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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from provincial taxes levied on account of ' the
French wars, in which they had fought the battles
of England ; but they were ready to make greater
sacrifices in resisting those parliamentary measures
especially contrived to reduce the free-spirited people


of Massachusetts to the condition of mere subjects
to the Crown. The town raised its voice asrainst
the passage of the Stamp Act, and joined in the
short-lived joy over its repeal, of which event the
Sons of Liberty have left a permanent memorial to
this day.^ It voted to discourage the use of foreign
superfluities and to encourage domestic manufac-
tures. It abjured the use of tea, and resolved to
unite with other towns for the redress of grievances.
In 1774 it resolved not to supply the British troops
with any articles but provisions. In September of
the same year the delegates from the Suffolk towns
assembled here, and organized the convention which
made the first declaration of armed resistance to
Great Britain. The people opened a subscription
for the distressed poor in Boston, " cruelly suffering
in the common cause of America." But they did
not entirely rely upon resolutions and declarations.
In March, 1775, they raised a company of sixty min-
ute men, to be drilled three days and a half in each
week, to be ready to march on the shortest notice
in case of an alarm, and to serve nine months. In
all these stirring movements the town was acting in
co-operation with the other country towns in the com-
mon cause. Such was the preparation made by the
men of Dedham for the conflict which they clearly
foresaw was about to open. Knowing as we do
the spirit that animated them, their complete readi-
ness for any emergency, and informed by subsequent

1 " The Pillar of Liberty."


events, we may feel assured that if, on the morning
of April 19, 1 775, a detachment of British grenadiers
had marched up the High Street of Dedham with
a hostile purpose, the minute men of Dedham would
have been found on yonder Common, to make their
stand for the common cause of home-rule and self-
government. But, as has been aptly said, the " lot
of glory fell to Lexington."

A little after nine o'clock in the morning, there
came a horseman down the Needham road to bring
the Lexington alarm. The minute men were ready
for the expected summons, and knew just what to
do. There are traditions still kept of the plough
being left in the furrow and the cart upon the
highway, and the drivers mounting their horses and
galloping for their muskets and accoutrements.
They did not wait for more than a platoon to as-
semble before they started. Captain Joseph Guild,
of the minute men, gagged some croaker, who had
said that the alarm was false. As the day wore on,
the militia companies mustered under their respec-
tive captains. The first company of the first parish,
sixty-seven officers and men, was commanded by Cap-
tain Aaron Fuller. A smaller company of seventeen
men marched under Lieutenant George Gould. The
company of the South Parish, under Captain William
BuUard, had sixty officers and men ; and the com-
pany of the West Parish, thirty-one officers and men,
was under Captain William Ellis. The Fourth Parish
company, under Captain Ebenezer Battle, marched


with sixty-seven ofificers and men. In all, including
the minute men and the militia, three hundred
men under arms must have marched from Dedham
on that historic day. Nor were these all. The
gray-haired veterans of the French wars, whose
blood was stirred anew by the sights and sounds
of war, resolved to follow their sons to the battle.
Assembled on the Common before this meeting-
house, they met Rev. Mr. Gordon, of Roxbury, who
had just come to Dedham ; and he, from the steps
of the eastern porch, offered a prayer, and then
they also marched, under the lead of Hezekiah
Fuller and Nathaniel Sumner. Well may we be-
lieve, as we are told, that the town was left " almost
literally without a male inhabitant below the age
of seventy and above that of sixteen."^ Where
our soldiers met the enemy is not precisely known,
but probably in Cambridge. We only know that
among the casualties of the day it is recorded that
Elias Haven was killed, and Israel Everett wounded,
and that these men belonged to different Dedham
companies. While the glory of the eventful morn-
ing justly belongs to Lexington and Concord, yet
after noon, when the British began their retreat,
the battle was maintained by men from all the
surrounding towns ; and among these, the men of
Dedham were at the front. Dr. Nathaniel Ames
made this significant entry in his diary for that
day, which seems to describe it with historic accu-
* Haven's Centennial Address, p. 46.


racy : " Grand battle from Concord to Charlestown.
I went and dressed the wounded."

