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The Tufts family residences.

THE name of Tufts will ever be associated with Medford because of the college that crowns Walnut-tree hill, but its association began two centuries and a half ago in the purchase of Medford lands by that Peter Tufts who was born in England in 1617 and came over at about 1640. He died in 1700 and was buried in the ancient church-yard of Malden, of which town he was made a freeman in 1665. He had three sons and seven daughters. The sons' descendants numbered (in the incomplete genealogical table of sixty years ago) nearly four hundred.

In his declining years, and after his eldest and second sons had arrived at manhood, he built a dwelling in Medford, which probably surpassed most of its time for style and durability of construction. His eldest son, Peter, was but twenty-eight years old, and but a few years resident in town, when he was chosen one of the selectmen and captain of the military company, and thirteen years later deputy to the General Court. At about this latter time we find him building a pew in the first meeting-house, in the best location. All these were honors not carelessly bestowed, and ever afterward he was known as Captain Peter. This second Peter Tufts was thrice married and had eight sons and ten daughters, three of whom, with one son, died in infancy. The sixth son (the thirteenth [p. 61] child, born 1700, graduated at Harvard College, 1724) was Simon Tufts, the first physician of Medford. Dr. Green (see Vol. I, No. 4, register) notes that he was born in Medford, but omits to tell us where.

We are led to inquire why it was that in the published History of Medford no mention was made of the home or residence of a man so prominent in town affairs as was the second Peter Tufts, Medford's first representative in the General Court. And further, why for the half century prior to 1904 was the Tufts family domicile lost sight of? In the interest of historic truth, supported by laborious search and painstaking care, rather than hasty arrival at pleasant fiction, published, oft quoted and for fifty years accepted (because no one questioned it), we assert that if Simon Tufts, the future physician, was born at home, i.e., in his father's house, his birthplace was ‘the old two-story brick house in East Medford.’

Prior to 1854 there had been few local or town histories written or published. Of Medford's (Brooks', 1855) Mr. Usher says, ‘The book was one of the earliest contributions to New England's municipal history.’ In that work Mr. Brooks devoted two pages to ‘the old two-story brick house on Ship street,’ calling it ‘one of the most precious relics of antiquity in New England.’ This was under this italicized caption, Governor Cradock's House. He said ‘That it was built by Mr. Cradock soon after the arrival of his company, . . . will appear from the following facts.’

Let us look at the ‘facts’ he produces.

First. ‘The land was given to Mr. Cradock.’ So was a strip about four miles along the river.

Second. ‘When the heirs of Mr. Cradock gave a deed, 1652, they mentioned houses, barns, and many other buildings, but did not so specify these objects as to render them cognizable by us.’ ‘There is no deed of this house given by any other person.’ By the latter we presume prior to 1652 is meant. The mention of houses, etc., is no proof that ‘the two-story brick house’ was then built. [p. 62]

Third. ‘There was no other person who could own it.’ True, if the house existed in 1652, but so far no proof that it did is given.

Fourth. ‘It was on Mr. Cradock's land.’ Was it? Mr. Brooks thus writes in 1854 or 1855 (two centuries after the time of what he asserts), but he cites no evidence or witnesses. (By this we mean for the existence of the house.)

Fifth. ‘Just where his business made it necessary.’ Is there any evidence that Mr. Cradock's business interests centered at that point, so far away from the trail or path leading from Salem to Boston, via the ford at Mystick and the bridge he later built?

He then adds, ‘The conclusion, therefore, is inevitable that Mr. Cradock built it.’ It would be inevitable if that particular house was surely there prior to 1652, but there is no evidence that it was there then. The assertion by a writer two hundred years later, even though unquestioned or undisputed for fifty years as this has been, does not make the same a fact.

