Monday, July 17, 2006

David Ruggles/Hannah Randall House, Florence, Massachusetts, Part One

The first building of David Ruggles'
Northampton Water Cure

The building was moved to this location at 47 Florence Road, Florence, Massachusetts sometime in 1851-1852, after Charles Munde took over following the death of Ruggles in December, 1849. In the views below the early timber framing of the late 1830's construction are in evidence along with the straight saw marks (pre-circular saw) in the floor boards.

Benjamin Barrett/David Mack/
David Ruggles/Hannah Randall House

A Provisional Interpretation of the Evidence, Part 1

47 Florence Road, Florence, MA

General Background

The original site of Dr. Benjamin Barrett’s “oil mill house,” later the first building of David Ruggles’ Northampton Water Cure, was near the current Northampton Elks Lodge at 17 Spring Street, Florence. Barrett had acquired part of Lot 41 of the original lots in Broughton’s Meadow on November 11, 1835 from Nathaniel Clark and the rest from Joseph Allen on September 23, 1836. The single story structure was likely built to facilitate storage and a provide a place of refuge for workers bringing material to the nearby oil mill for processing. A building does not appear on the 1831 map in this location. So the years in which the house served this purpose must have been brief for sometime in 1835 the oil, grist, and saw mills of Josiah White were sold by his heir to Samuel Whitmarsh (Charles Sheffeld, History of Florence, page 57). This former clothier from New York City established the Northampton Silk Company on the premises, acquiring additional property from William Clark and Gaius Burt. By June of 1836 silk manufacturing equipment was set up in the oil mill and it likely ceased its original function.

In 1837 Whitmarsh built a new, larger brick structure a half-mile downstream for the manufacture of silk and moved the equipment out of the oil mill. Two years later, with the silk enterprise foundering in the midst of a disastrous speculation in mulberry trees, David Lee Child and Lydia Maria Child rented the old oil mill, Josiah White’s old cottage, and twenty acres of the “Silk Company Farm” for the production of beet sugar. This experiment failed as well and by September of 1841 a group of businessmen with social reform on their minds, mostly from northeastern Connecticut, purchased the property of the Northampton Silk Company including Josiah White’s old oil mill. Earlier that year Lydia Maria Child had moved to New York City to edit the National Anti-Slavery Standard. It is unclear how long David’s arrangement with the nascent Northampton Association of Education and Industry lasted but the grist mill and saw mill became vital parts of the productive capacity of this community of radical abolitionists. One of the founders, George W. Benson, was William Lloyd Garrison’s brother-in-law.

The Northampton Association Moves in: David Mack and the Community School

On September 10, 1842 the Northampton Association approved assuming the rental by Benson “with Dr. Barrett for the house occupied by Mr. Mack.” (NAEI Volume #2, Record of Proceedings). Two days later the cost for installing sinks in the Boarding House and seven other houses of the community were recorded in the Association expense book. (NAEI Volume #5, Daybook 1842-1844). Just below these entries is listed an expense for a sink installed for David Mack, entered separately, presumably because this was a rental and not one of the buildings owned by the Community. In 1894 Charles Sheffeld listed the houses that had been owned by the Community in his History of Florence (page 96). Along with the Benson house, the Adam house, the Josiah White Cottage, and the Gaius Burt houses he lists, “the Mack house on the other side of the bridge north of Spring street.” This was the rough location of the Barrett “oil mill house.”

George W. Benson had come to Broughton’s Meadow from Brooklyn, CT, located in a region that would provide nearly half of the early members of the NAEI. Benson was married to Catharine Stetson and he was able to convince her brother James and his wife Dolly, also of Brooklyn to join them in Northampton. It appears that Benson, seeking to accommodate his brother-in-law’s wishes, had prevailed on David Mack and Maria Mack to make way for the Stetsons and their six children, who entered the Association on April 20, 1843. Less than a month later they were joined by the Calvin Stebbins family of Wilbraham. (Letters from An American Utopia, note 56, page 144)James became the salesman of the company’s silk in Boston and so spent most of the three years the Stetsons were members of the Association away from home. The couple’s separation resulted in the seventy-five letters compiled in Letters from an American Utopia.

