The Region Near Hix Bridge by Gladys Gifford Kirby published in 1925

On June 20, 1925, the Old Dartmouth Historical Society again visited the Hix Bridge area, as it had in 1912. Seated under the trees at the Handy house as guests of its owners, Mr. & Mrs. Abbott P. Smith, the society was first addressed by its president, George H. Tripp, and then heard a paper written by Gladys Gifford Kirby, and read this day by Edward Macomber, Westport’s Town Clerk.

It has been said, “The great object of local history is to furnish the first elements of general history, to record facts rather than deductions from facts. In small settlements dotted over this country were found many of the first moving causes which operated upon and revolutionized public opinion. Many facts, min­ute in themselves, and regarded by many as trivial and unimport­ant, are really of great service. The details, which it is the appropriate province of the local historian to spread before the public, are not so much history itself as material for history.” This evaluation of the worth of local history is reaffirmed and then doubly reaffirmed by the incidents which transpired in this region in the earlier days of our history and even before the white man ever stepped his foot upon the soil of Old Dartmouth.

It was past the site of this house, where the road winds, that the Indians of this section made a trail leading from Acush­net to Seaconnet. How long this trail had been made before the landing of our Pilgrim fathers at Plymouth no one can tell, but we do know that when these ancestors of ours, had become suffic­iently well established at Plymouth to explore, and even settle in Apponaganset, Acusheat and Acoxet, that they then found this well established trail.

After King Philip’s War when the Wampanoags had been effectually subdued for all time and the white man felt it safe to come and dwell in the western part of Old Dartmouth, these early white settlers widened this trail as least as early as 1686, and made a road which served as a second unit of transportation and communication between the Plymouth Colony and the Rhode Island Colony, the first unit being the Old County Road.

Sometime later, some adventurous soul, just who we have not yet been able to learn, established a ferry where Hix bridge now stands. This ferry doubtless made travel along this trail more enjoyable and safer. The ferryman apparently did not apply to the colonial legislature for permission to conduct his ferry; however such formalities and legalities were probably overlooked in this remote and sparsely settled part of the colony.  In spite of the lack of the usual documentary proof, we do know that a ferry was conducted here prior to 1710 because on that date Mary Hix of Westport Point, whose husband Joseph had recently died and as a result must find some means of earning a living for her children, purchased from George Cadman land laying on the west bank and south of the present bridge which was bounded on the west by “The place where the ferry now lands.” Upon the land purchased Mary Hix built a house which is now standing at the west end of the present bridge on the south side of the road. This house Mary used as a tavern and from 1710 to 1735 had each year an inn keeper’s license to sell alcoholic liquors to the thirsty trave­ler who might venture that way. These licenses were issued annual­ly by the county. So far as we can see everybody who asked for such a license always received one, so Mary Hix living in a time when the buying and selling of alcoholic beverages was respect­able and the beverages themselves were looked upon as a necessary commodity was able to earn a comfortable living for herself and family. However Mary Hix was one of the very few women who ever applied for a county liquor license in Bristol County.

After twenty-five years as proprietor of the tavern Mary Hix apparently tired of this sort of business, [and] sold the tavern and the ferry which she had also been conducting to her son, William. William although he continued to have a license and do business at the tavern was apparently more interested in developing trans­portation facilities than his tavern. Of course he may have reason­ed with real business sagacity and prudence that the easier and more comfortable that he made traveling in the vicinity of his tavern, the greater number of travelers he could attract to his tavern. However what he did was an actuality. He at once started to build a bridge across the river at the place where the ferry had been running.

After three years work the bridge was finally completed in 1738. No sooner was the bridge completed than William Hix began to have his troubles, The voters at the Head of Westport under the leadership of George Lawton and William Sisson protested to the general court that William Hix, who had a privilege of a ferry, had built a bridge across the river which was a common nuisance, because it obstructed the passage of vessels up and down the river and that the bridge be removed. The court immediately issued a notice to Hix to show why this petition should not be granted.  By way of answering this notice, Hix, who apparently had inherit­ed some of his mother’s executive ability, succeeded in getting himself elected to the general court. In 1739, by way of res­ponding to this notice, Hix showed that he had, at his own expense, built a commodious bridge at a convenient place and that it was a .great benefit to the public and also at this time petitioned the court to establish the same as a toll bridge. The court granted the petition and allowed Hix to charge the same amount for toll as he had previously charged for ferriage. In 1743 he was allow­ed to double the rate because of the cost of building and maintaining the bridge. These rates so far as we can learn never were changed after that date and were finally abolished when the bridge became the property of the town in 1871.

These rates in 1743 were posted at either end of the bridge and were as follows:

        Single Passenger …………….. .….1 penny

                    Every Horse and Man …….. …2 pence
                    Every Horse, Ox and Cow ……1 penny.
                    Every Score of Sheep or Hogs ..5 pence per score.
Undoubtedly these rates were translated into United States currency in the later part of the nineteenth century. 

