History of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1635–1699
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The history of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1635–1699, begins with the first settlers' arrival in 1635 and runs to the end of the 17th century. The originally settlers, who built their village on land the native people called Tiot, incorporated the plantation in 1636. The sought to build a community in which all would live out Christian love in their daily lives, and for a time did, but the Utopian impulse did not last. The system of government they devised was both "a peculiar oligarchy" and a "a most peculiar democracy." Most freemen could participate in Town Meeting, though they soon established a Board of Selectmen. Power and initiative ebbed and flowed between the two bodies.
The settlers then undertook the difficult task of establishing a church, drafting its doctrinal base, and selecting a minister. In early days nearly every resident was a member but, seeking a church of only "visible saints," membership declined over time. Though the "half-way covenant" was proposed in 1657 and endorsed by the minister, the congregation rejected it.
Population grew from about 200 people in early days to around 700 by 1700, with land being distributed according to rank and family size. Though it was given out sparingly in general, lands were also awarded in return for service to the church and the community. The town remained insular during the early years, with the community remaining self contained. With a small population, a simple and agrarian economy, and the free distribution of large tracts of land, there was very little disparity in wealth.
As the town grew, new towns broke off from Dedham, beginning with Medfield in 1651. With the division and subdivision of so many communities, Dedham has been called the "Mother of Towns." Of towns founded during the colonial era, Dedham is one of the few towns "that has preserved extensive records of its earliest years." This has enabled historians to date the Fairbanks House as the oldest tinder house in America and Mother Brook as the first man-made canal in America. It also establishes the Dedham Public Schools as the first public school in the country.
In 1635 there were rumors in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that a war with the local Indians was impending and a fear arose that the few, small, coastal communities that existed were in danger of attack. This, in addition to the belief that the few towns that did exist were too close together, prompted the Massachusetts General Court to establish two new inland communities. On May 6, 1635, the General Court granted permission to residents of Watertown to set off and establish new towns. One group, led by Rev. Thomas Hooker, left and founded Hartford, Connecticut and another, led by Simon Willard, left to found Concord, Massachusetts. Together, Dedham and Concord they helped relieve the growing population pressure and placed communities between the larger, more established coastal towns and the Indians further west.
It was not until the following March, however, that the General Court ordered that the bounds of what would become Dedham be mapped out. The committee appointed to do so reported back in April, but the date the grant was awarded to the original proprietors has been lost to history. The original grant was for about 3.5 square miles (9.1 km2) on the northeast side of the Charles River, including what is today Newton and land on the other shore the makes up roughly half of present day Dedham, Needham, Westwood, and Dover. The order came after twelve men[a] petitioned the General Court for a tract of land south of the Charles River.
Those men, plus seven others, made a second petition on August 29, 1636 for additional land on both sides of the river. One of the additional men was Robert Feake, the husband of Elizabeth Fones, the widow of John Winthrop's son, Henry. Feake only ever attended three meetings, all of them in Watertown, and there is no record that he ever set foot in Dedham. He was presumably recruited for his political influence and has granted a farm lot in addition to his house lot in return.
Neither the settlers nor the General Court knew exactly how much land they were requesting, or granting. The petition was for all the land south of the Charles River, but maps from the early 1630s show the river ending somewhere near modern day Dedham. It had never been explored by colonial settlers beyond that point. Instead, the colony gave them over "two hundred square miles of virgin wilderness, complete with lakes, hills, forests, meadows, Indians, and a seemingly endless supply of rocks and wolves." There were a number of surveys undertaken over the years, beginning with one in 1638 undertaken by John Rogers and Jonathan Fairbanks, but the issue was not settled until the United States Supreme Court took up a case in 1846 that involved a dispute between the border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In the second petition, the settlers asked the General Court to incorporate the plantation into a town, and to free the town from all "Countrey Charges," or taxes, for four years and from all military exercises unless "extraordinary occasion require it." The General Court granted only a three-year reprieve from taxes.
They also asked to "distinguish our town by the name of Contentment" but when the "prosaic minds" in the Court granted the petition on September 7, 1636 they decreed that the "towne shall beare the name of Dedham." The earliest records of the settlement, before the General Court settled on Dedham, all use the name Contentment. Tradition holds that John Rodgers or John Dwight, both signers of the petition seeking the establishment of the town, asked the Court to name it after their hometown in England of Dedham, Essex. "Contentment" eventually became the motto of the town. Many of the other yeomen settling the new Dedham in the Massachusetts Bay Colony came from Suffolk, in eastern England.
The original grant stretched from the southwestern border of what is today Boston but was then Roxbury and Dorchester to the Rhode Island and Plymouth Colony borders. To the west were ungranted lands. The less than 100 Indians who lived on the land sold it for a small sum. Early settlers gave places names such as Dismal Swamp, Purgatory Brook, Satan's Kingdom, and Devil's Oven.
Landing and first settlement
Dedham was settled in the summer of 1636 by "about thirty families excised from the broad ranks of the English middle classes," largely from Yorkshire and East Anglia. Only five signers of the covenant were university graduates, but many more would be called upon to serve the town, the church, and the colony.[c] As Puritans, they came to Massachusetts in order to live and worship as they pleased.
They traveled up the Charles River from Roxbury and Watertown in rough canoes carved from felled trees. These original settlers, including Edward Alleyn, John Everard, John Gay and John Ellis "paddled up the narrow, deeply flowing stream impatiently turning curve after curve around Nonantum until, emerging from the tall forest into the open, they saw in the sunset glow a golden river twisting back and forth through broad, rich meadows." In search of the best land available to them they continued on but
The river took many turns, so that it was a burden the continual turning about. ... West, east, and north we turned on that same meadow and progressed none, so that I, rising in the boat, saw the river flowing just across a bit of grass, in a place where I knew we had passed through nigh an hour before. "Moore," said Miles then to me, "the river is like its Master, our good King Charles, of sainted memory, it promises overmuch, but gets you nowhere."
They first landed where the river makes its "great bend," near what is today Ames Street, and close by the Dedham Community House and the Allin Congregational Church in Dedham Square. The site is known as "the Keye," and in 1927 a stone bench and memorial plaque were installed on the site.
Like its surrounding communities, Dedham's early culture was much like the English villages where its original settlers were born and small agricultural communities all over Europe. A number of the customs and institutions in the town were direct transplants from contemporary English villages. However, as a settlement of English Puritans who escaped oppression to settle in the wilderness, "Dedham was peculiarly American."
It was originally intended to be a Utopian society along the lines of the later Amana Colonies, Oneida Community, and Brook Farm. In "its first years, the town was more than a place to live; it was a spiritual community." Its distinctive characteristics created what has been described as a "Christian Utopian Closed Corporate Community":
Christian because they saw Christian love as the force which would most completely unite their community. Utopian because theirs was a highly conscious attempt to build the most prefect possible community, as perfectly united, perfectly at peace, and perfectly ordered as man could arrange. Closed because its membership was selected while outsiders were treated with suspicion or rejected altogether. And Corporate because the commune demanded the loyalty of its members, offering in exchange privileges which could be obtained only through membership, not the least of which were peace and good order.
Each of the original settlers pledged to live out Christian love in their daily lives. Each was also expected to be united in this love as it was designed to bring about a deep and abiding peace throughout the whole community. Inquiries could also be made into the private lives of townsmen, and adjustments ordered when a resident's life was not as virtuous as the community felt it should be.
None who were not committed to this ideal were to be admitted as townsmen and, if the need arose, they were to be expelled. The commitment in the Covenant to allow only like-minded individuals to live within the town explains why "church records show no instances of dissension, Quaker or Baptist expulsions, or witchcraft persecutions."[d] The Covenant was intended to extend beyond the lifetimes if those who wrote it and to be binding upon all residents in perpetuity.
The poor would be helped if they were residents of Dedham, but sent away if they were not. In addition to paying taxes, each man was expected to labor on communal projects several days each month. Every year, six days were set aside to work on roads and each man was expected to work four of them. Townsmen also took turns serving in a variety of low level offices, including constable, hog reeve, or fence viewer.
