When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Nurse!

Yes, a nurse is what I said I wanted to be for many of my developmental years. In third grade, I checked out a lot of biographical books from my school library.  Two of them were on the lives of Clara Barton (the pioneer nurse who also founded the American Red Cross), (1821-1912) and Florence Nightingale, (a celebrated English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing, (1820-1910).

Yet, throughout my youth, my parents stressed the importance of marrying and raising a family–“that’s what women are meant to do,” they said.   I’m not sure how so many parents of our baby boomer generation got caught up in such nonsense, especially since these parents were the same people who had to adapt traditional male and female roles during the Great Depression and World War II.  Or, perhaps, it was because they had so many struggles during these times that they couldn’t see the opportunities and possibilities.

Throughout history, women who were given opportunities, or made a personal commitment to advance their education shined and usually excelled at leading fully successful professional and happy family lives.  Let’s just say if I had it to do over again, I, too, would have chosen college and a career in medicine.  That’s not to say that I would have foregone marriage and children.  The world now allows us to be known for more than one fragment of our lives.  And, if the truth be told, I probably worked just as hard or harder to gain a professional status and raise a family, too, than if I first went to college and then took on family life.  Thank you to all those women who came before me to give me today’s choices.  And cheers, here, for just one them:

Susan Dimock ImageSusan Dimock (1847-1875) is a 19th Century achiever who on August 20, 1872, became the resident physician at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. Susan’s family came over on the Mayflower with the infamous Massachusetts’ Fuller’s and Lathrop’s and she is my cousin through these families intermarriages.  Her parents were Henry Dimock (a newspaper journalist) and Mary Malvina Owens of Washington, NC.

Susan Dimock Newspaper Article

Letter, 1868

From Susan Dimock to her mother soon after arriving in Zürich to attend medical school:


October 18, 1868


Sunday finds me safely through with last week’s Herculean labors. You know I had a hundred formalities to go through with, and with no German to speak of. Looking back upon it, I do not see how I managed it; however it is all plain sailing now, and I have nothing to do except listen to lectures, study hard, and learn German, etc. Oh, it is so nice to get here, at a word, what I have been begging for in Boston for three years. I have every medical advantage that I can desire. I told the professor of anatomy, for instance, that I wanted a great deal of dissecting; and he immediately bowed, and said so kindly, “You shall have it; I only desire you shall tell me what you prefer.” And so it is with everything. . . in every respect I have equal advantages with the young men; and then I find also the warmth and protection and feeling of interest which a young man finds in a university.


From Memoir of Susan Dimock, resident physician of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. (n.p., 1875.)


A Physician with a Mission

It was July 1872,  when Dr. Dimock returned from medical school in Europe.  She attended there because Europe was less hostile to women becoming doctors. She remained three years at the New England Hospital.  There, she handled day-to-day patient management and care while also performing surgeries.   But her best contribution in the field of medicine was to start a program  to improve patient care through improved training of their nurse caregivers. As student nurses, they worked in the wards and attended medical lectures and studied anatomy.  In between her studies and teachings Susan liked to travel.  Unfortunately, she died at age 28 on board the steamship “Schiller” that struck the Scilly Rocks in fog and sunk near the coast of Cornwall, England.

Dr. Dimock is buried in Boston’s Forest Hills Cemetery, along with a couple of her colleagues:

Pioneering activists and professionals in medicine, women’s healthcare and women’s professional education, including Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, surgeon Susan Dimock, and America’s first trained nurse, Linda Richards.

In 1996, the marble marker at her Boston grave was replaced with a more durable granite duplicate, and the original moved to her home town of Washington, NC, where it was erected as a cenotaph.

The following is an excerpt from MassMoments.org “This Day In History,” for August 20, 2016:

Well into the nineteenth century, nursing was considered undesirable and menial work, suitable only for women whose circumstances left them no better options for supporting themselves. It took Florence Nightingale many years to convince her family to allow her to study nursing. She trained in Germany before returning to London to take up her profession. Britain’s involvement in the Crimean War (1854-1856) gave her the chance to demonstrate the benefits of having nurses in military hospitals, but first she had to overcome doctors’ opposition to the presence of women in the wards. Once she did, she quickly earned the respect and gratitude of the soldiers and in time their families. After the war, contributions from a grateful public enabled Nightingale to start the first nurses training school at a London hospital.

