Historical Society effort highlights town’s past

MASON – There is enough history in Mason to have a meeting once a month for years without repeating anything. But how do you get people interested enough in it to come and listen?

Genie Rafter asked that question on Saturday during an open house held by the Historical Society in what was once Captain Mann’s Tavern, a space now used for small meetings of town boards and commissions, the central downstairs room of the Mann House. The house, given to the town, houses the library, town offices, and police department, as well as the Historical Society.

Capt. Benjamin Mann, a veteran of Bunker Hill and other Revolutionary War battles, served in many town offices and was the father-in-law of Samuel Wilson, who later, during the War of 1812, became known as “Uncle Sam.” He was eventually recognized by the U.S. Congress as the “official” foundation of the legend and emblem.

Wilson was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Mason. He later moved to Troy, N.Y., where he and a brother established, among other things, a beef packing plant that supplied the Army. The kegs of beef were marked U.S., supposedly for “United States,” but soon came to be for “Uncle Sam.”

A state historic marker stands in front of “Uncle Sam’s House,” on the edge of the central village.

The open house featured lots of old pictures and other items. Rafter, assisted by her husband, Arthur, answered questions and encouraged a general conversation among those who attended, about a dozen.

Elizabeth Orton “Twig” Jones read from some of her historical “chants,” story poems composed some years ago for students at the Village School, and talked about Uncle Sam, Wolf Rock, and other historical tidbits, including Bode, a black slave who was among the first to drive cattle up from Groton, Mass., to summer pastures.

All of the chants are available from the society.

The meeting was the first of several scheduled for this summer in an attempt to interest more people in the society.

In October, Rafter said, “We will have our annual meeting and see if the society will continue. We haven’t been able to get enough people together to hold a legal meeting.”

On June 19, the society will lead a walk to Wolf Rock, site of a favorite story involving the minister, the Rev. Francis Worcester, in 1757. While walking back home to Hollis following Sunday services, he managed to escape a pack of wolves by climbing onto the rock, a huge glacial erratic. The whole story in its various versions will be told at that time.

On Aug. 21, the group will visit the grave of the first white child to die in town, a month-old daughter of William Lawrence, in 1750.

The Historical Society was formed in 1972, an outgrowth of the town’s 200th anniversary celebrations in 1969. The group has collected a large number of pictures and artifacts, which are housed on the upper floor of the Mann House. The historical rooms are open every Wednesday afternoon from 1-3 p.m.

Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or jessies@tellink.net.