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How did Medford get its name?

SUCH is the question we are asked, and an authoritative answer for publication is expected. Under such circumstances one naturally turns to official records and published history.

The first mention of Medford is in the colony record of the General Court, under date of September 28, 1630, when 3£ was levied upon it for the support of military instructors.

Under the same date a coroner's jury returned its verdict in the death of Austin Bratcher at Mr. Cradock's farm, which resulted in the indictment of Walter Palmer for manslaughter and his subsequent acquittal from the charge in November. But one of Cradock's ‘servants’ held variant opinion and sought ‘to traduce the court,’ and was sentenced to be whipped therefor, being the fifth in the colony to receive such sentence.

Here we find Medford's entrance into the limelight of history. Mr. Cradock's farm was a tract of land a mile wide (approximately) and four miles along the riverside from Charlestown, which then extended some fifteen miles north-westward.

The Indians that lived there were called ‘Aberginians,’ and their name comes down to us today, in that of the Aberjona, the upper reach of their river, the tidal stream they called Missi-tuk, which the English tongue called Mistick.

That it was the locality is proven by Josselyn, in 1638, as ‘three miles from Charlestown and a league and a half, four and one-half miles, by water’ i.e., by the winding or circuitous river's course. He applied the name Mistick to the little settlement on the northwest side of [p. 22] the river. So here are three names of one and the same place, all cotemporary: first, Medford, from the colony record; second, Mr. Cradock's farm, also from the colony record; third, Mistick, from Josselyn, is of Indian origin. The second was proprietary, but would of necessity be in time outgrown and disused. The third was official and remains. But why Medford? Towns are named by official, i.e., by governmental, executive or legislative action, in honor or memory of persons or places, as well as peculiarities. In those early days the incorporating words were few; as witness, ‘Charlestown Village is called Wooburne,’ ‘Sagust is called Linn.’ But we search the colony records in vain to find that Mr. Cradock's farm is called Medford; and literally speaking, the early Medford was never incorporated. Like Topsy, she simply ‘growed.’ Still the fact remains that in September, 1630, a tax of three pounds had been laid upon a place designated by the General Court as Medford and again we ask ‘why Medford?’ When and by whom previously? There are no local records to search—really none till 1674. Neither were there any dictagraphs in those early days to can the words of the godfather who named the town, calling it Medford, and to be laid away in the garret of the ‘ferme-house’ long since gone. We can only answer the query by the result of reason and research. We have already noted the geographical situation of Mr. Cradock's farm, the early Medford.

The seventeenth of June, 1630, is commonly accepted, and two hundred and seventy-five years after was celebrated, as the time of settlement, and again we may ask why. Because Governor Winthrop wrote, ‘We went up Mistick river about six miles.’ But Winthrop did not settle in Medford but in Charlestown, on the other side of the river. However, as seen in Deputy Governor Dudley's letter (of March 28, 1631) to the Countess of Lincoln, of those coming from Salem, some ‘found a good place upon Mistick,’ ‘which we named Meadford.’ Here then is the earliest authentic account we have of the [p. 23] naming of Medford. Again in our search we ask ‘why Medford’ and answer our own query, thus—Because the ‘good place upon Mistick’ was to be Mr. Cradock's farm, and they so called it, from Medford in Staffordshire in the old England they came from, and which old shire Mr. Cradock had represented in Parliament since 1620, the eighteenth year of the reign of James the first. As we had no dictagraph record of Dudley's pronunciation, we have naturally considered that M-e-a-d was called phonetically Meed, and so has come the usual interpretation of Medford, as Meadow-ford, though in 1855, historian Brooks gave it as ‘great-meadow’ making no mention therewith of the fording place he knew to have existed. He directly tells us that in one of the earliest deeds of sale it is written ‘Metford,’ and that after 1715 it has been uniformly written ‘Medford.’ Meadowford would not have been an inappropriate designation for a specific place in the river's course; but ancient Medford or Mr. Cradock's farm was four miles long. Now a few words relative to Metford, and copy of a written note attached to a copy of the History of Medford (Brooks) by Caleb Swan, which is of interest, and never before published.

Medford, July 31, 1857.
Mr. Charles Brooks (the author of this book) dining with us at Dr. Swan's today—Mrs Adams and daughter of Winter hill being present—said that he had lately ascertained that the original name of the town was Metford—after a county seat Governor Cradock in England in Staffordshire called Metford and that he named his new town from that and that in his will he called it Metford in New England.

The above date is two years subsequent to the publication of the book which contains many other interesting notes and is the property of the Medford Historical Society.

In Staffordshire Names and Places p. 10 (1902) we find

Meaford, 1 1/2 m. N. W. of Stone D1 Mepford, Metford; 1173 Medford; 1251, later Mefford. [p. 24]

Meaford lies on the Trent, where it is crossed by the great road from London to the N. W. The terminal ford doubtless applies to the passage of the river. Despite the D.2 forms the prefix may be accepted as Med which is difficult to interpret. It may represent A. S.3 maed, a meadow, but meadow-ford is not a satisfactory interpretation. There is a small stream running into Trent at Meaford and Med may represent its ancient name.

In Surveys of Staffordshire Preface p. XVI is mention by a contemporary diarist, of

R. Caverswall house Mr Cradock owns it.

And elsewhere in same book is

1640, 15 Ch. [arles] I Matthew Cradock Eng. merchant returned to Parliament for the City of London.

The last Matthew Cradock built the house at Caverswall.

To our caption query we reply: The original settlement of Medford was by men in the employ and interest of Matthew Cradock, merchant of London. He was the first ‘governor’ or president of a trading company chartered by King Charles I. He never came oversea but suggested the transfer here of the charter which became the foundation of a commonwealth.

Old home associations such as Mr. Brooks alluded to at Dr. Swan's dinner-table (also alluded to by the English diarist quoted) may have prompted him to call the new plantation he was starting, Medford or Metford. Dudley, his associate and successor in office, writes ‘which we named Meadford,’ thus differing slightly in possible pronunciation.

Whether d or t is of little moment but it is tantalizing that Mr. Brooks failed to mention the sources of his information regarding the Staffordshire town. Called in ‘Domesday Book’ both Medford and Metford, in 1173 it was called Medford. In 1251 it was still Medford, later it was Mefford; and in 1892, and probably now, Meaford —all this variety of spelling (possibly not of pronunciation) in staid old England. Somehow we fancy that e has its [p. 25] short sound in all, as a recent comer from Staffordshire pronounces the present Meaford Mefford. The New England town, now a city of 37,000 people, has almost from its earliest days been called Medford and sixteen others in as many states bear the name spelled in the same way and more or less traceable thereto.

We have tried to answer the query on lines of historic truth, citing only credible evidence. Our readers must decide for themselves much as did the children who asked which was the lion and which the baboon, and were told by the accommodating showman, ‘Just which you pleases, little dears, you pays your money and you takes your choice.’

Our choice is, Medford got its name from Medford in Staffordshire, Old England.

1 Domesday Book.

2 Domesday Book.

3 Anglo Saxon.

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