Meanwhile, in Washington, North Carolina, a young Susan Dimock was borrowing anatomy books from the family doctor and accompanying him on his calls. The Civil War disrupted her education — the local academy she was attending closed — and her family life. Her father died, and most of the family property was lost. In 1864 17-year-old Susan and her widowed mother joined relatives in Sterling, Massachusetts. A year later, Susan took a job teaching school in Hopkinton. She spent her evenings poring over medical books recommended by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, the founder and head physician at the New England Hospital for Women and Children.

Zakrewska had helped to establish the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the first institution in the world devoted to the care of women and children. Female doctors and surgeons directed the hospital and tended all the patients. In 1862 “Dr. Zak,” as she was known, moved to Boston and founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children.

In 1865 Susan Dimock finally persuaded her mother to allow her to study medicine. In January of 1866, a few months shy of her 19th birthday, she arrived at the New England Hospital as a medical student. Although Harvard, like almost every other American medical school, refused to admit women, it did allow women “under certain restrictions” to follow doctors on their rounds. This increased Susan Dimock’s determination to obtain a medical degree. She decided to go to Europe, where medical schools were more welcoming of women students than those in the U.S. In 1868,with help from her mother, Dr. Zak, and several Boston philanthropists, she began studying medicine at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

In between her studies, she traveled. She visited Florence Nightingale in London and observed her nursing education program. She spent time at Kaiserswerth, Germany, where Nightingale had been trained. She returned to Boston in the summer of 1872 eager to put her knowledge and newly acquired medical degree to use.

She accepted a three-year appointment at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, where she set out to reorganize the training program for nurses. Hospitals traditionally viewed student nurses as a source of cheap labor. They took no classes but learned on the job, by following instructions they received on the ward. After the Civil War, doctors began exercising more oversight of nurses’ training. All but a handful of American doctors were men, and they had no expectation (or wish) that nurses would make independent judgments or carry out tasks on their own.

Thanks to Florence Nightingale, however, Susan Dimock saw things differently. “No man, not even a doctor,” Nightingale once observed, “ever gives any other definition of what a nurse should be than this – devoted and obedient. This definition would do just as well for a porter. It might even do for a horse. It will not do for a nurse.” Nightingale believed that the nurse had a special role as a health care provider and hospital administrator, and that her education should prepare her for that role. Dimock agreed with Nightingale — up to a point. She understood and was eager to lower the obstacles nurses faced to gaining knowledge, credentials, and respect; but as a doctor herself, she also understood the value of the nurse’s traditional role. Florence Nightingale saw nurses in training as students, not workers; Susan Dimock believed they could be both.

She started a one-year training program for student nurses at the New England Hospital and soon added a second year. Students began their day before sunrise and finished at 9 pm. Dimock and other women doctors lectured on a variety of topics, including nutrition, bandaging, inflammation, and surgery. A number of the graduates of the program were instrumental in helping nursing become a respectable profession, one that a middle-class woman could pursue without seeming “unwomanly.”

After Susan Dimock’s sudden death at sea in 1875, friends and admirers endowed a “free bed” for indigent patients in her name at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Today the hospital is home to the Dimock Community Health Center in Roxbury, MA.


The Vanishing Chesapeake Bay Islands

As a native Marylander who lives near Solomon’s Island along the Chesapeake Bay, I always have appreciated the beautiful scenery along its shorelines. It was in the 1600’s when colonists settled along it and began to record in county land records the names of hundreds of islands, some of which they would farm and call home. There was Turtle Egg Island, and Sharps Island, and Parker’s Island.

“But today, more than 400 of those islands in Maryland and Virginia cannot be found on modern navigational maps of the Bay,” wrote William Cronin in his 2005 book, Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake Bay.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Holland Island, located about a dozen miles northwest of Crisfield on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore, was home to more than 360 residents and about 70 homes and stores.  It was one of over 400 Chesapeake Bay islands that now have sunk beneath the waves over the last three centuries.  These islands vanished because of rising sea levels, erosion and the natural sinking of land around the Chesapeake region.  If you are familiar with Smith and Tangier Islands (about 10 miles north of Holland Island), you may know that they are still above water, but are sinking, too. For those who deny climate change, just talk to any Smith or Tangier Islander and they will tell you how life is changing on a sinking island.

