Dan Fuller: The Hermit of Kingston
Walden Pond in Concord may have had its Henry David Thoreau but here in Kingston we had Dan Fuller. Dan was a hermit who became famous for being famous.
Margaret Warnsman, at age 93 was the de facto town historian and I had the opportunity to interview her before she died. According to her, many stories were printed about Dan Fuller in the Boston papers, including, she recalls, one or two in Yankee Magazine. In his day, Dan Fuller was a New England legend and a local celebrity. In the time before movies, TV and radio, gossip about local eccentrics was a constant source of amusement and entertainment.
While Fuller may have been the classic ‘odd duck’ it is evident that Kingston was quite proud of her native son and his choice to follow the beat of a different drummer.
I first came across Dan Fuller’s story while browsing thru Margaret’s scrapbook. My curiosity and desire to learn more resulted in a visit to the local history room at the library where Carrie Elliot provided invaluable service by locating several manuscripts and a photograph of Dan standing in front of his hut in the Kingston woods. It appears the photograph was also the source for the engraving, which accompanied a story about Dan, published in the Boston Journal on March 17, 1893.
Dan Fuller was nearly 84 years old when he was interviewed in late April or early March by a reporter from the Boston Journal. Dan lived about three miles outside of town in the woods on the “sunny side of a hill” in what was described as “rude hut” which Dan had built for himself nearly a half-century before. According to press accounts the hut had once been a shoe repair shop at “the Mitchell place” on Wapping Road and somehow Dan acquired ownership and had the hut moved from its original location to his hillside. The hut’s wood shingles also showed their age and were in a sad state of repair. The whole structure listed to one side like a drunken sailor.
Behind the hand-made wood plank door was a room not much bigger than a modest storage shed. Dan’s living quarters measured a mere six by eighteen feet. On one wall of the hut was a dirty glass window with several broken windowpanes covered by wood shingles to keep the winter wind at bay. Crammed into the 100 sq. feet of living space were a bunk, a small wood stove vented by a brick chimney, a wooden storage chest along with a small table and chair. Overhead several dozen pigeons had taken up nesting along the ridge-poll. Dan says he enjoys their company and hardly ever gave them a thought.
Once upon a time the walls had been plastered but age had taken its toll and what remained of the once white plastering had turned a “greasy black” from years of exposure to pipe smoke and from wood smoke produced by heating and cooking. The hut served duel a purpose as living quarters and a diary of sorts, Dan used the walls to record snowfalls and the number of mice he had caught in the hut.
Dan Fuller was born in Kingston sometime around 1809 and had once been an apprentice to a nail maker. In the early days, Kingston was a hotbed of homegrown industry and featured numerous nail and tack factories supplied by a rich abundance of bog-iron. The visiting reporter described Dan as a man, “slightly below the medium height, with stooping shoulders, piercing black eyes and long hair” down to his shoulders.
Dan may have been simple-minded, mentally ill, or just eccentric, but what ever he was, he had the reputation of being honest, independent, and proud. He supported himself by hunting and trapping. Since he was a simple man of few earthly wants he apparently made a pretty good living from his woodsman trade. Dan’s cash income was derived from the sale of fur skins, waterfowl, their feathers (a much sought after product for down pillows, quilts, and feather beds) and occasionally the sale of wild honey. But it appears that Dan’s primary source of money came from the cash bounty on crows and woodchucks paid by the town. Every now and then Dan ventured into Kingston village to collect his bounty and on one trip Dan brought in 34 woodchuck heads and was paid $17 (the equivalent today of nearly $1,800).
Dan’s modest income was augmented, according to the Boston Journal, by donations “ clothing, food and tobacco from those who sometimes pass his hut.”
The hermit’s family history is a bit murky but one Kingstonian wrote that Dan’s father, “was a hunter and lived in the dense forest. He had a large family and was old fashioned even for them days [back in] 1820. Saturday was baking day in the brick oven and Sunday mornings breakfast after the oven was drawn was the great meal of the week… breakfast would usually bring all the children home [and] then the Father counted [his children] and if they were all there or was not missing two Sunday mornings in succession, [the father] was satisfied.”
The above description of Dan’s early years is from an unsigned and undated hand written manuscript on file at the local history room. It appears to have been written to the “Editor of the reporter [of the Boston Journal]” about the article on Kingston’s Hermit that appeared in the Boston Journal on March 17, 1893. The letter took several exceptions to the Journal’s coverage and expanded on the story of Dan Fuller with personal observations and several anecdotes.
