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[p. 20]

The first book of records, Medford, Mass.

by Allston Porter Joyce, City Clerk.
THE study of the records of our ancestors is an attractive pursuit to all, and particularly so to the historical student and to the genealogist. The value of musty records is more appreciated each year; the carelessness and lack of completeness with which most of them were kept and the loss of many through fire and improper care is to be greatly regretted. It has been frequently stated, in fact is a sort of tradition, that the earliest records of Medford were destroyed by fire. I never heard it said when or where it happened, but many have accepted this statement as a fact. How or when the story originated I do not know. Brooks, in his History of Medford, states that ‘the records of the first forty years are lost,’ and again that ‘the first twenty-five or thirty pages of the first book of records are unfortunately lost, probably from carelessness about loose and decayed sheets.’ These words are reiterated by Usher in his later work, evidently taking it for granted that this was true without making any study or consideration. While I have the greatest respect for the Rev. Charles Brooks, whom I remember so well as one of the school committee in my youthful days, whom every one delighted to honor, and who ever had a pleasant word and kindly greeting for all, I feel, to use his own words in reference to a claim made by another historian in a matter relative to Medford, that I must good-naturedly dissent from this statement. I think that an examination of the oldest book of records of our town will convince anyone that it is substantially complete. It is possible that a leaf may have gone astray, but I doubt it very much. Brooks says, after he speaks of the loss of the first twenty-five or thirty pages, that ‘the next thirty pages are broken out of their places and may be soon lost.’ When I became city clerk, nearly forty years after this [p. 21] was written, I found this volume in the same condition as described by him, but not a leaf missing that was there when he wrote about it. No particular care had apparently been taken to preserve it; but realizing its value and the possibility of its loss or destruction in whole or in part, I took early opportunity to have it permanently preserved by being rebound by what is known as the ‘Emery process,’ retaining the old parchment covers and the leather thongs originally fastening the book together, thus placing it beyond destruction or wear by any examination or use. Nearly half a century had gone by with the volume in this most dilapidated condition and yet no harm had come to it, although probably examined hundreds of times during that period. This book contains the town records from the year 1674 to 1718; the next volume covers the succeeding years to 1735; the third, from this date to 1781; and the fourth, from 1781 to 1812. These books are all in good condition, and with the succeeding ones up to the present time are all completely indexed, and the first three volumes copied. I have been waiting for means to be provided to have the contents printed. There is also a card index containing a reference to each and every name and every place it appears in the books, which means thousands of references, as these volumes contain all the tax lists for over an hundred years. This work of copying and indexing has been in charge of one whom I consider the best qualified to do the same of any person that could be obtained. At this time it may be interesting to quote a statement made by one who was employed by a neighboring town to copy some of its old records. He says: ‘In justice to myself I could not copy such bad spelling. I have, therefore, corrected throughout the bad spelling of those old records, and have given the words in the current, modern, true orthography, as justified by the standard authorities. Whereas the language was incoherent, indefinite, and bungling; where bad grammar was used; where the style was deplorably [p. 22] bad, and where the true meaning was evidently not given, I have not hesitated to amend expressions, so far, at least, as to make it correct, intelligible, and decent. I have in many instances abridged the record but never changing the sense, but expressing it by a more concise and transparent phraseology.’ The copying done by the clerk in my office was not carried out on this plan. Every letter and mark appears in the copy exactly as in the original.

Tonight I propose to confine my remarks to the first volume and its contents. In size it is fifteen inches long, six inches wide, and about an inch thick, or rather was, before being repaired. There are two hundred and fifty-six pages of town records, tax rates, etc., and the back part of the book contains twenty-one pages, mostly of entries of births, marriages, and deaths, but in which is occasionally mixed other matters, including a warrant for the collection of rates, some action of the town in regard to Rev. Benjamin Woodbridge's salary, which was a cause of dissension for many years, and a record of the reimbursement of certain persons for powder furnished, etc. At the beginning is what was apparently the ‘fly-leaf,’ on which is the record of an action in regard to ‘procuring & main-taineing of a publique town stock of ammunition,’ under date of June 14, 1678. This is in the handwriting of Jonathan Wade, the first town clerk, but an entry on the other side of the leaf, of a few lines, and which is indefinite in its nature, dated February 2, 84/85, is in the handwriting of Stephen Willis, the second town clerk. Both of these were probably made on this leaf on account of their being accidentally omitted in their proper chronological order.

