Reckoning with the Parkers of Lexington, Mass.: A Family Story

Reckoning with the Parkers of Lexington, Mass.: A Family Story Introduction .............................................................................
Author: Tyrone Short
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Reckoning with the Parkers of Lexington, Mass.: A Family Story Introduction ...................................................................................................................................................................2 The First Generation: Josiah Parker 1737-1756 ............................................................................................................6 Josiah’s Account Book ..............................................................................................................................................7 The Compass Box Trade ...........................................................................................................................................8 Box Making and Farming ........................................................................................................................................ 10 Aberrations in the Patterns....................................................................................................................................... 11 Partial Success ......................................................................................................................................................... 13 The Second Generation: The Accounts of John Parker, Sr.......................................................................................... 14 John’s Account Book............................................................................................................................................... 16 Aberrations - Back to War ....................................................................................................................................... 18 Tax and Spend - and Protest .................................................................................................................................... 19 Farmer, Woodworker, Gentleman ........................................................................................................................... 21 The Third Generation: John Parker, Jr. (1781-1797, 1815-1836)................................................................................ 22 The Early Accounts ................................................................................................................................................. 23 Later Life Accounts ................................................................................................................................................. 26 Pumps and Pipes ...................................................................................................................................................... 28 Losing Ground ......................................................................................................................................................... 30 Conclusion ................................................................................................................................................................... 31 Appendix ..................................................................................................................................................................... 34

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Introduction On April 19, 1775, Capt. John Parker led 77 of his neighbors and kinsmen onto the Lexington Common to face a much larger force of the world’s best soldiers. The shots fired there and “heard ‘round the world” heralded the opening of a revolution that would lead to American independence. New England’s farmers fought that war to secure their property – their freehold farms—and their personal liberties from incursions by a Parliament that they saw as rapacious and predatory. Many New Englanders genuinely feared that an avaricious English aristocracy conspired to burden them with such taxes and costly imports that the farmers would lose their land – their source of independent subsistence -- to debt. New Englanders envisioned being reduced to tenancy, dependent on English overlords and gradually stripped of their traditional rights until they were little more than slaves. It was not wild paranoia: they had witnessed the English subjugation of the Irish into just such a state. 1 So they went to war to protect their “life, liberty, and property.” In our memory of Lexington and Concord, the “embattled farmers” bested the British on April 19th and eventually won the war. But John Parker, and many of his fellow Lexingtonians, did not win the struggle to hold onto their patrimony. In the years leading up to the Revolution, the freehold farmers of Lexington struggled with rising debt. Despite strategies to protect the family farm, provide for their offspring, and satisfy creditors, many men of the Revolutionary generation lost their land. Some left town; others stayed on the remnants of their former estates and became full-time craftsmen, struggling to support their families with the output of their proto-industrial workshops. John Parker’s family provides a case study of this transformation. We know more about the Parkers than many of their neighbors because filiopietistic later generations saved the family records of the man who started the Revolution. Among that collection, now housed at the Lexington Historical Society, are several ancient volumes of family account books. Their pages are filled with lists of farm tools, household utensils, food, or labor that the Parkers made and provided to neighbors and traders from surrounding communities for over 100 years. These books hold the story of the Parker family’s strategies and struggles to hold onto their land, a 120-acre farm on the Lexington-Waltham border. This study examines accounts for three generations of Lexington Parkers: Josiah Parker (1738 to his death in 1756); Capt. John Parker (1756 to his death in 1775); and John Parker, Jr. (1781 to 1796, and 1815 to his death in 1836). Each was a farmer who also kept a woodworking shop. The account books record each time the men (or their wives or children) supplied a neighbor or trader with a product of the farm or woodworking shop, or labor from one of their animals -- or sons.2 After each of these trades was entered in a database, the data were sorted and analyzed. The cycles, rhythms, and aberrations that appear tell the story of farm and family life in a maturing agrarian community. The story that emerges is on one level about woodworking, but ultimately it is, as almost all colonial Lexington family stories, about farming and the land. The patterns reveal choices that the Parkers made and suggest their strategies for providing security --farms-- for the next generation. Ultimately, the account books tell of a revolution, but not the one we usually associate with Lexington. It is about the passing of the old agrarian society and the emergence of a market-oriented world. For the Parkers, it is a heartbreaking story of loss and the struggle to survive. The account books that form the basis for this study were similar to those kept by most colonial era New England farms. It was a time when most families met their basic needs by turning the raw materials of their land into the food, clothings, shelter and fuel needed to survive. But no farm was totally self-sufficient. Some items required the expertise of a skilled artisan. Other essentials could not be had locally. Farmers needed a way to acquire what they could not produce.

1 Richard L. Bushman, “Massachusetts Farmers and the Revolution,” in Society, Freedom, and Conscience: The

Coming of the Revolution in Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York by Jack Pl. Green, Richard L. Bushman and Michael Kammen (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1976), pp. 77-124. 2 Unfortunately, the Parker accounts are almost exclusively that of their debtors.

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Colonial era Lexingtonians could not go to a local store to purchase what they lacked. There were no general markets in Lexington, and the few places licensed as “retail establishments” sold mostly spirits. Even if there had been a local store, cash for purchases was extremely scarce. British policies that forbid the colonies to print or mint money, combined with colonial needs to purchase imports from the mother country, meant that most specie flowed back to England. So farm families usually acquired what they could not produce by trading with a neighbor. Neighborhood trade was neither selling nor bartering. When a farmer received something he needed from a neighbor, he did not pay for the item in cash, nor did he usually give something of equal value in trade immediately. Instead, the two parties agreed that the debtor would eventually provide something that the creditor needed; in the meantime, the creditor recorded the cash value of the debt in a family account book. In early account books, the farmer usually recorded his neighbor’s name at the top of a page and then kept a running account of the cash value of the items he had provided to that neighbor, and sometimes of the cash value of the items the neighbor had provided to him. These lists could go on for years, with credit extended indefinitely as the balance of trades swung back and forth. Eventually, the two men would “reckon” with each other and determine the balance due to one or the other; the new balance would be recorded and the credit account would be continued. Little cash ever changed hands, but in this fluid system most farmers were able to acquire the items they needed and eventually pay for them by providing something of value in exchange.3 As farm families traded with other families, broad networks of credit and debt developed that bound the community together. Sometimes these accounts were further complicated when one man paid a debt to his creditor by assigning to him the credit owed to him by a third party. Years of such exchanges created a community woven together in an intricate web of interdependence and shared indebtedness. When neighbors married and became kin, these mutual obligations were further intertwined. On one level, then, the account books provide insights into the nature of community in an agrarian world that practiced mixed husbandry -- the world of colonial Middlesex County. It was a world in which land ownership was the measure of all things. A man needed land to thrive. But it was not just any random piece of land that was required; a family strove to own a minimum amount of several specific types of land to provide for their needs and to keep the farm productive over the years.4 The average farm household in colonial era Middlesex County included between six to eight members.5 To sustain that family comfortably required a minimum of 50 to 60 acres of several different types of land.6 To raise enough grain (corn, wheat, oats, barley, rye) to feed this family, the farmer generally needed a minimum of five to six acres of tillage land. But growing that crop took nutrients from the soil; to replenish the soil required the manure of roughly four to six cows. In addition to manuring the tillage land, of course, cows provided additional protein in diary and beef products. But the cows needed to eat; feeding the minimum number of cows required on average about 18 acres of pasture land for spring, summer and autumn grazing and another 12 acres of meadow to produce hay for winter feed. Ideally, the farmer’s hay meadow lay along the banks of a river or marsh that flooded each spring, covering the land with nutrient-rich silt that renewed the ecological farm system. The silt fed the hay, the hay fed the cows, the cow manure fed the grains, the grains fed the people. With careful management of pasture and meadow, such a farm could be sustained for many years.

3

See Appendix I for a copy of a page from the early Parker Account Books.

4 This concept is explored extensively in Brian Donahue’s The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial

Concord (Yale University Press, 2004), Chapters 3, 7, and 8; see also Carolyn Merchant’s Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England (University of North Carolina Press, 1989), p. 183. 5 On family and household sizes see Greene and Harrington, American Population before the Federal Census of

1979, p. xxiii; this study includes extended family and live-in servants as part of the household. 6 These minimum subsistence requirements, and the ones that follow for tillage, pasture, meadow, and woodland,

are based on Merchant’s Ecological Revolutions, Chapter 5, “Farm Ecology: Subsistence versus Market,” and on Donahue, Great Meadow.

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In addition, the average farm family would need to cut approximately one acre of wood a year to produce the 25-30 cords that they would need to burn for fuel. Since the hardwood trees preferred for fuel took about 20-25 years to regrow, the farmer would need 20-25 acres of woodlot to sustain his fuel needs.7 Finally, the family would need several acres for their houselot. This land would include their home; equally important, it would include the home for their animals, the barn. Next to the barn would be the essential cowyard, where dung was gathered and saved to spread on tillage land; a dooryard garden for vegetables and herbs; a small orchard, usually of apples to provide for the essential cider; an assortment of pens, paddocks and outbuildings; and often the farmer’s workshop for his artisan specialty. The Lexington town-wide valuation of 1771, which breaks down property by tillage, pasture, and meadow, roughly confirms these general estimates of land ratios. [See Appendix II for information on Lexington Assessments and Valuations.] For a sustainable farm that would feed and clothe the average family from generation to generation, then, the Lexington family needed a minimum of 50 to 60 acres of land suitable for tillage, pasture, meadow, woodlot, and houselot.8 To acquire at least this minimum farm was the goal of most Lexington men for themselves, and ultimately, for each of their sons. Depending on the fertility of their soil and the ratio of meadow to pasture and tillage, a Lexington farmer could provide a “comfortable subsistence” for his family with a small excess from farm or artisan shop that he could trade But a freehold farm conveyed more than a “comfortable subsistence.” Owning a minimum sustainable farm was essential to community membership and personal independence. Land ownership technically allowed a man to participate in town meeting, the organization that determined the affairs of the church and secular community. Well into the nineteenth century, Lexington (like most Middlesex towns) limited voting rights in town meeting to men who owned a minimum estate.9 The reasoning was simple: town meeting approved expenditures that would be financed from property taxes; men who owned no property paid no property tax and therefore had no right to vote for expenses that they would not share in funding. The men elected to positions of responsibility, such as selectmen and representative to the General Court, were almost always the proprietors of large estates, reflecting both old habits of deference and the understanding that these men would be providing the tax resources for much of the town’s capital expenditures. But there was another less obvious reason for men to aspire to land ownership. In the English feudal tradition, land was held by lords who had the resources to defend it. The land was farmed by tenants or serfs, who gave the lord a portion of their produce in exchange for his protection from enemies. Lords often exacted from their vassals all manner of extra fees and duties, sometimes reducing them to a state of impoverished dependence. Just as important, vassals were required to swear fealty to their lord. Such a pledge could entail following one’s lord in matters political, religious, and social. Those who lived as tenants on another’s land, then, could never be truly impartial or independent in conscience or action; like boarders in another’s household, they were obligated to follow and obey their master. The chance to escape lordships -- to own land as a freeholder, without feudal dues or obligations-- was a major inducement to the Great Migration (1630-40) that brought most of the English Puritans who eventually settled in colonial Lexington. The heads of families on their own farms were, figuratively, lords of their own castles -- they owed their allegiance to no man save the king. Only when they owned their own land were they free of dependence on any other man; only then could they be secure from feudal dues; only then could they make truly free and impartial political and religious commitments. Men in colonial Lexington valued this independence. In fact, they viewed tenancy as a form of slavery; their mid-century rhetoric against perceived oppression by Parliament repeatedly spoke of their fear of “slavery” -- by which they meant losing their farms to debt and having to work as tenants or day laborers for another.10 7 See Donahue, The Great Meadow, p. 214 and Merchant, Ecological Revolutions, p. 182. 8 These are general estimates based on the work of Merchant, Donahue and Fuhrer. 9 See the wording of the Town Meeting Warrants, Lexington Town Meeting Notes, 1815. 10 See Richard L. Bushman, “Massachusetts Farmers and the Revolution,” pp. 77-124.