This did not mean communism as the settlers subscribed to the Puritan belief of a natural inequality among men as being divine providence. Still, the relative economic equality kept social rank to a minimum and helped maintain social harmony. Men could live their entire lives in this community among their equals and on their own land. This was, according to one commentator, the "plan of the society [John] Winthrop hoped to construct in Massachusetts was the plan of Dedham writ large."
The Utopian impulse did not last, however, and "the policies of perfection" no longer dominated just 50 years after the establishment of the community. By the 1640s the town began permitting residents to fence in their strips of land in the common field and, presumably, to grow whatever crop they wanted in it. By reducing and eventually eliminating the common field system, it reduced the number of interactions each farmer had with his neighbors and made one less decision they had to make and employ in common.
By about 1660, not every newcomer to town was invited to sign the Covenant making them "by implication second class citizens." Laws that restricted the presence of strangers were rarely enforced after 1675.[e] Eventually, as some men grew richer, they were able to hire substitutes to serve in their place on communal projects or to serve in office for them.
Also around this time evidence of the "loving spirit" proclaimed in the Covenant "came to be conspicuous by [its] absence." Records of open dissent began appearing, first about seating placements in the meetinghouse. The number of yea and nay votes also began being recorded where previously decisions were made by consensus. As the century progressed, residents were also more likely to use the court system to settle disputes, which was previously unheard of, than they were to go use the arbitration method laid out in the covenant.
By 1686, much of the overt Utopian spirit the founders had instilled 50 years prior had been destroyed. By the end of the first century, public disagreements seemed to be the rule rather than the exception and decisions were made by majority, not consensus. The Covenant was no longer enforced nor served as the guide for every decision by the time the town reached its 50th anniversary. That it lasted well into the second generation was, according to one commentator, "longer than anyone had a right to expect." Still, the town remained small and slow growing, with little change to institutional structures or traditional views.
By 1675, taxpayers paid more the county and colony than they did to the town, reflecting a growing importance of the regional bodies and the cost of the colony expanding westward. After 1691, as the county grew more powerful, the town began more closely following the law lest they get fined.
The colonial settlers met for the first time on August 18, 1636 in Watertown. By September 5, 1636, their number grew from 18 at the first meeting to 25 proprietors willing to set out for the new community. By November 25th, however, so few people had actually moved to Dedham that the proprietors voted to require every man to move to Dedham permanently by the first day of the following November or they would lose the land they had been granted. A few young men without families set off to spend the winter there, including Nicholas Phillips, Ezekiel Holliman, and likely Ralph Shepard, John Rogers, Lambert Genere, Joseph Shaw, and the Morses.
For the first fifty years of Dedham's existence, it enjoyed a stable, tranquil government. The town elected a group of wealthy, experienced friends as Selectmen and then heeded their judgement. It also adopted a clause in the covenant that mandated mediation, which supported stability of the society. There was not so much a system of checks and balances so much as there was system where each individual voluntarily restrained himself.
Due to its unique features it was both "a peculiar oligarchy" in that only a few men were chosen for political office and "a most peculiar democracy" in that laws of suffrage changed frequently both to restrict and to expand the franchise.
While the first settlers were subject to the General Court, they had wide latitude to establish a local government as they saw fit. The first public meeting of the plantation was held on August 18, 1636.[f] A total of 18 men were present, and the town covenant was signed. It was a diverse group and included husbandmen, wool-combers, farriers, millers, linen weavers, and butchers. Many of them barely knew each other. Eventually 125 men would ascribe their names to the document.[g]
The covenant outlined both the social ideal they hoped to achieve and the policies and procedures they would use to reach it. As the Covenant stipulated that "for the better manifestation of our true resolution herein, every man so received into the town is to subscribe hereunto his name, thereby obliging both himself and his successors after him forever." They swore they would "in the fear and reverence of our Almighty God, mutually and severally promise amongst ourselves and each to profess and practice one truth according to that most perfect rule, the foundation whereof is ever lasting love."
They also agreed that "we shall by all means labor to keep off from us all such as are contrary minded, and receive only such unto us as may be probably of one heart with us, [and such] as that we either know or may well and truly be informed to walk in a peacable conversation with all meekness of spirit, [this] for the edification of each other in the knowledge and faith of the Lord Jesus ..." It was not to be a theocracy, however, as colonial law prohibited clergy from serving as civil officers. The church and the civil society were largely separate institutions.
Before a man could join the community he underwent a public inquisition to determine his suitability. Every signer of the Covenant was required to tell all he knew of the other men and if a lie was uncovered the man who spoke it would be instantly excluded from town.
While great effort was taken to ensure disagreements were resolved before they grew into disputes, the covenant also stipulated that differences would be submitted to between one and four other members of the town for resolution. They "eschew[ed] all appeals to law and submit[ted] all disputes between them to arbitration. This arbitration system was so successful there was no need for courts.[h] The same system was used to resolve disputes with other towns.
It was also expected that once a decision was made that all would abide by it with no further dissent or debate. For the first fifty years of Dedham's existence, there were no prolonged disputes that were common in other communities. They also agreed to pay their fair share for the common good.
The town meeting "was the original and protean vessel of local authority. The founders of Dedham had met to discuss the policies of their new community even before the General Court had defined the nature of town government." The early meetings were informal, with all men in town likely participating. Attendance at Meetings was considered vital for the life of the community. The meeting operated on a basis of consensus.
created principles to regulate taxation and land distribution; it bought land for town use and forbade the use of it forever to those who could not pay their share within a month; it decided the number of pines each family could cut from the swamp and which families could cover their house with clapboard. The men who went to that town meeting hammered out the abstract principles under which they would live and regulated the most minute details of their lives. The decisions they made then affected the lives of their children and grandchildren.
Just as the selectmen did, they enacted bylaws, appointed special committees, and granted small favors to individual residents. It was typically the meeting to voted to accepted new residents to live within the town and appointed lower officers. Votes were generally not recorded and decisions were made by consensus.
It was often the case that even after "meetings [had] been agreed upon and times appointed accordingly" many townsmen would still arrive late to the meeting and those who arrived promptly "wasted much time to their great damage." To discourage tardiness the town set fines in 1636 of one shilling for arriving more than half an hour after the "beating of the drum" and two sixpence shilling if a member was completely absent. In 1637 those fines increased to twelve pence for being late and three shillings and four pence for not arriving at all.
The more wealthy a voter was, the more likely he would attend the meeting. However, "even though no more than 58 men were eligible to come to the Dedham town meeting and to make the decisions for the town, even though the decisions to which they addressed themselves were vital to their existence, even though every inhabitant was required to live within one mile (1.6 km) of the meeting place, even though each absence from the meeting brought a fine, and even though the town crier personally visited the house of every latecomer half an hour after the meeting had begun, only 74 percent of those eligible actually showed up at the typical town meeting between 1636 and 1644."
A colony law required all voters to be Church members until 1647, though it may not have been enforced. Even if it were, 70% of the men in town would have been eligible to participate. The law changed in 1647 and, as it was interpreted in Dedham, all men over 24 were eligible to vote.
The colony added a new requirement that a man must own taxable property of at least 20 pounds in 1658, and increased that sum to 80 pounds in 1670. The 1658 requirement reduced the number of voters from 91 to 83 members, and the 1670 increase had a grandfather clause allowing all those who previously were qualified to keep the franchise. Those not covered, however, may have to wait until they were 40 until they had accumulated enough wealth to earn the right to vote.
From 1648 to 1670, 60% to 90% of men had the right to vote. In 1686, only 25% of the taxpayers had an estate worth 80 pounds so, with those grandfathered in, only 50% of men could vote. In 1691, the property requirement was lowered back to 20 pounds bringing the percentage of men eligible to vote up from 40% to 70%.
In provincial elections, only church members could vote, limiting the share of men to 50% in 1662. The number continued to fall from there. While in many respects Dedham and Massachusetts society resembled England, the franchise was more widespread in the colony than it was in the mother country, as were the powers of local elected officials. Regardless of whether or not they were able to vote, records indicate that all men were able to attend and speak.
