The beginnings of Cambridge.

John Fiske, Litt. D., Ll. D.
When, in 1630, the Company of Massachusetts Bay transferred itself from London to Massachusetts, bringing its governor, John Winthrop, and its charter, the movement was so popular in England that more than a thousand persons came over in the course of that year; and before ten years had elapsed, more than twenty thousand had come to stay. The first settlements of the Winthrop party were scattered about the coast near Charles River, making the beginnings of Charlestown, Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Watertown. Among these places Boston was clearly marked for preeminence by its geographical position, but it was not at first the intention of the Company to make it the seat of government. A position somewhat further inland would be more easily defensible against the enemy from whom most was to be feared,—not the Indians, but the war-ships of King Charles. The transfer of the charter, which practically metamorphosed a powerful trading company into a semi-independent republic, was not likely to be regarded with favor by the Crown. In point of fact, we know that by 1635 Charles was intending to suppress the Company. He would very likely have carried out his intention, if affairs in Scotland had not suddenly absorbed his energies. After the tumult at St. Giles's church in Edinburgh in 1637, when the old woman threw her camp-stool at the bishop's head, the charter of Massachusetts was safe for many a year to come; but before that time the settlers had much reason for regarding it as in danger.

The situation of Watertown was a little too far inland for convenience, but a position on Charles River somewhat lower than Watertown would be far less accessible to war-ships— either English or foreign—than the peninsulas of Boston and Charlestown, while by palisades to the north and west it might [2] be made to serve as a frontier defense against the red men. ‘Wherefore,’ says Edward Johnson, ‘they rather made choice to enter further among the Indians than hazard the fury of malignant adversaries who in a rage might pursue them, and therefore chose a place situate on Charles River, between Charles Towne and Water Towne, where they erected a town called New Towne, now named Cambridge, being in form like a list cut off from the broadcloth of the two fore-named towns, where this wandering race of Jacobites gathered the eighth church of Christ.’ The desirable spot, which we now know as Old Cambridge, was selected on the 28th of December, 1630. It was agreed that the governor, deputy-governor, and all the assistants (except Endicott, already settled at Salem, and one other who was about to return to England) should build their houses there during the following year, and that all the ordnance and munition should be moved thither. This agreement was not carried out, save by Thomas Dudley, the deputygov-ernor, who built his house in 1631, on the site which is now the northwest corner of South and Dunster streets, and his son-in-law, Simon Bradstreet, who built upon the Boylston Street corner of Harvard Square. Upon that familiar site may very likely have begun the literary activity of New England, with some of those ponderous verses of Mrs. Bradstreet's, concerning which Rev. John Norton once said that if Virgil could only have seen them he would have thrown his own heathen doggerel into the fire! Winthrop and the other members of the council never came to dwell in the New Town, and the intention of making it the seat of government was gradually abandoned. The General Court was assembled first at Charlestown in the summer of 1630; then at Boston until May, 1634; then at the New Town until May, 1636; then at Boston, and back again at the New Town from April, 1637, till September, 1638; and always thereafter at Boston, until the stormy days that ushered in the Revolution.

The original New Town—or what we might perhaps call ‘Oldest Cambridge’—was comprised between Harvard Square and the river, from Holyoke Street on the east to Brattle Square on the west. By 1635, the streets now called Mount Auburn, Winthrop, South, Holyoke, Dunster, and Boylston had come into existence within these limits. The northern frontier street, upon the site of Harvard Street and Harvard [3] Square, was called Braintree Street. A road upon the site of the lower end of Brattle Street with Brattle Square was known as Creek Lane, and it was continued in a southeasterly sweep into Boylston Street by Marsh Lane, afterwards called Eliot Street. On the north side of Braintree Street, opposite Dunster, and thence eastward about as far as opposite the site of Linden, stood a row of six houses, and at their back was the ancient forest. Through this forest ran the trail or path from Charlestown to Watertown, nearly coinciding with the crooked line Kirkland-Mason-Brattle-Elmwood-Mount Auburn; this was the first highway from the seaboard into the inland country. The palisaded wall, with its ditch, for defense against Indians and wolves, started at Windmill Hill, by the present site of Ash Street, and ran along the northern side of the present Common into what is now Jarvis Field, and perhaps beyond.