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By the time the Parkers began their accounts, however, securing a farm was becoming increasingly difficult in Lexington. Demographic growth had brought the town to the point where there were no longer enough acres to support each maturing son on a sustainable, mixed husbandry farm. Settlers first trickled into Lexington in the mid-17th century when the land was still called “Cambridge Farms” - part of western Cambridge. By the 1690s, enough people had spread into the area from both east (Cambridge) and west (Concord) for the settlers to form a new church, and in 1712 the Town of Lexington was incorporated. Early settlers to Lexington moved there because they could purchase large tracts of “unimproved land” -- land that had not yet been made into farms -- for less than the cost of improved land in more established communities. So, for the first generations, land was plentiful. But so were offspring. The generations that lived in Lexington from the 1670s to 1740s each produced on average three to four sons, rapidly filling the land with improved farms. Lexington’s story was repeated all over Middlesex County. In most towns, it took from three to five generations for most of the available land to be improved.11 Around 1740, many Middlesex towns were approaching population densities of roughly 40 people per square mile; at this point, most towns could not absorb additional people on sustainable farms. For Lexington, as for many Middlesex County towns, population growth leveled in the mid-1740s and did not resume growth until the early 19th century. Families with more than one son who lived to maturity were facing a challenge.12 For a culture that valued land ownership so highly, this challenge required families to develop new strategies for providing land for each son. Generally, once a family’s holdings fell to less than 100 acres, the family would designate one son to receive that farm. “Impartible inheritance,” which kept the farm at a sustainable size, was common in Lexington.13 Before 1740, almost all probates that specified the division of land chose to divide it among heirs; after 1740, nearly two-thirds of the probated estates were kept undivided, with the number of impartible estates rising to two-thirds by the 1770s.14 The challenge in the years after 1740 was to work out a strategy of household production that would provide not just a “comfortable subsistence” for the current generation, but also provide additional resources to purchase land or livings for those sons who did not inherit the undivided “home farm.” Middlesex farm families took several approaches to finding livings for maturing sons. A few families sent their sons to Harvard to prepare for the ministry or to Boston to apprentice for an urban craft. Some tried to turn their cattle to cash: they increased the number of animals that they grazed in “summer pastures” to the west where land was cheap. Because they lacked the hay to winter these animals, they drove the excess cattle to market in the fall and banked the profits to provide for future land purchases.15 Others, like the Parkers, turned to their artisan craft for raising extra money. In the generation that came of age between 1750 and 1775, two out of every three sons left town; fewer than 10% went to the city; 30% settled in adjoining towns, but more than half moved to new towns with inexpensive 11 The longer time period relates to towns established by grant to proprietors, who preserved large unimproved

tracts that they held in common for the use of future generations (such as Concord). Towns formed by population growth from the edges, such as Lexington, had no such reserve; families who purchased unimproved land in these towns usually had divided their acres into minimum sustainable farms by the third generation. 12 See Appendix II for population data from Lexington to support this section. 13 This decision was also reflected when a man died without a will; appraisers generally decided that “to divide the estate would prejudice or spoil the whole” -- reduce it below sustainable levels -- and gave the whole of the farm to one son. This language was incorporated into the preprinted forms of the Middlesex Probate Court in the 1740a. 14

These figures are based upon a probate study of Lexington, discussed more fully in the conclusion. The percentage of impartible estate divisions by decade is as follows: for 1700-1730: 8% impartible; for 1740s, 61% impartible; for 1750s, 64% impartible; for 1760s, 60% impartible; for 1770s, 77% impartible. 15 Brian Donahue, who has studied this strategy as practiced in Concord, concludes that the pressure to increase

beef production -- beyond family needs -- for market eventually led to overgrazing in Concord and the ecological degradation of the land.

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unimproved land in central Massachusetts or out of the colony. [See Appendix II for information on Lexington population density, persistence, and out-migration] There, they could repeat the cycle of providing “comfortable subsistences” and independent estates for growing families. Many of the “favored sons’ who remained, however, soon found their position not so enviably. Beginning in the 1740s, many fathers (or probate judges) began stipulating that the inheriting son reimburse his brothers for the cash value of their share of the home farm. The sons who stayed in Lexington found themselves increasingly saddled with debt. The specter of foreclosure -- and the threat of becoming landless -- troubled many as the Revolution approached.

The First Generation: Josiah Parker 1737-1756 In 1737, at the opening of the earliest surviving account book, Josiah Parker was a middle-aged man in a good place. The son of a forward-thinking father, he had inherited a sizable farm, married well, and secured a respected position in his adopted town of Lexington. Now his sons were coming to maturity. The challenge for Josiah would be to help them secure a life as good as his own. Josiah was not native to Lexington; he had moved to town with his parents and two brothers in 1712 when he was eighteen. Josiah’s father, John Parker (1664-1741) sold his family’s ancestral homestead in Reading “for a valuable sum of money” and transplanted his wife and three maturing sons to a young town just being formed. In Lexington, he was able to buy a much larger tract of 250 partially improved acres. Here were future estates for his sons16 For six years Josiah lived with his parents and brothers, providing manpower to improve the fences, walls, orchards, pastures, and meadows of the family farm. His father was also a joiner who made furniture, farm tools and household implements in a shop that he built on the premises; the father taught his craft to all his sons and each in turn passed the skill down to the next generation. Josiah became a cooper as well as a farmer. In 1718, when Josiah was 24 and preparing to marry, his father did what so many fathers of the time hoped to do: he presented his son with a farm with which to begin married life. “For the good affection I bear unto my well-beloved son,” John Parker divided his own land, giving Josiah 55 acres. Later, Josiah also took over his father’s house as his own in exchange for agreeing to care for his parents in their old age.17 By 1737, when the accounts began, Josiah had added by purchase another 36 acres, bringing his total holdings to nearly 100 improved acres, with a house, barn, orchard and outbuildings.18 He had a pair of oxen to plough his land, five cows, and a pig. He had all he needed for a sustainable farm, with acres to spare. His wife, Anna Stone, also came from a prosperous local family, her father being one of the wealthiest men in town.19 She no doubt brought to the union a goodly marriage portion of linens, housekeeping items, and furniture, comfortably outfitting the house. This house, which Josiah and Anna shared with his parents from 1718 until 1739, was large and commodious by early eighteenth century standards. Built before the Parkers arrived in Lexington, it was described even in its early 16 As it turned out, John Parker did not use the full 250 acres for his three sons. He granted inheritances to two of

his sons, Andrew and Josiah, in Lexington; but in 1828, as the youngest son was coming of age, the father sold 100 acres of the land to a neighbor. He most likely used some of the proceeds from that sale to fund the purchase of his youngest son’s estate in Shrewsbury shortly thereafter. See Land Records, Parker Family Collection, LHS. 17 This arrangement changed in 1739. The senior John Parker moved to his son Andrew’s house next door; father

John and brother Andrew, however, signed a document releasing the house and all personal property to Josiah. 18 Acreage is based on deed accounts; in the 1775 Lexington Valuation, Josiah was assessed for 10 acres of pasture,

7 of meadow, and 6 of tillage, nearly identical holdings to his brother Andrew. The remaining land was likely not assessed because it was considered “unimproved land,” which was not taxable. Unimproved land included all woodlots, and any pasture or meadow lying fallow or not yet fenced. 19 See Lexington tax assessments, 1729.

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days as a “mansion house,” indicating a substantial, two-story structure with finishing touches such as molding and trim.20 A classic center-chimney saltbox, it had an east and west room on the first floor, two chambers above, and a kitchen in the one story shed-like addition in the rear. In the 1850s a descendent recalled the house of his birth: “The rooms were few but large and airy, the windows not numerous, of various size, but all small. . . The house. . . had been built at different times, the eastern end being considerably younger than the western, and not furnished with the massive oak beams which everywhere stuck out in the older parts.”21 It was the home of a prosperous man. In 1735, Josiah ranked in the top third of all men in Lexington in terms of assessed wealth (real estate and personal property). His 100-acre estate provided comfortably for his growing family, and woodworking increased their resources. The family may even have been in the position to acquire some material luxuries, for by 1760 mother Anna owned a valuable tall-case clock and an extensive wardrobe.22 With prosperity came social position. The Parker family genealogist described Josiah as “sturdy and industrious,” and well-respected in the community.23 The town historian concluded that Josiah “was one of the most popular men in town for many years. He filled almost every town office... He filled the office of town clerk four years. He was an assessor 19 years ... and selectmen seven years.”24 Town meeting minutes bear Hudson out: Josiah, who had a reputation as an excellent penman and good grammarian, was constantly called upon to keep the town records or compile the town tax assessments.25 He was also elected constable; since the constable held a position similar to that of a sheriff today (with his powers confined to the town) the people’s choice for this position reflected a person’s integrity, force of character, and popularity.26 Parker’s military company chose him as their clerk, another position of responsibility and respect. His highest honor was being chosen to serve as one of the town’s three selectmen. In 1737, then, Josiah Parker was in a good place. At 41, he owned a substantial farm, shared a mansion house with his parents, and managed a productive woodshop. His farm was fully “improved”; after having been farmed for several decades, the hard work of “making land” - clearing trees, breaking ground, building walls, planting orchards - had been accomplished. His wife had provided him with healthy sons, now able teen-aged boys, and two daughters to assist in the work. Josiah could devote more time to his artisan trade to increase family revenues. His daughters were marrying, and his sons were learning the woodworking trade from their fathers when not farming. The townsfolk liked and respected Josiah; they had chosen him as one of their leading citizens.

Josiah’s Account Book Because the Parkers were farmers, their account books include many trades of farm labor (lending oxen, helping with haying, etc.) and farm supplies (corn, veal, leather, candles etc.). They also include some items that the Parkers purchased in Boston and resold to neighbors (almanacs, chalk, oil, salt, etc.). But the majority of their account book

20 The deed for the sale of the property to John Parker in 1712 specified that it included “one mansion house and a barn” in addition to the acreage. See Land Records in the Parker Family Collection, LHS. 21 Parker, Parker Genealogy, p. 89. 22 See the Deed of Sale for Anna Parker’s clock and the listing of her personal property in the Parker Family

Collection, LHS. 23 Parker, Parker Genealogy p. 45. 24 Charles Hudson, History of the Town of Lexington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from the First Settlement to 1868, with a Genealogical Register of Lexington Families (Boston: Wiggin and Lunt, 1968) Vol. 2, p. 508. 25 “He was an excellent penman and good grammarian, and his accurately and neatly kept records are of great

historical value.” Parker, Parker Genealogy, p. 45 26 Parker, Genealogy, p. 36.

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entries were for woodworking trades.27 It is mostly through their woodworking, that the Parker family was able to acquire what their farm could not produce. This was the Age of Wood. In the New World, wood was an abundant and inexpensive resource; everything that could possibly be crafted of wood - from homes to tools to machines with complex moving parts -- was.28 When neighbors came to Josiah for a wooden item, the range of their requests was broad. Although Josiah identified himself on official documents as a cooper, in actuality he practiced many types of woodworking. Josiah crafted farm tools, coopered barrels, casks, churns, and pails, turned boxes and dishes, wrighted wheels, joined furniture, and 29 produced mechanical parts such as screws, nuts, and pulleys for presses and mills. With one major exception, Josiah traded almost exclusively with people in Lexington and Waltham. His trading network was not broad; he supplied common wooden household implements and tools to neighbors and townsmen. Most of those he traded with were long-term clients who returned to him repeatedly over the course of many years as they needed a new barrel or wheel or had a wooden rake to be repaired. They came to Parker for wooden ware just as they went to Munroe for smithing, Estabrook for milling, or Pierce for shoemaking. The artisan trades of each of these farmers supplied the needs of the rural neighborhood and village economy. Without cash, though, these transactions were all recorded as account book debts, balanced by subsequent trades.

The Compass Box Trade One item stands apart in Josiah’s account book: compass boxes. Over the course of two decades, Josiah made more than 6,000 of these boxes, carrying them in batches of several dozen at a time to Boston. It is an astonishing feat for a rural woodworker: Josiah Parker identified a specialty market in a city some four hours distant and mass produced items to meet the demand. It is a market-oriented decision that seems more appropriate for the nineteenth century than for 1740.30 Josiah took his compass boxes to three Boston men: Thomas Greenough, James Halsey and John Dupree (which he spells “Dupee.”) Each of these men was a mathematical instrument maker who marketed mariners’ and surveyors’ tools.31 Their shops in Boston supplied the shipping trade; Greenough’s account books show that he also supplied ships with other maritime provisions and with surveying instruments, maps, almanacs, etc. Mathematical instruments such as compasses had for most of the 17th century been expensive brass-encased items imported from Britain. After half a century, a few enterprising men with some basic scientific knowledge of navigating and surveying introduced a less expensive option. They imported steel needles and glass plates; they also arranged for local printers to engrave and print compass dials. After magnetizing the needles, they could assemble the working parts of a compass inexpensively in their Boston workshops. But obtaining brass, which was not produced in America until the 1830’s, for the compass housing remained a costly problem.32 Silvio Bedeni, Smithsonian’s historian of scientific instruments, explains that the instrument makers “solved the problem by applying the talents of the ingenious Yankee. They turned to wood from the rich forests all about them. They found several choice hardwoods from which the housings of surveying and marine instruments could be made by woodworkers like Parker and furnished to the instrument makers who assembled them.” With their lathe-turned wooden circular cases, the instrument makers were able to make affordable compasses that soon became the norm 27 For example, in the accounts of John Sr. (1756-1775), 58% of the entries are for wooden items; 14% are for

animal or human labor; 13% are for store goods; and 10% are for farm products. 5% are miscellaneous or unspecified “sundries.” This balance shifts even more heavily towards woodworking in later years. 28 See Brooke Hindle, ed., America’s Wooden Age: Aspects of Its Early Technology (Sleepy Hollow Press, 1985). 29

See Appendix III for breakdown of woodworking production.

30Images of a marine and surveyor’s compass box are in Appendix IV. 31 See Silvio Bedini, Early American Scientific Instruments (Landmark Enterprises, 1986). Bedini confirmed that

Parker was a turned box maker for Greenough, Halsey and Dupree in private correspondence dated Feb. 22, 2005. 32 Ibid.