The letter’s author apparently knew Dan Fuller quite well and described Daniel as a man who, “is inelegant honest and temperate [and] cannot care for tomorrow [and] cannot conceive any want except what he wants now today.”
The writer goes on to say the hermit nearly starved and froze to death on several occasions but refused to learn from the experience. When, “in his extreme old age the overseers of the poor send a load of wood and other things to his Hut in the fall this perplexes Daniel. He says to the [wagon driver], ‘I do not want but one armful of wood. I never wanted two once in my life and [now you’ve brought me] a whole load.’”
The writer described Daniel as a born hunter who didn’t have the temperament for steady employment. Dan loves to hunt and although he can eat “civilized food” he prefers only game and, “nothing but game”. The writer says that Dan would hang a rabbit or duck before the fire with a line to roast it and would, “eat it something as we [would] eat an ear of green corn.
The Journal explain that Dan’s hunting gun was, “a heavy muzzle-loader, and has been owned by the hermit for 25 years.” Dan had gotten the gun from his brother Samuel, who Dan said, “liked to go gunning ‘bout as well as I did. He and I have seen some pretty good shooting, first and last. Samuel used to go gunning with Daniel Webster.”
When the Boston Journal‘s reporter asked Dan if the gun he used had ever belonged to the famous Daniel Webster of Marshfield the hermit is reported to have replied, “Can’t say as ’twas, but just as likely’s not, Samuel set a heap by it. I guess old Webster did own it once.”
Hermit Anecdotes: The following accounts are from the Boston Journal‘s article or the letter to the editor referenced above.
Expert Marksman: Some woodchoppers were near Snake pond one morning when Old Dan’s gun was heard and soon the old fellow appeared very cheerful and apparently with nothing to show for all the noise. ‘What luck?’ they asked. “I tell ye,” said Dan, ”I come ‘long jes’ now, and there was seven ducks down there in the pond — splendid shot’. I crept up close to and let her bang, killed every dam’ one except six and the other one got away and I dunno where he went; but ‘t was a splendid shot.” And on he trudged, perfectly satisfied with his marksmanship. — Boston Journal, 1893
Smart Move: “Daniel keeps a hen. It’s not the duty of the hen to lay eggs [or] hatch chickens and such. [The hen’s duty is] to walk around before the hut and attract the attention of a Hen-hawk. When the Hawk swoops down for the hen, ‘bang’ goes Daniels gun and Daniel has a rare game bird for dinner which it would be difficult to duplicate at best hotels.” – Letter by Unknown Author
Fire in the Hole: “A number of years ago “Old Dan, the trapper of Smelt Pond,” as he has sometimes been referred to, lived in a molasses hogshead. It was quite close quarters, but better than no shelter, and the trapper made the best of it. One day while gunning on the shore of a lake he put a paper bag of gunpowder in his coat pocket, where he commonly kept his pipe. The powder was forgotten and the pipe found its way to its accustomed receptacle. There was a flash and an explosion, but the trapper saved himself from burning to death by running into the water to the depth of his neck.” — Boston Journal, 1893
Bird Shot For a Buck: “Did ye ever hear of that big buck I killed?” asked the now sociable hermit after accepting a box of tobacco, fruit and bread, which the Journal man took from his buggy. “I was gunning a’ter partridges ‘tother side of Monk’s Hill, me and Samuel. I seed a big buck coming towards me and stepped behind a tree. Didn’t have anything but bird shot in my gun, but I pulled the trigger and got the buck. The small shot sawed his jugular dang nigh off.” — Boston Journal, 1893
Bed Time Story: “[He] was a born son of the forest to begin with. He would not go home nights when he was 5 years old but lay out in the forest in a bed of leaves which he can skillfully make – I think he does so now sometimes in warm weather. The grandeur and sublimity of the dense forest have more than ordinary charms for Daniel.” – Letter by Unknown Author
More Marksmanship Stories: “Forty years ago there were rye fields in Kingston and wild pigeons abounded there also. The gunners were wont to stand between two fields and as the dogs started the birds from one field they would fly across to the other. I have seen Dan bang away a whole afternoon in the enjoyment of this sport without, stopping a solitary pigeon. But it was sport just the same, while another gunner by the name of Washburn never allowed a bird to pass him. Someone asked Dan if he shot birds on the wing. “Oh yes,” he replied, “shoot ‘em on the wing, or tail, or head, anywhere.” — Boston Journal, 1893