From this reason, and from the primitive manner in which the first entries are made, the small amount recorded, (the page following what I have referred to as the fly-leaf, and which I believe to be the original first page of the volume, being sufficient to contain all that was recorded for three years, 1674, 1675, and 1676), I [p. 23] am convinced that this was a new and untried work, and that this is the first book of records. I do not wish to be an iconoclast, and have a great respect for old stories, but until stronger evidence is produced of there being previous official records than I am now aware of I shall believe that we possess all that were ever kept, tradition to the contrary notwithstanding, and that the first volume is complete, regardless of the statements of Brooks and Usher. There may possibly have been accounts of a private nature, before the date of our first book, made out for those who owned so much of the territory of what was then Medford and transmitted to them, but if so, such were not considered to be for public use. The ink used in writing this volume was of a permanent nature, very different from much of that which is used at the present time, and the entries of two hundred and thirty years ago are as fresh and readable as when written. What I have spoken of as the original first page begins as follows:—

‘The first monday of [february in] the yeare of our Lord 1674 at a meeting of the Jnhabitants of meadford mr Nathanaell wade was chosen Constable for the y[eare] ensuing,’ and then follows two or three lines relative to sheep being at large during certain months. A large part of the early legislation consisted of votes on restraining the cattle, ringing and yoking of swine, keeping a supply of powder, and the election of the few officers. Choosing a constable seems to have been one of the most important duties, and a fine was provided for such as were elected to this position who refused to serve. The election of a tithing man was an annual duty, and this office seems to have been subject to more changes than almost any other—perhaps, from the one who filled it having succeeded in getting the ill will of the people. Johns Hopkins tells us that the tithing man was ‘a kind of Sunday Constable whose special duty it was, in the old parish meeting-house, to quiet the restlessness of youth and to disturb the slumbers of age.’ [p. 24] We can well imagine that the raps and pokes of the wand carried by this official might raise personal prejudices. On February 12, 1682-3 ‘it was agreed upon, that all generall meetings for the time to come shall be att eight of the clock in the morning & whossoeuer shall faill shall pay a fine of fix pence pr hour & if absent the whole meeting two shillings.’ Evidently it was as difficult a work to get out the voters then as it is found to be in more recent times, but the measures taken to accomplish the object were of a different nature; possibly at the present time a fine for absence instead of the methods used might have an effect on the size of the vote cast.

On October 13, 1684, the following action was taken:— ‘it was agreed opon at A generall meting of the Jnhabitants by a uote to petition to the Generall Court to grant us power and priuilidge as other Towns for the ordering of prudentialls amongst us.’ The next entry reads. ‘at A generall court held at Boston 15th october 1684 in Answer onto yepetition of mr Nathaniell wade & peter Tufs in behalf of the Jnhabitents of meadford ye Court Grants there Requ[est] [and] decla[res] that meadford hath bene & is A peculiar & have power as other Towns as to prudentials &c = that this is A true coppy taken out of the Courts records as attest Edward Rawsson Secretary This is atrue coppy of the coppy aboue sd as attest Stephen willis clark’

It is to be noticed that in the petition as above presented the word ‘town’ is used for the first time in the records; although not calling Medford directly a ‘town,’ by inference it does so, as it asks for the power and privileges as other towns. Previous to this time in every instance the reference to Medford is as a ‘Plantation;’ after this, as a ‘town.’ A word in regard to this action by the General Court. Brooks in his history gives the above grant, but instead of giving it correctly says, ‘medford hath bene & is A peculiar “town” ’ inserting the word ‘town,’ and in the text of his history further on, [p. 25] entering into an entirely erroneous statement of why it was a ‘peculiar town.’ Usher follows in the footsteps of Brooks in this particular, as we might naturally expect. The General Court did not declare Medford to be a ‘peculiar town,’ but a ‘peculiar.’ The reason of this is obvious. The word ‘peculiar’ in Colonial and provincial Massachusetts meant a parish, precinct or district not yet erected into a town, but having authority to act on all, or most matters of local administration, but not in choosing a representative to the General Court. Although taxes had been assessed, legislation had been enacted at various times, and the settlement had been recognized in one way or another since 1630, the rights of the place were still incomplete, and it had no representative in the Provincial Government for several years after this declaration. All of these facts are evidence toward bearing out the statement relative to our records being intact, and that no public ones had been kept previous to those we now have. There are several errors in other of Brooks' extracts of the records, which become evident on examination, but I shall not go into this feature in detail.