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for New England mariners and surveyors. Bedeni confirms that Parker was one of several woodworkers who made and sold wooden compass cases to Boston instrument makers; Parker’s name appears in Greenough’s account books at the Massachusetts Historical Society.33 Parker chose to be a regular supplier -- a decision that is remarkable, given his rural location. Before the Cambridge Bridge was built in 1793, the only land route to the city was through the Boston Neck, the tiny peninsula of land that connected the city hub to the mainland at Roxbury. From Lexington, this roundabout 17 mile route made the trip to Boston a tiresome four-hour trek by horse.34 Yet Josiah Parker made 136 trips in 19 years to market compass boxes in Boston. Such frequent visits to the largest city in the colonies must have left its mark upon the country carpenter. We can no longer consider him to be an unsophisticated rural farmer; Parker would have been one of those who brought the latest news, politics, ideas, issues, and fashions into the countryside. We know from family testimony that the Parkers were great readers; if Josiah brought a newspaper home with him as well, he would likely have ranked with the minister and the tavern keeper as among the best informed men in town.35 The effort to make and market hundreds of compass boxes each year was substantial. Why would Josiah choose to invest his time this way instead of increasing his farm output or making wooden items to trade on account with his neighbors? By 1737, at the opening of the account book, Josiah Parker was 41 year old. He was at mid-life. He had had nearly two decades to complete the work of “making” a farm from the woodlands and meadows of Lexington, work that was partially accomplished before he ever took ownership of the land. His sons were coming into their teen years and were presumably taking over some of the farm chores, freeing even more of their father’s time. Josiah now had surplus labor. He had several options for using that labor. His farm output in Lexington was limited by the number of balanced tillage/pasture/meadow acres he owned, but he could acquire wilderness land to the west to as summer pasture, send his sons to tend this summer flock, then drive cattle to market in the fall. Or he could rent his sons’ labor out as hired hands at other farms for credits on neighbors’ account. Alternatively, he could increase his neighborhood woodworking, if demand existed, and build local credits. Instead, Josiah chose to use his excess labor to expand his woodworking business beyond the market available to him in his neighborhood. Why would Josiah choose an option that required him to cart boxes all the way to Boston to market? His family was maturing; Josiah and Anna had three daughters of marriageable age by the mid 1730s. A daughter’s inheritance came not as land, but as a “marriage portion,” those textiles, cooking utensils, dairy, laundry, and preserving implements necessary to set up housekeeping on a mixed-husbandry farm. Though most of these items could be obtained in village trade, Josiah may have had higher expectations for his daughters. Fortunately for us, Josiah Parker recorded credits received for his accounts with the Boston compass makers. We can see what he got for his compass boxes. He took payment for some of the boxes in the form of credit on the accounts of other Boston merchants. During the period that his daughters were setting up their households (17371740), some of his purchases from these Boston merchants were fancy goods such as fine handkerchiefs, combs,

33 Accounts of Thomas Greenough, 1730-1757, in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Bedeni notes that “many of these [area woodworkers] can be determined by comparison of the wooden housings, the kind of wood selected, the manner in which the sighting bars were attached [to the surveyor’s compass], design of the field cases, which also were made of wood, etc.” Bedini adds, “I am convinced that at the same time Greenough and Halsey occasionally also made their own wooden parts that varied somewhat from the purchased housings.” Letter to the author, Feb. 22, 2005. 34 In the late colonial period, Jonathan Harrington, a Lexington blacksmith-turned-ship timber marketer, carried his goods to port. But Harrington found the journey to Boston so bothersome that he often carried his wares to Salem instead. Michael J. Canavan, unpublished Lexington history, Cary Memorial Library, p. 137. 35 This claim is repeated in all the family accounts and genealogies. See, for example, John Weiss, Life and

Correspondence of Theodore Parker, (Arno Press, 1969), p. 13.

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trim for dresses, yards of imported fabric, and silk by the skein. His daughters would begin married life well-dressed 36

and coifed.

The Parkers may have wanted to participate in the commercial revolution that was just beginning to spread beyond metropolitan areas into the aspiring upper classes of country folk, what one historian has called the “refining of America”.37 As communities matured, folk with fully improved, prosperous farms used some of their resources to enhance their appearance, manners, and homes as signs of their growing gentility. Although Josiah’s purchases did not include the requisite tea set or silver, Josiah and Anna made their share of genteel acquisitions. Anna supplemented her flatware with a dozen store-bought knives and forks and upgraded her kitchen with a brass kettle, new skillets, several sets of tongs and bread peals. Their diet was enriched with imported sugar and chocolate. And the family bought many quires of paper -- an expensive item, but one that allowed them to cultivate the genteel art of writing, produce a constable’s warrant, assessor’s valuation, or a town clerk’s receipt. There was another reason for Josiah Parker to cart his boxes 17 miles to Boston: the instrument makers sometimes paid him in cash. On 15 of his market trips he returned home with cash in payment for his boxes. In an economy where cash was scarce, the 70 pounds he earned selling boxes was a rare haul. Traders in his neighborhood or surrounding towns could rarely afford to pay their debts in currency. He needed cash to buy land.. His family had reached a respectable level of prosperity by 1750, ranking in the top 20% of Lexingtonians for assessed wealth.38 He did not want his sons to lose ground, literally or socially. His goal was to purchase more land to provide them with respectable estates of their own. And to buy land, he needed cash.

Box Making and Farming Did box making as a trade displace farming as the primary way in which Josiah intended to support his family? Was he specializing in box making as his “market crop,” planning to use his profits to purchase what the family needed to live? Such a strategy became common in the market revolution of the early nineteenth century -- was Josiah merely ahead of his time? If we chart Josiah’s box production by month, the answer is immediately clear. Farming followed an ancient annual pattern. The tasks for each month were so well established that medieval calendars and books of days were illustrated with images of 12th-century peasants performing the same labor (often with the same tools) as Lexington men and women 500 years later. The calendar was set by the stars: when a certain zodiac appeared in the heavens, farmers knew what work needed doing. The agricultural year began in March, when the earth first thawed. April was plowing month May was time for gardening and, since the cows had calved, for turning fresh milk into butter. By June the milk was being turned to cheese; farmers were weeding gardens, hoeing corn hills, and, as the month drew to a close, beginning the years’ hardest work: haying. July and August were the busiest months of the year, as all available labor turned out to mow, rake, stack, and bring loads of hay into the barn for winter feed. Once the hay was safely in, farmers exchanged the long-bladed hay scythes for sickles and set to work reaping and threshing rye, oats, and barley. By September it was time to harvest corn and pick apples. In October, farmers busied themselves with processing their harvest: husking corn, milling and pressing cider, bringing their winter squashes and root crops into the cellar for cold storage. Cattle were driven back from their summer pastures. In November, with the harvest in, the pace of work slowed. Over the

36

The Parker daughters may not have been the only members of the family coveting finery. Even in the years after his daughters were established Josiah continued to trade boxes for credit in Boston stores. Numerous purchases in Mr. Gardner’s and Mr. Grant’s dry goods shops were charged to the compass maker’s accounts. Most of these credit entries were listed simply as “goods,” but in those cases where Parker indicated the nature of the goods, they were often textiles and trimmings such as handkerchiefs, buttons, cotton, stockings, caps, hats and shoe buckles -- even a swan skin (later, prudently, returned for a credit). When Josiah’s wife Anna died in 1760, her clothing was inventoried; it was an extensive wardrobe for an eighteenth century farm wife. 37 See Philip Zea, In Pursuit of Refinement (Historic Deerfield, 1998). 381750 Lexington tax assessment.

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winter months, slaughtered and salted animals, cut and sledded wood. But winter provided the most free time for artisan shop work.. This ancient cycle provided order and meaning to the agricultural world. The farm family was connected to the annual, reliable rotation of the stars and rhythms of the earth. The cycle of thaw and birth, warmth and growth, harvest and chill, death and freezing returned in its course, directing the work of the body and reminding the hopeful soul of its own predestined birth, death, and rebirth. Summers of heavy work and winters of relative rest had been the agrarian way from time immemorial. When we take Josiah’s box production and chart by month during the period of 1737 to 1756, we immediately see that farming was still his first priority. Josiah had not replaced farming with full time box production; he made boxes in the slower work periods of his agricultural year. Boxes Produced by Month

1800

Series 1

1700 1600 1500 B o x e s

1400 1300 1200 1100 1000

P r o d u c e d

900 800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0 Jan.

Feb

Mar.

Apr.

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Month

The chart of Josiah’s box production is an inverse image of his heavy periods of agricultural labor. Josiah was not a proto-market manufacturer, specializing in a single product. Nor is there any evidence that he attempted to change his method of production or his acquisition of raw materials. He was a farmer who practiced an artisan craft in his spare time. But with the labor of his sons and the completed improvements to his farm, he had more spare time to invest in his craft. He identified a constant demand for one product, and -- for cash and imported goods - - he was willing to devote his time to that discretionary labor.

Aberrations in the Patterns The earliest entry in Josiah’s account book was dated November of 1737.39 Compass boxes appear from the first entries until the month before Josiah’s death in 1756. However, if we chart Josiah’s box production over the years, interesting gaps appears.

39 This may have been when he began keeping accounts -- perhaps coinciding with the beginning of his compass box trade -- or it may simply be the oldest surviving book. I tend to think, however, that it is his first book, as the

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Box Production by Year

1000

50

900 B o x e s P r o d u c e d

800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0 1738 1739 1740 1741 1742 1743 1744 1745 1746 1747 1748 1749 1750 1751 1752 1753 1754 1755 1756 Years

J osiah produced no boxes in 1744, a greatly reduced number in ‘45 and ‘46, and no boxes from 1747 through 1749. Why did he forego the extra income from box production in these years? A note included in the account book suggests the likely answer. On a torn page in the back of the book, Josiah entered the following: “May 1, 1744. Then Settled ye Dignity of Officers in Colonel Phips’ Ridgement.” A list follows, with nine captains and ten lieutenants; two of the men are from Lexington: Capt. Benj. Reed and Lt. Josiah Parker. Josiah produced no boxes in 1744, and few in 1745, because he had gone a-soldiering. Throughout much of the colonial period the English and the French engaged in an ongoing epic struggle for imperial domination. Protestants and Papists waged war in Europe and on the seas, but spasms of violence also spilled over into colonial provinces in New England and New France. In 1744, Governor William Shirley decided that Louisbourg, the mighty French fort on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, had to be taken. The fort commanded the chief entrance to the St. Lawrence River, the great waterway of New France, and protected French access to Quebec, Montreal, and numerous French and Indian military and missionary outposts inland. Shirley planned to send a force of provincial soldiers from New England, supported by supplies and provisions from New York and Pennsylvania, and buttressed by four English men-o-war from the West Indies. Col. Phipps’ regiment was part of that New England provincial army. In the spring of 1744, when Gov. Shirley called for men to enlist for the campaign to Louisbourg, Lt. Josiah Parker was among those who stepped forward. According to the family historian, his son John, then 15, accompanied him on this expedition.40 There is no other written evidence to support this claim. Sadly, Massachusetts muster rolls for all of the French and Indian conflicts are woefully incomplete and often fail to indicate the home town of the enlistees. Family tradition, however, claims that Josiah and John served throughout the 1744-45 campaign. Josiah, like most able-bodied New England farmers, was already a trained militiaman. Massachusetts men over 16 years of age were required to report regularly for training with their town’s militia company so that they would be prepared to respond to an alarm if their town -- or any Massachusetts town -- came under attack. The Parker genealogy notes that Josiah “...of course belonged to the [Lexington] military company, in the day when soldiers date also roughly coincides with Josiah’s taking over his father’s farm and farmhouse. Previous accounts, if they existed, were probably kept in his father’s account book. 40 Parker, Genealogy, p. 44.

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were scarce and the Indians and French sometimes too common for comfort of the English settlers. ... Josiah soon became “clark” of the company. His duties were to call together the soldiers, keep the attendance and ‘fine’ records and post notices of the coming drill day.”41 A 1729 notice warning militia men to appear for training is signed by Josiah as company clerk; in 1738 he transcribed into his account book the legislature’s “Act for Regulating of Militia.” Though trained and able, Josiah was nevertheless 50 years old and the head of a family when Shirley issued his call for provincial army recruits. Why would he volunteer for a military duty hundreds of miles away in the French wilderness? The family historian claims that Josiah fought to avenge the death of his brother Hananiah Parker, “of much promise,” who perished in the Port Royal Expedition in 1711.42 “Loving memories of him doubtless inspired [Josiah] to more active training and in anticipation of coming troubles.” There was another incentive. To encourage recruits, Shirley offered both an enlistment bounty and wage, to be paid in His Majesty’s gold. In the next 20 years, payment of bounties and wages to provincial army recruits brought a substantial influx of British specie into the colony, temporarily expanding Massachusetts’ hard-money economy.43 With enforced savings while on campaign, soldiers could return home with enough cash to purchase a small, unimproved farm.44 Josiah may have been making a rational economic decision to substitute one strategy of raising cash for another: he used his family labor in soldiering rather than box production. If Josiah and John went to war, they would have left at home 20-year-old Josiah Jr., who, with the help of his 14 and 11 year old brothers, would have been able to keep the farm running. The campaign to Louisbourg was successful and the fort fell to the English in late June of 1745; provincial soldiers returned home by the end of the summer. Josiah’s box production accounts resume that autumn. The account book reveals a second gap in box production from 1747 through 1749. There is no mention in the family record that either Josiah or his sons were away fighting at this time, nor is there any surviving evidence of their service in the muster rolls. But it is possible that the family once again diverted some of their excess labor from box making to soldiering. Gov. Shirley called for militia recruits in 1747 to protect Massachusetts and New Hampshire borders from French and Indian raiding parties. In 1748, the Governor put out another major call for a provincial army to mount a campaign to take Quebec. Josiah Sr. and his son John may have answered this call and joined the companies that gathered in Albany in the spring of 1748 to prepare for the campaign. The planned expedition to Quebec never took place, but the men were held in Albany for 18 months; if Josiah and John participated, they would likely not have returned to Lexington until November of 1749. Box production resumed by January of 1750.

