6 June 1950
ON Tuesday, 6 June 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Oliver invited the Society to visit them at Middleborough, Massachusetts. Twenty-six members were present, the majority of whom travelled from Boston together in a New York, New Haven and Hartford bus.
As the day was fine, luncheon was served out of doors. The members greatly enjoyed the opportunity to inspect the delightful house, built in 1769 by Judge Peter Oliver of the Superior Court of Judicature for his son, Dr. Peter Oliver. After luncheon some wandered through the pleasant woods, while two unusually rugged guests ventured upon the Nemasket River in a canoe.
Although no shadow of a formal meeting marred the geniality of this country journey, Mr. Oliver placed the Society further in his debt by offering for publication in these Transactions a paper entitled:
THE small Oliver house in Middleborough was built in 1769 by Judge Peter Oliver of the Superior Court of Judicature for his son Dr. Peter Oliver who, on the first of February, 1770, was to marry Sally, the eldest daughter of Thomas Hutchinson, then Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and shortly to be Governor.
Presumably the building of the house began toward the middle of the year. When we had to replace the sills a few years ago we found, face up, near the center of the front door, upon the sill, a brand new (or what looked as though it had been brand new when it was put there) penny with the date 1769. It seems reasonable that this must have taken some time to get to the colony from England, so we deduce the spring or summer as the time the house was started. Scratched into the cement of the foundations of the right-hand chimney is the date 1769; and we found it again, under about six layers of wallpaper, in the “best” bedroom closet. Despite the fact that there are a number of references to it as having been built in 1762, and the fact that there have in the past been postcards of it, printed hereabouts, with that date (one of these postcards even adds that the house was seized by the British during the Revolution!), there is no question about when it was built, or under what circumstances. Unfortunately not very much more is known.
It is almost exactly the same in its dimensions as the Wythe house in Williamsburg; windows and fireplaces downstairs and up are the same. The halls resemble each other, the stairs and bannisters are alike, though these turn to the left and those in the Wythe house to the right. In this house the stairs rise from close to the front door, which leaves a larger space in the back than in the front of the downstairs hall. In the Wythe house this is reversed. Here, at the head of the stairs and in the center of the house, a partition makes a small back hall off which open four rooms, two good-sized ones on the sides and two small ones in the middle. The Wythe house does not have the wall setting off the back hall, nor does it have the two very small bedrooms; and in this house it seems as though the present division in the center upstairs was not part of the original plan.
Judge Oliver, who built this house for his son, was the youngest son of Daniel Oliver, merchant of Boston, one-time member of Her Majesty’s Council, and his wife Elizabeth Belcher Oliver. He was born in 1713, was graduated from Harvard in 1730, and married, in 1733, Mary, the daughter of William Clark of Boston, for several years a member of the General Court. In 1744 he left Boston for Middleborough, attracted, perhaps, as Weston’s history of the town says, by the beauty of the place, and probably also by the attention it had received as a result of a petition of the remaining Indians living here at Muttock, as this part was called, that they be allowed to move farther down river in the direction of Titicut. Conceivably his interest may have been turned a little in this direction by the fact that his grandfather, Captain Peter Oliver, had at one time owned a part of Naushon Island. He purchased first about three hundred acres, including the dam then recently authorized by the town, and the water privilege, and gradually acquired more land. Here he spent the next thirty years of his life.
The extent to which he developed the property is a little hard to discover at the distance of two centuries. A forge was erected on the dam, there was a slitting mill, and an iron furnace known as Oliver’s Furnace. There is a story which has been often told about the slitting mill, how at the time the Judge acquired his property here there was only one such mill in this part of the country, and that near Milton. No one is supposed then to have known the method of its operations and the Judge is reported to have offered a substantial sum of money to one Hushai Thomas, a skilful young man of the town, if he would build him a mill to produce nail rods as good as those made in Milton. Mr. Thomas is said to have disappeared from the town inexplicably, and it was observed that his wife and family evinced no fears as to his whereabouts. There is not much detail in the versions of this story, but about the time Thomas disappeared from Middleborough an unkempt and apparently partly demented fellow turned up in Milton, and through friendship with town children gained access to the works. Eventually Thomas came back. The foundations of the slitting mill were laid and the product, when finally operations began, equalled that of any other part of the country. It is said that from this point the situation of the Thomas family showed a marked improvement.
