Volume II of Medford records.
[Read before the Medford
Historical Society, February 17, 1913.]
T a meeting of the Medford
Historical Society, held in the spring of 1905, I had the honor of reading a paper, descriptive of the first
book of the town records, the same being later published in the Register.
In that paper I stated that I was firmly convinced that we have now all the records of the Town of Medford
that ever existed (Mr. Brooks
and Mr. Usher
to the contrary notwithstanding), and gave my reasons for this belief.
I find my contention ably seconded in the excellent article of Mr. Hooper
, in which he says, ‘The loss of early town records, so often lamented, may be largely due to the fact that they never existed,’ and this may well apply to the statement so often made relative to our own.
Tonight I propose to talk about the second volume of our records, which covers the period from February 12, 1718, to June 23, 1735.
This is of different dimensions from the first, being 12 3/4 inches long, 8 3/4 inches wide, and contains 374 pages.
The paper is of the quality made two hundred years ago, substantial and strong, but roughly finished and evidently destitute of any wood pulp.
The ink used by the town clerks in writing the records was of a permanent character and would satisfy the present law relative to ink for official records.
The entries are as clear and readable as if made within a day. When I say readable
, I mean they are so by any familiar with the writing and spelling of our ancestors, which in many respects was ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’
The records of the first year were by Thomas Tufts, and when [p. 78]
compared with those of some of his successors, seem to show that his education was far superior to theirs.
There are very few errors in spelling, and in this respect he equalled some of our perhaps better educated clerks of the present day. William Willis
succeeded him for two years, followed by Benjamin Willis
, who was clerk from 1721 to 1726, when William Willis
again filled the position for two years. Ebenezer Brooks, Jr., was elected in 1728, and at the March meeting of 1729 was re-elected.
There arose a dispute as to the legality of this meeting, and a petition was presented to the General Court by the disaffected ones, which was favorably considered, as appears by the record, a portion of which is as follows:—
Then follows the form directing the constable to make a return of his doings on the order, the whole being signed by ‘William Dudley
, Josiah Willard
Apparently they had political troubles ‘in the good Old Colony Times when we lived under the King
The result of this meeting was the election, among other officers, of Benjamin Willis
as town clerk, and it is his writing that appears in the remainder of the book.
More than half of the pages of the book are used in the lists of the taxes levied for various purposes.
It was the custom whenever a town meeting was held and money [p. 79]
appropriated for any purpose, to order a tax levied to meet the same.
If the minister's salary had to be provided, each person was assessed his relative share.
If a school was to be kept, the expense must immediately be raised by a tax. So we find separate lists in the same year providing for a ‘Province Tax,’ a ‘Town Rate’ (levied semi-annually), a ‘County Rate,’ a rate for the ‘Town Stock of ammunition,’ a rate for money for a school, and a rate for the minister's salary every six months, making eight tax bills per year.
It occurred to me, as I was looking over these lists, that if this custom should now prevail there might be more difficulty in collecting taxes even than there is now. These lists are divided into two and frequently three columns, at the top of which is written ‘Heads,’ ‘Real,’ ‘Personal Estate,’ and the amounts are entered in pounds, shillings and pence.
The first list in the book contains eighty-six names and the last one one hundred and eighteen names, an increase of over thirty-seven per cent. in eighteen years. This, of course, practically shows the percentage of increase in the population during the same time.
This book, as also the one preceding and the one immediately following, in which are entered similar lists of those assessed for taxes covering the years from 1673 to 1781, inclusive, and containing thousands of names, have all been completely indexed by the card system, giving a reference to every name and to every place which appears in either volume.
These lists, you can readily see, practically give a census of the adult male inhabitants during those years.
Scattered through the book are entries of the finding of stray cattle of all kinds, which the law required should be recorded in the town records and a description of the animal found, entered therein.
Some are quite interesting, as will be seen in the following:—
The law relative to such matters is still on the statute books, being first enacted in 1698.
