Category Archives: The Big Picture

National and international trends impacting Lenox.

Massachusetts Government – From Theocracy to Royal Colony


By the time Lenox was founded, Massachusetts had become a secular British colony. But it is worth reviewing the evolution from theocracy to colony since many elements of the distinctly religious orientation of early Massachusetts government lingered until 1824 religious tolerance acts and the 1832 Constitution.

Starting with the 1620 Plymouth covenant,  religion colored Massachusetts law.

Settlements Based on Church
Town Development Based Partly on Worship

One of the reasons New England towns were small was so families could walk to required church services. As was the case in Lenox, the meeting house was part of initial town development and was used for both religious and civic meetings. As of 1647, towns were also required to teach reading and arithmetic (so all could read the Bible) Local revenues supported the one (Puritan/Congregational) Church and Church membership was a requirement for voting. The Puritans not only excluded the Church of England but persecuted Quakers, Anabaptists – and Catholics – fagetetaboutit.

In the early part of the 17th century Massachusetts was left pretty much on its own. Colonists had emigrated 1620-1640 to flee persecution from Charles I

From Southeastern England to Massachusetts
From Southeastern England to Massachusetts

and the English attitude was pretty much good riddance. The colonists fought the Pequot War in the 1630’s with no help, so, it must have been a shock when the mother country suddenly began making itself felt economically with the Navigation Acts of the 1660’s which restricted trade to England and English vessels.  King Phillip’s War (another Native American War in the 1670’s) was also fought with little help from England and it devastated Massachusetts. In a pattern that would be repeated later, England was looking for revenue at just the time when Boston merchants had the least to give.

Secularism and the Salem Witch Trials

The colonists refused to enforce these new laws and the Massachusetts Charter was revoked in 1684. Neither Charles II or his brother James II had any great love for the Puritans who had beheaded their father.  So it’s not surprising that new charters kept the hammer down economically but also began the walk back from government sanctioned Puritan religious intolerance.

Massachusetts Revolted Against Sir Edmond Andros

With the New Englander’s refusal to enforce the Navigation Acts, James moved on to a new charter that further restricted local government. The 1686 Dominion of New England merged the British territories from Delaware Bay to Penobscot Bay under a royal governor –Sir Edmund Andros who was especially hated in Massachusetts. He enforced the unpopular Navigation Acts, vacated land titles, restricted town meetings, and appropriated a Puritan meeting house for Church of England services. A Boston revolt deposed Andros in 1689 and the Dominion was voided.

Increase Mather (son of Richard, father of Cotton) and others traveled to London to petition the new rulers, William and Mary, to restore the old charter. But fearing religious rule, William refused. Instead , management was turned over to the Lords of Trade, religious tolerance was required and royal governors were appointed rather than elected.

Salem Witch Trials Contributed to the End of Puritan Rule
Salem Witch Trials Contributed to the End of Puritan Rule

It is speculated that the end of Puritan rule truly ended with the Salem witch trials in 1692. To the Lords of Trade it looked like the worst possible outcome from a theocracy.

King Phillip’s War (1675-1676) Discourages Western MA Expansion

Metacom or King Phillip – Charismatic Leader

Hard to Tell from This Rendering, But Metacom Considered a Charismatic Leader

Metacom, called “King Phillip,” by the English became sachem of the Plymouth area tribe in 1662.

Metacom, or King Phillip as he was known by the English, was chief of the Wampanoag in southeastern Massachusetts.  Apparently a charismatic personality, Metacom was able to leverage seething resentments.

The spark that set off the war was Metacom’s contention that the English had murdered his brother.  The underlying causes were the Indian’s fear of the never ending pressure to sell their land (a concept which was more English than Indian anyway) and increased dependence on trade goods from the new comers.

Native Americans Being Crowded Out by the 1660’s Continue reading King Phillip’s War (1675-1676) Discourages Western MA Expansion

What Was the Great Migration and Why Do We Care?

Between about 1630 and 1640, as many as 20,000 men, women and children left England for New England.  Most if not all of the settlers of Lenox can trace their roots to this hearty group of emigrants.

The Beginning and Then the End of Puritan Persecution in England

Who were these emigrants and why did they come? John Winthrop organized a fleet of ships to transport the emigrants,  but it was a reflection of individual households making similar decisions – not an organized group.  The emigrants included indentured servants and household servants but the decision makers were primarily farmers and merchants who could generate enough capital, generally by selling their holdings in England, to pay for passage and enough supplies for the passage and a year in the new land.  Also carpenters (Joiners), tanners and other skilled trades were in great demand and could sometimes get their passage paid.

