Mary Hix Brown and Durant Brown interviewed by Mary Giles August 18, 1975
Mary Hix Brown and Durant Brown interviewed by Mary Giles August 18, 1975
Interviewer – Today I am talking with Mary Hix Brown and her son, Durant, about old Westport families, their genealogies and, if we have time, about some of the old houses in Westport. I’d like to start this with talk of any family you’d like to start with. We were just speaking of the Sowles.”
Durant Brown – Well, you know, Nathaniel Sowle was the first settler, and he came from Duxbury to Dartmouth. He was the son of George Sowle, who came on the Mayflower, and Nathaniel was one of the 36 original proprietors of the Town of Dartmouth, which included Westport. He settled near the large spring about three miles from the dock at Westport Point. It’s in a ravine between Route 88 and Main Road. That would be just south of your (Giles) property.* You see, Sowle owned up to the Allen property. His son was Nathaniel – well…
My mother was a Davis. The Davises came here from Assonet-Freetown and married two sisters. The Davises had all the land on the west side of Main Road and the Giffords had all the land on the east side. Mr. Gifford ran the ferry (at Hix Bridge). The Davises had three stores down there. They came down here about 1760. That was while Westport was still a part of Dartmouth. Westport didn’t become Westport until 1787. I found a record where Joe Davis got permission from the town to fill the land where the present town dock is. He built a store at the end of the dock. It is no longer in existence. After that, he built another dock on the west side
* At the time this tape was made, Mary Giles owned the Allen homestead property.
of the Point, which is where Mr. Leach is now. On the north of the dock Benjamin Davis had a grog shop in one corner of the shipyard.
You asked me about the relationship between my mother and these Davises. Well, we’re directly descended from Joe Davis. He had several brothers. Five brothers came down from Assonet. One brother, Aaron Davis, went up to __________. Benjamin Davis had a rum distillery where the Pacquachuck is, and that parking lot was the still house lot, and he made rum from there. This was around the 1800’s. Almost every seaport town had a rum distillery. Newport had 30 rum distilleries. They had this big rum and molasses trade in which they traded rum for slaves, and that accounts for the large Negro population of Newport. Slavery was legal then and slaves were auctioned at Newport. The rum and slave trade was mostly in Newport and Boston. New Bedford had more Cape Verde Indians from the Islands. That’s another story.
Later on, the Corys came from Newport and took over the stores and things, and it passed out of the Davis family. Stephen David lived—well, I guess it’s where Susan Paull (Carter) lives. Yes, Stephen Davis built that house. The house my mother owns, the Christopher Davis house, was built about 1818. About 1818 Christopher Davis and Captain Benjamin Davis went to Eastport, Maine to get a load of lobsters and they were lost at sea in a hurricane. They never finished the front half of the house.
The only other house is the Captain Ball house. That’s where the Reverend Shannon lives now. This Captain Ball was the ancestor of Mabel Crosby. If you go into that cemetery on that lot—Captain Ball had it built and was buried there. Mrs. Crosby, who is his only direct descendent, will be buried there. Due to unfortunate family circumstances, she sold the house and went to live where you (Mary Giles) live. This was an Allen house. They came originally from Sandwich on the Cape. Some of the Allens came from Lynn, Massachusetts to the Cape. I’m not sure when they came in from England.
The Allens were Quakers. Some were Quakers before they came here and some became Quakers. I know there’s an old Quaker cemetery. It’s in this farmer’s front yard in Sandwich where the Allens are buried. The Allens came here and first settled along the Drift Road. There’s a Green Allen Cemetery almost up to Hix’s Bridge and then there’s several private cemeteries all the way down the road. At the bend of the road up here, there used to be the Christopher Allen house. It’s been torn down. A little house that stands there now used to be part of the kitchen of the big Allen house. The last man who lived there – this ‘Asey’ Allen—he hated the place, so he went and built a house across the road and let his house fall down. It was similar in type to this house (Mary Hix Brown’s house).
I remember when that house was falling down. Mr Paull asked me whether, since I was interested in antiques, I would go up there and select the things that would be saleable so we could have Mr. Wilkie, from Little Compton, hold an auction there.
Durant – It’s really ‘Asa’ Allen, but around here they call it ‘Assey,’ but that’s where they (the Allens) came from—down at the Cape—and they were one of the original settlers. I think they came to Lynn with the Puritan migration. They were one of the early settlers of New Bedford. Allen Street is the longest street in New Bedford. They owned a lot of land there and here. Allen Street goes from the power station, all the way out to Tucker Road, which is right by Smith Mills. That was the north boundary of the Allen property. There were five farms in New Bedford—the Kempton farm, the Allen farm, the Ricketson farm and the Russells. These were the largest shares. They were supposed to be the sons of the Duke of Bedford, so they named it Bedford Village, and then it was called New Bedford because there already was a Bedford Village in Massachusetts.
