From Daniel T.V. Huntoon's
History of The Town of Canton, Massachusetts (1893)
Civil History, 1726-1750
WE have thus far traced the history of the Dorchester South Precinct from the time it was a wilderness until it became incorporated into the township of Stoughton.
The records of the town from its incorporation principally consist of the names of the town officers chosen at the annual meetings, of the perambulation of the boundary lines between Stoughton and the adjoining towns, of the amount of money yearly raised to defray expenses of the town and the minister, of the presentation of petitions, of the manner of notifying legal meetings, of the bounds of highways, of the choosing of a representative to the General Court, of the right of swine to go at large, of the bounty on crows and squirrels, of the remitting of rates, of the mending of the highways, and of the appointing of a suitable person " to inspect ye boys on ye sabbath."
From the year 1700 the inhabitants of the "New Grant" increased very much in population and material prosperity. Twenty-seven years after, the number of ratable polls was one hundred and eighty, and one hundred and twenty-one houses had been erected. Seven hundred and sixty-three neat cattle and horses were owned by the cultivators of the soil, and the land had been redeemed to a certain extent from the wilderness. Lands lying between the modern towns of Stoughton and Canton were still called Mount Hunger Fields; but no settler need starve to death on his land.
The settlers, aside from their natural increase, received large accessions from strangers. The streams had been utilized; six or seven saw-mills and two grist-mills were in active operation. On Ponkapoag Brook, Robert Redman had built
a saw-mill; and near the road leading to "Mashapogue," Ebenezer Maudsley (Mosely j owned the " corn mill." Philip Goodwin and William Royall had also mills.
Again the manufacture of iron implements had become a business ; and at this time there were four iron-works engaged in smelting ore from Massapoag Pond, which was obtained by purchase from the "Proprietors of Dorchester." In the year 1724 Ebenezer Jones and others, " ye owners of y' iron works," purchased three hundred and seventy tons of ore at three shillings per ton, and Capt. Ebenezer Billings one hundred tons at the same price ; and the total amount sold to all purchasers during this year alone was seven hundred and seventy tons.
One of the articles in the warrant, March 4, 1728, was to see " if the town would purchase some lands of the Indians for pasturage lands, if liberty can be had of the Council so to do; i. e. the two pieces formerly petitioned for." This would appear to be land which it was desirable to purchase for the use of the minister. It consisted of two pieces, of fifty acres each, — one on Pleasant Street, west of the almshouse, and one adjoining land of George Wadsworth and Edward Capen, near Indian Lane. It would appear that the council did nothing about it, for in 1729 an article appeared in the warrant "to see if the town would pay for the piece of land near Mr. Dunbar's, which the town voted to purchase, that was, or is, Mr. John Withington's, for the benefit of the town, or if said land is not purchased, to see what salary will satisfy Mr. Dunbar without purchasing any land at all." This land was bounded on the east by land of Capt. John Vose, and on the west by land of James Endicott and Daniel Stone.
This year £80 was voted "by way of rate for the use of the ministry in this town," and a committee was appointed to provide for the council attending the coming ordination of Samuel Dunbar.
On the 9th of October, 1727, a petition was received by. the town, from Nathaniel Hubbard, Richard Williams, James Draper, Jeremiah Whiting, and John Eaton, all of whom lived on the northerly side of the Neponset River, in the part of
Stoughton now Dedham. The petitioners said that they could not possibly attend the public worship of God at Stoughton, although they had cheerfully and constantly borne their portion of the charges of the ministry when it was a precinct, and they desired that they, with their estates, might be freed from the ministerial rate. This petition was granted.
In 1737 Ebenezer Woodward said: "About nineteen months ago I removed from Dedham to my house and farm in Stoughton, on the west side of Neponset River, about two miles and a half from the meeting-house in Dedham, and eleven or twelve from the Stoughton meeting-house as the road goes." Hubbard purchased his farm at Green Lodge, in 1719, from Capt. John Nelson, — one of the Stoughton heirs by right of his wife.
In 1730 the town refused to send a representative, and was accordingly fined.
An article was inserted in the warrant in 1727 "to see what action the town will take in regard to procuring a free passage for fish up the Neponset River." Thus was opened a fight between the towns of Canton, Stoughton, and Sharon, and the mill-owners on the Neponset River, which was to be fought with bitterness and great expense to both parties, and to continue nearly a century.
