BENJAMIN S. ATWOOD, the well-known box manufacturer of Whitman, Mass., is one of the best known men in Plymouth county, and as a business man and as a soldier stands high in the estimation of all who know him. He was born in the town of Carver, this county, June 25, 1840.
The Atwood family of which Benjamin S. Atwood is a descendant is an old and prominent family of Plymouth Colony. The founder was John Wood, who came to Plymouth in 1643, and was later known as John Atwood – a spelling of the name that has been retained to the present time.
John Wood, alias Atwood, according to Davis, the Plymouth historian, married Sarah Masterson, daughter of Richard Masterson, and to this union came children as follows:
- John, born 1650
- Nathaniel, born 1652
- Isaac, born 1654
- Sarah, who married John Fallowell
- Abigail, who married Samuel Leonard
- Hannah, who married Richard Cooper
- Mary, who married Rev. John Holmes, of Duxbury, and (second) Maj. William Bradford.
Nathaniel Atwood, son of John, born Feb. 25, 1651-52, was a deacon of the church, and made his home in Plympton, where he died Dec. 17, 1724. He married Mary Morey, daughter of Jonathan Morey, and their children were:
- John, born May 1, 1684
- Elizabeth, April 24, 1687
- Joanna, Feb. 27, 1689
- Mary, April 26, 1691
- Nathaniel, Oct. 3, 1693
- Isaac, Dec. 29, 1695
- Barnabas, Jan. 1, 1697-98
- Joanna (2), June, 1700
Nathaniel Atwood, son of Deacon Nathaniel, was born Oct. 3, 1693, and made his home in Plympton. He was a lieutenant in a military company in the town. He was twice married, first to Mary Adams, daughter of Francis Adams, and second to Mrs. Abigail Lucas. His children were:
- Mary, born 1723, who married Benjamin Shaw
- Nathaniel, born 1725
- Francis, born 1728 (all by the first marriage)
- Sarah, who married Joseph Barrows
- Mercy, who married Joseph Warren
- Ebenezer, born 1735
- Keziah, born 1737
- William, born 1740
- Joseph, born 1741
- Ichabod, born 1744
Ichabod Atwood A son of Lieut. Nathaniel, was born in Plympton in 1744, and died Aug. 24, 1819. He was engaged in farming, and also dealt in wood, lumber and charcoal. He married Hannah Shaw, who was born in Plympton in 1751, daughter of Capt. Nathaniel and Hannah (Perkins) Shaw, the former a soldier in the Revolution, holding-commission as captain. Twelve children were born of this union:
- Ansel, Aug. 24, 1770
- Amasa, April 15, 1772
- Ichabod, May 4, 1774
- Polly, March 27, 1776
- Stephen, June 6, 1778
- Pelham, June 16, 1780
- Nathaniel, April 28, 1782
- Uriah, Feb. 24, 1784
- Betsy, May 17, 1786
- Hannah, Jan. 30, 1788
- George, Aug. 16, 1790
- Sarah, July 14, 1792
Nathaniel Atwood, son of Ichabod, was born in the town of Middleboro April 28, 1782. He resided on the old homestead, and like his father was a farmer and dealer in wood, lumber and charcoal. He married Zilpha Shurtleff, born in 1782, daughter of Francis and Mary (Shaw) Shurtleff, of Plympton and Carver, and their children were:
- Flora, born Feb. 25, 1807, who married Elijah Hackett
- Gardiner, born Oct. 21, 1809, who died young
- Reuel, born June 24, 1811
- Polly, born June 5, 1818, who died young
- Ichabod F., born March 13, 1820
Reuel Atwood, son of Nathaniel, born June 24, 1811, grew up on a farm, and there worked with his father from early boyhood. On reaching manhood he became engaged in teaming, and also drove the stage between Middleboro and Plymouth. He was driving a team between Abington and Boston with boxes for his sons, the Atwood Brothers, when he met with the serious accident which resulted in his death, in 1867. He was buried in the cemetery in Fall Brook, Middleboro. He married Abigail S. Tillson, daughter of Ichabod Tillson, and she died aged fifty-six years, and was buried beside her husband. Mr. Atwood was a member of the Congregational Church of Carver, while his wife was a member of the Swedenborgian denomination. Their children were:
- Reuel G., now deceased
- Lucy C, deceased, who married Nelson Thomas, of Middleboro, also deceased
- Flora M., widow of Charles H. Cole, of Kingston, where she still resides
- Zilpha S., who married Lorenzo Curtis, and resided at Crawfordsville, Ind. (both now deceased)
- Benjamin S.