No candid reader of Medford's history will doubt that Mr. Cradock had a house built at about 1634, ‘where his business made it necessary,’ and that such early structure may have been still standing and sold with barns and land in 1652, as above mentioned. The careful observer of ancient buildings, their mode of construction and capability of endurance, is at once skeptical of such claim of antiquity as Mr. Brooks in his enthusiasm for Medford's ‘invaluable historical jewel’ made, and which pleasant fiction was all too readily accepted. But having made the assumption at the start, and next the assertion that it was so, he fixed the date at 1634, because there was clay thereabout, and bricks had been made in Salem a few years earlier. He says nothing about the lime of the mortar with which this brick house was built, but does elsewhere tell the authenticated story of Governor Winthrop's stone house across the river, that fell down only a few years before because of clay mortar used as no lime could be had. [p. 63]

Another argument he makes in the query is, ‘Who, in that day, could afford to build such a house but the rich London merchant? He was the only man then who had the funds to build such a house,’ which does not prove that he used his funds thus, or built ‘such a house.’ It would be remarkable (could it be proven) that in 1634 the first house to be erected in Medford was of a type and material so enduring as is this ‘old brick house,’ no examples of which exist anywhere else, or were built anywhere else at that early date, or for fifty years subsequent thereto. Indeed, such a building would rival the first town house of Boston, built in 1657, twenty-three years later.

Having thus assumed, asserted and inevitably concluded, Mr. Brooks adds, ‘The inference is clear,. . . . the “old fort,” so called, was Governor Cradock's house, built in 1634.’ Doubtless the Medford historian was, in his own mind, satisfied that his inference was correct; but was it? Unquestionably he did a remarkable work in writing his History of Medford, but to quote the words of his preface—

The spirit of antiquarian research, now beginning to show itself, will lead to the discovery of many facts concerning the history of Medford, which are beyond my reach. These may soon render necessary a new history of the town; I hope it may be undertaken. . . .

After thirty years a reprint was made, with some additions, but it took fifty years for the ‘discovery of facts’ to materialize, and ‘some of our writers have dared to contradict the elder historian and have produced the proof of their statements.’1 Those facts, just alluded to, when first read in the Society rooms, were not enthusiastically received, so contrary were they to the published statement of fifty years before, and we recall the statement of one at our side, ‘It's too bad; better have let it been as it was.’ It was a pleasant myth. ‘The oldest house in America,’ and such was the caption of an article in Carpentry and Building, published in New York, [p. 64] August, 1884. The wood-cut engravings that illustrate it show the front and easterly end of the house as it then was, an interior view of fireplace and window, and six detail drawings of construction, all ‘from sketches made on the spot by our own artist.’ These and the technical part of the text are highly interesting and instructive. The historical part follows in its detail Mr. Brooks' history. ‘A correspondent in Medford directed attention to it,’ and in another column we find the following:—

Mr. C. B. Johnson, of Medford, Mass., writing with reference to the Cradock mansion, which we illustrate in this issue, says that when an apprentice, some thirty-five years ago, he helped reshingle the north side. He states that those portions of the shingles which were exposed to the weather had become worn to about 1/16 inch in thickness.

Doubtless Mr. Johnson (‘Clope,’ he was familiarly called) meant thinness, and from what we know of the durability of that old-time lumber it is not impossible that they were the original shingles.

Of the numerous book and paper accounts of this old house we have never found any ‘discovery of facts’ Mr. Brooks' preface predicted that names it the Cradock house prior to Mr. Brooks' history, and all are repetition to a greater or less extent thereof, save those of Mr. Cushing, Judge Wait and Mr. Hooper in Vol. I, No. 4, and Vol. VII, No. 2, of the register, the ‘proofs submitted’ before alluded to. And so we answer our own query relative to the birthplace and early home of the elder Dr. Tufts, confidently asserting it to be the ‘old two-story brick house in East Medford’ (that because of Mr. Brooks' assumption, unproven statement and inference, has for fifty years been widely heralded as the ‘oldest house in America,’ ‘built by Mr. Cradock,’) and assign its erection to the first Peter Tufts some fifteen or twenty years before his death in 1700, and first occupied by Captain Peter Tufts, perhaps before the death of his first wife, or his marriage to Mary (daughter of Rev. Seaborn Cotton), the mother of the first Dr. Simon Tufts. [p. 65]

Relative to this house the Transcript has, until recently, issued in its Strangers' Directory the following:—

Cradock house. Riverside avenue, Medford. Built 1634, the first brick house in the colony, and the oldest house standing in North America. Every brick was imported from England. Named from Matthew Cradock, governor of the Massachusetts Company in New England.

