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Chapter 1:

Name and location.

Medford, a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, lies in 42° 25′ 14″ 42, north latitude, and 71° 07′ 14″ 32, west longitude. It is about five miles N. N. W. from the State House in Boston; and about four miles N. W. by N. from Bunker-Hill Monument. It borders on Somerville, West Cambridge, Winchester, Stoneham, Melrose, and Malden.

It received the name of Meadford from the adventurers who arrived at Salem, in May, 1630, and came thence to settle here in June. When these first comers marked the flatness and extent of the marshes, resembling vast meads or meadows, it may have been this peculiarity of surface which suggested the name of Meadford, or the “great meadow.” In one of the earliest deeds of sale it is written Metford, and in the records of the Massachusetts Colony, 1641, Meadfoard. The Selectmen and Town-clerks often spelled it Meadford ; but, after April, 1715, it has been uniformly written Medford. No reason is given for these changes; and why it received its first name, history does not tell us. Josselyn in 1638, writes thus: “On the north-west side of the (Mystic) river is the town of Mistick, three miles from Charlestown, a league and a half by water.” This author gives the name of Mistick to land on the north side of the river, and reports a thriving population as then gathered between the two brick houses, called forts, which are yet standing. At that early period, boundary lines were indefinitely settled, and names as [2] indefinitely applied. It was afterwards the intention of some to unite Mr. Cradock's, Mr. Winthrop's, Mr. Wilson's, and Mr. Nowell's lands in one township, and call it Mystic.


Medford, until 1640, was surrounded by Charlestown, which embraced Malden, Stoneham, Woburn, Burlington, Somerville, a part of Cambridge, West Cambridge, and Medford. At a Court holden at Boston, April 1, 1634: “There is two hundred acres of land granted to Mr. Increase Nowell, lying and being on the west side of North River, called Three-mile Brook” (Malden River). “There is two hundred acres of land granted to Mr. John Wilson, Pastor of the Church in Boston, lying next the land granted to Mr. Nowell on the south, and next Meadford on the north.” Medford bounds would have run to Malden River, had not these four hundred acres of land intervened. Outside of this narrow strip were the first boundaries of Medford on the north-east. The north and north-western bounds were the “Rocks;” that range of granite hills, of which Pine Hill forms a part. The line ran north of Symmes' Corner, and struck Symmes' river. The Pond and Mystic River formed the southern and western boundaries.

As proof of these statements, we have the following records: General Court, July 2, 1633.--“It is ordered that the ground lying betwixt the North River and the Creek on the north side of Mr. Maverick's, and so up into the country, shall belong to the inhabitants of Charlestown.” “General Court holden at Newtown, March 4, 1634. All the ground, as well upland as meadow, lying and being betwixt the land of Mr. Nowell and Mr. Wilson, on the east, and the partition betwixt Mystick bounds on the west, bounded with Mistick River on the south and the Rocks on the north, is granted to Mr. Mathew Cradock, merchant, to enjoy to him and his heirs for ever.”

General Court, March 3, 1635.--“Ordered, That the land formerly granted to Mr. Mathew Cradock, merchant, shall extend a mile into the country from the river-side in all places.”

General Court, March 3, 1636.--“Ordered, That Charlestown bounds shall run eight miles into the country, from their meeting-house, if no other bounds intercept, reserving [3] the propriety of farms granted to John Winthrop, Esq., Mr. Nowell, Mr. Cradock, and Mr. Wilson, to the owners thereof, as also free ingress and egress for the servants and cattle of the said gentlemen, and common for their cattle on the back side of Mr. Cradock's farm.”

General Court, Oct. 7, 1640.--“Mr. Tynge, Mr. Samuel Sheephard, and Goodman Edward Converse, are to set out the bounds between Charlestown and Mr. Cradock's farm on the north side of Mistick River” (Stoneham and Malden).

“ Mystick Side” was the first name of Malden; “Mystick fields” the name of the land on the south side of Mystic River from Winter Hill to Medford Pond.

April 13, 1687.--The inhabitants of Medford appointed three gentlemen, who, in conjunction with three appointed by Charlestown, were directed to fix the boundaries between the two towns.

That Committee report as follows: “We have settled and marked both stakes and lots as followeth: From the Creek in the salt marsh by a ditch below Wilson's farm and Medford farm to a stake and heap of stones out of the swamp, then turning to a savin-tree and to three stakes more to heaps of stones within George Blanchard's field with two stakes more and heaps of stones standing all on the upland, and so round from stake to stake as the swamp runneth, and then straight to a stake on the south side of the house of Joseph Blanchard's half, turning then to another oak, an old marked tree, thence to a maple-tree, old marks, thence unto two young maples, new marked, and thence to three stakes to a creek-head, thence straight to the corner line on the south side of the country road leading to” --(Malden). How soon must such marks and bounds be effaced or removed!

Oct. 23, 1702.--Medford voted to petition the General Court to have a tract of land, lying in the south of Andover, (two miles square) set off to it.

May 24, 1734.--Medford voted, “That the town will petition for a tract of land beginning at the southerly end of Medford line, on the easterly side of said town, running there eastward on Charlestown to the mouth of Malden River, there running nearly northward on the said Malden River to the mouth of” Creek Head Creek, “there running with said creek to Medford easterly line. And also a piece of land on the northerly side of said Medford, bounded easterly on Malden line, northerly on Stoneham and Woburn [4] line, westerly on the line betwixt Mr. Symmes' and Gardner's farm, running there northward to Mystic Pond, with the the inhabitants thereof.”

March 31, 1735.--Voted “to choose a Committee to join with the Committee of Charlestown, to settle the bounds of the said town on the north-westerly part of said bounds, which have been disputed.”

May 14, 1744.--Voted to choose a Committee to settle with Charlestown the bounds between the two towns “near the place called Mystic Pond.”

“ March 7, 1748.--Put to vote to know the mind of the town, whether they will choose a Committee to use their best endeavors to have the lands with their inhabitants, now belonging to Charlestown, added to this town, which now are on the southerly and northerly sides of this town.”

This was not successful; but, May 14, 1753, the effort was renewed; and the town asks for 2,800 acres, and was successful.

