The 1881 Natick Centennial celebration had poetry!

Oliver N. Bacon’s poem

 

February 19, 1881, was a big day for Natick town officials, community leaders, and the citizenry of Natick.

That day was the 100th anniversary of Natick’s incorporation as a Massachusetts town on February 19, 1781, when almost 650 people lived in the villages and neighborhoods that were included in the new town. For them and folks throughout the colonies, it was a critical time in the Revolutionary War, about eight months before the historic American defeat of British troops at Yorktown.

A century later, formal 19th century public celebrations often offered popular entertainment: both men and women were cheered as they made speeches, sang original songs, and recited formal and highly stylized poetry, written especially for the occasion.

Poems were part of the program in 1881 when a committee of 55 planners was given a $500 budget to throw a big party. There was a parade featuring a cornet band, every man in the Fire Department, every school student in town riding on horse-drawn “barges,” and a “most attractive” float with “young ladies from the High School” who represented all the states.

They didn’t forget the poetry. Oliver N. Bacon, a noted attorney, offered his commemoration with a 250-line poem.

It’s a challenge to imagine how thrilling Bacon’s recitation must have seemed to his audience. In 1881 folks were accustomed to formal celebratory performances such as lengthy speeches, songs, and poems—and, of course, they weren’t distracted by any temptations to check their cell phones for messages.

Bacon pulled out all the stops. Here’s one of his stanzas about the centennial event:

“Proclaim aloud to valley, hill and tree,

The happy close of one ripe century.

Since first our struggling fathers round them saw,

Midst new born freedom thrown the forms of law,—

Saw clearly laid by clerkdrawn statute down,

The legal rights and rules of Natick town.”

Title page of Oliver Bacon’s Natick Centennial poem

Title page of Oliver Bacon’s Natick Centennial poem

 

Bacon recalled the Revolutionary War that was in progress when the town was incorporated:

 

“Perhaps the crazy monarch never knew,

How many real friends he had and true;

For he had searched a British map in vain,

For Natick's lakes and hills and Pegan plain,

But friends were here whose love was strong,

For mother land old England right or wrong.

Men too were here, as records plainly show,

Who met on battle field the gaudy foe,

Piled Bunker's heights with red coats newly slain,

And left on Monmouth's field the sanguine stain.”

 

The poet waxed eloquent, in classical style, to conclude:

 

“In life's undoubted duties let our day,

In social harmless pleasures pass away,

Then when these short transient hours are o'er,

‘And we arrive on Canaan's shore,’

If there's another world we live in bliss,

If there is none we've made the most of this.”

 

Another poet, Alexander Thayer, added his exalted reverie:

 

“If such our town, well, well it may

   Its citizens inspire,—

   In patriotic fire,

With jub'lant speech and festive lay,

With joyous pomp and show—

To celebrate its natal day,

One hundred years ago!”

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Selected sources and additional reading:

Natick Historical Society collections.

Internet Archive. “Natick: a historical poem read on the Centennial Anniversary of its incorporation. February 19th, 1881.” Accessed June 13, 2019. https://archive.org/details/natickhistorical00baco/page/n8 (This source contains the full text of the poems by Bacon and Thayer)