A 12-year-old, 8th grader, Grayson Middleton, for the Annual National History Day Competition in 2011, created the following impressive video documentary.  His video won $150 dollars, was publicly recognized for excellence in historic preservation, and his efforts won over my heart.  Hope you enjoy:

A Gentleman’s Calling Card – 19th Century Token of Everyday Life

A Form of Business Card

With the printing press invention of the early 1800’s, 19th century gentlemen used a form of business card to formally introduce themselves to others in a dignified style. According to The Encyclopedia of Ephemera, the acquaintance card was, “A novelty variant of the American calling card of the 1870s and 1880s,

Emily Post?

Just A Short Chat!

A Chat Over Pizza

Yesterday, my octogenarian parents and I were chatting about days past as we were sharing pizza for lunch at their kitchen table.  I began the conversation because on my drive to their house it occurred to me that we have always talked about their lives from the point that they met each other–ages 14 and 15.

Now, we have to remember that both my parents were born only a year or two before the Great Depression (1929 to 1939). Many people became homeless because they lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their rent.  I remember the stories of multiple generations of my mom’s family moving in together to avoid homelessness and to share what little they had.

Pearl Harbor PosterMy parents were 11 and 12 at the start of World War II (1939). Japan’s December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor, nullified my dad’s 13th birthday–can you imagine?  This is when the U.S. officially entered the war in the Pacific and in Europe. In fact, it was America’s war effort that jump-started its industry again and effectively ended the Great Depression. The six-year war (1939-1945), on top of the Great Depression, says to me that in the forefront of my parents memories were just hard times, hunger, and all around struggles and sacrifices.



War Rationing InstructionsI only had heard briefly about the government’s rationing program.  So I took time to look it up and discovered it was another social aspect that took over their freedoms of choice.  There was “Red Stamp” rationing that covered all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and cheese. Each person was allowed a certain amount of points weekly with expiration dates to consider. “Blue Stamp” rationing covered canned, bottled, frozen fruits and vegetables, juices and dry beans, and such processed foods as soups, baby food, and even ketchup. Ration stamps became a kind of currency and each family had its “War Ration Book.” Each stamp authorized a purchase of rationed goods in the quantity and time designated, and the book guaranteed each family its fair share of scarce goods–all,  thanks to the war.

Use It Up - Wear It OutIn addition to food rationing, there was rationing on clothing, shoes, coffee, gasoline, tires, and fuel oil. If you were fortunate enough to own a car, rationing of gas and tires depended on the distance to your job (if you fortunate enough to have a job), which meant there probably weren’t too many visits to relatives who lived elsewhere.  So, after these many years I’m starting to get the big picture, the backdrop for my parent’s lives, and have a new-found insight into how and why they lived their lives and raised us the way they did.  For example, my dad, until recently, didn’t know how to display his love.  I recognized early on, that when he bought me a gift, it was always “top of the line.”  He never refused “overtime” work, which often was feast or famine in the printing industry. We were the first family to buy a TV, and the first family to get a color TV in our neighborhood.  All of these seemingly materialistic things were everyday items in which my parents and their families could not indulge.  They never had basic security of a home to call their own, both parents together, and even more importantly, at least one of them working full time.  Neither of them graduated high school.  Both of them had to get jobs in their early teens to help themselves and their families survive.  And the families considered themselves fortunate if they owned even a radio.

So, when I asked dad yesterday, what did he do for fun as a kid, his answer shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did, and it made me sad.  He said, “I don’t remember having fun as a kid.”  So I asked him what his earliest memory was, he responded; “The day my mom left us–I was five.”

And, when I asked mom about her earliest memory (and today she suffers from Alzheimer’s and has very little memory from moment to moment), she said it was the day her parents asked her and her two years’ older brother, John, to choose which parent they wanted to live with.  When they both answered, “Mom,” the couple didn’t split and worked things out.

