Several Ipswich MA men in the mid-19th Century

Election night in Ipswich

The fence viewer
The Fence Viewer

Thomas Franklin Waters made observations about Ipswich politics in his two-volume set, Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony:

“The New England settlers of the 17th Century largely reproduced English institutions in an older shape than they knew in England. They gave a new life to many things, which in their older home had well nigh died out. The necessary smallness of scale in the settlements, so to speak, drove them back for several centuries. It caused them to reproduce in not a few points, not the England of their own day, but the England of a far earlier time.”

Hog Reeve
The Hog Reeve

“Thus the government of the town was systematized gradually. Every industry seems to have been supervised by some public functionary, and the climax of petty officialdom might well have been reached in 1797 when the list of officers chosen at the Town meeting included Selectmen, Overseers, Town Clerk and Treasurer, Tithing-men, Road Surveyors, Fish Committee, Clerk of the Market, Fence Viewers, Haywards, Surveyors of Lumber, Cullers of Fish, Sealers of Leather, Hog-reeves, Gangers of Cask, Sealers of Weights, Measurers of Grain, Corders of Wood, Firewards, Packer of Pork, and Cullers of Brick.”

Surely the thirst for public office was easily gratified. The Ipswich of the late 18th Century must have been a paradise for politicians.”

From Tales of Olde Ispwich, Volume I, 1975

“Hot time in the Old Town Tonight” by Harold Bowen

Election night Ipswich MA
Old Aaron Wells resided on Loney’s Lane, and each year he was a candidate for Selectman. He promised that if he won, he would have a tunnel dug under Town Hill.

Back in the Old days, whenever you heard a band marching down the street playing this song, which was followed with a line of torch lights, you knew it was election night in Ipswich. The town elections of today are a far cry from those of yesteryear. For the most part, they were riotous and anything but dignified. The air was full of broken promises, and rum whiskey and hard cider flowed like water.

Each candidate felt that to win an election he had to rip his opponent fully apart. Of course, that part hasn’t changed much. All kinds of promises were made, and no matter how ridiculous they were, the voters seemed to somehow fall for them.

Every year, old Aaron Wells would run for selectman, and his promise was that if he won he would build a tunnel under Town Hill so you wouldn’t have to climb it. Aaron was sincere and he really believed it could be done.

There are three things one could remember Aaron by: He sold horseradish and firewood, and he maintained a dump in his backyard, by which he brought his yard up to level. He was very fussy. He wouldn’t accept garbage or brush, and when you dumped there it was where he told you to put it. He kept the dump very neat. Aaron was not a rich man, but he was a good and kindly man. He lived the way he wanted to and bothered no one. He never won a seat on the Board of Selectmen, so there is no tunnel through Town Hill.

Even the voters would promise the candidates their votes for favors, like old Nute Brown. Perhaps the thing people knew most about Elisha Newton Brown, other than his choice of vocabulary, was when he went through the Choate Bridge sometime around 1920. At that time, there were trolley car tracks over the bridge, and when coming into town in his old Maxwell, his wheels became caught in the tracks. The car swerved into and through the wall of the bridge. but the wooden pipe house on the other side of the wall caught his transmission and saved him from going into the river.

George Dexter took this photo of Newt Brown’s car hanging over the Choate Bridge.

George Dexter showed up with his Camera.” Stay right there, Nute,” he said, “I want a picture.” “To hell with the picture, take me out,” Nute hollered. But Dexter got this picture, anyway. A group of men with a rope pulled him back into the road. If he were alive today, I wouldn’t dare write this story, as it was a touchy subject for him.

Ten nights in a bar room
Securing votes

Nute told me this story himself: He would go into Billy Chaplin’s barroom the week before election, and voters would come around to say to Nute, “We think you are going to win. You’re the best man for the job.” He was running against Eben Moulton for the Board of Health, and they weren’t the best of friends. Every time anyone would praise him a little, Nute would say to the bartender, “Give him a drink,” or hand him a cigar. Most of them would say anything for a drink.

The night before the election, Nute figured with all the promises and free drinks he had handed out, he would beat Eben by 500 votes. On election night after the votes had been counted, Eben had beaten Nute two to one. Nute was on his way home and met Joe Greenache. Joe said, “Well, Nute, have you learned anything from the election?” Nute answered, “Yes, Joe, I did. I learned there are about 500 damn liars in Ipswich.”Vote-counting was followed by a torch-light victory parade. They usually mustered up a few musicians, who led the parade. Then the winning candidate followed in an open wagon, and after him came his friends with torch lights.

Of course, the ladies didn’t vote in those days, but they did turn out for the parade. One lady got too close to the torch, and it burned the feathers and fruit off her hat. The parade usually formed at the Hose 2 house in Lord Square. It was preceded by fiery speeches, and then they marched down to Hammatt Street, where all the barrooms were, where they took time out for a few drinks and more speeches. Then they went on to Market Square and the Town Hall.

Harold Bowen wrote a weekly series of news articles in the 1970’s, later published in three volumes as “Stories from Ipswich.”

Those elections were exciting and full of fun, but it wasn’t long afterwards that all of the speeches were forgotten. The pain and disappointment of those who lost were soon healed, and the old town would settle down to the regular routine of living.


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