A Tale of a Town Meeting

By September McCarthy | Oct 22, 2011

The Town of Wareham has many issues confronting it, some of which are topics relating to the upcoming Town Meeting. While the town has many shortages and needs, the one thing that is never in short supply is opinions and the willingness to express them. This is as true today as it has been in the past. One of the most important things we can do is to try to keep things in perspective, both in understanding the past and looking forward to the future. The following is a first-hand account of a previous Town Meeting issue, written by the chairman of the Board of Selectmen at the time. While we can find humor in it, primarily because we are not emotionally involved in the issue being decided, we can also find an appreciation of the perspective that time can provide on our present issues that stir our emotions. [Please note that this is an exact transcripton of the original hand-written account, and as such the spelling and grammar is exactly as it was written.] Can you guess when this happened?


"I have had a little fun at a town meeting lately – Last Spring the town sold about $600 worth of Oysters to be carried away and planted where it is said they will grow salt & large & be fit to eat. Having got the money so unexpectedly and a prospect of having more from year to year it became a question what the town would do with it – two parties soon formed – the one said let it go to pay the Poll taxes and the other, let it go for town expenses – seeing the parties waxed warm, I in sport came out with a speech against them both proposing to give the money to the Religious Societies in town in proportion to their numbers to aid them in the support of the Gospel and quite unexpectedly to myself and more so to the leaders of both parties, the town voted to sustain my move. A few weeks after my business called me from town and the Treasury party got up a town meeting of 20 persons and reconsidered my vote and put the money into the Treasury, freightening the people with law and other troubles so much that none dare vote against it. I came home and the people came running to me to know if they could alter it – I told them they could if they had a majority and so they got up another meeting to reconsider the doings of the last meeting and the town was well visited by the treasury party with both the Wareham lawyers well fed and every rich man in town except Joshua B. Tobey & myself, he being the former leader of the Poll party & came over to assist me out of spight to the other party – when assembled I came out with a short speech of moderate tone and the vote was taken without argument and I had a majority of 4 – this waked up their everlasting wrath."


"The question was to be tried again with arguments – I consented and at it we went and each did his best for 2 or 3 hours – Tobey speaking pointed & spicy – I more solid & arguing relative – the lawyers daring & threatening and the rich man wrathy & overbearing – On the 2d vote I had 20 majority – The battle was then renewed for a 3d heat – I consenting and now the speaches became so wrathy that I was induced to redicule & laugh at them, keeping myself cool & sportive and when we tried the vote again I had 30 majority – not satisfied they wished to try it again, but I found bad feelings began to grow in some of them & I moved an adjournment sine dia & thus put a stop to the quarrel, since which time they threatened me hard – first to have another meeting. I told them I was ready – they then backed out – next they said they would move the Bank out of town. I told them I would lend them my aid – they backed out – then they said they would turn away my minister – I told them I was in favour of his staying the more to preach to them than myself – here they backed out – nexed they said they would run down real estate & make my property worth nothing – I told them I had none to sell & would buy a little more when it got cheap – here they backed out & said they would leave the town & carry their property with them – I told them I would have a town meeting & rather guessed I could get a vote for them to go & receive the thanks of the town – next they would sue the town – I told them I could defend the town with the aid of their taxes as long as they could pay their costs & the greater part of mine too – finally I told them it would distress me some to see them all without noses but if they would bite off their own noses to spight me I would try to bear the spectacle as well as I could, seeing that they must bear the pain – finding themselves cornered on every side they bit their lips – cooled off and have been as clever as puppies for the last week -- & so ends the Oyster sport."

Comments (9)
Posted by: justin beiber | Oct 22, 2011 16:03

Enlighten me.

What do the meanderings of ye olde selectman have to do with Monday's town meeting?

Sorry to disappoint, but I just don't get your drift. 

Posted by: September McCarthy | Oct 22, 2011 21:05

It's about perspective. This account tells of a very heated disagreement over which certain parties were so certain that their position was the correct one, and that they were so important to the town's continued survival, that they were willing to go to extreme lengths to sway the decision their way. They let their emotions take over their reason, but could not recognize it until forced to by a strong town leader. They also lost sight of the larger picture -- the town's well-being in the long run -- and expended all that effort over a single issue which, from our perspective, about 170 years later (that is, in the long run), isn't that important.


On another and less serious level, it is amusing, and a chuckle or a smile can go a long way to lighten up everyone's mood just a bit and, just maybe, help things run a bit more smoothly at Town Meeting. Unless we learn from history, we are doomed to keep repeating it.

Posted by: bigbrother | Oct 23, 2011 08:31

The more things change the more they stay the same. Your drift was clear. I'm a history buff and stuff like this is great. Thanks for taking the time to type it up.


Now you've got my interest. The chairman of the bos wrote this. Who is the speaker? A rich man in town during the time of Joshua Tobey. Any other hints Ms. September?

