Samuel Adams Drake.

Historic fields and mansions of Middlesex online

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come to a pause before this patriarch by the sea. It is the
handiwork of the first planters in the vicinity of Boston, and
is one of the first, if not the very first, of the brick houses
erected within the government of John "Wmthrop.

Every man, woman, and child in Medford knows the " Old
Fort," as the older inhabitants love to call it, and will point
you to the site with visible pride that their pleasant town
contains so interesting a relic. Turning your back upon the
village, and your face to the east, a brisk walk of ten minutes
along the banks of the Mystic, and you are in presence of the
object of your search.

A very brief sui'vey establishes the fact that this was one of


those houses of refuge scattered through the Xew England
settlements, into which the inhabitants might fly for safety
upon any sudden alarm of danger from the savages.

The situation was well chosen for security. It has the river
in front, marshes to the eastward, and a considerable extent of
level meadow behind it. As it was from this latter quarter
that an attack was most to be apprehended, greater precautions
were taken to secure that side. The house itself is placed
a little above the general level. Standing for a century and a
half in the midst of an extensive and open field, enclosed by
palisades, and guarded with gates, a foe could not approach un-
seen by day, nor find a vantage-ground from which to assail the
inmates. Here, then, the agents of Matthew Cradock, first
Governor of the Massachusetts Company in England, built the
house we are describing.

In the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, at Bos-
ton, hangs the charter of " The Governor and Company of the
Massachusetts Bay in Xew England," brought over by Win-
throp in 1630. The great seal of England, a most ponderous
and convincing symbol of authority, is appended to it.

It is well known that the settlement at Salem, two years
earlier, under the leadership of Endicott, was begun by a com-
mercial company in England, of which Matthew Cradock Avas
Governor. In order to secure the emigration of such men as
"VVinthrop, Dudley, Sir E. Saltonstall, Johnson, and others,
Cradock proposed, in July, 1629, to transfer the government
from the company in England to the inhabitants here. As he
was the wealthiest and most influential person in the associa-
tion, his proposal was acceded to.

We cannot enter, here, into the political aspects of this
coup detat. It must ever arrest the attention and challenge the
admiration of the student of American history. In defiance
of the crown, which had merely organized them into a mer-
cantile corporation, like the East India Companj^ Avith officers
resident in England, they proceeded to nullify the clear intent
of their charter by removing the government to America. The
project was first mooted by Cradock, and secrecy enjoined upon



the members of the company. That he was the avowed author
of it must be our apology for introducing the incident. This
circumstance renders Matthew Cradock's name conspicuous in
the annals of New England.

Cradock never came to America, but there is little doubt that
he entertained the purpose of doing so. He sent over, how-
ever, agents, or "servants," as they were styled, who estab-
lished the plantation at Mystic Side. He also had houses at
Ipswich and at Marblehead, for fishery and traffic.

For a shrewd man of business Cradock seems to have been
singularly unfortunate in some of his servants. One of these,
Philip Eatclift", being convicted " ore tenus of most foul and
slanderous invectives" against the churches and government,
was sentenced to be whipped, lose his ears, and be banished the
plantation. Winthrop was complained of by Dudley because
he stayed the execution of the sentence of banishment, but
answered that it was on the score of humanity, as it was winter
and the man must have perished. Ratcliff afterwards, in con-
junction with Thomas Morton and Sir Christopher Gardiner,
procured a petition to the Lords of the Privy Council, before
whom Cradock was summoned.

Morton, who was sent away to England for his mad pranks
and contempt of Puritan authority, wrote as follows of this
examination : —

'' My Lord Canterbury having with my Lord Privy Seal caused all
Mr. Cradock's letters to be viewed, and his apology in particular for
the brethren here, protested against him and Mr. Humfry [another
of the undertakers] that they were a couple of imposterous knaves,
so that for all their great friends they departed the council chamber
in our view with a pair of cold shovdders.