The alewives are accustomed in the spring to leave the salt water and pass, with the incoming tide, up the rivers and brooks to the fresh-water ponds. Before the coming of the white man, the Indians had learned that these fish, placed upon the corn-fields and allowed to decay, rendered them more fertile. The number of fish that annually journeyed to the brooks of Canton was enormous. Before any obstruction existed to their passage, Ponkapoag and Pecunit brooks were so filled with fish that a traveller, riding through oneof these brooks, destroyed numbers of them with the tramping of his horse. The migration of these fish was a great source of income to our ancestors. Whether they were made proud with the coming, and humble at the going of the alewives, like our neighbors of Taunton, we cannot say; but it was a great
source of trouble to our people when the manufacturers on the Neponset put in dams so as to prevent the passage of fish, and deprive them of one of their sources of income. If they did not eat them, they sold them to the poor " French Neuters" in 1758, and charged two shillings a hundred for them.
The only course open was to appeal to the General Court. A petition was accordingly prepared by Elhanan Lyon, " the great troubler of the church," setting forth this grievance.
In 1766 the matter was again discussed. The mill-owners at the lower or first dam demanded that the towns should make and maintain a passage-way six feet wide, which should remain open one month in the year, and that they pay ,£100 per year to each of the two owners. The towns did not see the fairness of this proposition, and refused to accede to it.
In 1783 Hon. Elijah Dunbar was appointed to present a petition to the General Court that the obstructions in the Neponset River should be removed, the towns of Sharon and Walpole joining. Daniel Vose and David Leeds agreed that if they were subject to no expense, they would open a sluiceway four feet wide, to be open only when the tide came in. The committee of the towns were in the habit of sending emissaries to spy out the obstructions; and it is asserted that Daniel Vose, finding one of Canton's myrmidons looking about his dam one dark night, threw him into the pond.
In 1788 the inhabitants of Stoughton and Sharon were in high glee; for the lower dam gave way and let ^he fish pass in great plenty, some going as far as "Ponkapogue and Massapoag." The brooks were cleared as far as Colonel Gridley's mill, but whether beyond that or not I am not informed; and the expense for one year alone was ^89 i$s. In 1789 Mr. James Endicott was employed in work at the Lower Mills connected with the fish-ways.
In 1793 Mr. Benjamin Gill attended the General Court for the purpose of obtaining some redress, and an important suit against Leeds and Vose was decided in favor of Stoughton and Sharon the following year.
In 1794 Hugh McLean petitioned for leave to close his sluice-ways; and the town again sent Benjamin Gill to remonstrate. In 1796 a joint committee from the towns of Dorchester and Milton represented to the General Court that great damage was done to individuals in the most valuable season of the year, by stopping from work the numerous mills on the Neponset, many of which were important manufactories, and the inconvenience to which the inhabitants were subject to, by stopping the grist-mills; and that they believed that the quantity of fish which passed up the river was so inconsiderable that it was not a matter of much consequence.
The Act of incorporation of the town of Canton, passed on Feb. 23, 1797, continued to the inhabitants of modern Stoughton the same rights that had been enjoyed by both towns; but on March 10, of the same year, a new Act was passed, whereby Stoughton was debarred from the privilege of choosing a committee to join with the other towns referred f to, for the purpose of regulating the fisheries.
In 1802 John Billings offered to pay for the exclusive right of taking the fish in Ponkapoag Brook, five dollars for the
first, ten dollars for the second, and eighty dollars for the fifth, years. In 1803 the towns again petitioned for sufficient sluice-ways through the dams on the river; and Paul Revere and others were notified not to shut their gates until the 20th of June, I agreeable to an order of the Committee of the Court of Sessions.
In 1805 the Committee of the General Court desired that three disinterested persons repair to the dams on the Neponset River, and take into consideration the whole interest, order such alterations to be made as should allow the fish to pass, see that the gates should be hoisted and continue open thirty days, and require the expense to be paid by the mill-owners. Edmund Baker, who owned one half of a dam, refused to pay his assessment, and a suit was instituted, which was decided adversely to the town. The expense attending the fish contest amounted in the year 1806 to $78.98; and Mr. Jabez Talbot estimated the expense that the town of Stoughton had been at, in order to get free passage for the alewives, from 1730 to 1800, at $182.93. As late as 1809, I find " the mill-owners are to be opposed by all lawful means by this town."
Finally, modes of obtaining a livelihood increased with the growth of the town; and the benefit derived from the ale-wives was not equal to the expense of fighting the mill-owners of the Neponset.
