But I miss the land where I was born

As with YOUR family’s history (whether you know it or not) our well-thumbed genealogy (unambiguously entitled, “A New England Family”) contains some rather compelling stories.  Take the tale of mystery and romance that surrounded my great, great grandfather.

Known to all as “the Squire,” and an esteemed citizen of Newburyport, Mass., he had an outsized personality, counting Nathaniel Hawthorne and Franklin Pierce among his personal friends. He was also exceedingly pious, attending services every day (twice on Sundays) at the Old South Presbyterian Church.  But only in recent years can it be comfortably affirmed that the Squire was born out of scandal.

In 1776 a Revolutionary War soldier named Moses Pettingell returned to Newbury (later part of Newburyport) where he joined his brother Eleazer in a “house with brick ends” that they had inherited from their father.  In good weather they fished, in winter they made shoes.  Which remained their practice in 1791, when the two men hired on a housekeeper named Sally Beckett, who had come from Exeter, NH seeking employment.

Four years later, on 6 June 1795, records indicate that Sally and Eleazer were married.  They also indicate that a son was born the following month.  The resulting gossip was only intensified when the child was given the name Moses. Never mind the timing, cryptic speculation would be whispered in family circles for generations regarding the matter of paternity.

Yet what strikes one as remarkable was the subsequent conduct of the three household elders, who came rolling out of Calvinistic 18th Century Massachusetts to share equally in young Moses’ care and upbringing. Although they were common people, unschooled and socially unversed, a course of action was set in place.  No further children were born, the senior Moses remained unmarried and together they worked, saved and methodically prepared young Moses for a life far beyond their own experience.

As indicated by the quality of the writing found in the Squire’s diaries it’s apparent that his schooling was more extensive than the ordinary child, and that Presbyterianism was a major influence from a young age. When he was 15 in 1810, his uncle/parents built a new house that was markedly larger in size, quality and pretension than the humble brick. Conspicuously situated near the mouth of the Merrimack River, their intention was manifestly to furnish the boy with the grandest, most expensive house in the community.

Kind, generous to a fault, and with no discernible bad habits, Moses Pettingell never seemed bothered by the circumstances of his birth, becoming a bastion of his community, while ever-maintaining the instilled belief that he was marked for a special place in life… That he would turn out to be an abysmal businessman and an even worse investor is an account for another time.  Never mind his dim view of Unitarians.

Perhaps I’m wrong in thinking that such a musty old story typifies a uniquely regional sensibility. But for me it remains another reason… (like these provided by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers back in 1976) …why I love New England.

LISTEN TO THIS SONG – Thursday 14 March 

…New England

See, I come from Boston

I’m gonna tell you about how I love New England

It’s my favorite place

I’ve been all around the world, but I love New England best

I might be prejudiced

But it’s true, I love New England best

Well, now…

You know, ladies and gentlemen

I’ve already been to Paris

Already been to Rome

And what did I do but miss my home?

 I have been out west to Californ’

But I miss the land where I was born

I can’t help it

 Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

I have seen old Israel’s arid plain

It’s magnificent, but so’s Maine

Oh, New England

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, New England

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

Doddly-doodly-do-do-doo-do-do

 Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day

Oh, I love New England…

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