There are a few letters of Judge Oliver’s left which show him to have taken an active part in the operation of his property. One in 1756 to the “Hon’ble Committee of War about two howitzers just ordered,” reads in part:
. . . Had I known of your having occasion for them ten days ago, I could have supplied you, but I finished my Blast three or four days since. . . . I have been to a great deal of trouble and Charge to secure Mountain ore to make warlike stores . . . for guns and mortars. . . .
He writes of being sensible of the “Risque of making guns and mortars from Bog ore, [so] that I shall not attempt them again with that.” In another letter he speaks of “granadoe” shells, and of having “lent Mr. Barker my Pattern for the Mortars,” and of having sent “vessel after vessel” for material for another furnace which would have made possible the much speedier supply to New York of “Stores of such consequence.”
The files in London of the proceedings of the Commissioners of American Claims throw some light on the extent of his interests here. He was dispossessed, he wrote, “of an estate real and personal which was competent to the support with decency of his large family.”
He describes his private business as having been of a very lucrative nature. The schedule of his estate, which he held eventually in fee simple with his son Peter Oliver, Junior, lists the large forge, 70 feet long and 50 feet wide, “almost new” (the date of this communication is 11 March 1784 and presumably refers to a situation of about ten years earlier); the slitting mill to which they had an exclusive right in New England by Act of Parliament; a saw mill, grist mill, boulting mill, and cider mill; an anchor shop, blacksmith shop, and “machine for weighing carts and their ladings.” There was a barn 90 feet long and 40 feet wide for charcoal; there were three hundred and fifty acres of woodland, within two miles of the aforesaid works, worth “twenty shillings per acre”; and one hundred acres of improved land adjoining. There were five dwelling houses, barns, threshing house, and orchard.
These were what pertained to the business that he had developed and not to the property adjoining his iron works where stood his “large dwelling house, stables and outhouses, garden and orchard,” and another “good dwelling house,” the whole fenced in with stone walls. He listed separately his land in other parts of the Province, and his interest in a dock called Oliver’s Dock in Boston which today is known as Rowe’s Wharf.
In a letter from Birmingham in 1787 he says “that most of the iron works in the province were upon a small scale, and generally were owned by a number of proprietors” who supplied them from their own labor and from a swamp ore of little cost. Here, perhaps, he is remembering his experience of thirty-one years earlier of the “Risque of making guns. . . from Bog ore.” Most of these operations were winter works and were built on small streams often exhausted by summer droughts. “On the contrary,” he writes, “my stream [this is the Nemasket which flows beside us] was supplied from five ponds, the lower one was always reputed nine miles round; the next ten miles long, two others, each four or five miles, and one of about three miles round, all of which could supply me with a constant flow of water. I have often had eight wheels going at the same time, on one dam, and waste water for eight wheels more. . . .”
He writes that his works “were also situated so as to reduce my land carriage of ten miles, to water carriage to New York, from whence I furnished myself with pig iron.” Several months in the year he could convey his pig iron to within a few yards of his forge by water. He mentions also that he was but fifteen miles land carriage to whence he could convey his goods to Boston by water.
All of this was built up out of his thirty years in Middleborough, but most of the work must have been done before his appointment to the Superior Court in 1756. Even from 1744 he was continuously employed in the service of the Crown and of the Province as Commissioner of the Peace, Judge of the Inferior Court, of the Quorum, of the Superior Court; as member of His Majesty’s Council, and as Justice of the Peace throughout the entire province. During the years he served on the Superior Court he said that he travelled 1,100, 1,200, and even 1,500 miles per year to attend the business of thirteen counties.
It may properly be noted that for none of these services had he received any compensation in the form of salary until His Majesty granted him a salary in 1772 as Chief Justice. Even this he did not accept until one of his fellow justices, Judge Trowbridge, was persuaded to refuse a salary as justice from the Crown and accept it only as from the General Court. At this Judge Oliver accepted the offer from the King.