Some of the town meeting warrants are curious, and those for the collection of taxes equally so. One of the latter reads as follows:—
To the Constable of ye Town of Medford Greeting
In his Majests Name you are Required to levy & Collect of ye Seveall Perssons Named in ye Lift herewith Commited unto you Each one his Respective proportion therein Sett Down of ye Sume Total of Such List Being A Tax or Assessment Grant-ed and Agreed upon by ye Inhabitants of ye sd Town of Medford Regulerly Assesed for ye Nessessary Charges Arising within the sd Town and to Deliver and pay in ye Sum of Thirty Pounds which you Shall So Levy & Collect unto Dean John Whitmore Treasurer of Sd Town who is Apointed to Receive the Same And to Compleat and make up account of your Collections of the whole Sume att upon or before the Lasst Day of June next Ensuing and if Any person or persons Shall Refuse or neglect to mak payment of ye Sume or Sumes whereat he or they are respectively Assessed and Sett in the Sd List To Distraine ye Goods or Chattles of such person or persons to ye Value thereof and the Distress or Distresses So Taken you are to Keep by ye Space of four Days att the Coast and charge of ye owner & if ye owner Do not pay ye Sumes or Sumes of money So Assessed with ye said four Days Then ye sd Disstress or Disstresses So taken you are to Expose and openly Sell At an out crie for ye payment of said Money and Charges Notice of Such Being Posted up in Some [p. 81] Publick place within ye Same Town Twenty four hours before hand and the overpluss Coming by sd Saile if any beside the Sume or Sumes of ye Assessment & Charges of Taking and Keeping of the Disstress or Disstresses to be Immediately Restored to ye owner And for want of Goods or Chatles whereon to make Disstress you are to Seize ye Body or Bodys of ye person or persons so Refusing and him or them Commit unto the Common Goale of ye said Counte ther to remaine untill he or they pay and Satisfie ye Several Sumes or Sumes wherat they are Respectively Assessed as aforesaid unless upon Aplication made To the Court of ye Generall Sessions of ye Peace the sume or any part thereof shall be abated—
The first record in the book is the warrant issued February 12, 1718, calling the annual March
meeting for the election of town officers and the transaction of certain other business, a part of which was ‘to consider what may be done to defend the Town
from charge by strangers coming in.’
This warrant is followed by the record of the meeting, in which is entered the following:—
In the record of this meeting, as also in the warrant calling it, every word is spelled correctly, although capitals are used indiscriminately.
Notwithstanding the report of the selectmen relative to who should have a right to vote in town meetings, as I have read to you, another meeting was called for March 24th, at which the question of the qualification of voters was referred to Mr. Remington
and Major Bond
for their opinion, they to report at a meeting to be called in May.
The meeting was called and evidently they reported, as there was a vote of thanks passed for them at that meeting, but I find nothing in the record to tell what the opinion was.
Town meetings, as you all probably know, were held in the meeting-house, and so continued to be until the formation of the second church in 1824, by which action the church and town became two distinct organizations and the affairs of the church were no longer regulated in town meetings.
They were always called ‘in His Majesty's name,’ and this custom pertained until the Declaration of Independence
in 1776, from which time, until the adoption of our constitution, they were called in the name of the people, and since then in the name of the Commonwealth
At the meeting of March 24th it was voted that those officers chosen at the annual meeting who had not been ‘sworn’ should be dropped and no record made of the election, and new ones elected.
It was a common custom, after the election of selectmen or assessors, to vote to add to the number from one to three more, also to vote each year whether or not to choose a representative to the General Court, and frequently the vote was not to do so. Evidently competition for this office was not as great as it is at the present day. Among the most important offices were those of constable (to which position, if a man was elected, he was obliged to serve or pay an amount to be excused1
); tithing-man (whose duty it was [p. 83]
to keep order in the church and not allow any one to snore loud enough to disturb the meeting); and hogreeve, who had charge of the hogs that ran at large to see that they did not trespass or do damage, and to yoke, or ring them through the nose to prevent it.
But I am straying away from the subject a little—that is, telling you what is in Volume II of our records.