" As for Ratcliff, he was comforted by their lordships with the
croppings of Mr. Winthrop's ears, which shows what opinion is held
among them of King Winthrop with all his inventions and his
Amsterdam fantastical ordinances, his preachings, marriages, and
other abusive ceremonies, Avliich do exemplify his detestation of the
Church of England and the contempt of his majesty's authority and
wholesome laws ■ which are and will be established here invita


In the letter to Winthrop which follows, printed in the
Massachusetts Historical Society's Collections, the old merchant
complains bitterly of the conduct of another of his agents : —

" London 21 Febr. 1G36.
" Jno. Jolilf writes mee the uiaimer of Mr Mayheues accounts is,
that what is not sett down is spent ; most extremely I am abused.
My seruants write they drinke nothing but water & I haue in an
.account lately sent me Red Wyne, Sack & Aqua Yitae in one
yeere aboue 300 gallons, besides many other intollerable abuses, 10 I
fcir tobacco etc. My papers are misselayd but if you call for the
coppyes of the accounts sent me and examine vppou what groimd it
is made you shall tind I doubt all but forged stutfe.

" Mathewe Cradock."

Wood, one of the early chroniclers, tells ns that Master
Cradock had a park impaled at Mystic, where his cattle were
kept until it could be stocked with deer ; and that he also Avas
engaged in shipbuilding, a vessel of a " hundred tunne " having
been built the previous year (1632). It may be, too, that
Cradock's artisans built here for Winthrop the little " Blessing
of the Bay," launched upon the Mystic tide July 4, 1631, — an
event usually located at the governor's farm, at Ten Hills.

This house, a unique specimen of the architecture of the
early settlers, must be considered a gem of its kind. It is not
disguised by modern alterations in any essential feature, but
bears its credentials on its face. Two hundred and sixty odd
Xew England winters have searched every cranny of the old
fortress, whistled down the Ijig chimney-stacks, rattled the win-
dow-panes iu impotent rage, and, departing, certified to us the
stanch and trusty handiwork of Cradock's English craftsmen.

Time has dealt gently Avith this venerable relic. Like a
veteran of many campaigns, it shows a few honorable scars.
The roof has swerved a little from its true outline. It has been
denuded of a chimney, and has parted reluctantly Avith a dormer-
Avindow. The loopholes, seen in tlie front, Avere long since
closed ; the race they Avere to defend against has hardly an
existence to-day. Tlie AvindoAvs have been enlarged, Avith an


effect on the ensemble, as Hawthorne says in a similar case, of
rouging the cheeks of one's grandmother. Hoary with age, it
is yet no ruin, but a comfortable habitation.

How many generations of men — and our old house has sel-
dom if ever been untenanted — have lived and died within
those walls ! When it was built Charles I. reigned in Old Eng-
land, and Cromwell had not begun his great career. Peter the
Great was not then born, and the house was waxing in years
when Frederick the Groat appeared on the stage. "We seem to
be speaking of recent events when Louis XVI. suffered by the
axe of the guillotine, and iSTapoleon's sun rose in splendor, to
set in obscurity.

The Indian, who witnessed its slowly ascending walls with
wonder and misgiving ; the Englishman, whose axe wakened
new echoes in the primeA'al forest ; the colonist native to the
soil, Avho battled and died Avithin view, to found a new nation,
— all have passed away. But here, in this old mansion, is the
silent evidence of those great epochs of history.

It is not clear at what time the house was erected, but it has
usually been fixed in the year 1634, Avhen a large grant of land
was made to Cradock by the General Court. The bricks are
said to have been burned near by. There was some attempt at
ornament, the lower course of the belt being laid with moulded
bricks so as to form a cornice. The loopholes were for defence.
The walls were half a yard in thickness. Heavy iron bars
secured the arched windows at the back, and the entrance-door
was encased in iron. The fire-proof closets, huge chimney-
stacks, and massive hewn timbers told of strength and dura-
bility. A single pane of glass, set in iron, and placed in the
back wall of the western chimney, overlooked the approach
from the town.

The builders were Englishmen, and, of course, followed their
English types. They named their towns and villages after the
sounding nomenclature of Old England ; what more natural
than that they should wish their homes to resemble those they
had left behind '] Such a house might have served an inhabi-
tant of the Scottish border, Avith its loopholes, narrojv windows,


and doors sheathed in iron. Against an Indian foray it was

Cradock was about the only man connected with the settle-
ment in Massachusetts Bay whose means admitted of such a
house. Both Winthrop and Dudley built of wood, and the
former rebuked the deputy for what he thought an unreason-
able expense in finishing his own house. ]\Iany brick buildings
were erected in Boston during the first decade of the settlement,
but Ave haA'e found none that can claim such an ancient pedi-
gree as this of which we are \vriting. It is far from improbable
that, having in view a future residence in New England,
Cradock may have given directions for or prescribed the plan
of this house, and that it may have been the counterpart of his
own in St. Swithen's Lane, near London Stone.

" Then went I forth l)y London Stone
Throughout all Can wick Street."

The plantation, with its green meadows and its stately forest-
trees, was a manor of which Cradock was lord and master. His
grant extended a mile into the country from the river-side in
all places. Though absent, he was considered nominally pres-
ent, and is constantly alluded to by name in the early records.
Cradock was a member of the Long Parliament, dying in 1641.
The euphonious name of ^Mystic has been supplanted by Med-
ford, the Meadford of Dudley and the

It is not to be expected that a structure belonging to so re-
mote a period, for I^Tew England, should be without its legend-
ary lore. It is related that the old fort was at one time
beleaguered 'for several days by an Indian war-party, who at
length retired baffled from the strong walls and death-shots of
the garrison. As a veracious historian, we are compelled to add
that we know of no authentic data of such an occurrence.
Indians were plenty enough in the vicinity, and, though gen-
erally peaceful, they were regarded with more or less distrust.
The settlers seldom stirred abroad without their trusty match-
locks and weU-filled bandoleer. We cannot give a better pic-
ture of the times than by invoking the aid of MacFingal : —


" For once, for fear of Indian beating,
Our grandsires bore their guns to meeting ;
Each man equipped on Smiday morn
With psalm-book, shot, and powder-horn ;
And looked in form, as all must grant,
Like the ancient, true church militant;
Or fierce, like modern deep divines,
Who tight with quills, like porcupines."

After standing stoutly up in presence of so many mutations,
one of the gateways througli wliich the little human stream
trickled that has inundated all the land in its mighty expan-
sion, we are told that this house is doomed. It no longer
accommodates itself to modern ideas, and must fall. The re-
uret that the Commonwealth ever parted with, even to a noble
charity, the old mansion-house of the provincial governors was
by no means trilling or inconsiderate. That error might now
be retrieved by the purchase of the house of the first governor
of Massachusetts. Every officer, civil or military, that holds a
commission by State authority, derives it in a certain sense
from Matthew Cradock. He made the first move to erect an
independent community on our shores. This house is his
monument. It should be allowed to stand where it has stood
for near two hundred and forty years. Its loopholes should be
restored, and the whole house set in order and furnished with
the memorials of its own time. A custodian might be placed
there, and the small fee charged for exhibition be used to defray
the expense. At all events, Medford should see to it this
ancient structure is preserved to her.

lee's headquarters and vicinity. 141


lee's headquarters and viciisriTY.

" Night closed around the conqueror's way,
And lightnmgs showed the distant liill,
Where those who lost that dreadful day
Stood few and faint, but fearless still."

DESCENDIXd into the vaUey between Winter and Pros-
pect Hill-s, any search for traces of the works which existed
here in 1775-76 would be fruitless; every vestige had disap-
peared fifty years ago. The site of the star fort laid down on the
map was a little north of Medford Street and east of Walnut
Street. The structure of the ground shows that there was once
a considerable elevation here, which commanded the approach
by the low land between Prospect, Winter, and Ploughed Hills.

On the little byway now dignified with the name of Syca-
more Street stands the old farm-house which was the headquar-
ters for a time of General Charles Lee. Its present occu[)ant is
Oliver Tufts, whose father, John Tufts, resided there in Revo-
lutionary times, and planted with his own hands the beautiful
elm that noAV stretches its protecting branches over the old

When the house was occupied by the mercurial Lee it had
one of those long pitched roofs descending to a single story at
the back, and Avhich are still occasionally met with in our in-
terior New England towns. The elder Tufts altered the exterior
to what we now see it ; and although the date of the erection
of the house, which once sheltered so notable an occupant, has
not remained extant in the family, it evidently belongs to the
earlier years of the eighteenth century.

The name and career of Charles Lee are not the least inter-
esting subjects in our Revolutionary annals. A mystery, not


wholly cleared away, has enshrouded the concluding incidents
of Lee's connection with the American army. Whether the
name of traitor is to accompany his memory to posterity or not,
there is no question that he was at the beginning of the con-
test a zealous partisan of the American cause. It is in this light
we prefer to consider him.

"When Lee came to join the forces assembled around Boston
he was certainly regarded, in respect to military skill, as the
foremost man in the army. His experience had been acquired
on the same fields with the men he was now to oppose, and it
is evident that neither Gage, Howe, Clinton, nor Burgoyne
underrated his ability.

In a " separate and secret despatch " Lord Dartmouth wrote
to General Gage to have a special eye on Lee, whose presence
in Boston in the autumn of 1774 Avas known to his lordship.
Lord Dartmouth's letter says : —

" I am told that M^ Lee, a major upon half pay with the rank
of Lieut Colonel, has lately appeared at Boston, that he associates
only with the enemies of government, that he encourages the dis-
content of the people by harangues and publications, and even
advises to arms. This gentleman's general character cannot be un-
known to you, and therefore it will be very proper that you should
have attention to his conduct, and take every legal method to pre-
vent his effecting any of those dangerous purposes he is said to have
in view."

General Lee was five feet eight, and of rather slender make,
but with unlimited powers of endurance, as was fully proved
in his rapid movements from Boston to K"ew York, and from
New York to the defence of the Southern seaports. His capa-
city to resist fatigue was thoroughly tested at Monmouth, the
only instance recorded where he admitted that he was tired out.
Lee had visited most of the courts of Europe, and was a good
linguist. He wrote well, but rather diffusely ; and although
his language is marred by a certain coarseness, it is not con-
spicuously so when compared with that of his contemporaries
in the profession of arms.

"And more than that he can speak French, and therefore he is a traitor."

lee's headquarters and vicinity. 143

Lee had lived for some time among the Mohawks, Avho made
him a chief, and who, on account of his impetuous temper,
named him, in their figurative and highly expressive way,
" Boiling Water." He was more than half Indian in his ex-
treme carelessness of his personal appearance, of what he ate or
drank, or where he slept. He had lost two fingers in a duel in
Italy, — one of many personal encounters in which he was en-
gaged during his lifetime. Lee was cool, clear-headed in action,
and possessed true military insight. The following is probably
an accurate pen-portrait of this extraordinary man : —

"A tall man, lank and thin, with a huge nose, a satirical mouth,
and restless eyes, who sat his hoise as if he had often ridden at fox-
hunts in England, and wore his uniform with a cynical disregard of
common opinion."

There is a caricature of General Lee by Rushbrooke, which,
if allowed to resemble the General, as it is claimed it does,
would fairly establish his title to be regarded as the ugliest of
men, both in form and feature. It shoidd, however, be con-
sidered as a caricature and nothing else.

Mrs. John Adams, who first met General Lee at an evening
party at Major JNIifflin's house in Cambridge, describes him as
looking like a " careless, hardy veteran," Avho brought to her
mind his namesake, Charles XII. "The elegance of his pen
far exceeds that of his person " says this accomplished lady.

Lee was very fond of dogs, and was constantly attended by
one or more ; his favorite being a great shaggy Pomeranian,
whom Dr. Belknap says resembled a bear more than a harmless
canine. Spada — that was the dog's name — was constantly at
his master's heels, and accompanied him in whatever company
he might happen to be.

It appears from a letter of John Adams to James Warren, —
the then President of the Provincial Congress, — which Avas
intercepted by the British, that Colonel Warren had no great
opinion of General Lee, for Mr. Adams tells him he must bear
with his whimsical manners and his dogs for the sake of his
military talents. " Love me, love my dog," says Mr. Adams.


General Lee used to relate with great gusto an anecdote of
one of his aides who showed a little trepidation under fire, and
who expostulated with his general for exposing himself. The
general told his officer that his Prussian majesty had twenty
aides killed in one hattle. The aide replied that he did not
think Congress could spare so many. Lee's first aide-de-camp
was Samuel Griffin, who was succeeded by Colonel "William
Palfrey, the same who afterwards served Washington in a simi-
lar capacity.

