Indigenous and Enslaved People and Richard Dole
The land on which Dole-Little House sits was home to indigenous people for thousands of years. At the time of contact with European settlers, the Native people living in the area were the Pawtucket, a collection of semi-autonomous family groups who all spoke a dialect of the Algonquian language and shared extremely close kinship ties with the Pennacook tribe of southern New Hampshire. The Pawtucket-Pennacook people had settlements or villages throughout the area we now call Massachusetts’ North Shore. They migrated seasonally and used the land according to the resources available which included foraging, planting crops, fishing, and hunting. Both the nearby Merrimack and the Quascacunquen (now called the Parker) Rivers would have afforded the indigenous people with valuable access to sustenance, fertile land, and salt marsh hay.
After first contact with Europeans, indigenous populations in New England were ravaged by diseases and greatly diminished in number. White settlers began arriving in large numbers in the seventeenth-century and colonized the area, disrupting the lives of the indigenous people through conflict, disease, and displacement. By the early eighteenth century, most of the Pawtucket-Pennacook family groups who called this land home were forced to relocate, joining larger and stronger tribes in Canada and further south in Massachusetts. Today, members of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki people are direct descendants of those refugees.
In 1635, the first English colonists sailed up the Quascacunquen River and established their new town of Newbury on its shores. They claimed the land and built their town center around the Lower Green. White men were given property according to wealth and status and the small community flourished. Decades after colonists forcibly occupied the land, the European settlers retroactively “purchased” large plots through dubious land deeds with the descendants of indigenous peoples. A deed signed in 1701 for 10,000 acres in Newbury included selectman Richard Dole, Jr.. The payment was £10 to Samuel English, grandson of Masconomet, known as the Sagamore of Agawam. According to the deed, English was the heir of Masconomet and he “fully & freely release & relinquish my whole right & title” to the entire township of Newbury.
One of the English colonists who owned property on the Lower Green was Richard Dole, who came to New England as an apprentice in 1639 and became a freeman in Newbury in 1654. He increased his wealth and status by purchasing property throughout the North Shore region including the land that Dole-Little House was later constructed on circa 1715. Richard Dole’s will, written in 1698, included five enslaved people whom he gifted to his heirs. Their names were recorded as Tom, Mingo, Lucy, Grace, and Betty.
There was an attempted slave revolt on the North Shore in 1690 which involved a Black man called James who was enslaved by Richard Dole. On the site of the Dole-Little House, in late May of 1690, James escaped from the household of Richard Dole in pursuit of his freedom. James brought with him all of his clothing and a gun with powder and bullets. James was captured after trying to run away and, when questioned, revealed that he was going to join two white men named Isaac Morrill and George Major with whom he was planning to organize all the enslaved African and Indigenous people in the region to revolt and free themselves from the English. While history did not record the legal outcome of this attempted revolt, it does show that the site on which Dole-Little House sits was a significant site of enslavement in Newbury.
Built around 1715 with materials salvaged from an earlier structure, Dole-Little House was a two-room house of a center-chimney hall/parlor plan. It was built on land and with wealth accumulated by the first Richard Dole (1622-1705) through real estate transactions and the labor of enslaved people. The 1715 date coincides with William Dole gaining a lease to run the ferry to cross the Parker River, but it may have been constructed a few years later for William’s son Richard. He was born December 31, 1689, and married Sarah Emery in 1719, with whom he had ten children.
The house was built on a two-room, central-chimney plan with a small kitchen shed at the rear. This shed has since been replaced with a larger lean-to. Decorative carpentry and finish include chamfered edges, molded sheathing (especially in the great hall and parlor), and possibly original stair balusters.
He The house and property were then passed down through six generations of the Dole family. In 1878, Nathaniel Dole sold the property to Francis Little. The next known sale was in 1948 to Eleanor Dole Fillmore.
Dole-Little House was acquired by Florence Evans Bushee in 1951. Bushee was a Newbury resident who owned property near the Lower Green and had a preservationist mind-set. Along with Dole-Little, she purchased and protected several important seventeenth-century houses in Essex County as well as donating hundreds of acres of land to conservation local organizations.
Bushee hired Roy W. Baker, a restoration contractor, to work on Dole-Little House. He restored the building in 1955 to reflect the then-presumed original period of 1670s. Later research dates the house more accurately to the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Baker discovered that new mortise and tenon joints and various other changes had been added to many of the salvaged framing members to allow them to conform to the plan of the house. During restoration efforts, the lean-to was removed and reconstructed with new timbers, and a small-paned sash from the front of the house was reinstalled in the lean-to. The paneling from one chamber was removed and reinstalled as an exhibition room at the National Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C. A copied version was reinstalled in the chamber. The stair balusters, removed by Baker in 1955, are now on display in the house.
The property is architecturally and historically significant in large part for its restoration story. When restored in the 1950s, the philosophy was to restore to the “original” date at the expense of historical accretions and clues to the past. These preservation philosophies have drastically changed over the intervening decades, in part because of stories like that of Dole-Little House. Now all eras of occupation and ownership are considered essential to the fabric and history of a house and careful documentation is a top priority in preservation.