The Herring Fishery

Dighton Historical Society, The Herring Fishery

dightonhistoricalsociety_herringfishery dightonhistoricalsociety_herringfisheryseining dightonhistoricalsociety_herringfisheryvintagepostcard

The Herring Fishery

Long before there was any white settlement in Dighton, herrings or alewives were used for food and for fertilizer. Squanto taught the Pilgrims to raise corn with a herring in each hill of corn. As in Plymouth, the settlers in the South Purchase caught herrings with scoop nets in the shallow streams and brooks as the annual trip to the ponds and lakes was made.

Every family made a special trip to the river, often scooping enough in one day to supply them for months. They dried the fish and strung them on sticks through the heads. These sticks held twelve fish. They were hung in the driest part of the house, the woodshed or corn crib perhaps, sometimes stick after stick, and the herring were removed as needed. I remember them well, hanging for sale on the porch of D. D. Andrews’ store, for this custom continued even after seining became the usual method of herring fishery.

No records tell when seines were first used. At the time of the War for Freedom herrings were an export from Dighton. Long before that time the General Court sent committees to investigate the herring fishery. Before 1775 Church’s Wharf had been built at Rocky Nook, and it was used both as a fishing ground and as the terminal for an important trade route.

In 1789 William Baylies and Thomas Church met with other delegates at Taunton to draw up some rules for the herring fishery. They decided that the town might sell two fishing “privileges”. The south side of Rocky Nook was to be the boundary between them. Each year these privileges were to be sold at auction to the highest bidder. One was immediately bid in by Josiah Richmond for forty-six dollars; the other was awarded to James Smith for fifty dollars.

So became a custom which lasted until 1924, though as time went on the prices which had on occasion risen as high as $300.00 for each, gradually declined. The Town Report for 1924 states that H.C. Briggs and D. F. Lane each paid fifty cents for one privilege. The following year Mr. Lane paid one dollar and that seemed to end the custom.

Source: History of Dighton by Helen Lane, Honeoye Congregational Church History, Livonia Gazette, September 9, 1854,and Dighton Town Meeting Records.


Dighton Rock

Dighton Historical Society, Dighton Rock


The Mystery of Dighton Rock

As early as 1677, English colonists began speculating about the inscriptions on the boulder in the Taunton River, only a short distance inland from Mount Hope Bay. Many of the most learned men in colonial New England, including Cotton Mather and Ezra Stiles, theorized about the origins of the petroglyphs–identifying them variously as Phoenician, Roman (Latin), Norse, or even Chinese or Japanese–and sent copies of the inscriptions to the Royal Society of London. Even President George Washington was shown a copy of the mysterious scribings in 1789 when he visited Harvard College. Washington is reported to have smiled at the suggestion that the markings might be Phoenician or Oriental characters.

In the 1830s, when Carl C. Rafn, the Secretary of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries in Copenhagen who was searching for evidence of a Scandinavian discovery of America before Columbus, contacted New England historians, they brought Dighton Rock to his attention. Over the course of the 19th century, the inscriptions were associated with the romantic story of Leif Ericsson’s voyage to Vinland, but it was not until 1960 that concrete evidence of a Viking settlement in North America finally was located, and it was far from Dighton Rock at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland.

During the 20th century, a new theory credited the markings to a shipwrecked, 16th-century Portuguese explorer, Miguel Cortereal, although many scholars remain skeptical. Samuel Eliot Morison, who examined the petroglyphs many times, believed that Algonquian Indians carved them with additional markings by more recent visitors to the site. “If the history of the Dighton Rock is nothing else,” he concluded, “it is a remarkable demonstration of human credulity.”

Source: Massachusetts Historical Society

Massachusetts Ancient Carvings Dighton Rock

Dighton Rock in Berkley Massachusetts has left many scratching their heads over the true origins. On the surface of a 40 ton boulder are age-old carvings known as petroglyphs. Are they proof that early ancient civilizations were able to make it to America? Hear the theories and decide for yourself.

