Before there was Samuel McIntire, there was Lemon Beadle. Remember that name: Salem’s nineteenth-century antiquarians certainly wanted us to. Sometimes “Lemuel” is the spelling, but I’m going with Lemon, because Lemon Beadle! On this past Thursday I went up to the Phillips Library in Rowley, source of most of Salem’s history in textual and material form, to look at some sources for the history of Town House Square, the subject of the last piece I have to write for our Salem’s Centuries book. I had ordered up a notebook entitled “Salem Estates and Localities 1629-1842” which included a “Chronological Chart of Churches in Salem, Mass.” mostly because I wanted to look at the latter (and it is pretty great). The notebook consitutes the notes of William Phineas Upham, the son of Charles Upham, the first great historian of the Salem Witch Trials. William, who prepared what must be one of the most important maps in American history (perhaps an overstatement, but I live in Salem), a 1692 view of Salem Village for his father, was clearly gathering information for his own magnum opus. The notebook was filled with extraordinary detail about many structures in Salem, illustrated occasionally with marginalia drawings of little houses. I found it charming and informative, but not particularly relevant to my topic, and I was about to close it and move on when I came to William’s rather compelling depiction of Salem’s central 18th century watch house, with its life-sized watchman on top, carved by Lemon Beadle.
From Phillips Library Fam. Mss. 1047, Salem Estates and Localities, 1629-1842 by William P. Upham.
This illustration really intrigued me: could the “soldier” (as Upham calls it above) or “watchman” (according to other sources) really have been that big? Were there any other depictions out there? Sadly, I have found none so far, but I did get more details from a variety of old Salem sources. This particular watch house was likely Salem’s second, and it was built on Schoolhouse Lane, later School Street and the present-day Washington Street, in 1712: the carved wooden figure on its roof bore the date Anno Regina 1712 in large gold letters. If it was not conspicuous enough, town records indicate the watchman/soldier was painted in 1725. Lemon Beadle was chosen for the commission because of his experience crafting figureheads, and the entire production seems to have been part of policy to improve and standardize the watch system and remind Salem men of their civic responsibilities. While real watchmen endured into the nineteenth century, I’m pretty sure that was not the case with their wooden representative; there are the references to the watch house’s survival fifty years after its construction, but that’s it. Upham clearly wanted to “see” and portray it in his notebook, along with its adjacent whipping post.
Upham’s whipping post and other Salem structures; a watchman by Albert Blaisdell; Salem printer Ezekiel Russell’s watch order, 1777, Sang Collection via Sotheby’s; Salem Gazette.
Since my focus is on the watchman statue, I’m a little out of my depth and discipline, but I did find one text which asserted that Lemon Beadle’s work is “the first documentable piece of free-standing sculpture in Massachusetts” (Benno M. Forman, American Seating Furniture, 1630-1730: An Interpretive Catalogue, 1988). That’s a pretty big claim; I wonder if it’s still standing. Elias Hasket Derby commissioned woodcarvers John and Simeon Skillen to carve four “free standing figures of larger dimensions, ranging between 4 and 5 feet in height” for his summer estate near the end of the century, but I have to say that without a more detailed depiction, Upham’s watchman sketch reminds me more of the……….(searching for correct word here, can’t come up with anything really applicable) rather less elegant figures which “graced” the very notorious Timothy Dexter’s estate in Newburyport. There were 40, including one of Dexter himself, and the Reverend William Bentley was not impressed when he visited in 1803: “There is no horrid violation of proportion in the district objects but the vast columns, the gigantic figures, the extended arches, & absurd confusion of characters, tend to convince us of the abuse of riches….Dexter was within doors, drunk, having just suffered from a heavy beating from his drunken son, urged on by a drunken daughter.”
I have no doubt that Lemon Beadle could have done better.
John Rubens Smith (engraver), A View of the Mansion of the late LORD TIMOTHY DEXTER in High Street, Newburyport, 1810.