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The Dread Influenza
Linda Hixon
February 13, 2021

The influenza pandemic of 1918 was the largest loss of human lives in the shortest span of time. So many died that the exact death toll is unknown – mostly due to inconsistent records but also because of the devastation of the Great War, which was still raging as the pandemic hit.

Milford, Massachusetts suffered losses above the average for an American town. Many who died were poor immigrant workers living in the Plains and Prospect Heights sections of town. This was not a democratic disease.  Few wealthy people died of “the grip.” Its victims were the working poor and their children. Between September, 1918 and the end of that year, 105 Milford residents died officially of influenza, with dozens more dying of pneumonia. Almost two dozen babies were stillborn, six taking their mothers to the grave.

The Hopedale Women’s History Project is looking for relatives of those Milford residents who perished from the first modern-era pandemic. Contact Linda Hixon at hopedalewomen@gmail.com for more information.

“There is but a step between me and death”
Linda Hixon
February 8, 2019

Hopedale was heartbroken.  The Community’s favorite son, Adin Augustus Ballou, was dead.

In the early 1850s, young Augustus was well on his way to his future.  He graduated from the Bridgewater “Normal” School – a training school for teachers of the time – and began working there as an instructor, honing his skills.  The hopes of his father, esteemed minister Adin Ballou, hinged on Augustus finishing his training and taking over the Hopedale Home School, a private facility created to help the Community raise much-needed funds.

In January 1852, Augustus was making that dream a reality, but like many young people he took on too much.  The hard work taxed the 18-year-old, and he wrote about the joy of a day off.  “You say you see me in your dreams, and that I appear to look tired,” Augustus wrote to his mother, Lucy Ballou on January 25.  “Sunday is a welcome day – welcome, because on that day books are laid aside, and the tired brain is rested.”

But Augustus didn’t stop to rest.  At the end of January, he delivered a much-heralded oratory at the school’s Lyceum on “cooperative Associations” like Hopedale – a more expert voice on the subject could not be found.  Augustus lived much of his boyhood in Hopedale hearing the ministrations of his father.  He wrote for the local youth group’s handwritten newspaper, The Inductive Harbinger, and his future persona was evident.  “Be an independent man, a free thinker, a mighty actor.  Be a wise man, a careful discriminator,” Augustus wrote in 1851.  “Be a good man, blending humanity, with impetuosity; humility with power.  Be independent and bold for the right, and let your whole strength go to improve.”

But within days of his triumphant presentation at the Lyceum, the young man was ill.  According to his father, a bout of influenza just after the holidays had “left his physical system an easy prey to the renewed onsets of disease.”  Unfortunately, the disease was typhoid fever, and little could be done to save Adin Augustus Ballou.  His parents rushed to bedside, spending four days nursing their son, praying in vain for his life to be spared.

Augustus died February 8, 1852.  His parents were distraught.  This was a family that had suffered loss, and it did not get easier.  Adin Ballou lost his first wife, Abigail, in 1829, and his first son, Adin Junior in 1833.  Adin and Lucy lost their first son, Pearley, within days of Adin Junior’s death.  Adin Augustus was born that same year, and the loss of him left Lucy inconsolable.  The couple’s only surviving child was Adin’s grown daughter, Abbie Heywood, and when she heard the news of her brother’s death “the shock nearly crushed her.”

“They are bowed in sorrow as never before,” William Fish wrote of the couple’s pain in the town’s newspaper, The Practical Christian, but everyone was shocked at the young man’s passing.  “He had pure and high aspirations within him, and noble objects before him, for the realization of which he had already marked out some of his life-plans.”  Even famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was stunned by the news, calling Augustus “a beautiful and most promising youth” in his paper The Liberator.

“And even now, may one not think of Augustus as being dead, for he is not dead,” his friends wrote in the Harbinger.  “Perhaps his spirit is here with us to night, seeking to elevate our minds and thoughts, and to raise us from this Low and groveling earth, to more holy thoughts and pure aspirations.”

For Adin Ballou, the spiritualist movement – the idea that the living can communicate with the dead – became a way to deal with his loss.  Adin turned to his pen, writing two books, The Memoirs of Adin Augustus Ballou and Spirit Manifestations, in an effort to work through the death of his son.  “And in tears there is relief to the overburdened heart,” he wrote.  Adin Ballou turned his tears into words.

Happy Birthday, HNG!
Linda Hixon
January 17, 2019

Harriet Newell Greene’s words came to Hopedale before she did.

Born in Rhode Island on January 18, 1819, Harriet came from writing stock.  Some of her female forebears had dabbled in the literary arts, and she first came to Hopedale through her pen rather than in person.  Harriet’s first poem was published in Adin Ballou’s Practical Christian newspaper in 1848, but she didn’t move to the Community until 1852.

