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The small town of Blanding in the southeast corner of Utah near the “Four Corners” of four western states (population under 4000) was founded in 1905 with the name of Grayson. Nine years later, the town was renamed Blanding, forever connecting the community with Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The story begins with a well-educated, progressive-thinking young man named Thomas Bicknell who married a Rehoboth girl, Amelia Blanding.  Born in 1834 in Barrington, Rhode Island, Bicknell attended the co-educational Thetford Academy in Vermont and then Amherst College before becoming a teacher and school principal in Rehoboth. After earning a master’s degree from Brown University, he dedicated his life to education holding many roles including establishing the first RI State Board of Education. Bicknell was also a “reformer” (some would say radical) who fought against slavery and championed both civil and women’s rights. He was a captivating speaker, fundraiser, historian, author, publisher and civil servant.  Bicknell and his wife donated the generous sum of $500 to the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society to establish a library at Goff Hall, named in memory of Amelia’s parents, Christopher and Chloe Blanding.  In 1914, he made an extraordinary offer -- to donate a 1000-book library to any town in Utah that would rename the town Bicknell.  Two towns competed, eventually sharing the book collection.  The town of Thurber got 500 books and changed its name to Bicknell, and the town of Grayson got their 500 books and was renamed Blanding. In 2014, Blanding, Utah became the arena for a spectacular, television-worthy story of intrigue in the high desert -- featuring the Navaho Nation, Anasazi antiquities, the federal government and an undercover FBI sting operation.  (Link to full story.)

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Did Rehoboth almost become the capital of Massachusetts? The answer is no. During the town’s 250th anniversary in 1894, a Boston Herald reporter, Edgar Perry, made up the improbable story. To start with, Rehoboth had no fortified seaport like other capital cities of the time. But people seemed to really like the idea and erected open-book-shaped wooden billboards leading into town stating -- ”You are now entering the Town of Rehoboth which once came within four votes of being capital of Massachusetts.”  Seeing those billboards for years solidly set the idea into people’s heads and the legend continued.  For the town’s 325th anniversary, a commemorative book on Rehoboth history was published. On one of the last pages, Richard LeBaron Bowen wrote about the Boston Herald reporter and his fake history.  Bowen added, “ Not content with this one preposterous story dressed up as history, he (Perry) continues his alleged “history” and in seven pages makes twenty-two statements about Rehoboth history, none of which is historically true . . .”   Probably not many people read through the entire 325th anniversary book and discovered their most famous bit of history was false. And so, the legend is repeated to this day. 


New England Telephone installed the town’s first switchboard “exchange” at Goff’s grocery store at the corner of Anawan (Route 118) and Perryville Road in 1904.  The system was operated by William Goff and Fred Horton, and later by Miss Mabel Briggs who had a second exchange in her home.  By 1905, telephone service consisted of three lines with 25 subscribers who could make calls 24-hours a day. The switchboard was relocated to the home of Mrs. Mabel Brown on Bay State Road. She was paid $25 a month to be the telephone operator, connecting people to each other and to a toll line to Taunton. She delivered a daily weather report at precisely 10 AM every morning. The small switchboard was quickly replaced by a larger one with additional connecting lines to Providence. When lines went down, repairmen from Taunton took the electric trolley to Rehoboth and then hired a horse and rig to travel around town. “Subscribers were lucky if their telephones were repaired within a week,” noted one historic account.  For nearly 50 years, three generations of women in the Brown family ran the town’s telephone service until 1954 when dial service was introduced. No more familiar voices of the friendly operators or listening to neighbors on the party lines.  An automated system was installed in a newly constructed brick building on Bay State Road, still in use today.

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As the Town of Rehoboth began its tricentennial year in 1943, the United States had been at war for two years.  The American military force consisted of drafted citizen soldiers, as well as both men and women from civilian life. By January 1943 the U.S. economy had been transformed into war production with rationing of food and materials.  In the United States, the expression “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” became a common response to anyone who complained.  In Great Britain, posters urged citizens to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  If you lived in Rehoboth in 1943, you probably called a bad idea, “all wet” or warned misbehaving children to “knock off that applesauce.”   “Duck soup” was an easy task and “glad rags” were your best clothes. Dollar bills were “clams” and “cheaters” were eyeglasses.  A “dead battery” was anyone who was grumpy or irritable.  If you wanted something done fast, you needed it PDQ” or pretty damn quick. People were “beating their gums” when they kept talking without making a point. And you were “cooking with gas” if you knew what you were doing. The Rehoboth men and women who served in WWII are remembered with their names engraved on paving stones at the Rehoboth Veterans Memorial Gazebo on the Redway Plain.

