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Chapter 4: civil History.

  • Prosperity of the New Town.
  • -- magistrates. -- Courts. -- dissatisfaction. -- John Pratt. -- straitness for want of land. -- Exploration of other places. -- Debates and division in the General Court. -- the Town accepts enlargement offered by Boston and Watertown. -- removal to Hartford. -- supposed personal rivalry. -- names of early inhabitants.
    The projectors of the New Town had hitherto suffered two grievous disappointments: the officers of the government had not generally become inhabitants, according to the original agreement; and so great was the disparity in commercial advantages, that it early became manifest that the New Town could not successfully compete with Boston as the great mart of trade. No reasonable hope, therefore, could be entertained that this should become the principal city of the colony. In other respects, the enterprise appears to have been eminently successful. The hope expressed by Dudley, that men of ability might be attracted hither by the advantages offered, had been gratified; for so early as 1633, Wood wrote concerning them: “the inhabitants, most of them, are very rich and well stored with cattle of all sorts.” A reasonable proportion of the rulers resided here. Dudley remained Deputy Governor until May, 1634, when he became Governor, and the next year was an Assistant. Bradstreet was constantly an Assistant; and Haynes, at the first election after his arrival, was elected as an Assistant, and the next year, 1635, Governor. Moreover, the New Town had become the seat of government; and, for aught which appears to the contrary, it might have retained that distinction, if the principal inhabitants had not removed.1 [24]

    All these advantages, however, were not satisfactory. The disappointment and uneasiness found vent in words. One memorable example is preserved: “At the court of assistants,” says Winthrop, Nov. 3, 1635, “John Pratt of Newtown was questioned about the letter he wrote into England, wherein he affirmed divers things, which were untrue and of ill repute, for the state of the country, as that here was nothing but rocks, and sands, and salt marshes, etc. He desired respite for his answer to the next morning; then he gave it in writing, in which, by making his own interpretation of some passages and acknowledging his error in others, he gave satisfaction.” 2 This letter, probably written in the previous year, is not known to exist; but the “answer,” which sufficiently indicates its nature, is on record:—

    The answer of me, John Pratt, to such things as I hear and perceive objected against me, as offensive in my letter. First, generally, whatsoever I writ of the improbability or impossibility of subsistence for ourselves or our posterity without tempting God, or without extraordinary means, it was with these two regards: first, I did not mean that which I said in respect of the whole country, or our whole patent in general, but only of that compass of ground wherein these towns are so thick set together; and secondly, I supposed that they intended so to remain, because (upon conference with divers) I found that men did think it unreasonable that they or any should remove or disperse into other parts of the country; and upon this ground I thought I could not subsist myself, nor the plantation, nor posterity. But I do acknowledge that since my letter there have been sundry places newly found out, as Neweberry, Concord, and others (and that within this patent), which will afford good means of subsistence for men and beasts, in which and other such like new plantations, [25] if the towns shall be fewer and the bounds larger than these are, I conceive they may live comfortably. The like I think of Coñecticott, with the plantations there now in hand; and what I conceive so sufficient for myself, I conceive so sufficient also for my posterity. And concerning these towns here so thick planted, I conceive they may subsist in case that, besides the conveniences which they have already near hand, they do improve farms somewhat further off, and do also apply themselves to and do improve the trade of fishing and other trades. As concerning the intimation of the Commonwealth builded upon rocks, sands, and salt marshes, I wish I had not made it, because it is construed contrary to my meaning, which I have before expressed. And whereas my letters do seem to extenuate the judgment of such as came before, as having more honesty than skill, they being scholars, citizens, tradesmen, &c., my meaning was not so general as the words do import; for I had an eye only to those that had made larger reports into England of the country than I found to be true in the sense aforesaid. And whereas I may seem to imply that I had altered the minds or judgments of the body of the people, magistrates, and others, I did not mean this in respect of the goodness or badness of the land in the whole plantation, but only in point of removal and spreading further into other parts, they afterwards conceiving it necessary that some should remove into other places, here and there, of more enlargement; and whereas I seem to speak of all the magistrates and people, I did indeed mean only all those with whom I had any private speech about those things. And as for the barrenness of the sandy grounds, &c., I spake of them then as I conceived; but now, by experience of mine own, I find that such ground as before I accounted barren, yet, being manured and husbanded, doth bring forth more fruit than I did expect. As for the not prospering of the English grain upon this ground, I do since that time see that rye and oats have prospered better than I expected; but as for the other kinds of grain, I do still question whether they will come to such perfection as in our native country from whence they come. And whereas I am thought generally to charge all that have written into England by way of commendation of this land as if what they had written were generally false, I meant it only of such excessive commendations as I see did exceed and are contrary to that which I have here expressed.

