Item #19692 Autograph letter and poem transcription signed David Baker, to Rev. Mr. Felt of Hamilton. David Baker.

Autograph letter and poem transcription signed David Baker, to Rev. Mr. Felt of Hamilton.

Ipswich [Mass.], ca. 1834. 3 pages on a two-leaf folio measuring 9.75 x 7.88 inches on laid paper watermarked J. Green and Son 1831. Approx. 325 words in total. Some light soiling; in nearly fine condition, quite legible. Item #19692

“Behold this Bridge of lime and stone / The like before was never known / For beauty and magnificence —— / Considering the small expense.” An early example of American oral local history collected in the field, the Ipswich resident David Baker (1850 census records suggest he made mathematical instruments) here writing to the antiquarian Joseph B. Felt in Hamilton, Mass., who was then on the point of publishing his extensive History of Ipswich, Essex, and Hamilton (Cambridge, 1834); Baker here suggests adding this bit of picturesque local literary history concerning the Choate Bridge in Ipswich: “I happened to step into Mr Sam’l Barkers store just as Mr. Dutch was repeating the latter part of these verses, which seem’d to gingle [sic] so well that I desired him to commence them again, while I went to the desk and wrote them down as he repeated them: it you think them worth inserting in your proposed history, they are at your service.” Massachusetts public records suggest lifetime Ipswich resident Nathaniel Dutch (1752-1836) as Baker’s source of the text, the verses per the letter here first “composed by Mr. John Clark of Rowley (a blind man) and recited by him on the stone Bridge in Ipswich in presence of Col Choate and several spectators, one of whoom [sic] (Nath’l Dutch then a lad about twelve years old in 1764) repeated them. . . .” John Choate oversaw the construction of the stone bridge, evidently the first so constructed in colonial America, at the cost of £500 to the town and a like sum to the county. (See Felt, page 53.) The bridge, since expanded and renewed, is still in service today, and much fanciful and poorly-sourced newspaper and online lore exists around the supposed popular mistrust of this radical masonry construction and design, and of the steps taken to insure Col. Choate’s personal safety in case of a collapse when the bridge opened (Choate provided with a brace of pistols and a relay of horses to whisk him out of the county ahead of the angry mob, etc., etc.), the bulk of which would seem to spring from a later undated Boston Post article summarized in a brief article, “The First American Stone-Arched Bridge,” in The Magazine of History, with Notes and Queries, vol. 3, no. 2 (February, 1906) published by William Abbatt in New York. (This Boston Post source otherwise unlocated in a search of an online newspaper database.) But as one returns somewhat closer to the date of the bridge construction, we observe that the Rev. Felt remains silent in his local history as to colorful anecdote of any kind on the subject of the bridge, beyond citing local records—and indeed, Felt seems to have chosen in his quest for verifiable detail not to include the verses provided by Baker. The 16 lines of verse allude here in true New England fashion not only to the novel design of the bridge but also to the fiduciary sagacity of Col. Choate. Alas, not even the smallest shard or glittering flake of detail on the life of Clark, the blind bard of Rowley, has been extracted from the historical ore of New England local records; Clark does not seem to have published any obvious separately printed pieces or appear in what digitized local newspapers we have searched. These verses have of late been published online by an antique dealer, who repeats and seemingly embroiders the various colorful anecdotes of the construction and opening of the bridge (cf. the brace of pistols, etc.), though again with no sources cited for the local color or even for the verses; the Ipswich town historian has also published these verses online on an Ipswich history website in a frustratingly undated but ca. 2015 article about the bridge, claiming the verses had been recorded from Dutch’s recounting in 1831 (rather than 1832-33, as here) but as with the tradesman here citing no sources for the verses he quotes. Whether this manuscript here in hand is the fons et origo of the text of this pontifical piece remains an open question, at least until historians decide to disclose their sources instead of simply tossing these verses out as a bit of whimsical local color, but certainly this manuscript may well be the first written source of an example of colonial American occasional verse. With the integral direction on the verso here to Rev. Felt but no evidence of posting; docketed on the verso in ink, “Respecting Choates Bridge.”.

Price: $350.00

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