D. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) Hurd.

History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Volume 2) online

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rather than there should be a dissolution to conde-
scend to a removal if a fit place could be I'uuud, that
might more conveniently aud comfortably receive the
whole with such accession of others as might come to
them for their better strength and subsistence, aud
some such like cautions and limitations. So as with
the aforesaid provisos the greater part consented to a
removal to a place called Nauset, which had been
superficially viewed, and the good will of the pur-
chasers (to whom it belouged) obtaiued, with some
addition thereto from the courts. But now they
began to see their error, that they had giveu away
already the best aud most commodious places to others
and now wanted themselves ; for this place was about
fifty miles from hence and at an outside of the couutry
remote from all society, also that it would prove so
straight as it would uot be competent to receive the
whole body much less be capable of any addition or
increase, so as (at least in a short time) they should



be worse there than they are now here. The which,
with sundry other like considerations and inconveni-
ences made them change their resolutions, but such
as were before resolved upon removal took advantage
of this agreement and went oo notwithstanding,
neither could the rest hinder them, they having made
some beginning. And thus was this poor church left
like an ancient mother grown old and forsaken of her
children (though not in their affections) yet in regard
of their bodily presence and personal helpfulness.
Her ancient members being most of them worn away
by death, and those of later times being like children
translated into other families, and she like a widow
left only to trust in God. Thus she that had made
many rich became herself poor."

The tract of land called Nauset was one of those
which it will be remembered were reserved by Gov-
ernor Bradford in his assignment of the patent of
1629 to the colonists for the benefit of the "pur-
chasers or old comers." In addition to this in
1644-45 the court granted " to the church of New
Plymouth or those that goe to dwell at Nossett all
that tract of land lying between sea and sea, from
the purchaser's bounds at Naumsheckett to the Her-
ring Brook at Billingsgate, with the said Herring
Brook and all the meadows on both sides of said
brook with the great Bass Pound there, and all the
meadows and islauds lying within the said tract." In
1646, Nauset was incorporated, and in 1651 its name
was chauged by the court to Eastham. Among those
who migrated to this new settlement were Thomas
Prence, John Doane, Nicholas Snow, Josiah Cook,
Richard Higgins, John Smalley, and Edward Bangs,
and all these names except that of Prence and that of
Smalley, which has been probably changed to Small,
have been always up to the present time distinctive
names on the cape. Thus narrowly did Plymouth
escape the loss of its distinction as the seat of gov-
ernment and of the central church. If the general
movement had been made it would have resulted only
in the transfer of these to Eastham, and not in its
extinction as a municipality. The old settlement
would doubtless have continued to exist and to grow.
Its harbor, its streams, its springs, the tolerable rich-
ness of its soil would have attracted and sustained a
population better than the new location, and it is
probable that the experiment on the cape would have
resulted in failure. It is strange that possibilities
of greater success in agricultural pursuits should
have there been found to silence the complaints of
those who saw only in Plymouth the " straigtness
and barrenness of its land." The language of Brad-
ford plainly indicates that he did not favor the enter-

prise, and it is not probable that either Winslow or
Standish, who had found homesteads suited to their
wants and tastes in Marshfield and Duxbury, lent to
it their encouragement. Nothing more was heard of
a removal. The discovery of richer lands in the
South Meadows and other well-watered parts of what
are now Carver and Plympton, drew some of the col-
onists in that direction, and the gradual growth of
the colony along its northern borders, in Scituate
and Biidgewater, and Nemasket, put an end to the
scheme of removing the government from a central
point to the remotest limits of its jurisdiction.

The church at Eastham, established in 1644, was
the third offshoot of the parent church, those of
Duxbury and Marshfield, in 1632, having been the
other two. The church in Scituate, organized largely
by settlers from Massachusetts, could hardly have
claimed it as its mother. These churches were the
foundations of the towns, and after the churches were
established grants were made and acts of incorporation
followed. In some respects the churches and the
towns were identical. The towns settled the minis-
ters and paid their salaries out of the rates assessed
on the inhabitants. The original church of the town
formed the territorial parish, and every inhabitant
was supposed to have been born into its fold. Uutil
1834 every inhabitant was assumed to be a member
of the territorial parish, and paid his parish tax to
the treasurer of the town until he notified the parish
committee in writing that he had attached himself to
another. Subsequent to the settlement of the earliest
towns companies were formed from time to time, re-
ceiving grants of land from the colony, and becoming
" purchasers" or " proprietors" or founders of towus.
These grants conveyed, however, nothing more than
a pre-emption right, and were not to take effect uutil
the Indians had released their rights and titles by a
formal sale. The proprietors organized as an associa-
tion, having their own clerk and selling lauds to
settlers. Their records, next to the grants of the
court, form the basis of the land titles of many of the
towns in the Old Colony.