Partial Success In October of 1748, Josiah’s first-born son, 23-year-old Josiah Jr. married. The following spring, he was able to purchase “an estate in Woburn of 200 acres of rich farming land. . . in the west part of town and but a few miles

41 Ibid. 42 Hananiah was Josiah’s eldest brother; his death in Annapolis occurred shortly before the family moved to

Lexington. A letter from Hananiah to his family from Annapolis, dated 1710, is preserved at the LHS. 43 This argument is made by Fred Anderson, A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers & Society in the Seven Years

War. (University of North Carolina Press, 1984), p. 1. 44 Anderson gives the following example from the campaigns of the 1750’s: “In 1756... the cash compensation for

the average private soldier on that year’s Crown Point expedition... was more than 15 pounds Lawful Money. The pay increased above that in every subsequent year of the war and eventually almost doubled. Moreover, provincial soldiers received their wages at the end of their enlistments, an arrangement that forced the soldier to save and give him access to relatively large sums of cash, that scarcest of the countryside’s resources. fifteen pounds would not buy a farm but it was a good start. In Andover in that period it would pay for 15 to 30 acres of unbroken land, and in Northampton it would buy as much as 150 acres of unimproved land.” p. 39.

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from his home in Lexington.”45 The cash for that purchase likely came from applying the family’s excess labor to box making and soldiering. Six years later, in the spring of 1755, Josiah’s second-born son married. Twenty-six year old John did not receive the funds to purchase his own farm; instead, he moved his new wife into the family homestead. Josiah intended that 46

John inherit the family estate.

But when John wed in 1755, Josiah still had two younger sons who needed farms. John’s younger brothers Thaddeus and Joseph, 24 and 22 respectively, were coming of age. Josiah needed to continue marshaling the extra labor of all three of the young men left in the household to earn the cash he needed for these last two estates. With boxes and soldiering, he may have succeeded, had death not intervened. In the autumn of 1756, when he was only 62 years old, Josiah Parker died. His death was no doubt sudden and unexpected, as he had written no will; that oversight changed John’s life. By dying early and intestate, Josiah Sr. failed in his quest to secure sustainable farms for all his sons. Only the first-born emerged with a debt-free estate as his inheritance. When John took over his father’s account book, and his farm, he did not take over his financial security. Unlike Josiah, he was not a man in a good place. He was a man in debt.

The Second Generation: The Accounts of John Parker, Sr. On a winter’s morning in early 1757, John Parker journeyed into Boston to the Cornhill Rd. shop of Thomas Greenough, the compass maker. There, the two men took a reckoning of the account Parker’s father had kept with Greenough for compass boxes, and settled. Greenough owed some ten pounds for boxes delivered on the late Josiah’s “former account”; John took the credit in books, “tickets” - perhaps for one of the public lotteries - and cash. Then, in the terms of account book reckonings, the two men “were quit.” Once his father died, John Parker never again made compass boxes for trade. It was not that demand for boxes had subsided. Greenough, Halsey, Dupree and their sons continued to assemble and sell scientific instruments into the next century. But Parker did not choose box making as a strategy for meeting his family’s needs. Instead, he would concentrate of wrighting wheels and wooden machines for local customers. John Parker, like most of the Parker men, was described as a man of strong and industrious constitution, largeframed, “a great, tall man, with a large head and a high wide brow.”47 Family historians say that John took after his father in mental disposition, both men being bookish and contemplative. Elizabeth Parker recorded that her greatgrandfather Capt. John Parker was “fond of reading, as we learn from Parson Clark’s diary that he was one of those who often borrowed the minister’s books, regarded as great treasures at that time.”48 Like Josiah, John was drawn to the church and to the influence of his minister, though both father and son maintained an independence of will and spirit. They “... used to love to go to church, they were the best of hearers of the Word, and faithful doers too, but

45 Parker, Genealogy , p. 78. 46

This supposition is bolstered by a legal paper dated January of 1740 in which “Josiah and his son John” are together deeded all the furnishings in the old family homestead. This suggests that from his early teens, young John expected, and was intended, to inherit his father’s farm.

47 See Elizabeth, S. Parker, Proceedings, p. 43. and Coburn, Battle of April 19th, p. 60. The latter quotes Theodore Parker describing his grandfather, a perhaps somewhat questionable source, as Capt. Parker was dead many years before Theodore was born. 48 Elizabeth Parker, “Captain Parker,” Proceedings, Vol. I., Lexington Historical Society, p. 44.(The surviving volumes of Clark’s diary do not support this claim, but Clark came to Lexington in 1755 and the volumes of his diary in the LHS collection begin in 1765, so it is possible that Elizabeth had access to earlier volumes of the diary that included John Parker in Clark’s list of book borrowers.)

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they had their own thoughts and resolved as well as listened.”49 Elizabeth Parker also quoted an oral family tradition of a strong and influential bond between Lexington’s radical Whig preacher, Jonas Clarke, and John Parker.50 His household possessions included books, pamphlets, almanacs, and the Whig newspaper The Boston Gazette.51 John Parker was considered by his fellow townsmen to be a cool and just arbitrator, for he was appointed by them to mediate and resolve one of the town’s most vexing disputes.52 No doubt his reputation for fair dealing also contributed to his repeated appointment as town assessor and tax collector.53 Capt. Parker was also a man of temperate -- even abstinent -- personal habits, for one of the first recorded instances of the disuse of alcohol at funerals “was at the house of Mr. Parker on the occasion of his [mother’s] death in 1760.”54 Parker’s marriage to Lydia Moore in 1754 was an equal yoking; both their fathers were similarly prosperous and respected Lexington elders.55 Lydia moved into the Parker farmhouse with her new husband and in-laws. When Josiah died eighteen months later, John became master and Lydia mistress of the ancestral home while yet in their twenties. With Widow Anna ensconced in her own two or three rooms, John and Lydia oversaw a household that included their infant daughter Lydia and John’s grown brothers, Thaddeus and Joseph. But this was not quite the transition that John had anticipated. He had grown up understanding that one day he would inherit the whole of his father’s Lexington estate. Because Josiah died intestate, a probate judge decided how the estate would be distributed to his heirs.56 After widow Anna received the traditional “widow’s thirds” (use of one third of her husband’s estate during her lifetime), the remaining two-thirds was divided among Josiah’s three children who had not yet received their portions.57 John would have to buy out the shares of his two younger brother, Thaddeus and Joseph, to put together a sustainable estate.

49 Parker, Genealogy, p. 81. The Lexington historian Arthur Tourtellot later suggested that it was Clarke’s persuasive influence as a radical whig preacher that led Parker to order his men onto the field on April 19. Arthur B. Tourtellot, Lexington and Concord: The Beginning of the War of the American Revolution (Norton , 1959), p. 125. 50 “Mr. Clark’s youngest son, Harry Clark, whom I knew very well, often visited at our home, and spoke of the intimacy and friendship of the Clark and Parker families.” Elizabeth Parker, Proceedings, p. 44.. 51 See the Inventory of John Parker, 1776. Pamphlets were usually published sermons; during the 1760’s and 1770’s they also took on a political nature. 52 In 1773, John Parker was chosen to be one of three men to form a committee for the town to negotiate a quarrel with Amos Muzzey over the removal of a gate that Muzzey had placed blocking a public way through his land. The dispute had been plaguing the town for years. The resolution of that dispute is recorded in a document in the Parker Family Papers, File 14, Lexington Historical Society. 52See the Town Clerk’s Records. John Parker was elected to the following posts: 1760-Tythingman; 1764, 1765,

1766, Assessor; 1767-Constable; 1774-Assessor and Collector for the Highway Tax. 54 Parker, Genealogy, p. 153. 55 See 1735 and 1750 Tax Rates for Lexington where both Josiah Parker and Thomas Moore were ranked in the third decile for taxable real and personal property.

56 No probate records survive for Josiah’s estate. Widow’s thirds were mandated by law; the supposition about distribution to John’s brothers is based later land deeds that refer to the distribution of the estate. 57The

eldest brother and the two sisters, having been provided for at marriage, gave quitclaim to their interest in the estate for a minimal fee shortly after their father’s death. For Josiah’s quitclaim, see deed of

Jan 31, 1757; for sisters’ quitclaim, see deed of 1756. Interestingly, John Jr. also give quitclaim for a minimal fee to his two younger brothers at this point, suggesting that immediately following his father’s death he may have contemplated sharing his brother Josiah’s estate of 200+ acres in Woburn.

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Within three years of his father’s death, Thaddeus had married and set up his own household on a property near the center of Lexington. Thaddeus held a sizable, interest-bearing note of hand from John, no doubt given to secure Thaddeus’ portion of the home farm. Young Joseph, meanwhile, decided to stay on the family homestead for a while and go into the woodworking business with John while helping him work the farm. It was a fortunate arrangement for John and Lydia, for the young couple had no children old enough to assist their father on the farm and in the shop; they also could ill afford to pay Joseph his share of his inheritance so that he could set up on his own. Joseph and John maintained their woodworking partnership for years; they did not dissolve their joint accounts until 1769, even though Joseph moved out of the ancestral home not long after his marriage in 1759.58 Eventually, though, Joseph would need payment for his portion of the home farm as well. It took John nearly a decade to finally secure title to the whole of his father’s 125 acres. To buy out his brothers’ portions, however, entailed taking on substantial debt, which John secured through interest-bearing notes of hand from neighbors and family. Although the debt he took on was heavy, John had both sons and daughters coming to a productive age and could expect a decade at least of surplus labor and product from his farm and shop. His creditors – all family and neighbors, were not likely to foreclose on him. The debt was a reasonable gamble in the effort to secure the family estate for his heirs.59 All he needed was time.

John’s Account Book60 John wrote on the cover of his account book “John Parker Wheelwright His Book.” In fact, like his father, he was a woodworking jack-of-all-trades. When we compare father’s and son’s accounts, however, some notable differences emerge. First, a much smaller percentage of John’s accounts were for woodworking. Where three-quarters of Josiah’s credits came from his shop work, barely half of John’s account entries are for woodworking. This makes sense. With fewer hands to work, John had to devote proportionately more of his time to running the farm. With less time available for 61

woodworking, he had to make more of his farm products available for trade if he was to build a credit surplus.

Each area of the farm yielded a small surplus that appeared in his account book as trades to neighbors. From Lydia’s garden came beans, cabbage, and turnips to trade ; the orchard and berry patch yielded extra cider, apple trees, (cider) vinegar, berries, and a bee hive (to fertilize the apple blossoms). The tillage land produced trades for corn, oats, rye, and flax; the meadow gave credits for surplus hay. From the pasture, John made trades for beef, veal, calves’ skin, calves’ feet, leather, lamb, and mutton, while the pig sty provides piglets, pork, suet, and tallow that Lydia transformed into surplus candles. Even the woodlot was accounted for, with trades for timber. Compared to his father, John had more credits for reselling city-bought items to his neighbors in the country, particularly almanacs, tobacco, molasses, and oil. These last two items he appears to have sold speculatively for several years, purchasing barrels and reselling locally by the quart. It would be tempting to think of this as evidence that John was being drawn into a “market mentality,” purchasing wholesale and selling for a profit on the retail 58 Joseph’s story is interesting and hard to document. The family genealogy notes that he married Eunice Woods of

Weston in July of 1759 and that his first child was born in Lexington, supposedly at John Parker’s home. By the time their next child was born in 1762, though, the couple lived in Lincoln, the town with which Joseph was ultimately associated. However, as of April 1763, he still associated himself with farming in Lexington, for he is identified in a deed as “Joseph Parker of Lexington, Husbandman,” perhaps referring to his still undistributed interest in his father’s estate. His wife died in Lincoln in 1784; Joseph died in 1787 in Lexington, where he was then living with his brother Thaddeus. For a 53 year old man to be living with his elder brother suggests that Joseph may have struggled financially to maintain an independent estate. 59 See the Account Book of John Parker 1757-1775, Lexington Historical Society; Parker, Genealogy, p. 90;

Inventory and Debts of John Parker, Middlesex County Probate Records, 16638 and 16639, Middlesex County Probate Court, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Archives. 60 I date John’s account book from his father’s death in October of 1756. In actuality, father and son kept their

accounts together up to this point; there is no way to distinguish John’s work from Josiah's before the father died. 61

See the index for a comparison of Josiah’s and John’s non-woodworking production for trade.

