9 Bennet Street MBTS

9 Bennet Street in Manchester

Love forms the foundational story of the house at 9 Bennett Street: built in 1729.  Love, because it was a wedding gift from the locally prominent Capt. Aaron Bennet to his daughter Mary Bennett and her husband Jonathan Hassam, a young ship’s captain from West Manchester.  The senior Bennett lived up Bennett Street surrounded by family, so to keep Mary and Jonathan connected, he built them a beautiful home.  The proximity was, assuming for both families, convenient.

But over the ensuing 284 years, 9 Bennet Street would be the home of several prominent and well-regarded families in Manchester.  These families—Bennetts, Allens, Proctor, Solomon, Peart—saw wars, life and death at sea, and the many professions and struggles associated with the daily community labor and trade such as innkeeping, farming, fish processing, and shoe making. 

The home passed from one generation to the other, some lucky, others not so much.  This history focuses on the Bennetts, and the Hassams who became Allens and Lees and lived at and around the home until the very end of the American Revolution.

When it was built, 9 Bennett Street was considered large for its day, with an excellent original central chimney and small entryway (with original staircase), as was typical.  Today, the changes and “renovations” made over the years reflects the changing of tastes in home design, inside and out.  The beaded casings on the frame, as was original; the walls and ceiling are covered in later materials.  Upstairs, the frame has been exposed (casings removed) showing the timber as rough hewn, without any adornment (chamfers or beading) and not meant to be seen without casings.  The floors are old and possibly original upstairs.  The small cellar shows heavy beams and joists, with a rubble stack for the chimney base. 

Capt. Aaron Bennett, the man who built the home, owned the rest of the large “Bennett tract,” about 80 acres on both sides of now-Bennett Street and running across the brook along part of now-Bridge Street, with frontage along the harbor.  Bennett worked at many things throughout his life, successfully.  In 1732 Manchester, town meeting voted funds to build a public wharf 50’ long at the landing near the meeting house.  Bennett was an innholder and shoreman (fisheries proprietor), a husbandman (cattle farmer), a yeoman (crop farmer), and a gentleman (“one who employed others.”).  He was also the head of the local militia.  When in the fish business, Bennett owned a fishing vessel or two, and cured the catches of fish in his fish yard, along the harbor, where the codfish were “cured” on the racks called fish-flakes, and then were sold to Salem or Boston merchants whose vessels carried the fish across the ocean to Spain, Portugal, Britain, and beyond.

Bennett’s daughter Mary and Jonathan Hassam lived in their new home, would have a family of 11 children, and more than their share of tragedy.  Of the first six, two died as infants.  Of the next five—all sons—two died before age 10.  This wasn’t unusual.  Manchester, a very small town, suffered by such losses routinely, most often from disease and storms and fevers at sea and violence along the northern coast.

Jonathan Hassam, a master mariner, prospered and fishing life was in their blood.  When he died at age 53, his wife Mary was 46.  She never again married, living the rest of her life at 9 Bennett Street with her children and grandchildren. 

In 1759, after repeated failures against the French on the western frontier (New York and Pennsylvania) British forces tried again, augmented by Massachusetts militia.  Mary’s son John Hassam, 14, likely after much pleading, was allowed to join the invasion force.  At Louisbourg, Cape Breton, a staging area for the successful assault down the Saint Lawrence on Quebec City, John died of drowning with Lewis Degarr, 22, also of Manchester.  Aaron Bennett, 23, John Hassam’s cousin, died somewhat later in the campaign.  Montreal was taken in 1760 and Canada became a British possession.

In 1760 Manchester had 100 houses and a population of 739.  The townsmen raised the money to open a free-of-charge town grammar school, which was kept for a while by John Pickering, a young Harvard man from Salem who would later become Speaker of the Mass. House of Representatives.  The town’s “dame schools” (for the very young) were kept at Kettle Cove, at Newport (a.k.a. West Manchester), at The Plains, and at North Yarmouth.  That year, town meeting also voted for the construction of a whipping post and new stocks on the common.

Manchester’s people lived off fishing and farming (mainly livestock grazing), along with the money made by merchant mariners sailing out of seaports; but events of the larger world were to shake things up.  The English would squeeze new tax revenues out of the colonials’ trade.  Units of the Royal Navy were sent out as enforcers. 

Mary Hassam died in 1762, at 55.  She left behind her married daughters, little grandchildren, and her two surviving sons, Joseph, 14, and William, 9.  Both boys would grow up, marry, find families, and have long lives; William’s son Capt. Jonathan Hassam (1784-1859) would become a shipmaster and survivor of many run-ins with the British and adventures on the high seas.

Among the heirs of Jonathan Hassam living at 9 Bennett were brothers Joseph Hassam, 15, and William Hassam, the youngest of the siblings, both under guardianship.  When William turned 17, in 1769, Joseph Hassam purchased the home.  Joseph had become a journeyman cooper, and in 1770 he married Elizabeth Tewksbury.  He added a cooper’s shop to the premises.  They had four children.

That same year, after the Boston Massacre, Massachusetts turned openly hostile to the British authorities, and the clouds of war gathered.  Manchester was a rebel village, and in May, 1774, a town meeting affirmed Boston’s call for independence. With bloodshed at Lexington & Concord in April, 1775, the

die was cast; and 224 able-bodied Manchester men and boys (pop. 800) signed up for the fight against Britain.

Manchester’s Capt. William Tuck in 1774 was named a delegate to the rebel county congress—made a voyage to Bilbao, Spain, in 1776, to take on a cargo of gunpowder for the use of the rebel army.  Tuck, Jeremiah Hibbert, William Peart, Benjamin Kimbell, Amos Hilton, and John Lee would command privateers—private armed vessels state-licensed to prey on British merchant shipping—sailing out of larger ports like Gloucester.

It is doubtless that Joseph Hassam fought in the Revolutionary War, if not as a soldier, then as a privateer.

In 1783, the people of Manchester welcomed the conclusion of the war.  The extent of their sacrifice cannot be overstated. In that same year, Joseph and Elizabeth Hassam thought to sell their homestead to John Baker, a well-to-do cordwainer (a.k.a., shoemaker) and his wife, Sarah Cross.  The Bakers had no children, and lived in the home for nearly 17 years.  Even after the couple later moved to a farm West Man-chester, Baker kept 9 Bennett Street as a shop.

In 1799, an up-and-coming mariner, Capt. Richard Allen (captain of the Salem-St. Petersburg trading ship “Orestes”) bought 9 Bennett for 500 dollars and the house remained with that family and its heirs for the next 100 years.  In 1845, Solomon Allen, the Captain’s youngest son, set up a shoe shop there and for about 50 years “worked as a bachelor cobbler and maker of new shoes, as well as a barber.  

Solo-mon was “highly sociable and ever ready to make his shop the haunt of men whose time was not valuable or those whose business career was over. 

From this, the Bennett Street shoe shop was known as Solomon’s Temple and later as “the Senate” in which Solomon usually had the last word. I.M. Marshall, first editor of the Manchester Cricket, spent many days there as “a kibitzing boy” in his youth.

Waldo Peart purchased 9 Bennett in 1924 and the well-known Peart family resided happily there until 2018.