It has already been stated that the first entry in
the town records bears the date of 1637. Precisely
under what authority the records were kept ueither
the orders of court nor the laws disclose. Iu the re-
vision of the laws, bearing date Nov. 15, 1636, the
first provision seems to have been made for a clerk
of the colony court, and on the third day of January,
1636/7, Nathaniel Sowther was chosen. From that
time, or not long after, both the colony and town
records were kept by him. From 1645 to 1679 both
were kept by Nathaniel Morton, the successor of-Na-



thaniel Sowther. On the 3d day of March, 1645/6,
it was ordered by the court that the clerk or some
one in every town " do keep a register of the day and
year of every marriage, birth, and burial, and to
have three pence apiece for Ii is pains." It does not
plainly appear whether the clerk here spoken of is
the clerk of the court or of the town. It is certain,
however, that until 1679 the records of town proceed-
ings were kept by the clerk of the colouy. In 1679,
Nathauiel Morton was formally chosen town clerk,
and from that time until his death the records con-
tinued to be kept by him. In 16S5, Thomas Faunce
was chosen as his successor. The volumes containing
the births, deaths, and marriages were opened by him
in that year, and though they contain entries as early
as 1662, it is evident that they were made by Mr.
Faunce from memoranda which came into his pos-
session from Mr. Morton. The predecessors of Mr.
Faunce had complied with the law of 1645/6, and
had registered during their terms of office the births,
deaths, and marriages in the Old Colony Records.
After the death of Nathaniel Morton, Nathaniel
Clark became secretary of the colony, followed by
Samuel Sprague, who, except during the usurpation
of Andros, continued to act until the union in 1692.
Thomas Faunce, who was chosen town clerk in 1685,
remained in office until 1723, when he was succeeded
by John Dyer, who held the office from 1723 to
1731, and, after a year's incumbency by Gershom
Foster in 1732, from 1733 to 1738. Edward
Winslow acted as clerk until 1741, succeeded by
Samuel Bartlett, whose term extended from 1742 to
1765. John Cotton in 1766 ; Ephraim Spooner,
from 1767 to 1818 ; Thomas Drew, from 1818 to
1840; Timothy Berry, from 1840 to 1852; Leander
Lovell, from 1852 to 1878; and Curtis Davie, the
present incumbent, complete the list.

Of Nathaniel Sowther, the first secretary of the
colony, little is known. His first appearance in the
colony was in 1635, when on the 4th of October in
that year he was made a freeman. His qualifications
for the office of secretary, to which he was so soon
chosen, must have admitted him to the list of free-
holders at an early day, and it is fair to presume,
therefore, that 1635 was the date of his arrival. It
may be also said that the immediate recognition of
his fitness for the important post of secretary, and
his advancement over those who had been longer in
the colony, show him to have been a man of more
than ordinary endowments. Of his antecedents and
family nothing hi known. Judge Davis, in his notes to
Morton's " New England's Memorial," has expressed
the opinion that the name was identical with South-

! worth, and spelled as it might have been sometimes
pronounced. But a theory, which at first seems
'• plausible, becomes more than doubtful when we find
repeatedly in the same record made by Sowther him-
self the distinction between the two names pronounced.
The name as written by him was Sowther, and such
I he always signed it as long as he remained in the
' colony. He lelt no male descendants. By a wife,
1 Alice, who died in Boston in 1651, he had two daugh-
I ters, — Hannah (who married William HanLury, and
a second husband named Johnson) and Mary (who
! married Joseph Starr). In 103S he bought of Lieut.
William Holmes, who next to Miles Standish was lor
a time the chief military personage in the colony, a
lot of land on Burial Hill west of the laud of Johu
Alden, and almost precisely the spot now occupied by
the northerly row of tombs. Here he undoubtedly
lived uutil about 1649, when he removed to Boston.
He there married, in 1653, Widow Sarah Hill, and
died iu 1655. It may be here suggested that the
residence of Lieut. Holmes was established near the
fort, over which, as second in command, he would
have had some supervision. In the absence of any
evidence to the contrary, it may perhaps be still fur-
ther presumed that in the earliest days the residence
of Standish was still further up the hill and nearer
the fort.