Source: New England’s Insomniac Theatre


The Winslow-Davis House, 1968

Dighton Historical Society, Winslow Davis House






Winslow Davis House, 1968

The Dighton Historical Society was formed in 1962 and incorporated in 1968. Charlotte Crawford donated the first $100 to establish the funds to buy the house.and it was purchased in January of 1968. They established a fundraising goal of $12,000 and a large thermometer was set up on the front lawn to track the fundraising. Circulars were sent to all businesses in town soliciting donations, along with a house-to-house fund raising campaign. A $5,000 bequest was made from the estate of Delight Jones.

Much of the work done at the house was done by women, as many of them did not work outside of the home at the time. They scraped and painted and filled in holes in the plaster. They went to the home of Emily Lima to remove wood panels that was etched with ships, and they were put up along the inside staircase at the house. They went to see Mrs. Waterhouse in Boston, who had old wallpapers, and were able to get the wallpaper in the kitchen of the house. The outside work was done by men who volunteered, including the selectmen, and the outside painting was done by both, men and women.

As time moved forward, the women in the society held Old House Tours, yard sales, suppers, teas, and bake sales. They literally kept going, one sale at a time, to move forward. The Dighton Historical Society is a non-profit organization, and the people who started in the 1960’s and kept pushing forward, a little at a time, are responsible for having established a great research room and many artifacts that speak to the history of the town.

Source: Dighton Historical Society’s minutes in 1968 and from conversations with Elaine Varley and Chris Pacheco.


Strawberry Growing

Dighton Historical Society, Strawberry Growing


Strawberry Growing in Dighton

Shortly after 1860, the culture of the strawberry was introduced into Dighton. The late Daniel Chase, his son, the Honorable C. S. Chase (who was a Massachusetts State Senator) and Dexter Pierce were among the first, if not the first, producers in Dighton. Other farmers began to grow them, and soon, the farming of strawberries had spread over the whole town.

In the early days strawberry raising was immensely profitable. The name “Dighton” in the Boston market was above the ordinary, and sometimes was displayed for advertising purposes over fruit that came from other places.

A long train, fifteen carloads of berries from Dighton and Somerset, left the Dighton station every evening during the height of the growing season, which was from the last week of May through most of June. Wagons loaded with crates of berries usually waited in line well up the length of Main Street, to be loaded on the train, which ran where the Dighton Hardware store is located today. Elain Varley, former town historian, tells the story her father, Leland Bullard told her about how he picked berries for two cents a box, and one day picked 200 boxes, quite a record at the time. Workers were given tags to put in each box they picked, and later on, Elaine remembers working with other girls to sort the tags of each picker, so they
could be paid.

As the years went by, and more shipments were going to Boston from other places, it was thought that the profitable business of strawberries would decrease, but other markets besides Boston were found, and by 1912, production was probably larger than at any other time since berries were grown in Dighton.

In the 50 years from the 1860’s to 1912, strawberries were the chief crop grown in Dighton, and they brought an enormous amount of money into the town. A glance at our Town Seal will show the high regard in which the meek and lowly strawberry is held in Dighton.

Source: The Bi-Centennial book published in 1912 and the History of Dighton written by
Helen Lane in 1962.



Dighton Historical Society, Wampanoags

Dighton Historical Society Wampanoags
WampanoagsThe Wampanoags native americans inhabited the Taunton River banks at least 10 times longer than their white successors have. They divided into sub tribes: the Cohannets and the Pocassets. At the time of the purchase of this land from King Philip, both the Pocassets and Mettapoisetts inhabited Dighton.

In the Dighton territory we know of at least one large cleared tract of land that the Council Oak Tree (“The Dighton Council Oak”) stood in the center of. The tree was 16 feet in circumference, proving the age of the tree to be at least 5 centuries old. Native American women cultivated farms around the tree,

The above clearing was not the only native american community in Dighton. They lived and hunted over most of the territory. Most of the native americans in our area died in the great plague between 1612 and 1618.

In 1673 Taunton bought the territory in which Dighton was included. This was knows as the South Purchase.

On May 30, 1712 the court accepted the petition of the town to lay down boundaries and name the territory the Town of Dighton.