This salary was the bribe for accepting which he was impeached. In 1774, banished, his return forbidden under pain of death, his property confiscated, he sailed for England. It was the end of March when “about 70 sail” set out from Nantasket for Halifax. “Here,” he wrote in his diary, “I took my leave of that once happy country where peace and plenty reigned uncontrolled, till that infernal Hydra Rebellion, with its hundred heads had devoured its happiness, spread desolation over its fields, and ravaged the peaceful mansions of its inhabitants. . . . Here I bid Adieu to that shore which I never wish to tread again till that greatest of social blessings, a firm, established British Government, precedes or accompanies me thither.” He and his son Peter Junior, of this house, were the fourth and fifth generations of the family to have lived in this country. He never returned, nor did any of his descendants, nor any of the Hutchinsons who sailed with them. Mary Sanford Oliver of St. John’s, New Brunswick, in 1851 wrote to her cousin, my grandfather Andrew Oliver in Boston, “I have often heard my mother speak of the shipload of Olivers and Hutchinsons who at the time of the Revolution went to England calling themselves ‘sturdy beggars.’”
The last years of the Chief Justice’s life were passed in England. He compiled and published a Scripture Lexicon which went through several editions, and which was for a time used as a textbook at Oxford. Shortly after his return Oxford gave him the honorary degree of D.C.L. Hutchinson received the same degree at the same time, and is said to have valued it more than any honor bestowed upon him. The event is described in his diary. “After putting on the Doctor’s scarlet gowns, and bands, and caps, [we] were introduced into the Theatre, . . . presented separately to the Vice-Chancellor who conferred the degrees of Doctor, In Jure, Civile, Honoris Causa.” (This was the degree that only recently before had been given to Dr. Johnson, and in our time to Mr. Winston Churchill.) The Judge also describes the scene, with the two thousand spectators, “the ladies by themselves in brilliant order . . . the theatre a most noble building . . . the accompaniment of music, orchestral and vocal.”
The happiest years of the Judge’s life were surely spent here in Middleborough, particularly here, just across the river, on the westernmost of
The house in Middleborough, Massachusetts, built by Chief Justice Peter Oliver in 1769 for his son, Peter Oliver, on the occasion of his marriage to Sally Hutchinson, daughter of Governor Thomas Hutchinson.
Mrs. Daniel Oliver
Elizabeth Belcher, daughter of Hon. Andrew Belcher, and sister of Governor Jonathan Belcher; married 23 April 1696 Daniel Oliver; died 1735; mother of Chief Justice Peter Oliver and grandmother of Peter Oliver, Jr., for whom the Middleborough house was built.
Portrait by John Smibert owned by Mrs. Richard Oliver and Miss Prudence Oliver.
Three Oliver Brothers (Daniel, Andrew, and Peter)
Three sons of Daniel and Elizabeth (Belcher) Oliver, Daniel, Jr. (1703/4–1727), Andrew (1706–1774), Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, and Peter (1713–1791).
Copy by George Smith, owned by Mrs. Richard H. Lawrence and Miss Prudence Oliver, of Portrait by John Smibert.
Chief Justice Peter Oliver
Peter Oliver, son of Daniel and Elizabeth (Belcher) Oliver; born Boston, 26 March 1713; graduated from Harvard 1730; married Mary, daughter of William and Hannah (Appleton) Clark, 5 July 1733; Chief Justice of Massachusetts. He lived in Boston until the outbreak of the Revolution, when, being a Loyalist, he went to England where he lived in Birmingham until his death in October 1791. He built the Middleborough house for his son Peter Oliver in 1769.
Portrait by John Smibert owned by Mrs. Richard Oliver and Miss Prudence Oliver.
Chief Justice Peter Oliver weeping by the grave of his wife; oil portrait by John Singleton Copley, owned by Mrs. Richard H. Lawrence and Miss Prudence Oliver.
Peter Oliver (1767–1831)
Pastel by Michele Felice Corne, owned by Mrs. Richard H. Lawrence and Miss Prudence Oliver.
Thomas Fitch Oliver (1779–1821)
Pastel by Michele Felice Corné, owned by Mrs. Richard H. Lawrence and Miss Prudence Oliver.
the two Muttock hills where he lived. This had been the meeting place of the Indians, and when the first settlers ventured west from Plymouth to meet Massassoit, it was probably here that the meeting occurred.