This Charlie Russell, who lives up the road, is probably a descendent. There’s a lot of Russells around. Up in Acushnet, there’s the Russell Library. That was started with the money from the Russell fortune from whaling days.
The average shares of land here in Westport ran anywhere from 500 to 1600 acres. In Dartmouth there were 36 shares altogether when it was divided up. Some people would sell part of their share off to their friends and neighbors. You see, in the case of Nathaniel Sowle, he bought out two or three neighbors and their descendents live here now. Macomber Gifford is one. Israel Macomber lived where the Yeomans’ barn is. There was a house there. The house is gone—it was Israel Macomber’s. I wouldn’t know when he lived here without looking it up. He married one of the Sowle sisters and that’s how the Macombers got the land there.
I found the division deed where they divided up the whole of Westport Point into three or four properties and the Macombers got one. One of the Macombers married an Eldridge and he owned it for about ten years and then he sold it back to the Macombers and ever since then that area has been known as Eldridge Heights. These Eldridges came from somewhere down on the Cape. They’re in New Bedford now.
There were so many Ralph and William Earles, that you have to distinguish them, but the first was Ralph.
Mary – He married Joanna Savage.
Durant – He (Ralph Earle) lived there at Apponagansett Harbor, right across from Russells’ Garrison. The last I knew, he was buried over there in the field. They’ve got a development over there now. Maybe they’ve abolished it, but there was a stone over there about this, Ralph Earle died in 1717. It’s just a slate stone out in the field with no protection whatsoever.
It’s dreadful that the only 1600 house here in Westport was allowed to fall down.
Durant – Well, I saw it fall down. My mother took pictures of it. It was a Rhode Island stone-ender. I think the John Arnold house over in Rhode Island is a very close approximation of it. On the east end, it was all stone. It had three fireplaces. It had a combination chimney and fireplace. It had an enormous fireplace—would hold four logs.
Waite built that house. Reuben Waite had a mill. The family came to Boston and then down. Some of them lived in Wakefield. Well anyway, they weren’t Mayflower descendents. You see, that house dated back to 1680 or something. It was the only house that survived the King Philip’s War aside from this Wilbur House over in Little Compton.
Little Compton was known as Sakonnet Village and it wasn’t separated from Dartmouth ‘til 1686 – then it was called Little Compton. There were settlers there before that. This Captain Benjamin Church was there in 1674. Around 1686, the Dartmouth Colony joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony and became the Province of Massachusetts Bay.
Mary – I have quite a little on the Waite family. In different generations, back in England, the name was spelled Waite, Watte, Waight, Wayght. When some of the family came to New England, Waite or Wait was used. The different members of the family that came arrived in New England before 1644. The Waites and the Hixes are related because one of the Waites is buried down here on our property.
Durant – Robert Hix came from London in 1621 to seek his fortune. He was a Separatist, went to a Separatist Church near London Bridge. He was a businessman and they had a depression there and he came over here and married when he was 40 years of age. He came to Plymouth in the ship, ‘Plymouth’ – the one that Philip Delano, ancestor of President Roosevelt (Franklin), came on. Robert Hix is buried in Plymouth down near that canopy there. You see the first cemetery was down near the shore there. They dug the bones up and put them under the canopy, and I’m pretty sure that Robert Hix is one of them.
Robert Hix had a son, Samuel, who first went to Easton where he married a Doan. The Reverend Doan is buried down at Easton. Then he went to Nauset near the Nauset Light, where one was fined for attending Quaker Meetings and then Dartmouth was opened up for settlement and they came to it. They purchased Dartmouth from the Indians about 1640. You see Dartmouth was incorporated in 1664, so he came to what is now East Fairhaven and settled on what is now Shaw’s Cove at Mattapoisett Neck. He had a farm there on the brook. There they had trouble with the Indians because the Pilgrims herded these Indians into various reservations. They had one at Freetown and one at Mattapoisett Neck. Most of this was worthless land and Samuel Hicks happened to have the only water supply available, and he had arguments with the Indians because they had the only good fishing hole. He was wounded and was an invalid for years.