On August 18, 1718, it was voted that ‘every Inhabtant of this Town shall when they buy any Servant Male or Female Be obleiged to acquaint and inform the Select men of sd Town for their approbation.’
I think this is the first reference to slavery in the records.
On February 9, 179, the question of a new meetinghouse was raised, and voted not to build one.
On July 20, 1719, education seems to have been called to their attention, as it was voted that ‘the town will have some meet person to keep a writing school in the town for three or four month in ye winter season.’
This was done at a town meeting especially called for this purpose and no other action was taken except to appoint a committee to ‘Treet
with Some meet persone or persons to Keep A writing
School in the Town
On November 30th the house of Thomas Willis, Jr.
, was selected as the place where the school should be kept, and on December 11th voted to employ ‘Mr. Henery Davison
. . . to Keep A School In Said Town for One qr of A Year Next Ensuing,’ and to allow him ‘ye Sume of Three Pound Money for Keepin School the Time
above sd and also To Diet him for ye time above Said.’
A committee was appointed to collect by subscription eight pounds for defraying the charges of the school, and in case it could not be so raised to levy a tax on the inhabitants for it. At this time it was also voted that it should be a ‘writing and A Reading
This was the first public school kept in Medford
In 1647 the General Court had passed an act making it obligatory on towns of fifty families to keep reading and writing schools and towns of one hundred families to have grammar schools.
had not reached the size demanded by the first requirement until this period.
Prior to this time the children obtained what education they received in the neighboring towns where schools existed, or were taught privately.
On February 22, 1720, a vote was passed to appoint a committee to ‘choose a convenient place for setting a schoolhouse’ to best accommodate the whole town and report at the March meeting.
This committee was appointed, but there is no record of any report from it. The next reference to a school-house is at the meeting of October 5, 1730, when it was again voted to appoint a committee to select a location and report the proper dimensions.
On October 19th the committee reported
‘That it would be Proper for The Town To Build Their Scoole-House Twenty fouer feet Long & 20 feet wide & Ten feet Stud & The Place The were of oppinion To Build was on The Town Land by The Meeting House Joyning Near Ebenser Brooks Jurs land.’
This report was accepted and the meeting promptly refused to appropriate any money to construct the building—£ 80 being desired for the purpose.
Compare $400 for the erection of the first school-house with the cost of one today.
The school-house, however, was finally built as recommended on what is now High street, on the southerly side, next easterly of Meeting House Brook.
This building supplied the wants of the town for educational purposes for over forty years. By vote of town meeting, in December, 1720, two schools were to be established during the coming winter, one in the easterly and one in the westerly part of the town, and on December 26th the committee appointed to arrange for the same reported that Caleb Brooks
had been engaged to keep a writing school in the west end for three months at forty shillings per month, and Henry Davison
for the easterly part of the town for three months for four pounds and what he could obtain from the scholars.
The vote to establish a school during the winter months became an annual custom, but some peculiarities of different years are noted.
In 1722 it was voted that persons who send [p. 85]
their children to school shall pay the town three pence per week per scholar, and on December 9, 1725, it was voted to have a reading, writing and ciphering school for three months.
A large part of the business at the town meetings was the consideration of matters pertaining to the meeting house.
On March 7, 1720, it was voted to select five gentlemen in some of the neighboring towns to decide whether to build a new meeting house or enlarge the old one and to stand by their decision.
How well they kept their agreement to stand by the decision of these men is shown in that on May 19th following it was voted not to raise any money for a new meeting house, and on February 20, 1721, it was voted not to ‘except of ye Result of ye Comte Refering to a meeting house for Medford
as A perfect Result According To ye Votes of ye Town.’
This action did not suit some of those interested, as twenty of the apparently most prominent citizens entered their ‘Decent against ye Towns proceedings In ye above writen Vote for ye following Reasons (To Wit).’
