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January 14, 2013

Exploring Manchester's lively history

(Continued)

While the early generations of Manchester residents “were always alive to their religious duties,” the same could not always be said about their political commitments. On one occasion in the 1650s, the town was “complained of” by the Massachusetts General Court for not sending a representative to that august body. Two other times in the ensuing few years, the town was again identified as being delinquent in its governmental obligations, and once, a temporary surrogate had to be appointed to act on the community’s behalf.

Politics and religion aside, Manchester has always been known for its natural beauty. From Hurd, we know that the town’s dense woodlands were home to an extraordinary variety of plants and trees, including the lovely magnolia that would later give its name to an adjacent Gloucester neighborhood, And, it was said, anyone who tasted the waters of the Saw Mill Brook that flows through Manchester “can never permanently absent himself from this town.”

But it was Manchester’s “capacious” harbor, with its “numerous creeks, beaches and picturesque headlands,” including the famed Singing Beach, that drew many to settle here. For the better part of two centuries, that harbor was alive with ships coming and going, either off to the Grand Banks to fish or to distant ports to trade. As late as 1815, notes the author, there were approximately 50 ship captains living in Manchester.

They were a hardy lot these mariners. Young Tom Leach sailed for the first time with his captain father aboard a local vessel and one particularly cold morning showed up on deck wearing a pair of mittens made for him by his doting mother. Casting sentiment to the winds, Capt. Leach tore the gloves off his son’s hands and threw them into the ocean. Fishermen don’t wear mittens, young Tom was told.

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