Daniel Thomas Vose Huntoon (1842-1886)
“Time is slowly obliterating the records of the past. Before they shall have been rendered completely illegible, is it not well to gather up and preserve what might otherwise be forever lost? It is a duty we owe to ourselves as well as to the memory of our ancestors to secure in a permanent and durable form whatever may be gained from fast-perishing records, from the voice of tradition, or from the memories of those who are now on the stage of life...The treasures of the past are open to one who will but ask, and the light of other days softened by distance falls upon him.”
Not merely Canton’s most well-known and early published historian, founding member and first president of the Canton Historical Society, Daniel Thomas Vose Huntoon appears here to have been a bit of a poet as well. His passion for history, for the Canton of his birthplace, and his interest in protecting, preserving and promoting material artifacts and/or oral histories towards that end comes across quite clearly above and in the preface to the book that achieves that mission, the History of the Town of Canton, published 1893. To this day, curious residents and serious researchers alike owe Huntoon no small debt of gratitude.
The son of Canton’s beloved (though somewhat misunderstood) Unitarian preacher of the First Congregational Parish--the Reverend Benjamin Huntoon, Daniel was the only child of Benjamin and his second wife Lydia Bowman (Baker) Huntoon. Daniel T. V. Huntoon was also a descendant of Philip Huntoon, the presumptive ancestor of all persons in America with the surname “Huntoon”.
While his father’s family with his first wife had produced seven children before her untimely death, Daniel’s mother died of consumption when he was just two years old. Rev. Benjamin and his brood lived in Canton after Daniel’s birth in 1842 until 1849 when they moved to Marblehead, where Benjamin served as pastor of the Second Congregational Church (Unitarian) until 1855, before moving back to Canton in 1860 when Daniel was about 18 years old.
As an adult, D.T.V. Huntoon was active in his community--his involvement in Canton’s evening schools of that time coincided with the town’s commitment to build and finance a “proper” high school; he had previously served as one of the Canton’s first Superintendent of Schools in the late 1860’s. He was a member of the FreeMasons, Blue Hill Lodge and served as Master 1872-4. In 1875 and 1877 Huntoon gave the oration at the annual decoration of the graves of soldiers who fell in the War of the Rebellion (similar to today’s Memorial Day ceremonies). He was also a local businessman, partner and shareholder of the Canton Elastic Fabric Company located near the Canton Junction Station which continued operations after dissolution and subsequent reorganization until it was destroyed by fire in 1884.
Perhaps most memorably, Huntoon was a founding member and the first President of the Canton Historical Society, organized in March 1871. An excerpt from their first appeal to the townspeople implores:
“We want to treasure up all the old traditions from the time of the Indians to the present day. We should like, above all things, to rummage in forsaken attics, to ransack those mouldering papers which the good-wife has declared time and time again she will sell to the ragman. We have reason to believe that bushels of this ‘old stuff’ are yearly given to the flames, and we desire to save it, and that immediately…”
Rummage and ransack! The ragman! This language echoes the passion of the society’s members, led by Huntoon, as they embraced their mission to enlighten and educate Canton’s residents on the town’s past from the time of area native people up to (but not including) the Civil War. Still standing and a landmark in town, the “watering trough” erected at the intersection of Washington and Randolph Streets is the first visible result of these efforts. It is dedicated to the Reverend John Eliot (aka “The Apostle”) whose efforts on behalf of the local Ponkapoag Indians introduced them to Christianity and aided in smooth relations between the natives and settlers.
Huntoon’s inclination to memorialize Eliot may, in part, have been a result of his early exposure to the stories he heard in his family of origin. From the book, The Descendants of Huntoon, Generation No. 4:
• Benjamin was the grandfather of Daniel T. V. Huntoon, the compiler of the original Huntoon Genealogy. Daniel was 14 years old when Benjamin died, and in his genealogy he recounts a conversation he had with his grandfather. Elder Benjamin was born twelve years after the death of the progenitor Philip Huntoon, and was 15 years old when his grandfather, Philip, the son of the progenitor, died. So some of the things that Daniel T. V. Huntoon writes about in his genealogy, in particular the story of the original Philip's capture by indians, may have been passed down orally through a relatively small number of witnesses.
This “small number of witnesses” may in fact have preserved the integrity of the capture story. Oral history, as we know, leaves itself open to inaccuracy and embellishment in each re-telling.
In keeping with his passion for historical preservation, Huntoon was largely instrumental in erecting a monument for Colonel Richard Gridley whose military career included the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War; Gridley is also considered to be America’s First Chief Engineer by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Huntoon and a contingent of committee members disinterred Gridley’s remains from their original resting place in an enclosure near his home to a grave in the Canton Corner Cemetery. Gridley was reburied beneath a monument befitting “one of the most distinguished military characters of New England.”
Huntoon’s obituary in the Canton Journal remembers him as “firm in his friendship, charitable in his judgment, and pronounced in his opinion.” It goes on to say that “No man in this vicinity...ever approached him in his knowledge of local history” and “his early death...is a public loss.” Daniel Thomas Vose Huntoon remains our foremost town historian.
“Daniel T. V. Huntoon.” The Canton Journal 17 December 1886.
Huntoon, Daniel T.V. History of the Town of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1893.
Huntoon, Daniel T. V. Philip Hunton and his descendants. Canton, Massachusetts: University Press, 1881.
https://cantonmahistorical.pbworks.com/w/page/38821825/Daniel TV Huntoon