For the late David McCullough, the South Shore has become his home

HINGHAM — Author David McCullough calls many places home: Pittsburgh, where he was born. Washington, DC, where he worked for American Heritage magazine and wrote his first books. Martha’s Vineyard and Boston’s Back Bay, where he wrote more, and won two Pulitzer Prizes. And then he moved to Hingham.

McCullough and his beloved wife Rosalee were familiar with the South Shore when they bought a beautiful 1799 frame house in Hingham and moved there in late 2016. Hingham was already home, in a way: three of their five children were living in town with their families at the time. In years past, McCullough stopped in the elementary school classrooms of his then-grandchildren. He spoke to students and teachers at Hingham High assemblies, as he continued to do after he and Rosalee became residents of the town.

McCullough died on Sunday August 7 in Hingham, according to his publisher, Simon & Schuster. He died less than two months after Rosalee.

2017: At home in Hingham, McCullough is writing his next book

After:Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCollough, Hingham resident, dies aged 89

McCullough became a familiar figure around Quincy in the late 1990s as he completed his research and wrote for his 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams, our second president. He spent a lot of time at the Adams National Historic Site and he researched the other places where John and Abigail lived. On one such excursion, he stood on the shore of Quincy Bay, imagining the scene in 1778 where Adams and his young son John Quincy took a skiff to a frigate that carried them to France, where Adams would negotiate the crucial wartime alliance of the Continental Congress.

After his best-selling “John Adams” was published, he told local audiences that Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 – the model for the American Constitution – at his first home in Quincy, on present-day St. Franklin. He relished the pointing in that direction, adding, “And he did it right there.”

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In the years that followed, he attended birthday ceremonies for Adams and his presidential son at the United First Parish Unitarian Church, “the church of presidents” at Quincy Center. He spoke at a fundraiser for the Thomas Crane Public Library. He made his last appearance in the city in September 2018, at the dedication of the new Hancock-Adams Common.

Speaking of Adams, John Hancock and other historical figures, McCullough said, “If they’re not forgotten, they’re not gone.”

In a 2017 Patriot Ledger interview, McCullough said a visit to his newly purchased home in Hingham and Rosalee inspired him to put together the lectures and speeches for his “The American Spirit” collection. As they strolled through the yard in early 2016, as renovations continued, he reflected on the bitter presidential campaign already underway between Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

David McCullough, Hingham resident, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, has died aged 89.

He said he hoped the compact volume would speak “to the best spirit of the American people.” The collection was released in the spring of 2017, months after Trump’s shock victory. It turned out to be his comment on the nation’s four-year test of democracy.

As he and Rosalee settled into life in Hingham, McCullough said he relished being able to walk to his hair salon and Hingham Harbour. When he explored his own family history, he was delighted to discover that five of his ancestors had lived in Hingham centuries earlier, before traveling west. “I’ve come full circle,” he said.

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He finished his last book at Hingham.

“The Pioneers” is a story of America’s first expansion, into the former Northwest Territory created by Congress in 1787. McCullough liked to talk to visitors about the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, a North Shore minister who played a crucial role in passing the legislation, and on the settlers who built the eastern Ohio towns, which he said resembled the Massachusetts towns they had left behind.

He wrote “The Pioneers” in a small cottage-style building the McCulloughs added behind the house. McCullough worked in the back corner of the book-lined back room, composing the first draft on his beloved Royal 1940 typewriter. He wrote the biography of ‘John Adams’ and all his other books on the Royal, which he bought secondhand when he was 32. He joked that if he stopped using it, “it would stop writing my books”.

Writer and historian David McCullough appears at his Martha's Vineyard home in West Tisbury, Mass., May 12, 2001. McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly crafted stories on topics ranging from the bridge of Brooklyn to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him one of the most popular and influential historians of his time, Hingham died Sunday.  He was 89 years old.

He was also a talented watercolorist and pen and ink artist. Some of his works decorate the house. He loved to sing the Great American Songbook standards from memory and was delighted to gather his children and grandchildren on the expansive back porch. To them, he wasn’t the Pulitzer-winning author who addressed a joint session of Congress in 1989, hosted the PBS series “The American Experience,” and narrated the Civil War film series of Ken Burns. He was the attentive grandfather who always had a question for them, about school, their graduate work, and the podcast one of them had started. (For which he was the first interview.)

Those who knew McCullough well knew that was who he had always been. The public author and the private man were one, good-humored, gracious, generous of spirit. (He always called Rosalee “my editor.”) He was a Yale graduate and a strong advocate for public libraries, public education, and the study of history—because, as he often said, if we don’t know our history, we don’t know who we are. Scrupulously non-partisan throughout his long career as an American man of letters, he broke his silence in 2016 to denounce Trump as a dangerous demagogue. He celebrated Joe Biden’s election in 2020 as a hopeful return to the country he loved.

Writer and historian David McCullough died in Hingham on Sunday.  He was 89 years old.

Shortly after Trump’s election, he worried that American citizens had become “a nation of spectators” with little interest in their history.

“History matters,” he said. “It is essential to understand the history of our nation, the good and the bad, the great achievements and the shenanigans. And much of our story has yet to be told.

It was McCullough’s story, as long as he could tell it

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