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level. But there is no evidence that he was charging any more than cost. For example, in 1770 he paid just short of 20 pounds for a barrel of molasses; since a barrel usually held about 31 gallons of liquid, the molasses cost him roughly three shillings and three pence per quart, almost exactly what he charged to neighbors. Despite his farm trades, John identified himself as a woodworker. He kept an impressive woodworking shop, with an array of tools that were far more valuable than his farming implements.62 His account book shows that he worked as a joiner, wheelwright, cooper, and a carpenter. He also combined his father’s gift for working wood with a mechanical genius, crafting specialty gears for wooden machines. With jigs and thread cutters he turned out wooden screws, nuts, and bolts. His expertise allowed him to produce mechanical presses and mills for items 63 ranging from books to cider to cheese. The majority of John’s trade involved supplying wooden items on demand to his neighbors and fellow townsmen. (Two-thirds of all his trading partners were from either Lexington or Waltham, the two towns his farm straddled.)When we sort this woodworking output by months of the year, the predictable seasonal cycle of the agrarian year clearly reemerges. The pattern of “most requested/most produced” items illustrates the monthly labors as clearly as the rotating constellations in the heavens. From John’s account book alone we can discern what work was occupying the people of Lexington from month to month -- and what they turned their hands to when the fields rested for the winter freeze. It also shows how, even in his woodworking, John was yoked to the rhythms of the agrarian year. In the winter months when men were felling, hauling and chopping firewood, Parker was making and mending sleds and axes; he was also producing something he called “rackets” -- which involved bending and stringing wood frames -- and probably indicated snowshoes. In the cold months when men slaughtered animals, Parker made salting or “powdering” tubs that women used to preserve meat. Parker took advantage of the lull in work in the nongrowing months to fill orders for furniture and specialty presses for Boston-based printer, dyers. etc. Women used these months for the-time consuming task of turning raw wool and flax fiber into thread and textiles; Parker made wheels and whorls. In April, farmers began their season by turning gardens and plowing their tillage land. The onerous task of gathering the winter’s manure and ashes and carting them to the tillage field to be spread and plowed into the soil. Parker, predictably, spent much of this month making and repairing carts and cart wheels. In May and June, while farmers plowed, sowed, and weeded, women turned to the work of the dairy. In Parker’s account book we see the telltale dairy equipment: pails and churns, cheese hoops, presses and mills. Women continued cheese making until the heat of July impeded their work. Meanwhile, all available men turned their hands to the hay and grain harvest. Parker, when he could spare time from his own harvest, was busy making and repairing the hoe handles, wooden hay rakes, and scythe snaths --the curved wooden scythe handle – needed to get in the grains and grasses. In autumn, Parker was especially busy making his specialty, cider mills and presses. Both machines were needed to turn apples into that most essential colonial beverage, cider. The screws and nuts that formed the working parts of the machines were wooden, and Parker provided both the machinery and the expertise to set it up, periodically service, and repair the mechanical parts. He also made barrels for the ciders and “taps and faucets” for drawing off the cider. As autumn faded to winter, farmers brought in the last of the root crops from the garden to store in Parker’s barrels in cool cellars. Parker filled orders for tubs to pickle vegetables and salt meats and kegs and barrels to store the preserved food. As deep winter set in once again, men returned to their woodlots and women to their spinning; Parker’s December accounts reported making and repairing axes, sleds and spinning wheels; he spent his spare winter hours filling neighbors’ orders for country furniture. Both Parker’s farming and woodworking, then, followed the ancient calendar of life, the cycle of planting and harvesting.

62A listing of John’s woodworking tools in included in Appendix V. 63

See the Appendix VI for a breakdown of John’s woodworking by type.

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Of all his wooden products, the most complex was the mill, with wooden wheels turning wooden gearing and wooden transmission systems.64 Whether powered by wind, water, horse or human, the turning wheel transmitted its force to machines that ground, sawed, combed, crushed, pressed or otherwise mechanized work. As a woodworker, Parker knew how to manipulate his material; as a wheelwright, he knew how to fashion the basic parts of many mills. To this he added his mechanical aptitude for figuring out how things work, and translated his knowledge into 65 a local specialty. Josiah Parker’s account book has a few entries for unspecified types of mills; John’s includes mills and presses of many sorts. There are account entries for a book press sold to Boston printers; a clothes press sold to a Boston dyer; a tallow press sold to a Boston man who was most likely a chandler; and “lying” and “standing” presses sold in Boston for unnamed purposes. His cheese mills and presses performed the final work in the stages of turning milk curds into pressed rounds of cheese. But it was cider mills and presses that made up the bulk of John’s wooden machines. The screws, the critical mechanical parts of the machine, were fashioned of wood. Parker had the specialized jigs and thread cutters for making wooden screws, and the expertise for assembling the working machine. Eighteenth century thread cutting tools were individually hand-crafted and each was unique; the screws each woodcrafter produced were not standardized across the profession. Once a farmer acquired a machine with wooden screws from a country woodworker, he would have to return to the same woodworker and his individualized thread-cutting machine for repairs and replacements. Parker, predictably, had as many entries for replacement mechanical parts as he had for complete machines. The mechanically minded Parker also specialized in spinning wheels with their “flyer heads” - the clever attachment that allowed the spinner to thread her spun yarn evenly onto a bobbin powered by the same treadle that turned the wheel. Other mechanical wooden devices, such as looms, pulleys, faucets, and bed screws for tightening the rope foundations of bedsteads, are also included in his book.

Aberrations - Back to War Charting the woodshop production by month and year again, as with Josiah’s accounts, reveals interesting troughs. These low points in production are particularly prominent from February through September of 1757, 1758 and 1759:

Year

Jan.

Feb.

Mar.

Apr.

May

Jun.

Jul.

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

Nov.

Dec. UK

Totals

1757

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

3

0

2

4

10

1758

1

0

1

0

1

5

1

0

12

3

3

2

19

48

1759

1

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

8

11

22

47

UK= Month Unknown Low shop production is particularly noticeable during these three years, as they predate the marriages of Thaddeus and Joseph, so theoretically, all three brothers should have been living at home and working in the woodshop. But they were not all at home. The French and Indian War (1756-1763) was in full swing during these years, and anecdotal evidence from family and town histories suggest that John, at least, was away on eight-month campaigns each of these three years. His service can be documented in the volumes of the Muster Rolls for 1759, where his name appears on a list of Lexington men issued bayonets for service in the war.66 Family historians assert with 64 Ibid., p. 8. 65

Appendix VII discusses the mechanics and operation of cider mills and presses. Images are included.

66 See Hudson, History of the Town of Lexington, “Military Affairs,” Vol. I, p. 417.

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certainty that “John Parker was at the capture of Louisbourg in 1758, and was at the taking of Quebec in 1759. He was made a sergeant in this war... Some of the Lexington men were attached to the famous corps known as “Rogers’s Rangers,” to which Capt. Edmund Monroe at one time belonged, and quite likely John Parker as well (in 1759).” The low woodshop production during the key campaign months of March through September seem to bear out the family historian’s claim that John Parker was away fighting at this time. It would have been possible for him to leave his wife, child, and the farm in the care of either or both of his younger brothers while he fought. Additional evidence comes from another surviving document, a 1760 directive from Lexington First Lieutenant Thaddeus Bowman to Corporal John Parker, assemble the town militia for training.67 Parker’s rise in the militia ranks may have been the result of his extensive experience in the French and Indian War. The motive for leaving a wife, child, farm, and woodworking business was most likely financial. To raise provincial recruits, the crown offered bounties and wages even more generous than those offered a decade earlier. John Parker was under pressure to pay his brothers their share of their inheritance; three years’ service would help him meet that goal. If John, as asserted by his family, was present at the fall of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, the taking of Quebec, and the western frontier scouting of Rogers’s Rangers, he traveled widely and experienced much. His campaigns would have carried him over miles of ocean, rivers, and wilderness. From Cape Breton, to the heart of the Adirondacks, to the Plains of Abraham in the Canadian capital, his campaigns introduced him to a world far beyond his home. The three-week march from Lexington to Albany gave him a chance to see a great deal of the New England countryside and its people. He likely formed bonds of camaraderie with men from distant towns and colonies, overcoming the parochial bounds and concerns of colonial farm life. He participated in the greatest campaigns of the greatest war the century had yet seen. He shared in the exultation of victory. In the New York frontier, he lived the miserable survivalist life of a wilderness scout. One third of all eligible Massachusetts men served in this war; for John Parker, as for the others, “harsh months of campaigning, punctuated by an occasional, terrifying battle, became a profound part of their experience.”68 By the autumn of 1759, John Parker had returned to Lexington. His wife had just given birth to their second child; both his brothers had married over the course of the summer. Thaddeus had left home, and Joseph and his bride were also preparing to move away from the family homestead also. John could no longer afford to go a-soldiering; his labor was needed at home. And he still had debts to pay.

Tax and Spend - and Protest The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended years of imperial conflict; “with the scratch of a pen,” wrote historian Francis Parkman, “half the continent had changed hands.” As Great Britain took over Canada and the eastern half of the Mississippi, colonists rejoiced; all threats to their frontiers seemingly vanished, replaced by the possibility of peaceful and prosperous expansion. But the war also left a legacy of debt. Massachusetts had borrowed so heavily to meet wartime obligations that it was on the verge of bankruptcy by the war’s end. Britain had borne even more of the cost --doubling its national debt between 1754 and 1763-- and now faced the expense of administering a much larger dominion. Leaders in London decided it was time to tighten imperial controls in the colonies and recoup some of their wartime expenses. So began the famous series of wildly unpopular taxes on colonial imports. In Massachusetts, the taxes added to other financial woes. In addition to their own wartime debt, many were worried about a perceived imbalance in trade between the colony and the mother country. At mid-century, as eastern towns matured, a “consumer revolution” had blossomed. The desire for more genteel clothing and household goods fueled a brisk import trade; hard currency, always in short supply in the colony, drained into the accounts of British merchants. Massachusetts men began to speak of the danger of indebtedness; they feared that debt would lead to bankruptcy and foreclosures on their estates. Some even saw a conspiracy on the part of the British aristocracy to reassert manorial control by reducing yeoman farmers to tenants.

67 This directive is in the Parker Family Collection in the archives of the LHS. 68 Fred Anderson Peoples Army, p. 25.

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The new taxes fueled this fear. People began to complain that greedy rulers were draining the people of the fruits of their labor; that such policies would reduce them to poverty; that poverty would lead to foreclosures, with their land being seized by corrupt and tyrannical British lords. Like the Irish before them, they would be returned to feudalism, with “great lords overshadowing the countryside and independent farmers reduced to tenant and laborers.” The people of Lexington articulated this fear as early as 1765 in response to the Stamp Act. In town meeting they complained of the acts as “... a yoke too heavy for us to bear.... [I]t will quickly drain the Country of the little cash remaining in it, strip multitudes of their property, and reduce them to poverty in a short time ... [O]f natural and 69

freeborn subjects we shall become the most abject slaves.”

In Massachusetts in the 1760s, sermons, pamphlets, and newspapers began to address the issue of indebtedness from imports and from taxes on imports. Two themes emerged: the imperative to decrease foreign consumption by living modestly; the necessity to replace foreign consumption with colonial production. These opinions were voiced repeatedly from the Lexington pulpit and in the reading matter that Lexingtonians consumed.70 The pitch was especially directed at women, believed to be the greatest consumers of British goods in their purchase of imported fine textiles and trimmings for their attire. Letters to the paper appealed directly “to the ladies”: “Think not, American fair ones, that you are excluded from contributing a Part toward this public Good - . . . lay aside those Gaieties which ill suit the Circumstance of your Country; wear nothing but what is manufactured in America; this will be the greatest Encouragement to Manufactures and Industry, this will be acting worthy your charming selves.”71 In 1768 and ‘69, public spinning bees emerged as a political activity appropriate for women. Again, the goal was not truly to provide for home manufacture of all textiles (which did not happen in the pre-Revolutionary years), but to be seen in public involved in the act of spinning. The politically-motivated spinning bees were celebrated in the press. One broadside, printed in 1769, honored the women warriors at the wheel in verse: Occasioned by seeing the North-Spinning in BOTON [sic] Boston, behold the pretty Spinners here, And see how gay the pretty Sparks appear: See Rich and Poor all turn the Spinning Wheel, All who Compassion for their Country feel, All who do love to see Industry live, And see Frugality in Boston thrive.72 John Parker was a wheelwright; among products of his workshop were spinning wheels. His account book can help us determine if the exhortations of Lexington’s staunchly Whiggish minister had stirred any patriotic fervor among local women.

69

Bushman, “Massachusetts Farmers and the Revolution.”

70 Lexington minister Jonas Clarke dedicated his first published sermon to “The best Art of Dress: or Early Piety

most amiable and ornamental.” As early as 1761 he urged his parishioners to abandon fashionable imports and adorn themselves instead with piety and godliness, which “... would make them appear with much greater advantage. 71 Boston Gazette, December 24, 1767; see also the Gazette for November 27, 1767.

72 “Boston: Printed and Sold 1769,” in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester. A similar poem appeared in the Boston Evening Post, September 11, 1769: “Foreign productions she rejects With nobleness of mind For Home commodities, to which She’s prudently inclined... She cloaths herself and family, And all the sons of need; Were all this virtuous, soon we’d find Our Land from Slav’ry freed.”

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Spinning Wheel Production 1758-1774

S p i n n i n g W h e e l s

18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10

Series 1

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1758 1759 1760 1761 1762 1763 1764 1765 1766 1767 1768 1769 1770 1771 1772 1773 1774 Year

From 1767 through 1768, the time of greatest enthusiasm for women’s politically-motivated spinning, Parker produced an average of 14 spinning wheels per year; his normal annual demand averaged only 2.3 wheels. The data from Parker’s spinning wheel production provide a valuable insight into the mentality of the women of Lexington. We know from anecdotal sources that some Lexington ladies were fiercely patriotic. Consider, for example, Abigail Harrington, the mother of the fifer, whom he called “one of the most patriotic women who ever lived”; at 3 am on April 19 she roused her 16- year-old son and exhorted him to battle, crying, “Jonathan, Jonathan! The reg’lars are coming and something must be done.” The spinning wheel data confirm this attitude of patriotic defiance. It also reveals that by 1767, many women in Lexington were not accustomed to spinning their own flax, or at least did not own their own wheel.73

Farmer, Woodworker, Gentleman By 1771, John and Lydia Parker had reached mid-life. Their family of nine was complete, with three sons and four daughters ranging in age from fourteen to newborn. For at least one year, in 1768, the household swelled with the addition of live-in hired help, Daniel Johnson from Woburn.74 They occupied the whole of the ancestral mansionhouse, and used it and the shop as busy home manufactories for all manner of household needs and tradables. The older boys were learning their father’s trade, while the girls assisted their mother producing the family’s textiles, dairy products, medicines, and comestibles. Their possessions were ample, if not luxurious. In the property valuation taken that year, John Parker ranked in the top twenty percent of his fellow Lexingtonians for assessed wealth.75 (Tax assessments did not consider debt.)