- Elijah H., who died at Cochituate, Mass.
- Lafayette, who died at Palmer, Mass., in 1909
Benjamin S. Atwood, son of Reuel and Abigail S. (Tillson) Atwood, was born June 25, 1840, in Carver, Mass. The conditions about his boyhood were such that he had but limited school advantages, acquiring only a common school education in the district schools of his native town. At the age of fifteen years he began the battle of life for himself, working in a lumber mill in Middleboro, and subsequently in a similar mill at Plympton. He was engaged in nailing boxes in the latter ‘town, when, in April, 1861, Fort Sumter was fired upon by the Confederates, thus bringing on the Civil war. Promptly upon the first call of President Lincoln for 75,000 volunteers to de-fend the Union and the constitution of the United States Mr. Atwood left his work, and enlisting in Company H, 3d Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, for three months’ service, became one of the “minute-men of ’61.” The companies forming this regiment embarked on the steamer “S. R. Spaulding,” April 17th, from the Central wharf, in the early evening, and dropped down the harbor to await supplies. She sailed under sealed orders the next fore-noon to find when nine miles out that her destination was Fortress Monroe. The “Spaulding” was driven at her greatest speed and made the passage in forty-six hours, arriving off the fort at eight o’clock Saturday morning, April 20th. That afternoon the regiment embarked on the gunboat “Pawnee,” and proceeded to Gosport navy yard under orders from Washington to destroy the dry dock construction houses and all vessels and munitions of war which could not be secured against seizure by the Rebels. Thus the 3d Regiment was the first of the Northern volunteer troops to land aggressively on Southern soil in that memorable war. Mr. Atwood shared the fortunes of war with his regiment during the term of his enlistment, and upon returning home was engaged in recruiting Company H for further ‘service, receiving the commission of first lieutenant from Gov. John A. Andrew. He succeeded in enlisting over fifty recruits, but as excitement ran high, as fast as he secured the recruits they would depart for the service before be had completed his company, and upon his reenlistment Company H was consolidated with Company K from Carver and Company B of Plymouth, and was known as Company B, of which he was appointed fourth sergeant, serving his time as such until he was mustered out with his regiment. A comrade who served with Mr. Atwood, in speaking of him, said: “Comrade Atwood was one of the liveliest ‘minute-men of ’61’ getting the call in the early morning of April 16, hitching his horse and starting before breakfast to help fill the ranks of Company H, of Plympton, in the 3d Regiment, Col. D. W. Wardrop. He went with the regiment to Fortress Monroe, took part in the destruction of the Norfolk navy yard, afterward doing lots of work in remounting guns of the fort, and in fatiguing guard duty at Hampton, Va. After the three months’ service he was commissioned by Governor Andrew first lieutenant and recruited the Plympton company to over fifty men, ready for any call. Finally, when nine months’ men were wanted, he enlisted in Company B, of the 3d Regiment, Col. Silas P. Richmond, being appointed sergeant. The regiment served in North Carolina, and was in several fights, in which Comrade Atwood proved himself not only a good soldier, but a ‘non-com.’ who could comprehend and execute orders as well as if he had worn shoulder straps, usually holding position at the right of his company, and acting orderly sergeant every time there was a fight or a hard march.” in recognition of the patriotism of the “minute-men of ’61” the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had issued a beautiful bronze medal containing the following inscription upon its face: “The Common-wealth of Massachusetts, to the members of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia who were mustered into the United States service in response to President Lincoln’s first call for troops, April 15, 1861.” Upon the bar supporting this medal is engraved “Massachusetts Minute-Men 1861,” and the name of each soldier is engraved on the thick edge of the medal. There were three thousand, eight hundred, five of these medals made at the United States mint at Philadelphia for the State of Massachusetts and every soldier possessing one of them has just cause for a feeling of pride, and they are a valuable relic, to be highly cherished by later generations.