But Europeans had known a little of this country for a long time before then. In 1524 Verrazzano the Florentine was somewhere in Buzzards Bay for fifteen days and noted the goodly stature and shape of “two kings” that he met. Martin Pring was along the coast in 1603, and after him Captain Weymouth and Bartholomew Gosnold; Hunt was left here in 1614 by Captain John Smith. Dernier, or Dermier, who was here in 1618, rescued the nameless French sailor who had been wrecked on the coast three years before. Dernier ventured inland, a one day’s journey to the westward to Nemasket. “Here,” he recorded, “I redeemed a Frenchman.”
Nemasket, the name of the river, means, in the Indian language, the place of fish; Assawompsett, the pond to the southward from which the river rises, means the place of white stones; Titicut, downstream a few miles, the place whither in 1737 the Indians petitioned to be allowed to move, means the place of the great river. It is at Titicut that the Nemasket joins the Taunton River, and an account of the Indians in the Middleborough Gazette for 10 September 1859 says that; John Eliot, in his Bible for the Indians, translated Euphrates as Titicut. This is the sort of reference that the casual historian is reluctant to check lest it turn out not to be true.
The Indians that lived here, the Wampanoags, cast their lines in pleasant places. The meeting place of the sachems on the Muttock hill is one of the few places in this part of the country where there is a view. From there, on a fine day, one can see the salt water at Plymouth, and the country opens away wide and handsome to the northeast. The country here abounds in ponds and lakes, and there are numerous springs of sweet water and good hunting and good fishing. The herring played an important part in the life of the community. The Indians ate the fish in a number of different ways as they caught them, and they also smoked and dried them for a ready supply in the fall and winter.
The rights to take the fish (the ones that run here are alewives) have always been jealously guarded by the towns. The objection against damming the river here came from fear as to what it would do to the run of herring. In some places fish ladders were built over the dams. No subject in the Commonwealth has given rise to more enactments than that relating to the taking of the herring. In the early days each person in the town, for a slight fee, was allowed 200 fish. Widows and spinsters were supplied by the town. In 1706 the price was six pence a load, first come first served. In 1725 it was agreed that 8,000 fish should be accounted a load and that each man that had had no fish the year before should have them first, “provided they have their cart ready at the weir, and not else.” They were used mostly for fertilizer—the Indians taught them this—and the rule was one fish to one hill of corn. From this came the expression still heard occasionally of referring to a field as “all herring’d out.”
In recent years they have not come regularly, due perhaps to the pollution of the water that seems to come with progress. But last year and this year in April they ran again. Just below the dam here by the road the water was black with them; it gave the impression that one could walk across on top of them. Children reached in and pulled them out. They struggled so furiously up that from time to time they would jump themselves out of the water and onto the banks, where they were low, to the satisfaction of a flock of herring gulls that wheeled incessantly overhead all the time the fish were here. And I watched them last year, when they came to the dam, not jump it but swim up it! This sounds incredible and must be seen to be believed.
Seven Indian trails met here in the lands of the Nemaskets at Middleborough. These are mentioned in early deeds and in many cases became boundary lines; the one from Plymouth passed in front of where this house is and became the public highway; it is the Plymouth Street of today. Mourt’s Relation describes it as seen by Bradford and Miles Standish on their second adventure, 30 November. “The next morning we followed certain beaten paths and tracks of the Indians into the woods. After a while we came upon a very broad beaten path well nigh ten feet broad.”
The early settlers as they came a little to the west here were struck by the resemblance of some of this land by the river to park land in parts of England; here it had all been burnt over so that only the tall trees remained. They were surprised by the extensive cultivation. They were only a few years after the great plague which had wiped out so many of the Indians in 1617 or 1619, and they noticed that “here have been many towns . . . the ground is very good on both sides (of the river). . . . A pity it was to see so many goodly fields and so well seated without the men to dress and manure them . . . upon this river dwelleth Massassoit.”
Hopkins and Winslow in the summer of 1621 were welcomed by the Indians and given an abundant repast of the spawn of shad and of a kind of bread called maizum and of boiled musty acorns. They found the Indians fishing on a weir, probably where the river widens just across Plymouth Street from here. Their first night they spent with Massassoit; on his bed, in fact, a wooden platform about a foot off the ground, of which the two whites had half and Massassoit and his wife the other half. This was probably across the river on the Muttock hill or a little farther to the east on what is called now Fort Hill, where one of the town high schools stands. They recorded that they found the Indian custom of singing themselves to sleep not conducive to slumber in their case.
