From Daniel T.V. Huntoon's 

History of The Town of Canton, Massachusetts (1893)


Early Mills - & - The Incorporation of Stoughton

FORGE POND lies in a northeasterly direction from the village of South Canton. It receives its supply of water from Massapoag Brook, the confluence of Beaver and Steep brooks on the south, and Pequit Brook on the north. The outlet to this pond is near the main street of the village, not far from the Massapoag House. The early settlers called it Saw-Mill River; on the modern maps it bears the name of the "East Branch of the Neponset River." It is not a long stream; less than two miles from its starting-point it joins the West Branch of the Neponset River in the Fowl meadows. The water furnishes the motive-power for the Kinsley Iron and Machine Company, the Revere Copper Company, and the Neponset Cotton Factory.

Washington Street crosses the stream near the works of the Kinsley Iron and Machine Company. This spot is identical with the northeasterly corner of a lot which was known on the map of the Dorchester proprietors as Lot No. II. It consisted of forty-five acres, and was laid out and assigned to one Thomas Holman, who appears to have been born in Dorchester, Aug. 6, 1641. He was by occupation a shoemaker. The exact time at which he began the erection of a dam and saw-mill on the southerly side of the stream is not known. It was standing in 1700, and was the first saw-mill built in Canton. On the 12th of May, 1703, in consideration of £30, Holman sold his mill to Joseph Tucker, Jr., of Milton, who, it would appear, was already the possessor of Lot No. 12, and also had a lease of land in the Ponkapoag Plantation on the north of the stream, taking in the land now extending from the Massapoag House to the residence of the late William Shattuck. The deed of the mill conveys the mill-house standing near the mill, also "all the saws, iron work, running and going gear, utensils, head weirs and mill ponds, earth and soil thereof, and all streams, waters, water courses, fishings, fishing places, ways, paths, passages, easements, profits, commodities, advantages, emoluments, and appurtenances to the said mill and premises belonging." After the death of Deacon Tucker his widow married, Dec. 16, 1746, Richard Stickney; and in 1750 it was known as Richard Stickney's mill.

In 1760 there was conveyed to John Withington, Jr., by the son and grandchildren of Deacon Gamaliel Tucker and Abigail (Howard) Lyon - John and Samuel Howard - all the right in an old saw-mill and the stream and landing-place which formerly belonged to Joseph Tucker. On the map of 1785 it is put down as owned by Withington. It was subsequently, in 1788, purchased by Leonard and Kinsley. In 1794 it is designated as Leonard and Kinsley's forge, corn and saw mill.

There lived in Dorchester in 1716 two gentlemen by the names of Samuel and Elijah Danforth. They were the sons of the Rev. John Danforth, who for many years was the pastoi there. They had a sister, Hannah, who married the Rev. Samuel Dunbar, the second minister of this town. Her gravestone is in the old Canton Cemetery, and bears this inscription. —

" Here lyes buried ye body of Mrs. Hannah Dunbar, wife of the Rev. Samuel Dunbar, who departed this life Sept. 1st, 1746, in ye 48th year of her age."

Elijah Danforth was born Nov. 30, 1683, and died Oct. 8, 1736. In 1727 we find him a resident of Dorchester and one of the assessors. He seems to have devoted himself to the study of medicine, and quaint old Blake says, " He was a good and safe physician, and had been one of the Justices of the County of Suffolk for many years together."

His brother Samuel was born in 1696, and graduated at Harvard College in 1715. He is denominated as "Sir" in one of the ancient documents which I shall quote, because he had not then received his degree of Master of Arts. It was in the early period of their lives that their interests for a time drew the brothers to Canton; and to their enterprise and perseverance were the early settlers indebted for the first, and for many years the only mill for grinding their corn.