At the expiration of his term of service, and upon being honorably discharged with a creditable war record, Mr. Atwood returned to his home in Plympton, and there remained until 1866, in October of which year, in association with his brother, Elijah H. Atwood, he began the manufacture of wooden boxes at North Abington, Mass., under the firm name of Atwood Brothers. This firm continued in North Abington until 1872, when they removed their business to South Abington, which in 1886 became the town of Whitman. In 1879 Elijah H. Atwood retired from the firm, leaving Benjamin S. Atwood the sole proprietor, and he has continued the business with marked success in Whitman to the present time.
Mr. Atwood, by his untiring energy, enterprise and business sagacity, has developed an extensive and paying business and built and equipped one of the finest box manufacturing slants in this country. The new factory, the main building of which is 250 feet in length, was built in 1894, and the storehouse is 200 feet long; the plant itself is equipped with the best of modern machinery made to facilitate box manufacturing.
It goes without saying that Mr. Atwood is one of the most enterprising and progressive business men of his town – one of its influential and substantial citizens. He has ever manifested a great interest in the advancement of his adopted town and has advocated such measures and improvements as in his judgment were for the good of the community. He was one of those who were strongly in favor of establishing waterworks in Whitman and from the organization for years was chairman of the water committee. He has long had the reputation of being one of the most loyal and patriotic citizens of Whitman – one of its worthies. Of a kindly and generous nature, he is a good companion and popular.
The patriotism evinced by Mr. Atwood in responding so promptly to President Lincoln’s call to arms is indicative of the stern virtues of his forefathers which, to a large degree, he inherited, including then, and embracing now, the recognition of the rights of all men under the constitution to be protected in peaceable pursuit of their business, or social enjoyment. So when upon a certain day in December, 1903, the walking delegate of the Brockton Central Labor Union, desiring to have the employees of Mr. Atwood forced to join the union, called upon him and demanded that Mr. Atwood sign an agreement whereby he would not hire any men to work in his factory unless they belonged to the union, there was aroused in Mr. Atwood’s breast the same feeling that in the time of the Civil war caused him to offer his service, and his life, if need be, to establish equal rights for all men. Believing that his men, or any other men, had the right to join a union, or not, as they chose, and that those who did not choose to do so had an equal right to work in order to support themselves and their families, he refused to enter into any such compact. It did not take him long to decide the question for himself and his men, and his reply was that he had no right to force his men to join any organization, whether church, lodge or union, and he should not discharge or hire any man because of his membership or non-membership in the union.
A boycott was immediately set up against his business and the output of his factory. The thoroughfare leading to his factory was “picketed” by the men who had gone out of his employ, at the behests of the labor agitators, and a labor war was inaugurated. The usual tactics of organized labor were brought to bear, customers were notified to use Atwood’s products at their peril, and for months every invidious method that could be devised was used against him.
Finally the law was invoked to protect him and his property from the methods employed by the union. One quarter of his men refused to leave his employ, and gradually another fourth came back, and these had to be protected against the insults and outrages committed, or threatened to be committed, upon themselves or their families. The Equity court granted a restraining order to protect Mr. Atwood, and the cause was heard at great length, and a final decree was issued in favor of the plaintiff, but the battle in eighteen months had cost Mr. Atwood a fortune in loss of business. Still, he has said in speaking of this experience, that it was worth to him all it cost, because of the satisfaction of having maintained the principle of American justice and fair play, and continuing he said upon one occasion: “I would rather my children would remember me for the establishment of the ‘open shop’ principle, which is the right of every man to work without let or hindrance, than for the service I rendered in the Civil war, because to my mind the questions that were then solved by the arbitrament of the sword were of no greater importance than those that confront us today, in the question of so-called organized labor endangering the foundation of our whole republican form of government.”
