THE HASTINGS OF BOYLSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

This writing is by no account an attempt to glorify the Hastings family name. My New England ancestors would have none of that. Quite to the contrary, it is born of the desire to commit to writing an answer to an often-asked question: Where did I come from?

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I am fortunate that some of what you will read in this narrative comes from oral history around the family supper table and what I remember from listening to my brother and sister and aunts and uncles and neighbors reminisce. Most of this story is derived from hours of research into deeds and land records dating back to the 1600s. Many hours were spent with old books, newspaper articles, and interviews.

A humble mildewed cardboard box that stayed in our basement for countless years was filled with treasure. The water-stained documents and faded pages contained therein stimulated my imagination. The box of old photos of people I didn’t know was kept in my parents’ bedroom dresser drawer where the winter woolens were stored. The pictures of grandfathers, grandmothers, and those who came before them still smell of the mothballs.

Fortunately, many of the old buildings I write about here remained standing during my sister’s, brother’s and my young adulthood. The descriptions of old roads, streams, and ponds derived from my memories add further texture to this writing. During my childhood Boylston remained a rural community to the extent that many of the old roads were dirt cart paths with grass sprouting in the center. Rusted horse-drawn farm implements were scattered in overgrown fields. An ancient, giant Fordson iron-wheeled tractor lay abandoned where it belched its last breath. Small trees, more like brush, penetrated the metal driver’s seat. Old decaying and weathered barns still stood.

My early ancestors were not diary keepers or writers of letters. They were farmers, men and women working from sun up to sun down, leaving little time for leisure. Details of their personalities are sketchy and anecdotal, but crafting this narrative allowed me to differentiate among them and to learn how they lived, who they married, and about their offspring.

Many of the old photographs included here are cause for both joy and concern. The joy derives from the thoughtfulness of those who placed these old and earlier studio portraits in safekeeping. The concern comes that in our digitized world, family photographs may disappear with a discarded cell phone or an accidental deletion. Who in today’s digital world is a designated keeper of the sacrosanct cardboard box?

If you are a casual reader of this narrative, I hope that you take from this family history urgency to write yours. Don’t rely on “File Save,” but rather click “Print” and gather the pages. Download selected family photos from your cell phone, have them professionally printed and do not forget the captions. Find a large box with a fitted top, and fill it with these treasures. Over the years the mildew will only add to the thrill and authenticity of someone someday discovering your family history.

I encourage you to embark on this endeavor for your family.

GORDON HASTINGS

THE HASTINGS OF BOYLSTON, MASSACHUSETTS IS AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM

 

The Barbarous Years – The Original American Immigrants

Pulitzer Prize winning author Bernard Bailyn writing The Barbarous Years opens a sweeping and authoritative discourse into the  peopling of North American between 1600 and 1675.  From Jamestown, Virginia to Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who were these individuals who braved three plus months voyages on small, crowded and disease infested ships to arrive at the edge of the American wilderness? You will learn not only who they were but why some succeeded while others were destined to fail.

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No one needs tout Bailey’s credentials as historian and researcher. He is brilliant. However, what is most remarkable is his ability to keep the subject flowing, fascinating and understandable for the lay reader. Bailyn delivers in brilliant digital display the complexity and challenges of the people responsible for the early settlement of North America.

Think of this:

Why did the Jamestown fail numerous times?

Why did the Catholics establish a foothold in Maryland and the Finns and Swedes in Delaware?

Why did The Massachusetts Bay Colony begin to work from day one.? Was it religious fervor or the composition of the settlers themselves?

What role did the varied Native American tribes play in the success or failure of early settlement.

How did the Pilgrims differ from the Puritans and the aforementioned from the  Quakers and the Dutch?

Were indentured servants a precursor to slavery?

Winthrop, Bradford ,Stuyvesant, Keift, Underhill, King Philips War.

The Barbarous Years that marked the original settling of America is a most accurate title for the book. Adventurers, scoundrels, orphans, preachers, doctors, lawyers, Native Americans, politicians, merchants and perhaps most important, the hundreds of unnamed families with children who came to America during the Great Migration of the 1630s , bringing with them the skills and the ethic to permanently settle on the land.

The ” New World” was British North America during its early settlement but Bailyn clearly identifies the complexity of cultures, trade and geography that would eventually become America. The Barbarous Years is a fabulous foundation for understanding colonial America’s formative years. Also by Bernard Bailyn: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, and Voyages to the West, which won a Pulitzer.

A wonderful different perspective of the  settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony comes from reading Anya Seton’s historical novel Winthrop Women. Search Gordonsgoodreads.com

 

THE FIRST ” CITY UPON A HILL ” EDEN ON THE CHARLES THE MAKING OF BOSTON

The contemporary reference to  City Upon A Hill  is Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, Shining City Upon A Hill.  His comment was sourced all the way back to Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritan founder John Winthrop. When  Winthrop spoke these memorable words ( minus the word shining) , he was poised to disembark on the American shore on land that is now Boston. The man who eventually became governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony accurately predicted that the new community would be a City Upon a Hill to be watched by the world. I think Winthrop would have liked Reagan’s addition of shining!

Winthrop’s inspiration came from Matthew 5:14. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his listeners: You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. From this scripture comes the ethos of Michael Rawson’s Eden On The Charles THE MAKING OF BOSTON, a work of non-fiction that was a finalist in the 2010 Pulitzer competition.

Eden on The Charles is very different from a typical historical perspective of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  It is the story of how over two and one half centuries a community with an enormously varied socio-economic strata came together to build America’s first great city in harmony with the natural environment.  It is a study of how within a political structure of fierce independence and private enterprise a community used the forces of government to act in behalf of the well-being of the citizenry and the natural environment.  Boston was indeed the very first American city to recognize that the  new world’s resources were not unlimited. From the mid-seventeenth century establishment of Boston Common as public land for everyone’s benefit there came a cascade of new ideas and concepts that established development patterns for cities throughout America.  These far-sighted yet fiercely independent citizens of varied rank established a pattern over two centuries wherby Boston Common went from cow pasture to the nation’s first public park,  Boston Harbor was saved from encroachment and destruction, greenways were established to prevent urban sprawl,  huge public parks were created on the outskirts of the city, and perhaps most important of all as early as the 19th century Boston built a public water supply providing free water for the city’s burgeoning population. It also built a public sewer system. There is some irony in the fact that the wealthy industrialists who became the Boston Brahmins were many of the most ardent environmentalists of the time. One of Boston’s early reformers and leaders of the public water supply movement, Walter Channing said,  Whatever a society judged to be essential to the health and happiness of its people must never be the responsibility of a profit-driven entity. It must ,instead, be made the responsibility of government.  Channing’s 175 year-old concept still rings loudly in contemporary political discourse.

Eden On The Charles  falls within a text-book reference and yet it reads so easily that concepts which are now fundamental  to the nation’s conversation regarding the preservation of the natural environment are easily understood and eye-opening. My being a New Englander and having spent a considerable amount of time in Boston made the book even more vivid.

In the closing paragraph of Eden On The Charles Rawson issues a wonderful challenge.  We should aim our sights high, as nineteenth century Bostonians did, and work to new environmental relationships that are worthy of a City Upon A Hill.