William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

History of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) online

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such Persons as the honble House of Representatives shall appoint,
be a committee to run the divisional line between the easterly end of
Norton & the other part thereof, conformable to orders of the General
Court, passed March 17, 17 10, and make report to the General Court
at their session in May next.

In the House of Representatives. — Read & concurred ; and the
Hon. Samuel Thaxter, Esq., & Mr. Benjamin Crane are joined in the

Consented to, Samuel Shute.^

The date of this action was November 30, 1720. A new appli-
cation for legalizing the proposed precinct was necessary; and it
was not until January 19, 1722, that the East Precinct of Norton
was legally constituted. The evidence for this is the following
account of the proceedings of the General Court on the above-
mentioned date : —

A petition of Divers Inhabitants of the East end of Taunton North-
Purchase praying to be set off a separate Township or precinct, by a
line reported by John Field, Ephm. Howard, & John White, in the
year 17 18, & pursuant to the order of the General Court that they

1 Court Recods, vol. xi. p. 72.


should be set off when they are capable of settling & maintaining a
minister, as they apprehend they now are, and that they may have half
of ye land of ye North-Purchase :

In the House of Representatives. — Read & ordered that the division-
al line between the East end of Taunton North-Purchase & the other
part of Norton, be according to the report of Messrs. John Field,
Ephraim Howard, & John White, a committee appointed by this Court
on ye first day of November, 1717, to run the same.

In Council. — Read & concurred, that the East End of Taunton
North-Purchase be constituted a separate precinct, according to the
sd. line.

In the House of Representatives. — Read and concurred.

Consented to, Wm. Dummer.^

It is therefore evident that at this date, which was January
19, 1722, the East Precinct of Norton was first legally consti-
tuted, and not in 171 8, as even the residents there at first

There had been considerable disputing prior to this time be-
tween the East and West ends of Norton relative to the dividing
line between them. In 1720, and in the two following years,
attempts were made to come to an agreement. After the final
formation of the East Precinct in 1722, John Phillips, Edward
Hayward, and Josiah Keith met a committee from the other part
of Norton, and, with "Justice Thompson of Middleborough as
umpire," made a settlement of the line.

In 1725 the settlements have so much increased in the new
precinct that the inhabitants feel themselves strong enough to
become a town, and they petition to be incorporated as such.
December 9, 1725, the following action is taken in the Gen-
eral Court : —

" A petition of the Inhabitants of the East End of Taunton North-
Purchase shows that in the setting off of the town of Norton a reserve
was made of land in the East End of the North Purchase against they
should be of a competent number of inhabitants to be separated from
the other part ; that they now consist of between forty & fifty families,
and they are under great difficulty in attending public duties at Norton,
therefore praying to be set off a separate &: distinct township.

1 Court Records, vol. xi. pp. 509, 510.


" In the House of Representatives. — Read & Ordered that the prayer
of the petitioners be granted, and the petitioners have leave to bring in
a bill accordingly.

"In Council. — Read & concurred," etc.-'

December 21, 1725, an engrossed bill entitled "an act for
dividing Taunton North-Purchase, so called, in the Township of
Norton, and erecting a new town in y" Easterly Half thereof by
the name of Easton," was passed and enacted by both Houses
and signed by the Lieutenant-Governor. The following is the
act : —

Act of Incorporation of the Town of Easton.

Whereas, in the year 1710,^ When the township of Norton was
granted by the general assembly of this province, provision was made
that the inhabitants on the east end of the said North Purchase should
have one half of the said purchase when they were able to maintain a
minister, and this court judge them so ; and the said east h^lf of
the said North Purchase is now competently filled with inhabitants,
who have already built a house for the publick worship of God, and
provided an able and orthodox minister, and have thereupon ad-
dressed this court that they may be set off a distinct and separate
town, to be vested with all the powers and privileges of the other
towns of this province, —

Be it therefore enacted by the Lieutenant-Governor, Council, and
Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of
the same —

(Sect, i.) That the easterly moyety or half part of the tract of
land commonly called and known by the name of Taunton North-
Purchase, bounded westerly on the township of Norton (which con-
tains the westerly half part of the said North Purchase), southerly
upon the town of Taunton, northerly on the town of Dorchester, and
easterly on the town of Bridgewater, be and hereby is sett off and
constituted a separate township, by the name of Easton ; and that the
inhabitants of the said lands, as before described and bounded, be
and hereby are vested with the powers, privileges, and immunities
that the inhabitants of the towns of this province by law are or ought
to be vested with.