One needed to be present to vote, however. As some proprietors never moved to Dedham, they effectively gave up their say over how the Town would be run. Others, for whatever reason, chose not to attend. John Ellis attended meetings in Watertown but his name does not appear in the records as an attendee for nearly two years after moving to Dedham. Ezekiel Holliman felt he had been wronged by the Town and so boycotted the meetings in protest before selling his land and leaving town in July 1637.
|Year first elected||Selectman||Total years served|
The whole town would gather regularly to conduct public affairs, but it was "found by long experience that the general meeting of so many men ... has wasted much time to no small damage and business is thereby nothing furthered." In response, on May 3, 1639, seven selectmen were chosen "by general consent" and given "full power to contrive, execute and perform all the business and affairs of this whole town." The first board was established just a month after the ordination of church leaders, a process that was proceeded by every member of the church confessing their innermost thoughts, desires, and ambitions.
Though John Allin could not be elected due to his position as the minister, those who were were clearly very closely connected with him. Four of them,Edward Allen, Eleazer Lusher, John Luson, Robert Hinsdale, were founding members of the church. John Kingsbury was under the control of Allin's former pastor, George Phillips, and John Dwight would become Allin's business partner at the water mill. John Bachelor didn't have a direct link to Allin, but was probably elected due to his previously serving as a selectman in Watertown in 1636.
The leaders they chose "were men of proven ability who were known to hold the same values and to be seeking the same goals as their neighbors" and they were "invested with great authority." The empowering of several selectmen to administer the affairs of the town was soon seen by the whole colony to have great value, and after the General Court approved of it, nearly all towns began choosing selectmen of their own.
Soon the selectmen "enjoyed almost complete control over every aspect of local administration." They met roughly 10 times a year for formal sessions, and more often in informal subcommittees. When the Massachusetts Body of Liberties was adopted and recognized boards of selectmen for the first time, they granted them additional powers including the power to lay out roads, supervise education, and exercise social control.
They also served as a court, determining who had broken by-laws and issuing fines. Almost all townsmen would have to appear before them at one point or another during the year to ask for a swap of land, to ask to remove firewood from the common lands, or for some other purpose. In 1652 they were given responsibility for the school and held it until 1789 when a school committee was created.
In theory, the selectmen shared the power to appoint men to positions with the Town Meeting but they retained "a strong initiative" to act on their own. As the selectmen became more active, the Town Meeting became "essentially passive. It lacked initiative, its veto was quiescent," and its broad powers were not exercised. It was the selectmen who called for a gathering of the Town Meeting and they generally called very few. The board also prepared the agenda for the meeting, which gave them a degree of control over it.
The selectmen wrote most of the laws in the town and they levied taxes on their fellow townsmen. They could also approve expenditures. The selectmen were charged with deciding who sat where in the meetinghouse. When difficult problems arose, the selectmen would often appoint a special committee to look into the matter and report back.
If a man served three terms and met with the satisfaction of the community, he tended to stay on the board for many years following. In 1671, the board had 100 years of cumulative experience. During early years, roughly one in three men would serve as selectman at some point during their lives but, by 1736, fewer than one in six would.
Selectmen were "the most powerful men in town. As men, they were few in number, old, and relatively rich and saints of the church." It was not required that a man be wealthy to serve, but it improved his chances of getting elected. Even those who were among the wealthiest, however, still had lifestyles that were remarkably similar to those with less as the spectrum of wealth was narrow. Throughout the 17th century the selectmen, "particularly those elected again and again for ten or twenty years, owned considerably more land than the average citizen. Selectmen who served between 1640 and 1740 were almost always among the wealthiest 20 percent of the town. In any given year a majority of a particular board were among the richest 10%."
Men who were not members of the church were still allowed to hold town office. However, in light of the "high rate of admissions, the townsmen may have assumed that [they] would be members soon enough." A large majority of those who served were members, however.
The men chosen to serve were consistently sent back to serve multiple year-long terms on the board. Between 1637 and 1639 there were 43 different men chosen as selectmen; they served on average eight terms each. In that time period there were 10 men who served an average of 20 terms each. They made up only 5% of the population but filled 60% of the seats on the Board. An additional 15 men served an average of 10 terms each, filling 30% of the seats. These 15 usually left office only when they had an early death or they removed from town. If a man served more than three terms he could usually count on returning for many more.
The burdens of office could take up to a third of their time during busy seasons. They served without salary and came up through the ranks of lower offices. In return they became "men of immense prestige" and were frequently selected to serve in other high posts. During the 17th century, the selectmen were "an artificial aristocracy." Chances are either they or their fathers may have immigrated from England with slightly more wealth than average. Some helped write the covenant or helped convince the General Court to incorporate the plantation as a town. Their status as an aristocrat rested upon their status as a leader of a Utopian community, however, not because they had immense wealth.
Relationship between Town Meeting and Selectmen
While the Meeting soon appointed selectmen to handle most of the town's affairs, it was the meeting that created the Board and the Meeting could just as easily dissolve it. However, "its theoretical powers were for the most part symbolic" and "[f]ormal review of the acts and accounts of the executive was sporadic and at best perfunctory."
After creation of the Board of Selectmen, meetings were generally called only twice a year and usually did not stray far from the agenda prepared for them by the selectmen. In fact, the Meeting would often refer issues to the Selectmen to act upon or to "prepare and ripen the answer" to a difficult question. Town Meeting typically took on only routine business, such as the election of officers or setting the minister's salary, and left other business to the selectmen.
Though the Meeting gave "full power" to the Selectmen when they were first established, the Meeting periodically voted to either affirm, deny, or revise those powers. The Meeting would occasionally vote on the actions of the Selectmen, and choose to either approve or disapprove of them, but never overturned a substantive decision made by the board. In practice, they existed as a legislative veto of the selectmen's power. In the exercise of legislative, appointive, financial, judicial, and administrative power, the selectmen were the superior of town meeting.
In 1660, the Meeting voted against a motion to give the current Selectmen the same powers the previous board had and, to underscore their disapproval, then voted the entire Board out of office. It was the only time an entire board of seven selectmen was voted out. After Edmund Andros was deposed as administrator of the Dominion of New England on April 18, 1689 following news that James II of England was overthrown, the people of Dedham rejected every selectman who served during Andros' rule. Of the eight men who served from 1687 to 1689, only one would ever be returned to the board and he served only for a single year. Five new men, all of whom supported the 1689 Boston revolt and who had just a collective total of two years serving on the board, replaced those who had a total of 50 years service between them.
Town Meeting reasserts control
|Metric||1636 to 1686||1687 to 1736|
|Average turnover||1.88 of 7 (27%)||2 of 5 (40%)|
|Average recruitment of new selectmen||.7 of 7 (10%)||1.1 of 5 (22%)|
|New men recruited||35||55|
|Average terms served||7.6||4.8|
|Percent who serve more than 10 terms||35%||7%|
|Average cumulative experience of the board||55 years||25 years|
In the late 1600s and early 1700s, Town Meeting began to assert more authority and fewer decisions were left to the judgment of the selectmen. Over the course of 30–40 years, small innovations brought the initiative back to the meeting and away from the board. It brought back a balance of power between the two bodies which, in theory, had always existed, but which in practice had been tilted to the selectmen.
One of the most prominent ways they did so was by calling for more meetings. In the first 50 years of existence, town meetings were held on average about twice a year but by 1700 it was held four or five times each year. The agenda also grew longer and included an open ended item that allowed them to discuss any item they liked, and not just the topics the selectmen placed upon the warrant.
It also asserted more control over finances by appointing a treasurer, constables, and assessors, as well as authorizing every tax imposed. It also gave much greater scrutiny to the appropriations and revenues requested by the board. Town Meeting also began appointing a committee to audit the finances of the town each year beginning in 1726.
Following a practice that was sporadic beginning 1690, Town Meeting also regularly began electing a moderator after 1715 to preside. During the same time period, Town Meeting began appointing officials to handle duties that were previously left to the selectmen. Town Meeting also began writing and adopting by-laws, taking back a practice that had long been left to the selectmen.
