A Book by Mr. Pemberton

Along with the table, barrel, pails, kettles, and spoons, John Vargason’s will (see post of May 22, 2013) shows that he owned two books, the Bible and a “book by Mr. Pemberton.”  Just as one might peruse the bookshelf of a friend to learn about his/her interests, I have been curious about the Pemberton book to learn a bit about John Vargason.

There were several books at the time written by people with the last name of Pemberton.  Israel Pemberton, a Quaker, espoused pacifist views and was opposed to fighting Britain in the Revolutionary War.  (I expect that this was not John’s view, because both of his sons participated in the war effort.)

Israel’s son, James Pemberton, supported the rights of the Native Americans, and, in 1757, published “An Apology for the People Called Quakers, containing some reasons for their not complying with human injunctions and institutions in matters relative to the worship of God.”  (At this time, I do not know of a Vargason connection to the Quaker faith.  This book also sounds a bit scholarly for the second text in one’s home.)

Ebenezer Pemberton, 1672-1717, was pastor to a Presbyterian church in New York City for 26 years and at Old South Church in Boston from 1700-1717.  Some of his sermons were published.  (This, too, sounds scholarly for this household, unless there was some connection to this minister.  Perhaps he visited the church in Norwich, or John’s pastor presented it as a gift.)

There was a New Testament by Pemberton and Rivington published in 1730.  (I expect that this would have been referred to in the will inventory as the New Testament, not a book by Mr. Pemberton.)

Pemberton book

Mr. Pemberton’s book

Finally, there was a book by Henry Pemberton, A View of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophy, published in 1728.  It was the common man’s Principia, a book by Sir Isaac Newton, which introduced the concepts of physics and calculus.  According to http://moneymuseum.com, it was in this book that Dr. Pemberton first told the famous story of Newton watching the apple fall and discovering the principle of gravity.

(I am guessing that this was the book in John Vergison’s will.   “In this book Pemberton tried to give an insight into Newton’s model in an easily comprehensible language to a broader readership.  The book was an immediate success; it was published in several editions and translated into various languages,” according to moneymuseum’s webpage.  This would have been a sound and popular reference book of its day.)

Having such a book in the home might indicate that some or all of the household members were literate enough to read the text and that John was interested in furthering his education or that of his children or grandchildren with the latest scientific knowledge.


John Vargason’s Will

John Vergason/Vergison/Vargason, who died February 23, 1782, left a will.  This document is important for many reasons, but primarily because it documents that he was the father of Ezekiel Vargason.  And, that allows us to confidently record another generation in our family tree.  The Vargason Lineage page will be updated soon with this information.

John Vergison's signature

John Vergison’s signature

In his will, recorded in Norwich, Connecticut, he names his “loving wife Hannah” as well as his children:  John, Ezekiel, Elizabeth, Thankfull, Anna, and Martha.  The children are probably named in birth order by gender.

In the will written December 9, 1777, he bequeathed to his grandson Elijah Simons, son of his daughter Anna Simons, ten acres of land and  the remainder of his estate after debts were paid and other bequests were made–on condition that “Elijah shall continue to live and dwell with me until he shall arrive to the age of twenty-one years.”  No doubt a disappointed grandfather, in a codicil dated January 26, 1782, he withdrew this bequest, because “Elijah did not fulfill said conditions, but did leave me and depart, and cease to dwell with me.”

Following John’s death, an inventory of his goods was taken on March 8, 1782.  Shown below, it includes what is probably a fairly typical list of household items for his day.

Inventory from will

Inventory of John Vergison’s goods


Edward Howe and the Ferry

“One Mr. Howe, of Lynn, a godly man, and a deputy of the last general court, after the court was ended, and he had dined, being in health as he used to be, went to pass over to Charles-town, and, being alone, he was presently after found dead upon the strand, being there (as it seemed) waiting for the boat, which came soon after.”  So states page 299 of Winthrop’s Journal, “History of New England,” 1630-1649, by John Winthrop and James Kendall Hosmer, and published by C. Scribner’s Sons in 1908.

Site of the Boston- Charlestown Ferry

Site of the Boston-
Charlestown Ferry

A ferry between Boston and Charlestown, across the Charles River, was needed as soon as settlements were established there, according to an article on the Harvard College Ferry, which provides the quotations in this post.  It’s worth reading in detail at http://www.kellscraft.com/EventsBoston/EventsBoston05.html (accessed 5/19/2013.)  This may have been one of the first enterprises undertaken by the new colony, and it continued for 155 years.

The first ferries were probably operated by individual entrepreneurs.  The ferry operation became more formalized, when “…on June 14, 1631, it was ordered that Mr. Converse should receive twopence for every single person, and one penny apiece if there were two or more persons to be ferried.”  “Oars were probably the sole means of propulsion, the channel being narrow and the current strong.  In winter, when the ferry could not run, no doubt the thick ice made a convenient bridge between the shores for a least part of the season. At first the ferry served only foot-passengers…”

“On November 9, 1636, the ferry was leased to Mr. Converse for three years, at £40 a year, on condition that he should see that the ferry was efficiently run and equipped with the proper number of boats, and that he

Boston ferry area

Approximate site
of ferry today

should build a convenient house on the Boston side of the river and keep a boat there when it was needed.  Besides the fees for persons…he was allowed to charge sixpence for every pig ferried across.  ‘And if any shall desire to pass before it be light in the morning, or after it is dark in the evening, he may take recompense answerable to the season and his pains and hazard, so as it be not excessive.'”  Since Edward Howe died in April 1639, Mr. Converse would have been the ferryman at the time.

The ferry had a long history thereafter.  “In 1640 the General Court ordered that the ferry privilege between Boston and Charlestown be granted to Harvard College for the financial benefit of the institution.  In 1639 £50 had been received from the ferry, and it was expected that this sum would increase yearly with the growth of population.  For one hundred and fifty-five years Harvard received the ferry tolls…”

Boston ferry area

Charlestown Bridge

A bridge was approved for construction in this area in 1785.

Although Boston’s terrain has been altered over the years by considerable landfill, the photos show the approximate location of the old ferry today, overlooking the Charles River toward the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill and near the Charlestown Bridge.  The banks of the Charles River, as it looked 374 years ago, provided the last view of this earth experienced by Edward Howe, the respected gentleman who brought the Howe line to America.