The bounds, mentioned in the petition to the General Court, were as follows: “On the southerly side, those that the town petitioned for in the year 1738; and those on the northerly side, bounded northerly on Stoneham, on the town of Woburn and by the northerly bounds of Mr. William Symmes' farm, and easterly on Malden.” The bounds designated in the petition of March 6, 1738, are as follows: “The southerly tract lying in Charlestown bounded northerly with the (river) . . . westerly with the westerly bounds of Mr. Smith's, Mr. Joseph Tufts' and Mr. Jonathan Tufts' farms, and then running from the southerly corner of Mr. Jonathan Tufts' farm, eastward straight to the westerly corner of Col. Royal's farm; again westerly with the westerly bounds of Col. Royal's farm; again southerly with its southerly bounds, and then running from the south-easterly corner thereof eastward straight to Medford River.”

The action of the Legislature is thus recorded: “April 18, 1754. John Quincy, Esq., brought down the petition of the town of Medford, as entered the 17th December last, with a report of a Committee of both houses. Signed — Jos. Pynchon.”

“ Passed in Council; viz.: In Council, April 17th, 1754. Read and accepted, with the amendment at A; and ordered, That the lands within mentioned, together with the inhabitants thereon, be and hereby are set off from the town of [5] Charlestown to the town of Medford accordingly. Sent down for concurrence. Read and concurred.”

Thus on the 17th of April, 1754, Medford was enlarged by all its territory now lying on the south side of the river.

March 13, 1771.--A committee was chosen by the inhabitants of Medford, “to run the lines anew between Charlestown and Medford, and set up some monuments between the towns.” A joint Committee met, and set up twenty-two posts as metes. For present bounds, see Walling's map.

Nov. 11, 1647.--The town shall be perambulated once in three years.


Medford Pond.--This beautiful sheet of water, though cousin-german to the sea, is as quiet and retired as if it never received a visit from the Atlantic waters. It is about three miles in circumference, half a mile in width, and nowhere more than eighty feet in depth. It is divided into nearly equal parts by a shoal called the Partings, where was a road used by several persons, some of whom are yet living. The lands on each side are slightly elevated, and in future times will doubtless be filled with country seats. A brook, originating in Lexington and flowing through West Cambridge, enters the south pond at the western edge; and another, flowing through Baconville, enters the north pond at the north: these are all the fresh-water tributary supplies of which it can boast. Every twelve hours, it is raised from two to six inches, by the inflowing tide through Mystic River; said river finding its source in the bosom of these waters, and its end in the sea.

On the Medford side dwelt the Indian chief; and that place was a favorite resort of the tribes visiting the sea-shore, or fishing for shad and alewives.

Spot Pond.--“Feb. 7, 1632. The Governor, Mr. Nowell, Mr. Eliot, and others, went over Mistic River at Medford; and, going N. and by E. among the rocks about two or three miles, they came to a very great pond, having in the midst an island of about one acre, and very thick with trees of pine, beech [birch]; and the pond had divers small rocks standing up here and there in it, [6] which they therefore called Spot Pond. They went all about it upon the ice. From thence (towards the N. W. about half a mile) they came to the top of a very high rock, beneath which (towards the N.) lies a goodly plain, part open land and part woody, from whence there is a fair prospect; but, it being then close and rainy, they could see but a small distance. This place they called Cheese Rock, because, when they went to eat somewhat, they had only cheese (the Governor's man forgetting, for haste, to put up some bread).”

Cheese Rock may be easily found on the west side of Forest Street, half a mile N. W. of the northerly border of Spot Pond.

Mystic River.

This river is felt to belong to Medford; for we may almost say that it has its beginning, continuance, and end within the limits of our town. Where or why it obtained its name we know not. It presented the decisive reason to our ancestors for settling on this spot. We apprehend it is very much to-day what it was two hundred years ago. The tide rises about twelve feet at the bridge, and about eight at Rock Hill; but it rises and falls so gently as not to wear away the banks, even when ice floats up and down in its currents.

The first record we have concerning it is Sept. 21, 1621. On that day, a band of pilgrim adventurers from Plymouth came by water “to Massachusetts Bay;” and they coasted by the opening of our river. In their report they remark: “Within this bay the salvages say there are two rivers; the one whereof we saw (Mystic) having a fair entrance, but we had no time to discover it.”

Johnson says: “The form of Charlestown, in the frontispiece thereof, is like the head, neck, and shoulders of a man; only the pleasant and navigable river of Mistick runs through the right shoulder thereof.”

Rivers were the first highways; and, as it was easier to build a canoe than open a road, trade took the course of navigable streams. The building of small barks on the banks of Mystic River, as early as 1631, shows its superior claims to other places. Trade with Boston commenced before 1645, and the river was the thoroughfare. Long open boats were used for transportation, and they substituted the tide for oars [7] and sails. They were sometimes drawn with ropes by men who walked on the bank.

There was a ford across this stream at the Wear till 1748. The ford in the centre of Medford continued in use till 1639, and was about ten rods above the bridge. The Penny Ferry, where Malden Bridge now is, was established by Charlestown, April 2, 1640, and continued to September 28, 1787. There was, till recently, but one island in the river, and that is near the shore in Malden, at Moulton's Point, and is called “White Island.” Two have since been made; one by cutting through “Labor in Vain,” and the other by straightening the passage above the bridge.

The depth of the river is remarkable for one so narrow, and its freedom from sunken rocks and dangerous shoals more remarkable still. Its banks are generally very steep, showing that it becomes wider with age, if it changes at all. It has not probably changed its current much since our fathers first saw it; and the marshes through which it flows look to our eyes as they did to theirs. Few events of extraordinary interest have been witnessed upon its waters. The well-known curve in the bed of the river, near “the rock,” extending more than half a mile, made the passage round it so difficult, especially with sails, that it soon received the name of Labor in Vain. It often became necessary for men to drag boats round a part of this narrow strip of land, by means of ropes stretched to the shore. In 1761, the inhabitants of Medford proposed to cut a canal across this peninsula; and they voted to do it, if it could be done by subscription! The expense was found to fall upon so few that the plan failed. Within our day it has been accomplished.

In the revolutionary war, our river was occasionally a resort for safety. August 6, 1775, Mr. Nowell says: “This day, skirmishing up Mistick River. Several soldiers brought over here (Boston) wounded. The house at Penny Ferry, Malden side, burnt.” August 13th he says: “Several Gondaloes sailed up Mistick River, upon which the Provincials (Medford) and they had a skirmish; many shots were exchanged, but nothing decisive.”