On March 11, 1717, the following petition, signed by the most prominent citizens, was presented to the Dorchester selectmen with the request that it be acted on in town meeting: — ,

"The subscribers being informed that it is no small discouragement to such as would settle upon the Twelve Divisions in Dorchester New Grant that there is no corn mill there ; when they hear such as are already settled there are forced to go so far for grinding that it commonly costs them one whole day to get one grist, and sometimes two days ; being also informed that there is a good conveniency for such a needful mill on a certain stream, running from below Mr. Tucker's saw mill bridge down to the meadows between the line of said Twelve Divisions and the Indian land in said New Grant; and being informed that Elijah Danforth, Esq., and his brother, Sir Danforth, are willing to build a corn mill and a house and barn for a miller there, the cost whereof will be great, if the town will give leave and encouragement,—therefore, to show our good-will to works of such public benefit, we, for our part, declare our full consent and approbation, and it is our desire and request to the town that the freeholders and inhabitants of the town will please to grant the said Danforths, the undertakers for the said corn mill there, the said stream as above mentioned and described, to their sole use and benefit, they causing a corn mill to be erected there, together with leave and liberty to purchase some adjoining Indian land to set a house on, and to make a small tenement with accommodations to be let only to an HONEST miller. And we pray the Selectmen to insert accordingly in the warrant for the next meeting."

The following is the petition of the Danforth brothers:

                                                                                                                                                        Feb. 1, 1716. 

We also humbly petition the Town of Dorchester for the stream and privileges mentioned on the other side of this paper, hereby firmly obliging ourselves and engaging to the town to perform and fulfil the conditions, there also mentioned, of setting up a good, substantial corn mill there.

The petition was at once granted by the town ; and the land and river at Pacomit, as the place was called in the record, was laid out and confirmed to the Danforths. The place selected for this first grist-mill was at the extreme southern boundary of the Ponkapoag Plantation, and was the site afterward used for the government powder-mill, now occupied by the Revere Copper Company.

On the 11th of April, 1717, William Ahauton, Indian preacher, in connection with Squamaug, Momentaug, Quok, Mary Pomham, and others, in behalf of all the Indians in the township of Dorchester, and in consideration of, £40, paid by Elijah Danforth and his brother Samuel, and in consideration of  leave given us by the Governor, the Lieutenant-Governor, and the Honorable Commissioners of the Indians, do give and sell all our interest in the river running from Mr. Joseph Tucker's saw-mill downward to the meadows, and the soil and stones which the said water runs upon." The land was then directly opposite the land of Mr. Samuel Jones in the "Twelve Divisions," and contained about forty acres. The town of Dorchester ordered a road to be laid out in 1717 on the south side of Massapoag Brook, running from what is now Washington Street to the Revere Company's dam, at a distance of four rods from the river, and authorized the Danforths to join their mill-dams over the river to any part of the highway. It is not probable that this mill was a financial success, for in ten years we find the Danforths gone, and the property, with the dwelling-house and grist-mill, in the hands of Ebenezer Maudsley (Mosely), who conveyed it to Philip Goodwin.

For a hundred years after its settlement in 1620 Massachusetts was the chief seat of the iron manufacture on this continent, The places where the iron was melted were called bloomeries, and their owners or workmen bloomers. The bog, or swamp, ores were the only kinds obtainable. The vicinity of Canton was abundantly supplied with this ore, and so valuable was it considered that when land was sold, in some instances rights to dig iron ore were reserved ; or in case iron ore should be subsequently discovered, then the sale was to be invalid.

The Neponset Cotton Factory - a large stone building, erected in 1824 - is easily seen from the viaduct of the Boston and Providence Railroad in Canton. It occupies the last water privilege on the easterly branch of the Neponset River. In 1717 the privilege now occupied by this corporation was selected by a company of gentlemen as a suitable place whereon to erect a mill for the smelting of iron ore. It consisted of Edmund Quincy, of Braintree, John White, of Boston, Standfast Foster, Samuel Paul, Thomas Tileston, Ebenezer Maudsley (Mosely), Ebenezer Jones, Timothy Jones, and Robert Royall. From the ninth lot in the "Twelve Divisions," originally laid out by the town of Dorchester, they purchased two acres of land; and here, in connection with Timothy Jones, the owner of the property, they built a dam and erected buildings suitable for smelting iron ore. These works were the first in Dorchester and were continued for some time; but the cost of procuring iron in this manner was so great that the business was discontinued, the buildings unused, and finally demolished.

The policy of the mother country had always been opposed to the manufacture of iron in the colonies; and the law passed in 1750 prohibiting the erection or continuance of any mill for slitting or rolling iron, or and furnace for making steel, under a penalty of £200, was one of the grievances which resulted, a few years later, in the Revolution.

