Stoughton Chapter from 


Louis A. Cook, History of Norfolk County Massachusetts 1622-1918  

(New York, The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1918), 1: 265-271.



Lying on the southern border of Norfolk County, about midway between the Atlantic coast and the State of Rhode Island, is the Town of Stoughton. It is bounded on the north by Canton; on the east by Randolph and Avon; on the south by Avon and Plymouth and Bristol counties; and on the west by the Town of Sharon. The central portion is the most elevated, the streams rising in this section flowing in different directions, some northward into Canton and others southward into Plymouth County, Ames Pond, in the southern part, is the largest body of water. York Pond, which receives the waters of Beaver Brook, is on the boundary line between Stoughton and Canton, and in the northwestern portion there is a chain of smaller ponds drained by Mill Brook, which flows in a northerly direction and finally reaches the Neponset River. Being less hilly than some of the other towns, the soil is better adapted to culti­vation, and some of the finest farms in Norfolk County are located in Stoughton.


The territory now comprising the Town of Stoughton is a part of the exten­sive tract known as the "New Grant" to Dorchester, which was made in 1637. That tract extended from "ye Town House to ye Plymouth Line." Its north end was near the present village of Readville and its south end was on what is now the southern boundary line of Norfolk County. The average width was about ten miles.


On December 15, 1715, the region embracing the present Town of Stoughton, and some of the adjacent towns, was organized as the "Dorchester South Precinct." Part of this precinct was set off to Wrentham in 1724, and on December 22, 1726, the territory now embraced in the towns of Canton, Sharon, Stoughton and the greater part of Foxboro was incorporated as a town by the name of Stoughton, taking its name from Gov. William Stoughton. On July 2, 1740, by an act of the General Court, that part now included in Foxboro and Sharon was established as the Second Precinct.   This precinct was made a district called Stoughtonham on June 21, 1765. Foxboro was incorporated as a town on June 10, 1778, Sharon followed on February 25, 1783, and the Town of Canton (originally the First Precinct of Stoughton) was incorporated on February 23, 1797. These changes reduced Stoughton to its present dimensions and boundaries. The first town meeting in Stoughton was held on January 2, 1727. The records of that meeting are not available, but it is known that George Talbot was chosen as one of the selectmen. Joseph Tucker was the first town clerk.


The man for whom the town was named was born in Dorchester in 1631, and was a son of Israel Stoughton, one of the Dorchester proprietors. He graduated at Harvard College at the head of the class of 1650, and soon afterward went to England, where he enjoyed a fellowship at Oxford and completed his studies for the ministry. In 1662 he returned to Massachusetts and followed the pro­fession of a clergyman until 1671, though he never was pastor of a regularly organized society. In 1686 he became the head of the colonial courts, which position he held until the arrival of Governor Andros. Judge Stoughton was named as a member of the council under Andros and by his acceptance he lost much of his popularity. He regained the confidence of the people to some extent in 1689, when he was the first to sign the petition to the king demanding that Andros surrender the reins of government.


Under the new charter he was made lieutenant - governor under Sir William Phipps, and when Governor Phipps instituted a special court of Oyer and Terminer for the trial of the witchcraft cases, Judge Stoughton was appointed chief justice. Barry describes him as "a Puritan of the commonwealth mould; of phlegmatic temperament; rigidly attached to the Puritan creed; thoroughly versed in the knowledge of men; knowing how to accommodate himself to a variety of circumstances, yet superior to all; he was one who, in any situation, was calculated to succeed."

In the witchcraft trials by the special court of which Mr. Stoughton was chief justice, nineteen persons were convicted and sentenced to death. Con­cerning these trials and convictions, Barry says: "As the excitement subsided the prominent actors in the terrible tragedy began to reflect, and a few made public acknowledgment of their error. . . . Stoughton alone refused to retract, and to the day of his death never regretted the part he had taken."

When the Superior Court was organized he was made chief justice, his com­mission being dated December 22, 1692. His commission was renewed in 1695 and he continued as chief justice until only a short time before his death, also holding the office of lieutenant-governor at the same time. Upon the removal of Governor Phipps in 1694, Stoughton became Governor and served until the arrival of Lord Bellamont in June, 1697. Lord Bellamont died in March, 1701, and Stoughton again became governor, somewhat reluctantly on account of his age and the state of his health, and served until his own death on July 7, 1701. Governor Stoughton was a benefactor of Harvard College. Before his death he erected at his own expense the building known as "Stoughton Hall," and in his will be left a legacy of a thousand pounds to his Alma Mater.