Lightering had become so extensive a business as to need every facility; and in April, 1797, the town chose a Committee to examine the bed and banks of the river; and, if they found that any clearing was necessary, they were empowered to do it. [8]

March 7, 1803.--A Committee was appointed by the town “to find out what rights the town has on the river.”

Ship-building made the river an object of vital importance; and, while the tonnage of the ships was small, the depth of water was deemed sufficient; yet there were many who wished the town might widen and deepen the bed. Several applications were made, but always without success. In June, 1836, an effort was made in earnest; but the impression with the majority of voters was, that no expense need be incurred until some vessel had found it impossible to float down on the highest tides. This misfortune never occurred. It always has had depth of water sufficient to float any empty, unrigged ship of 2,500 tons. March 14, 1843, the town voted to remove and prevent all obstructions to the free ebb and flow of the water.

At the time when Medford was the centre of considerable trade; when vessels were loaded at our wharves for the West India markets; when bark and wood were brought from Maine, and we had rich and active merchants among us; at that time it was no unusual sight to see two, four, or six sloops and schooners at our wharves, and as many in our river.

Soon after Fulton had propelled vessels by steam, a vessel so propelled came up our river to Medford, and was here repaired.

The number of adult persons who have been drowned in Mystic River is not small. In the early records, deaths in this way are often noticed. About fifty years ago, there seemed something like fatality in this matter. One death by drowning occurred each year, through so many years in succession, that the inhabitants got to think that there was a river-god, who would have his annual sacrifice.

On the borders of this stream, there have always existed what are now called “landings.” These were used by the Indians for rendezvous during their annual fishing seasons. Afterwards they were used by our fathers for loading and unloading of sloops and schooners. Later still, they were used by our fishermen for emptying their nets. Some have recently been occupied as ship-yards. In the Wade Family there is a tradition that their ancestor, Major Jonathan Wade, gave to the town, about the year 1680, the landing place now occupied by Mr. J. T. Foster.

Feb. 21, 1698.--At this time the river was frozen, as it is [9] in our day. Judge Sewall, under this date, says: “I rode over to Charlestown on the ice, then over to Stower's (Chelsea), so to Mr. Wigglesworth. The snow was so deep that I had a hard journey; could go but a foot-pace on Mystic River, the snow was so deep.”

The absence of epidemics in Medford is to be attributed in part to the presence of our river. At high tide the water is brackish; and, at the spring tides, quite salt. As the banks are wet anew by the rising tide every twelve hours, and are left to dry when the waters run out, the exhalations from this operation are great every day, though invisible; and they salt the atmosphere, and cleanse it, and make it healthy. The exact reverse of this would be the case, if there could be a fresh-water tide, which should leave fresh-water vegetables exposed every day to the action of the sun. This beautiful and breathing stream, which seems to have studied the laws of grace, as it winds and wreathes itself through the intervale, has one more claim to notice, if not to gratitude. To the boys of Medford how welcome are its waters through the warm season! So vivid are our recollections of our daily bath in this beloved river, that we think it worth while for parents to send their children from the country here to school, if only to strengthen and delight them with a salt bath in the Mystic.


That which runs a short distance east of the West Medford Depot, on the Lowell Railroad, was called Whitmore's Brook after the pious deacon, whose house was on the north side of High Street, about two rods west of the brook. It rises in “Bear Meadow.”

Marble Brook, now called “Meeting-house Brook,” crosses High Street about forty rods north-east of “Rock Hill.” In spring, smelts resort to it in great numbers.

The brook or creek over which Gravelly Bridge is built was called “Gravelly Creek,” but more lately “Pine Hill Brook.” The stream is small, but much swelled by winter rains. It has its source in Turkey Swamp.

The brook which crosses the road, at a distance of a quarter of a mile south of the “Royal house,” was named “Winter Brook.” It has its source near the foot of Walnut Hill.



The hill commanding the widest prospect, and most visited by pleasure parties, is “Pine Hill,” in the north-east part of the town, near Spot Pond. As part of the low range of hills, called the “Rocks,” which runs east and west, and nearly marks the northern boundary of the town, it is the highest. It was covered with as dense a forest as its thin soil on the rock could sustain. In early time the wood was burned. When the army was stationed neear us, in 1775-6, the wood was cut off, in part, for its supply. After then it grew and within twenty years has been a thick wood again. Recently the whole hill has been denuded, and much of its poetry lost. The earth looks best with its beard. The eminence — which commands a view of Chelsea and Boston Harbor on the east; Boston, Roxbury, and Cambridge, on the south; Brighton, Watertown, and West Cambridge track of woodland on the north — has on its summit a flat rock, called “Lover's Rock;” on of those register-surfaces where a young gentleman, with a hammer and nail, could engrave the initials of two namess provokingly near each together. The view from this hill, so diversified and grand, fills the eye with pleasure, and the mind with thought.

Pasture Hill,” on which Dr. Swan's summer-house, in his garden, now stands, is of the eastern and southern scenery above noticed. The hill is mostly rock, and will afford, in coming years, a most magnificent site for costly houses.

The next highest and most interesting spot, on the north side of the river, is “Mystic Mount,” in West Medford, near the Brooks Schoolhouse. It is owned by the town, and commands much the same view as Pine Hill, only at a lower angle. To some of us who have kept it for more than half a century, as our favorite look-out, it has charms indescribably dear, and we regard it somewhat as we do an ancient member of a family. Its neighbor, “Rock Hill,” on the border of the river, is a barren rock, so high as to overlook the houses situated at the east, and to afford a most delightful view of West Cambridge.

“Walnut tree Hill,” on the south side of the river, was once covered with walnut-trees. The Tufts College on its top enjoys perhaps an unparalleled site. From the roof of [11] that building the eye has a panorama not surpassed for what might be called a home-view. The spires of twenty-eight churches are in sight; also the State House, Cambridge Colleges, Bunker Hill Monument, the old Powder House, and the most captivating view of Medford. The beauties of upland and valley, of meadows and marshes, of river and creeks, of ocean and islands, of cities and towns, all lie immediately beneath, in that domestic nearness and manageable form which seems to doubly make them the property of the eye.