Posted by: September McCarthy | Oct 23, 2011 12:04

Glad you enjoyed it, BigBrother. The speaker/chairman of the BOS is Silvanus Bourne, and the year is 1838. Silvanus was born (1797) and raised in Wareham on Indian Neck. He was a civil engineer and surveyor who, as a young man was commissioned by the U.S. to survey the northern Ohio lands for the military grants. He returned to Wareham, married Hannah Smith, the daughter of Peter Smith, and had a long and exemplary career. His maps of Wareham and the surrounding towns, published in the 1830s, were so accurate that they were used for decades. He served as Wareham representative to the state legislature, as a Wareham selectman, as a Justice of the Peace, and helped to found the Wareham Bank (that is, he purchased shares) and served on the Board of Directors for many years. He was also the first commissioner of the Cape Cod Railroad. His interests ranged from astronomy to philosophy, and he continued to learn and educate himself throughout his lifetime. His personal library consisted of more than 500 books, and his letters relate his studies in trigonometry and calculus, geology, construction, farming/crop cultivation, and many other topics. He built homes, including the one still standing on Main Street, known as the Silvanus Bourne house (at the corner of Cedar St.). It has been related to me that when the engineers where rebuilding the seawall at Besse Park last year, and they reached the point where it abuts with the seawall that Silvanus Bourne had built, they were very impressed with its construction and stated that it would never need to be replaced. He successfully petitioned the state for permission to build the bridges across the Narrows and the Wewantic in the 1840's and, along with some monies provided by others, essentially financed and supervised the construction of both bridges in the 1840s. He also made money by purchasing and selling land and by mortgaging property, in which cases he was known to be a very patient and understanding mortgagor. He never lost sight of the fact that people are more important than money. When his brother, Alexander (another remarkable individual), decided to return to Wareham from Ohio in the 1840's, Silvanus located a home for him to live in upon his arrival. Rather than evict the tenants of one of his own properties, he arranged for Alexander to rent an unoccupied property belonging to Dr. Mackie, and even arranged for improvements to be made at his own expense. He also wrote and published articles in the newspapers about the history of Wareham. In short, he was a remarkable man that Wareham can be proud to claim as one of their own, and his accomplishments are admirable.

Posted by: bigbrother | Oct 23, 2011 13:03

Fascinating. I have to learn more about Wareham history.Thanks for the lesson.

Can you tell me who was the town of Bourne named after? How is that person related to Silvanus?

Posted by: Zephyr | Oct 23, 2011 13:52

Bourne was first settled in 1640 as a part of the town of Sandwich. It was officially incorporated in 1884 as the last town to be incorporated in Barnstable County. It was named for Jonathan Bourne Sr., whose father, Richard Bourne, served in the Massachusetts General Court at the time of settlement, as well as helping to found the settlement in Mashpee.[1] The town lies at the northeast corner of Buzzards Bay, and is the site of Aptucxet Trading Post, the nation's oldest store. It was founded by the Pilgrims in 1627 at a site halfway between the two rivers which divided the Cape from the rest of the state. It was out of this location that the Cape Cod Canal was formed, in order to save time and lives by eliminating the need to sail around the hazardous eastern shores of Cape Cod. Because of the canal, Bourne is now considered the "first" town on the Cape, as all three bridges (the Bourne, Sagamore and the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge) are located within the town. All of Bourne is on Cape Cod, with Buttermilk bay forming the western edge of the peninsula (cape) and the Bourndale Road forming the northern boundary to the cape.

Posted by: P-SPAN | Oct 23, 2011 15:00

I just finished uploading the video for the latest FinCom Mtg. (10/19) and wanted to add the link.. But I couldn't find any articles about it. Sooo, I figured this thread would "do".  --> http://warehamwater.com/viewtopic.php?pid=77537#p77537


I'm a history geek too.. and found this info. very interesting..thanks :)

Posted by: September McCarthy | Oct 23, 2011 18:22

Thanks, Zephyr, for the information about the town of Bourne. Wikipedia is a wonderful resource, though not always 100% accurate. The Jonathan Bourne that the town is named for was born about 1768 in Sandwich. He married Hannah Tobey in 1791, and died in Sandwich in 1851. During his life he lived in New Bedford and became the owner of several whaling vessels. This Jonathan was the son of Elisha Bourne and Joanna Nye, and Elisha was the grandson of Elisha Bourne, the son of Richard Bourne. In proper genealogical notation, the descendancy of Jonathan, for whom the town was named, is


Jonathan5 (Elisha4, Nathan3, Elisha2, Richard1) Bourne.


Silvanus Bourne, of Wareham, is also a descendant of Richard . . .


Silvanus6 (Benjamin5, Ebenezer4, Hezekiah3, Job2, Richard1) Bourne.


It might be interesting to know that of the son of Richard, Job Bourne's 4 sons, it was Timothy and John who purchased shares in the Agawam Plantation for which the land on Indian Neck was apportioned to them, along with Israel Fearing and Isaac Wilder in 1715. John died young and childless. Timothy, the eldest, inherited their father's lands in Sandwich, and his son chose the ministry for his career. It was their brother, Hezekiah, who lived on the lands in Wareham/Agawam, marrying here in 1720. His only child, Ebenezer Bourne, was born in 1721 and married Annah Bumpas, the daughter of Benjamin and Susan (Lovell) Bumpas, and so began the Wareham Bourne line.

Posted by: Zephyr | Oct 24, 2011 18:29

Thanks SM.  I love reading about the history of this area.  Keep the info coming.

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