Mackerel man gets creative with kit

  • A Common Mackerel destined for the market. Library of Congress

For the Monitor
Published: 10/29/2020 10:36:54 AM

It is our constant quest to live a life of simplicity and provide for our loving families, to have what we need, and help those that are in need of help. These thoughts bring comfort and satisfaction to most people while others take another road in this journey, we call life. For those that desire the inner peace of a simple life their thoughts tend to drift back to a time when life was indeed lived simply by our ancestors here in Concord or elsewhere. These thoughts, commonly known as nostalgia, can be very satisfying for many.

During the 1840s our ancestors here in Concord worked jobs to sustain their simple lives. There were many farmers, shopkeepers and mill workers. There were butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, too. People appreciated the opportunities that their work afforded them and celebrated their level of prosperity as well as their basic survival. The people living in Concord saw William Henry Harrison elected president of the United States as the decade began and Samuel B. Morse sending his very first message over the very first telegraph line from Washington, DC to Baltimore, MD. Samuel B. Morse does have a very personal connection to Concord, but that is a story for another day. Our ancestors saw young Elizabeth Blackwell receive the first medical degree, the very first awarded to a woman, on Jan. 23, 1849 at the Medical Institute of Geneva, N.Y. Our ancestors also read the newspapers down on Main Street in Concord and learned about the discovery of gold near Sutter’s Fort, Calif., in 1848.

There were many adventures and certainly no lack of activity for our ancestors if they were in search of excitement. There were times when the young left Concord and traveled west to embrace their desires while many simply stayed here in Concord and worked their regular jobs as each and every year passed. My family chose to stay and raise a family, Concord provided safety, security and my ancestors escaped from the tragic potato famine they left behind in Ireland. My family witnessed starvation, the loss of the farms and ultimately death before immigrating across the sea in search of the simple life where they could live their days providing for those they loved. Regardless of the road taken we find our past with some unique free-thinking individuals that were creative, successful and risk-takers at home or abroad.

There were many mills in our area, all harnessing the free water that provided power for their businesses. Some of the mills were very successful while other mills were relatively short-lived. Some of the products produced were also quite common; items such as flour, textile and shoes were in demand and the mills tended to succeed very well. Some people thought outside the box and opened businesses that were not thought of by the common man. There were people that manufactured silk and there were early attempts at iron manufacturing. There were also people that felt the calling of the sea. A Concord gentleman named Moses Humphrey certainly did feel the sea calling, and he answered that call by delving into a business that was certainly a risk without hope of succeeding. A simple man with a thought combined with his love of the sea.

It was in the 1840s that we find young Moses Humphrey eager to embark on his career. At first, he tried activities that were commonplace, and then his thoughts drifted elsewhere. His thoughts were like the strong winds filling the ancient sails on ships bound for adventure. He knew about fishing and enjoyed the activity very much. He also knew about profit, thinking that he might be able to provide the tools the fishermen so badly needed.

He devised his simple plan and set out in West Concord to build a product with his skilled hands, a quality product that would be sought by the skilled fishermen in need.

He built mackerel kits.

The powerful water flowed from Penacook Lake through the forest and down the hills beneath the road near Holden’s Mills exiting near the old Renton Mill. From there, the water traveled to the Merrimack River and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean. This water was desired for it provided the power to fuel the early mills, turning the massive waterwheels and allowing our ancestors to make a living.

People referred to both Moses Humphrey and his mackerel kit mill as simply peculiar. It was an odd business to be involved in, but the quality kits Moses manufactured were in demand, fishermen seeking the best kits to yield the best mackerel harvest. Moses set up his factory, employed many people over the years and kept the local lumbermen very pleased, for you need plenty of pine timber to make the kits he produced. The years passed, many families were sustained by the employment at the mackerel kit factory and Moses made his profits. With the water power provided free of charge the business expense was simply time and material, Moses produced up to 75,000 mackerel kits each year in the little town of Concord.

Far removed from the sea, Moses worked his plan and enjoyed his living. He liked to provide employment so that our ancestors could enjoy a life of simplicity and provide for their own loving families. Moses identified his opportunities and never lost sight of his desire to succeed, a simple life well lived.




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