Dedham (Mass.).

Proceedings at the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the incorporation of the town of Dedham, Massachusetts, September 21, 1886 online

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which must command the respect and admiration
of thoughtful men ; and for us who are " native
here, and to the manner born," it has an unceasing
interest, even in its repetition. Surely on such a
commemorative occasion as this, we cannot forbear

^ Mass. Col. Rec, vol. i. p. 148.


to review some chapters of that history, and per-
chance we may find some new grounds to cherish
the memory of the men who have lived here
before us.

The Colony of Massachusetts Bay had a distinct
and independent origin, differing in many respects
from that of the Plymouth Colony, although the two
are frequently confounded by popular writers, and
even by some historians. They were planted by
men of different antecedents, holding different rela-
tions to the Established Church ; and before coming
to New England, there was no agreement' or con-
nection between them. The Pilgrim was a Sepa-
ratist ; the Puritan was a Non-conformist. Here
in New England the two Colonies were frequently
united for their common defence, and by their simi-
larity and proximity the people were gradually
drawn together ; yet there continued to be some
essential differences between them until the con-
solidation under the provincial charter in 1692.
The Massachusetts Company, formed in England
in 1623, was at first a stock company, organized
only for commercial ventures. The Massachusetts
coast was then well known to navigators. Before
Columbus saw the mainland of America, the Cabots
had discovered the continent, and had sailed along
the coast from Newfoundland to North Carolina.
In 1 6 14 Captain John Smith had explored the coast,
and made his well-known map on which the name
of New England first appeared, and our river re-


celved the name of Charles, for Prince Charles,
afterwards Charles I. of England. It was an era
of commercial activity, and the Massachusetts Com-
pany embarked in the fur trade and cod fisheries.
They obtained their franchise under the Great Patent
of New England, which was granted by the Crown
in 1620, just about a month before the "casual
landing" of the Pilgrims.^ In 1624 the Company
sent over fifty vessels to engage in the fisheries;
but these enterprises proving unprofitable, they were
soon abandoned. The father of the Massachusetts
Colony was the Rev. John White, of Dorchester,
England, a Puritan divine, though a Conformist.
It was he who first conceived the idea of planting
a colony here for commercial purposes. When these
were abandoned, he turned his attention to colonists
of another sort. He succeeded in enlisting in his
plan the co-operation of certain Puritan Non-con-
formists, men of character and intelligence, who
saw in the project of a new colony the way opened
for relief from their distressing position as non-
conformists to the liturgy of the Anglican Church.
Among the six new patentees, representing the body
of one hundred and ten other members of the com-
pany, was Captain John Endicott, a stanch Puritan,
who was sent over to Salem with a small colony in
1628. This was the first impulse of the new emi-
gration. On the 4th of March, 1629, a new charter
was obtained directly from the Crown, which granted

^ Archasologia Americana, p. 15.


to the company the territory lying between the
Merrimack and three miles north of it, and the
Charles and three miles south of it ; and what was
of greater import to the future colony, besides the
territorial grants and some commercial privileges, it
also conferred the powers of government. This was
the colony charter under which Massachusetts "grew
and waxed strong in spirit " for more than sixty
years. John Winthrop was chosen governor, and
active preparations were immediately begun for
colonization in force, widi a scrupulous care to the
wants and contingencies of a new plantation. It
was now decided to remove the seat of government,
which had hitherto been in England, and to transfer
the charter to New England. Governor Winthrop,
accompanied by about twenty members of the com-
pany, bearing the charter, arrived on the "Arbella"
in Salem harbor, April ii, 1630. It was the "Ar-
bella," and not the " Mayflower," that first brought
to Massachusetts Bay a royal charter which gave
the guaranties of local self-government, and which
may be said to have foreshadowed the future inde-
pendence of the people of Massachusetts.

