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Medford Saltmarsh Corporation.

Such was the name of a certain business concern in old Medford, long since forgotten. In response to one of several queries in notice of April meeting, some papers from the Society's archives were exhibited, and remarks made by various members that made the hour one of much interest.

The historian of Medford (in 1855) said

The strong tendency among us for consociated action makes it easy to form societies for special objects. Medford has its full share.

He, however, devoted less than a page to but two—the Sons of Temperance and the Masonic Lodge—and finished his section with a half page relative to the above Saltmarsh Corporation, which was purely a business affair, and not a fraternal or social improvement.

Probably his brief mention of this enterprise is the only one extant in public print, and for such reason the register now adds a little to details of Medford affairs in days long gone. Our authority is the Massachusetts Archives and papers above named. On February 9, 1803, eight Medford men, Richard Hall, Benj. Hall, Jr., Nathaniel Hall, Joshua Simonds, Duncan Ingraham, Ebenezer Tufts, Benjamin Tufts, Jr., and Andrew Hall, who were then ‘Proprietors of a certain tract of Salt Marsh situated in the easterly part of Medford at Labor-in-vain, so-called, bounded southerly by Mistic river, easterly by Malden lines, and otherwise by lands of Hall, Wheelwright and Holt Junr.’ asked incorporation by the General Court, saying [p. 31]

That said Salt Marsh is exposed to, and greatly injured by depredations from Cattle belonging to other persons—so that it cannot in the present situation be improved to the best advantage. Therefore they pray this Honorable Court to incorporate them into a Society by the name of the Proprietors of Salt Mars in the easterly part of Medford with all the Legal Rights & Authorities by such Corporate bodies enjoyed—So that they may pursue such Regular method, by which they can enjoy the benefits of their Estate aforesaid.

The petition was favorably reported upon, concurred in by the senate. The act was passed on June 15, 1803.

Its second section specifies the manner of calling meetings; by warrant of Justice of the Peace ‘posted up at house of worship in Medford ten days at least before’ date of meeting. If any proprietor lived elsewhere, his house of worship was thus decorated. The officers were ‘a clerk, committees, assessor, collector and a treasurer,’ with powers as similar town officers had. They could build and maintain a dyke of sufficient height and width, and a fence where each was needed, assessing the cost upon each proprietor. If such assessment was not paid within sixty days, enough of the delinquent's holding could be sold after three weeks advertising by posting at house of worship. Their petition shows clearly that their marshland was at the extreme corner of the original Cradock farm. Since then Medford has expanded by the annexation of a strip of Malden territory, and, within our memory, of another farther on from Everett, which was also formerly of Malden, both of which form the present Wellington district. At the Mystic river end of that old boundary, be it remembered, was the ‘brick landing place’ in 1803. The other end must have been where, on Malden line, the marsh and upland joined. Just now a glance at Walling's map of Medford (1855) is interesting. It shows the names of some twenty owners of marsh land below Labor-in-vain, among which are a few of those corporators of fifty years before. A look from the windows of the Fellsway car as it rapidly passes the spot today is equally so, revealing [p. 32] the remains of the dyke—the fence is long since gone—and the ‘stump marsh’ or ‘pine swamp,’ unique in character and unlike any other.

Historian Brooks records that Medford's tax upon this corporation in 1822 was $156.27. We have been curious to know why in 1855 he made selection of 1822 to note, also why he listed this business concern among fraternal ‘societies.’ At this juncture, we turn to papers in the Historical Society's possession:

First A request signed by six corporators in 1821, requesting Abner Bartlett, Justice of the Peace, to issue his warrant to one of their number, directing him to call a meeting of the corporation at the hotel in Medford, on Friday, July 27, 1821, at 3 o'clock P. M. This the squire did, directing Benjamin G. Lerned ‘to notify as the law directs.’

Second: A written notice or warrant, evidently the copy the printers used.

Third: A printed copy of the same, with the name of John Bishop in writing, in proper space left therefor.

Fourth: An unused corporation tax notice (printed).