By taking on small tasks, like granting favors to residents, and large ones, like deciding to expand the meetinghouse, the town meeting demonstrated a lack of confidence in their leaders. It also became increasing likely in the years following 1658 for incumbent selectmen to be voted out of office and for new men to be elected in their place. Despite this, Selectmen were still respected in the community and the selectmen still came from the ranks of wealthier residents, partly because they needed to have the free time to devote to the office.
The Board of Selectmen was originally created to take some of the workload off of the Town Meeting, but now the meeting was increasing the burden on itself. To resolve this problem, they began creating ad hoc committees to look into and resolve specific issues. The number of selectmen was also reduced from seven to five during this time.
|Year first elected||Town Clerk||Total years served|
Representation in the General Court
For 45 of the first 50 years of Dedham's existence, one of the 10 selectmen who served most often also served in "the one superior [the town] recognized, the General Court." In colonial Massachusetts, each town sent two deputies to the General Court each year. Three men, Joshua Fisher, Daniel Fisher, and Eleazer Lusher, virtually monopolized the post between 1650 and 1685.
Forming a church
On July 18, 1637, the Town voted to admit a group of very religious men that would radically change the course of the town's history. Led by John Allin, they included Michael Metcalf, Thomas Wight,[i] Robert Hinsdale, Eleazer Lusher, Timothy Dalton, and Allin's brother-in-law, Thomas Fisher. Dalton was invited to settle in "civil condition," but it was made clear he was not going to be made the town's minister over Allin. He and Thomas Carter quickly sold their land holdings and left town, Dalton to become a teaching officer in the church of what is today Hampton, New Hampshire, and Carter to the pulpit in Woburn, Massachusetts. Ezekiel Holliman, on the other hand, recognized that as a religious liberal that he was not going to be welcome in town and so moved to Rhode Island with Roger Williams.
While it was of the utmost importance, "founding a church was more difficult than founding a town." Meetings were held late in 1637 and were open to "all the inhabitants who affected church communion ... lovingly to discourse and consult together [on] such questions as might further tend to establish a peaceable and comfortable civil society ad prepare for spiritual communion." On the fifth day of every week they would meet in a different home and would discuss any issues "as he felt the need, all 'humbly and with a teachable heart not with any mind of cavilling or contradicting.'"
After they became acquainted with one another, they asked if "they, as a collection of Christian strangers in the wilderness, have any right to assemble with the intention of establishing a church?" Their understanding of the Bible led them to believe that they did, and so they continued to establish a church based on Christian love, but also one that had requirements for membership. In order to achieve a "further union," they determined the church must "convey unto us all the ordinances of Christ's instituted worship, both because it is the command of God ... and because the spiritual condition of every Christian is such as stand in need of all instituted ordinances for the repair of the spirit."
It took months of discussions before a church covenant could be agreed upon and drafted. The group established thirteen principles, written in a question and answer format, that established the doctrine of the church. Once the doctrinal base was agreed upon, 10 men were selected by John Allin, assisted by Ralph Wheelock, to seek out the "pillars" or "living stones" upon which the congregation would be based. They began to meet separately and decided six of their own number—Allin, Wheelock, John Luson, John Fray, Eleazer Lusher, and Robert Hinsdale—were suitable to form the church.[j]
John Hunting, who was new to the town, was also deemed acceptable, while one of the original 10, Edward Alleyn,[k] was considered a borderline case. Timothy Dalton had questions about Alleyn's activities in the Watertown church and Francis Austin cited personal "offenses and distastes" but, having been satisfactory addressed, Alleyn gained approval to proceed.
Two of the 10 were not found acceptable to be founders. Joseph Kingsbury, who was "stiff and unhumbled," went into a "distempered, passionate flying out upon one of the company" during his questioning. After that, Kinsbury and Thomas Morse, members of the original ten, agreed at the end of the discussions to suspend their candidacies for the time being. Anthony Fisher took some time to "see and be humbled" for the "pride and height of his spirit," but he was eventually accepted. Some further questions arose that could not be answered, however, and so his acceptance was rescinded.
The eight men found worthy submitted themselves to a conference of the entire community. The group was led by Allin and the church membership was essentially only members of his party until 1640.
Finally, on November 8, 1638, two years after the incorporation of the town and one year after the first church meetings were held, the covenant was signed and the church was gathered. Guests from other towns were invited for the event as they sought the "advice and counsel of the churches" and the "countenance and encouragement of the magistrates."
Only "visible saints" were pure enough to become members. A public confession of faith was required, as was a life of holiness. It was not good enough just to have been baptized, because then "papists, heretics, and many visible atheists that are baptized must be received." A group of the most pious men interviewed all who sought admission to the church. To become a member, a candidate must "pour out heart and soul in public confession" and subject every innermost desire to the scrutiny of their peers. All others would be required to attend the sermons at the meeting house, but could not join the church, nor receive communion, be baptized, or become an officer of the church.
Once the church was established, residents, whether or not they were members, would gather several times a week to hear sermons and lectures in practical piety. By 1648, 70% of the men and many of their wives, and in some cases the wives only, had become members of the Church. There were about 70 members in 1651.
Between the years of 1644 and 1653, 80% of children born in town were baptized, indicating that at least one parent was a member of the church. Servants and masters, young and old, rich and poor alike all joined the church. Non-members were not discriminated against as seen by several men being elected Selectmen before they were accepted as members of the church.
While in early years nearly every resident of the town was a member of the church, membership gradually slowed until only eight new members were admitted from 1653 to 1657. None joined between 1657 and 1662. By 1663, nearly half the men in town were not members, and this number grew as more second generation Dedhamites came of age. The decline was so apparent across the colony by 1660 that a future could be seen when a minority of residents were members, as happened in Dedham by 1670. It was worried that the third generation, if they were born without a single parent who was a member, could not even be baptized. The number of infant baptisms in the church fell by half during this period, from 80% to 40%.
To resolve the problem, an assembly of ministers from throughout Massachusetts endorsed a "half-way covenant" in 1657 and then again at a church synod in 1662. It allowed parents who were baptized but not members of the church to present their own children for baptism; however, they were denied the other privileges of church membership, including communion. Allin endorsed the measure but the congregation rejected it, striving for a pure church of saints.
Almost immediately after arriving, the group began holding prayer meetings and worship services under various trees around town. On January 1, 1638, the Town voted to construct a meetinghouse that was 36' by 20' and to be built using trees from Wigwam Plain. It was originally planned to be constructed on High Street, near the present day border with Westwood, but those who lived on East Street argued that it should be built more centrally. In July it was ordered to be built on an acre of land at the eastern end of Joseph Kingsbury's lot and Kingsbury was given another acre of land in return.
In August 1638, John Hayward and Nicholas Phillips were hired to gather thatch for the roof. Thomas Fisher also worked on the building, but died before his work was completed. In November, the Town began debating how much to pay his widow for the work that he did. It is unclear when the building was finished, but presumably was not complete before that November meeting.
An addition was ordered to be built in 1646, but the construction proceeded so slowly that town records quickly saw residents complaining. Also in 1648, the Town voted to plaster the interior but the work was never completed. In 1653, residents attempted to complete the work by inviting all residents to come together for a plastering party, but the effort was unsuccessful. The plastering was not completed until 1657.
A vote to purchase a bell was made in 1648, but a bell was not hung until February 1652. A year prior, on February 2, 1651, the Town sent Eleazer Lusher to Boston to purchase one six bells left to the Town of Boston in the will of Thomas Cromwell, a privateer operating under a commission from Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick. Francis Chickering put up £5.12 to pay for the bell, but was not quickly repaid. Lusher also arraigned for Daniel Pond to construct a frame to hang the bell from the north end of the meetinghouse, but Pond was not paid immediately for his work either. As a result of the bell being hung, the Town no longer needed to pay Ralph Day to beat a drum announcing the start of meetings.
Pond was also hired in December 1651 to add two windows to the back of the meetinghouse. The next month, a vote was taken to re-shingle the building and to fix its three doors. Pond built an additional gallery in 1659. In 1665, the walls were clapboarded and permanent seats were installed in the east gallery.
