Lemuel Clap House
199 Boston Street
Dorchester, MA 02125
The Lemuel Clap House, which is located to the left rear area of the Dorchester Historical Society property on Boston Street, was acquired by the Dorchester Historical Society in 1946, along with the William Clapp House. The Lemuel Clap House was remodeled to its present appearance by Lemuel Clap in the 1760s. Illustrative of
mid-18th-century rural architecture, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built at a site farther down the side street, but when a portion of Willow Court was widened in the 1950s and renamed Enterprise Street, the house stood in the way of the construction. The Society decided to save the house from demolition and moved it about 200 feet southeast of its original location to its present position next to the William Clapp House. Exterior restoration of the Lemuel Clap House was completed in 2018.
The rooms of the Lemuel Clap House are filled with artifacts from the Society's collection, including a table that was part of the wedding furniture belonging to the Captain and his second wife, Rebecca Dexter.
The Lemuel Clap House is a two-story, wood frame, gambrel-roof building. The plan is that of an L. The main block is a five-bay, single-pile dwelling and the left rear ell is three bays wide by one bay deep.
A one-story, gable-roof service addition forms a continuation of the ell. The building contains two brick chimneys, one situated in the right rear of the main block, the other located in the center of the ell. The roof trim of the SE and SW elevations is a boxed cornice and decorated frieze. This house's SE, SW, and NE elevations are covered with clapboard, while the remaining elevations are covered with wood shingles. The center entry exhibits a six-paneled door which is surmounted by a simple pediment with pilasters while the eight-paneled central door of the SW elevation has a simple pediment. Four early twelve over twelve pane windows are still intact. The building stands on a poured concrete foundation with full basement, having been moved approximately 200 feet southeast of its original location in 1957.
Clap Emigration from the West of England
The first Clap immigrant was Roger Clap, who was born at Salcombe Regis, Devon, in 1609. He sailed on the ship Mary and John in 1630, and married Johanna Ford in Dorchester in 1633. Johanna and her parents had also sailed to New England on the Mary and John in 1630. From 1637 until 1665 he filled the most important offices of the town at various times. In 1665 he was appointed commander of the Castle, the fort at Castle Island, to succeed Captain Richard Davenport, who was killed by lightning. He held this post until he resigned in 1686 because of his unwillingness to cooperate with the schemes of Governor Andros. He moved to Boston, where he died in 1691 and was buried in King's Chapel Burying Ground. Roger's siblings and cousins joined him in Dorchester in the 1630s.
Early Clap Activities: The Clap Tide Mill
In addition to farming most early settlers carried on a second occupation. The Clap family owned and operated a tidal gristmill located near the end of a creek almost at the edge of the South Cove, approximately where the Super Stop & Shop building is today in the South Bay Shopping Center. In the colonial period the mill had a dam that connected Clapp's Point at the mill to Black Point on the Roxbury side of the South Cove or South Bay, creating a mill pond that covered about an acre of land. The dam was made of sawn wood planks driven into the mud of the marshland with earth piled up against the wooden wall. Pieces were recovered when the South Bay was last dredged for navigation improvements before 1910. Probably on the west end of the dam was a low end, called a spillway. In the middle, there would have been a pair of large swinging wooden tide gates, and the Clap's Mill stood on the east end. The mill would have been powered by an undershot waterwheel, connected to hand hewn wood shafts and wooden gears.
The pond was fed by Mill Creek as well as by the tide. When the tide had reached its full, the gates were closed to trap the water to be used to run the wheel when the tide ebbed. The spillway let out excess water if the creek was especially active. The chief reason that the NStar plant is skewed at an odd angle to Massachusetts Avenue is because the southwest side runs close to the original line of Mill Creek. All of the land on Massachusetts Avenue now owned by NStar was once waterfront next to the Creek and the South Cove.
5th & 6th Generations
Captain Lemuel Clap and his son William Clapp, who lived in the historic houses that bear their names, were descended from Nicholas Clap who married his cousin Sarah, Roger's sister. Most of the family used only one "p" in their last name until William's generation when they started using two. Part of the Lemuel Clap House, which, since 1957, shares the same lot as the William Clap House, is said to date to 1665 but architectural historian Elizabeth Amadon and others think this house was essentially rebuilt in the 1760s.