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We’ll never know if Robert’s enslaved mother consented to a relationship with apure white blooded Englishman, but a gentleman of considerable eminence.”  We do know her light-skinned son, born around 1769-70 in Princeton, New Jersey, was taken from her at age four, a wedding gift to her master’s daughter. Robert Voorhis never saw his mother or sister again, the first trauma of his long life. Robert was given the surname of his German master and grew up a slave in Georgetown, District of Columbia. The story of Robert the Hermit much later became well-known to generations who lived in or around Rehoboth. In 1826, a story and poem appeared in the Providence Literary Cadet about a “strange and mysterious being” living as a hermit in Seekonk. Rumor and conjecture swirled about the recluse including false tales of imagined criminality. Small children were told scary tales and older boys tormented the old man. In truth, Robert was a quiet, serene, and kind man who helped others without taking anything in return, despite his poor living conditions. A writer named Henry Turnbull befriended Robert and in 1829 published a small pamphlet, “Life and Adventures of Robert the Hermit” about “this extraordinary character” who had previously “refused to gratify the curiosity of any of his visitors” regarding his life history. Years later, in 1836, Rehoboth resident Leonard Bliss, Jr. wrote several pages about Robert in his book History of Rehoboth (and current towns of Rehoboth, Seekonk and Pawtucket).  By 1918, the story of Robert the Hermit had dwindled down to one paragraph in George Tilton’s book of Rehoboth history.  Today, 100-years later, few know about Robert Voorhis or his remarkable life, one that today could easily become a feature film or Netflix original series.  More about Robert will be shared another time.

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Winter months can be inconvenient in contemporary Rehoboth. We complain about snow, ice, road conditions, schools closing, losing power, and driving to the store to stock up on provisions.  We have it easy compared to Rehoboth citizens who survived the Great Snow of 1717 when back-to-back storms from February 27 to March 9 left drifts up to 25 feet. For the next hundred years, colonists referred to their life events as either “before” or “after” the Great Storm. Even the native Americans, with their rich oral history, had no reference for a storm of such magnitude. It is believed now that volcanic eruptions in the South Pacific in 1716 created weather conditions that caused the extended blizzard. People of Rehoboth and their valuable livestock holed up and did what they could to survive as their houses and barns were covered with snow. Pastured domestic animals froze while wildlife including bears and wolves were driven into settlements searching for food. The area’s deer population, a steady source of food, was decimated by predators or starvation. The only source of heat was burning wood, so people had to dig tunnels through the snow to get to their wood sheds. When the wood ran out, people began burning their furniture, but not their snowshoes -- as the native-inspired tools were essential to getting around snow-covered terrain.

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“Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way” was subject to a 5-shilling fine,” proclaimed the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659. The Puritans, both here and in England, demanded December 25 be a day of “fasting and humiliation.”  Why the grinchery? They wanted nothing to do with the Roman church nor its 1,300 history of celebrating December 25 as Christmas -- particularly since the date was connected to the Roman holiday of Saturnalia as well as pagan winter solstice. The Puritan’s ban on Yuletide fun lasted for a generation, although people still celebrated on the down low, often with heavy drinking, feasting, gambling and (gasp) wanton activity. The law against celebrating Christmas was repelled in 1681, but citizens were still encouraged to stay calm and carry on as it was not yet a public holiday. That came in 1856 when federal lawmakers embraced the Victorian-era notion of celebrating December 26 in grand style. With a nod to Charles Dickens and his “Christmas Carol” we continue Victorian traditions to this day -- the tree, decorations, cards, caroling, candy, wrapped gifts, tables laden with special foods, shopping and even charitable giving. 