The next evening they returned to the weir where the Indians had been fishing. “It pleased God to give them a good store of fish so we were well refreshed when we went to bed.”
In 1660 Massassoit died of the plague and left two sons, Wamsutta and Pometican. Hubbard says of Wamsutta, who was also called Alexander, “that he had neither affection to the persons, nor to the religion, of the whites.” He plotted against the English, and on an expedition to Marshfield to treat with them he fell sick in Winslow’s house, was taken to Governor Bradford’s in Plymouth and then, continuing sick, carried by his people “to their wading place at Nemasket.” This is about a mile upstream from here. There they embarked in canoes but he died before he reached home.
His brother Pometican became Sachem and war between the Indians and the whites began and spread throughout this part of Massachusetts and into Rhode Island. It ended with the death of Pometican, shot and then beheaded. He, like his brother Wamsutta, had changed his name and the war is called after him, King Philip’s War.
This was the beginning of the decline of the Indians, unless, indeed, the date be put farther back to the arrival of Verrazzano or perhaps even that of Columbus to the south. Here in Middleborough, by 1793, there were but eight families, poor, improvident, and intemperate; and in 1831 the last of them, Ben Simonds, said to have been a Revolutionary soldier, was buried by the side of Assawompsett Pond in Lakeville. There is a small monument to his memory still there. Recently his remains are said to have been dug up and taken to Harvard. This may not be so, but it seems unpleasantly likely.
The oldest burial place of the Indians was on the hill across from what was the site of Oliver Hall. Today there is not much trace left of the Indian graves, and there is almost none of Oliver Hall.
About twenty acres of the land that Judge Oliver acquired when he came here in 1744 he enclosed after the manner of an English park. The driveway came in to the eastward on the north side of the hill and led through an orchard; then dividing, one part toward the river, the other to the south, came round through gardens to the front of the hall.
There are, so far as I know, no contemporary plans or drawings either of the property or the house, and Thomas Weston’s sketch of the life of the Chief Justice, his history of the towns, occasional letters and articles in the Nemasket Gazette, later the Middleborough Gazette, and certain of the files of the claims of the loyalists which are unpublished but available in London, these are the sources of most of the information here.
The grounds were planted with shrubs and flowers; John Adams’ diary speaks of these. The avenue was lined with ornamental trees. What was called, and what is still called here, Oliver’s Walk made a half circle about the Hall along the edge of the river. In a cleft in the hill to the south of the Hall and halfway between the top and the river there was a spring and spring house which is also referred to as the banqueting house and as the summer pavilion. The spring was used to cool the wine on summer days and a few of the dark green bottles with PO stamped or blown on them still exist. My father has one of them.
In the Judge’s diary there is a description of a visit made in England to the country house of Lord Edgecombe, and of a walk there which “filled the mind with pleasure.” “But I was in one walk,” he writes, “deprived of pleasure for a moment it being so like a serpentine walk of mine on the banks of the river Nemasket . . . (so) that I was snatched from where I now was, to the loss of where I had so late been, in the arms of contentment.”
The Hall was built with a steep roof and deep jutting eaves, with walls of white plaster and portico of oak. Its frame is said to have been shipped from England, and the interior decorations, carvings, wainscoting, and hangings made expressly for it in London.
The large hall opened to the east on the river and was wainscoted with English oak. The upper part of it is said to have been decorated with hangings of birds and flowers. The ceilings were high. Both Adams and Judge Sewall speak of the pleasure they had in visiting the Hall. Mrs. Norcutt, who was the housekeeper and who lived on here in Middleborough long after the Judge and his family had been banished, wrote, “I remember one day hearing Governor Hutchinson say to Judge Oliver as they were walking in the garden together ‘Judge Oliver, you have here one of the loveliest spots in all his Majesty’s colony.’”
