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Medford a century ago—1819.

WE are led to this retrospect by reading the names of Medford men who in 1819 formed a ‘longname society.’ This was the ‘Medford Association for Discountenancing Intemperance and Its Kindred Vices.’ There were ninety-six of them, twenty-eight being marked as ‘officers,’—and the list is a notable one, being headed by the Governor of the Commonwealth, John Brooks, and the minister of the town, David Osgood, D. D. This list is worthy of preservation, and was furnished by the late Francis A. Wait, who says in a later communication:
A few years ago I saw a pamphlet gotten up about 1835, and signed by men in Medford who were alarmed at the increase of drunkenness in the town.

Certainly, Medford was wet (to borrow the modern term) a century ago, but probably not more so than other towns not engaged in the business of distillation. Now, that after a century of agitation and effort, not only Medford but the entire country by national legislation and state ratification is dry, it is of interest to know something of the Medford of 1819 and its conditions— physical, educational, social and otherwise. The published histories give but little specific information, while the Tufts map required by the Legislature of 1784, probably correct in scale, and, filling requirements, is a model of pathetic brevity. More elaborate, but incorrect in some ways is the Hales' map, made about 1820,1 and showing the few roads and something of topography. By the former we find location of the meeting-house and mills, [p. 66] but little information relative to housing or business. No newspaper here then, and the bi-weeklies of Boston had but rare allusion to Medford matters.

One hundred and eighty-nine years had rolled away since the first settlement of the town, and yet Medford in 1819, separated from the metropolis of New England by but one town, and but five miles distant, had less than 1,500 inhabitants. It had been hard hit by the Revolution, but in the first decade of the nineteenth century, with the establishment of ship-building, there was an increase of 316 in the population, but in the second decade but 34. If the increase of population was small in those latter years, the reverse was true of the new industry, for while 16 vessels were built in the first decade, 60 were built in the second, though there were but three in 1819. In that year James Monroe was president of the United States and Gen. John Brooks of Medford governor of Massachusetts, having been elected for the fourth time, receiving 215 of his townsmen's votes, out of a total of 240 cast.

The outline of Medford's territory was larger then than now; its social, educational and civic center was the meeting-house, its business center the ‘marketplace’ where the ‘country road’ from Boston divided north to Woburn and east to Malden and Salem, and were the principal public roads (not given names as yet), though two turnpike roads had been opened fourteen years before and a canal a few years earlier.

Does anyone wish to know what the old town looked like in 1819? Let them look carefully at the few old-time dwellings still remaining, the ancient graveyard and distil-house, the pictures of the third meeting-house, brick schoolhouses and the old Tufts residence, substitute a country road for those of today, eliminate all motive power but horses and oxen, and light other than sunlight and candles, and turn to an authentic source of information—the old town record book. Squire Abner Bartlett had been for some time town clerk. His penmanship [p. 67] was stiff and bristling, and unlike the proverbial character of lawyers' writing, is legible. The paper is rough and strong and the ink unfading. The book itself has been in recent years re-bound. The obliging city clerk will be at some inconvenience to produce it for your inspection and will jealously safeguard it, as in duty bound he should.

Medford's town officers were three selectmen, three assessors, two constables, three fish committee, three overseers of the poor, three highway surveyors, three tythingmen, three auditors, three fence viewers, six fire-wards, eight surveyors of lumber, eight measurers of wood, and ten field-drivers, which with the town clerk, treasurer and clerk of the market, totals sixty-one men to administer the affairs of a little town of about twenty square miles of territory and 1400 inhabitants. Probably there was duplication enough to reduce the number to fifty. It may be noticed there was no school board especially named.