This quiet hamlet now became the scene of war-
like operations. Provincial cannon were brought
here, and Ebenezer Brackett was chosen to guard
them. Committees were appointed to procure guns
and ammunition, and to establish a night watch.
The old gun of King Philip's War was ordered to
be swung. The town voted to raise one hundred
and twenty men to be ready to march on an alarm.
Samuel Dexter announced that he would give
his services in attending the Provincial Congress.
Troops from Rhode Island passed through. Our
people heard the booming of the guns at Bunker's
Hill and saw the smoke of Charlestown, but our
soldiers had no part in the battle. They, however,
formed a part of the force that invested Boston the
succeeding winter. After the evacuation, when the
army was moving to New York, General Washing-
ton spent a night here, and was entertained by
Mr. Dexter.

At the session of the General Court in November,
1775, Dedham was made the shire town of Suffolk
County. The reason of this act, as recited in its
preamble, was that Boston was " a garrison of the
ministerial army, and had become the receptacle of
the enemies of America." The books and papers
of the Registry of Deeds were removed here ; and
although the act was repealed in 1776, yet at the
same time a resolve directed that these should be


kept in Dedham during the unsettled state of public
affairs, until the further order of the General Court.

In May, 1776, the town held a meeting to know
the minds of the people about coming into a state
of independency. The subject was fully discussed
and considered at several adjournments of the
meeting; and finally, May 27, 1776, the inhabi-
tants unanimously voted, " that if the Honorable
Congress should declare the Colonies independent
of Great Britain, they would solemnly engage to
support it in that measure with their lives and

The whole story of how the town redeemed this
pledge cannot be told here. The exact number
of men raised for the service has never been
stated, but the published list must fall short of
the real number. Bounties were paid, committees
of correspondence and safety were maintained, and
a committee for the care of soldiers' families in
distress was appointed. The demands for horses
and beef were supplied. The fluctuation of the
currency gave to everything a factitious price. The
burden of taxation became very heavy as time went
on. It has been estimated that the annual expenses
of the war, met by taxation, assessed upon the in-
habitants by the town and parishes, were eight
thousand dollars, federal currency.^ When we con-
sider that all this expense was maintained by a
town of less than two thousand inhabitants, all
1 Worthington's History, p. 69.


farmers, having little or no means beyond what
their farms yielded, we may gain some idea of the
trials and sacrifices of the people during the eight
long years of the Revolutionary War. Their en-
durance did not fail, though the limit was nearly
reached. Their indomitable spirit bore them up,
and they maintained the common cause with great
unanimity. They had the leadership of able men
like Samuel Dexter in the beginning, who aided
them by donations of money as well as by his
personal influence. Mr. Haven, the minister, was
an active leader; and Dr. Nathaniel Ames, the
younger, was an ardent supporter of the popular
cause. Fisher Ames was but seventeen years old
in 1775, but he did some military service dur-
ing the war. The town, therefore, made good
its pledge, solemnly given at the beginning, to
support independency.

In the brief but serious insurrection led by
Daniel Shays, which followed the Revolution, and
which threatened the supremacy of law in Massa-
chusetts, Dedham furnished a quota of forty-five
men, showing that her people, though suffering
from impoverishing taxes, were ready to suppress
lawlessness under the guise of relief from oppres-
sive laws.

Between the close of the Revolution and 1790,
no marked changes occurred in the affairs of the
town; but during the last decade of the eigh-
teenth century, there began an era of improve


ments in Dedham village. It was about to shake
off its rural aspect and to take on a more imposing
appearance. Since the first little compact village
of the settlers had disappeared, a century before,
here and there, scattered over the plain, had stood
the farm-houses. The meeting-house, the school-
house, and the tavern made the only centre of
Dedham life. The mansion of Dr. Sprague, pur-
chased of Mr. Dexter, the parsonage of Mr. Haven,
and the house of Dr. Nathaniel Ames the younger,
were the only conspicuous houses in the village.
Besides the minister, the two physicians, and per-
haps the schoolmaster, all were farmers. The
change was a gradual one, and proceeded from
a variety of causes.

