Holliston History – Abner Morse Begins the Record

History is made every day. Most of it doesn’t land in the archives; nevertheless, history is constantly happening – even here in Holliston. Now that Holliston is approaching the 300th anniversary – our tricentennial – in 2024, looking at our history takes on a new sense of urgency to record what Holliston looks like today. How can we make sense of what Holliston is all about – especially over the past 50 years? The last in-depth look we took was in 1974. Times and historical research have changed in many ways for the better. Here’s what our “town historians” were up against when they took pen – eventually a typewriter – and paper in hand to tackle the task.

Preservation and the recording of history involved challenges that today we need not endure. Holliston’s first “town historian” was Abner Morse. In 1856, he wrote and published the Genealogical Register of The Inhabitants and History of the Towns of Sherborn and Holliston. The book reflected the strong interest everyone had at the time for all things genealogical, and that aspect of the book attracted many buyers. Abner Morse’s research method was to wander around Sherborn and Holliston and ask a lot of questions. He had little written data to consider. Newspapers in Holliston emerged only sporadically in the 1850s, and little can be found that filtered into Milford, Worcester, or Boston papers. When Abner Morse wrote out his book draft, the dip pen was in common use. The greatly improved fountain pen was not in widespread use until the mid to late 19th century. We can speculate that Abner used a nib pen……dip, write a few letters, dip…. write a few letters, dip….  The task would have been tedious when fountain pens were invented.

Once he had written enough, he passed the manuscript to the printer where it met with another tedious task—setting the type. Abner and the typesetter had no other recourse. The 342 pages – 264 devoted to genealogy, 58 pages recorded the history of Sherborn, and 18 pages devoted to Holliston, was a local literary sensation. Never before had all this local history been compiled into one book that reflected the rising interest in genealogy and local history in our area. Local readers could see that their history was just as important as Boston’s and was worthy of note and preservation.

Much of the local history that Abner Morse recorded in his book is found scattered among the genealogy pages featuring the prominent families. Their biographies gave interesting details about who settled in Sherborn and Holliston.  Culling out the anecdotes is a treasure hunt. Samuel Sanger was given several pages of interesting details. Born July 7, 1735, he “was distinguished for his athletic frame, personal dignity, moral integrity, courage, independence, and energy. During a long period of active life, he bore a conspicuous part in the civil transactions of Sherborn. To him Pomologists owe the discovery and first cultivation of the incomparable Porter apple. He inherited the ancient Sanger house, kept a small store and tavern, and once entertained Gen. Washington….”

And lest we forget the women – who were not as conspicuous in the annals – Mary (Bullen) Straten, wife of Nathan, who died at age 87 on April 24, 1810, “was the last witch in Sherborn accused of miraculous power derived from Satan.” Ah, such a curious bit of history that begs for more! Sometimes, editing and addenda were required to keep up with new discoveries in historical research. But what about that witch?

      History of Sherborn and Holliston, Abner Morse, 1856

Holliston is looking forward to 2024, when the town will celebrate 300 years since its incorporation. Gathering history has radically changed. The internet has made historical – and genealogical history – much easier to find, and much of the “ancient” history of Holliston has been recorded in previous publications.

Today, we have many ways to view our history, and a grass-roots organization is coming together to take on the challenge of finding the best stories about Holliston.  In the spirit of Abner Morse and how he first tackled historical research, we propose to do what Abner did – ask people to tell their stories about what it was/is like to live in Holliston since 1970. The best people to tell the story – as Abner demonstrated – is to encourage people to tell their stories – have all the people in Holliston become the town’s historians. We want to hear from people who have lived in Holliston all their lives (the quintessential Townies), and we also want to hear from people who moved here even last week!

All ages are encouraged to add their stories about life in Holliston. Memoirs, creative fiction, poetry, family history, local history are welcome. We look forward to publishing a print book for the 2024 celebration, and we also propose an on-line repository of stories as a preserved historical collection for years to come. We look forward to adding new stories to Holliston’s history

 If you are interested in participating or have questions regarding the project, please contact us:

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Joanne Hulbert

1 Comment

  1. Conall Robinson on June 26, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    Fantastic read! Delighted to see the planters in the document picture.