He had a son, Joseph. We don’t have a list of all his children because the early records of Dartmouth have been destroyed. This son, Joseph, went to Portsmouth where he was a carpenter. There he built a house for the Earle family. For this, he received 100 acres of land in the westernmost arm of the Acoaxet River. I found an old cellar hold down here where he built a home about 1702 on these hundred acres.
All that’s left now, of these 100 acres, is 21 acres right here on the Main Road. It once included Brayton’s Farm and another, and the cove down here I known as ‘Hicks Cove.’ The one I have is part of the ‘American Neptune Series.’
Joseph Hix built this house roughly around 1700. Then he got a job with George Cadman, who lived in Portsmouth. He was also an early proprietor of Dartmouth. He owned Cadman’s Neck and that house over there known as the Handy House was the Cadman House. Cadman ordered Joseph Hix to build him four flat boats for a ferry.
Are you speaking of the Handy House, or that red house?
Durant – Well, that red house was built by Joseph Hix too, about 1712. The Whites came along later. They are descendents of Peregrine White of the Mayflower.
Charlotte White of Charlotte White Road was a Negro. She was a descendent of slaves. There were several slaves here in Westport. I guess there is a slave cemetery down on the Almy Farm – the family still takes care of it. It’s down almost to the beach toward Barney’s Joy. The tombstones are just fieldstones—and, I think there are slave cemeteries up along Sodom Road, but I don’t know just where they are.
Oscar Palmer knows a lot of this early history. He knows where the slave cemeteries are up there. He’s good on the history up there. I don’t know how well he is right now.
Let’s go back to Joseph Hix and the Drift Road, and Hix Bridge.
Durant – Well, Joseph Hix ran this ferry for Cadman, and he built that house and it’s referred to in the deed as ‘the house by the sedge flat.’ There used to be a marsh there until a few years ago, and a fellow took it away. That’s why it was called the ‘esedge flat.’ As I said, Joseph Hix built four flat boats and the inventory mentions chain, etc. Well, he had a chain ferry. The way it operated was—they’d have the chain, and the tide would pull it across, moving the poles; the tide would change the angle—you had…he also had a carry-all. That was for people that wanted to sit down. The others were for wagons. That ferry operated between 1680 and 1730.
Then William Hix, son of Joseph Hix, built the first bridge. The way he built it was, he took two flat boats and then they built piers on two more flat boats, etc. That was Hick’s Bridge. That stood from 1738 to 1938 when the state built the present bridge. It was in the paper that they found the remains of these flat boats.
Now, when they wanted to bring down (from the Head) the whale boats, they built the bridge in such a way that between Hix’s house there was a low place, and they carried them around the end of the bridge there—put the boats on rollers and rolled them around ‘cause they wasn’t a draw bridge. This is near where the Stevens are now. This place has all been dug out and William Hicks probably dug it all out to make the fill, and in these deeds there mentions a spreading oak, and there is still an enormous oak there. The oak is north of this ‘gorge’ place so referred to in the deeds. That’s when this was first built, and they charged the town for it until about 1870. The state had it after that. The bridge was included in the deed to the Hicks’ property for several generations, and later it was separate.
Captain Barney Hicks (who owned this) was a descendent of this Joseph. He had a sloop and he traded with the West Indies, and he sailed for Christopher Champlain of Newport, who owned a rum distillery over there, and he kept him supplied with molasses. He would go to Africa with rum—to the mouth of the Congo and trade the rum for slaves who were brought to Santo Domingo and then the molasses was brought up to Newport to make the rum. This was a triangular trade.
Barney Hicks owned the sloop, and he sailed it, and was one of the suppliers of slaves for Santo Domingo. The rum supplied all the taverns.
With the profits of that in 1786, he built this house (Mary Hix Brown home on Main Road) after the Revolution. The first part of this house cost $1,000, and I think that at the time the boards for the oak frame were coming from Eastport, Maine.
This kitchen part of the house was added about 1840 or so. Each generation added a little bit to it—but the ell out back might have come from the Joseph Hicks’ house down here. It was featheredge paneling on end, and so it was probably moved up and attached to this. It was originally designed to have two short ells, but they never did that. They made one big ell. That’s why there’s a big blank space on the end, and the windows all close together. I dug out and fund the foundation of the other ell and they never put it on.
Over in Newport, now you see these large houses with two short ells in the back. Of course, they had all these builders’ manuals, which were developed mostly over in Newport. All through this area is copied the construction of Newport, and in Newport you get a complete evolution of construction that applies to this area. Newport is interesting because it has the largest number of houses, something like 600 to 800 from that period. There aren’t many places like it. The only other place I’ve seen, are the Newburyport or Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, most of them have been destroyed. They’ve been allowed to be Negro slums and get run down. In Newport, they are doing quite a job.