These events were the beginning of a coloniza-
tion which, regarding both the numbers and charac-
ter of the colonists, is without a parallel in history.
In the next fifteen years nearly three hundred ships
brought more than twenty-one thousand people to
the shores of Massachusetts Bay.^ These colonists

1 Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence (Poole's ed.), p. 31.


had come with a common, well-defined purpose,
under the ample protection of a royal charter ; they
had brought all their worldly substance, and they
had come to stay. These were the men who moulded
the civil government and ecclesiastical system which
were peculiar to Massachusetts. But they were not
only the unconscious builders of a great Common-
wealth ; they were the progenitors of a race now
numbered by millions, scattered through this broad
land, whose pronounced religious character and
opinions were distinctly impressed upon their de-
scendants to the third generation, and which have
not yet wholly ceased to exert their power.^

History does not justify the conclusion that all
this great company of settlers were impelled by
exclusively religious considerations. The same
powerful impulse towards colonization was felt in
England by Churchman, Romanist, and Quaker, as
well as by Pilgrim and Puritan ; and not only in
England, but in France and Spain, Holland and
Sweden. It seems like a prophecy of our com-
posite American civilization that, at not long inter-
vals of time, along the coast from Maine to Florida,
settlements were made by Europeans of different
tongues and creeds. Doubtless not a few of the
passengers in the ships of the Massachusetts Com-
pany had in their minds the fur trade' and the
fisheries. Perhaps more were allured by the dream
of proprietorship in broad acres, which has always

^ See Preface to Dr. Palfrey's History of New England.


made America seem a promised land to the Euro-
pean. But after all that can be justly said of these
diversities in the purposes of the Massachusetts
colonists, still the historical fact remains unaffected,
that the leading idea of the controlling minds of
the company, not distinctly avowed in England for
prudential reasons, but none the less profoundly
entertained and acted upon, was to plant a colony
here, where they might worship God in their own
way, in the company exclusively of those having
the same mind and faith, without let or hindrance
from any external civil or ecclesiastical authority, or
molestation from any person whatsoever.

The Puritans have been frequently misunderstood,
and so they have been the subjects both of indis-
criminate eulogy and undeserved censure. They
were not religious enthusiasts or political dreamers.
They did not seek to divorce the Church from the
State. They did not mean to provide here a refuge
for men of any creed who might come to them
through discontent or fly to them from persecution.
Toleration was an unknown word in their time, and
they are to be judged by the standards of thought
in their own time. At home in England they had
belonged to the Established Church, and they never
renounced its communion. Before coming here, they
had never become a sect under a distinctive name.
But they were members of a powerful and growing
party in the Anglican Church, which sought to carry
out the Reformation according to the principles and


practice of the continental reformers. Almost a
hundred and fifty years before Luther, nearly the
same doctrines that he taught had been maintained
in England by Wycliffe.^ But the English reforma-
tion had progressed slowly, with serious reverses,
under different dynasties. The continental refor-
mation had been more rapid and complete. During
the persecutions many of the Puritan clergy in the
reign of Queen Mary had taken refuge in Germany
and Switzerland. In the city of Geneva they had be-
come disciples in the school of John Calvin, and had
embraced not only his theological dogmas, but his
church polity and simple forms of worship. The
powerful influence of Calvin's teachings had been
widely felt in England. From the middle of the six-
teenth century, the controversy about ceremonies and
vestments had proceeded. But when finally the arm
of the civil power of the kingdom was stretched
forth to enforce conformity to the liturgy under
heavy penalties, and the non-conforming clergy were
deprived of their livings, their position became dis-
tressing and insupportable. With them compromise
was impossible ; their alternative was either conform-
ity or voluntary expatriation, and they reluctantly
chose the latter. They parted with sorrow from the
land and homes they loved, so that they might freely
enjoy their simple forms of worship beyond the sea.^

^ Hallam's Constitutional History, vol. i. p. 57.