Stepping out of line in colonial Massachusetts was never a good idea. Offenses small and large resulted in harsh punishment from religious leaders and magistrates. Every righteous community had stocks, branding irons, whips, a pillory, dunking stool and gallows.  Reporting your neighbor’s infractions was part of the culture. Branding, maiming and whipping left permanent disfigurement to ensure everyone would forever know of your wrong-doing. Ears were looped off, nostrils slit, tongues pierced, and foreheads branded with letters - R for rouge, T for thief, or Sl for seditious libel.  Often an offender received a torturous array of punishments for the same infraction. While all actions of men, women and children were closely scrutinized, sexual behavior and gossiping were peculiar obsessions. Kissing your spouse in public was considered lewd behavior and you might end up in the stocks with neighbors hurling rotten cabbage at your head. Engage in the spread of rumors and find your head in an “gossip’s bridle” with a spike of iron clamped over your tongue. The dunking stool, taken to the nearest pond for an often fatal dip, was the punishment for offenders -- from “women of light carriage” to married couples with domestic troubles. The pillory, a tall upright post with a cross bar with holes for head and hands, was the go-to punishment for just about everything - stealing, fighting, gambling, drunkenness, pranks, mischief, fortune-telling, or begging. Death by gallows or other means was reserved for the most devilish actions including murder, treason, witchcraft and conjuring. 


From the days of early Rehoboth to present day, a hearty winter breakfast provides sustenance for a long day of hard work. Ground cornmeal was a staple ingredient found in most kitchens.  Mixed with water and a bit of salt, cornmeal can be transformed into a choice of edible delights.  In colonial New England, cornmeal mush, aka Indian Pudding or Hasty Pudding, was a hot concoction typically sweetened with molasses and syrup (maple or fruit) if available.  Johnnycakes are a flat bread or pancake made from a simple combination of cornmeal, water and salt fried in a greased pan for exactly six minutes per side, served with butter, syrup, or spiced applesauce. The perfect provision for traveling or lunch while tending fields, extra cakes were made in the morning to eat throughout the day. There is a very good chance, somebody this morning whipped up some Johnnycakes in their 2017 Rehoboth kitchen. Kenyon Grist Mill, Rhode Island’s oldest manufacturer of corn meal (since 1696), still grinds corn in Kingston using two huge granite millstones. 


As Rehoboth celebrated the town’s centennial in 1743, the death of a 43-year-old Boston celebrity was big news throughout the colonies.  Wealthy merchant and slave trader Peter Faneuil, likely pronounced Funnel at the time, was known as a gentleman philanthropist “possessed of a very ample fortune and a most generous spirit.”  Three years earlier, he made a controversial offer to build a large central market building and civic meeting hall. Bostonians at town meeting voted to accept his offer by a slim margin of 367 to 360 votes. Many citizens wished to move away from a large market building concept familiar in mother England to a home delivery system -- not unlike today’s trend of online shopping and home delivery replacing traditional malls.  Faneuil won out and was able to construct his impressive edifice, opened just six months before his early demise from dropsy (edema).  As a young man, Faneuil first rose to fame by helping his brother-in-law Henry “Blubber” Phillips escape to France after killing Benjamin Woodbridge by sword in a “barbarous duel” on Boston Common. A wanted poster was distributed for the arrest of Phillips, a Harvard graduate described as a handsome, fashionable, upper class man about town. While it was common knowledge that Faneuil helped Phillips escape, he was never charged with a crime. He lived a life of conspicuous consumption as a wealthy bachelor in his Beacon Street mansion.


On the second day of January in 1884, Rev. George Tilton of the Rehoboth Congregational Church was visiting the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Goff where he saw an old loom sitting in a corner.  Having seen similar relics and historic artifacts in homes throughout town, Rev. Tilton proclaimed,” We must have an Antiquarian Society!” He promptly began raising money, in shares of ten dollars each, to construct a building.  Once he gathered $1,500 in pledges, Tilton approached Darius Goff to donate an in-kind amount. Goff promised to match the amount if Tilton could raise even more.  Within a month, Tilton raised $4000 which was matched by Goff who also donated one acre of land for the building.  He also stipulated the establishment of a formal society with trustees (at the time, men only). The Rehoboth Antiquarian Society was incorporated in 1885 and it was decided to build the original Goff Memorial Hall (pictured above in 1890) to exhibit historic artifacts along with space for a public library, school-room, and meeting hall.  The Victorian building was struck by lighting on July 11, 1911 and burned down.  Today’s Goff Memorial Hall was rebuild in 1915.