Fifth: A written receipt as follows:

Medford April 2nd 1822.
Received of Mr. B. G. Lerned Collector of the Salt Marsh in Medford, Corporation Sixty-one Dollars & eight cents Collected by him for repairs of proprietors fence.

Nathl Hall Treas. of said corporation.

A perusal of these documents is of interest, and the query naturally arises, was that meeting at the hotel in 1821 the first held by the corporators? If it was, we must conclude that they were slow in their matters to have waited eighteen years before getting down to business. But in view of the above receipt, it would appear that a fence had been erected long enough before as to require repairs, so it is more than probable that they organized at once, and by some neglect or informality had allowed a lapse, and so required the warrant of Squire Bartlett to set the company a-going again. Here [p. 33] our ‘documentary evidence’ relative to the Saltmarsh Corporation ends. We will add, however, that the long name they styled themselves by in the petition was in the ‘Act’ reduced to our caption; and the words ‘into a Society’ have a pen line drawn through them in the original, in the Archives. Possibly this is a clue to the historian's classification. And so, with the purpose of learning more of its purpose, we ask, ‘What do you know about salt hay?’

The foregoing was in substance stated by the librarian, who exhibited the papers in evidence. Mr. Hooper followed, in interesting remarks upon the location of the marshes, their ownership by numerous proprietors, often from towns other than Medford, the use and value of the product, and how much esteemed by those farmers. He had long ago participated in the work in haying time himself. The hours of work were governed by the moon's changes, and every householder and farmer had to consult the ‘tide table’ in the ‘Farmer's Almanac.’ Much of the grass after cutting had to be ‘poled off’ to the higher land for curing. As the marsh was intersected by ditches for more ready drainage, these were a pitfall, especially for the rear man who could not well see the way, because of the pile of grass before him, and unless warned by the one ahead, would suddenly find himself in the hole. Mr. Hooper's description of the savage bites of the ‘green-head’ flies was very realistic.

No one seemed to know what ‘staddles’ were till Mr. Hooper explained that some proprietors, especially those remote from the solid ground, drove clusters of posts into the marsh, leaving the tops about two feet elevated. On these the hay was stacked and removed when the ground had frozen. Some of the ‘staddles’ can still be seen. If horses were used on the marshes, they were provided with oak boards about a foot square, which were fastened under each hoof by an iron clamp, and prevented sinking into the soft marsh mud. The horses soon became accustomed to this somewhat clumsy safeguard, [p. 34] and bore off the grass to the main, where it was made up into great loads for the homeward journey. Mr. Hooper gave an interesting account of the stump marsh, which is nearby and which is the remains of a primeval forest sunk into the marsh and preserved by the salt water.

Mr. Remele followed by reading an account of the salt marshes of Plum Island and bringing of the day's harvest home on the ‘gundelows’ that may have resembled the ‘lighters’ used in early days on the Mystic. The reading included an almost tragic tale of two clam-diggers, who, caught in a storm, sought refuge in the hay stacked on a staddle. Increasing storm and extreme tide with floating ice lifted the stack and started it out to sea, but fortunately the men were rescued.

Incidentally it was shown that small areas of salt marsh had been utilized as was this as late as in the seventies as far up the Mystic as Boston and Harvard avenues and on Menotomy river; and that perhaps the first named may have had something to do with the present crooked boundary line between Somerville (old Charlestown) and Medford, in 1754.

Many corporations chartered as was this of the Salt Marsh were required by the ‘Acts’ to make returns, annual or otherwise, to the State, but as no penalty for neglect was attached, the rule was often more honored in the breach than in the observance. We have found no such requirement in this case and no return. When or how the corporation dissolved we cannot say. It must now be defunct by ‘mis-feasance or neglect.’ The wide stretch of marsh is still there, the big disused clay pits of the brick company on one side, the ‘stump marsh’ on the other, while on the knoll has arisen the populous village of Wellington, its marshes utilized by various ‘gun clubs,’ manufactories and ‘filling stations,’ which last, then unknown, would have been a wonderment to those old salt marsh proprietors.

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