Book reveals New Hampshire ties to iconic 'Bell's Seasoning' brand
DERRY - It's been used to season generations of New Englanders' holiday meals, but few realize the familiar turkey-adorned box of Bell's Seasoning tucked in their pantries has deep roots in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Bell's Seasoning founder William G. Bell is shown at his desk with some of his products in a photo taken shortly before his sudden illness and death in 1915.
In his recently released book, "The Bell's Seasoning Story," author David Bell, the great-great grandson of company founder William G. Bell, provides a detailed account of the man behind the iconic brand.
William G. Bell's family home, situated on West Newton Hill in West Newton, Mass., as it looks today. The family also owns a farm in Alexandria. COURTESY
"It's one of the oldest family brands in America," Bell said in a recent telephone interview. "There's a real family connection here, and I felt it was important to share the real lives and adventures behind the company's story."
Bell, a resident of New Bedford, Mass., and owner of Bell Advisory Services, said the Bell family has deep ties to New Hampshire.
The Bells, a family of Scots-Irish immigrants, settled in Derry and Londonderry in the late 1600s, and William G. Bell was born and raised in Hancock.
The Bell family still owns a farm in Alexandria, and David Bell said his entire extended family have fond memories of summers spent in the Newfound Lake region.
David Bell said he began researching this family history several years ago when his wife, Kathleen, challenged him to name his eight great-grandparents.
Bell said the names didn't come immediately to mind. But the answers were tucked in the attic of the Alexandria farm, where boxes of documents of yellowed papers and photographs, including a scrapbook William G. kept to commemorate his evolving business, helped him weave together an American success story.
"Most families have at least one person that's interested in genealogy, of telling the family story," Bell said. "I'm that person in our family."
With few Bells still living - David Bell and two brothers among the last remaining few - Bell said his great-great-grandfather's story continues to inspire him.
In a diary entry dated in 1850, William G. noted that he began working for a "Mr. McGuffy in Lowell when he was just 11 years old.
"Worked six months at $1 per week," the simple journal entry proclaimed - the first of many outlining the life of a man of tireless ambition and energy.
"He was an irrepressible entrepreneur who left school by at age 12 to enter the business world," Bell said.
William G., the son of a Hancock leather tanner, began his career in grocery products in Lowell, Mass., eventually moving his business to Boston, where he'd incorporate his company by early 1861. Bell was 22 years old.
A former employer, Selwin Bancroft, described William G. as an ambitious 18-year-old boasting solid dreams when he arrived in Boston in spring 1857.
"He is industrious, pleasant and accommodating at all times, and I am sure he will meet with favour (sic) and success wherever he may be known," Bancroft wrote.By 1867, Bell's well-known blend of herbs and spices was being sold on shelves in Boston's Quincy Market, with William G. purchasing ingredients off trading ships coming into Boston Harbor."As it turns out, it was once a substantially larger enterprise than it is today," David Bell said.
Old company records indicate that more than 2 million boxes of Bell's Seasoning were sold in 1910.
But just five years later, William G. was dead, succumbing to a sudden bout of pneumonia at the age of 76. In 1918, the Bell's Seasoning name was sold to the Slade Co.
Brady Enterprises, based out of East Weymouth, Mass., currently owns the brand, though William G.'s unique recipe of rosemary, ginger, oregano, sage and marjoram remains the same as it was nearly 150 years ago.
"Along the way, cooking icons like Julia Child and Martha Stewart have expressed their devotion to the seasoning," David Bell said.
Kevin Maguire, president of Brady Enterprises, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
"The Bell's Seasoning Story" is available in both paperback and Kindle via the Amazon.com website.