There are a few little anecdotes about it; that the oaken floor in the big parlor was so polished that on one occasion a maid slipped and spilt tea and cream on the gown of one of the ladies, staining her white satin slipper, whereupon the enraged guest from Boston drew off her slipper and spanked her soundly “in high dudgeon.” This does not speak too well for the Boston lady’s manners. One night in 1762 there was a notable company gathered when a messenger came riding up the avenue swinging his hat and shouting, “Long live the King! A Prince has been born to the royal house of England.” Governor Hutchinson was there that night and his brother-in-law (they had married Margaret and Mary Sanford), Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver, who was the Judge’s elder brother. This is another recollection of Mrs. Norcutt and she says that Andrew wore a suit of scarlet velvet and short breeches, long white silk stockings with knee and shoe buckles, and that Hutchinson was dressed the same, though his suit was of blue. With this much about the appearance of the family it is perhaps only fair to record the comment in Hawthorne’s American Notes, on seeing the Oliver portraits in Salem in 1837, to the effect that the clothes of the family are generally better than the faces. And the Governor was not remarkably handsome. He had what, in my family, we call an Oliver nose which inspired the couplet in a Boston paper:
When Hutchinson came the people arose
To clear a place to land his nose.
The library was separate from the house and connected by a latticed gallery and here were the family portraits. In the Judge’s list of things in the house he mentions eight portraits. Some of these may have been the two small Smiberts here; there are two others belonging to my two brothers and one of the Judge’s mother, as a widow, which my father has. A daughter-in-law who lived on here as a widow after the Revolution and died in 1832 is mentioned in an article in the Middleborough Gazette of 10 September 1859 as having had a full-length portrait of the Judge. (She also remembered that he was fond of Pope and of Thomson’s Seasons.) That may have been in the Hall. The larger portraits by Smibert and Blackburn and the Copley miniatures which my father has belonged not to Peter Oliver, the Judge, but to Lieutenant Governor Andrew, his elder brother, who also owned the portrait of the three brothers of which there is a copy here.
Also in the library, in addition to the books and portraits, was on one side the family coat of arms, and on the other, in loyal tory style, the bust of King George and the banner of England.
The gayest celebration at the big house was probably the wedding reception for Dr. Peter Oliver, Junior, and his bride Sally. There were guests from town and even from abroad, and they are said to have stayed four days. One lady’s hair was so puffed and powdered and rolled high on her head that she is said to have sat up all night so as not to spoil her hairdresser’s work. Another slept with her hands tied over her head so that they might be white for the approaching reception.
Considering the dangers and uncertainties of the times it is almost extraordinary that any carefree occasions can have occurred. It was only four years before that Hutchinson’s house in Milton had been destroyed by the mob. He had been warned of the danger and when he heard of the approach of the crowd he had the house closed and secured as well as he could and sent his family away to safety, determined to face the mob himself.
At the last moment Sally came back, the Sally who was to come to this house as a bride, and protested that she would not leave while her father stayed. “I could not stand against this,” he wrote, and withdrew with her. As they left by the back of the house they heard the axes splitting the doors and voices cry “Damn him, he’s upstairs, we’ll have him!” Part of the inventory of the contents mentions little details that one hates to associate with violence; of his daughter’s “ruffles, and laced fly caps, riding hoods and ribbons, capes and petticoats, gloves and shoes, and muffs and tippets and so on.” Afterward the house of Andrew Oliver was destroyed; and when the Lieutenant Governor died the Chief Justice was warned by young Thomas Hutchinson that his life would be endangered if he attended his brother’s funeral.
To Mrs. Norcutt again is owed the account of Judge Oliver’s last visit to Middleborough, of his ride down from Boston to reach the Hall on the edge of the evening, travel-stained and weary. He entered the house, collected a few valuables from a secret drawer and, bidding farewell to his housekeeper, left, not to return again.
For a few years the Hall stayed as it was, but violence had long been expected and, at last, on the night of 4 November 1778, the cry went up that the Hall was afire. The library burned first, and the crowd broke in trying to lay their hands on what they could. Parts of the hangings in the lower hall of the birds and flowers were torn off, and it is said that for years afterward the women of the town wore pieces of them in their hair as mementos of the days “when George was King and Oliver was Judge.”
Mrs. Norcutt made her way into the great parlor and found a piece of money “about the size of a dollar” in the money closet. She kept it, for she said it always reminded her of that last visit of Judge Oliver, and of his looks, so tired and careworn. She tried to save Madam Oliver’s rosebush, a present from England which grew over the portico, but she could not; the heat was too intense.
