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Exploring food and New England roots on my 40th birthday

Breakfast

""The 18th of ye 5th month, comonly called July 1637" Thomas Wight with eleven other persons, having been duly certified by the magistrates, and having subscribed unto the covenant, was admitted an inhabitant of Dedham." - from "A Record of Thomas Wight of Dedham and Medfield and of his Descendants 1635-1890 by William Ward Wight", printed 1890

Mayflower

October 19, 2003

Today is my fortieth birthday, a day to contemplate how I got here and where to go from here as I approach the middle of my life. I have done lots of soul searching in recent months and years, thinking about what I have overcome in the past and what I might do to make the most of the second half or so of my life. Can I somehow make the second half better than the first? These were my thoughts as I got up, left my motel and set out for Dedham, MA.

Dedham and Massachusetts are where the early history of this country and my ancestral history intersect. My ancestor, Thomas Wight, a native of the Isle of Wight in England, traveled to what was then called the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the year 1636 or 1637 and was admitted as one of the earliest inhabitants of Dedham on July 18, 1637. Family tradition and history says that he received one of the original grants of land in that town, that is, 12 acres that was the allotment to each married man. In Dedham, he was elected as a selectman for six years and was repeatedly chosen for performance of various public services. As I walked the streets of Dedham, I contemplated the influence my ancestor must have had on this town.

Map of Dedham Trip


I had researched the address of the Dedham Historical Society, located at 612 High Street, in the heart of Dedham Square. I found a place to park on the street nearby. As I started out to explore and make my way down High Street to this destination, I realized that I hadn’t had breakfast and that I needed some fuel for energy to explore the town. Immediately, an old building at 628 High Street caught my attention as did a sign advertising breakfast, lunch and coffee that was located above and to the right of a law firm office in front of the building. The sign pointed to the rear of the building. It took a moment to find the restaurant. On the right side of the building, I found an outside entryway leading to some stairs that went below to a door that opened to what was apparently the outside of the basement. There I found a restaurant called “The Den”, a hole in the wall type of place, actually a hole beneath the wall.

I am always eager to try a new local style or hole in the wall type place, hoping that the food will be great and filling, to me chain restaurants have become repetitively humdrum. After exploring the idea of slow food, this seemed a great place to start my food explorations. This was a very small place. Going in, I saw just a single waitress and a man named Dennis, I wondered if he was the owner, and he would be my cook. There was also one other customer that seemed to be very familiar to the other two. So I wondered what they might think to see this stranger come in to their restaurant, and I was carrying my trusty, full size RCA VHS camcorder that I bought for $300 a number of years previously. But Dennis seemed very friendly and commented that I had a nice camcorder. So I contemplated how to break the ice and open up to these 3 people as I quietly ate my delicious home-style sausage and cheese omelet and exchanged the usual pleasantries with the waitress who continually refilled my coffee. When it came time to pay the bill of about $6.00 plus tip, I asked Dennis if he would say something on camera about his restaurant so that I would have something to take home about this place to share with friends and family. He said that he was camera shy, but to share the word about how good the food was. The food was delicious and I now share the word.

The Den

The Den

The Den


Across the street from The Den, I took a close look at the Dedham District Courthouse. I then made my way to the Dedham Historical Society at 612 High Street. I found that it was closed on Sunday. Let that be a lesson to coordinate trips so that I can arrive at such a place when it is open! This was to be a quick trip, so I would not be able to visit Dedham on another day. I promised myself to come back some other time when it was open. At least it is a place I can visit online. So I spent a half hour or so more exploring the streets and architecture of Dedham.

It was intriguing to think that my ancestor had an integral part in the formation of this town and also this country’s history. Many of the buildings that I saw here (and throughout this New England trip) were the oldest I have ever seen when compared to the historical buildings of relatively young Washington State where I grew up. For example, the Norfolk County Courthouse at 650 High Street pictured here was built in 1827 and was designated a national historic landmark in 1972.

Interesting fact: The Fairbanks House, located in Dedham, MA, is the oldest surviving timber frame house in the United States. It was built in 1636 by Jonathan Fairebank for his wife and family. Today it is owned and operated by the Fairbanks Family in America.

Information of interest for travelers to:
Dedham, MA.

