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Massillon History: Mayhew Folger

The Story of Mayhew Folger

In the year 1813 Captain Mayhew Folger with his wife Mary left Nantucket and moved to Kendal for she had insisted that he leave the seven seas he had sailed searching for seals and whales. He picked Kendal to settle in not only because his friends were there but it was far away from the salt water he loved so much. Many of his seafaring friends from Nantucket, Massachusetts had also settled here.

He sold 1,000 acres at $4.25 an acre in the “Plains” between Massillon and Navarre; when the canal was put through in Massillon, Ohio (just a few miles southwest of Kendal) he was one of the first purchasers of lots; he became the Massillon’s first postmaster; he operated the Commercial Inn at the northeast corner of Main and Erie Streets. Mayhew Folger was also a participant in the Underground Railroad.

Captain Mayhew Folger, c. 1810
Captain Mayhew Folger circumnavigated the globe in the late 1700s and rediscovered Pitcairn Island in 1808. The inhabitants included the last surviving mutineer from the  famous ship Bounty. Pitcairn residents and the Folger family continued correspondence into the 1890s. When he moved to Massillon, he served as the first canal toll collector and the first postmaster. (Collection of the Massillon Museum, gift of Margretta Bockius Wilson, BC 2363.3)

Mary Joy Folger, 1855
Mary Joy undoubtedly spent time on the widow’s walk of their home in Nantucket, awaiting the safe return of her husband, Mayhew, who ventured on many long and dangerous seal-hunting trips and was once kidnapped. Mary Joy Folger could no longer stand the strain of awaiting his safe return and encouraged Mayhew to move the family west away from the tempting salty air of the ocean. With two children, Robert and Sarah, in tow, they moved west in 1810 to Chester County, Pennsylvania, and then to Kendal in 1813.
(Collection of the Massillon Museum, BC 2363.5)

Northwest Corner of Erie Street, Looking North, c. 1880
Mayhew Folger’s Commercial Inn stood on the northwest corner of Erie and Main Streets. It was featured in Henry Howe’s 1846 sketch of downtown. The building housed several businesses, such as dry goods and clothing stores. To the north stood a wallpaper business. Buildings along the west side of North Erie Street lined the east bank of the Ohio and Erie Canal. (Photograph by Stanley Baltzly; Collection of the Massillon Museum, BC 2311.17)

SEAFARING CAREER:

Successful, happy and comfortable in Kendal, enjoying the company of other retired sea captains, the Rotches, and the thrill of living in this raw and booming country, Captain Folger hardly missed the excitement of his seafaring life, of fighting off cannibals and pirates, of piloting his ship through hurricanes, and of sailing his vessel through uncharted waters.

In looking back over his past his greatest and most rewarding adventure was undoubtedly his rediscovery of Pitcairn Island, the British mutineers of the good ship Bounty’s paradise. Everyone knows the story of the “Mutiny on the Bounty” by Nordoff and Hall, of the British sailors mutinying against tyrannical Captain Bligh, setting him adrift in an open boat, themselves settling on Pitcairn and establishing a colony there.

 

Six years before his move to Kendal, Captain Folger sailed from Boston on a sealing voyage on the ship Topaz. The Topaz was seeking islands never before visited by sealing craft and Captain Folger knew only too well the fabulous cargo awaiting him if she should ever discover such an island. His search, then, was for specks of land in the ocean wastes of high latitudes. It was to be a voyage of discovery, but not as he planned.

Many years later while the United States was at war with England, Captain Folger finally communicated with the heads of the enemy navy, reporting his discovery to the Admiralty of the last survivor of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn Island. His letter, written at Nantucket on March 1, 1813, follows: “My Lords: The remarkable circumstances which took place on my last voyage to the Pacific Ocean will, I trust, plead my apology for addressing your lordships at this time.

“In February, 1808, I touched at Pitcairn’s island in lat. 25 deg 2 min. sou long. 130 deg west of Greenwich. My principal object was to procure sealskins for the China market; and from the account given of the island in Captain Carteret’s voyage I supposed it to be uninhabited; but on approaching the shore in my boat I was met by three young men in a double canoe with a present of some fruit and a hog. They spoke to me in English and informed me that they were born on the island and their father was an Englishman who sailed with Captain Bligh. I landed with them and found an Englishman by name of Alexander Smith, who informed me that he was one of the Bounty’s crew and that after putting Captain Bligh in the boat with half the ship’s company, they returned to Otaheite (Tahiti) where part of the crew chose to tarry; but Mr. Christian with eight others, including himself preferred going to a more remote place; and after making a short stay at Otaheite, where they took wives and six men servants, they proceeded to Pitcairn’s Island where they destroyed the ship.

