Left in Andover: A whipping to end whippings

 By Susan Leader
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC
Compiling her “Vermont Historical Gazetteer,” Abby Maria Hemenway (1828-1890) enlisted the elders of each Vermont town and city to provide historical material, which she then edited and published from 1861 until her death.

The section titled “The Local History of ANDOVER, VT.” (1886) includes a primary source contribution under the moniker “Memories of an Old Inhabitant by E. Hutchinson,” a composite account by Ebenezer Hutchinson Jr. of his own and his deceased father Ebenezer’s memories:

Title page ‘The Local History of Andover, Vt’ edited by Abby Maria Hemenway

“Somewhere between 1780 and 90 I remember seeing Polly O’Brien, a girl just entering her teens, publicly whipped at the post, for taking a few potatoes from the field. This scene burned into my memory for I pitted (sic) her. Her folks were very poor. She had been sent by them to a neighbor for a peck of potatoes, with a promise of subsequent payment. She was refused and was watched as she would doubtless steal if she could not buy them. She was taken before Esq. Brown and ordered to pay some two dollars, or be whipped. A neighbor went forward with the money, but the court held a third person had no business to pay the fine, and she suffered the ordeal; the first and the last I think, to the honor of the town. The whipping posts soon began to go down in the towns around, and Andover did not keep hers up, after her neighbors had dropped theirs.”

The O’Brien homestead was located in an area west of O’s Road, north of present day Rte. 11 and south of Marsh Crossroads, an original town center of Andover. Esq Brown inhabited the southern brow of Markham Mountain near Redtop Farm.

Polly O’Brien’s story of deprivation and corporal punishment is heart wrenching. It also provides an opportunity to extrapolate between the lines. Excluded from the mutual self-help network of that day, the non-English surnamed O’Brien family was doomed. Ebenezer Hutchinson’s presumption of Polly’s guilt i.e. that ”she would doubtless steal” and the court’s refusal to allow a charitable third party to pay her fine lend credence to the view that this family was an anomaly.

The Charter of Andover

Had they been time travelers, the O’Briens might have accessed the mountains of potatoes eventually grown and stored on nearby Tater Hill. Today, they could buy 5 pounds of potatoes at Lisai’s for $2, using food stamps if need be.

In 1951, I was born into an outsider family not 5 miles away from Marsh Crossroads. Although money was tight, we never went hungry. A cow, chickens and garden, supplemented by USDA surplus food hand-outs at Chester Depot — and my dad’s bargain hunting efforts — kept us afloat.
In the 1950s, as from the earliest days in Vermont, the social welfare system was the responsibility of each individual town. I quote my father regarding his efforts to receive help from the Andover Select Board in 1956 when he was incapacitated:

“The local insight that there was some kind of Jewish network was made use of in 1956 when we ‘went on the town’ after my crippling operation. Efforts were made by the selectmen to obtain charity for us from Jewish organizations through the intermediation of a New Yorker who had moved into town and claimed he knew that ‘Jews always looked after their own.’ Well, no such charities could be found, and we lived in good conscience ‘on the town,’ although my wife was none too happy, fearing discrimination against our one daughter already in school. But the issue was that her 10 or 12 classmates were supremely uninterested in such matters, and when we decided to move away a few years later, wrenching her from her schoolmates was one of our biggest problems.”

Historical marker noting Abby Maria Hemenway’s accomplishments — and the fact that she died in poverty.

In early 1949, the Andover selectmen, in need of professional expertise to get us up to snuff with a modern day record keeping system, recruited Colonel Albert Blanchard Kellogg, former superintendent of schools in Claremont, N.H., to serve as town clerk.

During his subsequent two years in this position he accomplished not only this, but also rescued our town origin story by preserving the disintegrating pieces of the original Andover Town Charter, signed by Ira Allen, Surveyor General, on Oct. 13, 1783, to archival standards. The charter dates within a few years of the public whipping of 12 year old Polly O’Brien.

Although the Kelloggs sold their home on what is now Pettengill Road and moved away in 1951, they and their descendants are buried at Simonsville Cemetery, providing us tangible proof of their lives here.

Graves of Ebenezer Hutchinson, father and son, Middletown Cemetery, Andover, after a snowstorm.

The Ebenezer Hutchinson clan, to my utter delight, is also well represented, at Middletown Cemetery. Locating them this afternoon was a cinch, as residue from the recent snowstorm rendered their eroded gravestone inscriptions in high relief.

There are no O’Briens buried in any of Andover’s four main cemeteries. The family moved away after its trauma, the 1791 census report does not list them. If not for the groundbreaking, inclusive ethnography of Abby Maria Hemenway, their story would have been lost.

Lest we lose it again, I suggest a state historical marker erected at Marsh Crossroads, or better yet down on Rte. 11, might be in order.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Barb Clark says:

    How sad to see this practice of whipping post, brought over with the same old ideas of reform to our new country of freedom! Here they had a new start to revise old non-working ideas with reform and charity! It’s sad to think old prejudices were never left on the boat they were brought in on!