73 Not all the wheels were sold in Lexington. During the 2 year period Parker made wheels for people in the continuous towns of Waltham and Lincoln, and in Weston, Newton, Brookline and Watertown. 74 See Lexington Town Record Book 1713-1715, warnings for 1768. 75 See the Lexington Rate of 1750. Note that these assessments consider only assets, and do not consider a taxpayer’s outstanding debts.

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His neighbors reckoned Parker “a successful farmer who had collected a respectable estate.”76 They repeatedly chose him, as they had his father, to serve as their tax assessor, school committeeman, town meeting moderator, and constable. (He filled one page of his account book with the official wording for writs and warrants, practicing his new constabular responsibilities.) With his ample property and respectable social position, some even titled the man a “gentleman.”77 In 1775, John Jr. was 14 and Isaac was 12, both old enough to assist on the farm. With tools, manpower, and improved acres, Parker could expect to produce a surplus for the next ten to fifteen years. As his sons learned his trade, Parker could also expect his woodworking shop to produce more than the family needed in credits for local trade. If he could continue to supply his neighbors with mills, presses, wheels, and other wooden tools, he and his sons could make the woodshop a profitable side trade. This likely was his strategy. Relying on the long-term credit habitually extended in the countryside, John Parker could hope to slowly retire the debt that encumbered his farm. With the large dairy herd he was building, he could produce a consistent surplus from his farm; to this he could add the products of his woodworking shop -- his own and those of his three sons as they matured. By living frugally, John and Lydia could hope over the next two decades to emerge from the shadow of debt. But time was not on his side. Even as he trained the Lexington militia in the fall of 1774, his shop production was falling off dramatically He was suffering from consumption, or tuberculosis. He was ill on the morning of April 19th, 1775, when he led his men onto the Lexington Green; by June he was too week to accompany the Lexington unit to Cambridge to help hold the Siege of Boston. In September, at the age of 46, he died. The death was disastrous for the growing family. Lydia was now the head of seven fatherless children, and her oldest son was not yet fifteen. At the time of his death, John Parker had debts in notes of hand to brothers and neighbors that exceeded the value of his real estate. Lydia Parker had to satisfy her husband’s creditors. Fortunately, she did not need to satisfy them immediately. John Parker’s creditors were local men, accustomed to extending longterm credit. They would wait, while the widow put her affairs in order. In the autumn of 1778, Lydia submitted the estate to probate and received her widow’s thirds. She then promptly married her neighbor Ephraim Pierce and moved with the youngest children to his household. nearby The remaining 80 acres of John Parker’s estate, the appraisers decided, could not be divided further without spoiling its value as a sustainable farm; it was set off to John Jr., who would be charged with the responsibility of reimbursing his six siblings for their shares.78 John Parker Jr. was 17 years old when he received his inheritance. Sadly, however, there would be little inheritance to speak of. There still remained the matter of his father’s debt. Even though he had worked hard and lived modestly, John Parker Sr. had not lived long enough. Had he survived even ten years longer, he could likely have repaid the money he borrowed to acquire the whole of his farm and to expand his dairy herd. His children’s teen and young adult labor would have allowed him to reap the most profit from his acres, his cows, and his woodworking business. He gambled only on surviving, and he lost.

The Third Generation: John Parker, Jr. (1781-1797, 1815-1836) John Parker, Jr. was twenty years old when he started his own account book. It was a small thing in comparison to the book his father and grandfather had shared, a homemade project, bound with a cover fashioned from the Boston Gazette. Over the next fifteen years, the young man would produce and fill four such small account books, reflecting his many and varied efforts to save the farm and support a young family of his own. The story of his struggle to hold on to the farm of his forefathers reached a sad conclusion by the final pages of his last little account; 17 years later, when we open the ledger of his later life, John Parker had resigned himself to a new identity and a different place in Lexington society. 76 Parker, Genealogy, p. 80. 77 This is how he is identified on his probate records a few years later. 78 See John Parker’s Widow’s Dower, dated Nov. 4th, 1778, Parker Family Papers, Lexington Historical Society.

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The Early Accounts For a twenty-year-old, John Parker Jr. had heavy burdens in 1781. The Revolutionary War still raged, but unlike his father and grandfather, soldiering was not an option. He was a young man with debts to pay and the Provincial Army was not paying its soldiers in specie. The paper money and notes of credit that he might earn by enlisting would not pay the debts on his farm, as the provisional government that backed them was not yet stable, and they depreciated rapidly. Creditors were reluctant to take them. Young John Parker did not give up. When his mother married neighbor Ephraim Pierce and moved to his homestead next door, she likely took John’s youngest three siblings, still all minors, with her; John’s sister Anna married Ephraim Pierce’s son shortly after, and no doubt removed from the Parker farm. Staying behind to run the farm in 1780, then, were likely John Jr. at 19, his older sister Lydia, 24, and his 17-year-old brother Isaac. That year, “John Parker’s children” were assessed in the town rate for two horses, six cows, three calves, six sheep, five swine, and grains stores. At this point, John and his siblings were apparently attempting to maintain the family on a mixedhusbandry farm. The work of the farm apparently left John no time to produce wooden items in the shop, for before 1781, he kept no shop accounts. When he turned 20, young John began trying different approaches to making his farm realize more of a profit and easing his debt burden. Some of his creditors were beginning to become impatient. John noted in his account book, “[I paid ] Joel Viles two pounds fourteen shillings interest for a note of six pounds thirteen shillings and four pence and that was more than lawful interest.” [Indeed it was.] It appears that for one year he hired the help of Joseph Locke, who ran up an account for repaired clothing, food, and sundries such as one would expect for a live-in hired hand. The next year, John earned some credit among neighbors for wintering others’ horses and cows, apparently on surplus hay; he also turned his woodworking skills to work building a district school house for the town. By 1783, when he was 22, young John began regular woodworking accounts with his neighbors; his younger brothers were now 20 and 13, old enough to take on the farm work while he dedicated more time to shop production. He also hired his own labor out to neighbor Moses frequently on a day basis. By 1784, the war was over, but John Parker’s life was far from peaceful. For the month of January, he hired himself to Moses Mead, most likely living at the Mead place. In February, he married Lydia Stearns, daughter of a well-todo Lexington farmer, but the two appear not to have “gone to housekeeping,” for John spent the next three months in Boston, living and working for silversmith Jonathan Pollard. It was not unusual for a couple to delay setting up their household after marrying, and John may have felt that the wages for his three months work would be critical. On his return, however, he agreed to live and work for Moses Mead for the next five months for three shillings a day, about 22 pounds pay. John seemed determined to earn as much cash as possible while his brothers remained to work the farm, and at this point, he apparently felt he could earn more by hiring out his labor than by producing wooden items in his shop. Meanwhile, his wife waited, living at the home of her brother, Silas Sterns. Then, the Parker’s family luck turned from bad to worse. John’s stepfather lost his Waltham farm. Years later, descendents recalled that Widow Parker and her children “had bitter cause to repent” her second marriage, for Ephraim Pierce “wasted” his estate and both he and his thirteen children had to be supported on her widows thirds.79 Perhaps to rescue his mother from the ignominy of her situation, John agreed to rent his two thirds of the family estate to his luckless stepfather for one year; the other one-third still belonged to Lydia as her widow’s portion. Meanwhile, he stayed on as a hired hand for Moses Mead; his wife waited patiently at her brother’s house for a home of her own. In the spring of 1785, John finally began to work his father’s farm. In April, his first child was born, and a month later, he recorded proudly in his account book: “Then Hannah my wife came here from Silas Stearns.” Sharing the house with John, Hannah and infant Polly were his mother and stepfather, several step siblings, and likely his unmarried sister and younger brother Robert, still in his teens. But John was apparently hopeful as he borrowed from neighbors the oxen, plow, tools, and ashes to begin his farm season. 79 Theodore Parker, Autobiography, Poems, and Prayers (American Unitarian Association, 1856) p. 7; Indeed, in April of 1784, Isaac Stearns, John’s new brother-in-law, reported to the Selectmen of Lexington that he had taken into his house to reside “Ephraim Pierce and two children, viz. Lydia and Ephraim.” This is John’s brother-in-law Ephraim, his sister Anna, and their two children, who had no place to live after Ephraim Sr. lost his farm. Residents were required to inform the selectmen when they took poor people into their homes, to avoid those poor later applying to the town for welfare.

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It was now more than a decade since his father’s death, and creditors must have begun to agitate for some repayment. John tried several plans. First, he began an agreement to sell all of his farm to neighbor Robert Moore, in exchange for Moore’s settling all his debts. This plan apparently fell through, for several months later, he and his brother Isaac arranged to mortgage the farm for one year to a Boston creditor for 150 pounds. In his account book he practiced writing “John Parker and Isaac Parker” and “John Parker and Company.” We don’t know what venture John had planned, but it did not work out. John and Isaac formed no lasting company and at the end of the year, they could not pay back the full amount of the mortgage. In 1787 John tried other means to raise extra funds. He took in a pauper, Mrs. Elizabeth Stone, at vendue (the practice of auctioning off the care of the town’s indigent to the lowest bidder). He sold batches of chisel handles to a Mr. David Smith and carted apples to sell in Boston. But he fell farther and farther behind; soon, he could not pay his tax bill. 1787 was a bad year for debtors all over Massachusetts. The legislature had imposed heavy taxes to repay war debts. Farmers, particularly in western part of the state, were losing their farms to tax debt. Shay’s Rebellion broke out in August when Berkshire County farmers forcibly shut down the courthouses to stop foreclosures. The state called upon the towns to send militia companies to put down the uprising; John Parker no doubt had mixed feelings when he watched the men of his father’s company march out to silence the protests of those about to lose their land. He noted ominously in his account book when his neighbor Robert Moore was sent to jail in Cambridge for debt, “It was Joel Viles of Waltham that put him in for 17-13-4.” John was also a debtor to Viles. John continued his struggle to pay his taxes and his debts, selling hay in Boston in the summer of 1789. But his efforts were in vain. On October 30, 1789, he wrote in his account book, “This place was set off and apprized by Auction to [creditors] John Bridge, Jonas Stone, and the heirs of Thaddeus Parker for 206 pounds.” Later he recorded that his farm was “to be sold at publick Vendue [auction] Nov. 10, 1790.” John, his wife Hannah, and their three small children left his ancestral homestead and moved temporarily to Carlisle. What they did there, we do not know, but they shortly returned to Lexington to live in the family of Joshua Reed, who dutifully reported them to the selectmen as poor people that he had taken into his residence. All that was left of the old Parker estate was John’s mother’s widow’s thirds. She owned half the old farmhouse -the other half having been purchased at auction by neighbor Joshua Simonds -- and 40 acres of land. Her impoverished second husband, Ephraim Pierce, might have scratched a living from this, had he lived. Instead, in the cold of January, 1790, he, too, died, leaving Lydia widowed again, with three teenaged stepchildren. And so it was, in July of 1793, that a landless John Parker, his wife, and now five children -- including a week-old infant -- “moved into mother’s home,” as he wrote in his account book. He never recovered his father’s land, and lived out the rest of his life on his mother’s property. His son, years later, noted that John “was a skillful farmer; though, as he lived not on his own land, but on ‘the widows’ third,’ which his mother had only a life-estate in, he was debarred from making costly improvements in the way of buildings, fences, and apple trees, which are long in returning profit to him that plants.”80 Though he later acquired a few acres through his wife’s family, John Parker was never again the master of his own sustainable farm. We cannot know what the experience of losing his family’s farm meant to John, how it altered his sense of identity as an independent land owner, or reshaped his sense of place in a community that still assigned “dignity” by acres and allotted titles to those of estate. What we do know it that for the next several years he struggled to adjust to having lost the pasture he needed to graze his cattle and sheep and the meadow he needed to grow his winter hay. His mother’s thirds included the western half of the house, where she and John’s family now lived). Widow Pierce did not own enough acres of pasture to grade the family cows, so John had to make other arrangements. He began immediately by sending his cattle “into the country,” in May, that is, driving them to cheap pastures in unimproved land to the west. Since he did not own any western pasture, he likely had to pay a neighbor to keep his 80 Parker, Autobiography, p. 9. It was fortunate for John Parker that his mother lived into her nineties, predeceasing him by little more than a decade, so the widows’ thirds were maintained until 1823. Though the thirds were sold for outstanding debt at the time of her decease, John managed to maintain title to the house, which along with his wife’s inherited acres, were his meager real estate.

