Bow Street

From Old Charlestown Hisotrical Biographical Reminiscent

By: Timothy T. Sawyer, Published by James H. West Company 1902

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George W. Tyler’s Library and its Disünguished Visitors— George Davidson and his Voyage around the World in the Ship Colum6ia when the river Columbia was discovered — John J. Stowell.


NOT far from the Devens estate on Bow Street, in a house standing at the head of what used to be known as Tyler’s Wharf, was the residence of Jonas Tyler, who for many years kept a wholesale and retail West India goods store on the Square, near the corner of Chamber Street, in one of the buildings destroyed in the great fire of 1835, and afterwards in the Cordis building on Main Street, the same now occupied by S. P. Hill & Co. Mr. Tyler was a peculiar man but an excellent citizen, methodical and successful in his business and upright in all his dealings. At one time he had a bathing-establishment on his wharf, where both ladies and gentlemen could be provided with convenient and well-protected bath-houses. This bathing-place was conducted very much upon the plan of the former wellknown and popular “Braman’s Baths” in Boston. At that time it was not common for residents in the city and large towns to leave their homes for the summer, and the refreshment of salt-water bathing was for the most part found in a swim and shower at establishments like this.

Mr. Tyler had four sons, two of whom are now living in Charlestown, Benjamin F. and Captain Jonas K. The latter was a lieutenant in the Mexican War, and got his title of captain in the War of the Rebellion. Another son, John F., was very popular as a boy, and some of us remember well the amiable and noble qualities that made him so. He was accidentally killed in his youth, by falling down a hatchway in a store on Long Wharf, Boston, where he was employed as a clerk.

The oldest son, George W. Tyler, was brought up in a counting-room on Commercial Street, Boston, and after his majority carried on the lumber-business for a while. He was afterwards connected with newspapers, in Boston and in the West, as reporter and editor. He died some years ago. He had great fondness for books, and while he lived at his father’s house he collected together a library which in extent and value was perhaps second to no private collection in town. His room was the resort of many young men who afterwards became eminent. He was a member of the Boston Mercantile Library Association in its palmy days, and delivered a lecture before it which was printed at the time and elicited very favorable comment. James T. Fields, Edwin P. Whipple, Daniel L. Haskell, and other prominent members of the Mercantile, and William D. Kelley and George Curry of the Mechanics’ Apprentice Association, were among his visitors. After the fire in 1835, his father purchased the Cordis estate, on Main Street, opposite Union Street, where the large elm-tree formerly stood, and removed his residence and store there, and the library was in that building for some years. Such men as Professor B. F. Tweed, Colonel Seth J.
Thomas, Rev. Edwin H. Chapin, Thomas Starr King, and others could often have been found there. Many interesting discussions, philosophical, religious, and political, were carried on in these library-rooms.

William D. Kelley, mentioned above, was at the time a silversmith in the shop of the father of his fellowapprentice, George Curry, in Boston. He removed to Philadelphia, where he soon became a judge of one of the courts, and in a few years went to Congress. He still remains there, the oldest member of the National House of Representatives, known all over the land, especially in this time of tariff discussion and excitement, as “Pig-iron Kelley.” While he was in Boston he was a Democrat and a public speaker. He made many speeches in Charlestown, and on one occasion from a platform on the Training Field he replied to a speech that had just before been made to the Whigs by Honorable James Wilson (“Long Jim “), of New Hampshire. George Curry, who occasionally spoke to the Charlestown Democrats, became Honorable George Curry, governor of the territory of Oregon. These were not Charlestown boys, but, at the time referred to, theirs were familiar faces and voices in Democratic caucuses and public political meetings here. About this time the Charlestown Democrats had many opportunities to hear George Bancroft, the historian, who was then collector of the port of Boston and Charlestown. His discourses to them in the old Town Hall were on Democracy, which he defined to be “Eternal justice ruling through the people.” Some of our older citizens doubtless remember these discourses and the peculiar emphasis and manner of the speaker.

Nearly opposite the head of Tyler’s Wharf, on the other side of Bow Street, was the residence of George Davidson. He was one of the crew of the ship Columbia, Captain Robert Gray, when she sailed from Boston for a voyage around the world in 1787. Mr. Davidson was a painter of considerable genius, with talent for drawing and sketching, and he was employed as the artist of the expedition. Pictures taken by him of places visited, attacks upon the ship at night by the Indians, and others, are still to be seen. On this voyage the river Columbia was discovered and named for the ship. On his return he made arrangements to enter into the fur-trade, and, some years after, another very successful voyage to the north-west coast was made in a vessel commanded by him. A third voyage was planned and carried out so far as the safe arrival of the vessel at the coast was concerned, but on the passage home she is supposed to have foundered, as nothing was ever heard from her.

Captain Davidson had two children. George was a printer and book-publisher in the office now occupied by Rand & Stinehart. The second child was a daughter, who became the wife of John J. Stowell, who kept a jewelry-store for many years, until his death in i 834, in the store now occupied by N. Leonard at 97 Main Street. This store was a place of great interest one morning while it was occupied by Mr. Stowell, it being broken into by thieves. The front door and window were found to be fastened with ropes and sticks to prevent the speedy entrance of the town watchman, while a large quantity of jewelry and goods was being carried off from the windows in the back yard. Crime of this kind was not so common then, and attracted more attention than it does now-a-days. Mr. Stowell was a manufacturer of clocks of all sizes, his father and grandfather having carried on the same business. “Made by Stowell” is an inscription formerly very common, and still to be seen on a good many townclocks all about the country. John J. Stowell and Cap. tain George Davidson were the father and grandfather of our esteemed citizens, John and Francis Stowell.

George Davidson’s wife was Mary Clark, of Boston. Her father was one of those who destroyed the tea in Boston Harbor. After the death of Captain Davidson she was married to Captain Samuel Stoddard. He was at the battle of White Plains, at the capture of the Hessians, and in the dreadful winter at Valley Forge. When peace was declared he resumed his profession as shipmaster, making many voyages to Europe and the West Indies. On one of these return voyages he was wrecked on the Grand Bahamas, living upon the rocks for fourteen days, the hardship of which occasioned his death. His son Samuel was a printer with George Davidson, Jr., and continued the business in the same place for a long time after the death of his employer.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1888.



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