In this small house of Peter and Sally Oliver where they lived for the better part of five years there were some happy occasions, surely, at least, when their three children were born, Margaret in 1771, Thomas Hutchinson in 1772, and Peter in 1774. When he was at college Peter had lived with Sally’s brother Elisha, and it was through him that he began to see a good deal of the Hutchinsons. He notes in his diary the first time he met her, and refers later to a very agreeable way in her behavior “which I remember pleased me beyond any other of my female acquaintance,” though (he added) “I had not the least thought of any connection with her.” After the Hutchinson house was destroyed he went to see the family and found Sally “most terribly worried and distrest.” That spring he “had obtained leave of her father” to pay his addresses. He writes that the family were very agreeable and says “I found that courtship was the most pleasant part of my life hereto.” He seems to have been fond of dividing his life into periods. There is one bright note in his diary that I have always enjoyed. Apropos of his marriage he wrote, “Here ends the happiest period of my life.” I have always hoped that Sally never read this.
He does not seem to have shared the regard toward his native land that his father showed to the end of his life. When in 1814 the Massachusetts Historical Society asked to borrow the only perfect manuscript of Hubbard’s History of New England, which he had inherited, he is said to have sent a surly refusal.
It should be remembered, in extenuation, that these misfortunes, and in his case they were very real misfortunes, came when he was young; and from his point of view the turnings of the times must have been bitter to watch.
It was shortly after this house was built that the reception was held here for Benjamin Franklin. Very little is known about it, by me at least; but ever since the yellow room here in the front of the house has been called the Franklin room. It was Franklin who, a few years later, was to make public parts of some private correspondence of the Judge and Governor, letters shown Franklin with the understanding that they not be published. Needless to say, they were published. I have never been able to understand why the Franklin party was held here, rather than in the Hall, since it must have been before the incident of the letters; and I have always hoped that it may have been that the Judge would not have Mr. Franklin in the house at any stage of his career.
There is a moral and philosophical respect for our ancestors which elevates the character and improves the heart. Next to the sense of religion and moral feeling I hardly know what should bear with stronger obligations on a liberal and enlightened mind than a consciousness of an alliance with excellence which is departed, and a consciousness too, that in its acts and conduct, and even in sentiments and thoughts, it may be actively operating on the happiness of those who come after it.
I am sorry that I have not had more that I could say about this house and the Peter Oliver for whom it was built. The schedule of his personal estate mentions the furnishings in the house, the linen and silver, china and glass, kitchen furniture, wearing apparel, tongs, shovels and andirons, etc. In addition to the small items he listed “an eight day clock, two dining tables, two tea tables, and 14 leather bottomed chairs, all mahogany, 4 plain chairs, 4 looking glasses, a four poster bed, two bureaus, a double chest of drawers all mahogany, six bedsteads, and an easy chair.” I did not see this list until after we had refurnished the house and was amused to see that he included also two pictures of the King and Queen. Without knowing, we had replaced these and even added one of the coronation.
Many of the entries in his diaries are of no particular interest today, and not a few are bitter. “Some of our pupies in town are coming to wait on the Judge,” he wrote in June, 1774, and in September again—“Today I was visited by about thirty Middleborough Puppies,” and again, he writes of “the consummate impudence” to which he has been subjected. I mention this now in closing only because it gives me a chance to end on a happy note, a headline from the front page of the Middleborough Gazette in the middle of November, 1947:
THIS TIME THE OLIVER HOUSE IS NOT BURNED
Historical Association “Mob” meets with
Mr. and Mrs. Peter Oliver.
One hundred and seventy of our neighbors came here that night, and an entirely unnecessary note of thanks, most gratefully received, from the Secretary on behalf of the Society ended: “May God bless this house, and all who dwell there-in.”
I can appraise this good sentiment only as the earned result of the lives of those who were here during most of the life of the house: the families of Sproat, and of Weston, and of Jones. I only hope that their impress upon the spot, with that of the Olivers of the earlier time, and of us, now, may create a benign condition wherein it may be hopefully asked for the present and the future, that God bless this house and all who dwell or come into it!