    And as concerning that which I said, that the gospel would [26] be as dear here as in England, I did it to this end, to put some which intended to come hither only for outward commodity to look for better grounds ere they look this way. As for some grounds of my returning, which I concealed from my friends for fear of doing hurt, I meant only some particular occasions and apprehensions of mine own, not intending to lay any secret blemish upon the State. And whereas I did express the danger of decaying here in our first love, &c., I did it only in regard of the manifold occasions and businesses which here at first we meet withal, by which I find in mine own experience (and so, I think, do others also), how hard it is to keep our hearts in that holy frame which sometimes they were in where we had less to do in outward things, but not at all intending to impute it as necessary to our condition, much less as a fruit of our precious liberties which we enjoy, which rather tend to the quickening of us, we improving the same as we ought.

    This my answer (according with the inward consent and meaning of my heart) I do humbly commend to the favorable consideration and acceptance of the Court, desiring in this, as in all things, to approve myself in a conscience void of offence towards God and man.

    Of this answer of John Pratt before written, voluntarily by him made, as we are witnesses, so we do also join with him in humble desire unto the Court, that it may be favorably accepted, and whatever failings are in the letter in regard of the manner of expressions (which may seem hardly to suit with these his interpretations), we do desire the indulgence of the Court to pass over without further question.

    Whereas John Pratt of Newe Towne, being called before us at this present Court, and questioned for a letter which he wrote into England, dated———, wherein he raised an ill report of this country, did desire respite till the next day to consider of his answer, he hath now delivered in this before written, which, upon his free submission and acknowledgement of his error, the Court hath accepted for satisfaction, and thereupon pardoned his [27] said offence, and given order that it shall be recorded, and such as desire copies thereof may have the same.

    This Mr. Pratt was a physician in the New Town, or Cambridge, for several years. He and his wife were drowned near the coast of Spain in December, 1646, as related by Winthrop.4 He was not the only dissatisfied person, though less cautious than others in expressing his feelings. As early as May, 1634, this spirit of dissatisfaction became so general among the inhabitants of the New Town, that they proposed to abandon their comparatively pleasant homes, and to commence anew in the wilderness. The ostensible reason for removal was the lack of sufficient land. The town was indeed narrow, but its length was indefinite. The limit of eight miles northwesterly from the meeting-house was not fixed until March, 1636; and it does not appear how far the land was previously occupied in that direction. But the westerly line of Charlestown was established, March 6, 1632-3; and it seems to have been understood that the whole territory between that line and the easterly bounds of Watertown was reserved for the use of New Town, however far those lines might extend into the country. But the people appeared impatient of such narrow limits. At the General Court, May 14, 1634, “Those of New Town complained of straitness for want of land, especially meadow, and desired leave of the Court to look out either for enlargement or removal, which was granted; whereupon they sent men to see Agawam and Merrimack, and gave out that they would remove, etc.” 5 Early in July, 1634, “Six of New Town went in the Blessing (being bound to the Dutch plantation,) to discover Connecticut River, intending to remove their town thither.” 6 In the following September, the same subject was again brought before the General Court. The record is very brief; but the particulars related by Winthrop are of so much interest that they may well be quoted in full:—

    Sept. 4, 1634.