Lemuel's first wife, Susanna Capen, died in March of 1767, and he married Rebecca Dexter in November, 1768. Therefore, it is possible that the house was remodeled in anticipation of Lemuel's second marriage. On the other hand, it is possible that the remodeling occurred in 1765. Colonel Samuel Pierce, whose family sometimes worked in construction, recorded in his diary for September 2, 1765, "I fell from Lemuel Clap's house and hurt me some, but not very much. I fell about 16 foot." It is possible that Pierce was doing simple repairs or, he may have been involved in the remodeling. The Clapp Memorial, the family genealogy, states that Lemuel's house was "was enlarged and elegantly fitted up by him from the small one originally built by Roger." On another page the genealogy states "By a comparison of the will of Captain Roger Clapp with the ‘Deed of Division' of the estate of his son Elder Samuel Clapp, who left no will, it appears that the house first built and lived in by Roger fell to Elder Samuel's son Samuel, then to his son Samuel, and was next bought by the son-in-law of the latter, John Ward, who sold it to Capt. Lemuel Clapp in January, 1761."
Tanning, the Family Business
Generations of the family were tanners. Lemuel's tanyard was located across the street on the southwest corner of Boston Street and Enterprise (formerly Willow Court), and his son William followed him in the business.
Tanning, the process of making animal hides into leather, emerged as a major industry in the old town and provided a handful of Dorchester families, especially the Clapps and the Humphreys, with a very comfortable living. William Clapp not only produced a range of leathers at the large yard, he also extended the family business to include importing fine Moroccan leather on a modest scale. William's three sons learned the trade at his side.
Why was tanning so profitable? Leather was an important material in the colonial period and long into the 19th century. It was used for shoes, saddles, boots, harnesses, clothing, bellows, trunks, and many other useful items. Tanning was a physically demanding and lengthy process, making leather a relatively expensive commodity. Willow Court, located on the South Bay marsh and fed by several creeks, was ideally suited for a tannery.
The creeks provided the large quantities of fresh water needed to wash and soak the hides. Any noxious animal waste was washed away by the tide. The large population of nearby Boston increased demand for meat products, ensuring both a steady supply of hides and a ready market for leather goods. The Clapps sold their leather to trunk makers, harness makers, shoemakers, glove makers, and other craftsmen.
Dorchester in the Revolution
Lemuel served as a Captain during the Revolutionary War, and during the Siege of Boston and the Dorchester Heights campaign some of his men were stationed in the house. His company was on duty for several of its first years at Dorchester Heights, Noddle's Island, and other places nearby. The enlistments for this service were short, a few months at a time, and sometimes less, and his company, therefore, often changed its members. Sometimes there were quite a number of the Dorchester Clapps in its ranks.
In the 17th century, Dorchester residents had used Dorchester Neck (now South Boston) as a cow pasture, because Boston Street through the marshes was the only means of entrance and exit. The cows could be left on the peninsula with only a youngster to guard the causeway. In 1775 Dorchester citizens, fearful of an attack from the British, who commanded Castle Island and occupied Boston proper, built a fortification across Boston Street to protect against British invasion, and the cow pasture became something of a no-man's land.
The redoubt, made of wood and dirt, crossed Boston Street at the point where Harvest and Boston Streets intersect. Colonel Samuel Pierce, another Dorchester son, made an entry in his diary for June 26, 1775: "This day our People began to entrench below Capt. Clap's, near the great Casway."
Washington's army followed Boston Street on March 4, 1776, to fortify Dorchester Heights on the Cow Pasture peninsula in a single night. Pierce recorded in his diary for March 4th: "Our people went on to Dorchester Neck and built two forts in the same night, and there was 380 teems and about 5000 men-the most work don that ever was don in one night in New England." A train of three hundred and sixty teams of horses or "mostly yoked oxen," was gathered from all the towns and villages around, together with teamsters, hostlers, farriers, and ox-drivers. Barns and sheds were assigned, and hay, oats, and fodder was furnished. The required loads were apportioned off for each team. Schedules were worked out for the timing and number of trips that would be necessary: all in all, a tremendous undertaking in military organization and logistics, yet particularly suited to the ways and means of the enterprising villagers round about. We can picture the dark spectacle of lumbering oxen plodding by, dragging their overloaded carts and vans with creaking wagon wheels that rumbled over the rutted, half-frozen roadway. Around them, we would see a shadowy press of soldiers, indistinctly silhouetted in the moonlight, or with their taut faces lit up by lanterns as they passed the house door. Over their shoulders they would be carrying shovels, pick-axes, crow-bars, or other tools in addition to their muskets. Overhead we would trace the fiery missiles criss-crossing the sky, while the framework of the house itself would shudder with the crash of cannon, and shake at the bursting of shells. All in all, it would present a drama never to be forgotten, of a new nation surging forward in the night to meet its destiny.