I am so very glad that I took time out from cleaning their house and doing daily chores to spend meaningful time with them.  Mom turns 89 next week and dad will be 88 in four months.  I feel blessed!

Memories are Stitched with Love

A Different Look At Our Everyday Lives

Over the past five years and about 300 posts, Our Unbounded Heritage blog has focused on families and their histories–the people, places; the notables, historic events, and everyday moments that somehow changed our lives–and these moments in time can be said to be our memories stitched together–most often through love for one another, kinship, and other’s kindred spirits to help preserve our history.

Yet, seldom have my posts prodded and explored beneath the surfaces of our everyday lives and inventions to look back at some everyday tools and accessories that revolutionized the ways in which we are able to live our lives today.

For example, let’s just look at the clothing we wear today.  Easy as 1, 2, 3, we order online or visit a local store and choose from huge collections of items within a matter of minutes and come away with just the right outfit for just the right occasion.  Yet, scientists tell us that for thousands of years, such as, women sewed only by hand.  We don’t need to go back too many generations in our own families, to know this to be true.  In fact, scientists date the start of sewing back about 4,000 years to the beginning of the Iron Age (1200-1000BC). They also have dated needles made from animal bones back about 2,000 years.  And, it was these needles that helped early humans stitch together animal skins to protect them from the cold during the Ice Age. Again, these same scientists told us that the Ice Ages began 2.4 million years ago and lasted until 11,500 years ago.  In fact, they also dated the first thimbles back to China and the Han dynasty (206BC – 220AD). Let me just say that not being a science buff, myself, I had to take time to look up these ancient periods in history. And, as a creationist, I struggle with all the concepts within evolutionist theories.  However, that’s a post for another time–or maybe never.

The Invention of the Sewing Machine

eliashoweandhismachineBut, let’s just take the invention of the sewing machine to continue with our example of simple innovations which greatly changed the quality, quantity, and availability of our everyday clothing.  FACT:  The sewing machine is less than 200 years old!  It was Connecticut native Elias Howe who is credited with inventing the first sewing machine in 1846, followed shortly afterwards by Isaac Singer (as in the ever-famous Singer Sewing Machines).  This was only two years after Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph from Washington, DC to Baltimore, MD. And, the first sewing machine came out the same year as the Mexican-American War. Imagine–the elaborate clothing that spanned history’s periods and lifestyles and the amount of time and effort it must have taken to make fabric, thread, and patterns, and then add the time to sew such garments.

Interestingly enough, Elias Howe, also received a patent in 1851 for an ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure,’–this would be today’s “zipper.” But, it was 1895 when Whitcomb Judson marketed a “clasp locker” and became known as the ‘Father of the Zip.’

100 Years of Fashion

I remain absolutely intrigued by the volumes and kinds of textiles used in women’s clothing and have never more appreciated the intricacies of the details and stitching that must have gone into making just a single outfit.  The following video looks at the various fashions (Gals vs. Guys) over the past hundred years.  It was produced by Mode.com on December 29, 2015.  The guy is a hunk, but that mustard-colored outfit has to go!

Mary Custis Lee Challenges Streetcar Segregation

Mary Custis Lee, eldest daughter of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis, born in Alexandria, Virginia (1835-1918), was my  2nd cousin’s [six generations removed], (Mary Tabb Bolling Lee) sister-in-law.  She never married and spent most of her life traveling the world. Mary was recorded as being the most aloof and outspoken of the Lee children and regarded as “stern” and “bossy.” It is also said that Mary enjoyed politics and often discussed them with her father, General Lee.  Mary, too, loved to travel.  So much so, that in her later years she roamed the globe almost continuously, collecting visiting cards from nobility and, in fact, was overseas when WWI began.

The article that follows by Ariel Veroske, of WETA’s local history blog, “Boundary Stones,” begs the question:  “Was Mary Custis Lee making a political statement in opposition to segregation?”

Let me also put into historical perspective that for just under 100 years, (1862 – 1962), streetcars in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, transported people across the city and region.