There are many smaller hills within Medford, making parts of the “Rocks” at the north, which have not yet received names. One fact is worthy notice, that among these hills there are copious springs of the sweetest water; and, in imagination, we can see them falling in beautiful cascades in the future gardens of opulent citizens.


A short record only of this is necessary. Governor Winthrop writes, July 23, 1630: “For the country itself, I can discern little difference between it and our own. We have had only two days which I have observed more hot than in England. Here is sweet air, fair rivers, and plenty of springs, and the water better than in England.” An experience of only six weeks in June and July was not enough to warrant a safe judgment concerning the climate. Another testimony, Oct. 30, 1631, is as follows: “The Governor having erected a building of stone at Mistic, there came so violent a storm of rain, for twenty-four hours, that (it being not finished, and laid with clay for want of lime) two sides of it were washed down to the ground, and much harm was done to the other houses by that storm.” The form of the land in this neighborhood has its effect on our climate. We have neither of the extremes which belong to deep, long valleys; and high mountains. We have very little fog during the year. In Medford there are few, if any, places where water can stagnate; it readily finds its way to the river; and the good influence of this fact on climate and health is considerable. The presence of salt water and salt marshes is another favorable circumstance. Lightnings do not strike here so often as between ranges of high hills; and [12] the thermometer does not report Medford as famous for extremes of heat or cold. The time, we think, is not far distant, when the great law, regulating the changes of the weather, will be discovered. God hasten the momentous development!

Soil and productions.

The soil in New England, like that of all primitive formations, is rocky, thin, and hard to till. A visitor from the western prairies, when he first looks on our fields, involuntarily asks, “How can you get your living out of these lands?” We reply, that the little soil we have is very strong, and by good manure and hard labor we get the best of crops. We generally add, that we, New Englanders, are granite men, and can do almost any thing!

That the virgin soil, first opened by our European ploughs, should give a prophetic yield, is not surprising. The richest spots only had been chosen by the Indians. Capt. Smith, in his voyage here (1614), calls the territory about us “the paradise of all those parts.”

Rev. Mr. Higginson, writing to his friends in England, in 1629, on “New England's plantation,” gives the following description of the soil, climate, and productions:--

I have been, careful to report nothing but what I have seen with my own eyes. The land at Charles River is as fat, black earth as can be seen anywhere. Though all the country be, as it were, a thick wood for the general, yet in divers places there is much ground cleared by the Indians. It is thought here is good clay to make bricks, and tyles, and earthern pots, as need be. At this instant we are sitting a brick kiln on work.

The fertility of the soil is to be admired at, as appeareth in the abundance of grass that groweth everywhere, both very thick, very long, and very high, in divers places. But it groweth very wildly, with a great stalk, and a broad and ranker blade; because it never had been eaten by cattle, nor mowed by a sythe, and seldom trampled on by foot. It is scarce to be believed how our kine and goats, horses and hoggs, do thrive and prosper here and like well of this country. Our turnips, parsnips, and carrots are here both bigger and sweeter than is ordinary to be found in England. Here are stores of pumpions, cowcumbers, and other things of that nature. Also, divers excellent pot herbs, strawberries, pennyroyal, wintersaverie, sorrell, brookelime, liverwort, and watercresses; also, leekes and onions are ordinarie, and divers [13] physical herbs. Here are plenty of single damask roses, very sweet; also, mulberries, plums, raspberries, currants, chessnuts, filberds, walnuts, smallnuts, hurtleberries, and hawes of white-thorne, near as good as cherries in England. They grow in plenty here.

The fullest credit may be given to these statements of Mr. Higginson. They show, among other things, that the region we now occupy was a dense forest in 1629. This confirms the story told of Gov. Winthrop; that when he took up his residence on his farm at “Ten Hills,” on the bank of Mystic River, he one day penetrated the forest near “Winter Hill.” He so lost his latitude and longitude as to become entirely bewildered. Night came on, and he knew not which way to steer. After many ineffectual trials to descry any familiar place, he resigned himself to his fate, kindled a fire, put philosophy in his pocket, and bivouacked, feeling much as St. Paul did in his shipwreck-voyage, when they “cast anchor, and wished for day.” What the Governor learned or dreamed of during that rural night we are not specifically told; but his absence created a sharp alarm among his family, and a hunting party started in quest of him. They “shot off pieces and hallooed in the night; but he heard them not.” He found his way home in the morning, and discovered that he had been near his house most of the time.

It would be hard, in our day, to find a forest within sight of the “Ten-Hill farm” in which a boy of ten years old could be lost for a moment. The almost entire destruction of our forests within twenty miles of Boston, and our inexplicable neglect in planting new ones, argues ill, not only for our providence and economy, but for our patriotism and taste. Plant a hogshead of acorns in yonder rockland, and your money will return you generous dividends from nature's savings' bank.

In 1629, Mr. Graves, of Charlestown, said in a letter sent to England: “Thus much I can affirm in general, that I never came in a more goodly country in all my life. If it hath not at any time been manured and husbanded, yet it is very beautiful in open lands, mixed with goodly woods, and again open plains, in some places five hundred acres, some places more, some less, not much troublesome for to clear for the plough to go in; no place barren, but on the tops of hills.” [14]

Governor Winthrop, writing to his son, runs a parallel between the soil of Mistick and its neighborhood, and the soil of England, and says: “Here is as good land as I have seen there, though none so bad as there. Here can be no want of any thing to those who bring means to raise out of the earth and sea.” Nov. 29, 1630, he writes to his wife, and says: “My dear wife, we are here in a paradise.” Such testimony from a Mystic man, and he the Governor, reads agreeably to our ears. The grants of land made by the General Court to Governor Winthrop, Mr. Cradock, Rev. Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Nowell, show conclusively what the best judges thought of the soil and capabilities of Medford.

Deputy-Governor Dudley, in 1631, writes: “That honest men, out of a desire to draw others over to them, wrote somewhat hyperbolically of many things here.”