Poetry wasn’t her only passion.  Harriet, who married the much younger Brian J. Butts in 1858 as she headed up to her 40th birthday, never had children.  But she had the knack of writing for little hands and little minds.  About 10 of her children’s books on moral values including racial equality, temperance, and spirituality, survive in collections at the Bancroft Memorial Library in Hopedale and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.  Harriet often wrote under her maiden name – she refused to use Bryan’s last name until later in life, much to the chagrin of many around her – or under the pseudonym Lida.  More of her books were printed during her lifetime, but some have been lost to history.

There is a tenderness to Harriet’s writing.  Her book, Ralph, or I wish he wasn’t black, is the story of two friends, a young white boy and a young free black boy living in the antebellum north.  Tommy’s father has been abducted under the fugitive slave law and forced into bondage to the south, and Tommy wishes he could “rub off” his black skin.  In her works, the women of the story – the mothers of Ralph and Tommy – stand up for their abolitionist beliefs in a quiet, Christian way, and forgive the evils of the world and the slaveholders in particular.

I own a copy of this book, but the copy I have was printed by a London publisher rather than Harriet’s husband or her dear friend, Emily Gay.  With a new title, a changed ending, and no credit given to Harriet, this tiny plagiarized book is my prized possession, a tribute to a Hopedale woman whose story may have been stolen but should never be forgotten.

Harriet Newell Greene book published in Hopedale by Emily Gay, from the Collection at the American Antiquarian Society.

A Family Story
Linda Hixon
December 28, 2018

His name was so unusual, I thought he must be yet another of the dozen or so immigrant Draper workers who had succumbed to the influenza pandemic in 1918.  But Watrous Garnsey’s American family lineage went back to before the Revolutionary War.

The Garnsey family had deep roots in Richmond, New Hampshire.  Dozens of Garnseys are mentioned in books about the town, and Garnsey men served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.  Watrous Garnsey, Sr. and his wife, Emily Newhall or Newell were both natives of Richmond, although this branch of the Garnsey family may have originally come from Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

The elder Watrous was born in 1842 and served as a young man in the Civil War.  He earned his military pension and became a farmer.  He was important in the town, even playing tenor drum in the “Richmond brass-band,” which had been organized in June 1874 using instruments bought by John C. Haynes of Boston.  Haynes spent $300 to equip the band, but why he did it is unknown.

Also unknown is the reason Watrous Senior brought his family to Blackstone before 1889.  His father, Amos had died in 1886; that death may have precipitated the move.  Watrous Garnsey, Jr. would be the first member of the family born in Massachusetts in generations; he was born in East Blackstone on February 2, 1889.  But Watrous Junior had a bumpy start in life – just three days after his birth, his mother Emily died, probably of complications from childbirth.

The family stayed in the area, and Watrous Garnsey, Sr. remarried.  After the death of Emily, he the sole parent of three daughters and an infant, so he needed help.  Watrous married Mary E. Mentzer Sawyer in Northborough about a year after his son was born.  It appears it was a second marriage for both of them.

Young Watrous ended up working for the Draper Corporation as an “assembler.”  In the 1915 town directory, he is living on “Green” Street near the railroad tracks with his wife, Mildred F. Pratt and their two children – Alice Augusta, who was born in 1910, and Kenneth W., born in 1912.  Watrous Junior seems to have decided not to pass on his first name, although “Watrous” could be Kenneth’s middle name.  Watrous also did his duty and followed the family tradition of service to his country – or at least he tried to.  He registered for the draft during World War I, and was described on his card as being average in height and weight, but having “Dark blue” eyes and black hair.

Watrous Garnsey, Jr. became ill with the flu before Christmas, 1918, dying in Milford Hospital of pneumonia on December 28.  He was only 29 years old, and had outlived his father by little more than a decade.  Watrous Senior died of nephritis in 1907.

Suffrage and Spanish Flu
Linda Hixon
September 27, 2018

On September 27, 1918, the local Suffrage club decided to hold a sale of “fruit, vegetables and war-time cooking” at the home of Mrs. Arthur Foster. Their timing couldn’t have been worse. The Milford Daily News noted that Bancroft Memorial Library was closed that week “on account of the grip epidemic.” In fact, the arrival of Spanish flu in Hopedale was causing several disruptions. The “no school signal” had sounded out of fear of the flu spreading to the children, and the Red Cross headquarters were closed “on account of the epidemic of grip.” Already, 400 employees were ill at the Draper plant. The first death in town, a Draper worker named Walter James Morton, died that very day. The Hopedale Sewing Circle did not meet in October of 1918 because of the pandemic.