Last April this ceased to appear, at the instance of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. In one of its recent bulletins that society has called attention to this house, giving a view of it and also of another similar house after restoration, with which it compares it, and says—

The Peter Tufts house has been much modernized, but could be put back into its old condition with the help of a competent architect. It certainly deserves such treatment, for it is a building of unusual interest, having had apparently a triple casement window on each side of the front door.

It is interesting to note that prior to the ‘pure speculation of a young historical scholar’ (as the Boston press styled Mr. Cushing's paper) the late James A. Hervey (see Vol. I, p. 70, register) in the hearing of the assembled Historical Society, said of Mr. Brooks,

Our excellent historian, whom I thoroughly love, is a little apt to lapse into rhapsody when he comes in sight of anything that redounds to the glory of Medford, and he can come to conclusion very satisfactory to himself, on very slight data.

The above was not relative to this house, but was of another relation, of which he said,

If we are to be historical, let us tell the truth.

At the time of Medford's two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary there appeared a story in the Boston Globe relative to the markers placed on historic sites by the city's committee. This gave prominence to the ‘old theory’ of the ‘Cradock house,’ reporting interviews with several residents of Medford, and quoting literally from Vol. II, p. 54 of the register— [p. 66]

The River road (a part of Riverside avenue) was referred to in a deed dated 1657 as ‘The Common Highway leading from the Mansion House (Wellington) unto Charlestown Commons and Meadford House.’

In the register article, ‘Wellington’ was supplied by Mr. Hooper to locate the mansion referred to in that deed, which is the old Blanchard-Bradbury-Wellington house still standing. But the writer in the Globe misrepresented the matter by saying—

The word Wellington is inserted by Mr. Hooper to show that the old brick house in Wellington was recognized as early as 1657 at least as the Cradock mansion above all others. Today however Mr. Hooper has forsaken the old idea entirely and bows down before the Cushing theory.

Possibly it might surprise the Globe writer were he to be told that the ‘Mansion House’ was not of brick, was not the so-called Cradock mansion,2 nor was it then within the bounds of Medford.

We may not assume erection of any house in 1634, and ignore possibility of non-existence in 1652, because the deed did not make these existing structures cognizable. Richard Russell (one of the Cradock heirs' grantees) in 1667 made ‘an old house’ cognizable, but it was, as is proven, ninety rods away from this, and is long since gone. Its three hundred and fifty acres included the site of this. It is extremely improbable that he would have omitted mentioning this substantial structure if it existed, and been particular to specify an old house and barn. But there came a time when this house had a beginning of safely recorded history, viz.: when Peter Tufts made disposition of his brick house and specified the various rights of, and prohibitions upon, his heirs and successors in occupancy.

It is not our purpose to belittle this fine old structure, but to note the fallacy of its extreme antiquity and the invalid reasons cited therefor, which are still unproven. [p. 67]

A few old residents there are who remember the old house which was successively the home of the elder and younger Drs. Simon, and Turell Tufts, Esq., at Medford square. This, decrepit with age, was demolished in 1867 and succeeded by the present and soon to be removed building erected by Dr. Weymouth in 1872. When Dr. Weymouth at its completion addressed a company gathered there, he submitted the question of a name for the hall it contained, and suggested that of Tufts as appropriate. Adopted by acclamation, as Tufts hall it has ever been known.

1 See register, Vol. VII, p. 53.

2 Medford seems to have had many mansions in those days, as Edward Collins mentions the mansion house of Golden Moore in his sale to Thomas Brooks in 1656.

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