Nathaniel Morton, the successor of Sowther, has
already beeu perhaps sufficiently referred to. It is
only necessary to say, further, that he was ten years
old when he came with his father, George, iu the
" Ann," iu 1623, and married, in 1635, Lydia Cooper,
by whom he had Remember, 1637, who married
Abraham Jackson ; Mercy, who married Joseph
Dunham ; Lydia, who married George Ellison ; Eliza-
beth, who married Nathaniel Bosworth ; Joanna
(1654), who married Joseph Prince; Hannah, who
married Benjamin Bosworth ; Eleaser, and Nathan-
iel. His sons died unmarried, and he therefore left
no descendants bearing the name. The family of
Jacksons descended from his daughter, Remember,
has always been a numerous and prominent one in
Plymouth ; and descendants of his brothers, John
and Ephraim, bearing the name of Morton, are scat-
tered all over New England. Mr. Morton lived for
many years on the estate now occupied by Amasa
Holmes, immediately north of Wellingsby Brook, on
the westerly side of the road ; and in the latter part
of his life, until his death in 1685, he occupied a
house which stood on the easterly side of Market
Street, immediately above the estate of the late John
B. Atwood.

Nathaniel Clark, the successor of Nathauiel Mor-



ton, was the son of Thomas Clark, who came in the
"Ann," in 1623. For many years the father en-
joyed the undeserved distinction of having been the
mate of the " Mayflower," and even now the tradition
has taken so strong a hold that it is almost impos-
sible, by the aid even of indisputable testimony, to
eradicate it. His gravestone, on Burial Hill, is
pointed out daily as that of the " Mayflower's" mute
by tho=e whose learning and knowledge are acquired
from the traditions of their fathers, rather than from
the newly-discovered facts of undoubted history.
Thomas Clark, in question, was a carpenter by trade,
and according to a statement made by him under oath
in 1064, he was then fifty-nine years of age, or at the
time of the lauding, in 1620, but fifteen. We are
not left, however, to the mere presumption that one
so young, who afterwards pursued the trade of a me-
chanic, could not have occupied the responsible posi-
tion of a mate. In a letter of Robert Cushman,
bearing date June 11, 1620, he says, "We have
hired another pilot here, one Mr. Clarke, who went
last year to Virginia with a ship of kiue." Rev. E.
D. Neill, in some recent investigations in England,
has discovered that Capt. Jones, afterwards the mas-
ter of the " Mayflower," went to Virginia in 1619 in
commaud of a vessel loaded with kiue, and that John
Clark was employed by the Virginia Company in the
enterprise. It may be stated, then, that the mate of
the " Mayflower" was certaiuly uot Thomas Clark,
and was probably John, who went to Virginia, in
1619, with kine. Nathaniel Clark, the sou of Thomas,
was an attorney-at-law, or as near to one as the con-
ditions and exigencies of the times either permitted
or required. He married Dorothy, the widow of
Edward Gray, au enterprising and thrifty merchant,
and daughter of Thomas Lettice, a respectable inn-
keeper, but had no children, and left no descendants.
Soon after his election to the office of secretary, Sir
Edmond Andros arrived in the country commissioned
by James the Second as Governor of New Euglund.
Under his administration the colonial government was
superseded, and the office of secretary necessarily va-
cated. Andros declared all public lands vested in the
crown, and ordered that all private titles should be
quieted by his confirmation alone. The governments
of the other colonies were also suspended, and the
confederated union was dissolved. With popular dis-
satisfaction almost universal, Mr. Clark fusteued him-
self to the royal Governor, aud became one of his
most subservient instruments aud tools. Among
other landed possessions of the town of Plymouth was
Clark's Island, named after the " Muyflower's" mate,
John Clark, who, in command of the shallop of the