During the first half century of Stoughton's corporate existence little out of the ordinary took place. The people were busily engaged in building better houses, developing their farms, establishing schools for their children, opening highways, etc. With the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, the, dawning of the spirit of independence began to be felt. Early in 1773 a letter from the Boston Committee of Correspondence was sent to all the towns of Suffolk County. At a town meeting in Stoughton on March 1, 1773, this letter was read and it was voted to send a reply, setting forth the opinion that the rights of the colonists had been seriously infringed upon, violated by arbitrary will and power, and that the people of Stoughton were apprehensive that in the future this might prove fatal to them and their posterity by reducing them to a state of slavery.

 On September 26, 1774, Thomas Crane, who lived in the First Parish, after­ward set off as the Town of Canton, was elected representative to the Great and Genera! Court to be held at Salem, and was given the following instructions:

 "Sir—As we have now chosen you to Represent us in the Great and General Court to be holden at Salem on Wednesday ye 5th day of October next ensuing We do hereby Instruct you that in all your Doings as a member of the House of Representatives you adhere firmly to the Charter of this Province granted by their Majesties King William and Queen Mary & that you do no act that can possibly be construed into an acknowledgement of ye validity of ye Act of the ye British Parliament for altering ye Government of Massachusetts Bay. More Especially that you acknowledge ye Honourable Board of Counsellors elected by ye General Court at their Session in May last as ye only rightfull & Constitu­tional Counsel of this Province: And as we have reason to believe that a Con­scientious Discharge of your Duty will Produce your Disolution as an House of Representatives We do hereby Impower and Instruct you to join with ye mem­bers who may be sent from this and ye Other Towns in ye Province & to meet with them at a time to be agreed upon in a General Provincial Congress to act. upon such Matters as may come before you in such manner as may appear to you most Conducive to ye true Interest of this Town & Province as most Likely to Preserve the Liberties of all North America ."


When the Suffolk Congress met on August 16, 1774, at Doty's Tavern (then in the Town of Stoughton) several citizens of the town were in attendance, but it does not appear that they were chosen by any action of the voters of the town. That meeting was opened with a prayer by Rev. Samuel Dunbar, pastor of the First Parish Church—a prayer which Bancroft says "breathed forth among them the spirit of liberty, and the venerable man seemed inspired with the most divine and prophetical enthusiasm." The action of that meeting acted as a spur to the people of Stoughton, for on August 29th, at a town meeting called for the purpose, it was


“Voted, That a Committee be chosen to Represent ye Town in a County Convention of ye Towns and Districts of this County to be holden at ye house of Richard Woodward at Dedham on Tuesday ye 6th day of September next with full power of adjourning acting & Doing all such Matters & things in said Convention or in a general Convention of ye Countys of this Province as to them  appear of Publick Utility in this day of Publick and General Distress.

"Voted, That five persons be chosen for this Purpose & also that John Withington, Theophilus Curtis, John Kenney, Jedediah Southworth and Josiah Pratt be this Committee; That this Committee be directed to Endeavor to obtain a County Indemnification for all such Persons as may be fined or otherwise have suffered by a non-compliance with a Late Act of ye British Parliament intitled 'An Act for the Better Regulation of the Government of the Massachusetts Bav in North America.' That this Committee be also a Committee of Correspondence to advise and Correspond with ye other Towns in this Province about all such Matters & Things as may appear to them likely in any way to affect the Publick."


On May 22, 1776, six weeks before the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, that event was foreshadowed by a town meeting in Stoughton, which declared by an almost unanimous vote, "That if the Honourable Continental Congress should for the safety of the Colonies declare us independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain, we the In­habitants of Stoughton will solemnly engage with our lives and fortunes to support them in the measure."


In September, 1776, the General Court sent out to the various towns of the state a communication relative to the formation of a state constitution and the inauguration of a new form of government. On the last day of the month a town meeting was held in Stoughton to take action on the communication. John Kenney, Christopher Wadsworth, Jonathan Capen, Abner Crane and Elijah Dunbar were appointed a committee to draft the town's reply. Following is the report of the committee:


"We the subscribers, being chosen a committee by this town at a town meet­ing legally assembled at Stoughton on the 30th of September last, to draft a vote upon and article in ye town warrant respecting chosing ye present Gen'l Court to form a plan of Government for ye State have attended to that Service & Beg leave to report the following resolutions viz:


"1 - Resolved That good Government is the basis of liberty & absolutely necessary to the safety & Wellfare of a People.