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cattle there. In October, he noted that his cattle had returned. The fact that he was able to winter some cattle, and that he made entries in his book for mowing, suggests that some of his mother’s 40 acres were meadow. Her land also included an orchard, which he improved with peach trees, selling both the peaches and the grafted trees. Nevertheless, 40 acres of meadow, houselot, and orchard could not sustain a large and growing family. Once John lost his own acres, his account book was devoted almost exclusively to woodworking entries. No longer a farmer who did woodworking on the side; John was now an artisan, who supplemented the family income with products of his mother’s meadow and orchard. John did not immediately find his niche as a woodworker. Years later his son remembered that John was “an ingenious mechanic: his father and grandfather were mechanics as well as farmers, and did all kinds of work in wood, from building saw mills, cider mills, pumps, to making flax-spinning wheels and turning wooden bread bowls out of maple stumps. He had religiously kept the tools of his father and grandfather, and like them continued to do all kinds of ordinary jobs; indeed, both he and they were such mechanics as men must be in a new country. . .” 81 But at this early stage of his dependence on woodworking, John turned his hand to anything wood, mechanical or not. He made repeated trips to Mr. Hunt’s store in Concord to market multiple lots of hearth brushes in two sizes; to Major Samuel Hastings in Lincoln he repeatedly carried many gross of “punch sieve rims.” In 1794 he filled numerous large orders for “ballestras,” which were most likely lathe-turned balusters for local home improvement projects. He brought in some extra revenue in 1794 by working on the construction of the new meeting house for Lexington. When the new church was complete, John Parker purchased the old belfry -which had always been a small, freestanding building -- and carted it to the homestead where he set it up alongside the house as a woodworking shop. Here he now spent the major part of his time, turning his hand to making to farm tools, presses, and mills. It must have been a constant struggle to feed and clothe a family that eventually grew to eleven children (though one died in infancy) and his aging, widowed mother, on the output of his woodshop. When we compare the wooden farming tools produced by Josiah, John Sr., and John Jr., we can see something about the evolution of farming in Lexington over these three generations. The number of cows the town could keep feed sustainably between 1737 when Josiah’s accounts began and 1797 John Jr.’s first account ended does not change. The meadows could produce only so much hay; the pastures could graze only so many head of cattle. Yet, when we compare the wooden dairy equipment each generation of Parker’s made, it is clear that the people of Lexington were producing more butter and cheese as the century wore on.

Year

Churns per year

Cheese presses/mills per year

Cheese hoops per year

1737 to 1756

0.2 [N= 3]

0.3 [N= 6]

1.0 [N= 19]

1757 to 1775

1.2 [N=21]

2.3 [N=41]

2.8 [N= 51]

1783 to 1796

2.9 [N=38]

4.0 [N=52]

8.9 [N=115]

This notable increase in dairy production has two implications. The first is that the farmers of Lexington, whose dairy production had sustained the town’s needs in 1737, began producing a surplus, presumably to sell. It is possible that they wanted cash or credits to increase their standard of living with store-bought purchases; but it is also possible that other farmers, like John, inherited estates encumbered with debts that had to be paid, or with the stipulation that they reimburse non-inheriting brothers for their share. They were pushed or pulled into marketing. The other implication is that the men of Lexington were no longer practicing sustainable agriculture. To create surplus dairy products, they had to keep more cattle than could be sustainably grazed on their pastures and fed on their hay. And, in fact, a comparison of valuations from 1735 and 1800 suggests this was so.82 They could introduce 81 Parker, Autobiography, pp. 9-10

82 The total number of cows grew from just over 500 to more than 800, but since there may have been differences in accounting for young cows and calves, this figure is not strong evidence in itself. See Lexington Valuation s of 1735, 1771, and 1800.

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“English hay” - hay sowed from English seeds on upland fields, but these fields would require manuring to stay productive. The end result of overgrazing and under fertilizing would be exhausted soils by the middle of the nineteenth century. The “wastelands” of nineteenth century Lexington are foretold in the account books of the eighteenth century Parkers.83 Just as we begin to understand the degree to which John Parker’s life had changed, his account books cease. The accounts from 1797 to 1815, which would have helped us trace the change in his life from farmer to craftsman are missing. When we open his next account book, he is a man past fifty, who had long ago given up the hope of owning his own estate. Still camping on his mother’s “thirds,” John Parker was now a man of the shop.

Later Life Accounts The John Parker that we meet in the last family account book is a changed man. Gone are the schemes for marketing many gross of sieve rims, hiring out his labor, wintering other men’s cows, or renting his fields. Gone are the hopes of supporting his family on a traditional mixed-husbandry farm. Although his son remembers a father who tried consciously to improve his acres, his grandson Christopher Greene, who came to live with the family in 1819 as an orphaned seven-year-old and grew up on the farm, remembers that “the farm was run down and running down.” Others recalled that “[John Jr.] was more of a mechanic than a farmer, and during his life the farm was mainly carried on by the boys, while he worked in the little shop just above the house making and mending wheels, pumps, and farming gear.”84 The boys grew some corn, potatoes, beans, other vegetables and apples; John let them sell what surplus they could produce “on commission” at market. But there was little produce to sell.85 To scrape by, “the women took in sewing and the family survived ‘on rigid economy.’”86 Meanwhile, John Parker labored in the shop, devoting his hours to pipes and pumps. It was his woodworking that the family depended on for survival. Because John had a son who later became a well-known minister, reformer and literary figure, we have more firsthand recollections of his later life and personality than we do for the earlier Parkers. John’s youngest son was born in 1810, when John was nearly 50; in his autobiography he recalled the father of his youth. He spoke of him proudly as a man of physical strength and mechanical genius. “From an ancestry of five generations of his own name, who had died in New England, my father had inherited a strong and vigorous body; in his youth there was but one man in town who could surpass him in physical strength, and few who were his equals.” 87 “Mechanical talent was hereditary in the family for several generations, and appeared in my remote relations, and even among women, on whose slender shoulders this mantel seldom falls.88 But it was John Parker’s mind -- a breadth and depth of knowledge combined with a keen and discriminating judgment, that his son most remembered. “He was a good talker, and might have been an orator. If he ever got into an argument, which was seldom, as controversy did not suit him, he was very effective. He liked metaphysics, psychology, and all departments of intellectual and moral philosophy, and he had read all the English books upon philosophy.”89 His son recalled that “his education - his schooling ended when the Revolution began - was of course, much neglected, but he was an uncommonly good arithmetician, often puzzling the schoolmasters with his 83 This story is thoroughly developed in Brian Donahue’s account of eighteenth and nineteenth century Concord in The Great Meadow. 84 Weiss, Life and Correspondence, p. 13. 85 “Very little produce was sold from the farm; for the father was absorbed in his mechanical pursuits, and had turned the acres over to the boys. Theodore sometimes went to Boston to sell the peaches .” Weiss, Life and Correspondence, p.28. 86 Ibid., pp. 2-3. 87 Parker, Autobiography, p. 9. 88 Ibid,, p. 10 89 Weiss, Life and Correspondence, p.13.

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original problems. Works on political economy and the philosophy of legislation were favorites with him. He had learned algebra and geometry, and was familiar with the use of logarithms. He read much on Sundays, in the long winter evenings, sometime in the winter mornings before it was light, and in the other intervals of toil. His favorite works were history - that of New England he was quite familiar with - biography and travel, but he delighted most of all in works of philosophy which give the rationale of the material or the human world; of course he read much of the theology of his times, and the literature of progressive minds found its way to the farmer’s kitchen table. His fathers before him had been bookish men.”90 Christopher Greene “did not think there was anyone in Lexington who had read as much as his grandfather.”91 John shared his love of reading with his family. Lore tells of his habit of gathering his family around the table in front of the fire and reading aloud to them till his grandmother’s great tall case clock struck eight; then “with a wave of his hand he dismissed them to bed.” 92 He took great care with his children’s intellectual and moral education; he or his wife would read whatever book their children read and would question them upon the contents, not letting them return it to the little circulating library upon the green until satisfied that the contents were properly understood. He was devoted to education, taking “great interest in the common schools, and was influential in bringing into them a better breed of teachers.” John’s son remembered him as grave, thoughtful and serious, and an ardently independent thinker. “In theology he was a Unitarian, in politics one of the five Federalists in Lexington . . . He was eminently just and magnanimous, fearless in the expression of opinion, often arbitrated in quarrels, was guardian of widows, orphans, etc., and administered estates, for there was no lawyer in town.”93 He was, by all accounts, a man of quiet, reserved dignity. Though his son esteemed him, in the eyes of his fellow Lexingtonians, John Parker was a man of low position. He had little or no estate. Greene recalled that his grandfather “ had debts on responsibilities for others that were not paid till near his death.”94 He lived on his mother’s land, and even considering her resources, the family fell well below the average Lexington household for assessed wealth by 1800. What value the estate had was credited not to John’s dignity, but his aged mother. The Widow Lydia Pierce maintained her position as head of the family, and her son honored her place.95 Being of little estate still mattered, even in antebellum Lexington. The townsmen still elected men of means to town offices and committees. Where John’s grandfather had been selectman and clerk, and his father constable and captain, John was rarely chosen for any office. Even in his later years, when the dignity of age might have made him a candidate, John was selected only occasionally, and then only for positions on the school or road committee of his immediate district; he was never elected to any major town office, despite his reputation as a learned, bookish man of fair and impartial judgment. His son’s reminiscences give no indication that John was disturbed by the low place he held; in fact, he seemed to accept that John was partly responsible for his financial woes. “He was not thrifty and so not rich,” his son admitted. Greene also remembered that his grandfather “had lost a good deal of money.96 Neither, though, was he a spendthrift, for the family lived simply. “The common plates were of wood; the pitcher, mugs, teacups and saucers, were of coarse earthenware; the great carving dishes were of thick well-kept pewter. The holiday service ‘for company’ was of the same material. Yet a few costly wine glasses were not wanting, with two long-necked 90 Parker, Autobiography, p. 19. 91Grodzins, American Heretic, . p. 4. 92 Weiss, Life and Correspondence, p.13. 93 Ibid., p.14. 94 Grodzins, American Heretic, p. 2. 95 Parker, Autobiography. “A tall, stately, proud-looking woman, she occupied an upper chamber, but came

downstairs to dinner -- other meals she took in her own room -- and sat at the head of the table on the women side thereof, opposite my father, who kept up the ancient Puritan respect for age -- always granting it precedence.” 96 Weiss, Life and Correspondence, p. 14; also Grodzins, American Heretic, p. 2.

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decanters, a few china teacups and saucers of the minutest pattern, and the pride of the buffet, a large china bowl.”97 Hannah Stearns, daughter of a well-to-do Lexington farmer, may have brought some of these finer items as part of her dowry. There was one area of agriculture where John Parker excelled, and those who remember the family from this time comment upon it. On a minute half acre near the old farmstead, he cultivated “the best peach orchard in the county of Middlesex.” Adopting “nearly all of the improvements” in this science “as they were tested and found valuable,” he “grafted valuable kinds of fruits upon the old trees. “He made that small parcel of land “yield in fine fruit years about 500 bushels of peaches,” which his son remembered marketing in Boston. Parker’s account book does not include the sales of the peaches, but it has numerous entries for his valuable, grafted peach trees.98 Perhaps then, John Parker’s lack of “thriftiness” was a fault not of motivation but of means: what he had, he improved. He simply did not have enough.

Pumps and Pipes What John Parker did have was the family’s mechanical genius. His son recalled: “My father was a thoughtful man, turning his large and active brain and his industrious hand to the mechanical and agricultural work before him; he was an originator of new and short ways of doing many things, and made his head save his hands. In this respect his father and grandfather resembled him”99 What he lacked in acres, he tried to make up for in acumen: he made machines of wood. Like his father, he mad mills and presses, with their engineered moving wooden parts. He also developed a new specialty, one that no one else in his vicinity provided. 100 He made pipes and pumps of wood. Wooden pipes were made with a special augur, that -- in the hands of a skillful craftsman -- could bore a channel down the center of a long, straight log. Parker sold pipe by the running foot, and he sold many, many feet. The wooden pumps he made drew more on his mechanical skill. A wooden pipe led from the water source up to a pump box. Inside the box was a piston and two sets of valves. A handle attached to the piston allowed it to be “pumped.” The vacuum created by the action of raising the piston drew water up the wooden pipe and through the first of two leather flaps or valves. When the piston was pressed down, the a second leather flap in the piston itself was forced open and water flowed out into the top of the pump box, where a spout waited to carry it out to a waiting container. Pumps and pipes made up nearly half of John Parker’s woodworking. His production of mechanical wooden items -including mills, presses, vises, and screws of various types, along with the pumps and pipes, constitute Parker’s specialty. From the account book, it is clear that wooden machines were the family’s main means of support.

97 Parker, Autobiography, pp. 7-8. 98 Parker, Autobiography, p. 9. 99Ibid., p. 10.

100 Christopher Greene recalling his grandfather’s skill at making pumps and cider presses, commented that “he was the only man about there that did that.” Grodzins, American Heretic, p. 2.

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Breakdown of Trade by Category (1815-1836)

N 500 o . o f 400

Series 1

A c c 300 o u n t 200 E n t 100 r i e 0 s

Farm Products

Labor

Mechanical

General

Coopering

Wheelwrighting

Joinery

Category of Trade

Parker was not a strict specialist; he still made general woodworking tools, a few coopered items, and a rare wheel or piece of furniture as requested. But he clearly developed a reputation and a market as a pump/pipe maker. Interestingly, his market did not reach far afield; most of his customers were from Lexington, Waltham, or continuous communities. One striking difference between John’s book and earlier accounts is in organization. The account book that begins in 1815 no longer kept “running accounts.” Each transaction was recorded as an individual entry with a corresponding payment in an opposing column. Most debt are “received in full” within one to six months. This is an important change. It indicates that John could no longer afford to extend long term credit; since his woodworking was his primary means of supporting his family, he needed to be paid quickly. Most likely, he also needed to be paid in cash for many transactions. He could no longer wait until his neighbor had a surplus of something he might need; though he could make up some of what his family’s land could not produce by accepting goods in kind, he also needed the increased flexibility of cash to allow him to purchase household needs in the marketplace. John’s new ties to the market place left the family vulnerable. Where a semi-subsistence farm could usually produce the most essential food, fuel, and clothing to keep a family alive, John no longer had that security. He and his family were now somewhat at the mercy of market forces - shifts in demand for pipes or in supply of the items he needed to purchase could cause great hardship. If we chart John’s woodworking production across the months of the year, we see - predictably -- that the rhythms of his life were dramatically altered from that of his father and grandfather. Since he was no longer farming, his woodworking no longer reflects the troughs and peaks of agricultural labor. July and August, months of mowing and reaping, no longer show any reduction in wood production; winter, when farm work eased, brought no noticeable increase. The only seasonal variation in production appears in the autumn, when demand for cider mills and presses (shown in blue) increased John’s orders.