Kent, Suffolk, Dorset, and Warwickshire in England each has a river Stour. Like other ancient Saxon names, the original meaning of Stour has faded away; and its etymology is by no means easily ascertainable. The suffix ton originally meant an enclosure, a homestead, or a farm; and in Scotland at the present day, a solitary homestead, as well as a hamlet, goes by the name of a toun. If the ton, or enclosure, was situated on a hill, it was called Hilton; if it was noted for its production of apples, Appleton; if it was a good place for a hunt, Hunton; if it was situated by the water, Waterton; if on the river Linn, Lynton; if on the river Stour, Stourton. We may therefore by the termination ton distinguish the Saxon origin of a1 name or place. These places gave surnames to families; and the English family of Stoughton, with a slight orthographical change, derived their name from the town on the Stour.

The town of Stoughton was incorporated by an Act of the General Court, passed on the 22d of December, 1726, one hundred and six years after the landing on Plymouth Rock. It was named in honor of Lieut. Gov. William Stoughton, son of Col. Israel Stoughton, who in his lifetime owned many acres of land in Dorchester, and who during the Pequot War was commander-in-chief of the colonial forces, and subsequently in England was a lieutenant-colonel in the parliamentary army. William was born at Dorchester in 1631. After graduating at Harvard, he went to England and became a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and received the degree of Master of Arts. He pursued the study of divinity, and preached with great acceptance, both in England, and on his return in his native land. Not desiring a settlement in the ministry, he interested himself in public affairs. In 1676 he went to England a second time, in obedience to a requisition from King Charles, as an agent for the colonies, to give answer to the various complaints which had been brought against them. On May 12, 1686, he was appointed governor, but refused to serve. Soon afterward he was appointed deputy president of the colony; and in the July following he was placed at the head of the courts of the colony, which office he held until he became a member of the council of Sir Edmund Andros. In 1692, on the arrival of the charter of William and Mary, he was appointed lieutenant-governor, which office he held until his death, and by virtue of which he assumed the duties of governor upon the departure of Sir William Phipps for England in 1694. He received his appointment as Chief-Justice of the Superior Court, Dec. 22, 1692, and was appointed Chief-Justice of a special Court of Over and Terminer, constituted to conduct the trial of persons charged with witchcraft. He died unconvinced of the erroneous decisions he made at that time. Aside from this he was, says an old account, " a person of eminent qualifications, honorable extract, liberal education, and singular piety." He was liberal with voice and pen in the cause of education. His gift of land to Dorchester for school purposes, the town farm in Milton, and Stoughton Hall at Harvard College remain as memorials of his liberality. He died at Dorchester on the 7th of July, 1701.

Whom have we lost ? 

Stoughton !

Alas !

I have said sufficient. Tears press. 

I keep silent.

The Act incorporating the South Precinct of Dorchester, with the exception of that portion which had been previously set off to Wrentham, as a new town, was signed by the Lieutenant-Governor, William Dummer, the office of governor being vacant, and became a law on the 22d day of December, 1726.

"At a Great and General Court or Assembly for his Majesties Province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New-England, begun and held at Boston on Wednesday, the 25th day of May, A. D. 1726, and continued by several Prorogations unto Wednesday, the 23d day of November following, and then met.

"An Act for Dividing the Town of Dorchester, and Erecting a New Town there by the name of Stoughton.

" Whereas the Town of Dorchester, within the County of Suffolk, is of great Extent in Length, and lies Commodious for Two Townships, and the South Precinct with the Land beyond it within the Bounds of Dorchester are competently filled with Inhabitants, who have made their Application to the said Town, and also Addressed this Court that the said Lands may be made a distinct and separate Township :

"Be it therefore Enacted by the Lieutenant Governour, Council, and Representatives in General Court Assembled, and by the Authority of the same, That all that Part of Dorchester lying to the Southward of the Dividing Line betwixt the North and South Precinct, together with the Lands beyond the said South Precinct in Dorchester, be and hereby are set off and constituted a separate Township, by the name of Stoughton; And that the Inhabitants of the said Lands as before described, excepting those Families already set off and added to the Town of Wrentham, be and hereby are Vested with the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities that the Inhabitants of other Towns within this Province by Law are or ought to be Vested with : And that the Inhabitants of the said Town of Stoughton shall have their proportional Part of the Income of the School Lands lying within the same; viz: In Proportion to their Part of the Province Tax for this present Year.