Mary Custis Lee in 1914, taken 12 years after her arrest. It appears she chose to travel by motor car this time. (Photo source: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

Mary Custis Lee in 1914, taken 12 years after her arrest. It appears she chose to travel by motor car this time. (Photo source: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress) On the evening of June 13, 1902, Mary Custis Lee was arrested on an Alexandria streetcar for sitting in the section reserved for black patrons. As the daughter of Robert E. Lee, the General of the Confederate Army, the incident caused quite a stir within the community.

On her way to visit a friend, and being burdened with many large bags, Miss Lee chose to sit near the rear of the car in order to easily exit upon arriving at her destination. Shortly after she sat down the conductor Thomas Chauncey “explained the Virginia law on the subject, but being ignorant of the existence of the law herself, and also being loth [sic] to move her baggage, she protested.” At that time, Chauncey let her stay seated.[1]

At the next stop, a black man boarded the car. The conductor stated that Miss Lee “was occupying a seat to which he was entitled under the law” and asked her once again to move to the front section, which was reserved for whites. But, even after being threatened with arrest, Miss Lee refused to give up her seat.[2]

Upon exiting the streetcar a few stops later, she was met by two police officers who informed her she was under arrest. Officers Bettis and Sherwood escorted Miss Lee to the station. “In front of the police station, Miss Lee appeared calm, but was evidently concealing her embarrassment with great effort.” As other streetcar passengers and onlookers realized who she was, crowds began to form.[3]

Several “gray-haired men, many of whom had doubtless served under her father” protested against Miss Lee’s holding.[4] Confronted with the dilemma of arresting a woman of Miss Lee’s status, she was released under the condition that she appears for a court hearing the next day.

To The Evening Star, Miss Lee claimed “she knew nothing about the law requiring the separation of white and colored passengers”[5] While it sounds like a classic excuse, this is at least somewhat plausible. The local government had only recently adopted streetcar segregation laws and it is likely that many were still adjusting to the new regulations, which were not common at the time. In fact, as of 1902, Alexandria and Fairfax were the only localities within Virginia which mandated that blacks and whites sit in separate areas of streetcars. Statewide segregation on rail lines wouldn’t happen until 1906.[6]

But, is it possible that Mary Custis Lee’s actions were driven by more than just ignorance of the law? Might she have been making a political statement in opposition to segregation?

Perhaps but that might be giving her too much credit. It seems that personal convenience may have been the bigger motivation for her actions. Mary Coulling’s biography The Lee Girls, hinted that Lee was argumentative with the conductor because the segregation law disrupted her usual travel routine with her black maid.[7]

In any case, the word of Miss Lee’s arrest spread quickly and some latched onto the idea that she was taking a stand for racial integration. As one man from Alberta, Canada wrote to her, “Please accept my thanks for your human action in breaking the color line.”[8]

Others, particularly in the North, used the incident to take aim at the growing Jim Crow culture taking root in the southern states. As the Cleveland Gazette commented, Miss Lee’s arrest was “another fool exhibition of the assinine [sic] prejudice of ‘chivalrous’ southerners.”[9]


[1] “Sat in Negroes’ Seat: Daughter of Robert E. Lee Arrested on Electric Car.” The Washington Post, pg. 2, June 14, 1902.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Alexandria Affairs, Miss Lee’s Misunderstanding of State Law, Her Arrest Follows.” The Evening Star, June 14, 1902.

[6] “Sequel to an Episode: Soldiers of South Want Jim Crow Measure Repealed.” The Washington Post, pg. 4, June 16, 1902.

[7] Coulling, Mary P. The Lee Girls. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair Publishers, 1987.

[8] Carlson, Peter. “A Portrait in Letters.” The Washington Post,  sec. Arts & Living, July 12, 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/11/AR200707…(accessed June 13, 2013).

[9] “Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Daughter Arrested.” Cleveland Gazette, Vol. 19, Issue 46, June 21, 1902.

Nobleman, Minister, Prisoner, And Exile–My 9th Great Grandfather’s Saga


I know my recent posts have focused on my maternal grandmother, Alice Lauretta Lathrop’s, noble family who emigrated from England to Massachusetts, Connecticut, and then onto Pennsylvania and places farther down the Atlantic coast. Specifically, this post, focuses on the 400th Anniversary Year of a church that got its beginnings in England by my 9th great-grandfather, Reverend John Lathrop, also known as Lothropp or Lothrop.  Please remember as you read about this man and his church’s 400th anniversary that in the 17th Century, it was a crime in England to worship outside of the established church, the Church of England, and nonconforming ministers could be subjected to cruel punishment, public humiliation, imprisonment, and torture.