"2 - Resolved That as the end of Government is the Happiness of ye people so ye sole Power & Right of forming and establishing a plan thereof is essen­tially in ye People.


"3 - Resolved That as this State is at Present destitute of a fixed & Estab­lished form of Government it is Absolutely necessary that one Immediately be formed Agreeable to the recommendation of ye Grand Congress.


"4 - Resolved That as the present House of Representatives have passed a resolve to see if ye Severall Toens in this State would empower them, the said House of Representatives together with the Council, to enact a plan of Govern­ment for this State it appears to us unadvisable & Irrational & a measure that ought not by any means to be Complied with for these reasons viz—That we are totally unacquainted with the Capacities & Patriotism & Character of ye mem­bers that compose ye said House & Council excepting our own member Also because they were Never elected by ye people for that purpose & also because the present Embarrassed State of our Publick Affairs calls for the steady attention of every member of ye said House and Council.

"5 - Resolved That it is the Duty & Interest of this Town immediately to choose one or more members to join with the members of the Other Towns in this State to form & Publish a plan of Government for said State.


"6 - Resolved That in order to Carry ye foregoing Resolutions into Execu­tion as soon as ye Importance of the matter may admit it appears to us best that the members of ye Severall Towns in this State Chosen for ye express purpose afore said should meet together by Them selves or by their Committee in a State Convention or Congress & compare the severall forms of Government together whereby the Wisdom of the whole State may be collected & a form of Government be Extracted.                                                                     .                   


"7 - Resolved That it appears to us Absolutely necessary for the Liberty & safety of this State that the plan of Government when formed and Published should not be Established till ye People of this State have had time & Oppor­tunity of thoroughly examining the same & shall consent that it be established by the said State Convention or Congress.


"All of which is humbly submitted by us.


John Kenney

Christopher Wadsworth

Jonathan Capen

Abner Crane

Elijah Dunbar


"Stoughton, October 2d, 1776."


Such was the idea of the people of Stoughton regarding a state constitution and the manner of its formation and adoption. If the reader will now turn to the chapter on Bellingham and note the action of that town on the same subject, he will be impressed with the similarity of the theories advanced by those two towns, and that without any collusion between them. For years the town meet­ing had been educating the people to the notion that government in any form should derive its just powers from the consent of the governed — a sentiment which found expression in the Declaration of Independence and has been the dominating idea in the formation of all our state constitutions.


Gunpowder was quite an item in 1776, and at a town meeting in Stoughton on March 4, 1776, an article in the warrant was "To see if the town will take any method to encourage the manufacture of saltpetre." At the meeting it was voted that a committee be appointed to begin the manufacture of that article. Adam Blackman, Jonathan Capen, Esquire Dunbar, Samuel Osgood and George Crossman were appointed as the committee. . These men set to work upon the project and in June their factory was ready to begin operations.. The first salt­petre from this committee was sent to the powder-mill in Milton about the time of the adoption of the above resolutions, or perhaps a little earlier. (See also the chapter on the Revolution.)


The first move toward providing a water supply for the inhabitants of Stoughton was made on May 28, 1886, when the governor approved an act of the Legislature incorporating "John. G. Phinney, Charles W. Lunn, E. Morton Elmes, Charles W. Welch, Charles E. Parker, their associates and successors, as the Stoughton Water Company."

 By the provisions of the act the company's authorized capital stock was not to exceed $50,000, and it was given power to take water from Knowles' Brook, Muddy Pond Brook, Porter's Brook and the Drake School House well, "and take by purchase and hold the Hill and Drake well, so called, situated on land of the heirs of Henry Drake," etc.


Section 10 of the act provided that the Town of Stoughton might "at any time purchase of said corporation its franchise, corporate property and all its rights and privileges, at a price which may be mutually agreed upon," etc., when­ever two-thirds of the voters give their assent thereto, and in the event of such purchase the town was authorized to issue bonds in any sum not to exceed $100,000, to pay for the same.