In 1793 the County of Norfolk was incorpor-
ated, formed by a division of Suffolk County.
This project had long been agitated among the
farmers of the country towns, and the subject of
many resolutions. Dedham, in 1786, had declared,
as a reason for the division of the county, " that
if the courts of justice should be held in some
country town within the county, we expect (at
least for a while) that the wheels of justice would
move on without the clogs and embarrassments
of a numerous train of lawyers. The scenes of
gayety and amusements which are now prevalent
in Boston, we expect, would so allure them that
we should be rid of their perplexing officiousness."
Dedham, chiefly on account of its central position,


was made the shire town of the new county, and
this at once gave it a new importance. Despite
the public deprecation of the "order of lawyers,"
two natives of Dedham, Samuel Haven and Fisher
Ames, both lawyers, almost immediately opened
their law offices here, and began to build their fine
mansions. In 1796 Captain Edward Dowse, a
retired merchant, and a liberal-spirited and chari-
table gentleman, afterwards a member of Congress,
came here, and soon erected another mansion on
High Street. The spacious and imposing resi-
dence, first known as the Lovell house, on the
corner of Court and Highland Streets, was built
soon after. All these houses are now standing,
much enlarged and enriched by their subsequent
owners. In 1795 about twenty acres of land in
the heart of the village, which had been devised
to the Episcopal Church by Samuel Colburn in
1756, was divided and leased in village lots, and
houses began to be built on them. Not many
years after, the land of the First Church on the
west side of Court Street was also leased. A new
interest began to be manifested in public schools,
and a new brick school-house was finished in 1800.
A wooden court-house, fronting on the Meeting-
house Common, was finished in 1795. The courts
before had been held in the meeting-house, and
they continued to be held there afterwards on
special occasions. On the fourth day of April,
1792, the stage-coach began to make its recrular


trips of two hours from Dedham to Boston, for five
days in the week.^ In 1797 the old Episcopal
Church, opened in 1761, was removed and recon-
structed. The town began to increase in popula-
tion, and mechanics and tradesmen to come from

In 1804 the turnpike from Boston to Providence
was opened, which gave to Dedham the advantage
of a direct and well-graded road to Boston. In 1797
water was brought to the village by an aqueduct.
A still more significant mark of the new order of
things was the establishment of the Norfolk Cotton
Factory in 1807. Its corporators were citizens of
Dedham, and its water-power was furnished by the
canal of the early settlers. This factory was a source
of much pride to our citizens ; and though a dozen
years later it met with financial disaster, it attracted
to Dedham men of enterprise and skill, who subse-
quently were among its most reliable citizens. In
this way began the village of Dedham as we see it
to-day ; and with the exception of a very few houses,
none are now standing which were built earlier
than 1795.

All these things were the outward signs of social
changes. In 1792 Fisher Ames wrote to Thomas
Dvvioht : " Dedham will never become more than a
village, but it is growing up to be a smart one."
And in the same letter he added : " Is there not
a cold hard spot in the heart which is indifferent

^ Nathaniel Ames's Diary.


to the natale solum? The growth of the place I
live in concerns my profit and my pleasure, and
it seems to me there is reason, if not philosophy,
in my taking an interest in that event." These
were noble words, and in the few years of life that
remained for him he nobly endeavored to carry
them into action.

Having studied law with William Tudor in Boston,
Fisher Ames was admitted to the bar in 1781. He
had a small practice in Dedham for a few years, but
employed his leisure in writing a series of articles
for the " Independent Chronicle " upon questions
then agitating the public mind growing out of
Shays' Rebellion. The vigor of thought and style
in these essays attracted attention, and they may be
regarded as the beginning of his public career. He
was a delegate from Dedham in the Constitutional
Convention of 1788, where he made his maiden
speech in favor of biennial elections. He was
elected to the Legislature from Dedham in the
same year. In 1789 he took his seat in Congress,
and served eight years, during Washington's ad-
ministration. It is beyond the scope of this address
to speak of his public life further than to say that
in a period of a national history remarkable for
its statesmen and political writers, no one produced
a more profound impression than Fisher Ames.
But as a private citizen living here on his native
soil and identified with the interests of this town,
something should be said to-day. After his marriage


