Speaking of Bossy Gillis, I have been having trouble writing up a biography on him. I am working, along with my house stories and histories, biographies on important historical figures in Newburyport. I am stumped trying to write a proper biography on a man who is so contrary in historical records.
He hated authority and yet became an authority. He practiced in a way that would label him, in today’s parlance, a corrupt politician, but was ferocious against crime when he was in office. He viciously attacked his enemies and yet was kind to those in need. He constantly worked slimy deals in back rooms but would attack those who practiced the same in positions of power & wealth.
The only way to understand what he was so worked up about would be to read the writings of John Marquand.
It was the issue of class.
Even Lord Timothy Dexter couldn’t break the glass wall even though in today’s currency, he would have been labeled a multi-billionaire. Money couldn’t do it. Even Mr. Marquand had difficulty and he came from a prestigious family. Even Moses Brown, who came from a humble background, probably never really ‘made it’ into high society.
When I first moved here, there were traces of it left. The basic attitude was, “You can’t be a part of our inner circle, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.”
So little of that culture is left in town that even the distinction between resident and visitor has blurred. No more treating guests like dirt or gleefully giving them wrong directions. Today, the locals will take their shirt off their backs and bend over backwards to help some lost tourist.
So, it is hard to understand how awful this barrier was unless you have lived in such a climate. Even such environments are fading in societies like England and India. Yet, it was all too real. John Marquand made a living writing about it and Bossy fought it all his life.
It’s absence today makes Newburyport a very pleasant place to live regardless of who you are, where you came from or how much materials and money you possess.