Our first farmers here were taught by the Indians how to raise corn; and, in return for that kind service, they gave the redmen European seeds, and called the American grain “Indian corn.” Their crop in 1631 was most abundant; and they began the strange experiment of eating Indian corn, yet with singular misgivings. The crop of the next year was small, owing to the shortness and humidity of the summer. Their fields were not generally fenced, and boundary lines were often unsettled. After a few years, fences became more necessary; and Sagamore John was made to fence his field, and promised to indemnify the whites for any damages his men or cattle should do to their cornfields. There were many lands held in common by companies of farmers, as lands are now held in Nantucket. These large tracts were enclosed by fences, planted by the whole company; and, at the harvest, each received according to his proportion in the investment. This complicated plan brought its perplexities; and the General Court, to settle them, passed the following law, May 26, 1647: Ordered, “That they who own the largest part of any lands common shall have power to order and appoint the improvement of the whole field.”

The farmers here experienced great inconvenience and alarm from the burning of woods. Such was the Indian system of clearing a forest; but it would not do where European settlements obtained. Our fathers therefore applied legislation to the matter in the following form: “Nov. 5, 1639.--Ordered, That whosoever shall kindle a fire in other men's grounds, or in any common grounds, shall be fined [15] forty shillings. No fires to be kindled before the first of March.”

They offered a small bounty on every acre of planted field. We presume that the Colony of Massachusetts was quite as far advanced in agricultural skill and productive harvests as that of Connecticut; therefore, we can judge from Mr. Wolcott's farm in Connecticut what and how much our Medford farmers raised. That distinguished magistrate says (1638): “I made five hundred hogsheads of cider out of my own orchard in one year!” We apprehend these hogsheads were not of the modern size, but were a larger kind of barrel. He says: “Cider is 10s. A hogshead.” He gives an enumeration of products thus: “English wheat, rye, flax, hemp, clover, oats, corn, cherries, quince, apple, pear, plum, barberry-trees.” A very tasteful catalogue! It sounds very little like scarcity or self-denial.

It seems that the land hereabouts was as rich and productive as in any of the neighboring states: nevertheless, it needed help from manure; and Johnson tells us, that in this region “there was a great store of fish in the spring time, and especially alewives, about the largeness of a herring. Many thousand of these they use to put under their Indian corn.” They are sometimes so used at this day.

May 22, 1639.--“It is forbidden to all men, after the 20th of next month, to employ any cod or bass fish for manuring of ground.”

May 26, 1647.--Ordered, “That all cattle that feed on public commons shall be marked with pitch.”

Hiring land was not unusual. There were many adventurers who did not belong to the company, and they settled where they could buy or hire at the best advantage. Oct. 7, 1640, we find the following record: “John Greenland is granted his petition, which is, to plant upon a five-acre lot in Charlestown, bounds on Mistick River.”

The rule for planting was: Plant when the white-oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear. Hence the lines:---

When the white-oak leaves look goslin grey,
Plant then, be it April, June, or May.

The first settlers very soon found clay in different parts of their plantation, where cellars and wells were dug; and they concluded that drought could not extensively injure a soil which had a deep substratum of this water-proof material. [16]

It may be interesting to see the progress of vegetation in this locality. It is as follows:--

1646, Aug. 1.The great pears ripe.
Aug. 3.The long apples ripe.
Aug. 12.Blackstone's apples gathered.
Aug. 15.Tankerd apples gathered.
Aug. 18.Kreton pippins and long red apples gathered.
1647, July 5.We began to cut the peas in the field.
July 14.We began to shear rye.
Aug. 2.We mowed barley.
Aug.Same week we shear summer wheat.
Aug. 7.The great pears gathered.
Sept. 15.The russetins gathered, and pearmaines.
1648, May 26.Sown one peck of peas, the moon in the full. Observe how they prove.
July 28.Summer apples gathered.
1649, July 20.Apricoks ripe.

Oct. 2, 1689.--A tax was to be paid; and the valuations were as follow: “Each ox, £ 2. 10s.; each cow, £ 1. 10s.; each horse, £ 2; each swine, 6s.; each acre of tillage land, 5s.; each acre of meadow and English pasture, 5s.” The tax on land bounded out in propriety was “2s. on each hundred acres.”

Our fathers were farmers after the English modes, and therefore had to learn many new ways from the sky and the climate. The times of ploughing and planting here, in spring and autumn, varied somewhat from those of their native land. Some plants, which in cold and misty England wooed the sun, could best thrive here if they wooed the shade. While land there, with a south-eastern exposure, was worth much more for culture than that which faced the north-west, the difference here was comparatively small. They were happily disappointed in the slight labor and certainty in making hay under our sun and clear skies. They had soon to learn that their stock of all kinds must be sheltered from the destroying cold and storms of an American winter. In the preservation of vegetables and fruits, also, our fathers had to receive new instruction from the climate. These they preserved by burying them. It took them several years to adjust themselves to the novel activity of common laws and familiar agents.

As the soil and climate must determine what grains, fruits, and vegetables can be raised with profit, it soon became evident to our Medford farmers that Indian corn was to be a staple. Rye, barley, wheat, and oats were found productive [17] as grains; peas and beans yielded abundantly; while turnips, beets, onions, and parsnips gradually grew into favor. Potatoes were not known to our first settlers; although among the articles, “to send for New England,” from London, March 16, 1628, “potatoes” are named. The potato is a native of Chili and Peru. We think there is no satisfactory record of potatoes being in England before they were carried from Santa Fe, in America, by Sir John Hawkins, in 1653. They are often mentioned as late as 1692. Their first culture in Ireland is referred to Sir Walter Raleigh, who had large estates there. A very valuable kind of potato was first carried from America by “that patriot of every clime,” Mr. Howard, who cultivated it at Cardington, near Bedford, 1765. Its culture then had become general. Its first introduction to this neighborhood is said to have been by those emigrants, called the “Scotch Irish,” who first entered Londonderry, New Hampshire, April 11, 1719. As they passed through Andover, Mass., they left some potatoes as seed to be planted that spring. They were planted according to the directions; and their balls, when ripened, were supposed to be the edible fruit. The balls, therefore, were carefully cooked and eaten, but the conclusion was that the Andover people did not like potatoes! An early snow-storm covered the potato-field, and kept the tubers safely till the plough of the next spring hove them into sight. Some of the largest were then boiled; whereupon the Andover critics changed their opinion, and have patronized them from that day. When the potato was first known in Scotland, it suffered a religious persecution, like some other innocent things. The Scots thought it to be a most unholy esculent, blasphemous to raise, and sacrilegious to eat. They therefore made its cultivation an illegal act; and why? “Because,” as they say, “it is not mentioned in the Bible” ! The prejudice against this unoffending vegetable was so great at Naples, in Italy, that the people refused to eat it during a famine! We do not find that any epidemic has attacked this healthy plant until the potato cholera, which, of late, has nearly ruined it. The soil in Medford has been found particularly fitted for this plant, owing to a substratum of clay which keeps it moist. The early mode of preserving potatoes through the winter was to bury them below the reach of the frost, and shelter them from rain.