The annual town meeting was held in March, hence usually styled the ‘March meeting,’ and adjourned from time to time as the amount of public business required. At that of 1819, Hon. Timothy Bigelow, who had the experience and distinction of eleven terms as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, was moderator. Dr. Luther Stearns, Thatcher Magoun and Nathan Adams, three of Medford's prominent citizens, were chosen selectmen, Joseph Manning, treasurer, and Reuben Richards, clerk of the market. These names are evidence that it was a notable and efficient board, as also those that follow in the long list of other officers shown. It is recorded that ere adjournment to April 1, the town clerk was directed to ‘put the law in force against persons chosen who do not qualify.’ Then follow several pages of certificates of qualification. At the April meeting the town fixed the assessors' pay at $2.00 per day, and $1.50 to the constable for warning town meeting. The town clerk was allowed $30 for his [p. 68] services for the year and the overseers of the poor the same amount. A man on the highway was paid $1.25 per day. A man with a team consisting of a cart and a good yoke of oxen had $2.50 per day, and a day's work was to be ten hours.

The town meeting was held in the town's third meeting-house (which was the last to be warmed only by the heat of debate or the parson's sermons), and entered in its record is the vote to allow Dr. Osgood, the minister, $200 to purchase his wood for the ensuing year.

The eighth article of the warrant was about painting the meeting-house, and this was referred to a committee of six for consideration. Four days later the town met again, and then a committee reported something that sheds much educational light on the Medford of 1819:

The town contains 203 families or householders. . . . The law requires two masters. . . . There are 159 boys over seven years, and 158 girls. . . and 117 of both sexes over four and under seven that require to be taught in summer by women.

There were two private schools or academies in town (those of Dr. Stearns and Miss Hannah Swan), but some of their students came from other towns. This record says ‘that two schools for those younger children must be established, one at Brooks' corner [High and Woburn streets] and the other on “Mill lane, so-called” [Riverside avenue.]’

The above figures are interesting as showing the average Medford family of a century ago as being of five children, and probably as many over seventeen as under four. But the needed schoolhouse at ‘Brooks' corner’ remained a need for twenty years more. The meeting of 1819 required four gatherings. At the last (May 5) Jonathan Porter was chosen town clerk. His handwriting is clear and graceful and inclined a little to embellishment. The committee reported that it was expedient to paint the meeting-house, and the town referred the matter to them for execution.

One more item of that record is especially interesting, [p. 69] i.e., on annual budget, the town voted to raise for current expenses for 1819, the sum of $4,500, basing its action on the expenditure of the preceding year of $4,408.77. Of this latter amount $1,284.86 (almost one-third of the entire amount) was expended ‘for the poor in and out of the poor-house.’

While it is still true that ‘the poor always ye have with you,’ and it was to Medford's credit that they have been cared for, yet the above proportion seems unnaturally excessive, and in looking for the cause, thinking men were ‘alarmed’ and formed that society with the long name a century ago.

Thus far we have quoted from the town meeting records, now turn to those of the selectmen written by the clerk in another volume. At their first meeting in 1819, on January 22, we find:

Voted, That the following names be posted up in the houses and shops of all Taverns, Innholders and Retailers within said town as a list of the names of persons reputed common drunkards, common tipplers, spending their time and estate in such houses, to wi<*> [Here follow seven names which in courtesy we omit.]

The selectmen were required thus to do.

As the annual town meeting was in March, the fiscal year ended on February 15, but a century ago the reports were not printed for distribution. In our search for information we had overlooked the fact that Mr. Brooks in his history had presented the disbursements of 1818 as in contrast with those of 1855, the year of the history's publication. We reproduce the same for comparison with that in the town record from which we have quoted:

From Brooks' History,p. 119:
Minister's salary and grant of wood500.00
Paid Charlestown for Paupers241.00
Records of Town:
For the minister533.33
Poor in and out of poor-house1,227.88
House rent for the poor24.00
Sunday School mistresses for poor32.08
Roads and highway bills488.87

[p. 70]

Abatement of Taxes258.47
Town Officers150.00
Collecting Taxes270.00
Expenses opposing new road150.00
Interest on town debt141.00
For injury of horse on drawbridge50.00
Sexton 25.00 Miscellaneous expenses 94.56119.56

