Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492

The Gazette – May/June 2014

In This Issue…

  • Crime and Punishment in Old Needham
  • What I’m Thankful For
  • Needham Bank Sponsors New Historical Society Members
  • Appraisal Night at the Annual Meeting, May 8th
  • Just Wait ’till Next Year!

Hiftorically Speaking…



Crime and Punishment in Old Needham

I suspect that somewhere in our Town’s colonial records, whether in the Public Library’s archives, the Town Clerk’s vault, or the Historical Society’s files, there is a listing of the punishments and crimes meted out in olde Needham – but the record seems to be very sparse.  I doubt that Needham has always been crime-free, but the only crime reported by George Kuhn Clarke in his masterful History of Needham as being both committed and punished in colonial Needham was “The law of 1648 awarded death by hanging to the dog that killed a sheep.”

As was customary in most Massachusetts municipalities during colonial times, Needham erected stocks (i.e., wooden ruffs) to punish malefactors.  Clarke reports that in 1721 the town voted money to build a pound and stocks.  The Pound was for rounding up and holding stray livestock, which could otherwise be injured or cause damage to property; it was built on what is now Great Plain Avenue, near the current site of Olin College.  Clarke also notes that early in 1772 Samuel Wight was paid 7 shillings, 2 pence, and 2 farthings for “irons for the stocks in Needham,” and that Lieut. Jonathan Day was paid 10 shillings for “making and setting up the stocks.”

The location of the stocks is not known.  Since the charges appear in the records along with expenses for the pound and fences, it is possible that they were near the Pound.  They might also have been near the Alms House (now the site of the Wellesley Golf Club), or in front of the Meeting House in the Old Center (Nehoiden Street and Central Avenue).

More serious crimes, and their punishments, would be dealt with in Dedham, which was the Shire (County) Town.  The courthouse was on Court Street in Dedham center, around the corner from the present courthouse.  The jail was at the corner of Court and Highland Streets (moved in 1822 to the corner of Village Ave. and Bullard St.), and the whipping post was near the corner of Church and Court Streets.  Needham selectmen chose the “jurymen” who could be called on at need to serve in the Superior Court, the General Sessions of the Peace (similar to the County Court), or the Inferior (Magistrate’s) Court.  Since only 31 jurors were called upon between 1719 and 1776, the incidence of serious criminal trials must have been quite low.

Some of the crimes in colonial Massachusetts (and in Needham) consisted of many of the same hurtful acts done today – murder, theft, counterfeiting, assault, and disturbing the peace. But certain crimes that are not considered threatening in our time were taken very seriously in colonial times, for example Blasphemy (challenging accepted English religious beliefs), and Slander (speaking or printing something publicly that hurts or ruins another’s reputation).  Both public drunkenness and stealing hogs or other farm animals were considered major crimes that resulted in harsh punishment. If convicted of hog stealing, for example, the perpetrator could either be fined 10 pounds or lashed 25 times on the bare back at the whipping post.

Horse theft was so serious and prevalent that in 1810 men in Dedham formed The Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves.  The Society’s last “Ride” (carried out – I’m sorry to report – in motor-cars) took place in 1909; since then, it has mostly been a social organization (YeOE has been a member of this honorary group for nearly 40 years, and is yet to be called out to help apprehend a horse thief.)  There was also a Newton, Needham and Natick Society for Apprehending Horse Thieves, which lasted from 1822 until 1835.  They do not seem to have apprehended (or even looked for) many horse thieves.  As Clarke noted, “the annual supper soon became the principal feature of the Society.”  They disbanded at the conclusion of their annual supper in April 1835.

During colonial times, courts levied fines for many civil crimes such as stealing from a neighbor or breaking a promise.  If a person was caught a second time for the same offense, he or she would be locked in the pillory with his or her ears nailed to the frame. (When the thief was released, the nailed part of the ear was torn off.) A third conviction was considered a felony and the criminal’s case was then a matter of the higher General Court.

