The Order of the Founders and Patriots of America

By J. Duncan Berry

“Tell the story of your village. If you tell it well you will have told the story of the world.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

The long-awaited unveiling of a bronze SAR plaque to mark the presence of four Revolutionary patriots in a local Cape Cod cemetery afforded an opportunity to conduct additional research on one of the families, a line descending from William Chase of Roxbury and Yarmouth, Massachusetts (1595-1659).

I live on a strip of road adjacent to the Herring River on the south coast of Cape Cod in the town of Harwich. Noted first by Gosnold in 1602, mentioned by Governor Bradford in his 1622 journey around the Cape with Squanto, this fertile basin was settled by several of the original Winthrop fleet families. My own Founder settled a few miles west on the Bass River in Yarmouth, but his second son (whom he sold into indenture for six shillings) ended up settling on the Herring River. In fact, when I collect our mail, I gaze directly onto the land where his dwelling stood in the 1670s.

Not only has my family been a continuous presence in the village of West Harwich for almost four centuries, but my wife and I are the fifth consecutive generation to live in the home my great- great grandfather built. He was one of a line of ocean- going, “blue water” sea captains who sailed the globe in hand-crafted wooden ships, bringing both high culture and high finance to our little village. His own grandmother was a Chase and when I discovered two other Chase women braided into my line and began to connect the dots of the built environment where our family has lived for so long, I became a preservation activist and a strident advocate of historically informed town planning. In addition to giving cemetery tours, a favorite summer hobby is leading walking tours of my neighborhood, where generations of Chases have left their mark on our built environment. If you are interested in the architectural angle, you’ll find a link below to a recent item I published on this very topic. From a larger frame of reference, this Chase family connection offers a glorious example of what our Order exists to celebrate: heroism, character, patriotism, and the essential significance of family in building a republic. What is so remarkable is the sheer density of these old lines in a small village like mine. It is my hope, as Governor of the Massachusetts Society, to bring into the Order a member from this distinguished family.

Founded by William Chase of Roxbury and Yarmouth, who arrived on these shores in 1630 and who removed to Cape Cod upon completion of his indenture, his life has been amply documented. After reaching the Cape, a snug refuge for many from the vicissitudes of Puritan life, he decided on a location precisely on the line separating Yarmouth from what was then simply called First (or Old) Comer’s— land that would eventually be incorporated as the Town of Harwich in 1694 and which was already being carved up by Mayflower families like Bradford and Hopkins. William Chase was early elected Constable in Yarmouth (a distinction my own sixth great grandfather and Patriot ancestor would share in the early- and mid-1770s), but his business activities were centered on the Herring River just a few yards into the other jurisdiction. My belief is that he could conduct his private life in a well-regulated jurisdiction (Yarmouth) while pursuing economic gain in an administratively ambiguous area. He participated in quelling the Narragansett uprising in 1644 and left an ample estate at the time of his death and is buried on a beautiful hillock overlooking a picturesque freshwater lake.

The astonishing achievements of William Chase’s descendants were memorialized about a century ago by the Chase-Chace Family Association (established 1899) with the placement of a handsome black granite cenotaph in the northwest corner of the West Harwich Baptist Church cemetery. Here we read of Williams’ own adventures in 1644, but also of his third great grandson John Chase (1735-1776) who fought in the 1760 campaign in the French and Indian War and died while crossing the Delaware River with George Washington on Christmas Eve in 1776. His son, John Chase, Jr. (1755-1813) served the Revolutionary cause until 1783 and went on to serve in the War of 1812 and was killed in the Battle of Chrysler’s Field. John, Jr.’s son Simeon also served in the War of 1812, being severely wounded at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane; another son, Capt. Neri Chase (1793-1873) served in that war and was at the Burning of Falmouth in the Province of Maine. Neri had two sons who served in the Union Navy during the Civil War, Ira Bartles Chase (1836-1905) and Whitman Chase (1831-1910). What an honor roll of family civic dedication and public service.