("Sect. 2.) And that the inhabitants of the said town of Easton
do, within six months from the publication of this act, procure and

1 Court Records, vol. xiii. p. 69.

2 It was, in fact, in 1711. The date above is " Old Style."


maintain a schoolmaster to instruct their youth in writing and reading;
and that thereupon they be discharged from any payments for the
maintainance of the school at Norton. [Passed December 21, 1725;
published January 3, 1725-26.]

It would be gratifying to know positively why the new town
was given the name of Easton. Elias Nason in his " Massachu-
setts Gazetteer" states that it was named after Governor Nicholas
Easton. The statement is made without authority ; and as one
guess is not only as good but sometimes better than another, the
writer ventures to give his own conjecture as to the reason for
the adoption of this name. For many years this part of the
North Purchase had been called the " East End of Taunton
North-Purchase." It was, after the incorporation of Norton,
called the " East End of Norton." For several years it was
called the " East Precinct of Norton." The transition from
these terms to that of East-Town, abbreviated finally to Easton,
is easy, and seems the most natural explanation of the adoption
of this name.

On the date of the passage of the Act of Incorporation
an order was passed for calling a town-meeting. It was as
follows : —

/;/ the House of Representatives.

Ordered that Mr. Josiah Keith, a Principal Inhabitant of the Town
of Easton, be and hereby is empowered and directed to notify and
summon the Inhabitants of the said Town, duly qualified for voters, to
assemble and meet some time in the month of March next to chuse
Town Officers according to Law, to stand for the year.

In Council. — Read and Concurred.

Consented to, W. Dummer. ^

The following is a verbatim copy of the record of the proceed-
ings of the meeting thus called, — the first town-meeting held
in Easton : —

" At a Leagal meeting and warned by Leagal authority in the
Town of Easton, for the Election and choice of Town officers, to
be on the second day of March in the year 1725-6, and accordingly

" I. we made choice of Mr. Josiah Keith modrator for said meeting.

1 Court Records, vol. xiii. p. 89.


"2. we made choyce of John Phillips for our Town Clerk for the year
ensuing, and he was present and sworn.

"3. we made choice of John Phillips, Josiah Keith, and Benjamin
Drake for our selectmen of said town.

"4. we made choice of Josiah Keith, Benjemin Drake, and John
Phillips assessors for the year ensuing, and thay were present and
were sworn.

"5. we made choice of Israel Randell for our counstable, and by
consent of the Town the said Israel Randell was Released, and George
Hall was chosen in his roome, and was present and was sworn.

" 6. we made choice of Ephraim Randell Town Treasurer for the
year ensuing, and he was present and was sworn.

" 7. voted to make choice of but two servairs of highways.

"8. we made choice of Seth Babbat and Benjemin Kinsly servairs
of highways, and thay were present and was sworn.

"9. we made choice of Israel Randell Tything man, and he was
present and was sworn.

" 10. we made choice of John Daily and Timothy Cooper Hogreves.

" II. we made choice of Thomas Manley and Ephraim Huett fence-
vewers, and thay were present and sworn." ^

1 Town Records, vol. i. p. i. Whenever the town records are referred to in this
History, the references will be to the original records, and not to the copies recently




Birth and Parentage. — Settlement in Attleborough. — Settle-
ment AT the East Precinct of Taunton North-Purchase. —
Sickness and Recovery. — His two published Sermons. — The
FIRST Meeting-house. — Early Dissatisfaction with its Loca-
tion. — Death of Mr. Short.

