NEWBURYPORT — In a city where residents celebrate the past whenever opportunity arises, there's little question that local history will be a big part of this week's Yankee Homecoming.
The summer festival, after all, is a celebration of everything Newburyport.
About a dozen people turned out yesterday morning to take a heritage walking tour with local historian Ghlee Woodworth to learn about the African-Americans in the Newburyport 1800s and the city's abolitionist movement. The tours are ongoing all week during Yankee Homecoming.
Throughout the 11/2-hour tour, the group learned about key figures who called the Port City home in the 1800s, from the wealthy real estate mogul Moses Brown and his Brown Square property, to Dr. Luther Dimmick, who served as a reverend at North Church for 41 years.
She told of the time Dimmick invited William Lloyd Garrison to speak to the congregation about slavery. The townspeople didn't want him to speak for a second day and ran him out of town. He returned to Boston where he began working on the first issue of The Liberator, Woodworth says.
She explained the city's role in the Underground Railroad, touching on the subject of the "underground tunnels" around the city. Little is known of their purpose, Woodworth said. Were they used to help slaves escape or for rum runs, or to store items following the two devastating fires in the town?
"We just don't know," Woodworth said.
During the walk that began at Brown Square and traveled down Pleasant Street to the Unitarian Church and over to the library, Temple Street, State Street, Harris Street and Titcomb Street, Woodworth discussed a range of the city's more colorful characters and important figures in the anti-slavery movement.
William Ashby would hold picnics on the banks of the Merrimack River, inviting family, friends and supporters of the antislavery movement: Wendell Phillips, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Garrison and John Greenleaf Whittier.
She told of the Francis family, who owned the "Mrs. Francis Restaurant," which was known for the "best dinner in town." And the large Towne family, who lived in the city in the 1880s and 1890s, and included painters, carpenters, shoe cutters, hatters and a porter at the Wolfe Tavern.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a "staunch abolitionist" and controversial minister, often gave sermons focused on the topic of the abolition of slavery. He was very pro-female education and tutored many girls, Woodworth said. He was a mentor to Emily Dickinson, Harriet Prescott Spofford and Louisa Stone Hopkins, she added.
There was John Young, who owned a barbershop on Elbow Alley, off Water Street, where many African-Americans owned businesses, and Edward E. Moses, who was born a slave in Savannah, Ga., and grew to fight in the Civil War. He was known as a "graceful cake walker" and a leader in social affairs, Woodworth said. And Charles Whipple, an abolitionist who owned a bookstore downtown in 1815. In 1838, he published a version of the pamphlet "Immediate Emancipation," which was first published in England.
In addition to the city's residents, Woodworth discussed institutions around the city, such as Wolfe Tavern and Butler's Bakery, and events that one would find in Newburyport in the 1800s — like the Cake Walk. With origins among the French blacks of Louisiana, it evolved into a wedding ceremony with music and dance — and, of course, cake. Cake Walks would often occur on the upper floor halls in the buildings on Pleasant Street, Woodworth said.
The tour gave a glimpse into a side of Newburyport's rich past, said lifelong Newburyporter Joseph Cox as he traveled through the tour.
"This is a side of Newburyport you don't usually get to see," he said.
"She's a wealth of information," Marge Kaczala said of Woodworth.
LIFE IN THE 1800sSFlb1830: Underground Railroad in use in Massachusetts
1831: William Lloyd Garrison publishes the first issue of The Liberator
1861: U.S. Navy authorizes the enlistment of slaves as Union soldiers fighting for the North in the war
1865: Civil War ended, Lincoln was assassinated, Congress passes the 13th amendment abolishing slavery
1868: 14th amendment passes, giving blacks citizenship status
1870: 15th amendment passes, giving black men the right to vote
UPCOMING HERITAGE TOURS
Oak Hill Cemetery, Tuesday, July 27, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Visit the grave sites of Newburyport mayors, ministers, doctors and photographers. Tour the Brown Chapel currently under restoration.
Tracy Mansion Tour, Public Library, Tuesday, July 27, 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Meet in the lobby of the Newburyport Public Library. Come see the 18th-century Tracy Mansion, the original Newburyport Library built in 1771.
Piel Craftsmen, Wednesday, July 28, and Friday, July 30, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, July 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
3¬ Center Street across from Ten Center Street restaurant
Established more 50 years ago, Piel Craftsmen have produced more than 20,000 ship models. Over the years, craftsmen have also restored thousands of ship model wrecks to their original condition.
African-Americans in the Newburyport 1800s, Wednesday, July 28, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Meet on Hill Street at Highland Cemetery
Visit African American grave sites in Highland Cemetery and Old Hill Burying Ground. Hear about Mr. Romily, a restaurant owner, a runaway slave, Mrs. Dickson whose freedom was purchased in Virginia by a Newburyporter, and the Underground Railroad.
The Cemetery Crawl, Thursday, July 29, 10 a.m. to 12 noon
Meet on Hill Street at Highland Cemetery
Bronson DeStadler will be leading the St. Paul's Graveyard tour. We begin at Highland Cemetery and say hello to a writer, a shipbuilder, and the first mayor of Newburyport. Our next stop is across the street at Old Hill Burying Ground to visit grave sites of clockmakers, one of the first bridge builders in the United States, and African-Americans. We finish our tour at St. Paul's Graveyard to hear about the history of St. Anna's Chapel and some well known Newburyport citizens.
Life in Newburyport: 1950 to 1985 Thursday, July 29, 7:00 p.m.
Newburyport Public Library, Program Room
Author Jean Doyle discusses her newly published second book on Newburyport history, 1950 to 1985. Signed books will be available pending publication.
Old Hill Burying Ground Gravestone Restoration Project Friday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Meet on Greenleaf Street behind Bartlet Mall
Learn about the current gravestone restoration project and see the process of the repair and restoration of leaning, fallen and broken stones. Visit grave sites of African-Americans, clock makers, and the author of The Relic of the Revolution.
Walking Tour of Newburyport Civil War Sites Saturday, July 31st, 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Begins and ends in front of 57 State St. (Arthur Page Insurance Co) located at State and Pleasant streets. (tour length: 90 min.)