Hometown History #62: The Real Namesake of Lincoln Street


Benjamin Lincoln as painted by Charles Willson Peale.

Our esteemed senior, retired teacher and town historian, James C. Johnston, writing in the Milford Daily News a few years ago, provided a general education on the intriguing origins of street names, and mentioned in particular the common misapprehension that Franklin’s Lincoln Street is named for the Great Emancipator, our 16th

In fact, Johnston noted, it is named for a very notable man from Massachusetts who needn’t stand in the shadow of log-cabin-born frontiersman because of his own stellar career. Johnston first put the surname in context: “There were Lincolns in Massachusetts since the day of the coming of the Puritans about 1630. Lincoln is an old English name. There is the town of Lincoln in merry old England, a Lincolnshire, and Robin Hood's men wore 'Lincoln Green.'"

Indeed, as Johnston noted, Benjamin Lincoln was Washington’s second in command at the Battle of Yorktown. And in the John Trumbull painting in the Capital, Lincoln is illustrated astride his horse in the center of the image, offered the sword of Lord Cornwallis by his second in command, General O’Hara.

Here we lean on Wikipedia to learn that Lincoln was a public-spirited individual; a constable and selectman and an officer in the militia. During the Revolution, he first helped supply the newly formed Continental Army around Boston and then played a key role in coordinating the defense of the rebelling colony.

He participated in the Battle of Saratoga and the Siege of Charleston. From 1781-83 he served as the first US Secretary of War and was one of the first members of the Society of Cincinatti. Later he was active in politics, led the militia in putting down Shay’s Rebellion. He served one term as Lieutenant Governor and ended his career as customs collector of the Port of Boston.

The exact deliberations that led to Franklin’s naming a street after him remain unknown to this author but may have had to do with both admiration for the man and some experience of mutual wartime service. After all, Pond Street, named after the Pond family, was a kind of memorial to the ranking Franklinite of the Revolution, Colonel Oliver Pond.

Incidentally, Benjamin Lincoln’s home in Hingham is still extant and his ornate tomb is in the Hingham Cemetery.

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