A writer in 1633 mentions the New Town as ‘too far from the sea, being the greatest inconvenience it hath.’ He describes it as ‘one of the neatest and best compacted towns in New England, having many fair structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants, most of them, are very rich, and well stored with cattle of all sorts, having many hundred acres of land paled in with general fence, . . . which secures all their weaker cattle from the wild beasts.’1

The common grazing-land covered the site of the present Common, and extended beyond the palisade as far as Linnaean Street. It was at the outset directed that houses should be built within the ‘Town’ until it should be properly filled, before going beyond. By 1635, there were sixty-four house-lots within the Town, of which about fifty had homesteads built upon them. The region next occupied by dwellings was the ‘West End,’ extending between Garden Street and the river, as far west as Sparks Street. To provide against the building of cheap and frail structures, it was agreed in 1633 that all houses should be covered with slate or shingles, not with thatch. Before the end of 1635, there were at least eighty-five houses in the New Town.

Eastward from Holyoke (then called Crooked) Street ran Back Lane, while Braintree Street, deflecting southeastward, took the name of Field Lane. These two lanes, meeting near the present junction of Bow and Arrow streets, formed the [4] ‘highway into the Neck,’ running eastward as far as the site of Washington Square. Under the somewhat vague phrase, ‘The Neck,’ was comprised the territory now covered by Cambridgeport and East Cambridge. It was divided into arable lots, and parceled among the inhabitants in severalty. The western part was cut up into small portions of from one to three acres, but to the eastward of the site of Hancock Street it was granted in large farms of from twenty to sixty acres. This region of the Neck was marked off and protected by a paling which ran—to use modern names—from Holyoke Place to Gore Hall, and thence to the line between Cambridge and Somerville at Line Street near Cambridge Street.

Thus we find in the beginnings of Cambridge clear traces of the ancient English method of forming a town, with its threefold partition into town mark, arable mark, and common. At a later time a second arable portion was inclosed between Garden Street and Vassall Lane, westward from Wyeth Street to Fresh Pond meadows; this was known as the ‘West Field.’ And there was yet another, a little to the north of the Palfrey estate on Oxford Street, and known as ‘Pine Swamp Field.’ Extensive marshes stretched along the bank of the river from the vicinity of Mount Auburn to East Cambridge. Along the west side of Brattle Square ran a small creek, which curved southwestward through marshes, inclosing Eliot and South streets, and emptying into Charles River near the site of College Wharf. This creek, deepened and widened into a canal, furnished access to the Town from the river, and at its mouth was a ferry, established in 1635, connecting with a road on the south bank through Brookline to Boston Neck. The only other communication with Boston was through Charlestown and by ferry to Copp's Hill. The inconvenience of depending solely upon ferries was soon felt, and by 1662 the Great Bridge was built, connected by a causeway with what we call Boylston Street, and leading across to what we call Allston. There was no other bridge until the one from East Cambridge to Charlestown was finished in 1786, soon to be followed by West Boston Bridge in 1793, which wrought a great change in the facing of Cambridge toward Boston. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the true river front of Cambridge was at the Great Bridge. The filling in of Back Bay, the westward expansion of Boston, and the completion of Harvard Bridge in 1890, have been steps toward restoring the ancient frontage. [5]

The first Meeting-House stood on the southwest corner of Dunster and Mount Auburn streets. It was soon found too small and flimsy, and in 1650 a better one was built at the southwest corner of the College Yard, nearly on the site of Dane Hall. From 1650 to 1833 that spot was occupied by the Meeting-House of the First Parish. The space between the sites of Church and Garden streets was inclosed as a graveyard or God's Acre in 1636. Of next importance to the church, in a New England town, was the Town-House. In early times the Meeting-House was commonly used for civil as well as ecclesiastical purposes, and there the town-meetings were held. In Cambridge a Court-House, built in 1708, was used also as a Town-House; it stood in the middle of Harvard Square, near the waiting-place of the Broadway and East Cambridge cars.

