High above the coastal town of Lynn, Massachusetts sits High Rock. As seen in the 1881 panoramic map above, High Rock was once comprised of two large cottages. Today, High Rock is a city park, but its history ties back to the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement in the United States.
Over the course of the 19th century, Lynn became known primarily as a place of manufacturing for shoes. In the map below, published in 1820, High Rock is so named, but not yet populated (it is represented merely as a hill). As the town’s success in manufacturing grew, so did the population and the town’s intellectual pursuits. In 1841, the Old Silsbee Street Debating Club was organized in Lynn to debate the questions of the day (as well as the big metaphysical questions that follow people of all times). As David Johnson details in his “Sketches of Lynn,” one of the big questions the debate club discussed was “the great question of slavery, which was then looming above the nation’s horizon.”
Among the members of the club was Jesse Hutchinson, an abolitionist and member of the Hutchinson Family Singers. The singing group was comprised of Jesse and his siblings Asa and Judson, and eventually Abby. Their brother John organized and managed the group, which sang in four-part harmony. The group tackled social issues in their songs and rose to fame in the early 1840s through tours of New England.
Jesse’s politics formed the basis for his songwriting. “Get Off the Track!” was an anti-slavery song Jesse wrote and the group performed. Jesse dedicated the song to editor Nathanial P. Rogers, “As a mark of esteem for his intrepidity in the cause of Human Rights.” The track’s illustrated cover (seen above) features a train car called “Immediate Emancipation” pulled by a locomotive labeled “Liberator.” The lyrics for the song included lines such as:
Ho, the car Emancipation
Rides majestic through our nation
Bearing on its train the story
Liberty! A Nation’s Glory.
Roll it along, roll it along,
Roll it along thro the Nation
Freedom’s car, Emancipation
Around 1845, with growing fame, Jesse purchased the High Rock and built a large cottage for his family before the Hutchinson Family Singers set off for a tour of England with Frederick Douglass. Douglass had just published his autobiography (“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave“) in the same year, a book he authored while living in Lynn. The Hutchinson Family Singers released “The Fugitive’s Song,” which was “composed and respectfully dedicated, in token of confident esteem to Frederick Douglass. A graduate from the peculiar institution. For his fearless advocacy, signal ability and wonderful success in behalf of his brothers in bonds. (and to the fugitives from slavery in the) free states & Canadas by their friend Jesse Hutchinson Junr.”
According to Johnson, Hutchinson also led the singing at First Universalist Church on Union Street in Lynn. Johnson described Jesse in the following way:
“Jesse would sway his baton right and left, and then was heard such music as was probably never heard before in a New England meeting-house… On a summer evening, the magnificent voice of Jesse might be heard coming from the famous “Old High Rock,” near which he built his cottage, and the strains of a stirringly lyric from some bard of liberty, or some grand old song that has been sung throughout the ages, cheering the heart of saint and martyr, would break the stillness of the evening air with its entrancing melody…The man has not made his appearance who could describe Jesse as a debater. He was spasmodic, volcanic, erratic, and occasionally prophetic, by turns. His nervous temperament gave him a sensitive organization that was “tremblingly alive” to every influence with which he came in contact. He entered the anti-slavery movement with his whole soul, and when a discussion arose on this question he was ready to uncord the vials of his wrath upon all who supported or apologized for the vile institution.”
High Rock had two cottages: the Stone Cottage and Daisy Cottage, as well as an observation tower and an auditorium. Jesse passed away of malaria in 1853 and was buried in a Lynn cemetery not far from High Rock. The Hutchinson family continued to inhabit High Rock through the 19th century. According to the City of Lynn, High Rock hosted huge bonfires every 4th of July, and was the site of a celebration for the laying of the first Atlantic telegraphic cable in 1858. When the Civil War ended with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of Confederate forces at Appomattox, rumor has it that the celebrations at High Rock were so big that revelers accidentally burned down the wooden observatory tower. By 1897, the “Atlas of the city of Lynn, Massachusetts” shows High Rock next to land owned by A.B. Martin, as seen above. The Hutchinson family eventually donated High Rock to the “the citizens of Lynn for their enjoyment forever.”
A granite tower was constructed on the site, another condition of the Hutchinson family’s donation. Frederick Law Olmsted’s Olmsted Associates firm was brought in to help transform High Rock into a city park, today known as High Rock Reservation.