In brief, John Lathrop was born into a privileged English family in Cherry Burton, England, and was educated at Oxford and then Cambridge Universities.  He was baptized December 20, 1584 in Etton, Yorkshire, England. Unfortunately, Reverend Lathrop lived during “the dismal days of 17th century” in England–a time of severe religious persecution. First an English Anglican clergyman, then an independent Congregationalist minister.  After imprisonment for his beliefs and exile from England, he emigrated to New England on the sailing ship Griffin in 1634. There he founded Barnstable, Massachusetts.  His home was built in 1644 and became the home of the Sturgis Library . The building is one of the oldest houses remaining on Cape Cod. The house which forms the original part of the library is the oldest building housing a public library in the United States. Since Reverend Lathrop used the front room of the house for public worship, another distinction of the Sturgis Library is that it is the oldest structure still standing in America where religious services were regularly held. Lothrop Room - Sturgis LibraryThis room is now called “The Lothrop Room” and contains a beamed ceiling and pumpkin-colored wide-board floors that exemplify the quintessential early character of authentic Cape Cod houses.  Rev. Lathrop at age 68 died on Nov. 8, 1653, in Barnstable Town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts.

Now let’s take a look at this congregationalist and his church that had its early beginnings in the 1600’s in Southwark, London, England.

World’s Oldest Congregational Church Celebrates 400 Years

West Parish of Barnstable is a Congregational Christian Church and a member of the United Church of Christ whose beginnings can be traced back to England in 1616.  It is widely recognized as the world’s oldest congregational church.  At present, it has a congregation of over 280 members who on May 15, 2016, reenacted a Sunday service as a worship service would have taken place in the 1600’s in the same Barnstable, using the same worship accessories and period clothing, in the meetinghouse they’ve been meeting in since 1719.

In May 2016, the Cape Code Times, a regional newspaper published an article about West Parish.  It’s photographers Steve Heaslip and Ron Schloerb provided some wonderful pictures and I thought you would appreciate seeing their images (the full-screen view of the pictures distorts them, but the displayed size is adequate):

From London to Barnstable – A West Parish Timeline (in green–from West Parish’s history page):

1616 – The Rev. Henry Jacob and his followers break with the Church of England and worship in secret:  In seedy Southwark, London, England, the Rev. Henry Jacob, despairing of any reform in the Church of England, proposed a separate congregation to several friends. All those present understood the danger of alienating themselves from the Church of England, yet they gathered a church and continued in it, thus laying the foundation for the First Congregational Church organized by that name in England.

1625 – The Rev. John Lathrop succeeds Jacob as pastor of this “congregational” group: Under the leadership of Henry Jacob’s successor, the Reverend John Lathrop, (my 9th great maternal grandfather), the little “Southwark Church” continued with sixty members worshipping secretly in private homes or in the sand pits at the edge of town.

1632 – Lathrop and 42 followers are imprisoned by the Crown:   King Charles I and Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, prosecuted scores of Puritans on charges, real and imagined, before the King’s courts.  It was April 22, 1632, when Rev. Lathrop and forty-one of his fellow parishioners were arrested while worshipping at the house of Humphrey Barnet, a brewer’s clerk in Black Friar’s, London. Eighteen others managed to escape but the rest were seized by deputies and imprisoned in Newgate Prison. Some of them, including Reverend Lathrop, were transferred to 12th century medieval prison known as “The Clink,”  (1144-1780).  The Clink was a place of filth and wretchedness whose name has come down through time as a pseudonym for any prison.  According to historians at the Clink Museum, “The jailers and guards were entrepreneurial in their corruption, accepting bribes and charging prisoners exorbinant amounts for food and other necessities. Prisoners were flogged, or strapped to the rack, boiled in oil, and were kept in leg irons.”