After the bridge ceased to be the property of the Hix family, its subsequent owners were Joseph Gifford, who later married one of William Hix’s daughters, John Avery Parker, Levi Standish, Josiah Brownell, Dr. James H. Handy and Frederick Brownell. Frederick
Brownell sold the bridge to the town of Westport in 1871.

During Frederick Brownell’s period of ownership he somewhat modernized the method of collecting the toll rates. He issued tickets which were sold in strips at reduced rates and were inscribed as follows:
                    Bridge Ticket
                                              For Foot Passenger
                                              {Signed) F. Brownell

Some of these tickets are still to be found among certain families who have lived in Westport for several generations and these tickets are much prized by their owners.

Tradition says that one of the chief forms of amusement for a certain class of young men used to be to race their horses down the hills on either side of the bridge, both being much steeper than at present, and at such a rate of speed that the gate keepers at either end were afraid to keep the gates closed for fear of a  terrible accident when the horses should come crashing into the gate. Thus as the gate keeper would open the gate the horse and driver would go galloping past and similarly intimidate the second gate­keeper, thus making it possible to pass over the bridge without paying toll much to the drivers’ amusement but more to the gate­keeper’s wrath. While the record of these travelers is only oral tradition, we have the more authentic record of those who traveled past the Handy house and over Hix Bridge In 1842 Alfred Richards, who at about this time purchased several stage coach routes in the region round about and established at least one new one,  inserted an advertisement relating to this new route in an old New Bedford Mercury which reads as follows:

New Bedford and Tiverton Mail.

Leaves Stage Office 119 Union Street, New Bedford, for Tiverton Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, at 10½ o’clock, on the ar­rival of cars from Boston and Taunton, via South Dartmouth, Russell’s Mills, Adamsville, Little Compton Commons, Tiverton Four Corners and arrive at Howland’s Ferry Bridge the same afternoon.

Leaves Lawton’s Hotel, Howland’s Ferry Bridge, Mondays, Wed­nesdays, Fridays at 7 o’clock A.M. by the same route and arrives in New Bedford in time to take the afternoon cars for Taunton andBoston.  N.B. There has been a new arrangement of this line by which passengers are conveyeddirectly across from Adamsville to Tiverton Four Corners.

Thus we learn that on any Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday eighty years ago sometime after noon a stage coach would stop at the tavern and after the passengers had refreshed themselves and the coach horses had been changed the coach would wind its torturous way up the steep hill past the spot where we are today assembled, proceed­ing along this same road to Howland’s Ferry Bridge. On the alter­nate days of the week a coach could be seen winding its way along the same road on its way to New Bedford.

Six months later, because of the increasing prosperity of Westport Point, due to the whaling industry, Richards notifies the public that after “Aug. 1, 1842 a carriage will leave Hix’s Bridge on the arrival of stage from New Bedford, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for Westport Point. Returning a carriage will leave Westport Point, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for New Bedford at 9 o’clock A.M.”

Although these stage coaches left mail at the tavern no post­master was appointed by the United States government until some years later and when the appointment was made Frederick Brownell was given the position. So the first post office of this region, the third to be established in Westport, the other two being at the Head and at the Point, was located either in the tavern or across the road in the store which Brownell had built and which has now been remodeled and is used today as a gift shop. This store was evidently considered a place of importance in the town for at a town meeting held May 14, 1827, it was voted that the store of Frederick Brownell be one of three places in town where town meetings warrants must be posted fourteen days before a town meeting.

Frederick Brownell was town clerk from 1818 to 1845 and at present holds the record in Westport for long and continued ser­vice in that office, A century ago the fact that a man held one or more town offices in no ways made him ineligible to hold an office under the Federal government. Thus Brownell’s appointment as postmaster of the South Westport post office, did not force him to resign his office of town clerk. Under similar conditions Brownell’s record could not be duplicated today.

A story has come to us in connection with the days when Mr. Brownell was keeping store at the bridge. He had a customer whose bill had been long overdue. Finally he warned the gentleman that he could have no more goods unless he paid cash for them. The custom­er took the warning good naturedly and paid cash for a few weeks for all articles he purchased, which by the way were not of the high priced kind. Then one Saturday afternoon he came rushing into the store with a lengthy memorandum in his hand — and said, hand­ing Mr. Brownell the memorandum, “Mr. Brownell please get me these things as soon as you can and put them in my wagon and then I want to pay you.”  Mr. Brownell and his clerk quickly filled the order, then carried the goods outside placing them in the wagon. While they were placing the goods in the wagon, the man climbed to the wagon seat and as the last parcel was place on the wagon floor gave his horse a cut with the whip and drove madly away leaving the two men standing in the middle of the road gazing dazedly at the fast retreating horse and wagon. In a few moments Mr. Brownell collected his scattered wits and yelled to the customer, “You said you wanted to pay for those things.” The answer came reechoing down the hill as the speaker continued on his way, “I do, but I can’t.”