For more information, see the following Wikipedia articles:
Dedham, Massachusetts
History of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1635–1792

Dedham District Courthouse

Dedham District Courthouse

Norfolk County Registry of Deeds

Norfolk County Registry of Deeds

Norfolk County Courthouse

Norfolk County Courthouse

"In over two hundred years of continuous operation, we have gone from days of scriveners with quill pens to an era of computers and advanced document imaging." - William P. O'Donnell, Norfolk County Register of Deeds


I only had today to explore the historical state of Massachusetts, so I got in the car and drove on to Plymouth, MA, about 40 miles away. Plymouth is best known for being the landing site of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims. It was founded in 1620 and is the oldest municipality in New England. It was the location of the first Thanksgiving feast. This is another location where the early history of our country and my ancestral history intersect. Thomas Rogers and his son, Joseph, came to Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620. Thomas Rogers was one of 41 signers of the Mayflower Compact. In 1621, Thomas Rogers died in what has been called the first sickness during the first winter in Plymouth. Joseph Rogers went on to have a daughter, Elizabeth, who married Jonathan Higgins, who is my ancestor on my dad’s mother’s side of the family.

That was a lot to mull over as I explored the area where the Pilgrims landed. I saw the Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower. I walked down to Plymouth Rock, which is the spot that is said to be where the Pilgrims disembarked and first stepped foot in Massachusetts. Whether they actually landed on that rock has not been proven, but it became an object of veneration in the United States. The rock on display near the Mayflower II is a large fraction of its former self. Parts of the rock have been on display throughout the town of Plymouth and pieces have ended up in places such as the Pilgrim Hall Museum and the Patent Building in the Smithsonian. I walked in to a store near the Mayflower II and some genealogy books caught my attention as I was browsing. While leafing through these books, I found that the history is well documented of my ancestors, the Higgins, Wight’s and Rogers, settling in Massachusetts in the early 1600’s.

Plymouth Rock landing

"What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors. It’s astounding to me, for example, that so many people really seem to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be free. That happens not to be true. What happened was that some people left Europe because they couldn’t stay there any longer and had to go someplace else to make it. They were hungry, they were poor, they were convicts." - James Baldwin

Interesting fact: Some of the Mayflower pilgrims, also known as Separatists, came to Plymouth by way of the Netherlands. About 12 years earlier, they fled the religious persecution in England to religious freedom in the Netherlands. Because of fear of losing their English identity and because of economic hardship, they left for England in 1620 to depart on the Mayflower. It was Dutch influence that prepared America's founding fathers for a life of freedom and self government.

Genealogy and history aren't my only interests. I wanted to explore the scenic views of Massachusetts. So I started on my way south to Cape Cod on State Highway 3, then east on US Highway 6. Before Plymouth, I was listening to the car radio and the weatherman announced that it would be cloudy with sprinkles. On the way to Cape Cod, the sprinkles turned to somewhat heavy rain. The heavy rain made driving on the main highways a bit precarious, so I pulled off the main highway and took the slower highway route through towns along the way. The rain did not let up, so I decided to turn back on US Highway 6 before reaching the end of the cape. Other than the rain, it was a good drive through places I had never seen before. At about 5:00 pm, I crossed the Sagamore Bridge that connects Cape Cod to the rest of Massachusetts. I found myself a bit hungry after the stress of driving through the rain, fortunately it was letting up a bit. Come to think of it, I had not had any lunch, good thing I had a great breakfast.

All about:

Massachusetts

New York

Interesting fact: Plymouth, MA, where the Pilgrims landed, is located in what is known as New England. The name was established in November 1620 for the area that composes the present states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

As I was driving through Massachusetts and particularly on the slow road through Cape Cod, I saw seafood restaurant after seafood restaurant. All of these seafood restaurants had me being extremely hungry for seafood. After all, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where I dug up much of my own seafood when I grew up, ranging from clams to mussels to limpets. No wonder seafood dishes are my favorite. No seafood restaurant in Cape Cod had caught my attention enough to stop. But now it was getting dark and definitely time to eat. Not too long after the Sagamore Bridge, I found myself in East Wareham, MA. There just off the highway at 3126 Cranberry Hwy (US Highway 6) I found Barnacle Bills Restaurant. This was more of a small drive-in type establishment, but the seafood was quality. I ordered a large mixed seafood plate. It was among the top few of all the many seafood plates I have eaten, and I have eaten a lot of them. It definitely satisfied my craving for seafood.

Coffee
Seafood Sundae

I was now full, relaxed and ready to settle down for the night. If it were not dark and approaching the end of a long day, I might continue on US Highway 6. Instead, I quickly got on I-495 to I-95 north for the hour and a half drive to Salem, New Hampshire, which is just across the state line and about a half hour drive from Reading, MA, where my cousin, Jennifer Davis was living.. I had a room reserved at Red Roof Inn for a little less than the cost of the Motel 6 room the night before. That seemed to be the best deal that I could find for a motel in the greater Boston area. It does pay to shop around in metropolitan areas.


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