When you read about Rochester’s history, one thing that stands out is how many of its male residents felt the need to travel to faraway places. Many left town to go to sea, which is not surprising, because for many years Rochester was a town with two harbors; one that today belongs to Marion and the other to Mattapoisett.
Most who went to sea became involved in whaling. Joseph Warren Church, an ancestor of the late George Church, was born in 1799 and went to sea at the age of 15. The ship he was on was captured by the British brig, Nimrod, that was prowling local waters during the War of 1812. The entire crew was taken prisoner, loaded onto the Nimrod, and held for several months as the ship traveled from Bermuda to Halifax. Joseph was finally able to escape when the Nimrod stopped at Tarpaulin Cove on the island of Naushon.
Another of George’s ancestors was Charles Howard Church who left Rochester to go west to California searching for gold. Alden Rounseville, Jr. also headed West to try his luck in the gold fields. He along with several others outfitted two ships and headed to California by sea, going around Cape Horn.
Alden’s son Frank, born in 1860, tried his hand at whaling. At the museum, we have a collection of letters that his mother wrote to him while he was away at sea.
Dexter Lane, the road that runs past the Police Station and the COA, is named after the Dexter family who are descended from one of the original proprietors. One of their noted members was Capt. John G. Dexter, born in Rochester in 1834. He went to sea, also at the age of 15. He was an avid collector of all he saw on his sailing voyages. His extensive collection was housed at Town Hall and then moved to the new library. It includes rocks, shells, crystals, specimens of sea creatures, and other oddities. The items were gathered from Maine as well as from the South Seas. Like many who left Rochester on far-ranging adventures, he returned to town when he retired from whaling. Once home, he married in 1859 and turned to farming on Dexter Lane. His home is still there today.
By Connie Eshbach