A new meetinghouse was built in 1673.
|Minister||Years of service|
John Phillips, though he was "respected and learned," was "unable to join the church as its first minister." He twice refused calls to settle in Dedham and instead went to the Cambridge church where Harvard College had recently been established. A "tender" search for a minister took an additional several months, and finally John Allin, who was the leader of the small group of church members, was ordained as pastor. John Hunting was selected as Ruling Elder over Ralph Wheelock, who also wanted the position. They were ordained on April 24, 1639.
Phillips left Cambridge at the end of 1639, however, and decided to come to Dedham after all. He quickly became unsatisfied in his new pulpit, however, and returned to his old church in England in October 1641.
As in England, Puritan ministers in the American colonies were usually appointed to the pulpits for life and Allin served for 32 years. He received a salary of between 60 and 80 pounds a year. When land was divided, his name was always at the top of the list and he received the largest plot. Towards the end of his life in 1671, Allin's health deteriorated and it became necessary to hire visiting ministers.
After Allin's death the pulpit went without a settled minister for a long stretch but he was eventually succeeded by William Adams. Adams was ordained on December 3, 1673 and served until his death in 1685. The church was without a minister from 1685 to 1692. It is assumed that several young men were offered the pulpit but declined it during those years.
At the end of 1691 the congregation voted to accept the half-way covenant and a new minister was found and installed the next year. That minister, Joseph Belcher, began preaching in the spring of 1692 and was installed on November 29, 1693. He remained in the pulpit until the autumn of 1721 until illness prevented him from preaching.
Though Allin's salary was donated freely by members and non-members alike his salary was never in arrears, showing the esteem in which the other members of the community held him. In the 1670s, as the Utopian spirit of the community waned, it became necessary to impose a tax to ensure the minister was paid.
|1637||31 men, plus their families|
|Late 1650s||150+ men, plus others|
On June 3, 1637, Ruth Morse was the first child born to white parents, John and Annis, in Dedham.
The average population during the 1600s was about 500 people making slightly larger than the average English village during the same time period. With people moving either in or out of town, nearly all growth came from births and all declines through deaths. The average age for first marriages was 25 for men and 23 for women, in contrast to the European average of 27 for men and 25 for women. Younger marriages resulted in more births. There were fewer deaths as well, partially due to Dedham being spared disease, famine, and extreme climate events that ravaged parts of Europe during this time.
By the 1650s, a variety of types of men were living in Dedham, including bachelors, family men, the well-to-do, and servants. Some bought land in town but never settled there, some left soon after arriving, either to other towns or back to England, and a few died before they could do much of anything.
Lifestyles of early settlers
Life in England
All the inhabitants shared "a latent spirit of rejection for the England they left behind." For some, it was primarily about religion, while others had economic, social, or political concerns.
England in the 17th century was mired in civil and social unrest. The cloth industry in East Anglia, whence many settlers hailed, was in a depression. The harvest failed three times in the decade preceding Dedham's founding and the plague was sweeping across the country. Poverty was rampant in England and society could not support the sheer numbers of poor and orphaned subjects. The colonies in North America were seen as a way to relieve some of the excess population pressure. Early settlers to New England also began sending back propaganda to the mother country encouraging others to emigrate.
The first settlers obtained title to the land from the Wampanoag people in the area for a small sum and began parceling out tracts of land. Thomas Bartlett was ordered to begin surveying the land at their very first meeting. By 1639, however, Bartlett had stopped performing the work, for which he was not paid, and a year later he sold his holdings in Dedham and left town.
Each man received tiny houselots in the village with additional strips of arable land, meadow, and woods. Each strip was located in a common field and the community decided which crop to grow and how to care for and harvest it. The common field method brought men into regular contact with one another and prevented farms from being established far from the village center.
The land was given sparingly, with no family given land than they could currently improve. Married men received 12 acres, four of which were swamp, while single men received eight, with three acres being swampland. Lands were also awarded in return for service to the church and the community, a practice that had long been established by the General Court.
Land was distributed according to several criteria. The first was the number of persons in the household. Servants were considered a part of a freeman's estate. Land was also given according to the "rank, quality, desert and usefulness, either in church of commonwealth" of the proprietor. Finally, it was thought that men who were engaged in a trade other than farming should have the materials needed to work and those who were able to improve more land should have that fact taken into account.
Twenty years after it was founded, only three percent of the land had been distributed, or 3,000 acres, with the rest being retained by the town. This was a deliberate choice not to award huge homesteads as happened in other towns, such as in Watertown. In 1657, there was still 125,000 acres remaining to be distributed to settlers.
Between 1656 and 1667, however, over 15,000 acres were allotted to townsmen. During the first 50 years of Dedham's existence, any man who lived there for 25 years could expect to receive between 50 and 500 acres, with 150 acres being the average. It was not a huge farmstead, but it afforded a degree of security to each family and allowed the next generation, including younger sons, to inherit enough land to have a successful farm of their own. It also made each farmer a potential yeoman. As early as 1690, much of the best land had already been claimed and a dividend in that year had to be canceled because the land was not worth the price of surveying.
First generation farmers could expect to pass on about 150 acres of land to their heirs. Second generation farmers could expect to pass on that much or even more between their inheritances and the dividends awarded by the town. As the generations grew, third generation farms in the early 1700s were about 100 acres. By the end of the 1700s, farmers could expect to inherit only about 50 acres of land, a plot not large enough to support a family.
Except for the lots where homes were built, all the land cultivated was in a common field. A common tillage field of 200 acres was laid out in 1643 and each man was assigned a specific length of fence to build to enclose it. As there is no record of clearing the land, it was probably used previously by the native population. Each man was also assigned a plot of land within the field to cultivate. Residents grew corn, beans, peas, and pumpkin. Later residents who acquired larger plots of land planted wheat, rye, barley, and oats.
On what was then called Dedham Island (today Riverdale) and along East Street were common feeding lands, or herd walks, for cattle, goats, and pigs. Another pasture was leased from Israel Stoughton along the banks of the Neponset River.
Most of the original settlers and early arrivals made Dedham their home for the rest of their days. Less than two percent of men in the town arrived in any given year and less than one percent left. Because of the low geographic mobility, the town became "a self-contained social unit, almost hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world." From 1648 to 1688 the number of family names in town decreased from 63 to 57. By this time a majority of residents could trace their ancestry back to one of 30 families who had been in Dedham since before 1648. This stability was a "typical, persistent, and highly important feature of Dedham's history." A century after settlement, immigration and emigration were still rare. Of every 10 men born in Dedham between 1680 and 1700, eight would die there. Perhaps no more than 10% left voluntarily, and they were typically wealthier and better connected.
Both the town and its inhabitants tried to avoid using the provincial court system. A man could expect to be involved in a civil suit no more than once in his life and criminal proceedings were virtually nonexistent. Land transactions in the 1600s were almost always between neighbors, or occasionally with someone in another town if the land in question was on the border.
While the settlers recognized the authority of the General Court they did not always follow its laws. Their taxes to the colony, which were usually half of what their assessment from the town, were always paid.
By 1681, residents were supposed to inform the selectmen of any worker who was expected to stay in town for more than two weeks, though the law was largely ignored.
From it's earliest days, Dedham was closed off to all unless the current residents explicitly welcomed someone in. Shortly after the town was incorporated, in November 1636, a loophole was closed to ensure that those who were not committed to the same ideals were not admitted as townsmen. The Town Meeting voted not to allow any land sales unless the buyer was already a resident of the town, or was approved by a majority of the other voters. Those who violated the law would have all their land confiscated.
The next year, on August 11, 1637, a total of 46 house lots had been laid out and it was voted to stop admitting new residents. As colonial law required all homes to be located close to one another, the town needed time to determine where new residents could be accommodated.
Just prior to the vote, however, several men who would have outsized influence on the future of the town would be admitted. They include John Allin, Michael Metcalf, Eleazer Lusher, and 9 others. The Town also voted to invite Peter Prudden and 15 or more of his followers to join them, but since Dedham was not geographically situated to become a center of commerce the invitation was declined.
