The Farmer of Marshfield
This era begins in 1832 when Captain
John Thomas, son of Nathanial Ray Thomas, sold the estate to Daniel Webster, lawyer, orator and the Honorable Senator from Massachusetts. Webster farmed this property for twenty years. He built a small structure a short distance from the house and used it as a law office and horticultural library. There he met with dignitaries who came to visit him. Webster’s home was renowned and was described on the floor of the Senate and became part of the Congressional Record. One of his visitors was John James Audubon who painted many of his wildlife pictures in Marshfield. Ironically, part of the Webster Estate is now the property of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
In 1840, Webster was named Secretary of State by President William Henry Harrison and it was in that capacity that he entertained Lord Alexander Ashburton at Marshfield and here they laid the groundwork for the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which in 1842 set the boundary between Maine and Canada. As Secretary of State in 1852 Webster met with the British Minister Lord Compton, in Marshfield, to settle the dispute between the New England Fisheries and England; an action he spoke of at Cherry Hill when he delivered his last public speech.
Daniel Webster was the “Farmer of Marshfield” and here he bred cattle, improved the soil and planted many species of trees from all over the world. Many of his trees still stand. The Great Linden Tree under which he was laid in state at the time of his death has been entered into the Book of Champion Trees as the Nation’s largest English Linden. It was Webster who introduced to the local farmers the use of fish and kelp as fertilizer and it was his agricultural causes that inspired the townspeople to organize what would become the Marshfield Fair.
When Webster died in 1852 he was Secretary of State, the only man to serve in that office under three presidents: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore. He was known as the “Defender of the Constitution”, having tried successfully before the Supreme Court over 150 cases. Many of those cases set precedents that affect our lives to this very day, for example:
1818: The Dartmouth College Case insured forever the independence of allprivate and charitable institutions.
1819: McCullough vs. Maryland defined the limits of State and National power.
1824: Gibbon vs. Ogden set the precedents for the establishment of interstate and intrastate commerce which would effect not only the waterways of that era, but later the highways, railroads and airways in our lifetime.
The latter two cases firmly established the Supreme Court as the final interpreter of the Constitution. Webster’s stirring speeches in the Senate in 1830 and 1850 without a doubt postponed the Civil War each time, thus giving the North thirty years to build its industrial strength while the South remained agrarian. This devotion of Webster’s to the concept of “Liberty AND Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” clearly changed the course of American History and the lives of everyone of us, even to this day.
Closer to Marshfield and its fishing industry, and all the New England Fisheries, Webster obtained, as Secretary of State, perpetual fishing rights off the Canada shores by fighting in 1852 for the continuance of an 1818 treaty which the British were threatening to dissolve. The rights of fishing the Grand Banks were secured for American fishermen by Daniel Webster. Remember that the next time you eat fish.
The original house burned in 1878 and was rebuilt by Webster’s daughter-in-law. On the front facade is the Webster coat of arms. It was to this house that President Chester A. Arthur came to honor Webster in 1882, the centennial of his birth. Many dignitaries have visited this place including Calvin Coolidge, governors, senators, and just plain folks who know Webster for the great patriot that he was.
The fact that the original house is gone makes no difference to the fact that this place, this land has played a significant role in the history of Marshfield and the Nation. Webster chose the Winslow Cemetery for his last resting place. The Town of Marshfield considered this Thomas-Webster Place important enough to be the focal point of the Town Seal.
“It is wise for us to recur to the history of our ancestors. Those who do not look upon themselves as a link connecting the Past with the Future, do not perform their duty to the world.”
THE DANIEL WEBSTER ERA
The Daniel Webster Estate & Heritage Center