and a brief residence in Boston, while he was still
a member of Congress, Mr. Ames returned to Ded-
ham to make his home upon the patrimonial estate.
The old house where he was born was still standing,
and it was not taken down until after his mother's
death in 1817. He built a law office on the corner
of what is now the Court-House Yard, on High
and Court streets, which he occupied until his death
in 1808. He immediately entered upon local enter-
prises with great earnestness. He took pride and
satisfaction in his farm. He makes frequent allu-
sions in his letters to his large stock of cattle, to the
productiveness of his cows, to his breed of sheep, to
his desire to get the best seeds, and to his belief that
his farm is approaching the period when it would
be profitable ; adding, " if he did not think it would
be, it would not be an amusement, it would be a
mere piece of ostentation on any other prospect,
an expensive folly, a toilsome disappointment." But
Mr. Ames was specially active in plans for the im-
provement of the appearance of the village. He
engaged in the fierce debates of a Dedham town-
meeting to urge that the roads be repaired by con-
tract, instead of by the old plan of working out the
highway taxes, and that the district school should be
kept for a longer time. He was interested in the
drainage of the Charles River meadows; in the estab-
lishment of a manufactory; in the founding of a li-
brary and an academy; in the building of a new town-
house, and the safe-keeping of the records ; in a new


meeting-bouse, and in making a public square in tbe
centre of the village. He was tbe first president of
the turnpike corporation, and personally supervised
the building of tbe road. He was hospitable, and
gave parties, and strove to cultivate social relations
with his neis^bbors. Durinq; all this time Mr. Ames's
health was extremely precarious, and he was occu-
pied more or less in tbe trial of causes. In all these
ways, animated by the highest and most disinterested
motives, he strove to elevate and improve the condi-
tion of affairs around him. He was doubtless far in
advance of his time, and many of his plans were little
heeded. He encountered a strong opposition from
the sturdy farmers in the parishes who did not favor
any project for the improvement of the village.
Beyond the remaining elms on High Street, there
are no existing memorials of the enlightened public
spirit of Fisher Ames. His efforts, however, are
not to be estimated by the degree of success which
attended them, but rather by the spirit that inspired
them ; and they should always meet with a grateful
recognition whenever our local history is told.

The period beginning with the present century
and ending with the War of 1812 was characterized
by an intense political feeling. Probably never was
partisan controversy so bitter, or carried so far into
the relations of social life. It was then that the
name of Federalist became so offensive to the pop-
ular party as to be handed down in history with
unpleasant associations, while the Republicans were


denounced as " Jacobins " by their political adver-
saries. These political animosities had full play in
Dedham. Dedham supported the administrations
of Jefferson and Madison, and the War of 1812.
Soldiers for the army were recruited and drilled
here, and the Dedham Light Infantry performed
service at South Boston. In August, 181 2, a con-
vention of five hundred delegates assembled here to
express their approbation of the war. Fisher Ames
was a Federalist. Doubtless much of the opposi-
tion to his plans for the improvement of the village
was due to politics. Between him and his eldest
brother. Dr. Nathaniel Ames, who was a Repub-
lican, there were many sharp political conflicts, as
there are apt to be between strong men of the same

The administration of James Monroe was charac-
terized as the "era of good feeling," in contradis-
tinction to the intense bitterness of political strife
during the administrations of Jefferson and Mad-
ison. This was illustrated in Dedham upon the
occasion of the visit of President Monroe. On the
first day of July, 181 7, there was a great military
parade here to receive him. The first division of
the Massachusetts militia was ordered out, includ-
ing the cavalry and artillery as well as infantry, and
mustered at Dedham. The President was escorted
by a detachment of cavalry from the southerly line
of the county in Wrentham. Upon his arrival at
Dedham, near sunset, he reviewed the troops on the


Great Common. He then retired to the hospitable
mansion of Mr. Dowse, where he was entertained
for the night. In the morning he walked through
throngs of people to Polley's Tavern, where he re-
ceived the salutations of the citizens, and "shook
hands until near exhausted with the tedious cere-
mony." ^ General Crane finally requested the mul-
titude to pay their respects by simply bowing and
passing on. Then, escorted by the cavalry and
carriages, the President went on his journey to
Boston. Such was the manner of receiving a Re-
publican President in Dedham in 1817.

