The Swift Estate

From Old Charlestown Hisotrical Biographical Reminiscent

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

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James Noble — Artemas Ward — Benjamin Swift — Nathan Pratt — James Bird, and others.

AMONG the old houses mentioned in “A Century of Town Life” is that formerly occupied by Captain Benjamin Swift, which stood on High Street, nearly opposite the head of Cordis Street. This house was not built by Captain Swift, but came into his possession in 1809 by purchase from Captain James Noble.

In 1784 David S. Stearns, of Lunenburg, came to Charlestown. He was a merchant. In October, 1796, he was married to Catherine Cochran. In 1798 he bought a lot of land on Breed’s Hill, of Nathaniel Austin, and mortgaged it to Daniel Scott, merchant, of Boston. The same year this mortgage was assigned to Mary Cochran of Watertown, and by her, in 1799, to Captain James Noble of Boston; and in 1801 the lot, with the house that had been built upon it, was conveyed to James Noble by Mary Cochran and David S. Stearns. In 1809 Captain Noble conveyed the house and lot to Benjamin Swift.

In 1800 Artemas Ward, son of General Artemas Ward, of Shrewsbury, came to Charlestown and lived for some time in this house. His wife was Katharine Maria, daughter of Samuel Dexter. In Drake’s “American Biography “is this notice of him: “Artemas Ward, LL.D., Member of Congress 1813—’17, Chief Justice of Court of Common Pleas 1820—’39, and an eminent lawyer. He practised law in Boston after 1809 and was frequently a member of the Legislature and of the Council.” How long he occupied Captain Noble’s house I cannot tell, but probably until 1809, when it was sold to Captain Benjamin Swift. Judge Ward afterwards lived on Main Street, in the house near to Doctor Thompson’s, which has since been known as the Ward house. He came to Charlestown when his father-in-law was very much engaged in national affairs; perhaps to look after his business during his absence from home, or to succeed to it.

The house about which we are writing had a flat roof, and was not unlike the Dexter house and other square houses of the time, except that it had two small wings, one of which Mr. Ward is said to have used for an office. Captain Swift lived in it until 1834, when he sold it to Nathan Pratt and James Bird, both business men of long standing in the town. They divided the estate, altered the house into two tenements, put on the pitched roof and gable end, and the low piazza towards High Street. Mr. Bird lived there until 1840, when he sold to David Snow; and Mr. Pratt until 1843, when he sold to Simon G. Shipley. James Damon afterwards lived in Mr. Shipley’s half; and, for a little while, Mrs. Henry Forster, when she was building her new home on Monument Square.

Nathan Pratt was of the firm of Putnam & Pratt, who formerly had a large distillery in town, and at the same time a store and office on Central Wharf, Boston, where they were engaged in the Smyrna trade. The late Thomas A. Goddard, who married the sister of Richard Frothingham, was a clerk with them in Boston, and took their foreign business when the firm of Iasing & Goddard was formed. Mr. Pratt was also proprietor and manager of the extensive powder mills in Acton, where he removed; but he removed again to West Cambridge (Arlington), and died there March 11, 1873. We must not fail to remember him in our town histories, for he generously remembered us.

The following is copied from the tenth annual report of the Board of Managers of the Winchester Home:

The undersigned, officers of the Winchester Home, desire in behalf of the institution to express their grateful thanks to Nathan Robbins, James R. Bayley, and Benjamin S. Pray, executors of the will of the late Nathan Pratt, for their kind remembrance in presenting the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Pratt to the Winchester Home. This act, following as it does the generous gift of $4,ooo to the Home during the life-time of Mr. Pratt, and the receipt of $4,000 additional, by bequest, since his death, will endear their memory to this institution and cause their portraits to be carefully kept and esteemed among its most valued possessions.
Liverus Hull, President,
Abram E. Cutter, Secretary.


James Bird was for many years engaged in the drygoods business on Main Street, first in the partnership known as Sawyer & Bird, then J. & W. Bird, and then James Bird & Co. When he sold the Swift house, he removed for a while to New York, following his former business there. After his return he was for several years city treasurer, and died here in 186-. When he went to New York the business was continued by two of his clerks, W. H. & T. B. Preston, whose store must be remembered by a great many of the present day. The late Augustus Hemenway of Boston, who rose to such prominence as a merchant and man of wealth, and whose name is associated at the present time with various charitable institutions and elegant buildings, aided and erected from the proceeds of his estate by his publicspirited wife, was for a time in early life a clerk with Mr. Bird, at his store in Charlestown.

The Swift house is gone. The garden in front of it, terraced down as it was to the stone wall on the street, and ornamented with beautiful trees, has given place to a block of well-built, comfortable brick houses. It has always been regretted that the façade of this block was left so severely plain; that the enjoyment of the neighborhood could not have been considered in the plan, with a more tasteful front elevation; but the pleasant occupation of the block has compensated in a great measure for its objectionable architecture.
MAY 19, 1888.


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