In many cases, a person’s gender or social status determined the harshness of his or her punishment. Those in a higher social class sometimes received a lesser punishment for the same crime than someone from the servant or laborer class. Nor did colonial law treat men and women equally. A woman could be whipped or publicly shamed for the same crime for which a man would only receive a fine. When children committed minor crimes, their punishment was often left to their parents or guardians. However, at age 14, young people had to go before the court; but if the court thought a child knew the difference between right and wrong, he or she could be tried for a serious offense when as young as 8-years-old. The harshest punishment children usually received was a whipping. Slave children and orphans were most likely to receive a criminal conviction because they usually had no respected member of the community to speak in court for them.

Social crimes were sometimes treated severely, especially when these crimes involved a violation of community values. A woman who had an illegitimate child might be severely punished and fined. And if she was unable to pay the fine, she could be sold as an indentured servant for five years. If she already was an indentured servant, she would be sold for another five-year term after her original indenture time was completed.

Aren’t we lucky to live in more lenient times?

— Bob Hall, Ye Olde Editor


It looks like Spring is actually here!  The snow is gone and the robins are again pulling worms from the ground. We have been busy planting our pansies for that first (oh-so-welcome!) burst of spring color.

Please mark your calendar and plan to join us for the Annual Meeting and Dinner on May 8th.  In addition to a chance to meet and socialize with others who also support the Society, we will have an Appraisal Evening with local auctioneer Doug Stinson.

Despite the snow and extreme cold this winter, we have been very busy at the Society. Catie Offerman was back in February to play her special brand of country music for our Winter Social at Town Hall. It was nice to see so many people there, and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Thank you to our sponsors – Roche Bros, the Needham Bank, and the Petrini Corporation – for helping to make the event a success. We truly appreciate their generosity and the generosity of so many other patrons.

The Annual Fund drive notices will be sent out in a few weeks.  This is our big appeal for the year. The Society is a private, non-profit organization that does not get any financial support from the Town. We depend on the generosity of our sponsors, donors and membership. So please consider donating to the Society during this Annual Appeal.

Hope to see you at the Annual Meeting on May 8th!


In the EXECUTIVE CHAIR by Gloria Greis


I love this time of year – I have so much to be thankful for!  Thankful, of course for Spring and the end of winter (I get tired of winter sometime in December).  Thankful for the adorable Pansies that brighten up our spring gardens. But I am especially thankful for all the folks who work so hard to keep the Society active and vibrant, and make our events so fun and successful.  So, here goes ~


This year we changed the name of our fundraising party from Champagne & Chocolate to The WINTER SOCIAL, but it was the same great party, with live music, good food, and lots of fun.

First of all, I would like to thank the Planning Committee, without whom it would not have happened at all  – Susan Anderson (Chair), Maryruth Perras, Gina McClellan, Carol Boulris,  Connie Barr, Mark Gluesing, Moe Handel,  Marcy Busch, David Drake,  Susan Welby, Bob Heald, Deb Jacob,  Alison Borrelli, Michael Niden,  Claire Fusaro, Ed de Lemos, and  Kathy D’Addesio.

Helping out on Event Day were Michael Greis, Betty Mae Mosley, Glenn Champagne, Joe McCabe, Matt Borrelli, and Nancy Gerstel.

Provisions – Roche Bros. donated the yummy desserts.  Needham Wine & Spirits and Blue Ribbon BBQ gave us a generous deal on the food and drink.

Sponsors – our Lead Sponsor was Roche Bros., and our Event Sponsors were The Needham Bank and the Petrini Corp.  Business Sponsors were Moe and Elizabeth Handel, Edward Jones, the Needham Exchange Club, and the Eaton Funeral Home;  Community Sponsors were Robert Heald, and The Bulfinch Group.

