Odd history lesson

MILFORD – About 20 people filled the north half of the Union Coffee Co. last week to hear David Palance’s “History you didn’t get in school” talk, the first of a series on little-known local history to be held at the coffee shop.

“As a kid, I hated history,” said Palance, president of the Milford Historical Society, because teachers and textbooks left out the interesting parts.

He quickly took down local heroes, including early settlers, who “stole from, enslaved and basically tried to wipe out” all of the Native Americans, treating them like devils, he said.

African-Americans fared no better. Early settler Joshua Crosby came to New Hampshire with two black children as young slaves, he said.

Most infamous was Lord Jeffrey Amherst, who started an early form of germ warfare by bringing Native Americans handkerchiefs and blankets from a house where smallpox victims were quarantined.

Early selectmen had no use for the old, the sick, the retarded or African-Americans, Palance said. They were “warned out of town” with the simple words, “We’d like you to leave,” he said.

One hundred years later, though, Milford became a hotbed of anti-slavery sentiment, and abolitionists gathered for meetings in the Congregational Church. To throw a spotlight on that part of local history, the Historical Society is turning one of its largest rooms into a “Journey to Freedom” room to show artifacts and photos from that era.

Milford’s Hutchinson Singers helped spread the abolitionist message throughout the country. The siblings grew up on North River Road.

That was in the mid-1880s, which was also a time of religious revival that included the temperance movement. The house of the Rev. Humphrey Moore, the first settled minister of the Congregational Church on Elm Street, was the first to be built without the aid of copious quantities of rum, Palance said.

Moore was also an abolitionist, and his house was said to be a stop on the Underground Railroad, with a tunnel leading to the Souhegan River, where a boat would take fleeing slaves en route to Canada.

The town had powerful women, and they’ll be the subject of a future talk, Palance said. They include Carrie Cutter, who is buried in the Elm Street Cemetery. Her gravestone says she was “murdered by the Baptist Church.”

Capt. Jonathan Danforth was hired by the king in the mid-1740s to survey the land, and he gave many local features their names, including Dram Cup Hill (the hill above Market Basket Supermarket. He took for himself a large swath of land that stretched from Monson Village to where Amherst Country Club is now.

“His family was cursed, generation after generation, and its story ends with ‘a dress on fire,’ ” Palance said, leaving the rest of that story, too, for another night.

Palance describes himself as an inventor, teacher and engineer. He has been giving tours of Milford cemeteries for years.

“We had a kind of sleepy historical society,” he said, “ and we woke it up. We made the (Carey House museum) look like a museum instead of a used furniture store. … We have some good, smart volunteers.”

At the end of his talk, Palance waved a $10 bill and asked people to look at the image of the U.S. Treasury building on the back. Its pillars were made from Milford granite.

The society’s “200 years in 20 minutes” talks are planned for 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. The next one is scheduled for Feb. 16 at Union Coffee Co.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.