Two decades after the plantation was begun, those who had done the hard work of first settling the land were worried that, as the town's population grew, their dividends of land would be diluted. On January 23, 1657, the growth of the town was further limited to descendants of those living there at the time. Newcomers could settle there, so long as they were like-minded, but they would have to buy their way into the community. Land was no longer freely available for those who wished to join.
All those currently living in the town would be awarded common rights based on their tax assessment. For every £18 they were assessed, residents were granted one cow common right. Each cow common right could be divided into 5 goat or sheep common rights. That provided for 447 common rights within the town and would serve as the basis for all new land distributions. When 22 townsmen felt they had not received a fair number of rights, an arbitration committee awarded them an additional 25, which were added to the original 447.
Henry Phillips, a former selectman, was so upset by his allotment that he took off and moved to Boston. Though he had received "better than average" dividends of land, he led a group of dissatisfied settlers in a rare public complaint. He brought his complaint before the General Court, which was an action even more rare in a community whose covenant called for disputes to be resolved by local mediation. Court appointed arbitrators awarded Phillips six additional cow commons. His co-litigants also got six additional cow commons and two sheep commons, and the church was awarded eight additional cow commons as well.
Four of the original proprietors, John Coolidge, Thomas Hastings, Thomas Bartlett, and Robert Feake, never made the move from Watertown to Dedham and quickly sold off their land holdings. Of those who did move to Dedham, several left fairly early on, though the reasons why are not always clear. Ezekiel Holliman almost certainly left for religious reasons after the arrival of the Allin party and the religious hard line they imposed on the church and the society. Timothy Dalton moved to Hampton to become the teaching officer in the church and he was soon followed by his brother, Philemon, along with Francis Austin, John Huggen, and Jeffery Mingey.[m]
Several moved to Weymouth. Abraham Shaw intended to move before his death, and his son Joseph did after selling off the remaining land holdings. In the next 12 months, Nicholas Phillips, Martin Phillips, Jonas Humphrey, John Rogers, and Ralph Shepard would all move there with him. Not everyone sold off their land in Dedham, however, and some were absentee landlords for many years after leaving town. With dissenters having moved on, there was an "aura of peace" that settled over the town for a generation.
Roughly a third of the early settlers would live in three different towns around New England in their lifetimes, but geographic mobility was much lower from 1650 to 1750.
With a small population, a simple and agrarian economy, and the free distribution of large tracts of land, there was very little disparity in wealth. Early residents had largely the same lifestyle and standard of living.
The 5% of men who paid the highest taxes during early years only owned 15% of the property. In contrast, the wealthiest 5% of men in nearby Boston controlled 25% of that town's wealth. No nobles or gentlemen settled in the town and impoverished "laborers" were so rare in a town with free land were nearly nonexistent. Even those who were able to garner slightly more wealth still lived the same lifestyle as those with less, including working their own fields.
In the early days anyone who might be considered poor was likely to be a sick widow, an orphan, or "an improvident half-wit." In 1690, the poorest 20% of the population owned about 10% of the property.
At least 85% of the population were farmers or, as they called themselves, "yeoman" or "husbandman." There were also those who served the farmers, including millers, blacksmiths, or cordwainers. Like in the English countryside, they were largely subsistence farmers who grew enough for their families but did not specialize in any cash crops or particular animals.
The first homes were all fairly similar, built with boards and stone fireplaces and chimneys. The hip roofs were covered with thatch. The first floor would have a living room and kitchen, and sleeping quarters could be reached by ladder in the garret above. One resident inventoried his belongings of the "needful things as every planter doth, or ought to provide to go to New England:" one iron pot, one kettle, one frying pan, one grid iron, two skillets, one spit, and wooden platters, dishes, spoons, and trenchers.
Later homes typically consisted of two to eight rooms with a few beds, chests, and chairs. Each person may own two changes of clothes plus a good suit or cloak, and a family may have a little silver or pewter. They typically would own a Bible, pots, pans, bowls, and bins. Outside of the house, in the barn or lean-to, would be agricultural tools and a few bushels of crops. For animals, one or two horses along with several cattle, pigs, and sheep were common.
Single people, including adult children of residents, were not allowed to live alone unless they had sufficient resources to set up their own household with servants. Each year, one day was set aside to assign young adult to other households as subordinates. The practice was intended to both keep up the family labor system that underpinned the local economy, and was to prevent the "sin and iniquity ... [that] are the companions and consequences of a solitary life."
The family labor system also kept young adults in their family homes longer than they might otherwise have been. Town and colony policies kept the value of a child's labor very high. Records show that children in Massachusetts Bay Colony whose fathers died early, leaving them an inheritance and thus the means to start their own households, married sooner than those whose parents lived longer. Nearly two-thirds of orphaned children married before the age of 25, compared to less than half of those with two living parents.
A 1693 colonial law allowed for outside labor to come into towns without their employers having to post prohibitively expensive bonds for them. If they remained in town for longer than three months without being "warned out" by the selectmen, they could remain as an inhabitant. The colony raised the limit from three months to one year in 1700.
Once warned out, an individual could be thrown out of town at any time or treated as a vagabond. Some stayed after being warned out. Others left on their own will or were thrown out. Many, however, were never warned out, especially children.
In 1681, there were 28 servants serving in 22 of the 112 households in town. Of them, all but four were children and 20 of the servants were white. There were ten boys, eight girls, two "Negro boys," two "Indian boys," one "lad," and one "English girl." There was also one man, one "Negro man," and two "maids." The servants in town, while they served in 20% of the households, made up only 5% of the population. Most of them soon became independent yeomen.
The importation of outside labor was rare, averaging about two people or families per year between 1650 and 1769. The selectmen allowed most, but not all, of the servants to stay for at least a year, but dictated the conditions by which they could stay.
Many of the children who lived in Dedham as servants may have been taken in partly out of charity. After King Phillip's War, there were a large number of orphaned children. With Dedham's strong ties to Deerfield, it is presumed that some of the children--white and Indian--were casualties of the war.
Servants were expected to be treated as members of the family. Residents did not want an outsider to come in to work for a specific family and then become a charity case that had to be supported by the entire town. Some households were required to post a bond for their servants. When the selectmen ordered them to go, Thomas Clap was forced to post his saw mill as security in case either of his maid servants should pose a charge to the town.
Upon the first accounting of all outside servants in 1681, a bond of £5 was usually set for white pre-pubescent children born in New England, £10 for foreign-born or enslaved children, and £20 for those old enough to bear children and create additional expenses for the town. There was no charge for families who promised to dismiss their child servants before they hit puberty. Those willing to adopt the children "as their own" did not have to pay a bond. White orphans of New England birth were cheaper because they could typically be expected to return to their home communities and families. Native children and those of African descent were likely to be enslaved, and thus to remain in town as adults, and thus higher bonds were required. The expense of adult servants made them rare, and held only by the wealthiest families.
Selectmen also had the authority to take children out of homes and put them to work in other households. If a household did not pay their full taxes, or if a household was not deemed efficient enough, children could be removed and placed in the homes of richer men. The "inconviencency and disorder" in Johyn MacCintosh's family, for example, was the basis for the selectman's order to MacCintosh to put one of his sons out to serve another family. When the father refused, the selectmen assigned the child to go to the home of Timothy Dwight.
Parishes, precincts, and new towns
As the town's population grew greater and greater, residents began moving further away from the center of town. Until 1682 all Dedhamites had lived within 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the meetinghouse and the trend towards people moving away began slowly.
In the 1670s, with each new dividend of land, farmers began taking shares close to their existing plots. This, along with special "convience grants" close by their existing fields, allowed townsmen to consolidate their holdings. A market for buying and selling land also emerged by which farmers would sell parcels further away from their main plots and buy land closer to them. When this began happening, residents first started moving their barns closer to their fields and then their homes as well. By 1686, homes coalesced in several outlying areas, pulling their owners away from the day-to-day life of the village center.