Mr. Atwood, through the experience he had in this ‘labor war,” as he calls it, was led to become an advocate of the following principles adopted by the Mass. Employers’ Association:
- No closed shop.
- No restriction as to the use ‘of tools, machinery, or materials, except such as are unsafe.
- No limitation of output.
- No restriction as to the number of apprentices and helpers, when of proper age.
- No boycott.
- No sympathetic strike.
- No sacrifice of the independent working man to the labor union.
- No compulsory use of the union label. No one has ever rightfully accused Mr. Atwood of illiberality to his employees. Having worked at the bench himself, he can and does “put himself in their place” and his men know that the court has placed its stamp of disapproval upon interference with Mr. Atwood’s business by labor agitators. There is nothing but mutual good feeling and fair dealing. He will be long remembered as one of the manufacturers in Massachusetts who refused to allow a labor union, or its agent, to run his business, and will be respected for his action.
In his political affiliations Mr. Atwood is a stanch Republican, and some years ago, during his more active life, he served several years as chairman of the Republican town committee, and has been otherwise influential in the councils of that party. Fraternally he is a prominent member of the Masonic organization, holding membership in Puritan Lodge, A. F. & A. M., of Whitman; Pilgrim Chapter, E. A. M., of Abington; and Old Colony Commandery, Knights Templar, of Abington. He is also a member of Aleppo Temple, Order of the Mystic Shrine, of Boston. He is an active and influential member of David A. Russell Post, No. 78, Grand Army of the Republic, of Whitman, of which he is a past commander, and for several years was commander of the Plymouth County Division, G. A. E. He is also a member of the Association of Massachusetts Minutemen of ’61, of which organization he is also a past commander. As the name implies, this organization is composed of those who responded at a minute’s notice to the first call of President Lincoln and Governor Andrew, April 15, 1861, many of them merchants, business men and students who left their labors for the defense of their country, not in gay uniforms, but mostly in citizen’s attire, armed to protect our flag and national capitol. Many of these men did not have time to see their wives or children before hastening away. It is to these men credit should be given for preserving our country and national honor.
One of our popular historians has written: “A delay of half an hour in the arrival of the minute-men in Washington would have found our capitol and the archives of our government in the hands of the Rebels, who would at once have been recognized by England and France.” With this state of affairs it would have been nearly impossible for our government to have again established itself among the nations of the world. The minute-men put themselves to the front, and gave our government time to catch its breath.
On Sept. 24, 1862, Mr. Atwood was united in marriage to Angelina E. Weston, daughter of Lewis and May Weston, of Plympton, Mass., and this union was blessed with children as follows:
- Winthrop F., who married Mary Vaughan, of Abington, and is associated with his father in the box manufacturing business
- Bertrand W., who married Anna Poole, of Hanson, and is in the employ of the Atwood Brothers
- Mabel E., who married Alonzo A. Hoyt, of Whitman
Mrs. Atwood died March 4, 1908, at her home on Pleasant street, Whitman, Mass., her death being the result of a shock. She was in the seventy-first year of her age. She had been a resident of Whitman for a long term of years, and until failing health limited her activities was a prominent member of the Unitarian Church and a leader in its work. She had been surrounded with every loving care and attention by a devoted husband and family, and everything possible was done that would make for her comfort. She was highly esteemed, and had a host of friends in the community. One of the local papers, referring to her death, said:
“B. S. Atwood and children have been extended genuine sympathy in the death of Mrs. Atwood. Mrs. Atwood was beloved not only in her home, where she was the idol of her husband and children, but in the community. When she was in her usual health, her life was one of kind acts and deeds and many people in town, especially in East Whitman, will be sincere mourners. She delighted in doing good, and her many kind acts and deeds will long be cherished. She was of a benevolent disposition, and the manner in which she performed her generous acts made the recipient feel that the kindness came from the heart.”
On June 1, 1910, Mr. Atwood was married (second) to Mrs. Lizzie A. Sanborn, of Roxbury, Massachusetts.