Three quarters of the emigrants to New England were not members of the Puritan church but the Puritan beliefs characterized the group.  The time of the migration coincides with the height of the persecution of the Puritans under Charles I and ends with the outbreak of the Civil War that ended the reign and the life of Charles I.  The beginning of the exodus coincides with the dissolution of Parliament in 1629.  Although the ostensible purpose for the emigration was to escape religious persecution, it was undoubtedly also a hope for better economic opportunities.  In England population growth had exploded without any great increase in agricultural productivity and the primary industry, wool, had been seriously hindered by the 30 years war in Europe.  In addition, Charles I was warring with Scotland (and looking for the money to pay for it) at the same time he (and his Catholic wife) were warring with the Presbyterians of Scotland and the Puritans of England.

Unique Characteristics

From Southeastern England to Massachusetts
From Southeastern England to Massachusetts

Many came from East Anglia  and other parts of southeastern England (thought by some to be the source of the distinctive New England dropped “r”) and the majority were from market towns – often involved in textile trade and in local government.  The farmers among them were generally landowners (hence the ability to sell for the cash needed for passage and supplies).  Almost all were families with most of the single adults being servants.  They were unique among emigrants to the New World in:

  • being almost universally literate (importance place on being able to read Scripture)
  • moving as families – an often with kinship groups (in-laws, cousins, etc.)
  • a range of ages (generally heads of household ranging from young to late middle age plus children)
  • experienced in self-government and business
  • having cashed in all or most of what they had on the bet that opportunity would be better in the new land
  • homogeneous in religious believes and background.

And, like most other emigrants of the era, self selected to be healthy enough to survive the arduous voyage and difficult first several years.  Also, like other emigrant groups of the era, there was a great premium on creating your own labor force combined with cleaner water and less crowded living conditions.  The result was remarkably large families.  For all of these family members to find adequate farm average they had to further migrate north and west – often to the Connecticut or later Housatonic River Valleys.  Hence, many descendants spread over the early Massachusetts settlements, some of whom would find their way to Lenox.

Just to illustrate a couple of Lenox settlers with ties to this “Great Migration” (data from public family trees):

Lenox Descendents

Jonathan Hinsdale (first known settler of Lenox) – was born in Hartford, apparently the great grandson of Robert Hinsdale, born 1617 in Dedham, Essex, England and who died in 1675 at Bloody Brook (near Deerfield) – part of the hostilities of King Phillip’s war.  Jonathan apparently came from a long-line of risk takers..from England to an unsettled area (Deerfield) and to an unsettled area again (Lenox).

Israel Dewey (an important member of the initial purchasers of Lenox open land in 1762)  was the great-great grandson of Thomas Dewey born 1606 in Sandwich, Kent, England.  Thomas Dewey apparently moved at least once after landing as he died in 1748 in Windsor, CT.    The various locations of his parents, grandparents, etc. suggests Israel came from a long line of real estate  entrepreneurs – his grandfather, Thomas Dewey, was among the original settlers of the Berkshires coming from Westfield to Sheffield. And, indeed, Israel him self would die, not in Lenox, but in Vermont in a another new community he had participated in launching.

And, of course, Grenville Winthrop, an important part time resident who lived at the current BUTA campus on West Street was a ninth generation descendent of John Winthrop.


New England’s Greatest Generation, The Great Migration and The Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century, by Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Cambridge University Press, 1991 – public member family trees

Daily Life in Colonial New England, by Claudia Durst Johnson, Greenwood Press Daily Life Through History Series, 2002

Before There Were Pilgrims – Early European Explorers


Vikings Probably Earliest Europeans

The first Europeans to get remotely close to Massachusetts were probably Vikings from Iceland. There is archaeological evidence of a 1,000 year old Viking settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland.  No permanent settlement survived.  They may have come earlier, but the first records of European stopovers in the search for Cod and whales are from the 16th century.

