NH (like many places) has a tradition of hermits living in the woods

(This story isn’t exactly geeky but I thought it would appeal to geeks, who often dream of becoming hermits. It was caused by an ongoing situation with a guy who was forced out of his log cabin. off-grid; I’m not going to link to all of the stories as it changes daily.)

Long before “River Dave” there was The Taylor Pond Hermit.

Like David Lidstone, who lived alone in a cabin in the woods of Canterbury for 27 years but was known to many in the area, Perley Swett lived alone in a cabin in the town of Stoddard but was not a recluse. Over the years Swett, who died in 1973 at the age of 85, received many visitors and was generally happy to see them.

Among those visitors was Janice Brown of Merrimack, who compiled information about Swett and several other New Hampshire hermits on her history blog, Cow Hampshire (cowhampshireblog.com)

“I visited him probably about a year before he died. I walked into his house, he had a wood stove on which he cooked and heated. He had covered every surface with a very thin layer of – I don’t mean to call it creosote, but you know where if you burn wood you get some kind of film, ”she recalls. “He said I could sit down, but I didn’t. My behind would have been covered in black dust.

His granddaughter, Sheila Swett, wrote a biography about him, Perley: The true story of a New Hampshire hermit.

Brown said Swett was nice and happy to see people – “he seemed a very nice man” – but had no desire to reconnect with society. This places him firmly in a long line of New Hampshire hermits such as Jarvis Smith, the hermit of Mount Vernon, who died in 1925; English Jack, the hermit of the White Mountains, died in 1912; and Charles Lambert, the hermit of Mosquito Pond (now Crystal Lake) in Manchester, who died in 1914.

The idea of ​​a hermit isn’t unique to New Hampshire, of course.

“They were eccentric, liked living away from most people, socialized from very little to nothing,” Brown said, summing up what makes us think of someone as a hermit.

Like River Dave, these men – all are men, as far as we know – stayed out of society in homes they built themselves, usually on land they did not own. , but they were not hidden. Many were the subject of newspaper articles of the time, and some were featured on picture postcards that still appear in vintage bins or are offered for sale online.

The Englishman Jack made souvenirs like canes which he sold to visitors. Shiff the Gunman, a 75-year-old hermit in North Woodstock who died in 1952, took an interest in his lifestyle to become a well-known arms dealer out of his shack during the Great Depression. Support the Concord Monitor. Subscribe today

A 1938 newspaper clipping provided by Brown stated that “Shiff’s dislike of President Roosevelt is almost a religion … He composes letters and poems condemning the president and mails them to the newspapers.” An online comment attached to a photo of Shiff read, “He used to have a Franklin penny on the floor and when you walked through his door you had to bang that penny!”

What makes a person a hermit varies. Romance is one reason: Perley Swett fled society in anger over her divorce settlement, according to a 2020 article in New Hampshire Magazine. Finances can be a part of it, but not always; voluntarily becoming a hermit is different from being forced by circumstance to roam.

“Sometimes people have this idea that hermits are poor people, but it’s still true,” Brown said.

Jarvis Smith at Mount Vernon took issue with stories that a sour love life had driven him into the woods, but two reprinted articles on Brown’s blog say he would give no further reason. The stories focus on Smith’s eccentric demeanor, including entertaining visitors to the big city – Mount Vernon was a summer hotel destination in the 1920s – by burning his mustache.

A 1906 article in Augusta, Georgia, Chronicle put it this way: “After dipping a piece of wood in kerosene oil and igniting it, it begins to work. With a lit torch in one hand and the other as a “fire extinguisher,” he burns one side of his face, then the other. … While he cuts it about as close as the average man does with a razor, he gets burned very rarely.

He started the practice, the article says, because it was too dangerous to shave with a straight razor.

Perley Smith was the last hermit Brown knew until stories about River Dave popped up. She doesn’t know if there are fewer hermits these days, perhaps because of better record keeping on properties, or if they are just more secret. She would like to know more about all the cases.

“My interest in hermits goes back to the first year,” said Brown. “A child called my father a hermit and I hit him. I didn’t even know what that meant.

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Lois Mendez

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