Featured speaker Carlton "Cukie" Macomber congratulates Norma Judson on her award at the Westport Historical Society's annual meeting on October 17. Mrs. Judson was acknowledged for her hard work collecting historical documents on Westport and making them available to the public.
The agenda for the Westport Historical Society’s recent annual meeting at the Bell School House on Drift Road was unusually full. The October 17 written agenda contained committee reports, a budget report, an annual award, and featured a guest speaker, Carlton Macomber, known universally as “Cukie”. The unwritten agenda was a historic happening of an entirely contemporary nature and was on everyone’s mind: allow the attendees to leave the meeting early enough to witness the final baseball game of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees series. The baseball fans in attendance knew that the “curse of the Bambino” dates back to 1918 but were present because they realized that Westport’s history has much deeper roots and were eager to learn about them.
Society president Bill Wyatt sensed the crowd’s preoccupation with the “Cowboy Up” mania and managed the committee reports with the skill of a seasoned coach. Joan Tewksbury revealed that the society’s membership has swelled to 390, including fifty-three members signed up in the past year. Claude Ledoux reported on the ongoing initiative to create an oral history of Westport. With help from Westport High School media department, the society has interviewed 125 Westport natives and intends to interview 150 more in order to archive the town’s history and tap a deep vein of information that may not be chronicled elsewhere. Treasurer Roger Griswold assured the members that the society is solvent, with current assets of $237,826. 37.
The society’s annual certificate of recognition was presented to Norma Judson. The award cited Judson’s “diligence in collecting Westport historical documents and information and her work to make these documents and information readily available to the public.” Judson said that in the late eighties she’d become interested in the town’s history and immersed herself in all the records she could find. “Norma knows as much about this town as anyone,” commented Wyatt as he presented her with a plaque.
Shortly after 8 PM, right on schedule, Wyatt introduced local historian Cukie Macomber, whose topic was “Bits and Pieces of Westport History”. Macomber, in acknowledging the large crowd’s preoccupation with baseball, began by quipping, “My wife told me to speed it up, so why don’t we all go home now!”
Macomber then gave a selective primer on some dates and events he thought deserved attention in Westport’s history. He started in 1789. Within years of its incorporation, Westport was the westernmost port in the colonies, while Eastport, Maine, was the easternmost.
“Alot of history is opinion, ” says Macomber. A case in point was Macomber’s curiosity about the location of Paul Cuffee’s first Westport house. Cuffee, a successful African American shipbuilder and ship owner, was born on Cuttyhunk in 1759. He has been associated with Westport since 1797 when he purchased for himself and his Indian wife, Alice Pequit, a farm on which he built the first school for Westport children.
In a booklet used for the 1913 service in which a monument to Cuffee was unveiled at the Westport Friends Meeting House, Macomber found a photo, taken from the remains of an old wharf on the river, captioned “General view of Cuffee’s farm and landing”. This was not the house at 1504 Drift Road now associated with Cuffee (and ironically right across the street from Macomber’s own home). Macomber maintains that the earlier Cuffee residence is farther south on Drift Road in the 1700 block. He lugged his camera to the site and took photographs. The marshland and the surrounding area were identical. The presence of a twelve foot channel, ideal for launching ships into the river, convinces him that his opinion is correct.
Macomber recounted several stories in which race played a part. During the 1790’s there were several town meetings a year. Records showed that the town was more likely to approve its funds for supporting poor people who were white than black. There have been relatively few murders in Westport over the years but in 1870 a black boy was convicted of murder of a white farmer even though there was scant proof. Later, residents wondered aloud whether justice had been served.
On a lighter note, Macomber told the story of Westporter named Charles Wing who, for forty years, never spoke directly with his wife. He and the missus communicated through a third party, a cat. Charles lived in a shed on the premises, his wife in the main house. To the cat, within farmer Charles’ earshot, Mrs. Wing would say, “Tell Charles that we need flour.” The funny thing, concluded Macomber with a chuckle, was that the couple produced three children. “They may not have spoken with each other but they certainly did other things!”
At one time, Westport was also on the leading edge of technology. Macomber reported that William Macomber (a distant cousin) built a wireless station here in 1898. By 1910, he was able to communicate all over the world. He also built telephone lines to connect neighbors in Westport. (One wonders if he coined the phrase “Can you hear me now?”)
Macomber himself was involved in the story he told in the ninth inning of his talk. “Westport was in the news all over the world for this story,” he proclaimed. It started in 1970 when Russian draggers ran over Bill Whipple’s lobster gear near the continental shelf. The United State government, tiptoeing around Russia in the Cold War, wouldn’t give Whipple much help so he did what any aggravated red blooded American citizen would do. He sued. His suit “attached” for damages a Russian freighter that berthed in California. Berthing costs were $1000 a day at the time and it got the Russian government’s attention. Soon after, Macomber saw two black limousines filled with Russian businessmen show up in front of where he was working with the Whipple’s Prelude Company. The Russians settled the suit. More importantly, within a year the US government imposed what we now know as the 200 mile international fishing limit protecting United States fishing boats from encroachment by foreign fishing fleets. The fishermen from Westport had landed a huge fish and served it to their counterparts around the shores of the United States.
Mr. Macomber certainly filled his role well. Indeed, many in attendance probably wish that Grady Little and Pedro Martinez had done as well in their respective roles in the Red Sox game that fateful night. As we know well, “There’s always next year.” Westporters are glad that there are residents like Cukie Macomber to tell us the story of the town’s colorful past years.