On March 4, 1684-5, the selectmen were empowered to make such orders as shall be needful for the preventing any person or families coming into the town and continuing as inhabitants, and in case of need to protest against any such, for fear they might become a burden or damage to the town. This, of course, as you will recognize, was an action to put into effect the ‘warning out’ law, and this method of procedure was continued for an hundred years, many of those who, with their descendants, afterwards became our best citizens, having been subjected to this warning. All who were residents, and received into their families so-called strangers, were obliged to notify the selectmen at once of the fact, that such action as might be deemed advisable could be taken. The first procedure of the selectmen, under this vote, was on April 1, 1685, when one William Burgess and [p. 26] his family, from Cambridge, were protested against as becoming legal inhabitants of Medford, and warned to be gone, which was filed and entered at the County Court in Cambridge. I cannot state whether William went away or not, but probably he did not.

The first list of taxes, or County Rate, as it is called, is under date of February 9, 1684-5, and contains nineteen names, among which are many that were common through later years in our local matters, such as Wade, Hall, Brooks, Willis, Tufts, Francis, Whitmore, Bradshaw and others.

On October 19, 1686, the Court of Pleas and General Sessions at Cambridge appointed Stephen Willis to take account of all births and deaths within the ‘Township of Medford.’ This evidently was the beginning of the census of births of our present time, and the record, which is in the back part of this book of which I am writing, was undoubtedly commenced then. Stephen Willis, who was town clerk, either through personal knowledge or obtaining information from the families, wrote up these records for the previous years, which do not come in chronological order, but in such manner as to indicate that he entered a record of a birth, marriage or death which had occurred since 1674 as it came to his memory or knowledge. He seems to have been well informed in regard to the Willis family, as on page 273 are entered collectively the birth of seven members thereof between 1673 and 1682.

On June 4, 1689, occurs the following record:—‘Ensighne Peter Tufts was chosen by the Towne as Representitive According to the Honored Councils Signification dated may 30, 1689.’

Probably the Provincial Government had granted the settlement a representative to the General Court, and had thus removed all obstacles to the complete powers and authority of Medford as a town—it was no longer a ‘peculiar.’

The first action relative to the construction of a meeting-house [p. 27] occurred on November 10, 1691, at which time it was voted to call a special town meeting at Thomas Willis' house at a date to be appointed by the selectmen, on or before the tenth of December next, to consider the erection of a meeting-house for the town. This meeting was held November 30, and a committee consisting of John Hall, senior, and Lieut. Peter Tufts, was appointed to ‘Jntreat Mada Wade & the ouersers of maior Jonathan Wades farme for one quarter of an acre of land for the erecting & setling a meting house neare or opon the Land that sd maior formerly appointed for a Schole house that sd meadford may inicy it for the publick house,’ etc., promising to erect one if permission was given. On January 17, 169 2/3, a vote was passed that a meetinghouse should be erected on or before May, 1694, and to be finished by the first of October following, or sooner, if possible, on the land of Mr. Thomas Willis near the gate by Marble brook on a rock on the north side of ‘Oborn Rode,’ and that Peter Tufts, Caleb Brooks and Thomas Willis be a committee to bargain for the construction of the same, certain restrictions being put in relative to materials and work, the house to be ‘seven & twenty foot long twenty four foot wide & fifteen foot between joynts.’ The building of this house was a subject of legislation during several meetings, the contract for the construction being finally given to Thomas Willis, John Whitmore, John Bradshaw, and Stephen Willis for sixty pounds current money of New England. This was afterwards increased to eighty pounds, it being voted to have a ‘pulpit and deacon's seat made & the body of seats & the wals plaistered with lime.’ The building appears to have been finally finished; for on May 25, 1696, the records show that a vote was taken to appoint a committee of five men to seat the inhabitants in the meeting house, and instructing the selectmen to get a sufficient title for the town to the land on which it was built. The expense of the construction of the building was met by a special rate assessed on each inhabitant. [p. 28] The employment of a minister and the payment of his salary was a constant source of trouble in these times, and the changes were frequent until Rev. Benjamin Woodbridge appeared on the scenes in 1697, and during his term as minister, which continued until his death, January 15, 1710, dissension and legislation relative to his service and the payment for it were continuous. The records through these years are filled with lists of tax rates, each year seeming to have several different ones. I hardly know what our feelings would be now to receive a tax bill every two or three months when we feel an annual one to be a burden—and the law provided that if these taxes were not paid within a certain time that the delinquent should be committed to the ‘Common Goall of the county there to remain until he shall have paid the same.’