REV. MATTHEW SHORT was born March 14, 1688.
He was the third son and sixth child of Henry Short, of
Newbury, and Mary ^ Whipple, his wife. So writes J. C. Coffin
in his " History of Newbury ; " and he adds that Mary died
December 28, 169 1, and that May 11, 1692, Henry married Anne
Longfellow, and died October 23, 1706, fifty-four years old.
Matthew Short graduated at Harvard University in 1707. From
that time until 171 1 he was probably teaching school or study-
ing divinity, perhaps both. October i, 171 1, the town of At-
tleborough, being met "for the chosing of an able orthodox min-
ister of good conversation to Dispence the word of god to us,"
chose Mr. Short for their minister. He was to have jCs*^ ^
year for six years, — one third to be in money, and the rest in
grain, beef, pork, butter, or cheese, or any or either of them, at
current prices. By a vote in November, 17 10, Attleborough had
agreed to give away the house that was built upon their minis-
terial land, to the first minister that should serve the town for
seven years. Mr. Short was not destined to become its owner.
Difficulties arose between him and his people. Early in 171 5
an attempt was made to come to some agreement. In stating
his case to the town and church Mr. Short writes as follows :^ —

"This you may expect and depend upon, that unless there be a
speedy and friendly composition of the differences amongst us, I shall
not continue the exercise of my ministry."

^ Savage, in his Genealogical Dictionary (vol. iv. p. 89) names her Sarah.
2 See Attleborough Town Records. 2 Ibid.


The difficulty was some misunderstanding concerning his
salary, as well as other money promised him. The town did not
accept his terms, but proposed others on condition that Mr.
Short " will forthwith Desist ye ministry in this town." May
31, 171 5, he requested to be dismissed, and the town voted to
grant his desire. While in Attleborough he married Margaret
Freeman, of that place. This was on December 27, 171 1. Two
children, Anna and Judith, were born to Mr. and Mrs. Short
while they were in Attleborough.

Mr. Short is next heard of in Saco, Maine (then, however, a
part of Massachusetts), where he is preaching, in 17 16. He
was at the same time Chaplain of his Majesty's fort at Winter
Harbor, and on this account his salary was paid in part by the
General Court.^ He remained there until some time in 1722.
Two of his children, Matthew and Ebenezer, were born during
his ministry there.

The Rev. Matthew Short appears to have received his call to
settle as minister of the church in the East Precinct of Norton,
March 28, 1723. This appears from the following record of the
General Court for June 4, 1723 : —

A petition of the inhabitants of the East End of Taunton north-
purchase, setting forth that the inhabitants met together on the 28th
of March last & passed sevral votes relating to the affairs of their
precinct & for the encouragement of a minister to settle among them,
which votes were passed in an amicable manner & with good agree-
ment among themselves, but the said meeting . . . not being le-
gally warned, they doubted that some difficulties may hereafter arise
about the matters then voted, and therefore praying that the sd. votes
(annexed to the petition) may be confirmed by this Court.

In Council read and ordered that the prayer of the petitioners be
granted, and that the votes passed at the meeting of the inhabitants of
the East precinct of the North purchase on ye 28th day of Mch., 1723
(which votes are hereunto annexed), be allowed, ratified, and confirmed
to all intents & purposes whatsoever, any law, usage, or custom to the
contrary notwithstanding.

In the House of Representatives. — Read & Concurred.

Consented to, Wm. Dummer.

1 State Papers, vol. vi. p. 330; vii. p. yjT). Folsom's History of Saco and Bidde-
ford, pp. 203, 223, etc.


Mr. Short began his ministerial work soon after his call in
March, or certainly before August 31, 1723, for at this date
there is a record of a marriage performed by him here. A deed
dated November 22, 1723, states that it was —

"agreed with a minister for a settlement; afterward voted at our
Precinct to give unto Matthew Short fifty acres of land, . . . and to
build him an house and to find him all the materialls except nayles,
glass, lime, and Iron worke, and to finish it if he would comply with
said offer." ^

Mr. Short's house was situated on Depot Street, a little east
of its intersection by Central Street. When Depot Street was
widened, a part of the cellar over which this house had stood was
cut off. At that time a flat stone which had been built into the
chimney was found, having chiselled upon it the date of the build-
ing of the house. Mr. Short was presented with ten acres of
land at this place, which came to be known as the " Short Place."
This gift was a personal one, made by Thomas Randall, John
Phillips, and Mark Lathrop, who gave two acres each, Timothy
Cooper who gave three, and Daniel Owen who gave one. The
Precinct, as before stated, gave their newly-chosen minister fifty
acres more, as an encouragement for him to settle here. This
was on November 22, 1723 ; but it was not until February, 1730,
that he came into possession of this latter gift. Nor did he ac-
quire a quit-claim deed of his house until November, 1729, though
it had been promised him much earlier.