The barns of our pilgrim fathers were very small, because [18] they stacked their hay out-doors, according to the usage of their native land. When sheep and swine could be trusted in the woods, they were left there till deep snows made it impossible to find food. The fatting of cattle was an easy and cheap process; for they had hundreds of acres over which to range, unlooked to by their owners, till the close of the summer, when they were taken to the stall, and fed with corn. Each quadruped was marked with its owner's name, and was immediately restored when it had wandered into a neighboring town.

When lands were not fenced, the following law, passed March 9, 1637, was necessary. “All swine shall be kept up in yards, islands, or committed to keepers, under penalty of 10s. for every swine so disposed of; and whatsoever swine shall be taken in corn or meadow-ground shall forfeit 5s. a piece to those that shall empound them, and the owners shall be liable to pay double damages.” When mowing grounds and tillage fields became fenced, and that was early, then it became a common habit with our ancestors to let “hogs run at large,” as they do now in the city of New York; of which license more may be said of its economy than of its neatness. March 10, 1721, the town of Medford voted to let the hogs go at large, as they formerly have done. This vote was repealed in 1727. There gradually grew up a strong dislike of this custom, and some altercations occurred in town-meetings concerning it; when, in March 12, 1770, the inhabitants vote that the hogs should not go at large any longer. After this there must have been a vast improvement in the appearance of the public roads, and of the grounds about private dwellings.

The raising of all kinds of stock was deemed of paramount importance, and served more towards enriching our farmers than any other part of labor; since proximity to Boston furnished an easy and sure market. Ship-building at first, and then brick-making, opened quite a market within their own territory; and we must think that our early farmers were favorably situated for making a comfortable living.

Spinning and weaving were almost as much a part of farm-labor as the making of butter and cheese; and the farmer's wife and daughters were not a whit behind him in patient toil or productive results. Hemp and flax were used for clothing; and the labor of making these into garments for workmen was not small. [19]

For the first hundred years of our settlement, the attention of agriculturists must have been directed to clear up lands, erect stone walls, ditch marshes, and open roads, while they also studied the rotation of crops, and procured new seeds from other localities. When Boston became a large town, our farmers were prompt in supplying it with milk; and this new business gradually extended till it became one of the most lucrative. This led to raising cows on an extensive scale; while this, in its turn, led to raising grass and hay in preference to corn. The amount of butter and cheese made in Medford has been therefore comparatively small; the milk farms being found more profitable. At the beginning of this century, the quantity of milk sold in Boston by our Medford farmers was very great; its price varying from three to five cents a quart. The cows were milked by earliest daylight, and the vender was in Boston by sunrise. Within the last thirty years, the milk has found its market more in Medford; and several large farms have been used to raise hay for the horses of Boston. The cultivation of fruits has been a cherished object in our town., and many of our farms have doubled their value by this means. It is not unusual with them to produce one and two hundred barrels of apples, besides great varieties of pears, peaches, plums, quinces, and the common lesser fruits.

To Medford belongs the introduction of the celebrated “Baldwin apple.” The first tree, producing this delicious fruit, grew on the side hill, within two rods of the former Woburn line, and about ten rods east of the present road which leads from West Medford to the ancient boundary of Woburn. It was on the farm occupied by Mr. Thompson, forty or fifty rods south of what used to be called “the black-horse tavern.” At the request of Governor Brooks, the writer made a visit to that tree in 1813, and climbed it. It was very old and partly decayed, but bore fruit abundantly. Around its trunk the woodpeckers had drilled as many as five or six circles of holes, not larger than a pea; and, from this most visible peculiarity, the apples were called “Woodpecker apples.” By degrees their name was shortened to Peckers; and, during my youth, they were seldom called by any other name. How they came by their present appellative is this. Young Baldwin, of Woburn, afterwards a colonel, and father of Loami, was an intimate friend of young Thompson (afterwards Count Rumford); and, as lovers of [20] science, they asked permission of Professor Winthrop to attend his course of lectures in natural philosophy, at Harvard College. Twice each week, these two thirsty and ambitious students walked from their homes in Woburn to bring back with them from Cambridge the teachings of the learned professor. One day, as they were passing by the “Woodpecker tree,” they stopped to contemplate the tempting red cheeks on those loaded boughs; and the result of such contemplations was the usual one,--they took and tasted. Sudden and great surprise was the consequence. They instantly exclaimed to each other that it was the finest apple they ever tasted. Some years after this, Col. Baldwin took several scions to a public nursery, and from this circumstance they named the apple after him, which name it has since retained. In the gale of September, 1815, this parent tree fell; but very few parents have left behind so many flourishing and beloved children.

The price of land has steadily increased from 2s. an acre in 1635, and 5s. in 1689, to $50 in 1778 and $100 in 1830, the same positions taken in all the dates. From the year 1800 to the present time, favorite house-lots have advanced in price so rapidly that $2,000 would be refused for a single acre. The fashionable retreat from city to suburban life has induced the owners of farms to cut up into house-lots their tillage lands, and sell them at public auction; because no farmer can afford to till land that will sell at two and three cents the square foot.

Of the farmers of Medford we have nothing but good to report. From the earliest dates to the present time, they have stood without a blot. With that temperance which clarifies the intellect, with that industry which secures gain, and with that economy which saves what is earned, they have presented some of the noblest specimens of citizens, neighbors, and Christians. Society delights to respect a class of men whose investments are in land, water, and sunshine; and whose results are guaranteed by that great and beneficent Being who has promised that “seed-time and harvest shall not fail.”

Natural history.