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N o

Pumps(red) and Mill/Presses(blue) by Month

. 60

Series 1

o f 50

Series 2

A 40 c c t .

30 20

E n 10 t 0 r i e s

Jan.

Feb.

Mar.

Apr.

May

June July

Aug Sept. Oct.

Nov.

Dec

Months of the Year

Unlike his forefathers, John’s work did not alter with the cycle of the seasons. He was divorced from the ancient rhythms of birth, planting, reaping, death, and rebirth. He was also withdrawn from the natural world. As a mechanic in his belfry shop, he knew only the rising and the setting of the sun.

Losing Ground In 1818, the people of Lexington begin to talk of setting up a poor house. For years they had put their poor up for vendue; now town meeting began to discuss setting up a farm for the rising number poor landless. The folk sent to “the farm” would be required to work the land; sale of the produce they raised would offset the cost of their keep. Eventually, the poor farm was built next door to John Parker’s ancestral home. John Parker and his family did not have to go to the poorhouse. Even after his aged mother finally died in 1823, he managed to hold onto ownership of one half of the ancient farmhouse, his peach orchard, and the few acres he had acquired from his wife’s family. In the winter of 1832, when his son Isaac came to live with the 71-year-old widower, Parker still had a horse, a pair of oxen, two cows, and a pig. 101 He still had a vote in town meeting. But as he clung to his identity as an independent freeholder, he knew he was no longer a farmer. He could not produce the means of subsistence on his land. Nor did he have the resources to raise a market crop. He was now an artisan and a laborer. In 1825, the town planned an elaborate ceremony to remember and honor the events of 1775, when John’s father had fought for “life, liberty, and property.” Various committees were organized to plan and execute the festivities. John was not chosen for any of them. Though his father had been the leading actor in that drama, John did not play his father’s part in the reenactment. That honor went to the wealthy innkeeper William Munroe. A book was written, with the depositions and memories of those who had been present in 1775; John Parker Jr. was not included.

101 Town valuations; also note his account book Nov. 27, 1832.

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Conclusion If the Parker family’s fate had been an anomaly, it would be merely a sad and somewhat ironic story. But many families shared their situation in Revolutionary Lexington. An analysis of the financial well-being of all men who 102

died in Lexington between 1700 and 18000 and left probate records is telling. From the 1740s on, the level of debt (real and personal property less all liabilities owed at the time of death) rises rapidly. There were 97 probates that provided complete information on real assets, personal assets, and liabilities; the percentage of those whose estate was illiquid (debts exceeded personal property) or insolvent (debts exceed all property), rose steadily.

Period

Number

Solvent

Illiquid

Insolvent

1700-1719

N=2

100%

-

-

1720s

N=4

75%

25%

-

1730s

N=10

90%

10%

-

1740s

N=13

85%

15%

-

1750s

N=14

79%

21%

-

1760s

N=18

67%

22%

11%

1770s

N=17

47%

41%

12%

1780s

N=12

29%

42%

25%

1790s

N=7

29%

29%

43%

Overall, the ratio of debts (excluding legacies owed) to assets rises steadily in the years after Lexington reaches its maximum sustainable population in the 1740s. Even as farm families practice impartible inheritance and send their “extra” sons elsewhere, those who remain shoulder a greater and greater burden of debt. There are two disturbing peaks in indebtedness, one in the decade before the American Revolution, the other in the decade that introduced the 103 Industrial Revolution.

102

The probate analysis is based on a review of all identified probate records of men who died in Lexington between 1690 and 1800. The search for Lexington probates was based on a compilation of surnames appearing on Lexington tax lists from 1693, 1729, 1750 and 1774. The probate index was searched for any records existing for males with a surname appearing on any tax list. The search yielded 158 Lexington probates. These records were then analyzed to determine each decedent’s total personal property (household goods, farm goods, tools, and livestock, cash, notes of credit (interest bearing or non-interest bearing), total real property, total assets (sum of personal and real), and total debts (account book debt, interest and non-interest bearing notes, mortgages, or other liabilities). Decedents were determined to be solvent (total personal property exceeds total debt, so that creditors can be satisfied without sale of any real estate); illiquid (debts exceeds personal/liquid property); or insolvent (debt exceeds value of all assets). 103

Ratio of debts to assets is based on the 97 probate records that included complete information on the decedent’s assets and debts.

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Decade

Ratio of Debts to Assets

1730s

.21

1740s

.21

1750s

.28

1760s

.48

1770s

.42

1780s

.72

1790s

1.00

Families such as the Parkers, who were doing reasonably well in the early part of the eighteenth century, began to struggle with debt when the town reached its maximum sustainable population. The decision to practice impartible inheritance secured a sustainable farm for one son, but the strategy of obligating the inheriting son to provide legacies for his non-inheriting brothers introduced debt. The number of Lexington families who, like the Parkers, took this path rose dramatically after 1740s. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, most inheritors in Lexington received their estates without obligations; by mid-century nearly half of all probates specified that the son inheriting Lexington land reimburse his siblings for their share of the land’s value in cash.

104

In the decade before the Revolution, while Lexingtonians fussed that taxes were going to cost them their farms and reduce them to slave-tenancy, an increasing number of their neighbors were, in fact, experiencing that fate. The percentage of probated Lexington farms ordered sold to settle debts rose markedly as the century wore on. The precipitous increase in “vendues’ – public auction of property to settle debt – preceding the Revolution was eclipsed by an even more dramatic rise in the difficult financial years following the war. By the 1790s, half of all the probated properties in Lexington were ordered sold. Those, like John Parker Jr., who chose to remain in town were forced to earn their living by craft, trade, or by laboring for another. It is tempting to think that their plight fueled the 105 Industrial Revolution in the early nineteenth century by providing a ready labor base.

Decade

% Probated properties sold at Vendue

1690s-1740s

0%

1750s

10%

1760s

22%

1770s

29%

1780s

43%

1790s

50%

104

Of the 158 probate records, 80 specified whether or not the property heir had to provide legacies to siblings. Of those, the number of land inheritors burdened with financial obligations to siblings rose sharply after 1740 – from none during the 17320s and ‘30s to nearly half in the 1740s, and peaking at two-thirds in the 1750s and ‘60s. The number remains between 50% and 60% for the rest of the century. 105

Percentage of vendued properties is based on the 24 probate cases in which the sale of part or whole of the real estate to settle debt is specifically mandated by or requested of the probate judge. It does not include cases where an estate is insolvent but a plan for satisfying creditors is not stipulated.

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John Parker died in 1836; of his eleven children, only three sons survived him. Isaac, a “stolid type” took over the little farm and his father’s woodworking business; Hiram, a carpenter in Lowell, “struggled unsuccessfully with intemperance.”106 But the youngest son, fascinated like his father with reading and metaphysics, was a recent Harvard graduate, now preparing for the ministry. As an impecunious young man, he had hatched an unusual plan for getting the university education he so desperately wanted. He took and passed the entrance exams, matriculated, then went home to work on his father’s farm. He studied on his own and returned to the university only to take his exams. During the summers, in addition to tending his father’s farm, he worked for neighbors as hired help107 In time, he earned his degree. Theodore Parker was to become the minister to the Transcendentalists, muse of Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott. The boy who watched his father struggle to survive in the marketplace joined that group of philosophers who eschewed market relations and the drive for the dollar. The boy whose father lost the land preached about a God that could be found in nature. Theodore Parker was a romantic, but not about farming. He was not a Bronson Alcott who longed to return to the soil. Parker had done his share of farm work in his boyhood in Lexington and he happily chose books and pulpits over bulls and pigs. But it is quite possible that Theodore Parker was aware of the wrenching, dislocating change that was taking place in his world as semi-sustainable farms gave way to market crops and artisans became protoindustrial laborers. Divorced from the ancient cycle of the seasons, the meaning-laden rhythms of agrarian labor, the interconnected webs of neighborhood interdependence, it is no wonder that the people of antebellum New England looked for new creeds to provide structure and meaning to their lives. It is possible that Theodore Parker’s transcendentalism was a product of his father’s woodshop.

106 Grodzins, American Heretic, p. 27. 107 Ibid., p. 27.

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Appendix General Woodworking: wooden handles, all manner of farm tools, clapboards, ladders, ox bows, planks, saws, scythe snaths, sleds, etc... 13% of entries Coopering: barrels, casks, churns, hoops, pails, tubs, etc. ........................ 11% of entries Turning (lathe work): bowls, dishes, ladles, plates, platters, etc............ 6% of entries Wheelwrighting: cart wheels, spinning wheels, etc. ................................. 5% of entries Joinery: bedsteads, casements, chairs, coffins, doors, tables, trundles... 5% of entries Mechanical woodwork: screws, nuts, presses, mills, pulleys .............. 5% of entries Wooden Boxes: compass boxes......................................................... 30% of entries

Comparison of Josiah and John’s Non-Woodworking Production for Trade Household goods Labor (man or draft animal) Store goods Cash Misc. “sundries” Total of Non-Wood Credits:

Josiah 1737-1756 10% of entries 10% of entries 2.5% of entries 2.5% of entries 25% of entries

John 1757-1775 11% of entries 14% of entries 12% of entries 0.5% of entries 4.5% of entries 42% of entries

Breakdown of John’s Woodworking by Type General Woodworking: wooden handles, all manner of farm tools, clapboards, ladders, ox bows, planks, saws, scythe snaths, sleds, etc... Coopering: barrels, casks, churns, hoops, pails, tubs, etc. ....................... Turning (lathe work): bowls, dishes, ladles, plates, platters, etc............ Wheelwrighting: cart wheels, spinning wheels. etc. ................................. Joinery: bedsteads, casements, chairs, coffins, doors, tables, trundles... Mechanical woodwork: screws, nuts, presses, mills, pulleys .............. Total woodenware production:

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7% of entries 17% of entries 5% of entries 9% of entries 5% of entries 15% of entries 58% of entries

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Jonas Clarke’s Monthly Farm Labor 1766-1775 January: Getting wood Butchering

February: Getting wood Butchering Odd jobs March: Town Meeting (few farm chores) Sledding rocks April: Gardening Plowing Carting out dung and ashes May: Plowing Sowing garden and grains Carting our dung and ashes June: Planting Weeding Begin Haying/mowing July Haying/mowing Reaping, Threshing

August: Haying/mowing flax pulling September: Harvest/processing fruit - making cider Processing grains - threshing, cutting stalks October: Corn harvest Cider making House repairs November: Getting in vegetables Carting dung Beginning to slaughter animals

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John Parker’s Monthly Wooden Production 1757-1775 January Sleds, ax handles, rackets (snowshoes?) Tubs for salting meat Furniture Specialty Presses Spinning wheels, whorls, whorries February: Sleds, ax handles, rackets Barrels Spinning wheels and fliers March: Barrels Chairs Spinning wheels April: Carts- making, mending Wheels, tires (metal rim) May: Cheese presses and cheese hoops Churns & Pails Spinning Wheels June: Cheese hoops and cheese tubs Cheese presses and cheese mills Churns July Rakes Fork handles Scythes - snaths and nibs Cheese hoops August: Cider mill & presses Pails September Cider mills and cider presses Barrels and barrel hooping October Cider mills Cider presses Barrels November: Tubs for pickling/brining Tubs for salting meat Hogsheads, barrels, hooping

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Jonas Clarke’s Monthly Farm Labor 1766-1775 December: Butchering cows/oxen/pigs Getting wood Carting dung

John Parker’s Monthly Wooden Production 1757-1775 December: Tubs for salting meat Sleds and ax handles Chairs Spinning Wheels

Turning apples to cider was a two-step process; John produced two machines to do the job.108 The nut mill crushed apples into a pomace; the press squeezed the juice out of the ground pulp. Both were good-sized wooden machines, usually housed in a small barn or shed 20’-30’ long by 20’-25’ in width with a set of large doors in the center of their long side. Although almost every farmer had an orchard, a much smaller number owned the machines to turn their harvest into cider, since the investment in time, labor and money necessary to build a maintain the mills and presses was substantial. Even so, building and repairing cider mills and presses made up a major portion of John’s 109 autumn woodworking business. His account book is full of nuts and screws made of wood. “The nut mill gets its name from its working parts, the nuts. They are two large wood cylinders, eight, ten, or more inches in diameter, one with teeth or projections and the other with cavities or mortises that correspond and mesh with the teeth. A small space is maintained between the two cylinders thorough which the apples pass and are crushed. The nuts are set vertically into a frame with feed and collecting troughs. One nut has a large drive shaft, extending above the frame, which is attached to a sweep eight to eleven feet long.”110 Most sweeps were powered by horses, which were led in a circle around the mill, rotating the nuts and crushing the apples. Once the apples had been reduced to a pomace, the ground mixture was spread in layers with straw in between on the base of the press. “This pile, called a cheese, would then be squeezed by the pressure created by lowered screws with levers.”111

108 There are images of a cider mill and a cider press in Appendix VI. 109

See the appendix for a description of the cider mills and presses.

110 “Fresh Pressing: The Cider Mill at Old Sturbridge Village,” By Dennis D. Picard, Old Sturbridge Village Visitor Fall, 1985. 111 Ibid.

M. Fuhrer

Reckoning with the Parkers

36