The town however, in an emergency that soon occurred,
treated their minister in a way that won his heartfelt gratitude.
In 1728, in midsummer, a distressing and very fatal disease
visited the town. Mr. Short was taken sick July 15, and was
very sick for two months, his life being despaired of. The
town generously provided for his needs at this time, doing all
they could to make him comfortable and to restore him to
health. On September 17 it was voted in town-meeting "that
thirteen pounds ten shillings and eight pence be assessed on the
Inhabitants of this town, and collected of them and paid into the
Town Treasury, for the defraying of the charges towards our

^ Bristol County Deeds, book xv. p. 213.


Pastor's late sickness ; and sd. money to be paid out by order
of the Selectmen of this town to those persons that hath don
towards said sickness as they shall find it to be justly don, and
if there be any money Left to be delivered to mr. Short for his

Soon after this, their minister, pale and worn with his sick-
ness, met his people in the little log meeting-house, and preached
to them a sermon which was appropriate to the occasion, and
was entitled "A thankful Memorial of God's sparing Mercy,"
This was followed by another ; and they made such an impres-
sion upon his congregation that he was requested to have them
printed. This was done, and some stray copies were bound up
in book form with fugitive sermons of other ministers. A few of
these books are still extant. A sermon preached in the earliest
meeting-house in Easton by its first minister, as long ago as
1728, is a very interesting relic of the olden time. A verbatim
copy of the first of these sermons may be seen in the Appendix
of this history. In these sermons he says that he was visited
by Providence " with a sore sickness, whereby I was brought
nigh unto Death ; but God in his wonderful goodness spared
me, and did x\o\. give me over 2into Death, for which I would now
humbly and heartily praise his holy Name. ... I freely acknowl-
edge the Justice and Holiness of God in bringing that sore
Chastisement upon me. I acknowledge my sin deserved it. I
acknowledge the unerring Wisdom of God in sending it season-
ably. I plainly see that I needed it, and therefore I hope I
heartily thank God for it. ... I am laid under a new Obligation
to you by the endearing Kindness which God helped you to
show to me in the time of my late distressing sickness. . . . God
hath taken away several from among us of late by Death, empty-
ing a House hard by us, and sweeping it clean as it were by
Death; and taking away the principal Person^ in another, whose
Death we have great reason to lament." The fatality of this
general sickness is indicated by the following quotation from the
second sermon : " Let us all consider how awfully the holy hand
of God was lifted up against us of late. If it had pleased the
holy God to have gone on the way of his judgment in multiply-
ing deaths among us as he began, every person in the Town
1 Mrs. Elizabeth Pratt, widow of Elder "William Pratt.


would have been swept out of the world by death. But the
destroying Angel hath been commanded to put up his sword into
his sheath, & not go on to destroy."

This second sermon ends with the following interesting quo-
tation from the conclusion of a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Cotton
Mather: —

" But when Sickness Returns upon such a Man, with Circumstances
that intimate his Call to be Go?ie, what a Welcome can this Man give
to such a Call ! Welcome, Sickness ; Thou Alessenger of Heaven / Wel-
come The Waggons that are sent now to fetch me away unto my yesus in
all His Glory I Amen."

The following quaintly expressed preface to these two ser-
mons, addressed to this church and congregation, deserves to be
perpetuated here : —

To The Church &^ Congregation in Easton :