    The General Court began at New Town, and continued a week, and was then adjourned fourteen days.— [28] The main business, which spent the most time and caused the adjourning of the Court, was about the removal of New Town. They had leave, the last General Court, to look out some place for enlargement or removal, with promise of having it confirmed to them, if it were not prejudicial to any other plantation; and now they moved that they might have leave to remove to Connecticut. This matter was debated divers days, and many reasons alleged pro and con.

    The principal reasons for their removal were, 1. Their want of accommodation for their cattle, so as they were not able to maintain their ministers, nor could receive any more of their friends to help them; and here it was alleged by Mr. Hooker, as a fundamental error, that towns were set so near each to other. 2. The fruitfulness and commodiousness of Connecticut, and the danger of having it possessed by others, Dutch or English. 3. The strong bent of their spirits to remove thither.

    Against these it was said, 1. That, in point of conscience, they ought not to depart from us, being knit to us in one body and bound by oath to seek the welfare of this commonwealth. 2. That, in point of state and civil polity, we ought not to give them leave to depart:—being we were now weak and in danger to be assailed; the departure of Mr. Hooker would not only draw many from us, but also divert other friends that would come to us; we should expose them to evident peril, both from the Dutch, (who made claim to the same river and had already built a fort there,) and from the Indians, and also from our own state at home, who would not endure they should sit down without a patent in any place which our king lays claim unto. 3. They might be accommodated at home by some enlargement which other towns offered. 4. They might remove to Merimack or any other place within our patent. 5. The removing of a candlestick is a great judgment, which is to be avoided.

    Upon these and other arguments the Court being divided, it was put to vote; and, of the Deputies, fifteen were for their departure, and ten against it. The Governor and two Assistants were for it, and the Deputy and all the rest of the Assistants were against it, (except the Secretary, who gave no vote;) whereupon no record was entered, because there were not six Assistants in the vote, as the patent requires. Upon this there grew a great difference between the Governor and Assistants and the Deputies. They would not yield the Assistants a negative voice, and the others (considering how dangerous it might [29] be to the commonwealth if they should not keep that strength to balance the greater number of the Deputies) thought it safe to stand upon it. So when they could proceed no farther, the whole Court agreed to keep a day of humiliation to seek the Lord, which was accordingly done, in all the congregations, the 18th day of this month: and the 24th the Court met again. Before they began, Mr. Cotton preached, (being desired by all the Court upon Mr. Hooker's instant excuse of his unfitness for that occasion.) He took his text out of Hag. II. 4, etc., out of which he laid down the nature or strength (as he termed it) of the magistracy, ministry, and people, viz.—the strength of the magistracy to be their authority; of the people, their liberty; and of the ministry, their purity; and showed how all of these had a negative voice, etc., and that yet the ultimate resolution, etc., ought to be in the whole body of the people, etc., with answer to all objections, and a declaration of the people's duty and right to maintain their true liberties against any unjust violence, etc., which gave great satisfaction to the company. And it pleased the Lord so to assist him and to bless his own ordinance, that the affairs of the Court went on cheerfully; and although all were not satisfied about the negative voice to be left to the magistrates, yet no man moved aught about it, and the congregation of New Town came and accepted of such enlargement as had formerly been offered them by Boston and Watertown; and so the fear of their removal to Connecticut was removed.7

    This “enlargement,” however, was not permanently satisfactory. The inhabitants of New Town again manifested “the strong bent of their spirits to remove.” It does not appear when they received permission of the General Court. Perhaps the liberty granted in general terms, May 14, 1634, was held to be sufficient. It seems certain that a considerable number of them went to Connecticut before Sept. 3, 1635; for on that day William Westwood, a New Town man, was “sworn Constable of the plantations at Connecticut till some other be chosen.” 8 But the general exodus was several months later. Under date of May 31, 1636, Winthrop says: “Mr. Hooker, pastor of the church of New Town, and the most of his congregation, went to Connecticut. His wife was carried in a horse-litter; and they drove one hundred and sixty cattle, and fed of their milk by the way.” 9 Their possessions in New Town were purchased by Mr. Shepard [30] and his friends, who opportunely arrived in the autumn of 1635 and the following spring and summer.