In 1887 the Stoughton Fire District was organized. It was incorporated by the act of April 30, 1888, with power to purchase the rights and privileges of the Stoughton Water Company, provided that the Town of Stoughton did not within one year exercise its right of purchase under the act of May 28, 1886. This stimulated the town to action and before the expiration of the twelve months it was voted to issue the necessary bonds and acquire the franchise of the Stough­ton Water Company. The town was also given the right to acquire the franchise and property of the Stoughton Fire District, in the act incorporating said district.


By the act of June 3, 1892, the town was authorized to issue bonds to the amount of $150,000 for the completion of the waterworks and the extension of the mains to all parts of the town, with the provision that a sinking fund should be established to guarantee the payment of the bonds when they became due. The sinking fund provision was changed by the act of March 17, 1893, which gave to the town the privilege of making annual payments on the water loan instead of establishing a sinking fund. Under the liberal legislation of the above mentioned acts, Stoughton has a system of waterworks second to none in Norfolk County.


According to the report of the water commissioners for the year ending on December 31, 1916, the total cost of the works up to that time had been $352,193.73, and the net expense for maintenance, $184,675.35. The total income from bonds was $303,407.28, and from water rates $222,506.23. During the year 126,564,000 gallons of water were pumped and distributed through nearly thirty-one miles of mains to 1,528 families, 3 hotels, 18 factories, 19 business buildings and 330 street hydrants. The amount received for water rates was $14,688, exclusive of meter rentals and the $6,600 paid by the town for the use of hydrants in case of fire. During the year the bonded debt was reduced $17,000, leaving the amount of bonds outstanding at the close of the year $134,000.



Stoughton's fire department is in keeping with the' town's general progress. The board of fire engineers for 1916 was made up of James J. Pye, chief; Henry M. Bird, first assistant and clerk; James E. Reilly, second assistant; Cornelius Healy, Jr., George W. Pratt and George E. Malcolm.   From their annual report it is learned that the department consists of four companies, to wit: Stoughton Steamer Company, in connection with which is kept the auto combination truck, numbers sixteen men; Washington Hook and Ladder Company, ten men; North Stoughton Hose Company, six men; West Stoughton Hose Company, eight men, a total (including the six members of the board of engineers) of forty-six men. The cost of maintenance for the year 1916 was $6,150.51, considerably more than half of which was used in paying the salaries of the members of the depart­ment. During the year fifty-six alarms were answered, sixteen of which were forest fires. The fire alarm system consists of twenty-two boxes, stationed at convenient places in all parts of the town, so that no time need be lost in calling the department.



Following is a list of the principal town officials at the beginning of the year 1917:   George W. Pratt, Cornelius Healy, Jr., and George E. Malcolm, selectmen and overseers of the poor; Cornelius Healy, Jr., George W. Pratt and James E. Reilly, assessors; George O. Wentworth, clerk and treasurer; Henry Fitzpatrick, tax collector; George P. Curtis, G. A. Sprague, Jr., Ernest E. Randall, water commissioners; John W. Wood, Edgar F. Leonard and Dennis W. Toomey, school committee; Jerome F. Murphy, Ralph S. Blake and Arthur R. Jenkins, auditors; Daniel F. Vaughn, highway surveyor; George H. Coward, Michael F. Powers and Arthur L. Holmes, park commissioners; Richard Vanston, Anson L. Favor, James J. Pye and Daniel F. O'Connor, constables.



Between the years 1910 and 1915 the increase in population in Stoughton was 666, the United States census of the former year giving the town a population of 6,316 and the state census of the latter year reporting 6,982. The assessed valuation of property on April 1, 1916, according to the report of the assessors, was $4,747,017, an increase over the assessment of the preceding year of $525,585. Stoughton has a bank (the Stoughton Trust Company), two weekly newspapers (the News and Sentinel), eleven public school buildings and employs thirty-three teachers, Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Methodist Episcopal and Universalist churches, a number of  thriving manufacturing establishments,  well-stocked stores that handle practically all lines of merchandise, good roads and side­walks, and many handsome residences. The town is lighted with electricity by contract with the Edison Company and recently an effort has been made to have the Brockton Gas and Illuminating Company extend its lines into the town. Two divisions of the New York, New Haven & Hartford unite at Stoughton Junction. The railroad stations in the town are North Stoughton, West Stoughton, South Stoughton and Stoughton. Electric railway lines connect the town with Brockton, Randolph, and East Sharon, where other lines are connected, so that the trans­portation facilities are unsurpassed.


New Home of the Stoughton Trust Company [1918]


High School, Stoughton [1918]


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