My father was a descendant of Robert Murdock (of Roxbury), who left Scotland in 1688, and whose descendants settled in Newton. My father’s branch removed to Winchendon, home of tubs and pails. My grandfather (Abel) moved to Leominster and later settled in Worcester, where he died when I was a small boy. My father’s mother was a Moore, also of Scotch ancestry. She died young, and on my father’s side there was no family home to visit.
My mother’s father was Deacon Charles Hills, descended from Joseph Hills, who came from England in 1634.
Nearly every New England town was devoted to some special industry, and Leominster was given to the manufacture of horn combs. The industry was established by a Hills ancestor, and when I was born four Hills brothers were co-operative comb-makers, carrying on the business in connection with small farming. The proprietors were the employees. If others were required, they could be readily secured at the going wages of one dollar a day.
My grandfather was the oldest of the brothers. When he married Betsy Buss his father set aside for him twenty acres of the home farm, and here he built the house in which he lived for forty years, raising a family of ten children.
I remember quite clearly my great-grandfather Silas Hills. He was old and querulous, and could certainly scold; but now that I know that he was born in 1760, and had nineteen brothers and sisters, I think of him with compassion and wonder. It connects me with the distant past to think I remember a man who was sixteen years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed. He died at ninety-five, which induces apprehension.
My grandfather’s house faced the country road that ran north over the rolling hills among the stone-walled farms, and was about a mile from the common that marked the center of the town. It was white, of course, with green blinds. The garden in front was fragrant from Castilian roses, Sweet Williams, and pinks. There were lilacs and a barberry-bush. A spacious hall bisected the house. The south front room was sacred to funerals and weddings; we seldom entered it. Back of that was grandma’s room. Stairs in the hall led to two sleeping-rooms above. The north front room was “the parlor,” but seldom used. There on the center-table reposed Baxter’s “Saints’ Rest” and Young’s “Night Thoughts.” The fireplace flue so seldom held a fire that the swallows utilized the chimney for their nests. Back of this was the dining-room, in which we lived. It had a large brick oven and a serviceable fireplace. The kitchen was an ell, from which stretched woodshed, carriage-house, pigpen, smoking-house, etc. Currant and quince bushes, rhubarb, mulberry, maple, and butternut trees were scattered about. An apple orchard helped to increase the frugal income.