    The reasons assigned for this removal seem insufficient to justify it; or, at the least, insufficient to require it. As to their inability to maintain their ministers, it should be observed that at the same session when this reason was alleged, New Town was rated as high as any other town in the colony.10 The real want of accommodation for cattle and for an additional population may be estimated from the facts that, at this time there were probably less than one hundred families here, containing from five hundred to six hundred persons; and, supposing them to have sold one half of their cattle to their successors, their herd may have consisted of about three hundred. Including the land then offered by others and accepted by them, their territory embraced Cambridge, Arlington, Brookline, Brighton, and Newton. After making all needful allowance for improvements in agriculture, one might suppose here was sufficient room for somewhat more than a hundred families, with their flocks and herds.

    Another reason is mentioned by Winthrop, namely, “the strong bent of their spirits to remove.” The particular pressure which occasioned this “strong bent” he does not describe. But Hubbard, writing before 1682, when many were living who heard the discussion, intimates what that pressure was: “The impulsive cause, as wise men deemed and themselves did not altogether conceal, was the strong bent of their spirits to remove out of the place where they were. Two such eminent stars, such as were Mr. Cotton and Mr. Hooker, both of the first magnitude, though of different influence, could not well continue in one and the same orb.” 11 Again he says: “A great number of the planters of the old towns, viz., Dorchester, Roxbury, Watertown, and Cambridge, were easily induced to attempt a removal of themselves and families upon the first opportunity offered; which was not a little advanced by the fame and interest of Mr. Hooker, whose worth and abilities had no small influence upon the people of the towns forementioned.” 12 The opinion thus expressed by Hubbard, was adopted by Hutchinson, nearly a hundred years later: “Mr. Hooker and Mr. Cotton were deservedly in high esteem; some of the principal persons were strongly attached to the one of them, and some to the other. The great influence which Mr. Cotton had in the colony inclined Mr. Hooker and his [31] friends to remove to some place more remote from Boston than New Town. Besides, they alleged, as a reason for their removal, that they were straitened for room, and thereupon viewed divers places on the sea-coast, but were not satisfied with them.” 13 Trumbull suggests that political rivalry was mingled with clerical jealousy. Of John Haynes he says: “In 1635 he was chosen Governor of Massachusetts. He was not considered in any respect inferior to Governor Winthrop. His growing popularity, and the fame of Mr. Hooker, who, as to strength of genius and his lively and powerful manner of preaching, rivalled Mr. Cotton, were supposed to have had no small influence upon the General Court in their granting liberty to Mr. Hooker and his company to remove to Connecticut. There it was judged they would not so much eclipse the fame, nor stand in the way of the promotion and honor of themselves or their friends.” 14

    Very probably such jealousies and rivalries had some influence upon the removal of Mr. Hooker and his friends. It is known that Winthrop and Haynes differed in judgment upon public policy, the former advocating a mild administration of justice, and the latter insisting on “more strictness in civil government and military discipline,” as Winthrop relates at large, i. 177-179. The Antinomian controversy, which did not indeed culminate until a year or two later, had commenced as early as 1635; in which Hooker and Cotton espoused opposite sides, and were among the most prominent clerical antagonists. Up to the period of the removal, it seemed doubtful which party would prevail. Both parties were zealous; both lauded their own clergymen, and spoke harshly of their opponents. It is not surprising, therefore, that Cotton and Hooker should feel that their close proximity was irritating rather than refreshing. On the whole, I think, “the strong bent of their spirits to remove” was not altogether caused by lack of sufficient land or by straitness of accommodations.

