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The Tufts Family in Somerville

by Edward C. Booth, M. D.
The origin of the Tufts family is uncertain. It is not unlikely that they are of Norwegian descent, and went to England in the time of the Vikings. Branches are found in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The earliest settler of the name in America, and the progenitor of by far the largest branch of the family in this country, came from England. Precisely what part of England he came from is not known; but there are indications pointing to the southern part of Norfolk county as his native place.

When he came is likewise unknown. Wyman says that he was an inhabitant in 1638. He kept the Ferry between Charlestown and Malden with his brother-in-law, Bridges, in 1646-7, but we have not been able to find any mention of him prior to that date. We do know, however, that he began to buy land in Charlestown and Malden between the years 1645 and '50, and that he continued to increase his holdings at short intervals till his death in 1700, at which time he was the largest landholder in Maiden. He appears not to have owned much, if any, land within the present limits of Somerville. He lived at one time near the Everett spring in Everett, but latterly on the site of the United States Ordnance property, near the Malden river and canal. Here he died, and near-by he lies buried.

Peter Tufts married the daughter of Thomas Pierce, of Charlestown, and had a large family of children. His four sons were Captain Peter, of Medford and Malden; James, who was killed in early life with Lothrop in the ambuscade at Bloody Brook in 1675; Jonathan, of Medford; and John, of Charlestown [22] and Malden. The youngest son, John, was the only one identified with Somerville. It does not appear that John, himself, lived within our limits, but he bought large tracts of land here on which he established his sons, Nathaniel and Peter. These sons lived and died on these farms, and from them are descended nearly all of the Tuftses who have ever lived in Somerville.

In 1699 John Tufts began buying land within the present limits of Somerville, and at his death, in 1728, he left to his son Nathaniel, forty-four acres, mostly on the south side of Union square; and to Peter an equally large tract, principally on the southwesterly side of Somerville avenue, near Dane street.

Nathaniel Tufts was born in Medford in 1692. His mother was Mary, the daughter of Nathaniel Putnam, of Salem Village. He was a man, as the record runs, ‘much employed in public business,’ and was a lieutenant in the militia, from which military service the many hundreds of descendants of John and Mary (Putnam) Tufts become eligible to Colonial societies.

Nathaniel Tufts married, first, Mary Sprague, of Malden, who died within a year; second, Mary, the daughter of William Rand, of Charlestown, in 1716, who died in 1764. He died in 1741. She, and probably he, lie in the old cemetery in Harvard square,—this part of Somerville then belonging to the Cambridge parish. The children of Nathaniel who lived to grow up were: Nathaniel, William, Mary, John, Persis, and Isaiah.

We do not know when Nathaniel moved to his father's farm on the south side of Union square, but it was probably about the time of his marriage. No traditions of Nathaniel have been handed down, nor has any one that we have ever talked with, known aught of the house he lived in. But it must have stood in Washington street, near its junction with Webster avenue. It is probable that it was on the very site of St. Joseph's church, as the remains of an old cellar existed there some sixty years ago.

There were about nine acres in the homestead lot, and eightteen acres of ‘birch swamp,’ so-called, in the rear. The easterly limits were in the neighborhood of Prospect street; southerly, it [23] extended to the Cambridge line. Part of this birch pasture remained uncultivated and unbuilt — on till recent years; and furnished a skating ground for the children south of Prospect hill.

The homestead fell to the son William, who died in 1773, leaving one child, John Tufts, 2nd. In William's inventory there is no mention of the house, and it is presumed that it was not in existence at the time of the Revolution. A barrack for the soldiers was erected on the homestead lot during the siege of Boston by Colonel Patterson, and Fort No. 3 took its beginning near the same point.

John Tufts, the third son of Nathaniel, became a merchant on a Kennebec river plantation, and died early. He left a widow, but no children. He devised his real estate principally to his brother William.

Isaiah was a soldier in the French and Indian war. He married Abigail Pierce, the sister of the wives of his brothers Nathaniel and William. He died at the age of thirty-three, leaving two children, Nathaniel and Abigail. The former of these is believed to have died in early life; the latter was never married.

John, 2nd, the son of William, never married. He died about the year 1829, aged about sixty-one. These three sons of Nathaniel, therefore, left no descendants after the first generation. Nor, indeed, have there been any descendants of Nathaniel bearing the Tufts name, in Somerville, for seventy years. The two daughters, Mary, who was married to John Morse, and Persis, who was married to Christopher Ranks, are not known to have continued to live in Somerville.

The eldest son of Nathaniel, however, Nathaniel, Jr., had two daughters, from the elder of whom there have been numerous descendants of prominence in the town. Three of the sons of Nathaniel, Sr., married daughters of a neighbor, James Pierce, who seems to have lived at the base of Wildredge's, or Prospect Hill, on the westerly corner of Stone avenue and Union square, perhaps in the same old house removed from that site some [24] twenty-five years ago. Nathaniel married Mary Pierce in 1753. They had two daughters, Mary, who was married to John Stone in 1780, and Elizabeth, who was married to Ebenezer Smith. The latter had no children, but from ColonelStone and Mrs. Stone are descended the old families of Stone, Vinal, Sanborn, and Bonner now in town. Nathaniel inherited from his father the ‘Great Pasture,’ so-called, containing fifty-five acres. This pasture was bounded by the present Walnut street, Highland avenue, School street, Somerville avenue, and Bow street. There was no house on it at the time of the father's death, and, indeed, it bore only one house for more than a hundred years, or till a few years after the setting off of the new town. This house was the residence of Nathaniel Tufts, Jr. It will be remembered as the old house taken down a few years ago, which stood close to the eastern wall of the First Methodist Episcopal church on Bow street. Nathaniel continued to live in it till 1767, when, like his father, he died at about the age of fifty.

The descendants of Peter Tufts are more numerous than those of his brother Nathaniel. They have numbered many hundreds, and have largely lived in Eastern Massachusetts. Peter inherited from his father, with the farm above referred to, the dwelling bought of Russell in 1701. It is the house familiar to the members of this society as the one on Somerville avenue, which General Greene occupied as his headquarters during the siege of Boston. It continued in possession of the family for more than one hundred and sixty years, having been long owned and occupied by the late Samuel Tufts Frost. It has been changed and added to from time to time, but still retains the appearance of a very old house; in fact, it is by several years the oldest structure in the city. Mr. Frost had in his possession some of the ancient window sashes with their leaded diamond panes. There was long left in one of the great beams of the kitchen an iron staple said to have been used to hang the steelyards on in weighing the rations for the soldiers.


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