Residents of the House and Genealogy
Lemuel died in 1819 and two unmarried daughters continued to live in the house. In 1872, the last of Lemuel's daughters, Miss Catherine Clap died at the age of 90; title passed to her nephews Frederick and Lemuel, and the house was occupied by Captain Lemuel's great-granddaughter Rebecca (granddaughter of his son Richard) and her husband, William Blake Trask, in the late 19th century. The Dorchester Historical Society acquired the property at 195 Boston Street including both houses and their land from Frank Lemuel Clapp in 1946.
The Clapp genealogy describes Lemuel as follows: "Lemuel, third son of Ebenezer, Jr. and Hannah (Pierce) Clapp, was born in Dorchester, April 9, 1735, and died Dec. 29, 1819. He married, first, Dec. 11, 1760, Susanna Capen, of Dorchester, who died March 6, 1767, aged 26 years. They were married the same day his sister Ann was married to Noah Clapp. He married, second, Nov. 3, 1768, Rebecca, third daughter of Rev. Samuel Dexter, of Dedham.
The line of descent from Nicholas to Lemuel and his children show some interesting facts in addition to information about the occupancy of the Lemuel Clap House.
Lemuel's second wife Rebecca was just about constantly pregnant for a period of nearly 15 years, from the beginning of 1769 through March, 1784.
Four of Lemuel and Rebecca's children lived one year or less, probably due to a more limited knowledge of medicine in the 18th century than today.
The names of two of the children who died early, Richard and Rebecca, were re-used for later children.
William Blake Trask, a Dorchester cabinet-maker and later a prominent genealogist, married Richard Clapp's daughter. They built a house on Clapp Place in 1844 (now numbered 42 Mayhew Street), where they resided for 10 years. Subsequently, for seventeen years, they lived in the Lemuel Clap House with Catherine and Rebecca, aunts to Mrs. Trask. They continued there until Catharine's death in 1872, then moved to the brick house erected by Mrs. T's father, Richard, on Pond Street. (See separate info on William Blake Trask; also note that the Revolutionary War drum we have came from his family)
Children of Capt. Lemuel and 1st wife Susannah (Capen) Clapp:
Susanna, b. Nov. 2, 1761; d., Dec. 10, 1761
Lemuel, b. Aug. 5, 1763; d. April 5, 1783
Edward, b. Jan. 24, 1765; d. Dec. 16, 1790. Began to learn the trade of shoe-making, but relinquished it and worked with his father in the tanning business, and continued in it till he died.
Children of Capt. Lemuel and 2d wife Rebecca (Dexter) Clapp:
Samuel, b. Oct. 1, 1769; d. Jan. 1, 1770.
Ebenezer, b. Oct. 8, 1770; d. Mar. 13, 1806; m. Nov. 12, 1795, Abigail Glover Clapp, dau. of Joseph Clapp, of Dorchester. He built the house now standing on the east side of Boston Street nearly opposite Willow court, then the most northerly house on the old Causeway road leading to the Neck. He inherited from his father much land in the neighborhood. His widow occupied the house, after his decease and died there.
Rebecca, b. Nov. 13, 1771; d. Nov. 13, 1772.
Jason, b. Sept. 20, 1773; d. Dec. 8, 1852, aged 79 years.
Richard, b. Oct. 15, 1774; d. Sept. 20, 1775.
Elisha, b. June 25, 1776; d. Oct. 22,1830. Graduated from Harvard 1797.
Stephen, b. Sept.9, 1777; d. July 11, 1778.
William, b. March 3, 1779; d. Feb. 29, 1860, aged 80 years.
Richard, b. July 24, 1780; d. Dec. 26, 1861, aged 81 years.
Catharine, b. April 17, 1782; d. unm. Feb. 21, 1872, in her 90th year. She retained her mental faculties to the last, reading her bible and other good books daily, without glasses, which through her long life she never used; was a worthy woman, of the old puritan stamp; lived and died in the house in Willow Court, occupied by her father during his life. The house, after her death, as mentioned above, passed into the hands of her nephews, Frederick and Lemuel.