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Nahum Capen

Page history last edited by John Healey 12 years, 2 months ago

Nahum Capen, ca. 1884 (History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts


Nahum Capen1


Nahum Capen was born in Canton on April 1, 1804.  His father was Andrew Capen, clerk and one of the original “proprietors” of the Canton Social Library, a successor of a “library company” started in 1766 by local resident Elijah Dunbar.  Nahum showed a tendency towards literary pursuits at an early age, as a portion of his remarks reveal when he presented a number of volumes to the Canton Public Library in 1884, noting that…”the Town Library of Canton, a small but choice selection of books, was kept at my father’s house seventy years ago, and furnished a portion of my early reading which I cannot forget.” 


Nahum became a publisher and bookseller and established Boston’s Marsh, Capen & Lyon with a branch in Concord, N.H.  His early intentions to become a physician having been foiled by delicate health, Capen became interested in theology, the history of religious sects, phrenology and metaphysics.  He investigated the nature and condition of man, and devoted himself to the study of biology and the investigation of the problems of government. Capen enjoyed a wide acquaintance with the distinguished men of his day and he wrote, revised, edited and published the works and papers of many leading scholars and politicians, many of whom refused to place their papers in the hands of any other person and gave him full authority to alter or omit inaccuracies. 


Capen was an unwavering Democrat who supported the abolition of slavery “whenever it could be accomplished without violating the Constitution or endangering the Union” and was a frequent contributor to the public press of the country on all subjects scientific, literary and political.  In 1849 he declined the office of the superintendent of the census but was made Postmaster of the city of Boston in 1857—an office he neither sought nor wished to accept.  His four years as Postmaster, however, included more improvements in service than had been made thus far in that century, including free daily home delivery and the introduction of the outside letter box collection system. 


The degree of Doctor of Laws was conferred upon him in 1874 by Washington and Lee University of Virginia.  His life-work was a planned 4 volume work entitled The History of Democracy, or the Political Progress Historically Illustrated from the Earliest to the Latest Period only the first volume of which saw publication before his death on January 9, 1886 at 82 years of age.





History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts by D.H. Hurd, p. 957-960. 


History of the Town of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, by Daniel T. V. Huntoon, p. 224, 572.


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