1634 – Released on condition they leave England, Lathrop and his followers sail for New England:  They had been jailed for failing to take the oath of loyalty to the established English church. They remained there for two years. In the spring of 1634, all the parishioners were released, except Lathrop, whose theological influence was considered a danger to the Church of England and it’s king. 

Meanwhile, Lathrop’s wife, Hannah Howse Lathrop (my 9th great-grandmother) became ill and died on February 16, 1633/34.   After an appeal by one of Rev. Lathrop’s nine orphaned children, King Charles released Lathrop on the condition that he be exiled from the country.  John Lathrop arrived in Boston with thirty members of his church, moving immediately to Scituate in Plymouth Colony where some of their number had preceded them. Unfortunately friction soon developed regarding church discipline and the distribution of land.

1639 – Lathrop and 22 families leave Scituate and found the town of Barnstable:  In June, the Southwark Church eagerly accepted an offer of land in Mattakeese (an Indian name meaning “plowed fields”), now the Town of Barnstable. According to tradition, one of their first acts upon arrival in October was the celebration of the Sacrament of Communion at a site now known as Sacrament Rock on Route 6A. The ancient pewter vessels brought from England were used in that first communion.

1644 – Worship services are held at Lathrop’s new home, now Sturgis Library: Barnstable prospered under the guidance of John Lathrop, and the first meetinghouse was erected in 1646 about one-half mile from Sacrament Rock.

1717 – Construction begins on West Parish Meetinghouse:  By early 1715, however, considerable growth made a second parish inevitable. A piece of high ground on land of John Crocker was chosen as the site for West Parish Meetinghouse and work began in 1717 (the present meetinghouse).

1719 – November 23, 17191  the West Parish held its first worship in their new meetinghouse, which remains in use today. 

1723 – After only four years, the building was already too small. It was cut in half, the ends pulled apart and about 18 feet added to its length. A bell tower, one of the earliest in New England was erected in that year.  The gilded cock, ordered from England in 1723  serves as a weathervane for the Meetinghouse.  It measures over four feet from the bill to the tip of the tail. And, the original bird crowns the tower today.

Early 1800’s – A Revere bell was made and given by the Otis family in memory of Colonel James Otis, father of the Patriot known as the “Firebrand of the Revolution.” 

1850’s – The meetinghouse is remodeled in neo-classical style. In the years following the remodeling in 1852, the Meetinghouse fell into disrepair and by 1950 it was evident that radical restoration was necessary.

1950’s- Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins leads a restoration of the meetinghouse. Spearheaded by Elizabeth Crocker Jenkins, the West Parish Memorial Foundation was incorporated and led the way to restoring West Parish Meetinghouse to its original form. It is the oldest Congregational church meetinghouse still in use in the world today.  And, the 1717 Meetinghouse Foundation is founded and partners with the church to protect this historical place of worship.

2016 – West Parish congregation celebrates 400 years of continuous worship and leadership in the community.  According to Reed Baer, pastor of West Parish for the last 18 years:

A series of events at its historic 1717 Meetinghouse on Route 149 in West Barnstable planned through the remainder of the year will commemorate the 400-year milestone of this congregation.

“The history of the town of Barnstable is in lockstep with the history of the West Parish congregation,” said Margaret Housman, West Parish historian. “You can’t separate the two.”

The Lothrop Bible, which traveled with Lathrop from England in 1634, is part of the collection of the Sturgis Library in Barnstable Village, which was once Lathrop’s home and where he conducted some of his early religious meetings.

During this year of celebration, the congregation has embarked upon a “400 hours for 400 years” campaign for community volunteer efforts, which Baer said he expects will be much more than 400 hours once the work time is tallied.

When asked to look ahead to year 401 and beyond for West Parish of Barnstable, it was all about community for Baer.

“We will continue to look for new ways we can be of service to the wider community,” he said.


John Lothrop Biography, Northwestern California University School of Law, 2014.
John Lathrop (Lothropp) (1584 – 1653) – Genealogy – Geni
Joanne_Dickinson_Family_Tree_6.1, Ancestry.com
West Parish of Barnstable, United Church of Christ » History
Rev John Lothrop (1584 – 1653) – Find A Grave Memorial
Sturgis Library