Basque Whalers in the 1570's
Basque Whalers in the 1570’s

European Fisherman and Explorers by the 16th Century

European travel to and around Massachusetts picked up to near traffic jam levels by the 16th century.  A rush for a Northwest passage to the Orient and gold starting in earnest with Columbus’s return to Europe from his 1492 voyage.  It was thrown into high gear after Pissaro’s conquest of the Incas and their gold in 1532. Continue reading Before There Were Pilgrims – Early European Explorers

Earliest American Arrivals – Crossover the Bridge


Glaciers Took Up Sea Levels Leaving a Land Bridge to North America

The most widely accepted theory is that the earliest visitors to North America (and eventuall our area) followed their hunting quarry over a land bridge from Asia to Alaska. Perhaps 15,000 years ago ice sheets had tied up enough water that sea levels had dropped as much as 300 feet. Following game around the edge of the retreating ice sheets, these wanderers would eventually reach the Berkshires.  There is evidence of paleo-Indian inhabitants in Massachusetts 9,000-10,000 years ago[i] – consistent with these overall continental migrations. The ice sheets would have scrubbed off most vegetation, but these early arrivals would probably have been following and dinning well on giant, slow moving and now extinct game such  as Mastadons and Woolly Mammoths.

Early man would have tracked large slow-moving gem which they may have hunted to extinction.

Initially they probably conducted themselves in the new land similarly to the way they conducted themselves in Siberia.  They probably would have traveled in small bands of 15-50 using spears to hunt game including many large animals now extinct – mammoths, mastodons – as well as caribou, moose and the deer still here today.  Archaeological evidence shows evidence of transient settlement at water holes where the game they sought would have congregated.  The extinction of most of the giant beasts that originally occupied the continent may have been related to climate change, but surely these wiley new bipeds played a part as well.  In any case the sweeping plains and easy, massive kills eventually disappeared.

[i] Bidwell House talk on Kampoosa Bog, Chapter 2 – Massachusetts 101


For more information see:

American Colonies:  The Settling of North America, by Alan Taylor; The Penguin History of the United States; Eric Foner, editor;2002;  Published by Penquin Books USA, 375 Hudson Street, NY, NY 10014, Lincoln DExter (need pub data), Extinct animals (need pub reference)

Formation of The Berkshires – The Ice Age

20,000 Years Ago The Last Ice Age Covered the Berkshires in Miles of Ice

Throughout the millennia, the earth has gone through long periods of warming and cooling. The entire Pleistocene Epoch – beginning about 2MM years ago was marked by invasions of massive glaciers interrupted by warming periods.   Dating of the most recent glacial advance varies but is usually described as reaching its farthest extent 20-30,000 years ago.  New York and New England were, by about that time, covered by grey glaciers that were up to 10,000 feet deep.

Leveled Peaks and Created Lakes

In its retreat (beginning about 18,000 years ago) it left imprints in any softer surface.  Some of these filled with melting ice including what was a large lake (from 1-12 miles wide) in the middle of the state until 2-3,000 years ago.  Many of our ponds and lakes are the residual of these depressions filled with water.  On a grander scale, the retreating glaciers carved out north/south valleys and ridges which finalized the layout of our hills today. [i]

What would have been left behind as the Earth warmed on Berkshire county would be marshy tundra for thousands of years.

Land Bridge

It sucked up enough moisture to lower sea levels by as much as 300 feet and wiped out any plant and animal life that had existed before.

Meanwhile, as a result of the lowered sea levels, paleo man is thought to have crossed what is now the Bering Straits from Asia to North America about 15,000 years ago and to have fanned out across the continent as the ice retreated.  The earliest remains found in Massachusetts are dated at about 9,000 years ago.[i]

[i] Maps of Early Massachusetts, by Lincoln Dexter, New England Blue Print Company, 1979 – pgs 5-12

Lenox History – Please Share Your Stories

We’re looking for volunteers for whatever you would like to contribute to our Lenox History collection.  Here are some ideas that have been suggested:

  • Great fires of Lenox
  • The rise and fall of private schools in Lenox
  • History of Lenox public schools
  • Memories of the bicentennial celebration
  • Memories of old fashioned days
  • Family histories
    • Tucker
    • PIretti
    • Pignatelli
    • Tillotsons
    • Others?
  • My house (search your address on this website – over 100 have extensive information already)
  • Retail development in Lenox Village
  • Famous watering holes in Lenox and Lenox Dale
  • Trees – Dutch Elm Disease impact on Lenox
  • Sequence of logging off, re-planting in the village
  • US Post Office in Lenox and Lenox Dale–offices, famous postmasters
  • How Lenox coped with the Depression
  • Lenox during Prohibition
  • Administration of and coping with rationing during WWII
  • Before and after street histories
  • Music Inn memories
  • Coming back from the xxxxx war to life in Lenox
  • History of recreational horseback riding in Lenox
  • Where were the streetcar stops?
  • Gilded Age carriage traditions

Many of these topics have been previously researched by the phenomenal Lenox student research done for “Our Town, Ourselves.” * Check with the Lenox Historical Society.  Much information is also available through the Lenox Library. 