Then follow four reasons stating that the town voted to abide by the report of the committee selected, that the committee met and declared its decision, that by the result of the report and vote relative to it, the inhabitants were obliged to procure land for the erection of a new meeting house, and in accordance with such result the committee had procured land at their own cost, ‘and for these & ye like Reasons we Ent
r against sd Vote as being Illeagall and unjust.’
This protest did not seem to have much effect, as there does not appear to have been any action taken on it. On May 17, 1721, one of the articles in the warrant was ‘to know ye Minds of the town Concerning some persons that have been in vited into the Meeting hous and have not been accomidted’ and it was voted a committee be appointed to invite Mr. John Tufts
to sit at the table in the meeting house and also his wife to sit in Captain Tufts
' pew by his consent.
On January 23, 1722, Rev. Aaron Porter
, who had been [p. 86]
minister nine years died, and the town voted to allow £ 20 for funeral, a large part of which, I suppose, was spent for the entertainment common on such occasions.
On March 5th, following, the town voted to allow 10s per sermon ‘to these persons that Shall preach ye word of God in ye sd town’ and all persons who contributed to have their taxes reduced by such amount.
A committee was appointed to supply the pulpit.
On May 8th it was voted to appoint a committee to consult with the president and fellows of Harvard College and ask their advice concerning what proper methods may be most suitable for the town to proceed to obtain a minister, and also advice and direction as to some suitable to preach and settle.
On June 18th it was voted to proceed according to advice and keep a day of fasting and prayer for direction in settling a minister and to send to Revs. Mr. Coleman
, and desire them to come and help the town in keeping it. Mr. Hancock
, who was the grandfather of the revolutionary patriot of the same name, had previously preached in Medford
, and Mr. Coleman
was minister at the Brattle Street Church in Boston
On July 19th the town voted to build a new meeting house.
As frequently the custom when action was taken which did not suit a number, a protest was filed, signed by two of the selectmen and twelve others against such action.
In October it voted to hire Samuel Dexter
as minister and give him £ 100 in bills of credit of the Province or passable bills of credit for encouragement in settling, but he did not conclude to come, although he was again urged to do so in the following February.
On November 8, 1723,it was voted to request Nathaniel Leonard
to settle at £60 first year, to be increased £ 5 per year until it should amount to £ 80, together with strangers' money, and in the next February they offered him £ 80 and the strangers' money to settle, but the bait didn't seem attractive.
May 25, 1724, it was voted to hear Mr. Turell
preach two days and Mr. Lowell
preach one day, the church then to make a nomination, and the meeting was adjourned three weeks, at which time a choice was to be made, and it was voted to set apart the 15th day of June as a day of fasting and prayer, that God would please to direct the affairs of that day in the choice of a minister, and to request Revs. Mr. Coleman
to assist on that day, and the meeting adjourned to meet on the evening of the fast day. The final result was that Rev. Ebenezer Turell
was chosen at a salary of £ 90 per year and strangers' money, which was increased to £ 100 in September; and he continued as minister for fifty years.
April 20, 1725, it was voted to build a new meeting house and then voted not to appropriate money for the purpose.
On January 10, 1726, a vote was finally passed to purchase of John ‘Allbry’ an acre of land adjoining Marrabell's brook to build thereon a new meeting house, and on January 24th the town voted to buy the land for £ 55 and appropriated £ 200 towards the construction of the building, which was afterwards decided should be 52 feet long, 38 feet wide and 33 feet posts.
On March 7, 1726, the town voted to ‘have A Steeple Built To The New Meeting House.’
Votes were afterwards passed to appropriate more money for construction and furnishing, but the several amounts are so intermixed that I think it would take some one more astute than myself to decide what was actually appropriated and spent.
The first meeting was held in the new meeting house, by vote of the town, on Sunday, September 3, 1727.
Much legislation was necessary to settle the right of ownership of the pews, their location, size, etc. A committee was appointed to adjust these matters and lay out the plan for the pews.
A list of those to whom they were assigned by this committee appears in the records, there being twenty-eight of them, and in this list at least six different sizes are given, ranging from 4 feet 4 inches [p. 88]
to 5 feet 9 inches, and a list of the price of each pew follows.
