Our historian Jennie Copeland described Nicholas White III, who came here from Taunton in 1703 and built one of the two oldest houses still standing in Mansfield, as a “local statesman.”
But to a lively-tempered woman who in the 20th century lived around the corner from his former home, Nicholas was a ghost, and an annoying ghost at that.
The story is, she became so spooked by his ectoplasmic visitations that she toted a sledge hammer to his nearby grave site and smashed his headstone to smithereens.
This tale is untrue, because David Grant of Mansfield recently sent me a photo of the unscarred stone. It bears the inscription “Nicholas White 1675-1743” and is situated near the sharp bend of Hall Street, not far from Nicholas’s colonial dwelling.
No one knows if White sleeps beneath the rounded boulder. It was placed about 1850, at least a century after his death, and may be only a memorial.
Nicholas and his bride, Experience King, had barely begun housekeeping when they faced a problem. At that time a corner of Old Taunton protruded into the present Mansfield, putting their house in Taunton, as was their church, 10 miles away.
Church attendance was mandatory, and Sundays meant a tiresome horseback ride for the newlyweds. In 1707 and 1708, Nicholas petitioned Taunton and the General Court in Boston to set off the north part of Taunton as a separate precinct with its own church.
At first the parent town stonewalled, but in 1709 they caved and authorized formation of Taunton North Precinct, now Norton and Mansfield. Two years later another step was taken as the North Precinct became the town of Norton.
Nicholas White was the town’s first treasurer, a selectman for 11 years and a representative from Norton to the General Court. He also served as a lieutenant in the local militia company.
He was one of 13 original members of the First Church of Christ on Norton common. The same day that Norton’s first minister, the Rev. Joseph Avery, was ordained, Nicholas became the church’s first deacon, in which post he served many years.
But he and others in the northern part of Norton still weren’t happy. He lived four miles from the Rev. Avery’s church, and wanted once again to split and form another new precinct with a new church and minister.
Twice, in 1721 and 1722, White rode to Boston, with his name at the head of a petition requesting the General Court to grant dismissal from Norton. Twice he was turned down.
But he persisted, and on a third visit in 1731 the Court bowed to his request and legalized the creation of Norton North Precinct – the future Mansfield.
At the first five North Precinct meetings Nicholas was twice chosen moderator and served on a committee to raise funds to hire and then pay a preacher. He also became a deacon of the new church, which stood on the present Mansfield South Common.
He and Experience raised nine children in the 1703 house. Legend has it that the young-uns entered the world in the “borning room,” now the kitchen. But borning room is a modern term and the truth is, nobody knows which room the kids were born in.
On Sept. 2, 1743, Nicholas White, after spending 40 years in the same house, died, laden with honors. For a farmer he was well off and left a large estate on both sides of Hall Street. He was buried on his own land. Experience survived him by nearly nine years.
One of this old town’s favorite ladies, the late Lois Thomas, lived from 1955 until recently in the house that Nicholas White III built. She too reported his ghostly visits. But no sledge hammer was needed: she and his spirit hit it off quite amicably.
Lifelong Mansfield resident Harry B. Chase Jr. served on the town’s first conservation commission and is a founding and charter member of the Natural Resources Trust of Mansfield. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 508 967-3510.