The Sewing Circle record was mum on the group’s suffrage views in these last years before the passage of the 19th Amendment. But in December, 1914, they had been thanked by the “Public Interest League” for their Red Cross work aiding war refugees in Europe. This may have been the Massachusetts Public Interests League of Anti-Suffragists, who published a flyer in September, 1918, questioning whether supporting woman suffrage should be considered “Pro-German.” “To weaken the countries of her enemies through Socialism and Woman Suffrage is Germany’s cleverest device,” the pamphlet reads, adding that Germany “had great hopes that it will work in England, and she is doing her best to give it a trial in America.”

The Hopedale women never mention this league again, but like most Unitarian women they may have been torn when it came to women having the right to vote. The line, it appears, seems to have been drawn by age and social status. “WHY are the opponents of Woman Suffrage almost entirely the women of wealth, privilege and leisure, women who all their lives have been protected by the care of some man, father, brother, husband, from harsh contact with the world as it exists, whilst the great majority of self-supporting women ask for enfranchisement?” A young writer who only gave her initials as K.W. asked that question in a 1912 publication by the Unitarian Advance Association. She was reacting to a push-back against a pro-suffrage stance taken by the American Unitarian Association that year. “What are Unitarians good for if they have not gained an instinct for the alleviation of human wrong,” she asked.

The Hopedale women attended local meetings of the American Unitarian Association and the “Alliance Conference of Unitarian and other Liberal Women” several times. “Our thorough liberalism by character appeals to a large number,” Ida Remington noted in the record in September, 1916. But whether they were ambivalent about their own citizenship rights or attended Mrs. Foster’s suffrage food sale is a question yet to be answered. These Sewing Circle members were probably of many minds on the subject.

Fighting for It
Linda Hixon
September 17, 2018

Johnson Gravestone

Gravestone of the Johnson Family

On May 13, 1863, Charles H. Johnson married Elisabeth Williams, a woman he’d only known for a few weeks.  Charles was living in the small town of Warren, Massachusetts, but had met Lizzie in Springfield, about 25 miles away.  Their marriage certificate attests both to be 19, but Lizzie later admitted to having lied to her husband-to-be – she was only 16 when they married.  Charles’ occupation was listed as soldier even though he was a barber by trade.  The couple had little time to be together.  His regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, would leave for the battlefields of the Civil War before the end of the month.

Charles took part in the most important battle for a black soldier in the Union Army – the Battle of Fort Wagner, on July 18, 1863.  This was a turning point for African American troops.  “It made Fort Wagner such a name to the colored race as Bunker Hill has been for ninety years to the white Yankees,” the New York Tribune noted after the assault.  In this battle, Charles was injured and died of disease in an army hospital two months later, making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Charles came from a family used to hard work.  His parents, James and Jane, moved to Hopedale from Connecticut after 1850 and struggled to make ends meet.  James, a free black man, had little time to enjoy Hopedale’s progressive ideals.  He died in the summer of 1852 in Millville.  Now a single parent, Jane was forced to send Charles, her oldest son, to live with others.  She later made the decision to give up her younger son, Jimmy, and Adin Ballou used his newspaper, The Practical Christian, to try to find a home for the boy.  Ballou told his readers that James had “commended his widow and children to my protection,” adding that he had hoped eight-year-old Jimmy could stay in Hopedale, but “the prospect is discouraging.”

“A family with few children, suitable occupation, and kind, firm, steady government, would be the one for Jimmy,” Ballou wrote.  He wanted Jimmy to find a family “with whom color shall be no detriment; who will train him to industry and wholesome restraint, without harshness or degradation.”  Whether or not little Jimmy found a new home is unknown; Ballou’s funeral record shows the child died in the summer of 1854, “Drowned Bennett Hole.”  Jane spent $4.50 on a coffin made in Hopedale to bury her youngest son.

Jane moved to Western Massachusetts to be with Charles, who began recruiting in Springfield after the Emancipation Proclamation allowed African Americans to fight in the Civil War.  The Republican, a local newspaper, praised his activities in the February 21, 1863 issue.  “Charles H. Johnson, a smart young colored man from Warren, has opened a recruiting office for the colored regiment near the depot. Our ‘colored brethren’ are great at talking and praying freedom – let us see if some of them will not fight for it,” the newspaper reported.

And Charles did “fight for it.”  He had been such a good recruiter of African American soldiers that he received a promotion from Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the leader of the 54th.  Charles was wounded at Fort Wagner, the battle memorialized in the movie Glory, and died on September 18, 1863, 155 years ago this month.  Both Lizzie and Jane were now alone.  Jane returned to Hopedale, working for the remainder of her life as a domestic servant for George and Hannah Draper.  She and her family are buried in Hopedale Village Cemetery, except for Charles.  His body remains near the hospital in South Carolina where he died.