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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Matthew Patten, man of many many skills

Special to The New Hampshire Union Leader

December 03. 2012 6:58PM

It seems that Matthew Patten of Bedford had no time to rest.

As historian James Garvin wrote in the introduction to the 1993 edition of Patten's diary, "Incessant labor is what we chiefly perceive as we read Patten's diary.The picture that emerges from Patten's record is one of a society made more complex and challenging, rather than less so, by its frontier condition."

From morning until night Patten toiled on his farm, raising crops and animals and tending to his large family. He fished at Amoskeag Falls during the "fish time" in the spring, and worked on lumbering operations with his neighbors. In his later years more and more of his time was taken up with his legal work as Judge of the Probate Court for Hillsborough County and as a justice of the peace.

Matthew Patten built simple fences, hog pens and storage bins on his farm. But he was also a skilled "joiner," a carpenter whose specialty was to join pieces of wood into permanent objects. These included components for building construction and furniture. Patten mentioned making many types of useful wooden items for his family's use, as well as for sale or trade. These included window sashes, clapboards and cupboards.

On the 29th of July, 1854, he wrote in his day book, "William Moor's boy took away a table I had made for him of which he had paid 20 shillings before." On February 15, 1759 he made a window frame for the minister, Mr. Houston, and set the glass.

Patten also made tools and implements of various sorts. These included smoothing plains, rakes, shovels, washing tubs, ox yokes and ox bows, saw handles, log canoes and paddles, pails, hand "burroughs" (or "barrows," flat rectangular trays or carts for carrying goods), parts for looms, shoe heels, axle trees (the bars that held the wheels on carts), sleds and fishing poles.

When the need arose, Patten made coffins. Sadly, his services were sometimes required for burying children. On August 12, 1755, he ".went to see Benjamin Smith's youngest child who departed this life in the forenoon and made a coffin for it in the afternoon & Catrain Little came to stay at our house till my wife and I would go to the burying the next day which was to be at two of the clock afternoon."

On September 12, 1757, Patten made a coffin for James Peters Junior, who had died of small pox. On October 8, 1758, he wrote "I made a Coffin for John Bell Junior's child which was born the day before and heard Mr. Houston preach in the afternoon on the last verse of the 50th Psalm." This psalm reads in part: "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving/And pay your vows to the Most High;/Call upon Me in the day of trouble;/I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."

On June 20, 1770, Patten wrote "I and the boys went to the raising of Piscataquog bridge.there was six men throwed off the bridge and 3 of them very much hurt, William Holms, William McDugall and Joseph Moor." This bridge was located at the current site of the stone arch bridge on South Main Street in Manchester. Two days later he wrote, "I made a Coffin for the corpse of Joseph Moor who died last night he lived after he got his hurt about 30 hours." Patten attend Moor's funeral the next day.

Patten sometimes repaired items for his neighbors. On Christmas Day 1854 he fixed a gun lock for Robert Griffin for 5 shillings. And, on at least one occasion he made parts for a musical instrument. On February 9, 1767, he made a pattern for a fiddle for Ceaser (or Caesar) Barron. "Caesar" was sometimes a name given to a black man during this era. Was Caesar a slave or a freed black man living in Bedford? Matthew Patten depended on his neighbors for many goods and services. He often purchased items that required special skills in leather and metal working. The local blacksmith shoed his oxen and horses and made his nails, and he ordered his family's shoes to be made in local workshops.

Next week: The life of Mrs. Matthew Patten.

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at

History Manchester

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