Earlier, during the time the tavern was owned by Joseph Gifford, it witnessed many scenes which were unlike those generally enacted within tavern walls. These occurred during that period when Westport was trying to organize it­self as a town, when it was choosing a representative to the gener­al court, who should vote upon the ratification of the Constitution and when it was attempting to have the boundary lines legally de­termined. When Westport separated from Old Dartmouth, it of course had no town house and until such was erected, the town meetings were held in dwelling houses. The houses which were used in this capacity were those belonging to William Gifford and Joseph Gifford.

Both of these are still standing but the one which interests us most today is the Joseph Gifford house or Mary Hix tavern. At a town meeting held here March 1778, William Almy was

drawn a juror. It is the same William Almy who long served as moderator of the early town meetings and who was sent by Westport to the general court to ratify the constitution.

At a town meeting held there April 1788 votes were cast for governor and lieutenant-governor, John Hancock received 75 votes for governor and Samuel Adams received 36 votes for lieutenant-governor. At this meeting a committee to build the town house was also elected which consisted of George Lawton, Wesson Kirby, and William Hicks. The following article was also acted upon and shows at this surprisingly early date the apparent need of some sort of fish and game laws.

“To act upon the Request of a Number of the Inhabitants of the Said Town to know the towns mind respecting regulation the fish­ing in the Rivers and the Harbours in the Said Town.”

“And in petitioning the General Court to enable the Town to carry the Regulations into Execution or to otherwise act as they shall think proper.” “The meeting in disposing of this article chose a committee of three men of which Joseph Gifford was one, to regulate the fishing.”

At another town meeting held in June of the same year at the same house the meeting voted to pay “Lemuel Manchester nine shill­ings for making a gate for the Pound and “Lemuel Bailey four shill­ings for making a jury box.” This jury box is apparently the one now in Town Hall. The type of hinges used on the box, the dovetailing and general structure and design of the box, also its evidence of never having been painted, all indicate that the one now in use and the one made by Lemuel Bailey in 1788 are one and the same.

We will now leave the bridge and the buildings in its immed­iate environ and climb to the Handy house where we are today assumbled. The interesting history of this house was carefully looked up and entertainingly recorded by the late Henry B. Worth several years ago but some of its history is worth our reconsideration. The land on which the house stands was originally set to William Cadman. In 1714 Cadman’s daughter, Elizabeth, married William White of Rochester and her father built the eastern third of the present house between 1714 and 1716, placing the house and farm at the disposal of his daughter and her husband. In Cadman’s will probated in 1729, he gave the property to William White and his wife Eliz­abeth and it ultimately passed to Jonathan White, Humphrey White and Eli Handy and from the heirs of Eli Handy was sold to its pre­sent owner.

On July 19, 1716, George Cadman sold to the Acoakset Meeting of Friends, one acre and a half and sixteen rods (of land) lying and being within the Township of Dartmouth aforesaid and is the north west corner of that lot wherein his son-in-law William White now liveth and is by measure sixteen rods in length and six­teen rods in breadth, bounded southward and eastward by his own land and northward and westward by undivided land.” For this piece of land the society paid three pounds current money.

Not only did the Cadman estate furnish land for the first meeting house but a part of the original estate today serves as the town cemetery and the town hall lot.

Among other bequests in Cadman’s will was that of a slave which he left his daughter. This was not an uncommon bequest in those days although the Dartmouth Society of Friends as early as 1716 passed a resolution against the further purchasing of “servants for life” (slaves) The Cadmans and Whites although devout Friends were not adverse to keeping slaves [nor] to buying  them. There were two slaves, who were at one time the pro­perty of the White family, who each in a different way have left their record in the town’s history. One of these slaves, or ex-slaves as they were in reality, was known as Dinah White.

At a town meeting held December 12, 1789 (Saturday) at 12 o’clock at the town house “the voters were called upon to decide whether Dinah White, an aged Negro woman, who had been the property of George White but whom his heirs now refused to support, should become a town’s charge or whether action should be taken to make these heirs, who had so kindly given Dinah her freedom, when she was too old to work and care for herself, pay for Dinah’s support.” The voters promptly decided on thc latter course and the heirs evidently agreed to abide by the town’s decision for the case is not further alluded to in the town’s records.

The other Negro woman was named Charlotte White.. She was of estimable character and highly respected by all who knew her. For many years she lived in a small cottage on the road leading from the Sodom road to the Central Village road. So highly was she regarded by her fellow townspeople that the road on which she lived for so many years came to be known as the Charlotte White road, and that road is today so legally referred to in all town documents.

This brief glimpse into the history of this region about Hix Bridge has shown us something of the development of our scheme of transportation from the trail to the stage coach route and the dif­ficulties often attending upon such a period of transition. Also how the ratification of the Constitution affected even the smallest and youngest towns in the thirteen states, as well as something of the attitude of some northerners toward slavery in the days when slave owning was still quite respectable in the north. Though these facts may be trivial and unimportant in themselves, they often help to interpret the greater issues of history of which they, in real­ity, are but a minor part.