" Mayflower," safely lauded his boat's company there
on the 8th of November, 1620, aud spent there the
following Sabbath. The ialand is so called in the
records as early as the 3d of September, 1G38. On
the 7th of January, 1638/9, it is recorded that
" the Court hath granted that Clark's Island, the
Eele River beach (Plymouth Beach), Sagaquash (Sa-
quish) & Gurnetts Nose shal be & remayne unto the
towne of Plymouth, with the woods thereupon." This
grant was made, it must be observed, nearly two years
before the definition of the bounds of the town by
the court in 1640, showing that the latter act of the
•rovernment marks in no sense the date of the origin
or quasi-incorporatiou of the town. From the date of
the grant of the island to the town it had been made a
source of profit to its inhabitants by the erection of salt-
works aud the restricted use of the timber aud fuel
which it afforded. On this island Mr. Clark fixed
his greedy eyes, and applied to the Governor for
its title. The State archives contain the following
record :

"By Ida Excellency. — Whereas, Mr. Nathaniel Chirk, of
Plymouth, hath by his petition desired that a certain small
Island, called Clark's Island, lying near New Plymouth, being
vacant and unappropriated, may be granted to him for the
better settlement and improvement thereof, of which notice
hath been given already to the said town, but no due return
made nor any persons appeared thereon. These arc, therefore,
to require you forthwith to give public notice in the said town
that if any person or persons havo any cluim or title to the
said Island they appear before mo, in Council, on the 1st
Wednesday in February next, and then and there show forth
such their cluim and title accordingly, of which you are uot to
fail and to make due return. Dated at Boston 21 day of I>ec.,
1C87. Asduos.

"To Mn. Samuel Straoue, High Sheriff
of the County of Plymouth.

11 By His Excellencies command.

"The above written was publicly read to the whole of the
Town of Plymouth, aforesaid, at their Town-meeting the 23
day of January, 1B87/8.

"prSAii'L Si'haglt:, Sherij)'."

A later record coutains the following :

"By virtue of a warrant from his Excellency, Sir Edward
Andros, Knight, Captain-General, and fiovernor-in-Chief of
his Majesty's territory and dominion of New England, bearing
date Boston, the 23d of February, 1087, I have surveyed aud
laid out for Mr. Nathaniel Clark a certain small Island, being
known by the name of Clark's Island, and is situated and lying
in New Plymouth Bay, bearing from tho meeting-house in
Plymouth north by northeast about three miles, and is bounded
round with water and flats, and contains eighty-six acres ami
a quarter and three rods. Performed this 3rd day of March,
1G87/8. Phillip Wells, Surveyor."

But the town did not yield up the islaud to the

usurper without resistance. A towu-meetiug was

I called aud a committee chosen to take steps towards



reclaiming the island, and to collect subscriptions to
defray the expenses of the undertaking. The com-
mittee, together with Elder Faunce, the town clerk,
and Ichabod Wiswell, were arrested for levying and
aiding in levying taxes upon his Majesty's subjects and
bound over to the Supreme Court at Boston. The an-
noyances and vexations to which they were subjected
only increased the spirit of resistance and strengthened
the determination of the town to maiutain its rights.
Before the matter was settled, however, news was re-
ceived (on the 18th of April, 1689) of the landing
of the Prince of Orange in England, and on the 29th
William and Mary were proclaimed in Boston. An-
dres was arrested and sent to England, and Clark, as
his most pliant coadjutor, was arrested also, and sent as
his companion. At a town-meeting of the inhabitants
the following declaration was made: "Whereas, we
have not only just grounds to suspect, but are well
assured that Nathaniel Clark hath been a real enemy
to the peace and prosperity of the people, aud hath,
by lying and false informatiou to the late Governor,
caused much trouble and damage to this place, en-
deavored to deprive us of our lands, and exposed us
to the unjust severity of persons ill affected to us
whereby a considerable part of our estates is unright-
eously extorted from us, to the great prejudice of our
families and the loss of many necessary comforts, and
he persisting from time to time iii his own malicious
forging of complaints against one or another of us,
whereby we are in continual hazard of many further
great inconveniences aud mischief, we do therefore
seize upon his person, resolving to secure him for the
hands of justice to deal with him according to his
desert." On his arrival in England Clark was dis-
charged aud sent back, and on his return to Plymouth
and his practice he built a house on the northeast
corner of what is now the garden of Albert C. Chan-
dler, where he lived until 1717, the year of his death.
Clark's Island was restored to the town, but soon after
it was voted to sell the island, Saquish, the Gurnet,
and Colchester Swamp to defray the expenses of its
attempted recovery. In 1690 it was sold to Samuel
Lucas, Elkanah Watson, and George Morton, and
after a few years passed wholly into the hands of the
Watson family, by whose various branches it is still

