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The Meetinghouse Tragedy
An Episode in the Life of a New England Town
Charles E. Clark; John W. Hatch, illus.

New Hampshire
1998 • 170 pp. 9 illus. 7 drawings. 2 maps. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2"
New England History

$14.95 Paperback, 978-0-87451-872-6
$7.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-084-3

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

“Sensitive and superbly documented . . . A personal and vibrant insight into the everyday lives of New Hampshire residents at the time of the American Revolution. It will rightfully take its place in the pantheon of New England town studies.” —Historical New Hampshire

The dramatic story of a colonial town’s experience of and response to communal catastrophe.

On a fine September day in 1773 the people of Wilton, New Hampshire gathered to realize their dream, laboring together to raise the frame of a brand new meetinghouse that would be the literal and symbolic center of this small farming community nestled near the Massachusetts line. But the dream became nightmare when a huge center roof beam, temporarily shored up by a treetrunk, gave way, dropping fifty-three workers three stories to the ground and collapsing tons of trusswork, planks and joists, and metal tools in on them. Five died, and every other man was injured, many seriously.

The catastrophe might have been lost in history had Charles E. Clark not discovered an heirloom copy of an anonymous, 43-stanza ballad memorializing it. Sifting through clues from the ballad and from archival records, Clark first pieces together the mystery to give a full picture of the events leading up to and surrounding the disaster and then examines the social, cultural, and theological impact of such a central experience upon Wilton's residents. From lighthearted festival (the town had voted to provide six barrels of rum for the occasion) to message from an angry God, the meetinghouse tragedy thus becomes both a paradigm of the elastic, sustaining nature of community in colonial America and a fascinating glimpse into architectural history and construction techniques, popular and folk culture, religious traditions, and the ways communal memories are formed and then endure.

Reviews / Endorsements

“From the mortice in the rafter to the song on the page, you see it, hear it, feel it. A gem of historical recreation.” —Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University

“A superb little volume. Clark has used all his skills as a professional historian to enrich reader understanding of what he quietly labels 'an episode' in 18th century New England history. The Meetinghouse Tragedy tells a powerful human story. In addition, it discusses the way in which neighborhoods and communities functioned, provides elaborate detail about meeting house construction, describes how news spread in pre-revolutionary America, and analyzes the nature of early regional ballads. The introduction alone -- where Clark explains how he came to write the book -- is worth the price of admission.”—Jere Daniell, Dartmouth College

CHARLES E. CLARK is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New Hampshire. His books include The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665 - 1740 (1994), Maine: A Bicentennial History (1977, 1990), and The Eastern Frontier: The Settlement of Northern New England, 1610 - 1763 (1970, 1983).

Fri, 6 Jul 2018 13:13:07 -0500