1850 1855 1860 1865 1870

    Laborer 47 12 11 4 11

    Fisherman 17 37 40 36 26

    Lobster fisherman 9

    Farmer 7 8 4 11 2

    Mariner 20 7 19 4

    Master mariner 8

    Pilot 1 1 4

    Boatman 2

    Light(er)man 5 10

    Longshoreman 2

    Wharfinger 3

    Shipwright 1 1

    Ship carpenter 1

    Lighthouse keeper 1 1 3 4 4

    Telegrapher 1 1 3 2 1

    Hotel/inn/boardinghouse keeper 6 7 5 3 7

    Matron 3

    Housekeeper 1

    Cook 2 2

    Servant (or “domestic”) 11 9

    Waiter 2

    Steward 1

    Hostler 1

    Carpenter 1 2 4 4 1

    Plumber 1

    Shoemaker 2 1 2

    Vestmaker 3

    Tailoress (seamstress) 1 1

    Bookbinder 1

    School teacher 1 1

    Music teacher 1

    Clergyman 1 1 1

    Saltmaker 1

    Ice dealer 1 1 1

    Trader 1

    Merchant T[rader?] 2

    Clerk 1 1 3

    Gentleman 1 1 

    The 11 farmers of Hull in 1850 had quite large properties for a coastal peninsula. Three of them owned over 140 acres each, namely Martin Knights, Robert Gould, and John M. Cleverly. These holdings decreased sharply by 1860, probably as the farmers sold land to developers and summer people. The farmers raised significant numbers of sheep for wool and harvested or produced quantities of corn, potatoes, hay, and butter.

    During this period the business of operating inns, boarding houses, and hotels began to increase slightly. In 1850, four men kept boarding houses - Levi Leavitt, Paul B. Worrick, Nathaniel Hooper, and Abel Harrington - and two men were innkeepers - Nehemiah Ripley and Moses B. Tower. By 1870, when tourism was in full swing, there were seven establishments operated by residents, including the inns of Nehemiah Ripley and Charles A. Ransom, the boarding house of Abel Harrington, the eating houses of James Beal and Thomas Davis, the hotel of Leonard Damon, and the establishment of Alexander Vining, landlord. There may have been others operated by nonresidents. When the five censuses were tabulated and indexed, it appeared that there had been 138 different heads of families (HOF) in Hull, of whom 73 were counted in only one census. That is, men went to Hull or started a family there but did not stay. The ages of these 73 transient HOE suggests that few of them dropped from the census because of death at an advanced age. More than half of the transients were between the ages of 20 and 40. Some young men undoubtedly died at sea. (See Tables 2 and 3.) The maximum time that these subjects could have lived in the town is about nine years, or from just after to just before a decennial census.

    Of the 138 families, only 14 were in Hull continuously from 1850 to 1870, the families one might call “hard-core” Hullonians: Lewis Anderson, John Augustus, John M. Cleverly, Joseph Cobb, John Hayden, Nathaniel R. Hooper, Reinier James, Samuel James, Martin Knights, John Luchie, John Mitchell, Nicholas Mitchell, Joseph Pope, and John W. Tower. Their persistence may be due to economic investment in the community or bonds of kinship. Various descendants of these 14 still live in Hull, and some present residents are descended from several of them, as might be expected in so small a town.

    The high degree of geographic mobility, or transiency, among the families of Hull might be due to [53] the migratory nature of seafaring people, or to a drain on the population of marriageable young men by the Civil War, or to some other as yet undetermined cause. In a scientific manner, the author next studied an inland Massachusetts town of comparable size as a control, to determine if its population showed more or less transiency than Hull.

    Mount Washington was chosen, the southwestern-most town in the state, because it was comparable to Hull in population size during the 1850-1870 period. The totals for the five respective censuses were 346, 344, 317, 239, and 256. When all five censuses were compiled and tabulated, it became clear that there had been a similar degree of transiency in Mount Washington. Of 147 different HOF appearing in the five censuses, 82 were counted only once. Only nine families, even fewer than the number for Hull, were there for the whole time period. Mount Washington was primarily a farming town, with a modest number of men engaged in charcoal-making, presumably for nearby ironworks in Richmond, Massachusetts, or Copake, New York.

    The Civil War factor in Hullonians’ mobility can be discounted because of Hull’s somewhat peculiar record in that conflict. It was not a popular war in Hull, and of the 24 men on the town’s Civil War monument, only eight or ten were actually from Hull. The others were recruited elsewhere, and served for Hull. In contrast, 13 men from Mount Washington served, with no outsiders. Another hypothesis is warranted.

    It is quite likely that the high degree of mobility in Hull was related to other factors which were changing the nature of the country as a whole, and which were magnified in their effect on a small town, whether in the mountains or on the coast. These factors include industrialization in many cities and larger towns, the Gold Rush, and the opening of large tracts of land in the Midwest and West, coupled with the need of ambitious young people to find a broader field for their talents than that provided by a small town. Mobility for 19th century Americans was occupational, economic, and social, as well as geographic. If one did not want to fish, in Hull, or farm, in Mount Washington, one went elsewhere.

    Author’s Note: The two state censuses have been compiled by Ann Smith Lainhart and are available at NEHGS. The writer has compiled the Federal censuses from the originals of the state duplicate schedules at the Massachusetts State Archives.

    Table 2



    No. of subsequent entries 1850 1855 1860 1865 1870 Total


    0 13 12 16 14 18 73

    1 6 5 4 8 23

    2 5 4 6 15

    3 2 5 7

    4 14 14

    Nonconsecutive 3 2 3 3 4 6*

    Subtotal 43 28 29 25 22 138**

    Added from previous

    census 1850 27 20 16 16

    1855 14 10 5

    1860 9 6

    1865 8

    Total 43 55 63 60 57
    Crossline includes repeats. ** Total of vertical column only.

    Table 3



    1850 1855 1860 1865 1870 Total


    15-20 1 0

    21-30 1 4 6 3 6 14

    31-40 1 4 6 5 3 16

    41-50 4 2 1 4 4 11

    51-60 2 1 1 2 4

    61-70 1 2 2 3

    71-80 5 5

    81-90 1 1 2

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