    However doubtful the cause, the fact is certain, that the greater part of the First Church and Congregation removed from New Town; more than fifty families went to Hartford, and others elsewhere. Of the families residing here before January, 1635, not more than eleven are known to have remained. The following list of inhabitants is compiled from the Records of the Town, under the dates when they first appear. It should be observed, however, that perhaps many of them were here earlier than the [32] dates would indicate. For example, Dudley and Bradstreet, and probably others, under date of 1632, were here in 1631; many of those who are entered under date of 1633 were certainly here in 1632; and some of those whose names first appear in 1634 had perhaps been residents one or two years previously. It may also be observed, that of those who removed, many did not permanently remain in the town first selected, but subsequently went elsewhere; yet it does not properly fall within my province to trace their various emigrations.


    Thomas Dudley, Esq.15

    Simon Bradstreet.16

    Edmund Lockwood.17

    Daniel Patrick.18

    John Poole.19

    William Spencer.20

    John Kirman.21

    Simon Sackett.22


    Jeremy Adams.23

    Matthew Allen.24

    John Benjamin.25

    Jonathan Bosworth.26

    John Bridge.27

    Richard Butler.28

    William Butler.29

    John Clark.30

    Anthony Colby.31

    Daniel Denison.32

    Samuel Dudley.33

    Edward Elmer.34

    Richard Goodman.35

    William Goodwin.36

    Garrad Haddon.

    Stephen Hart.37

    John Haynes, Esq.38

    Thomas Heate.39

    Rev. Thomas Hooker.40

    John Hopkins.41

    Thomas Hosmer.42

    William Kelsey.43

    William Lewis.44

    Richard Lord.45

    John Masters.46

    Abraham Morrill.

    Hester Mussey.47

    James Olmstead.48

    William Pantry.49

    John Pratt.50

    Joseph Reading.51

    Nathaniel Richards.52

    Thomas Spencer.53

    Edward Stebbins.54

    George Steele.55

    John Steele.56

    Rev. Samuel Stone.57

    John Talcott.58

    Wm. Wadsworth.59

    Andrew Warner.60

    Richard Webb.61

    William Westwood.62

    John White.63


    Daniel Abbott.64

    William Andrews.65

    John Arnold.66

    Guy Banbridge.67

    John Barnard.68

    Thomas Beale,69

    Christopher Cane.70

    Mrs. Chester.71

    Nicholas Clark.72

    Dolor Davis.73

    Robert Day.74

    Joseph Easton.75

    Nathaniel Ely.76

    James Ensign.77

    Thomas Fisher.78 [33]

    Edmund Gearner.79

    John Gibson.80

    Seth Grant.81

    Bartholomew Green.82

    Samuel Green.83

    Samuel Greenhill.84

    Nathaniel Hancock.85

    Edmund Hunt.86

    Thomas Judd.87

    William Mann.88

    John Maynard.89

    Joseph Mygate.90

    Stephen Post.91

    John Prince.92

    Thomas Scott.93

    Garrad Spencer.94

    Michael Spencer.95

    Timothy Stanley.96

    George Stocking.97

    Timothy Tomlins.98

    Humphrey Vincent.99

    Samuel Wakeman.100

    Samuel Whitehead.101

    Simon Willard.102

    1 The first three Courts of Assistants were held at Charlestown in August and September, 1630; after which all the courts were held in Boston until May, 1634. The Assistants had even voted, Oct. 3, 1632, “It is thought, by general consent, that Boston is the fittest place for public meetings of any place in the Bay.” Yet when Dudley was elected Governor, in May, 1634, the courts, both general and particular, were transferred to New Town, and were there held exclusively until May, 1636. Then they returned to Boston; then to New Town again in April, 1637, until September, 1638, when they became permanently fixed at Boston.