Also check the Lenox Historical Society Facebook Page – and make entries on their wall!

Please let us know what other ideas you have or if you would be willing to volunteer to write any one of the ideas above.  Here’s what’s involved:

  • Write 150-200 words – you can do it in Word or on the email itself and email it to and we’ll get it on this website
  • If possible include digital photos (we can scan old photos for you if you wish).
  • Please include a photo of yourself
Lucy Kennedy - 10 year Lenox Resident and Contribution Wrangler for this Website
Lucy Kennedy – 10 year Lenox Resident and Contribution Wrangler for this Website


    • It’s fun
    • It’s a way of capturing Lenox history and making it accessible (with readily available search and categorization)
    • It’s a great way to contribute to celebrating 250 years of Lenox.

-Videographer Judy Seaman is producing a video to celebrate the 250th anniversary, “From Yokuntown to Lenox,” Check it Out – You can help!

* List of “Our Town Ourselves” research papers from Mrs. Vincent’s Ninth term paper assignment

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Before There Was Anything

1044883_588260431216173_1382081002_n from Berkshires Daily

So much of Lenox history is driven by the characteristics – good and bad – of our landscape that the origins of our hills seems the place to start a timeline.
This writer knows next to nothing about plate tectonics, Pre Cambrian eras and the lost continent of Pangaea, but fortunately these are others who devote their lives to these topics and write about them in a moderately understandable way. It turns out that the foundations of the Berkshires – the foundations that gave us marble, iron ore, granite, and some of our mountains and bodies of water – are the result of colliding, floating continents and all kinds of other geological excitement .

Millions and Billions of Years

Geological time: it’s long. To try to grasp geological time a standard comparison is to imagine the age of Earth as a single day; then dinosaurs appear after 10:30 at night and humans at one and a half minutes before midnight.

Continental Drift

The punch line of this story is that mineral deposits have been found in Boston that are similar to those of the west coast of Africa. These would have been laid down about 600 million years ago (Pre-Cambrian/ Cambrian Era).
Similar anomalies had been found since the 19th century, but the explanation, although logical in a sci-fi kind of way, did not become generally accepted until the 1960’s. The continents had moved…and they used to be attached to each other!

This continental drift has to do with the composition of various layers of the earth’s crust and of polar magnetism pulling on the iron ore in land masses. Over millions of years, what we know as continents today have drifted through different climates, crashed into each other and pulled apart. The theory is that all our current continents were once part of a mega-continent called Pangaea clumped down at the current South Pole.

For part of the life of that mega continent Africa was tucked up into what is now the American east coast. Among many other tears and collisions of land masses, the Africa/ America portion drifted northward , crossing the equator and pulling apart about 66 million years ago with us curving northwest and Africa curving southeast.

The Impact of Continental Changes on the Current Massachusetts/New York Area
What did our little corner of the world look like as the continents were morphing into their current place and shape?
According to a summary put together by Lincoln Dexter in 1979 , the Berkshires were once close to being ocean front property. In the Cambrian era – 500-600 million years ago – most of Massachusetts was under a deep sea (limestone anyone?). The current locations of the Berkshires included active volcanoes belching fire, smoke and lava. Fossils associated with Africa and Europe have been found in the eastern part of the state but not in the western part indicating they were separated by a deep body of water.
Later – 400 million years ago or so – the continents started to tear creating a rift approximately where the Connecticut River Valley is today. Later collisions raised highlands on either side of the rift.
The earliest mineral deposits are not necessarily at the bottom of the Berkshires because of the continental tears and collisions mentioned above.
Sound like preparing a croissant – folding layers over layers. There have been, over the millennia, several ranges of high volcanic peaks that got crumbled against each other and shoved west forming parallel ranges –including the Taconics and Berkshires.  Wind, erosion and lots of ice wore the peaks down to the modest hills we see today.

Continue reading Before There Was Anything