By referring to the Act of incorporation of Stoughton as a town the reader will observe that a certain section beginning, "And further it is to be understood" provides that those persons who were the owners of the common and undivided lands in Dorchester or Stoughton should have the same rights that they had always possessed, provided no Act of incorporation had ever been passed, any law or custom to the contrary notwithstanding. Now, one of these rights was immunity from taxation. Three years after the incorporation this matter which was "to be understood" seems to have been the very thing that it was advisable should not be understood. The inhabitants of Stoughton were desirous that wealthy land-owners should assist them in paying a portion of the town, county, and State taxes, thus lightening their own burdens and adding to the material wealth of the town. The matter was proposed for the town's consideration in 1728; but nothing was done until the 18th of May, 1733, when a committee was appointed, consisting of Capt. Isaac Royall, Lieut. William Crane, and Elhanan Lyon, to petition the General Court, through their representative, Moses Gill, for liberty to tax the non-resident proprietors. The matter of drawing the petition was referred to Elhanan Lyon, wh6 says he was seven days composing it and six days transcribing it. This memorial set forth that the inhabitants of Stoughton "have been at great expense in settling and supporting a minister; that the charge of supporting their poor is very great; and that within a short time nineteen or twenty families have been released' from the town and annexed to Dedham, and that sixty or seventy acres of meadow land have been lost by such transaction." To contest this petition, a committee of the proprietors was appointed under the leadership of Edmund Quincy. He was born in 1681, graduated at Harvard College in 1699, was subsequently a judge of the Supreme Court, and commander of the Suffolk Regiment. He was sent to England in 1737 by the General Court to arrange the boundary line between New Hampshire and Massachusetts Bay; while there, he was attacked by the small-pox and died. His remains were interred in Bunhill Fields, where the remains of John Milton and John Bunyan rest, and over his grave the General Court erected a monument, which was subsequently destroyed, when the ground was ploughed, as it was customary to do every fifty years. In answer to this petition Mr. Quincy said that —
" in the first place, the inhabitants of the town of Stoughton have been at no more expense in supporting the institution of religion than formerly ; they are not a young people, and the minister now settled over them is not the first one they ever had ; that from 1 707 until the present time they have maintained the ministry without taxing the non-resident proprietors, and cannot possibly stand in need of it now, when they are four times as numerous and able as they were at first. To the second allegation the non-residents reply, That had they remained a part of Dorchester, they would have had their poor supported at the town's charge, to which they contributed less than their actual proportionate share ; but to pray the town of Dorchester first to set them off, and then to pray the Court that they may have liberty to tax the unimproved lands belonging to the inhabitants of the town of Dorchester, for they are the owners, the proprietors deem without reason or precedent. To the plea that they have lost some families lately, the proprietors reply that the court judged Stoughton to be strong enough to support themselves without the aid of these families, or they would not have set them off.
" To the assertion in the petition of the town of Stoughton that there is a considerable quantity of land that belongs to the non-resident proprietors, that has never yet been rated towards the support of the ministry or other charges, although the land has greatly risen in value, the non-resident proprietors reply, That the statement dates back too far ; that it refers to the time of the settling of the people in the place, 'which is supposed to be about thirty years.' and also to the upholding of the Gospel among them, which is supposed to be about twenty years back, when the fact is they have only been a township about six or seven years, and until that time they were encouraged and assisted by the town of Dorchester. The building of their Meeting House was assisted by the subscriptions of the Proprietors. Their writing and reading school was often in part or in whole maintained by Dorchester, and Mr. Morse, their minister, was allowed to draw his salary from the towvn treasury. The proprietors further assert that the value of the land has scarcely risen at all, for the reason that the town of Stoughton is a very large tract of land, consisting of about sixty thousand acres, lying in an irregular form, being about twenty-two miles in length upon the road; and the most settled part thereof, where the Meeting House stands, is upon the six thousand acres of land formerly called Ponkapoag plantation, with some lands circum-adjacent; that this land is owned and occupied by actual residents, whereas the land of the non-residents lie at a great distance from the settled part of the town, eight, ten. fifteen, and some twenty miles from the meeting house ; that the rise in the value of this land, if risen at all, is not owing to the settlement of this, but to the settlement of other towns to which it is contiguous, such as Wrentham, Braintree, and Walpole, when there are meeting-houses within three miles of these unimproved lands, and the towns of Norton, Easton, and Attleborough also lie adjacent to and border on said lands ; the statement is further made that in the year 1724, the inhabitants of the further end of said tract of land next to Attleborough and Wrentham, consisting of some twelve or fourteen families, by a petition to the General Court, were with their farms annexed to the town of Wrentham, which would plainly indicate that they were too far removed from Stoughton. Now, the lands of the non-resident proprietors at this very place consisted of eight or nine thousand acres, and the proprietors cannot see any reason why they should pay a tax to Stoughton."
