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Harwich’s Heated Reckoning

One hot August afternoon in 1848, emotions and beliefs collide in what has become known as the Harwich Mob.

Photo by Susanna Graham-Pye

The wind moving through the grove’s old cedar-scented pine boughs sounded like water. The air had traveled over the ocean, picking up hints of salty, colder depths, bringing them inland, making rivers of sound as it pushed through the branches.

Leaves flipped and rolled in the currents, revealing minnow-silver underbellies, a sign seen by most in these maritime parts that a thunderstorm could be on its way.

The dance between land and sea breezes on hot days near the shore creates a summer blessing strong enough to move heavy, humid salt air, and in Harwich, on this day in 1848, the last Sunday of August, people needed such a blessing. Temperatures during that long ago summer had been record-breaking, and unfortunately, rains didn’t fall as they often did, as the late-day storms popped up alongside the prevailing southwest winds. The clouds instead skirted north, avoiding the beckoning arm of the Cape. 

An anti-slavery rally held in what was called The Grove had gone well to this point. The multi-day event had been planned by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, the organization that had grown out of the New England Anti-Slavery Society created by William Lloyd Garrison a decade earlier. The group sponsored “agents,” or speakers, to travel throughout the region advocating for the abolition of slavery. 

The most significant speakers attending the Harwich event were Parker Pillsbury, Stephen Symonds Foster, W.W. Brown, and Lucy Stone; all notable abolitionists from elsewhere in New England.

Stone, a West Brookfield, Massachusetts native had graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio the previous spring, and had just been hired by the society. Despite her mother’s concerns for her safety, and liberal Oberlin’s refusal to let her train…



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