Growing up in Newburyport, Massachusetts in the 1790s, Sarah Anna Emery’s mother recalled some of the most important events and colorful stories of her age. But in addition to recalling the major events, she also recorded that the town also had its share of historic characters, complete with human foibles, frailties and frivolous natures.
Three such gentlemen were Foony Gerrish the wigmaker, Bumblebee Titcomb the carpenter and Rhymer Toppan, which she recalled in her Remeniscenes of a Nonagenarian:
“Foony Gerrish, a wig maker, often became the jest of the populace. Though illiterate, he evinced a desire to rank amongst the educated. On one occasion a person in the bar room of the “Wolfe Tavern” perceiving him seemingly intent upon perusing a newspaper which was held bottom upward, inquired, “What is the news, Mr. Gerrish?” Terrible gales,” hurriedly returned the old man, “terrible gales, ships all bottom upwards.” Wishing to be thought a man of business Foony bought a ledger. That morning he sold a wig, for which, much to the purchaser’s astonishment, he declined to take payment, “he would charge it.” At night he detained one of the young clerks in the neighborhood to note it down. Having written the date the young man inquired the name of the debtor. Foony looked puzzled, scratched his head, he “never thought to inquire the name,” but after a moment’s deliberation he added, “Never mind, put it down, one wig to a man that looked like an Amesbury man.” Whether Foony received the price of the wig from this dubiously described individual I am unable to state.
“Another notoriety was “Bumble Bee Titcomb,” a carpenter by trade. While at work at his bench a bumblebee lighted near his hand. Mr. Titcomb raised his hatchet, ejaculating, “Now, old fellow, your end has come! Say your prayers, for death is nigh. One, two, three strike !” Down went the hatchet, cutting off the end of Mr. Titcomb’s thumb, while the bumblebee, having flown up and stung the end of his nose, buzzed exultantly away through the open door. Ever after the carpenter was known th.oughout the town as “Bumble Bee Titcomb.”
“Another of the celebrities of the town was Mr. Enoch Toppan, commonly called “Rhymer Toppan,” as he was never at a loss for a rhyme. One day, at the market house, Mr. James Carey and Mr. Richard Adams laid a wager respecting Mr. Toppan’s instantly returning an answer in rhyme. Mr. Toppan was across the square. From the steps of the market house Mr. Carey sang out, “Mr. Toppan, so they say, buys his meat and never’ll pay.” To which was responded, “Jimmy Carey, if that be true, I’ll always have my meat of you.” Mr. Carey was obliged to “stand treat.”
Source: Sarah Anna Emery of Newburyport in 1879 published the memoirs of her mother, Sarah Smith Emery, in her Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian.