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ing of my entering upon the work of the I found much unability
& discuragings in my self & lettel liklihoud that I shuld hold out
to go thorow the work of the day alon. But at the begining i
beged help & asistunts, and god was pleased so to help me so that
I hild out comfortablely until it was near night ; alltho I begun under
discuragments, yet g'd was pleased so to asist & incuragment me
afterward as that I was much incuraged, & ended the work of the
day with much comfort."

This believing spirit in Elder Pratt seems to have bordered
on credulity, especially when it came to the treatment of dis-
eases. He appears to have had almost a passion for collecting
medical prescriptions. In this little note-book there are nearly
a hundred of them, some of them from an Indian in whose medi-
cal skill he placed great reliance. Three of these are quoted
below : —

" For a great cold & cof that leads to the consumsion, Take youlk of
an eag & sum pouder of brimston, & put to it & tak it in the morning.
Or hunny & brimston, & after that take the youlk of a newlayd eag &
sum good win mixtd together."

"To stop bleeding take sum nip & hold in the left hand, «S: put sum
to the hollow of the left foot, & lay sum nip in the neck."



68 HISTORY OF EASTON.

"When nothing ale would do to stop the excessive bleeding at the
nous, the pouder of a dryed toad mixed with beesweax put to the nous
hath stoped it : the toad for hast was dryed in the ouven, but it shuld
be hung up by the leag alive until it is dead «Sc dry."

From this ancient almanac we extract the following curious
advertisement : —

" There is now in the Press, and will suddenly be extant, a Second
Impression of The New-England Primer enlarged ; to which is added
more Directions for Spelling, the prayer of K. Edward the 6th, and
Verses made by Mr. Rogers the Martyr, left as a Legacy to his
Children.

" Sold by Benjamin Harris, at the London Coffee-House in Boston."

The following quotations will illustrate the variety of topics
touched upon : —

" Swaring in a religious maner is a duty when called unto it (Exodus
20, 7 ; Deut. 10, 20 ; jer. 4, 2 ; james 5, 12 ; heb. 6, 16 ; 2 cor. i, 23 ;
nehe 13, 25)."

"The 24th day of feburary (1698) there was a great fire in Charls-
toun, which burnt down a great part of the town; & a few days before
the fire there was an earthquak in Charlstoun."

"I have given a bond to Capt Rit, of Charlstoun, to pay for a negro
woman twenty & five pounds, at or before the i8th of august the year
1699."

By the last item we perceive that Elder Pratt was a slave-
owner. What became of this female slave we cannot tell. The
inventory of his estate shows that he owned two negro slaves
here when he died ; but as their story will be told when the sub-
ject of slavery is treated, it may be passed for the present.

Elder William Pratt had only a short ministry, for he died the
13th of January, 1714, serving but a few months in his pious
work. His tombstone, which is still standing well preserved in
the old cemetery, is the oldest in town, and ought to be guarded
with sacred care. Upon it is the following inscription : —

HERE-LISE-THE-BODY
OF-ELDER-WILLIAM
PRATT-AGED-54-DIED
IN-THE-YEA 1713-IANVARY
THE-13-



ELDER WILLIAM PRATT. 69

It will be observed that the deed of land to Mr. Pratt was
made in September, 1713, while the date of his death is Jan-
uary 13, 1 713. This discrepancy is explained when it is remem-
bered that the date upon the tombstone is according to " Old
Style." In fact, according to the " New Style" or present method
of computation, this date should be 17 14.

Elder Pratt left behind him a widow and a daughter. The
latter, whose name was Thankful, was born October 4, 1683,
and was married to Daniel Axtell (probably son of Lady Axtell,
of South Carolina) May 12, 1702. They had ten children; and
among their descendants are Silas Axtell Crane, D.D., of Rhode
Island ; Mrs. Caroline (Crane) Marsh, widow of the late Hon.
George P. Marsh ; Joshua E. Crane, Esq., of Bridgewater ; and
others. The inventory of Mr. Pratt's estate is as follows : —

£■ s. d.

His purse and apparel 15186

Books II 03 6

Bills and bonds 65 19 6

1 horse, 3 cows, and 2 calves 19 10 o

Brass, iron, pewter, bedding, & other movables . 20 o o

Dwelling-house and land 120 00 o

Dwelling-house and land known by the name of

Harris's 105 00 o

2 young negroes 52 00 o

Out lands 20 00 o

429 II 6

The question may naturally arise, How is it that Elder Pratt
can have accepted a call of the East Society of the North Pur-
chase, and have served it as their minister, and, notwithstanding
this, that the Rev. Mr. Short can be called "The first minister of
the Church of Christ in Easton".? In the church records of
1747 he is so designated, and this is the unquestioned tradition.
The explanation probably is that the church over which Mr.
Pratt ministered had no legal existence. This East End of the
North Purchase was then neither town nor precinct ; there was
therefore no legal parish, and the little religious society here was
entirely voluntary in its character. Not until the formation of
the precinct, January 19, 1722, did the settlers here have a legally
organized parish and church ; and it is over this that Mr. Short



70 HISTORY OF EASTON.

was soon called to preside. But though Mr. Short may have the
technical right to this title, and it may not be well to attempt to
disturb the common tradition, we cannot but regret that this
pious Elder, who ministered to the little band of believers that
were the founders of the Easton Church, should not be regarded
as our first minister. The writer of this history takes great sat-
isfaction in discovering and making known the interesting con-
nection which this devout and excellent man, whose tomb is with
us to this day, has had with the religious history of our town.

His widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Pratt, lived until August 20, 1728,
when she fell a victim to a fatal epidemic sickness which pre-
vailed in town. She manumitted her two slaves, of whom we
shall hear further, and made them a present of a piece of land in
town. The inscription upon her tombstone, clear-cut to-day as
when originally made, is as follows : —

Here lyes y^ body
of M Elizabeth
Pratt wife to
Elder William Pratt
Died August y^ 20^"*
1728 in 73''
Year of her age.

Let us close this chapter with the words of the Rev. Mr.
Short, who speaks of her in these appreciative terms: —

" She was, I trust, a Person of excelling Piety and uncommon Pru-
dence, one of a very strict and religious Conversation, a great lover
of GOD'S House, one of a Charitable spirit, and knew how to commu-
nicate to others, and when there was real Occasion would do it chear-
fully. O that these eminent Virtues that were apparent in her may
be imitated and practised by us ! " ^

1 See Mr. Short's sermon in the Appendix.



PRECINCT AND TOWN. 71



CHAPTER V.

PRECINCT AND TOWN.

A Church Needed in the North Purchase. — Contention as to
ITS Location. — Compromises. — Incorporation of Norton. —
The Norton Parish extends temporarily Eastward to the
Bay Road. — Formation of the East Precinct of Norton. —
Incorporation of the Town of Easton.

WE have seen how the tract of land, of which Easton forms
a half part, was purchased, managed, divided, and settled,
and how a feeble beginning of the Gospel ministration was made
under the care of Elder William Pratt. We shall now trace the
steps that led to the organization of the precinct, and to the in-
corporation of the town.

It will be seen by a reference to the North-Purchase m.ap con-
tained in this volume, that the north part of Taunton originally-
extended in a triangle up through the present limits of Norton,
the apex of the triangle being as far north as the centre of what
is now Mansfield. As this section of the town became settled,
the inhabitants found themselves so far removed from the church
in the old part of the town that it was exceedingly inconvenient
to attend it. They were living from five and a half to eleven
miles away, and though attendance upon the worship of God was
considered an imperative duty, it was not to be expected that
these settlers would go so many miles through the wilderness,
and by rough cart-paths, even for this purpose. Therefore those
living in this angle, and in parts adjacent thereto, naturally de-
sired a church and ministry of their own. They asked the town
to consider "the vary difficult circumstances that we are under
in liveing so remote from the publique worship of God, that great
part of the year we cannot come to the meeting : so that, if we
continue long after this manner, the sowls of our children, and
those under our care and charge, will be in danger of perishing



72 HISTORY OF EASTON.

for lack of knowledge. For it is Evident from scriptre that faith
comes by heering, and heering by the word preacht."^ Accord-
ingly they petitioned the town of Taunton to allow them to form a
distinct precinct of their own for the building of a church and the
support of a minister. It was necessary to do this if they would
be exempted from the support of the town minister. The town
of Taunton was unwilling, however, to grant their request. The
petitioners, therefore, presented their request to the " Great and
General Court" at Boston. This was on the 20th of October,
1708. They represent the difficulties in the way of their attend-
ing the meeting at Taunton, and cite the fact of their having pre-
sented petitions to the town on the 27th of November, 1707, and
on the 23d of March, 1708 ; which petitions were refused. They
ask that their precinct may include all the territory of the present
towns of Norton and Mansfield, and also extend east as far as the
Bay road, which road was then substantially in its present loca-
tion.^ The town of Taunton strenuously opposes this proposition.
A division is created among the petitioners themselves, — those
who live nearest to the church having found that they will not
be much better accommodated by the proposed new meeting-
house, which is to be built too far, as they judge, to the west.
This location had been fixed by a committee that had been sent
out by the General Court to determine the limits of the proposed
new precinct. As already stated, the eastern boundary of this
proposed precinct was the Bay road. This left out the settlers
in the east part of the North Purchase altogether, — the people
about whom the readers of this history are most concerned.
They do not relish this cool way of the petitioners in ignoring
them, and they bestir themselves to checkmate the proposition
for a precinct. The petition which they present, which is
given below, is very interesting. We learn from it that the
east end of the North Purchase was the first part of that
tract of land to be settled, the first settlements being in what
is now South Easton village and vicinity. It shows also that
while the petitioners objected to the formation of a precinct
which would leave them outside its limits, they favored the
plan of having the whole North Purchase formed into a town,



1 State Papers, vol. cxiii. p. 513.
^ History of Norton, pp. 19, 20.



PRECINCT AND TOWN.



73



and of having a meeting-house built in the centre of it for the
use of the whole town. This would have been a very unfortu-
nate arrangement, as it would have left many of the settlers over
five miles away from the meeting-house. The petition is as
follows : —

September 9, 1709.
To his Excelleticy jFoseph Dudley^ Esqr., dv^r. ••

Wee, ye subscribers, Inhabitance and propriators of Taunton
North-purcheis (so called), humbly sheweth, that whereas we under-
stand that som of our neighbours, with som of ye inhabitants of
Taunton, have obtained incoragement from this General Cort to be
a Precints ; but forasmuch as our neighbours have not acquainted us
therewith as they ought to do, we, being major part of sd. purceis in-
habitance and ye first Setlers, do, in all humble submition, ofer to your
honors ye unhapy effects yt may happen, not only to ourselves, but to
ye whole tract of Land which was from ye foundation intended for a
township, which now it is capable of, theire being many inhabitance
already settled, and many more going to settel, on said tract of Land.
But if there be so great a part of sd. Land taken of as we understand
is set forth for a precints by those honorable gentellmen ye committy,
who have doon according to their plesure ; and if ye meeting-hous be
bult whare sd. committy hath appynted, — which is neare ye west End
of sd. purchies, which will be servicable but to very few, wh. will be a
means to spyle ye sd. tract of Land, and caus it to be wholly unfitt for
a township, and frusterate ye intention of us, ye proprietors thereof,
and will discorage many from setling on their Lands in sd. purcheis.

And whareas they have left about one third part of sd. purchies of
ye East part, supposing Bridgewater will add part of their town to it
to make ye part a precints, it is a great mistake, — ye inhabitance of
Bridgewater give us no such incoragement. Therefore we pray this
honered Cort that there may be no pertition-lines between ye one end
of our sd. purcheis and ye other, but yt if ye Honered Court thinks
it convenient, wee pray yt ye Honered Cort would grant us a township
with all the privilidges belonging to a town, to ye whole north pur-
cheis, and so much of Taunton old township as belongs to our military
Company, which is from ye mouth of a Broock called Burt's Brook,
and from thence to wenaconett bridge, and from thence north-East to
ye sd. north-purchies line ; and yt ye meeting-hous may be set in ye
most conveniant place in ye senter, between the East and ye west End,
which we concive will be most convenient for ye whole town, both for
ye worship of God on Sabbath dayes, and for military trainings and all



76 HISTORY OF EASTON.

worship of God, and several familys of them live but about four miles
from Bridgewater meeting-house, — It is hereby ordered, that a line be
run from the extent of sixty rods eastward from John Austen's house
north to Dorchester line; and that all that do or shall live to the
eastward of said line shall be freed from paying to the minister on the
westward side of said line. And that when by the providence of God
those on the eastward side of said line shall be Increased so as to be
either a Town or a precinct, then a line to be run north & south devid-
ing the land in the said north purchase one halfe on the one side and
the other halfe on the other side of said line, and each to pay to the
ministry in their own Town or precinct." ^

The proposed line of division referred to is the same, or nearly
the same, as the present vilest boundary of Easton.

But the people of the East End of Taunton North-Purchase
were unable to defeat the formation of the precinct proposed.
They were however completely satisfied by a compromise. In
the act which legalized the formation of this precinct, passed by
the House of Representatives, September 19, 1809, this addition
was made, namely : " Provided, that the East End of the North
Purchase shall have half the sa'd Purchase as their Precinct
where they are able to maintain a minister ; and this Court shall
judge them so."^

By this proviso the East End people only temporarily relin-
quished their plan of forming a precinct or township that should
include half the whole North Purchase. Only those of their
number who lived west of the Bay road were bound to pay a
ministerial tax to the new precinct, and they were, at that date,
only two or three families. It is even doubtful if any family
within the limits of what is now Easton ever paid ministerial
rates in the North Precinct of Taunton, or Norton. Either by
specific agreement, or by common understanding, they were
• doubtless exempted from this tax.

In less than two years from this time (namely, June 12,
171 1) this North Precinct of Taunton was incorporated as the
town of Norton. This new town then included the entire
territory of the present towns of Norton, Easton, and Mans-
field, But the wording of the original act of incorporation

1 State Papers, vol. cxiii. p. 516.

* General Court Records, vol. viii. p. 470.



PRECINCT AND TOWN. ']']

presents a curious difficulty. The first paragraph of that act
is as follows : —

" Whereas the tract of Land commonly called and known by the
name of the North Purchase, Lying situate within the Township of
Taunton, in the county of Bristol, circumscribed within the Lines and
Bounderies prescribed by a committee some time since appointed by
the General Assembly, as follows ; viz. : Beginning at the Line be-
tween the two late Colonies of the Massachusetts and Plymouth, in
the line of the said North purchase and Attleborough ; from thence
Running Southward to Rehoboth North-East Corner ; and from thence
Eastward, on the North-purchase-Line, to Taunton bounds ; thence
eastward to the Mouth of the Brook calld Burt's Brook, and extend-
ing from the mouth of Burt's Brook to the Bridge over the Mill River,
near Wm. Witherel's ; and from thence North-eastward to the North-
purchase Line ; and from the North-purchase Line, the road that
leads from the said Bridge towards Boston to be the Bounds till it
come to the Line betwixt the two Late Colonies aforesaid ; which Line
to be the bounds to Attleborough aforesaid was set off from Taunton
by and with the consent of that Town, and by an order of the General
Assembly passed at their Session in March, 17 lo, made a distinct and
separate Town from Tawnton, containing a sufficient quantity of Lands
and a competent number of inhabitants for that purpose, and named
NORTON ; the full perfecting of the said Grant being adjourned and
referred to the present Courts." ^

It is absolutely certain that the whole of the North Purchase
was intended to be, and was in fact, included in the town of
Norton. But the above description does not include the whole
of that Purchase. The bounds on the east as above defined cor-
respond essentially with the location of the Bay road, leaving
out of the proposed limits of Norton that part of the North
Purchase between the Bay road and Bridgewater. This may be
a mistake of the person who drafted the act of incorporation.
He probably supposed that the bounds of the town of Norton
were to be the same as those of the North Precinct of Taunton,
for he has copied the boundaries of that precinct ; and he appar-
ently thought that the whole North Purchase was included
within these boundaries, which was not the fact. However this

1 See Clark's History of Norton, pp. 35, 36.



78 HISTORY OF EASTON.

discrepancy may be accounted for, two facts become evident by
subsequent events : first, the people of the East End of the
North Purchase acted with the Norton people in all municipal
affairs ; and second, they were independent of them so far as the
support of public worship is concerned. Long before they be-
came a separate precinct they had organized, as we shall soon
see, a religious society of their own, and they never helped sup-
port the Norton Church. But until the incorporation of Easton,
they attended and voted in the Norton town-meetings, electing
officers for their part of the town. Prior to 1718, this part is
called the " East End of Norton."