Winthrop Square was an open market-place, and on its west side after 1660 stood the jail. The place of execution, or ‘Gallows Lot,’ was at the extreme end of the Common, on the northwest corner of Linnaean Street and North Avenue. There in 1755 an old negro woman named Phillis was burned alive for murdering her master, Captain Codman, of Charlestown.

In bringing together the various topographical features of Old Cambridge in its early days, the strict sequence of chronology has been to some extent disregarded. We may now return to the year 1632, when the Court of Assistants imposed a tax of sixty pounds sterling upon ‘the several plantations within the lymitts of this pattent towards the makeing of a pallysadoe aboute the Newe Towne.’ Here the men of Watertown protested, and refused to pay their share of the tax because they were not represented in the body which imposed it. The ensuing discussion resulted in the establishment of a House of Deputies, in which every town was represented. thenceforth the Council of Assistants in conjunction with the House of Deputies formed the General Court of Massachusetts Bay. Thus the building of a wooden palisade from Ash Street to Jarvis Field furnished the occasion for the first great assertion of the principles of constitutional law and free government in New England. Two years before the issue of that illegal writ of ship money, which it is John Hampden's glory to have resisted, did these ‘village Hampdens’ of Watertown utter their memorable protest.

In the summer of 1632, a congregation from Braintree in [6] Essex came over to Massachusetts and began to settle near Mount Wollaston, where they left the name of Braintree on the map; but in August they removed to the New Town, where Braintree Street took its name from them. Their pastor, the eminent Thomas Hooker, who had been obliged to flee to Holland, arrived in the course of the next year. This accession raised the population of the New Town to something like 500 persons. But the new-comers were not satisfied with things as they found them, and by 1634 we begin to hear them talk about going elsewhere. Some bold explorers had penetrated far west, even to the Connecticut valley, and brought back glowing accounts of its fertility and beauty. Hooker's people declared that there was not room enough in the New Town for their cattle, and they wished to go and take possession of the Connecticut valley and keep out the Dutch, who had set up a claim to it. Besides these specific reasons they alleged in general ‘the strong bent of their spirits to remove thither.’

In this scheme of removal there is no doubt that ‘more was meant than meets the ear.’ It has been surmised that it was rather the pastor than the cattle that was cramped for room, for one small colony could hardly be expected to hold two such potent and masterful spirits as Thomas Hooker and John Cotton. But the root of the trouble was evidently something deeper and more important than personal jealousy. The colony in Massachusetts Bay had adopted the policy of restricting the suffrage to members of the Congregational church. This policy was primarily intended to keep out Episcopalians and other ‘malignants.’ The subsequent conduct of Hooker's people shows that they disapproved of it. No other ground of difference between them and their neighbors was nearly so important as this, but both Hooker and Governor Winthrop were great men, and too discreet to indulge in a controversy that would breed schism and bitterness. Some objections were raised to ‘removing a candlestick,’ but the candlestick would not stay. In the course of the year 1635 began the exodus from the Charles River to the Connecticut. In June, 1636, Mr. Hooker went with most of his congregation and founded Hartford, while the congregations of Dorchester and Watertown founded Windsor and Wethersfield. The exodus from the New Town was so great that of the families dwelling there in January, 1635, not more than eleven are known to have remained until the end of 1636. [7]