Life in early Rehoboth was hard by today’s standards, like using whittled pitch-pine knots to burn for light when candles were scarce. While most were religious, history books also tell us early settlers were a merry and social lot.  Winter evenings were spent gathered around the hearth. Parents taught their young children to read, write and cipher.  Other than water, everyone drank barely beer home-brewed by the woman of the house. Girls were not considered marriageable until they were good housekeepers and could “show a pillow-case full of stockings of their own knitting.”  Children were taught at an early age to participate in family chores and to pull flax for spinning textiles. Homes were constructed of wooden logs with clay-thatched roofs and a fire-place/oven made of stone that burned constantly year-round for cooking.  Women were skilled at concocting homeopathic, herbal remedies using plants such as fever few, calendula, mint, valerian root, sage, rosemary, thyme, and lavender. Other plants were used to dye fabric.  Most traveled everywhere by foot as few had carriages or even horses. Some were fortunate enough to have an oxen to pull a wagon or plow. 


Early Rehoboth settlers held lands that extended beyond our present day town of almost 47 square miles. Back in the 17th century, the geographically scattered residents lived in today’s Rehoboth -- plus Swansea, Somerset, Seekonk, Attleboro and North Attleboro along with Bristol, Barrington, Warren, East Providence, Cumberland, Pawtucket and Woonsocket in Rhode Island.  For the town’s 350 anniversary, all the towns that were once Rehoboth were symbolically retrieved in a “Take Back Rehoboth” publicity campaign to promote the 350 events and parade.  Rehoboth Minutemen in full regalia with muskets in hand showed up at nearby city council and selectmen meetings to declare the town’s intention to “take back” their land for “one day” -- the day of the 350 parade. The campaign garnered media attention in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 


On December 10, 1643, Rehoboth menfolk voted that “the teacher should have a certain portion from each settler.”  This was the first provision for public school education by taxation in the country. Teachers were hired for agreed upon compensation -- usually a combination of money, lodging, food and firewood. In 1680, Edward Howard was paid twenty pounds a year to teach Rehoboth children.  By 1700, Thomas Greenwood was hired to teach school for 30 pounds in silver money.  The salary increased to 38 pounds in 1754, eighty pounds in 1772, and one-hundred and fifty pounds in 1792.  In 1812, Rehoboth began paying teachers $400 a year.  By 1916, the annual salary was $7000. To better give all children the opportunity to attend a school close to home, the state enacted a law in 1789 allowing towns to have multiple school districts.  For decades, Rehoboth had 15 school districts, each governed individually by a committee, moderator and clerk. The system was generally considered a disaster. According to American public education reformer Horace Mann, allowing multiple districts in a single town was “the most unfortunate law on the subject of common schools ever enacted in Massachusetts.”  The state abolished the system of multiple school districts in 1883 which allowed for standardized textbooks, curriculum and testing.


Back in November 1647, the menfolk of Rehoboth met for a town meeting where it was decided that every inhabitant must help maintain the roads or “highways” through the settlement.  Specifically, every man with a team of horses or oxen was obligated to work four days per year.  Those “that hath no team” were charged with finding a laborer to perform four days of work.  The town’s “supervisor of highways” was charged with organizing the men and appointing road crews.  “If the supervisor in their discretion shall see more need of labourers than of teams, that those that have a team shall send two labourers instead of their teams.”  Imagine if that rule was still in effect today.


During Rehoboth’s 350 anniversary year in 1993, we were introduced to FBI agents Mulder and Scully who teamed up to search for the truth.  A West Philadelphia kid was “chillin’ out, maxin’ relaxin’ all cool” his way to Bel-Air, California, and cute little stuffed animals called Beanie Babies hit the toy market.  In 1993, Bill Clinton began his first term as POTUS and the first version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system was released. The band REM remembered late comedian Andy Kaufman with the hit song “Man on the Moon” and tickets cost $4 to see feature films like Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire and Sleepless in Seattle.  In 1993, the average U.S. income was $31K per year, gas cost $1.16 per gallon, the average new car was $12,750, and annual tuition to Harvard was $23K.  People put CDs in their Sony Walkmans and  listed to hits by Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Dr. Dre, Boyz II Men, and Radiohead.