^ The authorities for the view of the character and purposes of the
Massachusetts Colonies here presented, are the " Planter's Plea," by
Rev. John White, London, 1630, partly reprinted in Young's " Chroni-


Of such men as these were the founders of Ded-
ham. Their English homes were chiefly in the
eastern counties of England, — Suffolk, Essex, and
Norfolk. Few, if any of them, were known to each
other before coming here. They found at Water-
town a temporary resting-place, but there was no
room for them in that crowded settlement. They
were forced to find homes elsewhere. Robert Feake,
a relative of Governor Winthrop, and a prominent
man at Watertown, was the first signer of the Cov-
enant, and had an allotment of land ; but he never
removed here. The leader of the pioneers was
Edward Alleyn, a man of capacity and education.
The authorship of the Town Covenant, to which at
different times the signatures of one hundred and
twenty-five men were affixed, is to be attributed to
him. It is a document which embodies the general
purposes of the plantation, which are expressed with
dignity, simplicity, and brevity. The names of all
the pioneers who actually came here cannot be pre-
cisely stated ; but among them, besides Mr. Edward
Alleyn, were John Dwight, Richard Everard, Abra-
ham Shaw, Samuel Morse, Philemon Dalton, Lam-
bert Genere, John Gay, and John Ellis. All these
were signers of the petition, and removed here from

cles of Massachusetts ; " Palfrey's " History of New England,'' vol. i.
chap. iii. ; the learned monograph on the Massachusetts Company, by
Samuel F. Haven, in the " Archaeologia Americana ; " and the chapter
on the Puritan Commonwealth in the " Memorial History of Boston,"
by Dr. George E. Ellis, where the authorities are collated, and the whole
subject is comprehensively and judicially treated.


Watertown. The prayer of the petition to the
General Court was that the town be distinguished
by the name of Contentment, or otherwise as the
Court should please. The Court inserted the name
of Dedham. While we have no definite historical
evidence why this name was given, we may draw
the obvious but satisfactory inference that there
were some of the settlers who had lived in Dedham,
England. It is supposed that John Dwight, John
Page, and John Rogers were of this number.^ It is
not improbable that there were others, as little is
now known concerning the places of their nativity.
That it was a favorite idea with the Colonists thus to
perpetuate the names of their English homes, is well
known. A glance at the map of Essex and Suffolk,
England, will show how many names were repeated
in Essex and Suffolk in the Massachusetts Colony.
Dedham in England is a delightful, but quiet
town, in the valley of the Stour, a small river which
divides Essex from Suffolk. It lies about fifty-seven
miles northeast from London, and some four miles
from Manningtree station. It is rarely found on
the maps. It lies in the midst of a sheep-grazing
country ; and, formerly, a source of prosperity to its
people was the manufacture of wool on hand-looms.
It is a quiet, picturesque place now, where artists go
for sketches ; and the scene of a recent English mag-
azine story was laid there.^ In the description there

1 Worthington's History of Dedliam, p. 31.

2 The Deadleigh Sweep, Cornhill Magazine, 1886.


given, one may easily find points of resemblance
between our Dedham and its English prototype.

It consists of one broad street of old houses, some
plaster and timber with acute gables toward the
street, and of brick mansions erected between the
reigns of Queen Anne and George IV. ; of a stone
church of the fifteenth century, with a stately tower,
and encrusted with mural tablets ; of an assembly-
room with a Doric portico, and of a red brick gram-
mar-school with moulded brick pediments, cornices,
and picturesque windows, and a cricket-ground be-
hind, shadowed by giant elms.

Although the signers of the petition may be re-
garded as the nominal founders of the town, yet out
of the nineteen, only eight were long identified with
it, or had any permanent influence in its organiza-
tion. The rest either removed or died soon after
the beginning of the town. But in 1637 the com-
pany received new and important accessions to its
principal men, who came here directly from Eng-
land. Among these were John Allin, Eleazer
Lusher, Michael Metcalf, Anthony Fisher, Daniel
Fisher, and Francis Chickering. These, with those
already here and others who followed soon after, are
to be regarded as the efficient founders of the town.

