Articles

THE GHOST

This problem is also posed by the complicated history surrounding the supposed “ghost” of Penelope Winslow. Haunting accounts of Penelope, the wife of Governor Josiah Winslow[19], bring great interest and publicity to the Winslow House. In August of 2012 the “Penelope Winslow Night” led to some of the highest attendance rates of any event with the draw of exploring “local ghostly history.” Despite the popularity of that night, accounts of Penelope have received almost universal disapproval by the executive board of the Winslow House. For obvious reasons, any trained historian would cringe at the idea of such mysticism haunting the already rich past of the remarkably preserved colonial homestead without a footnote in sight. Still, the draw of “Marshfield’s most popular ghost” allows an introduction to the greater (and more historically relevant) history of the Winslow House.

Local mythology is useful as an interesting introduction to more significant and verifiable history, and must be prefaced as such. Furthermore, the process of history is further demystified by explaining how we, as historians, have proven these “Old Guide’s Tales” nothing more than mythology. Historians are curators of the past, and in a historic house, we choose the content to be portrayed. It is a mistake to emphasize ghost stories and other strange tales that have no place in the real history of the Winslow House.

Instead of false mythology, why not focus on real history that is just as dynamic and rich? Penelope, who most likely never lived in the Isaac Winslow estate, has much to offer tours apart from her apparent apparitions. While there may be no great Winslow tunnel beneath Marshfield, the possibility of finding scattered artifacts suggested by the archeological survey is very real. The assertion that the Winslow House was the headquarters of the Tories and British soldiers in the revolution is extremely unlikely, yet is it not as interesting to note that a company of soldiers was stationed by this very estate to protect from bands of natives during King Philip’s War? Even the archeological significance of the so-called “hidden chamber” is miniscule, yet the magnificent staircase of local white pine has long captivated visitors to the estate, and deserves more attention. There are stories much more interesting to tell than fabricated ones.

As historians we use evidence to deconstruct the past. It is not a form of elitist, academic snobbery to snuff out popular tales and local mythology, but it is a sense of justice in finding what really happened in the past. Thomas Macauley writes that “…no history can present us with the whole truth; but those are the best…histories which exhibit such parts of the truth as most nearly produce the effect of the whole.” We will never know the full picture, but by ridding ourselves of that which we know not to be true, our interpretation is much improved. There is little harm in “old guide’s tales” when prefaced with explanation or used to expand upon the process of working in a historic house (the history of making history, as it were), but when it is presented within the frame of historic truth, we do injustice to the past we are trying to preserve.

[1]Isaac  – b. 1739, Apr. 27, Marshfield. d.1819 [Mass. Vital Records:47]

[2] Joshua  – b. 1726/1727, Jan. 23, Marshfield. d.1801, Quebec [MVR:65]

[3] Major Bradford, and Krusell 50

[4] Howlett, Katherine; Silliman, Stephen; Kiniry, Elizabeth; Goldstein, Karin. “Initial Survey and Identification of Archaeological Resources at the Historic Winslow House in Marshfield, Massachusetts”. Submitted to the WHA by the Center for Cultural and Environmental History, University of Massachusetts Boston, 2004. 28.

[5] Mayflower Quarterly Vol. 33, 2, May 1967, 47.

[6] Thomas, William B. “Remarkable High Tories” Heritage Books Inc., Bowie, MD. 2001., 11

[7] Dr. Isaac Winslow, also staunchly loyalist, would moderate a similar town meeting in February of 1775, voting not to abide by the resolves of an “illegal assemblages” in the midst of revolution. (Krusell, Cynthia. “Of Tea & Tories” 14)

[8] John  – b. 1774, July 14, Marshfield [MVR:65]

[9] Elizabeth Stockbridge – d. 1801, Nov. [NEHGR 135:40]

[10] 1996 Anonymous Publication of the Historic Winslow House Association

[11] Ibid.2

[12] Ibid. 1

[13] South Shore Mirror – Thursday, June 1, 1970.

Interesting Note – This publication predates WHB Thomas’ book as well as any Winslow House publications claiming this story as fact, leading the author to believe that this local mythology was taken from an “Old Guide’s Tale” upon touring the house.

[14] Thomas, 266

[15] Krusell, Cynthia H. and Bates, Betty M. Marshfield: A Town of Villages. Historical Research Associates, Marshfield Hills, MA, 1990. 14

[16] Ibid. 50

[17] Journal of Sarah Winslow Deming, 1775, to her Niece Sally Coverly

[18] Letter of Joshua Winslow to Wife Anna Greene Winslow – 1783; Concerning her Removing to Nova Scotia from Marshfield, Transcribed by Cynthia H. Krusell and Bates

[19] Josiah  – b. 1629 – Plymouth [McGuyre and Wakefield, “The Edward Winslow Family”:7]

The Ancestral Home of the Founding Family of Marshfield