Dearly Beloved, — These Discourses, as you remember, were
delivered immediately after my late Visitation with a sore Sickness of
about two Months Continuance, And were designed in some measure
(especially the former of them) to sute that occasion. They were com-
posed while I was under considerable remains of bodily Weakness
and without any Expectation of their being thus made publick. But a
number of you being desirous of the Publication of them, and having
Grounds to think that they will be acceptable to you in general, as I
trust they were in the preaching (and as, I bless God for it, my other
labors have been among you), and therefore I hope profitable ; and these
Discourses having been perused by a Reverend Brother who has encour-
aged their going to the Press, I have yielded to the Publication of
them, humbly hoping that it will be acceptable to God and for his
Glory, that there be a monument of this Nature erected to render to
God the praise due to his Name for his memorable Works of Mercy
and Goodness towards us in the Time of our Distress. And whereas
there is some mention made in the first of the following Discourses of
. the Kindness which God helped you to shew to me in the Time of
my distressing sickness, So I would now with hearty praises to God,
and with a due Gratitude to you, mention the Kindness you have
shewn me since my Recovery from Sickness, when you did at a
public meeting grant a considerable gratuity for me, without my ask-
ing it, which rendered it the more obliging and endearing. In Token
of Gratitude, I here present you with the following Discourses, which



though the work drags on for a long time it is finally completed,
and the " East-enders " have their way. They foresaw in-
creasing trouble with the determined "West-enders" concerning
the location of the meeting-house. They therefore, in order
to strengthen their own party, tried to get a portion of Bridge-
water annexed to Easton. This would increase their numbers,
and also bring their locality nearer the Centre. In January,
1727, John Phillips, Thomas Randall, and sundry others pre-
sented a petition to the General Court, citing that about twelve
families of the west part of the North Precinct of Bridgewater
desired to be annexed to Easton, and praying that their desire
might be granted. The General Court ordered that a copy of
this petition be served on the town of Bridgewater, and also on
the North Precinct. This was done ; and after further hearing
of the case the Court, in 1728, dismissed the petition. ^

June 4, 1736, this plan was again proposed. The families
living near the Easton line in the North Precinct of Bridgewater
found it more convenient to attend the Easton church, and they
petitioned again to be annexed to Easton, but with no better
success than before.

The ministry of Matthew Short was, upon the whole, a quiet
one. It lasted eight years, and he died April 16, 1731, forty-
three years old. A proposition was made in town-meeting to
pay eighteen pounds, eleven shillings, six pence for his funeral
charges, but only about half of it was voted. He left a widow
and nine children, one child having died in 1728. Six of these
were born in Easton. The family record will be given in detail
in the " Genealogical History of Easton " which the writer expects
to publish in about a year. Mr. Short died intestate. He owned
at his death his house and one hundred acres of land. That he
had a good library, for that day, may be inferred from the fact
that it was rated in the appraisement of his estate at £T,g, ^s.

Mrs. Short soon found consolation for the loss of her first
husband by marrying Jeremiah Freeman, by which marriage she
resumed her maiden name. She sold her right of dower to her
eldest son, Matthew. It illustrates the difference in the education
of children in those times as compared with the present, to learn
that three of the minister's children, perhaps others, were unable
' General Court Records, vol. xiii. p. 528.


to write their own names. One of these, Glover Short, finally
became a town charge, and died at an advanced age. Rev.
Matthew Short's remains were buried in the old cemetery, not
far from his church. But the continual desecration of that
sacred place led ultimately to the removal of his gravestone to
the burying-ground north of the Centre, where it would be safe
from vandal hands. His remains were also removed. Upon
the gravestone is the following inscription : —

In memory of ye Rev'd. Mr. Matthew Short. Deceased April
ye 16th, 1 73 1, in ye 44th year of his age.

" The sweet remembrance of ye Just
Shall flourish when he sleeps in dust."




Distinction between Church and Parish. — Call and Settlement
OF Mr. Belcher. — His Antecedents. — The Ordination. — Dis-
satisfied with his Salary. — Partial Insanity. — Involved in
Lawsuits. — Disappearance.

VERY soon after the death of the first minister of Easton,
the religious society became much interested in Mr. Joseph
Belcher, who preached here as a candidate for settlement. The
church voted to give him a call, and on July 28, 1731, the town,
in town-meeting assembled, voted to concur with the church in
this invitation. It may not be amiss at this point to remind the
reader that in those early days the parish included the whole
town. By the "church" was meant the church-members, one
of whose special prerogatives was that of choosing the minister.
But their choice must be ratified by a vote of the parish, or town,
— all the legal voters in town taking part in this as in any of the
business matters that came before them. The town also fixed
the amount of the minister's salary, terms of settlement, and

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 78)