" Provided. That the Inhabitants of the said Town of Stoughton do, within the space of Twelve Months from the Publication of this Act, procure and settle a Learned, orthodox Minister of good Conversation, and make Provision for his comfortable and honourable Support, and likewise provide a School-Master to Instruct their Youth in Writing and Reading ; And that the said Inhabitants pay their respective Proportions of all Province Taxes and Town Taxes, that are already Levyed or Assessed upon the Inhabitants of Dorchester, for Charges hereto arisen within the said Town.

" And further, It is to be Understood That the Proprietors of any Common and Undivided Lands in the said Townships of Dorchester and Stoughton, are to Hold and Enjoy their respective Rights and Properties in such Lands, as if the said Township had not been made, Any Law, Usage, or Custom to the contrary notwithstanding."

The day after the Act incorporating the town of Stoughton was signed, Nathaniel Hubbard, commonly called Squire Hubbard, was directed to call together the inhabitants of the new town; and in conformity thereunto, on the 26th of December he issued his warrant, directed to Samuel Hart-well, one of the constables of the town of Dorchester, whose residence was in the newly incorporated town, requiring him to warn the voters to assemble at the meeting-house to choose suitable officers for the new town. The original warrant, signed in a bold and elegant hand, is before me as I write ; and on the back of the instrument is Samuel Hart-well's return, with his autograph.

Suffolk S.S.

To Samuel Hartwell. of Stoughton, in the County of  Suffolk, yeoman, one of the Constables in the South part of Dorchester, now made Stoughton, Greeting :

In pursuance of an order of the Great and General Court impowering and directing me, the subscriber, to summon the inhabitants of said town of Stoughton to meet and assemble for the choosing of town officers to stand until the next annual election, according to law, these are in His Majesties name to require you immediately to summons and give notice to the inhabitants of Stoughton afore-said, qualified for voters, to assemble at the public meeting house in said town, on Monday, the second day of January next, at eleven of the clock of the forenoon, then and there to choose town officers according to the aforesaid order of Court.

Hereof fail not, and make return hereof, and of your doings herein unto myself, at or before the said second day of January. Dated at Stoughton aforesaid, the twenty-sixth day of December, in the thirteenth year of His Majesties reign, Annoque Domini 1726.

                                                                                                                                                                    Nathaniel Hubbard.

Suffolk, ss.

Stoughton, Dec. 31, 1726.

By virtue of this warrant I have warned the inhabitants of the town of Stoughton to meet according to time and place within mentioned.

                                                                                                                                                                    Samuel Hartwell.

At the beginning of the new year, on the 2d day of January, 1727, in obedience to this call, the legal voters assembled at the meeting-house, and organized their first town meeting. The following officers were chosen : —

Nathaniel Hubbard, Esq., was elected moderator. Joseph Tucker was elected town clerk. Nathaniel Hubbard, Esq., Joseph Hewins, Joseph Tucker, William Crane, and George Talbot, selectmen and assessors. Philip Liscom, constable for the north part of the town. John Hixson, constable for the south part of the town. Surveyors of highways, John Shepard, John Withington, Ephraim Payson, Samuel Bullard. Tithing-men, Isaac Stearns, Benjamin Esty. Fence-viewers, John Fenno, Benjamin Esty. Town treasurer, Joseph Tucker. Sealer of leather, William Crane. Hogreeves, Obadiah Hawes and John Kenney. Field-drivers, Bezaleel Billings and Ebenezer Healy.

As soon as the officers were chosen, it was the custom for the town clerk to issue an order to one of the constables of the town, requiring him to summon the persons elected to the various offices to appear before one of his Majesty's justices of the peace for the county of Suffolk, within six days, to be sworn to the faithful discharge of the duties of their respective offices.

The first duty of the selectmen, who were also assessors, was to make a tax list. This of course was done in 1727, and was the first tax assessed in Stoughton.1 The list was divided into two parts, — one embracing the taxable inhabitants living in the north part of the town, or that part now the town of Canton, and the other taking in those residing in the south part of the town, now Sharon.

1 See Appendix XXIII.


Back to the main page of