Sunday, May 31, 2015

Our Latest Exeter History Minute(s) -- The Cannons of Exeter

Considering the fact that we haven't had any battles in Exeter or on the Squamscott River, it is a little curious that the town is home to five naval cannons.

Watch these TWO episodes to find out how the cannons came to reside in Exeter, New Hampshire. Click here to see the first about the cannons at the American Independence Museum and Winter Street Cemetery.

And if you'd like to hear about the three -- well, now two -- cannons at Gilman Park, check out Part 2 (you can click here to watch). Both history minutes are generously sponsored by Foy Insurance.

To learn more about Exeter history -- or to become a member of the Exeter Historical Society and support our programs and history minutes -- visit our website.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Albert Sumner Wetherell III

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, May 22, 2015.

Exeter lost 19 men to the battlefield in World War II, among them was Albert Sumner Wetherell III. Like many young men in town, Wetherell enlisted in the army rather than wait to have his life upended with the draft. He served nearly three years before his death in the Ruhr at the very end of the war in Europe.

Wetherell’s family was well respected in town. His grandfather, Albert Wetherell Sr., hailed originally from South Norridgewock, Maine. After attending school in his hometown, he moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts to work in a drugstore for three years learning the art of compounding medicines. By 1873, he was ready to open his own business and initially set up shop in the Janvrin Block on Water Street. He opened his newly renovated drugstore in 1893 to great local excitement. The new store was “elegantly appointed” according to the Exeter News-Letter, and can still be seen today just opposite the bandstand, easily recognizable by the druggists’ mortar and pestle that stands on the roof. Local legend holds that the hot fudge sundae was invented at Wetherell’s drugstore at the soda fountain.

Albert Wetherell the druggist’s son, named for his father, went into the auto business opening a garage and sales office on Franklin Street. His advertisement from 1930, boasts of “Sales and Service: Buick, Marquette & Chevrolet Cars.” His son, also named Albert, but called Sumner – his middle name – was drawn to the exciting new world of automobiles, dropping out of Exeter High School to become a mechanic.

Sumner Wetherell took on leadership roles within the town. He became involved with the Boy Scouts of Troop 193, first becoming assistant and later Acting Scoutmaster, winning a blue ribbon for camping proficiency at the Stratham Hill Camporee in the fall of 1940. He expanded his role with the Exeter Fire Department, becoming a full member of the Hook and Ladder Company in May of 1940. By the time the war began, he had proved that he had leadership potential, but without full schooling, he was only able to enlist as a private in July of 1942.

But at some point during basic training at Fort Wheeler, Georgia, it became evident that he had the skills required of a leader. Sent to Officers Candidate School at Fort Hood, Texas, he graduated as a second lieutenant in a tank destroyer unit. Before shipping overseas, he stopped in Exeter long enough to have his picture taken with his sister, Elizabeth, then a member of the WAVES. Arriving in France, he trained with the infantry and became a platoon commander.

As the war wound down in early 1945, his father must have begun to get excited that his son would soon come home. But it was not to be. During the final push into Germany, 2nd Lt. Albert Sumner Wetherell was reported missing in action. His father received word on Saturday, April 21, and worried until receiving the news he didn’t want to hear the following Monday that his only son was confirmed killed in action on April 5 – just a month before the war’s end in Europe. The Exeter News-Letter picked up the story and reported on April 26, “his death brings to 14 the number of Exeter service men who have given their lives in the war.” It would not be the last.

Wetherell’s family inscribed his name on the family gravestone in the Exeter Cemetery, sadly under that of his mother, Hazel, who died in 1925 after childbirth when Sumner was just a boy, and his baby brother who died a year later of scarlet fever.

Far away, in the American War Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands, 2nd Lieutenant Albert Sumner Wetherell III was laid to rest. But his story doesn’t end here and he was not forgotten in a lonely cemetery. Many years ago, his grave was adopted by John Essers – who is now 68. This spring he wrote to the Exeter Historical Society requesting information about the man he never knew. “Six times in a year I bring flowers to his grave and so I do remember him for what he has done for us in World War II. Every time, when I stand on his grave, I think also what for man he has been and if he has still family in the USA.” Margraten has not forgotten the Americans buried in their town. This year they began an ambitious project to collect photos and information on the 10,023 soldiers who lie in the cemetery. “In this way,” their website states, “Dutch citizens will give a face to their U.S. liberators as a unique tribute to their sacrifices.” Albert Wetherell’s photo, taken with his sister Elizabeth, was forwarded for this project. (You can read more about the project on their website.)

Exeter’s World War II service men who died during the war – Millard Blaisdell, Hector Bruneau, Joseph Chatigny, Jr., Robert Connor, Maurice Couture, Rene Desroisiers, James Dirsa Jr., Joseph Hammell, Christian Hansen, Albert Horsfall, Herbert Moss, Robert Naves, Raynold Nudd, John Pearson, Forrest Shaw, Raymond Tuttle, Alfred Wightman, Cornelius Wilson and Albert S. Wetherell III (known as ‘Sumner’) – are all well remembered in Exeter. We can take comfort in knowing that they are well remembered overseas as well.

Photo: 2nd Lieutenant Albert Sumner Wetherell III and his sister, Elizabeth Wetherell of the WAVES pose together just before Sumner shipped overseas during World War II. Sumner was killed in action in the Ruhr region of German on April 5, 1945.