Of Samuel Sprague, the last secretary of the col-
ony, little is known, except that he was also made
high sheriff of Plymouth County at its organization,
in 1685, and died in 1710. After the colony of
New Plymouth was merged into Massachusetts, under
her new charter of 1691, the records of the Old Col-
ony remained in his hands until his death. By some

' unaccountable and unjustifiable neglect they were per-
mitted for eighteen years to continue in the care of a
private citizen, exposed to the danger of loss and
destruction necessarily attending on unofficial and
irresponsible guardianship. Immediately after his
death, in response to representations made to the
General Quarter Sessions of the Peace within the
County of Plymouth, they ordered Nathaniel Thomas,
at that time judge of probate, to take thetu into his
care and custody until further orders. In November,
1710, the justices of the peace for the counties of
Plymouth, Barnstable, and Bristol, into which the
Old Colony had been divided in 1685, petitioned the
General Court of Massachusetts to have them '• kept
and lodged in the town of Plymouth, which was the
head town of the said Colony of Plymouth, and where
the said Records were wont to be kept." On this
petition it was ordered " that the Books, Records, and
files of the General Court of the late Colony of New
Plymouth be committed to the custody of the Clerk
of the Inferior Court of the County of Plymouth fur
the time being, he dwelling in Plymouth, a perfect
schedule thereof beiug made, with an Indent, to be
passed for the same to the justices of the said Court.
Aud that the clerk be impowered to transcribe and
attest copies of the said Records for any that shall
desire the same, upon paying the established fees."

These records, now deposited in the office of the
register of deeds at Plymouth, consist of eighteen
manuscript volumes, six of which contain the pro-
ceedings of the General Court and Court of Assist-
ants ; six, the deeds of estates ; four, a registry of wills
aud inventories; one contains the judicial acts of the
courts, the treasurer's accounts, aud a list of births,
deaths, and marriages, aud the last is a volume of
laws. All these up to 1637 are in the handwriting of
the then Governors, Bradford, Winslow, aud Preuce,
and after that date in that of the secretaries of the
colony. In 1820 a commission, consisting of Samuel
Davis, of Plymouth, Rev. James Freeman, of Boston,
and Benjamin R. Nichols, of Salem, was appointed
by the General Court to superinteud the work of
copying such portion of the records as they might
think desirable. Under their direction the six vol-
umes of court proceedings, one volume of deeds, the
volumes of judicial acts, etc., and the volume of laws
were copied, aud the copies were deposited in the
office of the secretary of the commonwealth, where
they may now be seen. As a part of the Old Colony
archives, the acts of the commissioners of the United
Colonies, iu two volumes, are also deposited iu the
Plymouth registry, and have beeu always considered
a part of the Colony Records, or records of New Plym-



outh. In 1855 a resolve was passed by the Gen-
eral Court providing " that eight hundred copies of
the records of the colony of New Plymouth, with
suitable indexes, be stereotyped and printed, under the
supervision of the secretary of the commonwealth,
who may appoint some competent person or persons
to prepare said records for printing, and take charge
of the same." Under this resolve Nathaniel Shurt-
leff, of Boston, was appoiuted editor, and under his
direction David Pulsifer was employed in making fair
and legible copies for the press. For the commence-
ment of the work the copies of the commission of 1820,
carefully revised, were used for the printer, and Mr.
Pulsifer confined his labors to those portions of the
records of which copies had not been made. In
printing the acts of the commissioners, the copy by
Hazard, iucluded in his " Collections," carefully com-
pared with the original and corrected, was used, and
thus the necessity of copying those also was obviated.
By the time those portions of the records which
had already beeu copied by the commission of 1820
and Hazard's copy of the commissioners' acts had been
printed, the General Court stopped the work, and
consequently the remaining portion of the records,
consisting of five volumes of deeds and four volumes
of wills and inventories, which were copied by Mr.
Pulsifer at a large cost to the commonwealth, remain
unprinted. The ten printed volumes are thought by
mauy to include the entire records of the colony,

Online LibraryD. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) HurdHistory of Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Volume 2) → online text (page 27 of 118)