The rocks are mostly primitive granite or sienite, existing in large masses. Some are in a state of decay, as, for [21] example, the “pasture-hill gravel.” This gravel is used extensively for garden walks, and its fineness and color make it a general favorite. The soil is composed mostly of silex and argilla, a mixture favorable to vegetation.

The flora of Massachusetts would be a fair one of Medford. The high hills, rocky pastures, large plains, alluvial intervales, deep swamps, and extensive marshes, here give food to almost all kinds of trees, plants, shrubs, grasses, and sedges. The presence of fresh water and salt, also the mingling of them in Mystic River, produce a rich variety of herbaceous plants; and the salt-marsh flowers, though very small, are often very beautiful. Of lichens there are great varieties, and some rare specimens of the cryptogamous plants. Of the forest-trees, we have many of the white and black oak, and some of the red and grey. The oldest survivor of this family of quercus stands in a lot owned by Mr. Swan, and is about half a mile north-east of the meeting-house of the First Parish. It is almost disarmed by time; and it therefore better stood the strain of the tornado of August 22, 1851. Its trunk is six feet in diameter near the ground; and it is probably as old as Massachusetts Colony. Two varieties. of walnut are found among us, and “nutting” is yet a cherished pastime with the boys in October. The sycamore or plane-tree, commonly called buttonwood, abounds here by plantation. Of late years it has been suffering from a sort of cholera, which has destroyed its first leaves, and rendered its appearance so disagreeable as to induce most persons to remove it from sight. The violence of the disease seems past, and the tree gives signs of rejuvenescence. The graceful elms rejoice our eye wherever we turn, and our streets will soon be shaded by them. The clean, symmetrical rock-maple has come among us of late, and seems to thrive like its brother, the white. Of the chestnut, we have always known two large trees in the woods, but have never heard of more. The locust is quite common, and would be an invaluable tree to plant on sandy plains in order to enrich them; but a borer-worm has so successfully invaded, maimed, and stinted it that its native beauty is gone. The locust is the only tree under which the ruminating animals prefer to graze. Of beach-trees we have not many, and what we have are small. So of the black and white ash, there is not an abundance. Once there was a good supply of the hornbeam; but that has ceased. Of birch, the black, white, and yellow, there are flourishing specimens. [22] The class of forest evergreens is well represented in Medford. The white and pitch pines are common, though their use in building, and their consumption by steam-engines, have made them comparatively scarce. One of the most familiar, beautiful, and valuable forest-trees is the cedar; and both kinds, the red and white, are here. The hemlock and the holly are only casual among us. Whether all these trees were common when our ancestors first settled here, we cannot say; for there may have been then, what we now see, namely, a rotation of forest-trees. We have seen a pine-forest felled, and an oak one spring in its place; and, where the oak one has been felled, the pine has sprung up. In like manner, the cedar and maple forests have been rotatory!

Of indigenous shrubs, there is among us the usual varieties; among them, the hazel, the huckleberry, barberry, raspberry, gooseberry, thimbleberry, blackberry, &c. There are two species of wild grapes; if they ripen well, they are sweet and palatable, but are used often as pickles.

The fruit-trees, now so abundant in every variety, have been brought here by our inhabitants from every part of the United States and from many parts of Europe. So the ornamental trees and flowering shrubs have been so extensively cultivated in our midst, that we seem to live among the vegetation of the five zones.

The forests of Medford had, in early times, their share of the wild animals common to New England. May 18, 1631: “It is ordered, that no person shall kill any wild swine without a general agreement at some court.” The bear was quite social with our fathers, and for a century kept hold of his home here. He was far less destructive than the wolf. Wolves and wild-cats were such devourers of sheep that premiums were paid for their heads. Sept. 6, 1631, we find these records: “The wolves did much hurt to calves and swine between Charles River and Mistick.” Sept. 2, 1635: “It is ordered, that there shall be 5s. for every wolf, and is. for every fox, paid out of the treasury to him who kills the same.” Nov. 20, 1637: “10s. shall be paid for every wolf, and 2s. for every fox.” Wolves have disappeared from this locality; but foxes are occasionally seen. Deer were very common when our fathers settled in Medford; and, until the beginning of this century, our inhabitants chose annually an officer whom they called “Deer Reeve.” Dec. 25, 1739: Voted to choose two persons to see to the preservation [23] of deer, as the law directs. It would not be difficult to domesticate the deer, and to use him for ten years in carrying light burdens before he is fatted for the table. Nov. 15, 1637: “It is ordered that no man shall have leave to buy venison in any town, but by leave of the town.” The racoon, that used to plunder our cornfields, has almost disappeared. The mink and musquosh are about our rivers and ponds, though severely hunted by boys. The woodchuck, weasel, skunk, grey and yellow squirrel, are common. It is some time since many wild rabbits were killed in Medford; and we presume the oldest inhabitant cannot recollect seeing a wild beaver here. There are moles and meadow mice as in the olden time. The last named has proved peculiarly destructive to fruit-trees, by gnawing off the bark during winter, while under the snow. If posterity wish to know if we have rats and mice, we would assure them that we have more than our cats and dogs can keep in subordination.

Oct. 1, 1645, we find the following order: “No goatskins to be transported out of this jurisdiction, unless they be dressed, and made into gloves or some other garment.”

Johnson says the early inhabitants took moose, deer, beaver, and otter, in traps. They bent down a pole, which had a cord at its end, and a slip-noose; and, when the noose was touched, the pole flew up and caught the game. They shot squirrels, grey and black racoons, geese, and turkeys.

The birds, now common with us, are those usually found in this latitude. As birds must follow their food, their migration northward in spring and southward in autumn enables us to see a great variety of these travellers. How powerful, how mysterious, is this impulse for change of place! God seems to have touched them with his spirit, and they became as obedient as the planets.

Who bade the stork, Columbus-like, explore
Heavens not his own, and worlds unknown before?
Who calls the council, states the certain day?
Who forms the phalanx, and who points the way?