Mary – interrupts with more on the story of the Earles….the children of Ralph Earle and Joanne Savage were Mary Earle, who married William Cory and Martha Earle, who married William Wood, and Sarah Early, who married Thomas Cornell, and this land our house is on came from a Dorcas Sprague, who married a Ralph Earle. Sprague got the land from the Indians—from Massasoit and Wamsutta. They deeded this land. The deed to this Hicks’ homestead in Westport was through William Earle II, son of Ralph and Joanne Earle, to Joseph Hicks, on March 28, 1702 – one hundred acres in consideration of a dwelling house built and furnished by Joseph Hicks in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The witness was Stephen Arnold, and it was recorded August 6, 1703. That’s the deed to this place here.
The old Hicks house is right down the hill from this one – just across the field. There, that’s the old dooryard. Some of this stuff (furniture) came from there. Somebody told me that it was rented at one time. All I can remember is that it was tumbling down and they had it braced up. For a while it was rented to a Sowle, and he went by this window n the south side. There was a fireplace in here and one day he went by this window and he saw this woman sitting by the fireplace smoking a pipe. In the kitchen, on the northwest corner, he saw that there was a leaded glass window, diamond paned, over the sink. I think he said that was where the kitchen was. Hicks, who lived there then, had married Mary Earle, the window of Caleb Earle, who came later than the Mayflower. That’s how he had all this land that extended from the Yeomans’ land up to Cornell Road. He lived over at Analine’s Cove ‘til the Indian menace got bad, about 1640, and then he went to Plymoth.
One of the early Earles, who had been taken by the Indians, escaped. It wasn’t much of an escape, because he lived across from Russell’s Garrison, and that was only a ten-minute walk, so it wasn’t any great escape.
They had this system of garrison houses, and they had this one over at Acushnet, and this one over at what’s called ‘Parting Ways,’ and then another up at Middleboro, and then Captain Benjamin Church had a garrison house over at Sakonnet. Usually, they tried to locate these near the water so they could escape with a boat.
This Ralph Earle of Dartmouth, has a descendent, Ralph Earle, who was a painter, whose work is represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Art. (Most of his work is in the Andrew Mellon Collection.)
There’s an Earle cemetery over here on Brayton Morton’s place—now the Yeomans’ property. The Yeomans’ place was owned by the Macombers, and to the north the Cornells owned it. The Cornells were one of the original proprietors. They always lived along Cornell Road and they had a good share of the land.
Now you know, Captain Barney Hicks built this house. He’s the one who made 45 trips to Santo Domingo, and during the Revolution, he was a privateer. He had a commission and he had this sloop, and raided British shipping. He was captured and was imprisoned on the British ship ‘Jersey.’ It was shipwrecked off Atlantic City, and he was the only one saved. He was cast ashore with a dog and he lost his leg. I have his wooded leg upstairs. We have a Sunday wooded leg covered with leather, and for just around the farm, an ordinary wooded one.
Captain Barney went to Philadelphia later, and another time was imprisoned in Dartmoor prison in England. They had a meeting there, and he got out somehow. They had about 6,000 American prisoners there (during the Revolution).
About Mary Hix Brown’s family…
My grandmother, Phoebe Snell Allen, had a very big family, and she had this early English herbal, which she thought as much of as she did the Bible. I have it now. In the afternoons, she’d go upstairs and read it whenever she had time.
This is another early Westport relationship through the Davis family. Grandmother’s maiden name was Mary Allen, who married Alfred Davis. Mary Allen’s mother’s name was Caroline Davis, and she married William Hicks (Hix)—that’s how we’re related to the Allen family.
Some facts gleaned…
- Andrew Hicks’ ship was built about 1880 and sank about 1920 off the Cape. It had been converted to a coal barge and sand during the First World War. Andrew Hicks, in 1836, owned about 11 ships. He’s buried in the cemetery. He worked over in the Abraham Manchester Store, and after three years, returned to this farm.
- Property of Emerson Howland and Charlotte Hicks—after Emerson passed away, the Braytons bought it.
- The Howlands came on the Mayflower to Plymouth and then went to Barnstable, and from Barnstable to Westport. Nicholas Howland had the ferry at Stone Bridge and was killed by the Indians.
There follows on the tape some small talk between Mary Hix Brown and Mary Giles.