Helen Lane’s History of Dighton

2010 Dighton Pow Wow, Red River Singers
Dighton Historical Society Wampanoags The Dighton Council Oak

Dighton Oak Council Tree Photographed by Howard Russell, 1930

Dighton Historical Society Wampanoags The Dighton Council Oak, Now

Left: Russ Haskell – “Wounded Turtle” and Right: Paul Pittsley – “Gray Wolf” near the Council Oak in Dighton. Both are sub-chiefs for the Dighton Intertribal Council.

The Pow Wow TreeThe Wampanoag, have a council tree known as “The Dighton Council Oak”. Tradition holds that, Massasoit gave orders to feed the Pilgrims from under the Council Oak. King Phillip met at the Council Oak to hold Council with the Pocassets ( sub-group of the Wampanoag). Sometimes, this was also referred as a Charter Oak and was the site of the signing of the Dighton Charter in 1663.

Source: Massachusetts Historical Commission, MHC#Dig MA01. The Wampananoag Indian Federation Of The Algonquin Nation, Indian Neighbors Of The Pilgrims, by Milton A. Travers.



Dighton Historical Society, Wampanoag Canoe Passage

Dighton Historical Society Wampanoags Plimoth Plantation CanoePlimoth Plantation Wampanoag Canoe
Wampanoag Canoe PassageFor more than 10,000 years, Native American Indians, known today as Wampanoags, lived in the area today known as southeastern Massachusetts. They fished, hunted andcanoed on the lands and waters between Boston and Providence, including Cape Cod, the islands of Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and the Taunton River.The tangled growth of great forests provided a natural shelter and home to the Wampanoags and their beloved animals.The Native American Wampanoags lived in peace and harmony with nature. The arrival of the strangers from across the sea though, changed their lives forever.

The Wampanoag’s chief sachem, Massasoit (Woosamequin), was among the first to greet the Pilgrims. He was a diplomat and peace-keeper.

Massasoit was succeeded by his two sons. The eldest, Wamsutta (also called Alexander) died under mysterious circumstances and his body was returned to his people over part of the water route which is now called the

Wampanoag Commemorative Canoe Passage.

[map info: The Wampanoag Canoe Passage runs for more than 70 miles from Scituate on Massachusetts Bay to Dighton Rock State Park on the Taunton River as it flows into Narragansett Bay.

The passage is divided into three sections of nearly equal length. The first from Scituate to Pembroke ending at Little Sandy Pond. The second from East Bridgewater to Middleborough, ending at Camp Titicut and the third from Raynham to Berkley, ending at Dighton Rock State Park. map source:


Dighton Historical Society  Wampanoag Canoe Passage MapWampanoag Canoe Route
source: Google Maps
Wampanoag Passage Paddle 2012


Wampanoag Canoe Passage


Mount Hope Finishing

Dighton Historical Society, Mount Hope Finishing

Dighton Historical Society Mount Hope Finishing

Dighton Historical Society Mount Hope Finishing J K Millikin

Mount Hope Finishing

In 1901, the story begins. Joseph Knowles and his nephew Joseph Knowles Millikin, who was 26 years of age, known to his associates as J.K.happened by an abandoned mlll in the tiny town of N. Dighton, MA. They immediately saw its potential. The mill soon represented prominent investors: the Hathaways, Stantons, Tiffanys and Crapos. Eventually Joseph Millikin would be top shareholder due to his phenomenal success.

Within 6 short months, they had established a cloth finishing company to support the booming textile trade in nearby Fall River, New Bedford, and Rhode Island. J.K procured rights to copious water needed, then sought the necessary labor….and therein lies his fame.