March 6, 1799, it was voted to give Mr. John Johnson three pounds toward the building of a sufficient horse bridge over the weirs, with a rail on each side, and so constructed as to leave a free passage underneath for boats and rafts. At the same meeting it was voted to build a gallery in the meeting-house with stairs at each end, the seats in the same to be parted in the middle so that one half should be for the men, and the other half for the women.

On page 73 may be found the record of the deed in full from Thomas Willis to the selectmen as trustees for the inhabitants of Medford of the land on which the meeting-house was located, under date of March 6, 1699.

On December 6, 1700, a vote was passed to petition the General Court for liberty to build a ‘corne mill’ at gravelly bank near ‘Mistick Bridge,’ and also to raise ‘twenty pounds in money & levy the fame on there Jnhabitents by atowne Rate to buy bords & other meterials to be Jmproved for the building a house in there towne for the ministry’; this was afterwards changed to thirty pounds and spent for the purpose voted.

At this period there is frequent legislation relative to [p. 29] the seating of the women in the meeting-house and the building of certain pews by different persons as well as the order in which the inhabitants should be seated.

At the town meeting on March 17, 1702, a very precise action was taken, reading as follows:—‘at Said Meeting the Toun Reckned wth Ensigne John BradShow —and there was due to him upon the ballance of all accounts both for work done for the Town and ministers board from the beginning of the world unto this day the Sum of: sixteen pounds Sixteen Shillings and Ten pence. Erours excepted: this was Voted in the afirmative.’

October 23, 1702, a vote was passed petitioning the governor, council, and General Court that as the town was little and small, and unable to carry on public charges in so comfortable a way as is to be desired, that two miles square of a purchase made in 1646, in the township of Andover by Mr. John Woodbridge, of Cutshamake the Indian Sagamore, which was reserved in the hands of the General Court to lay to some other town or village if they saw cause, be laid to the Township of Medford. No result of this appears in the records.

The principal matter considered for several years after this time seems to have been the troubles of the town with the Rev. Benjamin Woodbridge, and page after page of the records is devoted to the account of the dissensions which were carried into the courts, and even to the governor and council, and which did not cease until settled by a special act of the General Court, passed in June, 1708.

Mr. Woodbridge, as I have already stated, died in January, 1710, and at the town meeting held on the twenty-seventh of this month, it was voted to levy an assessment of ten pounds, on account of the amount which had been paid toward his funeral. Doubtless many of the people paid their part without a murmur, hoping that the difficulties under which they had labored, relative to the minister, for so long a time, were forever settled. A list of what each one was assessed to meet this [p. 30] levy is given in full in the records, in which appears names of forty-four different people.

After Mr. Woodbridge's death, much legislation was entered into for the purpose of securing a new minister, and several votes were taken relating to subscribing and raising money to pay the salary of one. Special men were appointed by the town to ‘hold out’ the contribution box on the Sabbath Day to collect money to pay such salary, or help do so, and I find that some of them acted and some refused. The amount usually paid for preaching was fifteen or sixteen shillings per Sabbath.