Some birds, like the wild-geese and ducks, make all their journey at once; while most of them follow slowly the opening bud, the spring insects, and the spawning herring. A few leave Florida, and follow vegetation to the White Hills; they pass us in Medford during April and May, resting with us a few days “to take a bite,” and to give us a song. The [24] close observer might publish regular ornithological bulletins of their successive arrivals. Of those that rest with us, the first comer in the spring is the bluebird, whose winter home is in Mexico and Brazil, and whose first song here is a soft, exhilarating, oft-repeated warble, uttered with open, quivering wings, and with such a jubilant heart as to thrill us with delight. Then comes the friendly and social robin. The old ones have not gone far south in winter. Some of them remain here through that dreary season, with the woodpecker; but the young ones migrate in autumn, sometimes as far as Texas. The spring-birds, the warblers, the buntings, finches, sparrows, thrushes, come in quick succession to rear their young. Snipes, quails, partridges, and woodcocks, come a little later. Sandpipers, plovers, teals, and ducks arrive among the latest. Medford Pond was a common resort for several kinds of wild ducks. About seventy-five years ago, a gunner killed thirteen teal at one shot. There are a few birds that awaken a deep curiosity, and confer constant delight through their long sojourn. The barn swallow, that comes from the Gulf of Mexico to spend his summer with us, is always greeted with a joyous welcome about the 10th of May. The rice-bird of Carolina, called the reed-bird in Pennsylvania, and the butter-bird in Cuba, is called here the bob-o-lincoln; and it amuses us greatly. The male, when he arrives, is dressed up as showily as a field-officer on parade-day, and seems to be quite as happy. Fuddled with animal spirits, he appears not to know what to do, and flies and sings as if he needed two tongues to utter all his joy. We might speak of the little wren, that creeps into any hole under our eaves, and there rears its numerous family; the humming-bird, that builds so skilfully in our gardens that we never find its nest; the yellow-bird, that makes the air resound with its love-notes; the thrush, that seems made to give the highest concert-pitch in the melody of the woods. To these we might add the night-hawk and the whip-poor-will, and many more that spend their summer with us; but these are enough to show that the dwellers in Medford are favored each season with the sight and songs of a rich variety of birds. We find the following record made March 8, 1631: “Flocks of wild pigeons this day so thick that they obscure the light.”

Another record shows that our fathers preserved the game by laws. “Sept. 3, 1634: There is leave granted (by the [25] General Court) to Mr. John Winthrop, jun., to employ his Indian to shoot at fowl” (probably in Mystic River).

The fish most common in our waters are the shad, alewives, smelt, bass, perch, bream, eel, sucker, tom-cod, pickerel, and shiner. We do not now think of any species of fish which frequent either our salt or fresh waters which is unfit for food.

Of insects we have our share, and could well do with fewer. If all persons would agree to let the birds live, we should have less complaint about destructive insects. The cedar or cherry-bird is appointed to keep down, the cankerworm; and, where this useful bird is allowed to live unmolested, those terrible scourges are kept in due subjection. The borer, which enters the roots of apple, peach, quince, and other trees, and eats his way up in the albunum, is a destroyer of the first rank among us. Of late years, almost every different tree, plant, and shrub, appears to have its patron insect that devours its blossoms or its fruit. They are so numerous and destructive that many persons do not plant vines. Fifty or a hundred miles back in the country, these insects are comparatively scarce. The voracious bugs most complained of here are the squash, yellow, potato, cabbage, apple, peach, pear, and rose. The two elements of fire and water, all sorts of decoctions, powders, gasses, and fumigations, have been resorted to for the extermination of the above-named bugs, yet all with slight effects. Our next neighbor, forty years ago, raised the most and best melons and squashes of the county, by placing a toad, in a small house, next to each hill of plants. Every morning these hungry hunters would hop forth to their duty; and their missile tongues, glued at the end, were sure to entrap every insect. Caterpillars and canker-worms have destroyed orchards, as grasshoppers have fields; and the way to prevent their ravages is only partially understood.

Assured that every insect has its place for good assigned by the wise Creator, we have only to labor for that true science which shall reveal all uses, and thus prevent abuses.

If we could comprehend all the localities of the globe, with all their varieties, we should then see all animals in their places, and should thus get a glimpse of the great system of correspondencies.

The keeping and increase of honey-bees was a favorite idea with our Medford ancestors; and a pound of honey bore, for [26] nearly two centuries, the same price as a pound of butter. As early as 1640, bees were kept here; and their gathered sweets were among the very choicest delicacies on our ancestral tables. The modes now adopted for taking a portion of honey from every hive, and yet leaving enough to feed the insect family through the winter, was not known by our forefathers. Their mode of securing the honey of their bees was the topmost of cruelty and ingratitude. When autumn flowers ceased to yield any sweets, the owner of bees resolved to devote one hive to destruction; and his method was as follows:--He dug a hole in the ground, near his apiary, six inches square and three deep; and into this hole he put brimstone enough to kill all the bees in any hive. When night had come, and the innocent family were soundly sleeping, the owner sets fire to the brimstone, and then immediately places the hive over the suffocating fumes, and there leaves it till morning, when it is found that not even an elect one is delivered from the hell beneath! We wonder if our fathers ever thought of the text, “A merciful man is merciful to his beast.” If bees have souls, some of their executioners may hereafter find themselves surrounded by swarms of tormentors, and then learn the meaning of another text, “Mine enemies compasseth me about like bees.” It is customary now to sow the white clover and mignonette for the bees, as these plants furnish the richest food.

We have given these broken notices of the natural history of Medford in popular language, and without full scientific arrangement, deeming any further catalogue unnecessary.

We may here express the hope, that the parents and teachers of coming generations may be wise enough to show their children and pupils the harmonies of nature; those analogies and relationships of things which can be seen only by looking from the divine angle. When the human mind can thus “look through nature up to nature's God,” it can then comprehend the beauty, power, and sacredness of the Creator's approval, “And God saw every thing that he had made; and, behold, it was very good.” Would that anything we could say might induce the inquisitive minds of future days to open the Bible of nature, and read passage after passage for the illumination of the mind and the peace of the heart! Nothing learned here need be unlearned hereafter. The proper study of natural history will give force to vital Christian faith. This study indicates a safe road from the natural [27] to the spiritual world. The naturalist fixes on facts evolving the order of causes and the harmonies of the universe. He would see truth's polarity in the smallest feather as in the rolling planet. He would thus follow the great and ever-expanding order of creation inwards to the point where mechanics and geometry are realized in the all-embracing laws of Wisdom and Providence; and where, at last, the human mind itself recognizes the very source of life in its humiliation before the throne of God.

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