Lee's slovenliness was the occasion of a rather amusing con-
tretemps. On one of Washington's journeys to reconnoitre the
shores of the bay he was accompanied by Lee, who, on arriving
at the house where they were to dine, went straight to the
kitchen and demanded something to eat. The cook, taking him
for a servant, told him she would give him some victuals di-
rectly, but he must first help her off with the pot, — a request
with which he readily complied. He was then requested to
take a bucket and go to the well for water, and was actually
engaged in drawing it when found by an aide whom Washing-
ton had despatched in quest of him. The poor girl then heard
for the first time her assistant addressed by the title of " gen-
eral." The mug fell from her hands, and, dropping on her
knees, she began crying for pardon, when Lee, who was ever
ready to see the impropriety of his own conduct, but never
Avilling to cliange it, gave her 'a crown, and, turning to the
aide-de-camp, observed : " You see, young man, the advantage
of a fine coat ; the man of consequence is indebted to it for
respect ; neither virtue nor abilities without it will make you
look like a gentleman."

It is somewhat remarkable that most of the officers of the
Revolutionary army who had seen service in that of Great
Britain, and of whom so much was expected, either left the
army before the close of the war with damaged reputations or
in disgrace. I^ee and Gates, who stood first in the general
estimation, suffered a complete loss of favor, while the fiime of
Schuyler and St. Clair endured a partial eclipse. Montgomery
bravely fell before Quebec. St. Clair married a Boston lady

lel's headquarters and vicinity. 145

(Phoebe Bayard), a rc4ative of Governor Bowdoin, and during
the war placed his daughter in that town to be educated.

In the memorable retreat throng] i the Jerseys Lee's conduct
began to be distrusted. He was perhaps willing to see Wash-
ington, whose life only intervened between himself and the
supreme command, defeated ; but we need not go back a cen-
tury to find generals who have been unwilling to support their
commanders, even when within sound of their cannon.

Lee had a good private fortune. He was sanguine and lively,
and a martj'r to gout. He was fearless and outspoken, never
concealing his sentiments from any man, and in every respect
was the antipodes of a conspirator. Men, indeed, might say
of him, —

" Yond' Casshis has a lean and hungry' look ;
He thinks too much ; such men are dangerous."

^y his brother officers he was evidently considered a rival of
the commander-in-chief, but we find no contemporary evidence
that he was looked upon as a traitor until the day of Mon-
mouth. The present generation, however, much wiser, has de-
creed him faithless upon the evidence of a manuscript said to
be in Lee's handwriting, and purporting to be a plan for sub-
jugating the States. This precious document is without date
or signatur3, but is indorsed by another hand, " Mr. Lee's plan
— 29th March, 1777." At this time the General was a prisoner
in New York. The writing, which bears an extraordinary re-
semblance to that of General Lee, is relied upon mainly to
convict him of treason.

The so-called proofs of the treachery of Lee have been skil-
fully put together by George H. Moore, but they contain other
fatal objections besides the want of a signature to the " plan."
Proof is adduced to show that Lee was not a general, and at the
same time he is accredited with having induced General Howe
to adopt his " plan " and abandon one carefully matured by his
brother and himself, as early as April 2, or four days after the
date indorsed on the " plan." ]\Ioreover, a motive for Lee's
defection is not supplied. He did not want money, nor sell
himself, like Arnold, for a price. His fate, Avhich at one time had

7 -T


trembled in the balance, — the king had ordered him sent home
to be tried as a deserter, — was practically decided by Wasliing-
ton's firmness long before the date of the "plan." There is no
evidence to show he ever received the least emolument from the
British government. Lee rejoined his flag, and his conduct at
Monmouth appears more like vacillation than treachery ; for it
will hardly be doubted that, had he so intended, he might easily
have betrayed his troops into the hands of Sir Henry Clinton.
If opportunity was what he sought to give effect to his treason,
it must be looked for elsewhere than in this campaign, which
he had opposed Avith all his might, and executed, so far as in
him lay, with languor and reluctance. We can conclude Lee
erratic, Avayward, ambitious beyond his abilities, devoured by
egotism, but not a traitor ; or if one, he was the most disinter-

Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 13 of 39)