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Three MORE Often-Asked Questions About New England

Three MORE Often-Asked Questions About New England
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Jud’s New England Journal for January 2008

Welcome to the January 2008 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, the editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published for over 70 years in Dublin, New Hampshire.

Three MORE Often-Asked Questions About New England

1. Widow’s walks: Were they built atop homes so that women could look for their husbands’ returning ships?

2. Why is (or was) Connecticut known as the Nutmeg State?

3. Who in Sam Hill was Sam Hill?

The answer to #1 is “no.” However, closed-in cupolas with windows, such as, for instance, on the Dr. Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown, Massachusetts, were built for that purpose. “Widow’s walks” are, in fact, found on old houses hundreds of miles inland. They provided a protected platform on which to stow buckets of sand and water to put out the frequent chimney fires. The term “widow’s walk” was erroneously applied by some romantic writer way back when — and it caught on.

To get to the origin of #2, the Nutmeg State, as applied to Connecticut, one must go back to the early 1800s, when, in the town of Waterford, the minister there, a Rev. Jacob B. Spofford, was invited to tea one day by a rather wealthy lady by the name of Mrs. Eliza Peterson. It seems that, knowing the reverend was fond of boiled rice sprinkled with sugar and nutmeg, Mrs. Peterson asked her servant to prepare it. Her servant replied that they were out of nutmeg, so Mrs. Peterson suggested she borrow some from a neighbor. The rice, liberally sprinkled with nutmeg, was greatly enjoyed by the reverend, and after he’d left, Mrs. Peterson complimented the servant, reminding her to return the remaining borrowed nutmeg to the neighbor. The servant informed her that she hadn’t borrowed any after all, because all of the nearby neighbors happened to be out of nutmeg, too.

“What did you use, then?” asked Mrs. Peterson.

“Well,” replied the servant, “I didn’t want to disappoint you or the reverend, so I just grated the wooden handle on one of my button hooks.” The amused Mrs. Peterson evidently circulated the story and thus eventually Connecticut became the Nutmeg State.

We should add here that it’s also often told that certain people in Connecticut used to sell nutmegs carved from ordinary New England trees rather than the seed of a true nutmeg tree, which had to be imported from somewhere in Indonesia. This is a theory that rings true. Those Connecticut Yankees were pretty slippery back in those days. In fact, it was said that “you might as well hold a greased eel as a live Connecticut Yankee.”

Finally for #3, who in Sam Hill was Sam Hill? Well, if you really want to know, he was Colonel Samuel Hill, 1678-1752, of Guilford, Connecticut, where he was town clerk for 35 years, judge of the probate court for 12, and deputy to the general court for 22 or more sessions. In fact, he ran for so many offices so many times (sort of a Harold Stassen of his day) that “running like Sam Hill” became an expression denoting outstanding persistence and endurance. From there, Sam Hill just worked his way into being a generally used old-time expression, as in “Who in Sam Hill really cares?”

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Three MORE Often-Asked Questions About New England

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