THE GREAT POST OFFICE FIGHT
Cotuit has a deserved reputation as a very quiet village. But in 1885 it was rocked by a great battle over the Cotuit Post Office.
It began with the upset national election of 1884, called “one of the most scurrilous in American history”, when President Grover Cleveland brought the Democrats back into power after a quarter of a century’s absence.
“To the victor belong the spoils” was the rule of politics since President Jackson was elected in 1828. Postmasters were exempt from civil service reform of 1882 and were still political appointments. Cotuit’s postmasters had been Republicans, including 12 years under storekeeper Charles C. Bearse followed by Capt. Andrew Lovell in 1882. Lovell, whom New York schoolmaster described as “a slow indolent man” also held offices of state representative, 18 years as selectman, assessor of taxes, road-master, overseer of the poor, justice of the peace, often at the same time.
Boston Brahmin Augustus Thorndyke Perkins, who was heir to a China trade fortune, and was also Cotuit’s wealthest resident, consulted Boston Democrat leaders. They all agreed the Republican postmaster had to go.
Squire Perkins could find no suitable Democrat, then settled on his governess Addie E. Bearse (1847-1928). Known as “Miss Addie”, she had been a teacher in Cotuit schools for 15 years, later Librarian, tutor to summer residents’ children.
On 27 July, 1885, President Cleveland appointed Adelaide F. Bearse as postmaster of Cotuit. The village was outraged at the firing of Captain Lovell. On August 30 Freedom Hall was packed with over 200 indignant protesters. Addie’s uncle Charles Bearse was elected moderator. The meeting unanimously resolved that the change “is contrary to the principle of civil service reform, to the spirit of the present administration and to the wishes and convenience of this community, irrespective of party.” A poll found 147 voters (male, of course) opposed to Lovell’s removal, and only four in favor.
Mr. Perkins did not attend, but wrote that “as a civil service reformer” he approved 2,400 postmasters being fired. New York headmaster James H. Morse, who summered in Cotuit, observed in his diary that the quarrel was between two Boston “nabobs”, Mr. Perkins, favoring Miss Addie, and General John H. Reed, one-time head of the state militia, who for years summered at the Samuel Hooper house, rooting for Lovell.
In the face of great “indignation meetings” Addie’s brother, the storekeeper Asa Bearse, urged her to write her resignation. But Perkins and his friends persuaded her to tear it up. Charles Grafton Phinney, feeling sorry for Addie, lent her space in his house, the former Hoxie Store, to open the post office.
In November 1885 the plucky lady had Perkins build her the small post office that still stands at 819 Main St. No carpenter in Cotuit would help, so she had to go out of the village. According to the Boston Globe hoodlums tore down the frame and threw it into the bay, where it floated over to Grand Island before it was recovered with difficulty. Then they stole 500 feet of lumber, and polluted Mr. Phinney’s well three times.
When the new Cotuit post office finally opened in 1886 it faced a village boycott. Capt. Gilbert Crocker was so angry that he collected Cotuit mail in a carpet bag and took it over to the Mills. But this violated the exclusive right to carry mail.
“The tempest in a teapot” ended with the national election of 1888 when Harrison beat Cleveland. With the Republicans back in power everyone forgot their hatred of the spoils system, and Andrew Lovell was reappointed postmaster. Captain Lovell who turned it over to his daughter Lizzie Lovell (1849-1922), a Cotuit school teacher. Her father built her a little office almost opposite Addie’s, that still stands at 842 Main St.
Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 27 Jan. 2012