About six years after they landed at this place their servants attacked and killed all the English except the informant and he was severely wounded. The same night the Otaheitan widows arose and murdered all their countrymen, leaving Smith and the widows and children.

I remained but a short time on the island and on leaving it Smith presented me a time piece and an azimuth compass, which he told me belonged to the Bounty. The timekeeper was taken from me by the governor of the island of Juan Fernandez after I had had it in my possession about six weeks.

The compass I put in repair on board ship and made use of it on my homeward passage. I now forward it to your lordships thinking there will be a king of satisfaction in receiving it.”

(signed) Mayhew Folger

Of all the mariners who touched at Pitcairn, the man who rediscovered it has a claim to a king of immortality. As far as finding seals are concerned his voyage was a failure. But, in finding Pitcairn, he had a great satisfaction of a new discovery- of solving the mystery of the Bounty’s hideaway.

(We would like to express our appreciation to Miss Edwina Pratt for her research and help with this article. – HBH) Taken from the Massillon Museum's 1962 Fall Bulletin. Written by Helen Henley

Kendal Tavern, c. 1900
Often thought by contemporary  Massillonians to be Mayhew Folger’s Tavern, according to Frank Harrison’s research, the property belonged to Edward Nelson. The tavern served travelers along the State Road, Ohio’s main thoroughfare at the time. Historical references claim the tavern served 100 families per month. The water company’s 1886 standpipe is seen further east. (Collection of the Massillon Museum, BC 2307.3.2)

Robert Folger, c. 1880
The son of Mayhew and Mary Joy Folger, Robert Folger was named a Massillon Underground Railroad supporter in Dr. William Siebert’s 1898 book, Mysteries of Ohio’s Underground Railroad. Presumably, he took over the protection of fugitive slaves from his father. Mayhew Folger opened the Commercial Inn hotel on the northwest corner of Main and Erie Streets, just a few months before he died suddenly in 1828. Robert became the hotel’s proprietor and enlisted Jim Clemmons, a black man, as manager. Heavily involved in the community, Folger, a prominent lawyer, was justice of the peace for the village of Massillon and served as Massillon’s mayor in 1861 and from 1864 to 1866. Folger was also a member of Sons of Temperance and Friends of Temperance and hosted meetings at the Commercial Inn. Massillon Temperance Society’s Home of the Old Missionary Division number 520 was organized on August 31, 1857. Members pledged alcohol abstinence, paid 10¢ every three months, and met every Tuesday. Any member found in violation would be expelled, or members could leave at any time. (Collection of the Massillon Museum, gift of Margretta Bockius Wilson, BC 2363.2)

Lucretia Coffin Mott, 1851
Lucretia Mott fought for women’s rights and slave emancipation. Her parents lived in Kendal for a short time. She was a niece of Mayhew and Mary Joy Folger. She delivered a lecture in Massillon in 1847 and reportedly posed for a daguerreotype in Abel Fletcher’s studio during her visit. Though many portraits of Lucretia Mott exist, the portrait by Abel Fletcher has never been verified. (Photograph by Marcus Aurelius Root, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.2009.32.)

 

 

 

 

Pitcairn Island Archives at the Massillon Museum

The archives of Robert Folger, son of Mayhew and Mary; former Mayor of Massillon, were donated to the Massillon Museum. They include personal notes on Massillon and Kendal history, as well as letters from residents of Pitcairn Island. Included in several of the letters were photographs of residents and plant samples from the Island.

Six plant samples from Pitcairn Island. Collection Massillon Museum.

Close up of single plant sample from Pitcairn Island. Collection Massillon Museum.

HISTORY LINKS:

To read more about Folger's rediscovery of Pitcairn Island, click here. To learn more about the history of Pitcairn Island from their government's website, click here.

Mayhew Folger Wikipedia page here.

In 2008, Mayhew Folger was featured on a stamp commemorating the 200th anniversary of Pitcairn's rediscovery. Click here to view the stamp and read more.

GENEALOGY LINKS:

To view Folger family papers and archives at the Nantucket Historical Association, click here.

To view more of Mayhew Folger's family tree, click here.

Mayhew Folger on FindaGrave.com.

 

 

 
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