Each one built his pew and some were allowed the privilege of passing others, without trespass, in order to reach their own. Another committee was appointed later to lay out pews in the space not used.
Disputes immediately arose relative to these assignments, for, strange to relate, even members of the church do not always dwell in harmony.
Suits were entered in the courts and the matter was even carried to the General Court, which appointed a committee to give hearings and take evidence pro and con, and ‘Determine the Said Disputes
Those connected with the disputes filed bonds to be bound by the decision to be given.
The committee rendered a decision which made several changes in the ownership and other things in controversy.
The town voted to accept the result and conditions as expressed in the report of the committee, and I suppose the dove of peace hovered over the meeting house for a time.
meeting house was finally sold after several votes relative thereto, and permission was given to certain ones to build stables (sheds I suppose we would call them) in the rear of the meeting house.
The records of these years, while largely devoted to matters of which I have spoken, do occasionally refer to other things.
Politics seem to have been as prominent in those times, proportionately, as is the case today.
Disputes arose, votes were passed and protested, officials elected and afterwards declared to be illegally chosen, and all the excitement of the present-day town meetings and elections seems to have prevailed.
Several town meetings were declared invalid in their entire procedure by order of the General Court.
In 1721 there appears to have been an epidemic of small-pox, for on October 12th of that year it was voted to turn the road by ‘Icobod peirces house and out by samuell pollys so long as it shall be needed by Reson of y
e small pox being at Jonathan pollys and also by Keeping a gard at ye said pollys hous
’ and it was also voted to [p. 89]
provide a house to ‘Stand Ready for ye Remaining of Any persons to that Shall be thought to have taken ye Small pox In ye said town.’
The burial lot, which is a part of the Salem
street cemetery, bought of Aaron Cleveland
, an ancestor of our former President
, was fenced by vote of May 12, 1718.
Later, on December 10, 1733, I find a vote ‘to fence the front of the burying ground with good red cedar posts and white pine
boards and make a gate—handsome double gates and color the same red.’
In the early part of the eighteenth century the people of Medford
began to feel that the territory of the town was too small, and took action looking toward increasing its size.
Efforts were made several times to have a part of Charlestown
annexed, and on March 19, 1733, a committee of three was appointed to treat with the inhabitants of Malden
, those that dwelt on Wilson
's farm (Wellington
) and the inhabitants of Charlestown
(those on the northerly side of the town extending to the Stoneham
line and westerly, including ‘Gardener's’ farm) about their being annexed.
The line of Medford
at this time was only one mile from the river to the north, and what is now mostly Middlesex Fells was then called the Charlestown
wood lots, to reach which Fulton street was laid out. This committee does not seem to have accomplished anything, but in 1754 the General Court, on petition of many prominent citizens of Medford
, added to our territory from Charlestown
the section on the north to the Stoneham
line and the part south of the river to about what is now the Somerville
On September 17, 1734, I find this entry: ‘Put to Vote wheth all Negro Indian and Melatto Servants that are found abroad without Leave and not on their masters business Shall be takin up and whiped ten Stripes on their Naked back by any freeholder of this Town and be Carryed to their Respective Masters ad ye Said Masters Shall be obliged to Pay the Sum of two Shillings & Sixpence in Money to ye said Person that Shall So Do.
Voted In ye affirmative.
’ [p. 90]
The article in the warrant calling the meeting relative to this matter reads: ‘Also to Know the Mind of the town whether they will make any by Law about Negros being out unseasonably at Night.’
This vote, together with the one I previously referred to in regard to the people reporting to the selectmen when servants were bought, are the only references to slavery in the book.
There was also another article in the warrant which I perhaps may call unique.
It reads: ‘Also whether they will Do any thing whereby Dogs may be Prevented making Disturbance in the House
of God on ye Lords Day.’
I do not find any account of the action on this article.
I might continue the account of these various records longer, but lest I tax your patience will close with thanks for your attention and the privilege of addressing you.