Dighton Historical Society Mount Hope Finishing 1924

Dighton Historical Society Mount Hope Finishing 1934

To find and keep good labor in this area of New England, J.K. adopted the Company Town model. In the days when there were few cars and no highway system, it helped to centralize housing close to the site of work. This was not new to the U.S., coal mining companies and others had adopted it. Perhaps, none as pervasively as J.K.however. In 1901, there was only one macadam road in N. Dighton. This soon changed. Eventually, the company created a beautiful park where it hosted employee picnics, sponsored ski trips by train to New Hampshire, created a hospital where a nurse would visit the Plant daily, created the town’s water system (some of which is still is use today), a dairy (still historically intact today as well). If you lived there, as an employee, you were provided with paved roads, had your own police department and fire station. The farm, though it has changed hands often throughout the year/s remains intact to this day with its current owners, the Reed Family Limited Partnership. Milk and vegetables were sold at cost to employees. There were men from the Village employed at the company, too. The company paid for church buildings, a library, card rooms, dances as well as theatre performances Emergency services were provided and employees never had to shovel.

“Shortly after obtaining the old mill, J.K. bought 13 old tenement buildings and completely remodeled them inside and out. Each was decorated and outfitted with new plumbing. The Company continued to acquire, build and rent nearly 200 homes, many small bungalows and single family distinctive homes. Each had its inviting entrance, a well kept lawn, a little garden, was located to best advantage along the roads of the model village. The Company mowed lawns, trimmed trees, raked leaves and cleared snow for its tenants. All houses were repainted and repapered every three years. Rents ranged from $1.25 per week to $5.00 per week (on average salaries tended to exceed those of Fall River). The newest houses, circa 1922, included steam heat, hot and cold water, baths, set tubes, hardwood floors, electric lights, gas, sanitary closets and sewer connections.”
– Eric Schutlz

Source: Dighton Historical Society, Myrna Santos, Eric Schutlz’s article Purchasing Worker Loyalty, and  Sandy J. Pineault’s blog

Dighton Historical Society Mount Hope Finishing Clock Tower 2013

Mount Hope Finishing Company: Historic Mill Comes Down

The dream that began in 1676 with two men from New Bedford and a stroll through an empty factory building in the north part of town has been reduced to rubble.

Owners J. Frank Knowles with his nephew Joseph Knowles Milliken, bought the 1,250 square feet of abandoned mill in 1901 and turned it into Mount Hope Finishing Company, one of the largest finishing plants in the world under one roof.

The name came from the Indian word Montaup after the village where King Phillip was killed in 1676.

The men represented prominent mill owners and investors in New Bedford who were in search of a site for a new plant to bleach, dye and finish fabrics for the many cotton mills of Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

With the help of many investors, many of the names now synonymous with great success including the Hathaways, Stantons, Tiffanys and Crapos, Mount Hope was incorporated on June 13, 1901.

“If it isn’t fit for a bleachery, it’s no good for anything,” said Knowles after he took the walk around.

With hundreds of workers operating a plant that consumed 10,000,000 gallons of water daily from the company’s wells and nearby Three Mile River, Mount Hope enjoyed steady growth in its first years and by 1903, profits reached $175,000.  Just four years later, that growth increased to $430,000 and by 1910, profits reached more than $600,000.

Many of the workers designed and built their own machines because after some time, only they knew what worked.

During this time, Milliken had an offer to go to another mill and considered making that move until Knowles asked him to remain at Mount Hope as Executive Head and increased Milliken’s capital stock by 250 shares all to be sold to Milliken over 25 years.

Milliken had four children; Robert, Helen, J.K. Jr, (called Pete) and Ruth. In their childhood years, Bob and Pete went to the mill on Sundays with dad. By the mid-twenties, both sons were brought into the business.

The company touched every aspect of life. Milliken tried to think of everything that would make for a good work environment and dedicated employees.

The Mount Hope Clubhouse offered card rooms, dances, a library, theater performances and other activities. The company paid for the village’s emergency services as well as several churches. They also owned a farm that produced and delivered eggs, milk and vegetables to all the employees at cost.

Rates were kept at a minimum at the local hospital where two nurses and two assistants were on duty at all times with a doctor on-call. The most severe cases were sent to Boston Hospitals on Mount Hope’s dime.

However, by 1950, the Korean War did more damage on profits than the Great Depression and for the first time, talk of relocation began.

Source: Historic Mill Comes Down, Feb. 22, 2009 article written by Kendra Leigh Sardinha of the Taunton Gazette


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