The 'Headers In Life & Legend
by Russell W. Knight


"Marmaracria, oppidum maritimum, saxis abundans; indi Novanglice dictum Marblehead, asprima vox, aures Latinas horride perstringas." *

Translation: "Marmaracria, a maritime town, abounding in rocks, hence called, in the language of New England, Marblehead."

The Indians called it ............. Massabequash
Captain John Smith called it ............. Marble Harbour
William Wood called it ............. Marvell Head
Samuel Maverick called it ............. Foy
But today, we call it ............. Marblehead

*Excerpt from the funeral oration delivered by Samuel Sewall at the funeral of the Reverend Edward Holyoke, first pastor of Marblehead's "New Meeting House" and ninth president of Harvard College. On 8 August 1717, Holyoke married Elizabeth Browne, daughter of John Browne of Marblehead.

Marble Harbour or ?

For an unknown number of generations, the Pequot and Naumkeag Indians had harvested an abundance of clams and lobsters from the mud flats of the peninsula "marked by great rocks ... supposed marble." And from the depths of the waters off the peninsula's shores, they had hooked and netted thousands of cod, haddock, mackerel and cusk. At the same time, they had gathered chunks of felsite from the storm-riven cliffs of its "Great Necke" and, fashioned from those chunks arrowheads, knives, axes and a variety of crudely-made tools.

But unbeknownst to them, the forests they had hunted, the sea they had fished, and the fields and meadows that had supported them from time immemorial had captured the attention of an alien race. A thousand leagues across the turbulent North Atlantic, inhabitants of a nation beset by want and misery were casting envious glances at the rich and untapped resources of the New World. That nation's impoverished fishermen were stirred by tales of vast schools of succulent fish, and its gentlemen- adventurers itched to explore the region's rugged, forbidding coast and its bays, coves and inlets.

Great Britain's widely-traveled Captain John Smith was among the first of many explorers to probe the New England seacoast. At the end of the seventeenth century, the redoubtable sea captain skirted not only the region's shores, but charted its headlands and harbors. He also glimpsed from afar a rocky promontory which he named "Marble Harbour."

A few years later, Thomas Morton (the merry scamp whose Maypole at Merry Mount [Quincy] created an unforgivable scandal) published New England Canaan in 1637. In that book, he noted that "there is much [marble] in these parts ... in one bay a land that beareth the name of Marble Harbour because of the Plenty of Marble there."
Undoubtedly the craggy cliffs of "Great Necke" were wetted by white-crested combers and burnished to a satiny finish by the constant pounding of the surf. Hence, the name "Marble Harbour."

Or was it "Foy"?

Devon-born Samuel Maverick (1602-1676), who lived in nearby Winnisiment [Chelsea], described the area as "The Towne on the Southside of [Salem] Harbor by the sea side ... the greatest Towne for fishing in New England."

"Foy" was derived from the Cornish seaport of Fowey (pronounced Foy), whose spacious inland harbor offered beleaguered mariners a safe, storm-free haven. Cornwall was, and still is the home of a race of sturdy fishermen long-accustomed to difficult times, want and adversity.

Cornwall was the home of legendary King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table. And it was in Fowey that our forefathers from Cornwall, Devon and Dorset sold the fish they netted. Fowey, a busy and bustling trading center, provided them with a handy marketplace in a region where it is said to rain every day except Sunday--when it rains twice!

Foy (Fowey), the trading center which served a host of mettlesome West Country mariners!

Or was it "Marvell Head"?

The fishing station situated on a "bay both safe, spacious and deep, free from cockling seas ... as run in the channels of England," a bay noted for its "many openings ... [and] good Harboring for Ships should crosse winds barr the Marriner [and where] he may reach other Harbours, as Plymouthe, Cape Ann, Salem and Marvell Head, all being land-lockt from winde and Seas."

According to New Englands Prospect (1634) by William Wood, "Marvell Head is a place which lyeth 4 miles full South from Salem, and is a very convenient place for a plantation, especially for such as will set upon the trade of fishing." Wood came to the New World and settled in Lynn in 1629. And to satisfy an urge to record his impressions of the region, he roamed the countryside for four years. He then returned to England and published this slender volume providing a remarkably clear picture of early New England.

At "Marvell Head," he noted, "There was made a ships loading of fish the last yeare, where still stands the stages and the drying scaffolds ... here be a good harbour for boates, and a safe riding for ships."

Thus, within a span of years, the tiny, semi-isolated village known today as Marblehead was called various names by several contemporary writers of the era. To one writer, it was "Marble Harbour," to another "Foy," and to yet another, it was "Marvell Head"!

Of the three names, the most intriguing, tantalizing and definitely most provocative name is Marvell Head. Was "Marvell" a word misspelled, or was it a printer's mistake? Was it a result of a manner of speaking, possibly a nasal twang or regional dialect? Or was it a result of a slip of the pen, a blurred letter or something related to the past, to a time and a place alive with memories?

The origin of the name Marvell Head can be traced back to Radipole, England, a delightful hamlet nestled within a fold of green-clad hills two miles south of Weymouth. For centuries, the backwater village of Radipole offered vessels, plying the sea between England and Europe, a safe haven when threatened by storms. But the village's days as a seaport ended when the British government built a dam that closed its corridor to the channel.

Today, the charming little hamlet which now borders a tranquil stream is dominated by a 700-year-old Anglican church. And flanking that ancient edifice is a cemetery studded with scores of headstones ravaged by time and weather, overrun by brush, weeds and a tangle of vines and brambles.

And engraved on the face of many of the memorial stones are names of families deeply embedded in the early history of Marblehead. There, in the hallowed grounds of St. Ann's cemetery, rest Abbots, Briggs, Dennises, Gales, Peaches, Grants, Hoopers, Knights, Leggs, Sewalls and Stevenses!