Abated taxes54.94
Town clerk30.00
Collector's fee234.52
Expenses new road to Woburn215.50
Interest on town debt141.00
Great bridge256.17
Miscellaneous Expenses29.37
Allowed S. Butters10.00
Cleaning and repair town clock16.00
Hose of engine and town pump8.00
Trees in burying ground13.24
Land damage to widen road38.97
Grant made the singers100.00

According to Mr. Brooks, the item of support of poor is even arger than that we quote from the town record. But there was still another outlay of which no mention is made. The town had, forty years before from Thomas Seccomb, a gift, the interest of which in perpetuity is applied to the relief of the poor. The selectmen's records of 1819 show the sum of $42.00, in sums of one and two dollars, distributed among twenty-three persons, and also a contribution of $96.oo more, in sums of three to five dollars for the same purpose.

James T. Floyd was the sexton, and the selectmen allowed his bill for setting glass and painting bell frame, in all $29.00; but we fancy the sexton's bill was larger the following year, for in the winter of 1819-20 came an innovation in the old meeting-house. On October 29 the selectmen approved Moses Merrill's bill for cast-iron stoves and funnel, $20.00. Just think of it, all you who have furnace repairs to make just a century later—a heating plant for $20.00! But how about $200 for Parson Osgood's supply of wood for the same year, deducted from the $500 salary? Even with the high price [p. 71] of coal in 1919, the average householder today would deem it a hardship to pay $200 for a year's fuel, to say nothing of spending two-fifths of his income for warmth.

Seth Mayo was one of the tavern-keepers and the town paid him $3.00 for the use of a room for the selectmen.

Jonathan Brooks was paid $2.00 for perambulating the town line beside Stoneham. It was a woodland walk, and is today, but it costs more.

Luther Stearns and Jonathan Brooks had the disposal of fishing rights in the river for shad and alewives between Medford and Charlestown. (This was from second beach to Wear bridge.)

James Ford surveyed eleven tons and fourteen feet of pine timber at ninepence per ton, and $1.40 paid his fee. Probably this was for the ‘great bridge.’

Timothy Bigelow seems to have been the town's banker, as the selectmen directed the payment of $99.00 interest on $1,650, loaned by him to the town.

As the educational matters were administered by the selectmen we find:

To Eliza Wait teacher 26 wks 4.00 including board104.00
Wm. Bradbury boarding Miss Eliza Gray schoolmistress May 3 to Oct. 3. 26 wks52.00
Eliza Gray teaching at the schoolhouse 26 wks52.00
Rhoda Turner, use and improvement of room for a schoolroom 6 mos.25.00
To Jeduthun Richardson the 3 following accts.
For the services of his daughters Sally & Harriet keeping school May I to Oct. 30 25 wks 3 1/2d. a 2.00 per wk51.40
use of room for school20.00
for boarding teachers 25 wks 5 1/2d.51.57

By the above it appears that the town paid the teachers' board for the Sundays before and after the summer term, and it was all in the family at ‘Brooks' corner,’—and the old house, having taken a new lease of life, is still in evidence. [p. 72]

Rhoda Turner's was probably at ‘Mill lane, so called,’ and all of the above tallies with the action of the town.

Here is a breeze from the shipyards:

Voted to allow Abner Bartlett's account for money paid for chips and wood for school.

Great stuff for kindling and stove wood were the chips and blocks from the shipyards, better than the ‘bagwood’ of today.

In the days when the sea was old
And the builders lithe and young,
From timber that gleamed like gold
This carpet of chips was flung.

Feb, Voted, to allow Rebecca Blanchard's account for schooling a child of Rufus P [——]24 weeks to Oct 31 last year $3.00

She was one of the ‘schoolmistresses for poor children.’ At the same meeting ‘13 in all’ men were approved as ‘enginemen,’ and it was
Voted to allow Daniel Symms five dollars in full of his account for 46 ladder dogs. . . .

Daniel Wait $25.17 for ladders and painting cases.

This was in the days of the ‘Grasshopper,’ and the fire department wasn't motorized.