We find, in the records, surprising evidence of the
energy and foresight of these men in organizing the
settlement. They went about the work of forming
a civil society with the certainty of instinct. It
must be remembered that as yet there were no


general laws of the Colony to regulate their interests
or to direct them in their affairs. The first code
of colony laws, known as the Body of Liberties, was
not passed until 1641. But they had brought with
them a strong endowment of that common-sense
which has been said to be the source of the com-
mon law of England. They had been trained to a
knowledge of the great underlying principles of
civil society. They had only to transplant here in
the wilderness such laws and customs as would
serve their purpose, but these were derived from a
civilization which had been the growth of centuries.
They knew the difference between organic law and
municipal regulations. The Town Covenant was
their constitution. It declares that none were to be
received unless they were probably of one heart
with them. It provides for a settlement of differ-
ence by reference to two or three others. It im-
poses the duty of every man owning land to pay his
share of taxes, ratably with other men. It an-
nounces the purposes of the settlement to be " a
loving and comfortable society." This was sub-
scribed by every townsman as he was admitted, dur-
ing many years. But they also passed many muni-
cipal regulations in the beginning. Great care was
taken that no unfit person should be admitted. One
ordinance declared that every man should give in-
formation of what he knew concerning any man in
town, before he should be admitted *' into the soci-
ety of such as seek peace and ensue it." No propri-


etor could sell his lands without the leave of the
company. The purpose of these ordinances was to
keep off " the contrary-minded." In the division of
lands, they granted each married man a home lot of
twelve acres, and each unmarried man eight acres.
These were all surveyed, and an instrument of title
given, which was duly recorded. They reserved a
common tillage-field in which every man's share
was defined. They laid out herd-walks or common
pastures where all cattle might feed. They pro-
vided for the maintenance of fences and the keep-
ing of swine, horses, and cattle. As early as 1637, a
long ordinance was passed for the establishment of
highways. All rivers and ponds, except those en-
closed by lands of one owner, were to be kept from
being appropriated, and for the use of the inhabi-
tants for " fishing or otherwise as occasion may
require." It will be observed, in these ordinances,
how the common weal was made paramount to
every private interest. In 1644 they granted lands
for a school fund, and they raised ;^20 to pay the
school-master. They set apart the training-field,
and organized the train-band, which had a weekly
exercise in the beginning. At first they were em-
ployed the greater portion of their time in public
business, and after three years they delegated to
seven men all powers except granting lands and
admitting townsmen. These were the first Select-
men of Dedham. In all these ways they showed
how much more they thought of building up a com-


fortable society than of building comfortable cot-
tages for themselves. No sooner had they reared
their rude cabins in the forest than their thoughts
were turned to converting it into a settlement where
all might enjoy the blessings of civilized life.

The subject uppermost in their thoughts was the
gathering of a church. At first they worshipped
under one of the large trees east of Dvvight's Brook,
or Little River.^ They began to build a meeting-
house in 1638, but it was not finished until 1646.
It was placed on this spot, after some difference of
opinion, as the record runs, " in loving satisfaction to
some neighbors on the East side of Little River."
Mr. Allin has left a minute and graphic history of
the formation of the church, now preserved on the
church records, written by his own hand. To the
founders it was a great and solemn work, to be under-
taken with the utmost care and deliberation. They
spent a whole winter in conferences, that they might
become acquainted with "each other's gifts and
graces." It was first proposed that the members of
the Watertown church of their own number should
lay the foundation, but this was declined. Then they
began the delicate and trying duty of determining
who among themselves " were meet for the work."
After a day of fasting and prayer, " every one laying
aside all ambitious desires of being taken into the
work, and overmuch bashfulness in refusing the
same, they should willingly submit themselves to

1 Lamson's Historical Discourses, 1838, p. 7.


the judgment of the whole company to be taken or
left as ordered by the rule of the Gospel," six were
agreed upon by common consent. But they could
not so easily agree upon the others. There was no
shrinking in their scrutiny. They were no respect-
ers of persons. It was "judgment laid to the line
and righteousness to the plummet." Edward Al-
leyn himself had given some offence, and he was
required to wait for further testimonies from friends
in England. Anthony Fisher had a false confi-
dence. Joseph Kingsbury was too much addicted
to the world, and Thomas Morse was dark and un-
satisfying in his religious experience, though his
life was innocent. Finally, Edward Alleyn and
John Hunting were accepted ; and on the 8th of
November, 1638, having obtained the consent of the
Governor and Mas^istrates and sent a letter to the
elders of the neighboring churches, and after spend-
ing the previous day in fasting and prayer, the first
church of Dedham and the fourteenth in the Colony,
in the words of Mr. Allin, " was made a spiritual
house." Another severe trial awaited them in the
choice of a pastor. Mr. Thomas Carter, a signer
of the Covenant, was thought of ; but he was called
to Woburn. Mr. John Phillips, an eminent divine,
formerly rector at Wrentham, England, was much
desired; but he declined. The choice finally fell
on Mr. John Allin as pastor and John Hunting as
ruling elder. At the ordination, although the el-
ders of the other churches were present, they took


