As I was writing about the South Wharf on Blackfish Creek, I noticed that the organization of the Wellfleet Marine Benevolent Society appears to be a South Wellfleet venture. It was organized January 28, 1836. The first officers were Richard Arey, President; Collins S. Cole, Secretary; and Nathan Paine, Treasurer, all South Wellfleet residents. The annually-elected committee to manage its affairs was Levi Young, John Newcomb, Isaac Paine, Giles Holbrook, William Stone, Bethuel Wiley, Hezekiah Doane and Samuel Smith. While I haven’t done research on all of these gentlemen, a few are South Wellfleet property owners.
When the Society was incorporated on March 20, 1840, the incorporators were William Stone, Jr., Isaac Paine, Timothy Ward, and George B. Saunders. Saunders was one of the owners of the South Wharf.
This was a time when most charity was private, usually through churches or benevolent societies. The towns did have an almshouse, although if there was no building, the town supported a person in the home of a willing host. People who might become a burden on the town were usually escorted to its border so that the support would not have to be given.
The oceanside huts for shipwrecked sailors were organized by the Massachusetts Humane Society. Churches gave support to widows. Children were taken in by relatives or neighbors if they were lucky, and sent to orphanages if not. Early on in the Massachusetts colony, there was recognition that widows and orphans needed assistance. In 1675, the General Court (legislature) sent 10 pounds to help Mrs. Knowles in Eastham whose husband, John, had died “serving the colony.” In 1771, the provincial government disbursed 118 pounds to the destitute families of the sailors lost in a destructive storm off the Grand Banks.
The Wellfleet Benevolent Society was organized for the relief of distressed mariners, their widows and orphans, and others who joined. The Society also took care of shipwrecked sailors who might need temporary assistance. Later, the U.S. government organized the Life Saving Service for the shipwrecked seamen.
The Wellfleet Benevolent Society had members who paid one dollar a year for sixteen years, or twelve dollars at the time of joining for a life membership.
We have a fictional account of how the Society disbursed benefits from Irene Paine’s recent book when Eva Paine hears that her husband’s body has been found, and she will not have to wait for some time to get her widow’s benefit.
Between 1840 and 1890 the Society disbursed over $10,000. In 1904, the Society dissolved.
Hurd, Simeon D. Hamilton “Wellfleet Mass.” From History of Plymouth, 1884 online at http://history.rays-place.com/ma/wellfleet.htm
Rickmers, Ruth, Wellfleet Remembered, Volume 2, 1982
Paine, Irene M. Eva and Henry: A Cape Cod Marriage.