And who shall say that Medford did not encourage the fine arts? We think it did, for on February 11:

Voted to draw on the treasury for one hundred dollars payable to Nathan Adams Jr. Treasurer of Medford Harmonic Social Singing Society, agreeable to vote of the town in [blank] last, and request of said Society.

But who shall say the money was ill spent, even though Squire Bartlett forgot to fill in the blank space with the date of the town's action? This other long-name society was probably the choir that sang in the old meetinghouse. No pipe-organ in Medford then. We quote Mr. Brooks, p. 492, under date of 1810:
Medford had a large choir of volunteer singers under the faithful Ephraim Bailey. On Sunday, once, the pitch-pipe set the pitch so high that the whole choir broke down. Still Bailey tried on the second verse and again broke down. General Brooks [p. 73] could not endure it any longer; and he rose in his pew, beckoned to Bailey, and said, ‘Hadn't you better take another pitch?’ Bailey replied ‘No sir; I guess we can get through it.’

This Ephraim Bailey must have been possessed of a strong voice, as he was qualified and ‘approved to sell goods at public vendue and outcry,’ i.e., an auctioneer. He was constable and warned town-meeting, was also collector of taxes—not elected or appointed, but purchasing the position by bidding the lowest percentage.

Samuel Wiatt was in 1819 on ‘Apr 1 recommended as a suitable person to keep tavern in the house lately occupied by Seth Mayo,’ and on ‘Apr 3 Isaac Blanchard in house lately occupied by his father [Hezekiah Jr] deceased.’

Medford had in 1821 (See Register, Vol. XIX, p. 80) 152 1/2 houses (probably in 1819 less than 150) and four distilleries. How many of these houses remain today we cannot say with certainty, though we are sure of twenty westward from Medford square. Two of the distilleries remain intact but devoted to other uses. All four, with by far the larger proportion of the dwellings, were east and south of the old market-place. Within our own recollection there has been an occasional demolition, though mainly there has by careful repair been a survival of the fittest.

We have presented an abstract covering features of the town administration of 1819. We may read between the lines and contrast the Medford of that day and its conditions with those of 1919. One thing will stand out noticeably, the disproportionate burden that Medford was bearing then in the support of its poor—and we may well ask the cause. That ill conditions existed, and that they were evident to the thinking men of that day is seen in the formation of this society with a long name. It is by no means likely that many of those ninety-six were total abstainers, perhaps none, but they took a step in the right direction. Many were sensible of the gravity of the situation after fifteen years had [p. 74] elapsed. One feature of that later period was a stock company to conduct a hotel on temperance principles, but which was not a financial success. But even such a venture was not proposed in 1819.

Just how successful this ‘Association’ was in discountenancing intemperance we may not say, but one thing is certain, that the continued efforts of the Washingtonian and succeeding organizations, the agitations of pulpit and platform, the pledging of youth to total abstinence, the widespread efforts of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and public instruction helped create public sentiment which resulted in national prohibition.

In 1819 Medford began to rouse from its slumber and standstill. It then had but four public buildings: the meeting-house, schoolhouse, poor-house and powderhouse, the latter two being the best and nearly new. The last still remains, though but little known. It now owns no meeting-house, as church and state are separated, but it needs one, seriously, for civic use. It is of interest that in 1819 Patrick Roach asked for the use of the schoolhouse for religious worship but was unsuccessful. Did this presage the parting of the ways which came four years later? We have never heard mention of this, but it is on the record.

With that parting began a new era in the religious, educational and social status of Medford. The new road to Woburn the town had opposed was built and others followed. A town hall became a necessity, and new schoolhouses, but the new houses of worship were not as before a municipal expense, being built by the respective church societies worshiping therein.

In the thirty-five years following 1819 to the writing of the history of Medford ina55, population had increased 200 per cent. and annual outlay seven-fold, and a town debt in larger proportions. But the item of the relief of the poor had fallen to about one-seventh, and who can say but that the service and relief was as efficient?

There is much of interest in the study of the old statistics. [p. 75] It is not our intention here to compare them with those of 1919, but it is pertinent to inquire whither we are tending.

1 See Register, Vol. I, p. 133.

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