However, what is most surprising is that this cenotaph was erected on a vast tract of land owned by yet another Chase — Job Chase, Sr. (1736-1833)— whose name, oddly, does not appear on this monument! This land was originally comprised of two parcels bisected by ancient way, bounded on the west by the Yarmouth town line and on the east by the banks of the same Herring River. About a dozen years prior to the Revolution, Job Chase started his family here in a handsome one-story Georgian dwelling that still exists. From his land he felled sufficient timber to build and launch over a dozen fishing schooners; it is known that he had fifteen vessels at sea at any one time. He played a vital role in establishing the Baptist church in Harwich (whose first minister was Rev. Richard Chase, a cousin and father of John who died crossing the Delaware). This congregation became a lightning rod for Whiggish sentiment on Cape Cod and would later be a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment in Barnstable County.

Of Job’s six children, it was his last child — Job Chase, Jr. (1776-1865) — who would grow up in his father’s second home, a very handsome two-story Georgian villa with elaborate architectural detailing and exquisite craftsmanship within. It, too, is still standing though it is in execrable condition. Job, Jr. extended his father’s gift for business and built a fleet of forty-eight square-riggers that ran Atlantic trade from northern Europe to the southernmost tip of South America for six decades. Like his father, he also supported the Baptist congregation, served in the legislature of the Commonwealth, and in 1792 built a home on the banks of the Herring Rivers that also still stands.

In that home he sired sixteen children (!), the last of whom was one Caleb Chase (1831-1908), the fellow who took his grandfather’s regional trading skills, his father’s hemispheric connections, and built a global brand that is still in business to this day, Chase and Sanborn Coffee. It was one of America’s first truly national consumer brands with over a million households already buying the brand half a decade before a continent-spanning marketing campaign was launched at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Caleb’s philanthropy was legendary: upon his death hundreds of employees and the widows of former employees received windfall inheritances, in many cases worth a decade or more of income in one lump sum. Because Caleb and his wife were without issue it fell to nephew Herbert Chase (1859-1933) to consolidate the brand further, using new methods of market research and highly innovative radio advertising to cement its place in the first pantheon of consumer package goods when Standard Brands acquired it in 1929. It remains to this day a multi-million-dollar global property in the portfolio of Italian coffee concern Massimo Zanetti.

What makes the Chase Family such an instructive case for Associates of our Order is that it demonstrates the successful, generationally sequential application of the virtues we celebrate as an Order. Arthur Calhoun, an early historian of American colonial life, explained that families lived “close to the line of annihilation,” an existential reality that our age of almost immediate digital gratification can scarcely imagine. It was only through the deliberate exploration and testing of future-oriented life strategies that colonial families were able to get off the crushing treadmill of having to scramble for every calorie at the beginning of each day. This was as much a practical as a spiritual quest,and we see great strides being made in families where these pressures were perhaps felt greatest. And in cases like the Chase Family of West Harwich one observes, as if in a microcosm, the evolution and development of the traits, skills, and habits across multiple generations that led invariably to the creation of a nation established to foster human liberty and prosperity.

Further Reading:

Robert Charles Anderson, The Winthrop Fleet. Massachusetts Bay Company Immigrants to New England, 1929-1630 (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2012), 177-181.

John Carroll Chase, “Descendants of William Chase of Roxbury and Yarmouth,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 87 (Jan. 1933), 46-55; (April 1933), 127-141; (July 1933), 242-264; (Oct.1933), 314-342; Vol. 88 (Jan. 1934), 7-32; (Apr 1934),105-128.

J. Duncan Berry, “Two American Gems: The West Harwich Dwellings of Job Chase, Sr.” Journal of the Cape Cod Genealogical Society, Vol. 12, No. (Fall 2022), 100-110. Online at: tinyurl.com/3f7rt6nr The Chase Chronicle, Vols. 1-14 (1910-1924).

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