The difficulties in the ministerial line remained unsettled for a long time. The heirs of Benjamin Woodbridge brought suit against the town for forty pounds which it was claimed was due him, and many attempts were made to settle with them; this was finally done, the expenses of the suit increasing the amount to forty-one pounds. ten shillings.

On April 6, 1711, the town voted to choose a committee for the keeping of a day of fasting and prayer in order to seek the help of God in the choice of a minister; and William Brattle, John Hancock, Benjamin Colman, and John Fox, as ministers, were chosen to carry on this work. Finally, in June of this year, Rev. John Tufts agreed to ‘dispense ye word of God amongst them for some time’ and accept the forty-five pounds per year and strangers' money which had been voted should be paid for such services, he finding his own ‘entertainment’; and so for a time the matter was settled, apparently, but a little later appears the following in the records:—

To the Sellect men of the town of Medford.

J have taken into further serious consideration the towns Jnvitation which they gave me in order to my Setling with them in ye work of ye ministry J have asked councill as to that matter and vnder the towns present Circumstances doe not se my way clear to accept [p. 31] of the call giuen me last june J hartily & sincerely thank ye Town for their kindness manifested towards me & could have denyed my selfe in many things to have done them seruice had J aprehended the call of prouidence to have been clear J hartily wish them good guidans & direction in their taking farther Steps in order to the settlement of ye ministry amongst them praying yt god would Jncline & direct them to doe yt which will be for ye Jnterest of Religion peace & comfort of the whole town

& take leave for to Subscribe my selfe theirs to serue as far as will be conuenient

Medford Aprill 4th: 1712
John Tufts

On April 18, 1712, I find that the town voted again to have a day appointed, which was to be the last Wednesday in April, ‘to be sollemnized as a day of fasting & prayer to humble themselfs before god for those divisions & contentions yt have been soe long prevaling amongst them & hitherto hath obstructed the peaceable injoyment of Gospell ordinances amongst them & yt god would Restore & continue aspirit of loue and vnity amongst them & yt he would direct them in their present Jntended procedings of ye choice of some Sutable person to setle with them in ye work of the ministry as may tend to ye glory of god ye promoting of Religion and may Jsue in ye peaceable & Regular Jnioyment of all Gospell ordinances amongst them.’

It was voted that on the day appointed to be kept as a fast the question of the selection of a minister should be decided, the nomination to be made immediately after the exercises of the day, by the people naming, by written ballot, the persons desired; from the three who received the highest vote, one should be selected as minister, the final decision to be made on Monday, May 5. Amos Cheever, John Tufts, and Aaron Porter were the ones who received the highest votes. The choice was finally made on May 19, and fell upon Rev. Aaron Porter, who was ordained February 11, 1713. [p. 32]

The records at this time show a list of the charges for various things, among them charges for the ordination and for the expenses of the fast, from which I quote the the following:—

    Jnsi John Bradshoe
for Jntertaining mr aron porter from the five & twentieth of may to ye last of Nouember being twenty eight Sabaths at two shillings pr sabath
for jntertainment of ye minister at ye fast01-02-00
Capt Peter for veall at ye fast00-06-3
Eben Brooks for neats toong & chese at ye fast00-03-6

In May, 1714, the first step was taken toward increasing the territory of the town, by appointing a committee to consult with the Selectmen of Charlestown and obtain consent to a part of the same being set off to Medford.

The remainder of the book contains accounts of frequent town meetings, at which most of the actions taken were relative to repairing the meeting-house, building pews, defining where the people should be seated, and voting to assess for the various expenses; page after page consisting of the lists of the persons assessed, and the amounts. It seemed to be the custom to spend money before it was raised and then vote to lay a rate to meet the charge or reimburse for the expenditure. The consequence was that at the town meetings, which were very frequent, action to raise money for some purpose was almost invariably taken, and consequently the almost continual payment of taxes.

The last entry in the book was written by Rev. Aaron Porter, and reads as follows:—

August 20, 1718
This may certify that J have received the whole of Sallery from June ye first to December ye first 1717 hereby J discharge the Town from any further Payment of it or any Part of it viz 38l-10S-0d J say Received pr me

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