Marion, Early Settlement
What is now known as
Marion, was once known as Sippican, named for the Indian tribe that
lived here. Thanks to the late Massachusetts state archaeologist Dr.
Maurice Robbins, we can trace the settlement of the Marion area back
several thousand years to the days when the Indians came here every
summer. Indeed, archaeologists have concluded that Indian settlements in
our area date as far back as 3000 B.C.
area Indians were members of the Wampanoag tribe who, when the Pilgrims
came, lived in a number of villages in Southeastern Massachusetts under
the leadership of the great Indian chief Massasoit.
1678, some 29 families were sent to settle the area of what is now Marion,
and was then Sippican. Thanks to the warm relations between Massasoit and
the Plymouth leaders, relations between the Indians and the white settlers
were friendly for many years.
years passed, that tiny settlement expanded. New settlers began moving up
the area rivers and those settlements became what are today Marion,
Mattapoisett and Rochester center. However, the three villages remained
part of Rochester until Marion and Mattapoisett broke away in the 1800s.
the towns of Southeastern Massachusetts were founded after the Pilgrims
came in 1620, different grants were issued to the different towns. The
grant issued to Rochester included what is today Marion, Mattapoisett and
parts of Wareham. The name Rochester was chosen because many of the
original settlers had come from Rochester, England.
15, 1852, after several years of bickering between the villages of Sippican, Rochester, and Mattapoisett, Marion became a separate town.
Instead of keeping the Indian name, Sippican, the people of Marion chose
the name Marion in honor of General Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War
hero from South Carolina.
The years from 1815 to 1890 were years of change for Marion. At the
beginning of this period, Marion was a small but thriving seacoast town.
Its chief product was seamen who sailed on whaleships, coastal schooners,
and Liverpool packets.
Mattapoisett was a major shipbuilding town, Marion tended more toward
whaling and producing captains than making money from shipbuilding. At
one point, 87 sea captains lived in Marion. Marion boys went to sea at
the age of 16 and worked their way up through the ranks to become mates
captains became very wealthy, and some built magnificent homes in Marion.
Among the well-known whaling families who were successful at sea were the
Luce’s, the Briggs’, the Delanos, and the Gibbs. Captain Benjamin Briggs,
of the brig Mary Celeste, stands out in maritime history as the
central figure in what may be the greatest unsolved mystery of the sea,
the disappearance of the entire crew of the Mary Celeste between
the Azores and mainland Portugal in 1872.
Legacy of a Lady
The whaling industry went into decline beginning in 1859 thanks to the
discovery of oil in Pennsylvania. Shipbuilding in this area died off as
well. Americans turned their backs on the sea to develop the West and
build other, great industries.
those years of decline in Marion after the Civil War, the town was being
run by a small group of stubborn old sea captains who did not believe in
education and change. It took the will and generosity of a formidable
lady – Elizabeth Pitcher Taber – to revive the town of Marion.
in Marion, Elizabeth Taber attended the Sippican Seminary which was the
equivalent to a modern high school and the only center of learning beyond
grammar school in Marion in the 19th century. Elizabeth ultimately became
a teacher and taught in Marion prior to marrying clockmaker Stephen Taber
and settling in New Bedford.
Following her husband’s death, Elizabeth returned to Marion a wealthy
widow with a mission to revive the town of Marion. She established the
Elizabeth Taber library and the Natural History Museum; she built what is
now known as the Music Hall; and she contributed a significant sum to
build the Marion Town Hall.
of all, however, Elizabeth Taber sought to devote her life to education.
In 1876, at the age of 85, she established Tabor Academy.
The Rise of Tourism
Elizabeth Pitcher Taber had more of a hand in bringing Marion out of its
post-Civil War decline than anyone else, the railroad also brought changes
to Marion and indeed, the rest of the United States. After the Civil War,
the trains to Marion began bringing more and more people from Boston and
New York who wanted to spend a vacation at the seashore, away from the
heat of the city summer.
Wealthy families from as far away as Chicago heard about Marion and
arrived with steamer trunks, valises, hat boxes and carry-alls. They
bought big and beautiful summer homes, many of which are still standing,
and still lived in by those same families.
1880s, Marion was becoming a nationally-known resort for the rich and
famous and it remained such for many years. The man responsible for
putting Marion on the map as a tourist destination was Richard Watson
Gilder, editor of Century Magazine. Gilder purchased what is now
called the Old Stone Studio for his wife and together they hosted
musicians, writers, and leading stars of American Theater.
The Golden Years
“The purpose of this Society shall be to create and foster
an interest in the history of Marion…”
This opening clause
in the “Statement of Purpose “ was filed by the founding members of the Sippican Historical Society at their first meeting, September 16th, 1963,
at St. Gabriel’s Church in Marion, Massachusetts.
Historical Society was founded by Olive Hiller Somers and several of her
friends, including June Butler Converse, who bequeathed the building on
the corner of Front and Main Streets that serves as our museum and
At its inaugural
meeting of approximately 35 Marion citizens, the organization was formed,
and John H. Wisner was elected president. In its first year, Society dues
were $2 for an annual membership!
historical research and writing…”
Society actively supports the preservation of Marion’s history by
publishing and republishing important works and communicating with its
members and the community through its newsletter and lectures.
From founding member
Olive Hiller Somers’ Three Centuries of Marion Houses, to past
president SHS advisor Judith Rosbe’s, Images of America: Marion,
the Society has not only supported historical research and writing but
always shares these important and interesting efforts with the community
for the benefit of all.
documents and relics and to provide the proper care for them…”
Over the years,
there have been many displays and exhibits at the Society of documents,
paintings, and other collections that have been loaned or given to the
In a visit
through this Web site or to the SHS headquarters, we strive to remain true to the spirit of purpose set forth by
our founders and to act for the benefit and enjoyment of all who will
follow in the future.