From the beginning the Association had been committed to engage in the education of young students. With Director William Adam, David and Maria Mack were the central figures in the Educational Department. The letter from Dolly to James Stetson of April 21, 1844 reveals Mack’s desire to move back to his former dwelling. Dolly contends that it wasn’t she who had wanted him to move out in the first place.

The next day after you left Mr Mack came to me and wished to know If I was willing to exchange tenements with him. I told him that he knew that I had always been willing to live in the factory but that you had objections to living there, and I should not decide anything about it but that they must write to you. Mr Mack said that he felt himself pledged to raise $1000 in the educational department that he had been promised a suitable place for the school and that he had advertised that they would be ready to receive scholars the first of May. [Emphasis added]

The Director of the Educational Department, William Adam, resigned and withdrew from the Association in January of 1844. Responsibility for the school fell on the shoulders of David Mack. In addition to the education of the Community children the plan was to take in boarding students as well. Mack may also have heard that the Stebbinses were planning to leave later that month. In any event he pressed on with his request.

George was disposed not to do any thing about it until you returned but Mr Mack was very anxious to move and he thought George did wrong not to write you more particularly about the reasons why it was necessary that we should move—Mr Mack suggested that we might move up to Samuel Hills house if I thought you would prefer it—I told Mr Mack at last if he conscientiously thought that the good of the Association required that we should move we would do it—As far as I was concerned I thought…if we were to be moved before the first of May the sooner we moved the better…accordingly at eleven o’clock yesterday word came that we would exchange tenements yesterday afternoon...

Enters David Ruggles

David Ruggles, the first African-American bookseller in the country and one of the first black journalists was the former Secretary of the New York Vigilance Committee and an assistant to over 600 fugitive slaves including Frederick Douglass. He arrived at the Northampton Association in November of 1842, broken down in health and nearly blind. Lydia Maria Child was then living in New York with Ruggles’ former colleague in the anti-slavery struggle, Isaac Hopper. Through Hopper she may have learned of Ruggles’ dire situation. Her husband, David Lee Child, had remained on the farm in Lonetown near Broughton’s Meadow. David had intimate contacts with Garrison and the founders of the Northampton Association. He put forward Ruggles’ name as a prospective member on November 15, 1842 (NAEI Volume #2).

It appears that Ruggles lodged in the factory boarding house upon his arrival and was there when Dolly Stetson and her family moved in April of 1844. Shortly after his arrival, in January of 1843, Ruggles had heard of the hydropathic treatments of Vincent Priessnitz in Austria. Now desperate for some new approach to combat his many ailments he made unschooled attempts to treat himself. David Lee Child, his sponsor to the NAEI, had been one of the first in abolitionist circles to write about the efficacy of the water cure of Priessnitz. In May of 1843, David Mack made a practical demonstration of his shared interest by having money approved to construct a bathing house, perhaps, in part, with Ruggles’ self-treatment in mind. (Christopher Clark, Communitarian Moment, pp. 197-198). After several weeks of frustratingly mixed results Ruggles began correspondence with a student of Priessnitz, Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft in Boston. Some months later he visited Wesselhoeft who agreed to supervise his treatment but both patient and doctor had faint hope of success. Ruggles described his early treatment in an article for the Hampshire Gazette of January 4, 1848.

At this point, the Dr., raised the first note of encouragement, and advised perseverance, under a varied and milder treatment, until new symptoms required a more rigid course. Then the packing in the wet sheet once and twice a day, the plunge or shallow wash bath, the douche five minutes, three hip baths, from 16 to 60 minutes each, two eye baths and a foot bath comprised the daily course, until a fever crisis was developed, with symptoms of salivation, and other exudations, from the trunk of the body…

For more information on the Northampton Association of Education and Industry see:

For more on the Stetson Letters see:


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