As the numbers further away grew they began to break off and form new towns beginning with Medfield in 1651 and followed by Needham in 1711, Bellingham in 1719 and Walpole in 1724. The separations were not without difficulty, however. When Medfield left there were disagreements about the responsibility for public debts and about land use. Wrentham settlers complained that those in the village center were keeping them in a state of colonial dependency before they incorporated as a separate community. After Walpole left, Dedham had just 25% of its original land area.
|Community||Year incorporated as a town||Notes|
|Medfield||1651||The first town to leave Dedham.|
|Natick||1659||Established as a community for Christian Indians.|
|Wrentham||1673||Southeast corner of town was part of the Dorchester New Grant of 1637.|
|Medway||1713||Separated from Medfield.|
|Stoughton||1726||Part of the Dorchester New Grant of 1637. Separated from Dorchester.|
|Sharon||1775||Part of the Dorchester New Grant of 1637. Separated from Stoughton.|
|Foxborough||1778||Part of the Dorchester New Grant of 1637.|
|Franklin||1778||Separated from Wrentham.|
|Canton||1797||Part of the Dorchester New Grant of 1637. Separated from Stoughton.|
|Dover||1836||Then known as Springfield, it became a precinct of Dedham by vote of Town Meeting in 1729; relegated to a parish the same year by the General Court. Created the Fourth Precinct by the General Court in 1748.|
|Norfolk||1870||Separated from Wrentham.|
|Norwood||1872||Created a precinct with Clapboard Trees (Westwood) in 1729. Became its own precinct in 1734.|
|Wellesley||1881||Separated from Needham|
|Millis||1885||Separated from Medfield.|
|Avon||1888||Part of the Dorchester New Grant of 1637. Separated from Stoughton.|
|Westwood||1897||Joined with South Dedham (Norwood) to create Second Precinct in 1729. Returned to First Precinct in 1734. In 1737 became Third Precinct. Last community to break away directly from Dedham.|
|Plainville||1905||Eastern section of town was part of the Dorchester New Grant of 1637. Separated from Wrentham.|
Relationship with native peoples
In April 1637, the Town voted to begin keeping watch to prevent Indian attacks. By May, however, they were lamenting the time and resources they were spending on patrols. A delegation was sent to Watertown to ask Thomas Cakebread to move`to Dedham "upon good consideration of his knowledge of martial affairs." Just a year later, however, the new town of Sudbury enticed him to move there by granting him a monopoly on the milling business in town.
New settlements, which grew into separately incorporated towns, were established for several reasons, including to serve as a buffer between the native peoples and the village of Dedham. Medfield and Wrentham, which broke away from Dedham, each suffered at least one Indian raid during the 17th century that would have otherwise struck the mother town. Dedham itself had served as a buffer in its own time between native peoples and the population centers along the coast, as well as against the freethinking followers of Roger Williams.
In 1660, Timoty Dwight and Richard Ellis negotiated as agents of the town with King Phillip for title to the land today known as Wrentham, Massachusetts in 1660. They purchased six square miles of land for 24 pounds, six shillings. In November 1669, Phillip offered to sell additional lands. Dwight and four others were appointed to negotiate with him again, provided Phillip could prove he, and not another sachem, had the rights to the land.
During King Phillip's War, men from Dedham went off to fight and several died. Plymouth Colony governor Josiah Winslow and Captain Benjamin Church rode from Boston to Dedham to take charge of the 450 soldiers assembling there and together departed on December 8, 1675 for the Great Swamp Fight. The Battle of Bloody Brook took place in is today Deerfield, on land granted to settlers by the colony in return for land taken for Eliot and his Christian Indians.
In the middle of the 17th century the Reverend John Eliot converted many of the native people in the area to Christianity and taught them how to live a stable, agrarian life. He converted so many that the group needed a large portion of land on which they could grow their own crops. Allin assisted Elliot in his work, and it is probably through his influence that Dedham agreed to give up 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of what is today Natick to the "praying Indians in 1650."
In return, Dedham expected the Indians to settle only on the northern bank of the Charles River, not to set any traps outside their grant, and give up all claims to any land elsewhere in Dedham. The natives, who did not hold the same notions of private property as the English colonizers, settled on the south side of the river and set traps within the bounds of Dedham. Disputes began arising in 1653, and compromise, arbitration, and negotiation were all attempted.
In 1661, Dedham gave up attempts at friendly solutions and took their indigenous neighbors to court, suing for title to the land the Indians were inhabiting. The case centered around the Indians' use of a tract of land along the Charles River. The native people claimed they had an agreement to use the land for farming with the Town Fathers, but Dedham officials objected. While the law was on the side of the town, Elliot made a moral argument that the group had a need for land of their own.
The case eventually went before the General Court who granted the land in question to the Indians and, in compensation for the land lost, gave another 8,000 acres (32 km2) in what is today Deerfield, Massachusetts to the Dedham settlers. The town's actions in the case were characterized by "deceptions, retaliations, and lasting bitterness" and they harassed their native neighbors with petty accusations event after the matter was settled.
While both the Charles River and the Neponset River ran through Dedham and close by to one another, both were slow-moving and could not power a mill. With an elevation difference of 40 feet (12 m) between the two, however, a canal connecting them would be swift-moving. In 1639 the town ordered that a 4000-foot ditch be dug between the two so that one third of the Charles' water would flow down what would become known as Mother Brook and into the Neponset. Abraham Shaw would begin construction of the first dam and mill on the Brook in 1641 and it would be completed by John Elderkin, who later built the first church in New London, Connecticut.
It is estimated that each family would burn enough wood in a year to clear cut four acres of land. With the memory of the social unrest that happened in Boston when they cleared nearly every tree in that town within three years of its founding, restrictions upon cutting trees on public and unallotted lands were strictly enforced. Preserving these trees became "one of the first conservation projects in New England.
The Old Avery Oak Tree, named for Dr. William Avery, stood on East Street for several centuries. The builders of the USS Constitution once offered $70 to buy the tree, but the owner would not sell. The Avery Oak, which was over 16' in circumference, survived the New England Hurricane of 1938 to be toppled by a violent thunderstorm in 1973; the Town Meeting Moderator's gavel was carved out of it.
Swamps, bogs, and meadows
Owners of swampland were required to drain them. Doing so served several purposes. First, it deprived dangerous wild animals of a habitat. Secondly, it made it easier to cut down the trees on the land at a time when lumber was in high demand for building projects and for burning. Clearing the swamp turns it into a bog, and draining a bog turns it into a meadow. Meadowland was in high demand to raise cattle, and the rich meadows along the Charles River were a major factor in choosing the location to settle in the first place.
The General Court had awarded 300 acres to Samuel Dudley along the northeast border of town, between East Street (which was part of an ancient Indian trail) and the river. Four men, Samuel Morse, Philemon Dalton, Lambert Genere, and John Dwight, purchased the meadowland from Dudley for £20. With an immediate need for more meadows, the Town purchased it from them for £40, doubling their initial investment. The land came to be known as Purchase Meadows and was divided into herdwalks for use by the residents of the various districts.
A road, today known as Needham Street, was laid out along the banks of the Charles River in 1645, but was frequently washed out or flooded. The road brought farmers from their homes in the village to the planting field at Great Plain, in what is today Needham. In addition to washing out the road, the waters would also frequently would flood the "broad meadow," further limiting needed pasture.
It was discovered that the river, which runs due east for many miles, suddenly took a turn southeast, then north, and then northwest, at which point it flowed close by to where it originally turned. Despite a run of seven or eight miles, it only fell three feet, accounting for much of the flooding. In January 1652, Town Meeting voted to dig a 4000-foot ditch connecting the Charles River at either end of its great loop. It was not completed for nearly two years, but once it was it began channeling the water directly from the high side to the low side. Doing so also created an island, today the neighborhood of Riverdale.
Wild animals were an issue, and the town placed a bounty on several of them. Upon producing an inch and a half of a rattlesnake, plus the rattle, the killer was entitled to six pence. A ten shilling bounty was placed on wolves, and was frequently paid, in addition to a bounty on wildcats. In 1638, seven-year-old John Dwight disappeared in the woods near Wigwam Pond, an area known to be particularly infested with wolves.[n] Between 1650 and 1672, more than 70 wolves were killed in Dedham.
A 20 shilling bounty per bobcat was established in 1734, and the last person to claim it did so in 1957. For a short period of time, the Town employed professional hunters and a pack of dogs. Dogs could also be a problem, though. In 1651, the Town deputized Anthony Fisher to keep them from disturbing people in the meetinghouse.
