Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Myths of Stow and Maynard


Oliver Cromwell's head
The historical setting: To understand how intent Charles II, the British king, was on punishing the 59 men who eleven years earlier had signed the death warrant for his father, King Charles I, on his orders Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was subjected to posthumous execution. Cromwell was disinterred in 1660, his corpse hanged, then beheaded. His head placed on a spike on the roof of Westminster Hall, London. It remained there until a storm brought it down 25 years later. Found by a passer-by and hidden, it appears to have ended up in private ownership through the centuries, until finally buried in 1960. 

Of the other 58 regicides, five had died before the regency was restored, 13 were executed (hanged, drawn and quartered), 19 were imprisoned and 21 fled the country. Three of the last escaped to the English colonies. One of them ended up in Stow (or not).

Hanged, drawn and quartered: In Britain, the proper order of events for a man convicted of high treason back in that era was that he be dragged behind a horse, on a simple wooded frame ("drawn"), then hanged but not to death ("hanged"), emasculated, disemboweled - the entrails and organs cast on a fire, beheaded, and finally, the body divided into four pieces ("quartered"), to be displayed at different places about the country. Quartering could be by cutting or by tying ropes from the limbs of the headless body to four horses. Heads of the executed were put on public display. The dispersal and display of body parts prevented a proper burial. All this is what happened to William Wallace in 1305, as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart.

William Goffe (1605-?) and his father-in-law Edward Whalley arrived in Boston in 1660. Within the year it became clear that the Royalist government was vigorously pursing their capture. Sympathizers to the anti-Royalist cause aided their escape, first to New Haven, then Milford, and then onward to Hadley, just west of Amherst, in 1664. There they lived a reclusive life until 1676, their true identities known only by a few. Goffe was able to maintain a letter correspondence with his wife, who had remained in England. He was using the name Walter Goldsmith, and in the letters they referred to each other as mother and son rather than wife and husband. He would never see his wife or children again.

There is a perhaps apocryphal story referred to as "The Angel of Hadley," in which an elderly man with a sword and military expertise appears a sudden in Hadley in 1676, where he rallies the townsmen to fend off an Indian attack, then departs. The story identifies the hero as William Goffe.   

Regicide grave? Stow, MA
At this point the story bifurcates. One history has Goffe living in Hartford under an assumed name Duffell or Cooke, where he died circa 1680 and was buried in an unmarked grave. The other has him living in Stow near Pompositticut Hill (now Summer Hill, Maynard) under the name John Green/Greene, where he died in 1688. In this version of history he came to Stow because his sister lived here.

According to the 2009 book Stow Things, Goffe's sister was married to Thomas Stevens. Stevens was one of the original settler's of Stow, circa 1684. The big problem for this version is that a biographical note about Thomas Stevens, buried in the Stow cemetery 1704, has him married to Mary Green, the daughter of Church Elder John Green, of Charleston. Mary had a brother, Captain John Green (1620-1688). More likely his was the body under the stone than William Goffe.

In Stow's Lower Village cemetery there is a ground-flush granite slab some 9 x 4.5 feet in size, with no inscription, supposedly Goffe's final resting place. In 1930 the grave was exhumed, revealing a man's bones but no skull. The enduring belief is that Goffe's grave was dug up shortly after his death, his head removed and brought to England for the reward.


Maynard's best-known myth is much more mundane. As the story goes, circa 1720, a group of men showed up at the Thomas Smith family homestead asking for shelter from a storm, and were allowed to stay in the barn for several days. An account of the story: "The men were friendly and liberal with their money, paying generously for everything they obtained from the Smith family. The strangers were noted amusing themselves by throwing pieces-of-eight at the swallows around the barn. Before leaving, they procured some old clothing from the Smiths and made the clothing into sacks. They also asked to borrow some digging tools. Carrying the sacks, now observed to be loaded with something heavy, the men entered the woods in a northerly direction from the Smith house. When they returned, they were empty-handed. The men thanked Smith for his hospitality and left. They were never seen again."

In time, Smith received a letter from a man claiming to have been one of the visitors. The letter stated that the writer and his companions had been pirates, now captured, convicted, and about to be hanged. The writer asked that Smith come to Boston to see them, promising information of great value. Per the story, Smith ignored the request. There is no mention of Thomas Smith or his family members searching for (or finding) buried treasure. The story begs the question of what might have brought pirates so far inland or how they had been carrying the treasure if they needed to make sacks.

As for links to known history, John Smith came from England and settled in north Sudbury. Thomas Smith (1658-1718) was one of his sons, with a homestead on Great Road (Route 117). As for the treasure - who knows? Clearly it was not buried anywhere close to the Smith house or barn. The "northerly direction" the men purportedly walked in could mean anywhere between Route 117 and the Assabet River - far too vague a description to entice anyone with a shovel or metal detector to go treasure hunting.