Mary Peck Butterworth, (July 27, 1686 - February 7, 1775) was an infamous Rehoboth resident.  She wed the prosperous John Butterworth, Jr. and led a fairly ordinary existence until the summer of 1716 when she began counterfeiting currency.  According to the history books, she managed to invent a method of making bills without using a copper printing plate that could be used as evidence against her in court. Although the mastermind, she did not work alone. Her brothers Nicolas Peck and Israel Peck helped along with her sister-in-law Hannah.  They, along with other members of the Peck family, passed the bills along with customers who bought the counterfeits for half the face value. Rehoboth Town Clerk Daniel Smith, also a justice of the Bristol County Court of General Sessions, helped them, until some of his colleagues became suspicious and the sheriff was sent to search Smith’s house.  Meanwhile her crew were rounded up but refused to break under interrogation, that is until one Nicholas Campe confessed.  Mary was arrested along with her husband and five others.  Because there was no evidence, the grand jury refused to indict her and the charges dropped.  So, how did she make the faux bills?  She allegedly copied a genuine bill on a piece of fine muslin and then using a hot iron pressed the linen on blank paper cut to size. According to the history books, Mary returned to the “obscurity of a respectable housewife” and raised her seven children. She lived to a grand old age of 89 and died in Rehoboth. Trivia:  Mary Butterworth was the name of a Southern California 1960s psychedelic rock band that produced a single live album.


Leonard Bliss, Jr. published his “History of Rehoboth” in 1836. An updated edition, published while the world was at war in 1918 was written by George Henry Tilton to commemorate the town’s 275 anniversary.  Tilton consulted with historians and members of Rehoboth’s oldest families to update the book printed with “generous financial aid” from Marden Jasiel Perry, a successful banker who paid for two-fifths the cost.  The book’s introduction, written 100-years ago, offers this prophecy on town’s future:  “Rehoboth, encircled as she is by growing cities, is destined to become a vast market-garden, as well as a suburban home where families of wealth and refinement will delight to dwell.”  


The Rehoboth Asylum, located on Winter Street, was the group home of its day. Sometimes called the "poor farm" or "almshouse" the tax-funded facility was home to "inmates" who were elderly, orphans, wounded war veterans, physically disabled, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, widows and children with no income, and the poor. Across the state, these homes were managed by a salaried matron or warden, or a couple, who cared for residents. Those who were able worked and performed the many routine tasks on the farm, or they took in small jobs like sewing, or were hired to build or repair things. The State Board of Health, Lunacy, and Charity was in charge of these farms and sent social workers to evaluate the level of care.  This was the state report on the Rehoboth Asylum dated June 7, 1898:

New and good management was found at this almshouse. Although the drainage was reported to be improved last year, it was found to be in bad condition at this visit; it should receive immediate attention. The house needs a bath-room, better heating facilities, and provision for separation of the sexes. There are seven inmates; one being insane, and two idiotic. The warden receives a salary of $300.

Do you know the early Rehoboth settlers were addressed as Goodman or Goodwife (or Goody) instead of using Mister or Missus. The title Mister was used only for clergymen or citizens of great distinction.


This 1895 map of Rehoboth, Massachusetts includes properties and owners - who lived where -- with a legend that includes the types of structures on each property, a residence, barn, ice house, etc. This map shows schools, cemeteries, the "telegraph office" and the "electric car line." You can see this map in the Carpenter Museum. Or take a peak at the map online.


Do you know that Rehoboth once had a small pox hospital and small pox cemetery in the late 1700s and early 1800s? Both were located off Rocky Hill Road. During a small pox epidemic, Rehoboth physician Dr. Isaac Fowler, MD, showed his faith in a new preventive measure by vaccinating one of his older daughters so she could help take care of patients in the small pox hospital. Dr. Fowler died at age 48 on March 8, 1808 of a skull fracture after being thrown from a horse. He did not die immediately. His protege Dr. Royal Carpenter performed a trepanning operation (drilling a hole into the skull), but Dr. Fowler died after three days. He left a widow and 12 children.

Today, it's a challenge to visualize the early Rehoboth landscapes -- a mix of level farmlands, valleys, meadows and hills that when climbed to the top featured attractive vistas all the way to Narragansett Bay. The hills have names - Jacob's Hill, Rocky Hill, Burial Hill, Long Hill, Great Meadow Hill and Mt. Terrydiddle.


Do you know Rehoboth founder Sam Newman was a celebrity of his day in the Massachusetts Bay Colony? Along with being a minister and teacher, he was a published author and scholar. His massive Bible concordance (an A-Z reference book) had just been published in London the same year he moved from Weymouth to start a settlement in Rehoboth in 1643. Newman spent his first few years in Rehoboth revising the book, writing at night by burning "pine knots instead of candles." The second edition published in 1650 has Newman's name on the title-page -- 'Now teacher of the Church at Rehoboth in New-England." Newman's Bible Concordance was reprinted for hundreds of years and remained the standard until the computer age. You can see a second edition copy of Newman's Bible Concordance at the Carpenter Museum.