The most memorable event in the history of the
town was the division of the church, which occurred
in 18 18. In these days when theological dogmas
have so relaxed their hold even upon religious men,
it is difficult to put ourselves into a position to
understand the full meaning of this event to the
men and women of the First Parish nearly seventy
years ago. The church and the parish then in-
cluded nearly all the people of the village, and all
were required by law to attend public worship.
The church was supported by general taxation, and
it was bound by inseparable ties to the civil admin-
istration of the town. To the church-members the
church was an object of unspeakable solicitude, and
the subject of constant prayers. It was the ark of
the covenant placed here by the fathers. The time
has now come when we may speak of the division

^ Nathaniel Ames's Diary.


as an important fact of history, though there was
a time when our people alluded to it with bated
breath, and it was not deemed to be a proper sub-
ject for public discussion. It was the result of no
common local quarrel over a question of transient
importance. Briefly stated, the issue was made
upon the right of a territorial parish to elect a
reliafious teacher without the concurrence of the
church connected with it. The usage of the Puri-
tan churches had always required such a concur-
rence. But in the Constitutional Convention of
1780, without much serious discussion, there had
been inserted in the Bill of Rights a provision
which gave to towns and parishes the exclusive
right to choose their public teacher. The First
Parish of Dedham in 18 18 elected a " public teacher
of morality and religion," but in this election a
majority of the church refused to concur. Upon
the ordination of the teacher-elect, a majority of
the church with the deacons, and a minority of
the parish, withdrew and formed a separate reli-
gious body. Then the right to the property and
records of the church became the subject of a suit
at law, and the court held that under the provision
of the Bill of Rights, made in 1780, the parish
might elect a teacher with or without the consent
of the church, and without regard to ecclesiastical
usage; that a church could have no legal existence
apart from the parish, and that those members of
the church who remained with the First Parish


of Dedham were entitled to the property of the
church. Such were the legal questions involved
in this celebrated case. But the real underlying
causes of the controversy must be sought for in
the theological history of that time. It must be
ascribed to the powerful reaction from the dogmas
of Calvinism, which may be traced back for many
years before, and which culminated in 1816 with a
great religious upheaval that rent asunder the par-
ish churches in half the towns of eastern Massa-
chusetts. The decision of the Dedham case was
the most far-reaching in its results perhaps of any
decision of our courts; for under it the church
property in a majority of those towns passed into
the exclusive control of the parishes, while the
church members who adhered to the Orthodox
Puritan faith were relegated to the position of dis-
senters from the established parish churches. This
was an ecclesiastical revolution which the union of
churches and territorial parishes could not with-
stand ; and in 1834 the parochial system of the
Puritans, which had been so carefully framed and
steadily maintained for two hundred years, by an
amendment to the Bill of Rights, was dissolved

It is a privilege to be able to add a peaceful
sequel to this story of strife and division here in
Dedham. Since 18 19, in separate churches and
congregations and confessing different rules of faith,
the descendants and successors of the Puritan found-


ers have worshipped here. Though widely sepa-
rated by differences of administration, they have
worshipped so near each other that sometimes the
passer-by might hear the songs of praise borne on
the same harmonies going up together from both
congregations. The venerated pastors, who were
both ordained in the hour of great tribulation, for
forty years afterwards led the devotions of their
hearers. They were both representative men of
their diverse schools of theology, but they both bore
themselves with a dignity becoming their sacred
ofhce, and both labored for peace. If there were

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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 5 of 13)