I mean it. The people who own the Smith properties on Route 117 are tired of strangers knocking at the door asking permission to wander around with a metal detector - or worse - not bothering to ask. If there is ANY truth to this story, either the Smiths located the treasure (they were a well-off, land owning family going forward), or the site was north of the property, toward the Assabet River.  


The primary source for this story is the 1891 book Annals of Sudbury, Wayland and Maynard, by Alfred S. Hudson. Page 70 has the core of the story: Smith family homestead, strangers appear during spring storm, stay in barn, borrow digging tools, depart, letter received later from the men, Smith did not go to see what it was about. Does not mention a year and unsure whether it was about Thomas Smith or another of the family. In 1991 the Maynard Beacon recounted the story, as told to the reporter by Ralph Sheridan, town historian. The homeowners at that time said that trespassers show up with metal detectors. Lastly, a 2005 book Buried Treasures of New England, W.C. Jameson, dedicated four pages to "The Maynard Treasure." The core story is identical to Hudson's: strangers visit, borrow shovels for a mysterious errand, depart, later a letter from prison. The tale is heavily added to with details I believe Jameson made up: it specifies six men garbed in sailors' clothes pushing three handcarts who paid a gold coin for privilege of staying in barn, stayed a week and left ten pieces-of-eight when they departed. In Jameson's version the letter is described as coming 18 months later. Then, after a few days delay to complete farmwork, Smith travels to Boston by horse and wagon to get directions for locating the treasure, only to learn that the men had been hanged the previous day.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ArtSpace Building Centennial

Maynard High School 1940 (Courtesy Maynard Historical Society)
Life-long Maynard residents 70 and older would have graduated high school from the building that now hosts ArtSpace. When viewed from Summer Street, the wing on the right side was Maynard's fourth high school. It opened on October 2, 1916, making the class of 1917 the first graduating class. Construction cost $61,600. The town's voters had approved the idea of a new high school in 1913, then more specifically a school on this site in 1915. This is the part of the structure that is 100 years old. The rest was built ten years later.

In 1916 Maynard had a population of 6,770, with town water (but no town sewer system), electric street lights, houses lit by gas lamps or electric lights, more horses than cars, a train station, and a trolley line servicing Hudson, Stow, Maynard, Acton and Concord. There were five hotels. Silent movies were shown at Colonial Hall, above what is now Roasted Peppers restaurant.

Maynard High School graduating class of 1917 (Courtesy MHS)
High school classes were at this site from 1916 to 1964, then relocated to a new building on the south side of town. The vacated building became Emerson Junior High School (1964-1980), later renamed Fowler Middle School (1980-2000). The left wing - initially housing Fowler Elementary school - opened in 1926, as did the center building, containing George Washington Auditorium.

Back in 1916-17 the school year was Labor Day to the end of June. Morning classes were 8:30 to 11:45. Afternoons 1:15 to 3:45. Half-days Wednesdays. There was no school lunch, nor any school bus transportation. The school had eight classrooms and 165 students – 78 boys and 87 girls. In that era school was mandatory through age 16, so the two lower grades had about 60 students each, whereas there were only 30 in the junior class and 16 in the graduating class.

The Principal was Horace F. Bates, graduate of Harvard. His salary was $1,480. Teachers included graduates from Wellesley College, Brown College and Boston University. Curriculum was basic – divided into Academic and Commercial tracks. Music and art were each taught once a week. No foreign languages. No AP courses.

Maynard High School baseball team, spring of 1917
The school was actually nameless until 1932, when "Maynard High School" was approved at a Town Meeting vote. The year after the new school opened football was re-started as a school team, after twelve years without. The team lost the first game by a score of 59-0.

As noted above, the high school relocated to the south side of town in 1964. The elementary school was next, followed last by Fowler Middle School in 2000. Four years earlier the town had voted to appoint a Fowler School Building Reuse Committee. The conclusion, reached in 1999, was that the only realistic plan was to lease the space to a non-profit arts/cultural group.   

The official transfer of the building to ArtSpace Inc. took place January 2001. Today, ArtSpace provides 43 studio spaces for 80 artists. Demand remains high, with perhaps two or three studios becoming available each year. Rent for the artists is about nine dollars per square foot. The money raised suffices to pay for staff and operating costs. The town owns the building and property but pays nothing toward maintenance or operating costs.

ArtSpace main entrance, in the 90 year old part of the building.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
ArtSpace continues to be fully occupied by artists, some in place since the start, and has a waiting list of applicants. Priority is given to Maynard residents. Many of the studios are open to the public every second Saturday of every month. The ArtSpace Gallery is a wonderful exhibition space presenting new and important contemporary art by both in-house and nationally known artists. All this offers a wonderful - and free - opportunity to see art, chat with artists and buy their art. Acme Theater offers a place for people to collaborate in all aspects of theater production and performance. Together, these organizations are an essential part of Maynard's cultural variety and strength. More information at and

Disclosure: Mark is a member of the ArtSpace Board of Directors.