The General Court decided that the town of Stoughton should not be allowed to do that which in the Act of incorporation it was distinctly understood they should not do.
There are only three slaves recorded as being owned in Canton in 1734. They were owned respectively by Capt. John Shepard, Isaac Royall, Esq., and Ebenezer Maudsley (Mosely), the latter gentleman's chattel being valued at ,£150. In 1741 the number had increased to eleven, Nathaniel Maudsley (Mosely) and Deacon Joseph Tucker having one female slave each, Ralph Pope and Isaac Royall, of Medford,having been added to the list of 1734. The value of a young slave is shown by the following document: —
Milton, June 9th, 1747.
I, the subscriber, "Elizabeth Wadsworth, of Milton, have received of Mr. Timothy Tolman, of Stoughton, the sum of one hundred pounds, old tenor, in full for a negro fellow a bought, eighteen years of age, named Primas. I say received by me.
Elizabeth x Wadsworth.
In presence of Benj. Wadsworth.
In 1734 there were in Canton 141 houses, 10 orchards, 200 acres of mowing land, 101 pastures, 152 acres of tillage land, 4 mills, 3 slaves, and 59 ratable polls. The taxable livestock consisted of 60 oxen, 126 cows, 50 horses, and 119 sheep. Seven years later the number of mills had increased from the four of Royall, Redman, Maudsley, and Goodwin, to eleven, owned by William Royall & Co., Philip Goodwin, ICapt. John Shepard, Ebenezer Jones, Jedediah Morse, Ebenezer Man & Co., Deacon Joseph Topliff.
In 1737 the descendants of those who had served in the ill fated expedition to Canada, under command of Capt. John Withington, in 1690, were granted, by the General Court, rights in a new township called Dorchester Canada, now Ashburnham. Some of these persons were connected with Canton. Major John Shepard received his portion in the right of his uncle, John Shepard, who served under Major Wade; Humphrey Atherton in the right of his father, Consider; Ebenezer Hewins in the right of his brother, Benjamin ; Robert Redman in the right of his father, Charles; Philip Goodwin in his own right under command of Major Wade ; Joseph Warren, of Roxbury, in the right of Elias Monk; William Royall in the right of Hopestill Saunders.
In 1737 Eleazar Rhoades and others were set to Walpole and freed from ministerial charges until they should have a meeting-house nearer to them than the one at Stoughton.1
In 1738 a petition was presented to the General Court that the line between Dedham and Stoughton be changed, the reason urged being the difficulty of perambulation; and it was suggested that the Neponset River in future should divide the territory of the towns.
At a town meeting held at Dedham, Oct. 2, 1738, after consideration and considerable debate, the petition, with a proviso, was consented to; and that a part of Stoughton be taxed to Dedham, and " that Neponset River be made the bounds between Stoughton and the first parish in Dedham." Stoughton also consented, reserving their property known as the " school farm." Until this time the Stoughton line ran about one mile west of the river. The Neponset River, from the Milton line to its junction with Traphole Brook, thence up that stream, was made the line; and the lazy perambulators have since simply recorded it as " a wet line."
In 1740, so great had been the increase in the prosperity of the town that petitions came in from all sides for separation from the mother town.
March 10, 1739-40, the inhabitants of Stoughton voted that the town be divided into two precincts; and at a subsequent meeting the committee reported as follows: —
It is ye opinion of us ye subscribers that if ye Town see cause to Divide into two precincts, that it be Done as followeth, Viz. by a Line parralel with Brantrey Line at ye Distance of five miles and a half from sd Brantrey Line, and whereas there is a small Tract of Land in the Southeast Corner of this Town, Set off to ye north precinct in Bridgwater, that there be half so much Land as there is Set off to Bridgwater as above said taken off to ye Southwest of ye above mentioned Line at ye Southeast end thereof to Ly to ye North or Northeast part. March ye 24th, 1739-40.
Elkanah Billing. Ralph Pope.
William Crane. Silas Crane.
George Talbott. Samuel Billing.
John Shepard. Charles Wentworth.
Jeremiah Fuller and others, inhabitants of the southwestern part of Stoughton, in a petition to the General Court in 1740 alleged that in the part of the town where they lived one third of the rate-payers desired to be set off by themselves. This petition was opposed by William Royall, Elkanah Billings, Silas Crane, George Talbot, and Simon Stearns, a committee in behalf of the town.