It was not long, however, before the people of the East End
deemed themselves strong enough to become a town by them-
selves. The following extract from the General Court records
of November, 171 5, shows that an attempt was thus early made
to organize this section into a town : —

Upon reading a petition of several of the Inhabitants of the East
End of Taunton North-Purchase, setting forth that it being formerly
reserved by the General Court in their grant of a township that one
half part of Taunton North- Purchase (namely the Easterly Part thereof
next to Bridgewater) should be and belong to the inhabitants thereof
to make a distinct plantation as soon as the Court should judge them
able and fit to have the privilege of a distinct village or plantation
granted them, — the petitioners, notwithstanding their poverty and
the small number of their inhabitants, humbly praying that they may
be formed into a distinct town, and that they may have the privilege of
a township granted to them, —

In the House of Representatives. — Ordered that Sam'l Thaxter,
Jonah Edson, & George Leonard, Esqs., be a committee to enquire
into the state & number of the inhabitants, the extent and quality
of their lands, & whether they are fit to be created into a township or
precinct, and make return to this Court in May next, the petitioners
to bear the charge of ye committee.

In Council. — Read & concurred.

Consented to, Wm. Tailer.^

This attempt to organize the East End of Norton into a sepa-
rate town, in 171 5, did not meet with success. Two years after-
ward an effort is made to form a separate precinct of this half

1 Court Records, vol x. pp. 8, 9.



PRECINCT AND TOWN.



79



of the North Purchase. The following is the report of the
action of the General Court concerning a petition for this
precinct : —

Oct. 30, 1 7 17, a petition of the Inhabitants of the Easterly part of
Taunton North-Purchase, shewing that whereas the Honble, Court,
when they granted the North Precinct in Taunton to be a town by the
name of Norton, made this proviso, — that the East end of the North
Purchase shall have half of the said Purchase as their precinct when
they are able to maintain a minister, and this Court judged them so ;
and that since the passing of that order of the General Assembly
(which was in March 17, 1710-11) the number of the settled families
in the said East end of Taunton North-Purchase is much increased,
and their settlements are too remote from any place where the public
worship is carried on to travel comfortably to any such place, they
now judge themselves in a capacity to support a minister themselves :

Therefore, praying that a committee be appointed between them
and the town of Norton, that they may know their bounds of the half-
part of the North Purchase, and that this Hon. Court would grant
them to be a distinct Precinct or Township, as they shall in their
wisdom think fit. And the petition was on that day read in Council,
and sent down to the House of Representatives."

In the House of Representatives, November 11. — Read, and
Ordered that the said East end of Norton be made as a precinct, and
have the powers and privileges granted by law to precincts ; and that
John Field, Ephraim Howard, and John White, surveyor, be a com-
mittee to run and settle a divisional line, by which it is to be set off
from the other part of Norton, — pursuant to an order of the Court,
March 17, 1710-11, — and make report to this Court.

Sent up for concurrence.

In Council. — Read and Concurred.

Consented to, Saml. Shute.^

The committee named above attended to their work, and on
May 13, 1718, they made their report. The dividing line that
was to separate the proposed precinct from the rest of Norton
was about the same as that which now forms the western bound-
ary of Easton. From this time precinct-meetings are held, a
clerk chosen, and business conducted under the name of the
" East Precinct of Norton." A meeting-house is erected, and

1 Court Records, vol. x. pp. 169, 170.



8o HISTORY OF EASTON. /

the people are considering about settling a minister, when it is
discovered that they are not, after all, a legal precinct. By some
informality the divisional line had not been confirmed by the
Court, and the precinct had no legal existence. The proof of
this is the following : —

A petition of Geo. Hall and sundry others, Inhabitants of the East
end of Norton, shewing that Whereas the general Court did in the year
1 710 appoint a committee to run a divisional line by which they were
to be sett off from the other part of Norton, and the said committee
did run the said divisional line accordingly, & gave in their report to the
General Court in May, 17 18. — The petitioners were negligent in the
affair, in that they did not request a confirmation of the line accord-
ing to the sd. report. But since they cannot procede to settle a gosple
Ministry amongst them before the sd. line is settled, therefore praying
that the sd. Report may be brought for acceptance, and they may be
made a separate & distinct precinct.

In Council. — Whereas the report of the Committee referred to in
this petition is not accepted, ordered that Jacob Thompson, Esq., with



Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 8 of 78)