    Dr. Holmes, writing in 1800, says, “In some of the first years, the annual election of the Governor and Magistrates of the Colony was holden in this town. The people, on these occasions, assembled under an oak tree, which stood on the northerly side of the Common in Cambridge, a little west of the road leading to Lexington. The stump of it was dug up not many years since.” —Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc., VII. 9. This was probably the tree mentioned in a note to Hutchinson's Hist. Mass., i. 61: At the election in 1637, the party of Mr. Vane, fearing defeat, refused to proceed, until a certain petition had been read. Mr. Winthrop's party protested against delay. And it is said that “Mr. Wilson, the minister, in his zeal gat up upon the bough of a tree (it was hot weather and the election like that of Parliament men for the counties in England was carried on in the field), and there made a speech, advising the people to look to their charter and to consider the present work of the day, which was designed for the chusing the governor, deputy governor, and the rest of the assistants for the government of the commonwealth. His speech was well received by the people, who presently called out, election, election, which turned the scale.”

    2 Savage's Winthrop, i. 173, 174.

    3 Mass. Rec., i. 358-360.

    4 Savage's Winthrop, II. 239.

    5 Savage's Winthrop, i. 132.

    6 Ibid., i. 136.

    7 Savage's Winthrop, i. 140-142.

    8 Mass. Col. Rec., i. 159.

    9 Savage's Winthrop, i. 187.

    10 Mass. Col. Rec., i. 129.

    11 Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc., XV. 173.

    12 Ibid., XVI. 305, 306.

    13 Hist. Mass., i. 43.

    14 Hist. Conn., i. 224.

    15 Removed to Ipswich.

    16 Removed to Ipswich.

    17 Died here; family removed to Connecticut.

    18 Removed to Watertown.

    19 Removed to Lynn.

    20 Removed to Hartford.

    21 Removed to Lynn.

    22 Died here; family removed to Connecticut.

    23 Removed to Hartford.

    24 Removed to Hartford.

    25 Remained here.

    26 Removed to Hingham.

    27 Remained here.

    28 Removed to Hartford.

    29 Removed to Hartford.

    30 Removed to Hartford.

    31 Removed to Salisbury.

    32 Removed to Ipswich.

    33 Removed to Boston.

    34 Removed to Hartford.

    35 Removed to Hartford.

    36 Removed to Hartford.

    37 Removed to Hartford.

    38 Removed to Hartford.

    39 Removed to Hingham.

    40 Removed to Hartford.

    41 Removed to Hartford.

    42 Removed to Hartford.

    43 Removed to Hartford.

    44 Removed to Hartford.

    45 Removed to Hartford.

    46 Remained here.

    47 Removed to Hartford.

    48 Removed to Hartford.

    49 Removed to Hartford.

    50 Remained here.

    51 Removed to Ipswich.

    52 Removed to Hartford.

    53 Removed to Hartford.

    54 Removed to Hartford.

    55 Removed to Hartford.

    56 Removed to Hartford.

    57 Removed to Hartford.

    58 Removed to Hartford.

    59 Removed to Hartford.

    60 Remained here.

    61 Removed to Hartford.

    62 Removed to Hartford.

    63 Removed to Hartford.

    64 Removed to Providence.

    65 Removed to Hartford.

    66 Removed to Hartford.

    67 Remained here.

    68 Removed to Hartford.

    69 Remained here.

    70 Remained here.

    71 Removed to Hartford.

    72 Removed to Hartford.

    73 Removed to Concord.

    74 Removed to Hartford.

    75 Removed to Hartford.

    76 Removed to Hartford.

    77 Removed to Hartford.

    78 Removed to Dedham.

    79 Perhaps the Edmund Gardner, who was in Ipswich, 1638.

    80 Remained here.

    81 Removed to Hartford.

    82 Remained here.

    83 Remained here.

    84 Removed to Hartford.

    85 Remained here.

    86 Removed to Duxbury.

    87 Removed to Hartford.

    88 Remained here.

    89 Removed to Hartford.

    90 Removed to Hartford.

    91 Removed to Hartford.

    92 Removed to Hull.

    93 Removed to Hartford.

    94 Removed to Lynn.

    95 Removed to Lynn.

    96 Removed to Hartford.

    97 Removed to Hartford.

    98 Removed to Lynn.

    99 Removed to Ipswich.

    100 Removed to Hartford.

    101 Removed to Hartford.

    102 Removed to Concord.

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