Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Not so Wordless Wednesday - "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is 180 years old today!

The Lamb, Sterling, Massachusetts Town Common

Sarah Josepha (Buell) Hale shares my birthday. She was born on 24 October 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire, daughter of Captain Gordon Buell and Martha Whittlesay. She is the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, campaigned with Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, and was on the committee to complete the Bunker Hill Monument. Sarah was also the editor of Godey’s Lady Book, the most influential woman’s magazine of her time. I’ve always admired her, and considered her a kindred spirit. The New Hampshire Mayflower Society is having a re-enactor portray Sarah Josepha Hale on November 6, 2010 at the Chateau Restaurant in Manchester, and she will discuss Hale's role in Thanksgiving becoming a national holiday.

When I was growing up in Holden, Massachusetts, we used to visit Sterling Town Common, which is the town next door. On the village common is the statue of Mary’s little lamb, and a memorial to the schoolhouse which once stood nearby. The schoolhouse, which was built in 1798, was bought and moved by Henry Ford to Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. This is similar to what happened to Ocean Born Mary’s house in Londonderry, which was sold and relocated to Little Compton, Rhode Island - causing the organization of the Londonderry Historical Society, founded to protect Londonderry’s historic resources. See my blog post http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2009/10/ocean-born-mary-londonderry-character.html

The poem was published on 1 September 1830 in the children’s journal Juvenile Miscellany. It was set to music later that decade by Lowell Mason, and the lyrics are similar to the original poem. Today the poem is celebrating its 180th birthday. The original lamb statue I remember from my childhood was replaced in the 1980s by a new one made of bronze. To see the lamb statue, visit the Sterling Town Common at the intersection of routes 12 and 62 and Meetinghouse Hill Road.


It is believed that the Sterling schoolmaster, John Roulstone, wrote the first few lines, and that Sarah Josepha Hale completed the rhyme and the other stanzas for publication. The plaque on the statue has the first four lines of the poem and the name John Roulstone as the author.

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was as white as snow,
And every were that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school one day;
That was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play;
To see the lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out;
but still he lingered near;
And waited patiently about;
Till Mary did appear.

And then he ran to her, and laid
His head upon her arm,
As if he said "I'm not afraid,
You'll keep me from all harm."

'What makes the lamb love Mary so?"
The eager children cry;
"O, Mary loves the lamb, you know,"
The teacher did reply.

"And you each gentle animal
To you, for life may bind,
And make it follow at your call,
If you are always kind."

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Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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