The question is ... do these familiar names signify anything? Are they, and the village of Radipole and its parish church linked in any way to Marvell Head?

The answer is yes.

And they are linked in more ways than one! Like many other towns, Radipole's name and Marblehead's were changed often. Once, Radipole was "Retpole," but then it became "Redpole," and eventually it became "Radipole." Here in Marblehead, the area known to generations of Marbleheaders as "the Ferry," was originally called "Radipole." Although, when John Calley sold his land on March 18, 1720, he spelled it "Ratterpol." But the area was known as Radipole for more than 100 years.

In addition, the hills that stand at the mouth of present-day Forest River were once known as Nogg's Head, an Old English term describing a nob of land at the mouth of a stream. They were so-named because they resembled the hills framing the mouth of the Wey River, which in earlier times ran from Radipole to Weymouth, then into the English Channel. But with the passage of years, Nogg's Head gradually became "Naugus Head." And for some unknown reason, the name Radipole also disappeared.

"Marvell Head" can be traced back to England in 1585, the year Anglican Priest James Marwell was appointed Rector of Radipole's Anglican church. He served ancient St. Ann's for thirty-four years, a period marked by turbulence and controversy, a period in which he was "noted for his spirited opposition to the Town authorities."

When the Reverend Marwell retired, after ministering to the needs of his parishioners for all those taxing years, he was succeeded by his son, Richard. Richard shepherded St. Ann's flock for forty-seven more unforgettable years!

Like his father, Richard was high-spirited, compassionate and mindful of others. Like his father before him, he labored long and tirelessly to improve the lot of Radipole's hard-pressed inhabitants. For a combined total of eighty-one years, the Marwells--father, then son--comforted the bereaved, counseled the troubled. They also married, christened and buried the faithful.

During both their lives, England was not the "Sceptered Isle" of prose and poetry. Instead, unemployment and poverty stalked the country. And throughout England, countless scores of families lived in hovels with neither a hearth nor wood for a fire. During this period, hundreds of sore-beset crofters and fishermen laid plans to forsake their homes and homeland to rebuild their lives in a land beyond the English Channel.

After they immigrated to the New World, they no doubt continued to harbor memories of their motherland and of those persons who had done so much for them for many, many decades. They no doubt especially harbored memories of the two Anglican priests who spared no effort through thick and thin to bolster their spirits and to aid them in overcoming privation and want. And in the New World, with good reason, they never forgot them, particularly Richard Marwell.

Richard was the unpredictable son of an unconventional man-of-the-cloth, a lighthearted, irrepressible clergyman, in many respects quite like the fishermen who settled Marblehead in the early 1600's.

On one notable occasion, a Constable Keeche entered an illegal and unlicensed alehouse owned by a Widow Foweracres while making his rounds. To the constable's consternation, one of its patrons was Richard Marwell, rector of Radipole's Anglican church!

Since pubs and alehouses were reputed to be favorite haunts of idlers, gamblers, thieves and ne'er-do-wells, members of the clergy were forbidden to enter them. So, anxious to sidestep a potentially touchy matter, Constable Keeche wisely suggested that the rector leave the premises. But when his pleas were ignored, the constable had no other choice but to order the Reverend Richard Marwell to leave or face arrest!
This caused the rector to fly into a towering rage. Jumping to his feet, he literally raked the unhappy constable over the coals, calling him a "Loggerhed, bottlehedd, and puritane." And to further emphasize his displeasure, he promptly knocked the constable cold!

The West Country fishermen who settled Marblehead never forgot their past. They cherished not only the name Radipole, but their memories of James Marwell and his son, Richard!

The Marwells and their parishioners, who now lie buried in St. Ann's Cemetery at Radipole, England, and their stouthearted descendants who settled in the New World, were much alike. They were nonconformists and clannish. They were also inclined to be plain-spoken, headstrong and all too often perverse. In a nutshell, they were a vigorous, strong-willed people, full of life, energy, courage and stamina.

Because the men and women of Radipole, England and the people who settled Marblehead were so alike, there can be little doubt about the relationship between that English town and Marblehead. In fact, it is practically indisputable.

But why did the people of Radipole, who came to Marblehead, mistakenly spell Marwell as "Marvell"? Surely they knew how to spell the surname of the two clergymen who had dwelt among them in Radipole for three-quarters of a century. In fact, to think otherwise would be illogical and way off base.

Our forefathers did not pronounce Marwell as "Marvell" because some printer inadvertently inserted a "V" in place of the "W" in Marwell. They pronounced it that way because of a trick of the printer's trade! In those days, printers in England formed the letter "W" by placing two "V"s side by side. In so doing, they formed a "double-u" or "w", the twenty-third letter in the English alphabet! It was a simple expedient, a practice that served the printers well.

But it was a practice that soon backfired.

The man-in-the-street changed the manner in which he pronounced words with two "v"s linked together. He stressed "v"s in words beginning with a VV, saying Vig for Wig and Vicked for Wicked, a manner closely resembling the Cockney dialect.

For example, Mr. Weller--a character in Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers--told his son Sammy that Mrs. Veller had passed a very good night, "Signed upon oath, S. Veller, Esquire, Senior." And later, when Sammy was called to testify in the case of Bardell -v- Pickwick, Justice Stareleigh asked, "Do you spell it, [Weller] with a 'V' or a 'W'?"

"That depends upon the taste and fancy of the speller, my Lord," replied Sammy, "But I spells it with a 'V'."

"Quite right too, Samivel, quite right," someone in the courtroom exclaimed.

So, there it is ...

Nogg's Head?
Marvell Head?

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