Also: John M.G. Essers, who adopted the grave of Albert Sumner Wetherell, poses at the gravesite in Margarten, Netherlands on April 5, 2015 – exactly 50 years after Wetherell fell on the battlefield.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Exeter Samplers

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

The Exeter Historical Society was recently asked by the Saco Museum in Maine if there were any examples of New England samplers in the collections and if we’d be willing to loan them for a summer exhibition called, “Industry and Virtue Joined: Schoolgirl Needlework and Female Entrepreneurs of Northern New England.” Our samplers would be displayed at the museum and later photographed and included in the Sampler Archive Project, a collaboration of the University of Delaware, the University of Oregon and the Sampler Consortium funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Five of our samplers have been included in this project.

The oldest sampler in our collection is also the one we know the least about. It was donated to the Society in 1979 from the estate of Margaret Graney, an Exeter native who worked in Boston as a legal secretary most of her life. The sampler is the work of Fanny Hallett, who embroidered the date ‘1793’ onto the piece but provided no other information. Like all the samplers in our collections, the work is done with silk thread on linen fabric. Samplers were meant to highlight a girl’s ability to sew and decorate – an important skill for women to possess. The sampler was like a term paper – proving that a girl had mastered the stitches. Generally, samplers include renderings of the alphabet, printed capitals and lower case along with fancy script as well as text. In most cases, the text is religious in nature, but Fanny Hallett instead used a quote from the British poet Alexander Pope’s work Essay on Man: “Honour and shame from no condition rise, Act well your part there all the honor lies.” Was this a subtle comment on the nation’s new republican ideals? Perhaps. We know very little about Fanny Hallett. There were no families named ‘Hallett’ living in Exeter or the surrounding area in 1793, so the sampler must be from some other location originally.

Two samplers that we can document well are those of Harriet Robinson and Martha Jane Elliot. Harriet stitched her name and, “aged 11 years Exeter 1839” onto her sampler. Martha Jane likewise included her name followed by, “age 12 years, Exeter, 1842” on her work. At the time they created the samplers, both girls were attending the Exeter Female Academy on Center Street. It is likely that it was at this school that the samplers were created. Along with the academic subjects taught at the school was a class in needlework. Both samplers follow the same basic structure: within an embroidered border, there are three lines of the alphabet (print, script, lower case) followed by a popular poem, “Pray Always” by Jane Simpson, which begins, “Go when the morning shineth, Go when the noon is bright.” Harriet called it simply, “Pray” and Martha titled it, “The Hour of Prayer,” but it is the exact same poem.

Interestingly, Harriet and Martha became in-laws by marrying the Merrill brothers, Abner and Henry. Both couples spent their adult lives in Boston, although they visited Exeter often.

Another sampler in our collections is that of Mary Shute. Like the Fanny Hallett sampler, Shute’s was also donated by the Margaret Graney estate. There were numerous Shute families in Exeter, but none of them had a daughter named Mary. The sampler provides no clues, merely listing the maker as: “Mary Shute, aged nine yrs.” As such, we cannot even be assured the work was done in Exeter. The style of the piece is different from those done at the Exeter Female Academy and a check of the student lists from the school yields no “Mary Shute.” However, there is a student named “Elizabeth Mary Shute” who attended in the early 1830s. It is possible – but not provable – that this is the same person. Elizabeth Mary Shute was born in 1825 and attended the Exeter Female Academy along with her sister, Emeline. Elizabeth’s obituary from 1901 says of her, “As a child of tender years, Miss Shute sustained an injury which resulted in partial paralysis of her lower limbs.” She never married, choosing instead to live with her sister, Emeline, who married another of the Merrill brothers, Joseph. As tantalizing as this is, of course, we simply can’t be sure.

The final sampler in the collection is quite similar to the two that were made at the Exeter Female Academy and the maker’s name is carefully stitched into it: “Sarah Jane Elliot, age 12, Exeter.” We presumed it would be simple to locate the maker and establish her family in town, but she remains elusive. Not related to Martha Jane Elliot, Sarah Jane could be one of two people – both born in 1844 (making this the youngest of the samplers, created about 1856). But we cannot place Sarah Jane Elliot, born 1844 to either James and Abigail Elliot of Chester or Ephraim and Sarah Elliot of Concord, in Exeter in 1856. She is also not listed in the catalog of the Exeter Female Academy. Sarah did not use Jane Simpson’s poem about prayer in her sampler, she used a common sampler verse, “Jesus permit thy gracious name, to stand as the first effort of an infant’s hand, and as her fingers on the sampler move, engage her tender heart to seek thy love with thy dear children may she have a part and write thy name thyself upon her heart.” Authorship of this verse is disputed. It may have been John Newton, of “Amazing Grace” fame, or Isaac Watts. But no matter whose verse it was, the sampler remains that the only evidence we have of Sarah Jane Elliot in Exeter.

The Exeter samplers will be on display at the Saco Museum from May 9th through October 4th. Further information and hours are listed at:

Photo: Sampler made by Martha Jane Elliot of Exeter in 1842. Elliot likely stitched her work as a student at the Exeter Female Academy, a private girl’s finishing school that was located on Center Street from 1826 – 1864. This sampler, and four others from the collections of the Exeter Historical Society, will be on display this summer at the Saco Museum in Saco, Maine.