The Donors who provided support for the event and/or items for our auctions were Volante Farms, Connie Barr, JP Licks, David and Janet Drake, Carol Boulris, Edward Jones, Creative Expressions Salon, Paul Shorthose and the BoSox Club, Sweet Basil, Deb and Tom Jacob., Rep. Denise Garlick, Taylor’s, Country Radio WKLB 102.5 FM, Blue Ribbon BBQ, Center Café, Marcy and John Busch, Hazel’s Bakery, 3 Squares, Needham Center Fine Wines, Not Your Average Joe’s, Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Y3K Tutor In Your Home, Suzanne Connelly/Habitat Clothing, Needham Wine & Spirits, Great Hall Performance Series, Needham Community Council, and Steve and Jackie Peck.


One April, a couple of years ago, we went to NY to visit my in-laws.  Although it was Spring and the gardens were well under way, there were hardly any pansies.  What is wrong with those people??

Well, I am happy to see that Needham is once again a-bloom with lovely pansies – the first and best color of the Spring.  Our annual Pansy Day was on April 5th, and I would like to thank all the folks who helped out –

Pansy Sellers – on Pansy Day itself, and helping out in the weeks before and after – Moe Handel, Susan Welby, Susan Anderson, Alison Borrelli, Polly Attridge, Steve Sauter, Mark Gluesing, Deb Jacob, Jan Drake, Dave Drake, Kathy D’Addesio, Ed de Lemos, Jim Mahoney, Rick Davis, Margie Hillback, Pat Wiggin, Ruth Ann Donaldson, Claire Fusaro.

Bakers – Sally Toran ran the Bake Sale, with the help of Judy Flanagan and Carol de Lemos.  The goodies were provided by Sally Toran, Jan Drake, Susan Anderson, Nancy Gerstel, Jo Beval, Carol Boulris, Susan Welby, and Chris Hoffmeister.

Gift Shops – Carol Boulris managed our Gift and Book Shop, and Connie Barr and Gina McClellan organized the Heirloom Shop.

Activities – Once again this year, we had some activities for kids, and the steady stream of young Scavenger Hunters was both adorable and gratifying (rewarded with a pansy, and hot chocolate and cookies to follow).  Connie Barr oversaw the Scavenger Hunt.  Jan and David Drake provided cookies, and the frosting and sprinkles so kids could decorate their own.  There were also crayons and coloring pages for the budding artists.

Finally, I would like to thank Garry Graham and the Needham Garden Center for being our Pansy Sponsor this year.  Garry also donated the Door Prize – a large tub of gardening tools and equipment.  He has been a generous and long-standing supporter of Pansy Day, and we are very grateful.



NEEDHAM BANK Sponsors New Members!

Starting in January, the Needham Bank started a new Membership program for the Historical Society, giving each Needham mortgage customer a Family Membership. “By offering this partnership, the Needham Bank is allowing our new customers in Needham a chance to learn about the rich history of the town they have chosen to move to,” explained Mark Whalen, COO of the Bank. We are so pleased to welcome these new members, and to strengthen our partnership with the Needham Bank.

Needham Bank new logo jpg



Look back over these pages – the Needham Bank, Roche Brothers, the Needham Garden Center, our Corporate Sponsors, Event Sponsors, Donors, etc, etc.  WE ARE SO LUCKY to live in a town where our businesses so engaged in our community!  You are not just customers to them – you are neighbors and friends.  Please please please – do your best to support them the way they support us!  When you Shop Local, most of the money stays here and creates economic growth in town.  Even a small local shift in your purchasing makes a difference.



An Appraisal Evening, with Douglas W. Stinson

(Carl W. Stinson, Inc. Auctioneers and Appraisers)

May 8th, 6:00-9:00 pm, at the Needham Golf Club

Stinson Auctions is one of New England’s oldest auction houses, and Doug Stinson is the second generation to own the business.  We invite you to bring an item for a verbal appraisal.  (In order to give everyone a chance, please bring only one item per individual/couple).

Tickets are $50 for Members, $55 for Non-members.  Purchase by check from the Needham Historical Society, 1147 Central Avenue, Needham, MA 02492, or online at  For information, call Gloria at 781-455-8860 or see our website.


99 Years and Counting…

April 5th (Pansy Day!) was our 99th Birthday!  Starting in September and through next year, we will celebrate our Centennial!  We’ll keep you posted!