Edward Curtis, Theophilus Curtis, Nathaniel Hammond, and others residing in that part of Stoughton adjoining Bridgewater, petitioned to be set off to the latter town in 1741. To this the selectmen replied that the land which they represented as worthless, and which they called a " gore," was valuable land; that the school farm of the town of Stoughton was situated in that part of the town, and that the annexation to Bridgewater would not only enrich a large and wealthy town, but would " deform " and cripple the town of Stoughton; moreover, that it removed the school farm not only into another town, but into another county. In regard to the distance which Curtis and others were obliged to send their children to attend school, the answer was that it was no uncommon thing for children in Stoughton to go three miles to school.
When the war with Spain had been continued for two years, about-four hundred and fifty young men of Massachusetts had perished from the unhealthiness of the climate. From our town James Hodge, aged twenty-one, Ebenezer Warren, aged thirty-seven, and Josiah Briggs, aged forty, enlisted in the company of Capt. Stephen Richards; and in Capt. Thomas Phillips's company went David Kenney and Edward Downes. The expedition commanded by Admiral Vernon, although not mentioned by Hutchinson, has had much light thrown upon it by our townsman, Ellis Ames, Esq. The "Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society for 1881 " contains an article entitled "Expedition against Carthagena." So dark and discouraging was the prospect that our people assembled at their place of prayer in obedience to the call for a public fast, and listened, both forenoon and afternoon, to such comfort as the good parson could draw from Deut. xxiii. 9, and Ex. xvii. 9-13. On the 3d of June, 1744, at fifteen minutes past ten in the morning, the people were attending public service; Mr. Dun-bar had just begun the long prayer, when suddenly the meeting-house began to rock and pitch in a terrible manner. There was great excitement; some of the congregation ran out, and one or two were so alarmed that they went into fits. Mr. Dunbar stood unmoved through the terrible excitement, and kept his presence of mind; and God graciously assisted him " to improve the providence." The day on which this earthquake took place was very hot, and the weather had been hot and dry without rain for some time.
On July 8, 1757, about two o'clock in the afternoon, our town was again visited with an earthquake, and again on Oct. 24, 1843. The first sound was like a heavy explosion, and then continued like the rumbling of thunder for upwards of a minute, then died away; the houses were sensibly shaken, and the dishes on the breakfast tables rattled. Nothing like it had occurred since 1727, when the Rev. Mr. Prince says, "At Dorchester the most terrible noise, seemed to be among the Blue Mountains, which some then abroad concluded were sunk."
Nathaniel Hubbard, our first moderator and one of our first selectmen, touches for a very short period the history of our town. He was the grandson of the Rev. William Hubbard, the historian of New England. His father was a prominent merchant of Boston, where Nathaniel was born Oct. 13, 1680. He graduated at Harvard College in 1698. His first appearance in Dorchester, as far as we know, was in 1708, when he applied for permission to dig iron ore in the undivided lands. He received his commission of justice of the peace, April 29, 1713. He removed to the South Precinct of Dorchester, and was moderator of our precinct meeting in 1718. He purchased of Capt. John Nelson the same year 310 acres of land at a place then and now known as Green Lodge, which from 1726 to 1738, when the river became the line, was a part of Stoughton. His wife was the daughter of that Captain Nelson famous as one of the Council of Safety to whom Andros surrendered. Her mother was a sister of Governor Stoughton, and this was a part of his country place. Judge Sewall records in his diary under date of Dec 15, 1725, "Mrs. Elizabeth Hubbard, of Dorchester, is buried lamented." Her husband subsequently married Rebecca Gore. In 1723 he was a trustee of the Ponkapoag Indians. On May 8, 1729, he was appointed by Nathaniel Byfield his " Deputy Judge of Admiralty for the County of Bristol, The Province of Rhode Island, The Narraganset Country." In 1741 Hutchinson says of him that " he was the oldest counsellor for the County of Bristol." He further adds "that he was a gentleman of amiable character, and filled the posts he sustained with applause." It is fair therefore to suppose that as he had been moderator of the town meetings at Dorchester, he brought to our first meeting not only all the knowledge requisite to the position, but that grace and dignity which distinguished the gentlemen of the provincial era. He held the position of Judge of the Court of Common Pleas until Jan. 24, 1745, when he was promoted to be Judge of the Supreme Court, which office he held till his death. He erected across the Neponset a bridge, which was called Hub-bard's Bridge. In 1759 this bridge became a public one, and was rebuilt by Dedham and Milton.
Judge Hubard removed to Rehoboth, where he died in 1748. He was a man of marked ability and sound judgment, of commanding presence, and lived in a style of great magnificence for his time.
1 See Appendix XXIV.
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