Mines and minerals
By 1647, residents had discovered "plenty of iron and some lead" in the wilderness. All were encouraged to seek out more and the following year John Dwight and Francis Chickering thought they had discovered a mine in present day Wrentham. A decade later, in 1658, a committee was appointed to look into setting up an ironworks within the town. Neither the mine nor the ironwork would pan out, however.
The first portion of the Old Village Cemetery was set apart at the first recorded meeting of the settlers of Dedham on August 18, 1636, with land taken from Nicholas Phillips and Joseph Kingsbury. The original boundaries were roughly Village Avenue on the north, St. Paul's Church in the east, land later added by Dr. Edward Stimson in the south, and the main driveway off Village Avenue in the west. It remained the only cemetery in Dedham for nearly 250 years until Brookdale Cemetery was established.
Of towns founded during the colonial era, Dedham is one of the few towns "that has preserved extensive records of its earliest years." They have been described as "very full and perfect." So detailed were the records that a map of the home lots of the first settlers can be drawn using only the descriptions in the book of grants. Many of the records come from Timothy Dwight, who served as town clerk for 10 years and selectman for 25.
In 1681, the town voted to collect all deeds and other writings and store them in a box kept by Deacon John Aldis in order to better preserve them. The records included four deeds from Indians at Petumtuck, one from Chief Nehoiden, one from Magus, and one deed and one receipt from King Phillip.[o]
In 1637 Jonathan Fairbanks signed the town Covenant and was allotted 12 acres (49,000 m2) of land to build his home, which today is the oldest house in North America. In 1640 "the selectmen provided that Jonathan Fairbanks 'may have one cedar tree set out unto him to dispose of where he will: In consideration of some special service he hath done for the towne.'" He had "long stood off from the church upon some scruples about public profession of faith and the covenant, yet after divers loving conferences ... he made such a declaration of his faith and conversion to God and profession of subjection to the ordinances of Christ in the church that he was readily and gladly received by the whole church."
The house is still owned by the Fairbanks family and today stands at 511 East Street, on the corner of Whiting Ave. Jonathan Fairbanks would have a number of notable descendants including murderer Jason Fairbanks of the famous Fairbanks case, as well as Presidents William H. Taft, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks. He is also an ancestor of the father and son Governors of Vermont Erastus Fairbanks and Horace Fairbanks, the poet Emily Dickinson, and the anthropologist Margaret Mead.
In early years each resident was cautioned to keep a ladder handy in case he may need to put out a fire on his thatched roof or climb out of harm's way should there be an attack from the Indians. It was also decreed that if any man should tie his horse to the ladder against the meetinghouse then he would be fined sixpence. The Town occasionally "found it necessary to institute fines against those caught borrowing another's canoe without permission or cutting down trees on the common land." A one shilling fine was imposed in 1651 for taking a canoe without permission.
First public school
On January 1, 1644, by unanimous vote, Dedham authorized the first U.S. taxpayer-funded public school; "the seed of American education." Its first teacher, Rev. Ralph Wheelock, was paid 20 pounds annually to instruct the youth of the community. Descendants of these students would become presidents of Dartmouth College, Yale University and Harvard University. Another early teacher, Michael Metcalfe, was one of the town's first residents and a signer of the Covenant. At the age of 70 he began teaching reading in the school and in 1652 purchased a joined armchair that is today the oldest dated piece of American furniture.
John Thurston was commission by the town to build the first schoolhouse in 1648 for which he received a partial payment of £11.0.3 on December 2, 1650. The details in the contract require him to construct floorboards, doors, and "fitting the interior with 'featheredged and rabbited' boarding" similar to that found in the Fairbanks House.
The residents of Dedham were so committed to education that they donated £4.6.6 to Harvard College during its first eight years of existence, a sum greater than many other towns, including Cambridge itself.
- Including John Kingsbury.
- Tiot was later used to describe the village of South Dedham, today the separate town of Norwood.
- Those five were John Allen, Thomas Carter, Timothy Dalton, Samuel Morse, and Ralph Wheelock.
- While there were no Quakers who lived in Dedham, there were others who were arrested while traveling through town and persecuted for their religious beliefs. They include Richard Dowdney and Elizabeth Hooten.
- During the early days of the settlement, the Selectmen voted to ask an Irishman and his wife, who were visiting friends, to leave town as soon as possible, presumably because they were Catholic.
- Barber has the date as August 15, 1636
- In 1636, there were 30 signers. In 1637, there were 46. By 1656, 79 men put their names on the document.
- The third paragraph of the Town Covenant stated "that if at any time differences shall rise between parties of our said town, that then such party or parties shall presently refer all such differences unto some one, two or three others of our said society to be fully accorded and determined without any further delay, if it possibly may be."
- Wight came from the same town in England as Ann Hutchinson and was a parishioner of John Cotton with her. He may have chosen to move to Dedham to avoid the controversy she was stirring up in Boston.
- Luson, Hinsdale, and Lusher all arrived in Dedham with Allin, and Frary was from the same town in England as Michael Metcalf.
- Alleyn may have been related to John Allin.
- Belcher continued to preach until 1721 when illness prevented him.
- The minister there, Stephen Batchelor, was a distant relation of Dedham's John Batchelor.
- Parr has the date as March 1639, and Dwight's age as 17, not seven.
- These deeds have since been lost.
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- Lineage as follows: Jonathan (b. 1595) to his son George (b. 1619) to his daughter Mary who married Joseph Daniels and together they had a son Eleazer (b. 1681). It continues through his son David Archived March 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine to his daughter Cloe who married Seth Davenport and together had a child Anna. Anna married William Torrey whose son Samuel had a daughter Louisa. Louisa married Alphonso Taft and together they had President William Howard Taft.
- Lineage as follows: Jonathan (b. 1595) to his son Jonathan (b. 1628) to his son Jeremiah (b. 1674) to his daughter Mary who married Richard Bush and together had Timothy Bush (b. 1728). The lineage continues with Timothy's son Timothy Bush, Jr. (b. 1761) to his son Obadiah Newcomb Bush(b. 1791) to his son James Smith Bush (b. 1825) to his son Samuel P. Bush (b. 1863) to his son Senator Prescott Bush who was George Bush's father.
- Lineage as follows: Jonathan (b. 1595) to his son Jonathan (b. 1628) to his son Jeremiah (b. 1674) to his daughter Mary who married Richard Bush and together had Timothy Bush (b. 1728). The lineage continues with Timothy's son Timothy Bush, Jr. (b. 1761) to his son Obadiah Newcomb Bush(b. 1791) to his son James Smith Bush (b. 1825) to his son Samuel P. Bush (b. 1863) to his son Senator Prescott Bush to his son President George H. W. Bush who was George W. Bush's father.
- Lineage as follows: Jonathan to his son Jonas to his son Jabez to his son Joshua to his son Luther to his son Luther to his son Loriston Monroe who was the father of Vice President Charles Warren Fairbanks.
- Lineage as follows: Jonathan to his son John to his son Joseph to his son Joseph to his son Ebenezer to his son Joseph to his son Governor Erastus Fairbanks to his son Governor Horace Fairbanks.
- Lineage as follows: Jonathan to his son George to his son Eliesur to his son Eliesur to his son Eleazer to his daughter Sarah who married Jude Fay to their daughter Betsey who married Joel Norcross to their daughter Emily who married Edward Dickinson and their child was Emily Dickinson.
- Lineage as follows: Jonathan to his son George to his son Eliesur to his daughter Martha who married Ebenezer Leland, and together they had a child Caleb whose daughter Hannah married John Ware. Their son Orlando had a daughter Emily who married James Pecker Fogg, who had a son James Leland Fogg. He married Elizabeth Bogart Lockwood and they had a daughter Emily Fogg who married Edward Sherwood Mead. Together their child was Margaret Mead.
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* Category:Colonial Massachusetts Category:Colonial settlements in North America Category:1636 establishments in Massachusetts Category:Pre-statehood history of Massachusetts Category:People of colonial Massachusetts