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ABOUT TOWN: Stoughton's Connection to Rival Town and Civil War Era Senator

Welcome to "About Town with Mark Snyder," a column that will keep you up to the minute with what's what, who's who and what's going on around town. If you see or hear something we could use here, let us know by sending an e

Ok, I breathe the air of the Black Knights, and by association, I dislike the Canton Bulldogs. Nothing personal, but it comes to the Hockomock League, Stoughton is my team. 

But, Stoughton Historical Society president Dwight MacKerron, says that once upon a time Canton was in Stoughton. “We used to be one town so we have a substantial shared past,” he told About Town. 

(Stoughton became a town in 1726 with Canton splitting from Stoughton and becoming its own town in 1797).

We spoke because the Stoughton Historical Society, together with the Canton Historical Society, is jointly sponsoring an event on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Canton Public Library.

Stephen Puleo will lecture on his recent book, The Caning: The Assault Which Drove America to Civil War.

The book concerns the attack on Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, whose desk is on display at the Historical Society’s 6 Park Street address in downtown Stoughton.  The desk was one Sumner purchased used from the House of Representatives. 

So while the latest U.S. Senator, Mo Cowan, is from Stoughton, serving in an interim basis until a special election to fill the seat most recently held by now Secretary of State John Kerry, Stoughton is also connected to one of the most influential Senators of the Civil War era in Charles Sumner.

MacKerron said the desk is in a prominent place at the Historical Society building, and that Joe DeVito is doing some research into who may have owned it before Sumner.

Adds MacKerron, “One of the historical inaccuracies in the otherwise wonderful recent movie, Lincoln, is the fact that the desks in the scenes in the House of Representatives did not look like ours. They should have. Rep. Stephen Lynch gave DeVito the name of the Sergeant At-Arms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He gave Joe the name of the House Historian, who agreed to find the names of the representatives who sat in those seats and other related history.  We will share this information, as relevant, at the Canton presentation on February 11.”

He says that it turns out that these double desks, like the Stoughton Historical Society has on display, were combined from old single desks, when the House of Representatives became crowded in the 1850's.

Sumner is not from Stoughton. How did the Stoughton Historical Society end up with his desk?

According to the December 1974 Stoughton Historical Society newsletter (which can be found online):

Charles Sumner served in the U.S. Senate from 1851 to 1874 and was a staunch abolitionist. He was severely beaten in the Senate chamber by the nephew of a southern Senator whom Sumner had berated in an anti-slavery speech. Mr. Sumner was so badly injured that he spent the next three years recuperating. It is not clear how Sumner acquired the desk; but it is known that he presented the desk to Governor William Chaflin of Massachusetts and the governor's grandson, William W. Claflin, gave it to Gus Winroth, past president of the Stoughton Historical Society. On May 21, 1951 the desk was given to the Society by Gus. The only other connection between Charles Sumner and Stoughton is through bis biographer and trustee of his estate, Henry L. Fierce, a Stoughtonian.

MacKerron mentioned to Stoughton Patch that Edward Lilie Pierce, a Stoughton man who grew up on Highland Street (a fact he emphasized in the address he delivered at the dedication of Stoughton Town Hall in 1881), wrote a four volume memoir of Sumner and his letters. 

The event with author Stephen Puleo will be held at the Canton Public Library’s Community Room, 786 Washington Street in Canton. Copies of the book will be on sale and 10% of the proceeds will be divided between the sponsoring groups. Admission is Free.  

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