no further part than to extend the right hand of
fellowship. The laying on of hands was done by
members of the church, and in this service they
followed the usage of other churches in the Colony.
These proceedings had an intense and absorbing
interest for these earnest-minded men, and give us
a good insight into their characters. Beneath their
quaint forms of speech, it is easy to see how tena-
ciously they held to their rule of discipline and
faith, and how rigidly they applied to themselves
the same rule that they did to others, in determin-
ing fitness for church-membership.

The planters in their petition had desired that
the name of Contentment should be given to the
town, but to them this did not signify the content-
ment of repose or inaction; on the contrary, they
exhibited a remarkable energy in forwarding public
enterprises. In their need of a corn-mill, they sought
for an eligible site where they might build a dam for
water-power. Some quick eye discovered that East
Brook, which ran to the Neponset, would give the
needed fall, but not sufficient water. The sources
of this brook were about three fourths of a m.ile from
Charles River, and lower than the bed of the river.
The problem then was to unite the waters of the
Charles and of East Brook. No sooner was the
plan conceived than it was determined to execute
it. On the twenty-fifth day of March, 1639, the
town ordered that the channel be dus: at the com-
mon charge, " that it may form a suitable creek unto


a water-mill, that it shall be found fitting to set a
mill upon, in the opinion of a workman to be em-
ployed for that purpose." This required the cut-
ting of a channel twenty feet wide for three fourths
of a mile, and a further widening of the channel of
East Brook. Who were employed in this work
cannot be discovered, but the canal was dug and a
dam and mill built upon it as early as 1640. It was
undertaken without any aid or authority from the
General Court ; and so far as is known, it was their
own right arms that accomplished the work. This
was an enterprise of no small proportions, and its
benefits to the town have been far reaching. For
two centuries it furnished power for a saw-mill and a
grist-mill. Since the beginning of the present cen-
tury there have been five mill-dams on the stream,
and extensive cotton and woollen mills, with other
manufactories. To-day it is the source of the great-
est industrial enterprise of the town, and is the best
existing monument of the energy and foresight of
the settlers.

Another work showing their practical forethought
was undertaken in 1652. At the beginning of the
settlement, what is now called " Dedham Island "
was a neck of land containing about twelve hundred
acres, around which Charles River flowed with a
slight fall in its course, a distance of nearly five
miles in an irregular horse-shoe bend. There was
a distance of only two thirds of a mile across the
meadows at the heel of this bend, and here the


upper and lower channels of the river are distinctly
visible. On this neck was a herd-walk, and perhaps
some houses. The damage to the meadows by the
waters remaining upon them was felt by the settlers
to be serious, as it has been by every succeeding
generation of riparian owners. Accordingly they
conceived and executed the plan of cutting a creek
or ditch through " Broad Meadows," thus uniting
the upper and lower channels of the river. The
purpose of this creek was to permit the overflow
of water in times of freshets through this artificial
channel, instead of allowing it to accumulate along
its natural and circuitous course below. This chan-
nel still exists ; and though much obstructed, if it
were cleared there is no reason to doubt it would
fulfil the purpose of its projectors.

But the enterprise of the Dedham settlers was not
confined to the immediate neiGfhborhood of the vil-


lao:e. Almost at the bes^innins: their attention had
been drawn to the beautiful and extensive mead-
ows at Bogastow, afterwards Medfield. Edward
Alleyn had a grant of three hundred and fifty
acres there before his death in 1642. In 1651
Medfield was made a new town, with Mr. Wheelock,
of the Dedham church, as its church teacher. It

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Online LibraryDedham (Mass.)Proceedings at the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the incorporation of the town of Dedham, Massachusetts, September 21, 1886 → online text (page 3 of 13)