But the places of those who departed were filled without delay. In the autumn of 1635, Rev. Thomas Shepard arrived from England with his congregation, and forthwith the meeting-house and the dwellings of the old company were occupied by the new. The next year saw the little colony convulsed by the religious teachings of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, who dwelt, with her large family, on the site of the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston. This brilliant woman won over, at least partly, to her views, John Cotton, the teacher of the Boston church, and Harry Vane, the youthful governor; while John Wilson, the pastor, and ex-Governor Winthrop were opposed to her. Over theological questions of ‘grace’ and ‘works’ civil dudgeon grew high, and when the freemen were assembled on the New Town Common, in the apple-blossom season of 1637, to elect their magistrates for the ensuing year, there was some fear of a tumult, until Mr. Wilson climbed into a gnarled and ancient oak-tree and made a sensible speech to the people. Winthrop was elected governor, and the Hutchinsonians were thoroughly defeated. In August, a synod, assembled in the meeting-house, condemned eighty-two opinions as blasphemous, erroneous, or unsafe. In November, the General Court summoned Mrs. Hutchinson to the New Town, and sentenced her to banishment from Massachusetts, with many of her friends and kinsfolk. In view of these proceedings, Shepard seems to have dreaded the displeasure of Vane, who had returned to England; for a moment he was inclined to follow in the footsteps of Hooker, whose daughter he had lately married, and lead his congregation to the beautiful hillside of Mattabeseck, on the Connecticut River below Wethersfield. But it was left for other settlers a few years later to occupy that spot and call it Middletown. Shepard remained in the New Town, and his presence there is believed to have shaped its destinies. For his ‘vigilancy’ against heresies had been well proved in the Hutchinson controversy, and Cotton Mather tells us that ‘it was with a respect unto this vigilancy, and the enlightening and powerful ministry of Mr. Shepard, that, when the foundation of a college was to be laid, Cambridge rather than any other place was pitched upon to be the seat of that happy seminary: out of which there proceeded many notable preachers, who were made such by their sitting under Mr. Shepard's ministry.’2 [8]

The founding of Harvard College was, of course, the cardinal event in the history of Cambridge. In October, 1636, the General Court agreed to give £ 400 toward the founding of a college; in November, 1637, it was ordered that the college should be placed in the New Town. ‘And as wee were thinking and consulting how to effect this great work, it pleased God to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard (a godly gentleman, and a lover of learning, there living amongst us) to give the one halfe of his estate (it being in all about £ 1700) towards the erecting of a Colledge, and all his Library; after him another gave £ 300, others after them cast in more, and the publique hand of the state added the rest.’3

Most of the clergymen who came to New England were graduates of Cambridge, and as soon as the New Town was designated as the seat of the college, people seem to have begun calling it Cambridge. In May, 1638, this change of name was sanctioned by the General Court, and in March, 1639, the name of Harvard was given to the college. For the college yard was taken the land between the Charlestown highway (Kirkland Street) and Braintree Street, the name of which was changed to Harvard Street. A fence and gate between the college yard and the graveyard, near the site of the present flagstaff, served to keep out of the village the cattle that grazed on the Common. Across Harvard Street (near Linden) was the east gate of the town; and where the palisade crossed the Watertown highway (Brattle Street) at Ash Street was the west gate.

In 1639, the first printing-press in America north of the city of Mexico was set up by Stephen Daye, at the west corner of Dunster Street and Harvard Square. Among its earliest productions were Peirce's New England Almanack, and the Bay Psalm Book, and there was afterward printed that monument of labor, Eliot's Indian Bible.

The complaints of insufficient land led to extensive grants of territory, until from 1644 to 1655 Cambridge attained enormous dimensions, including the whole areas of Brighton and Newton on the south side of the river, and on the other hand in a northwesterly direction the whole or large parts of Arlington, Lexington, Bedford, and Billerica. In 1655, this vast area was first curtailed by cutting off the parts beyond Lexington. Then in 1688, Newton, which had been known as Cambridge Village [9] and sometimes as New Cambridge, became an independent township under name of Newtown. The Lexington area was known as ‘Cambridge Farms,’ but the founding of a church there in 1696 was the preliminary to separation, and in 1713 Cambridge Farms became a distinct town by the name of Lexington.

In 1754, the boundary between Cambridge and Watertown was carried westward about half a mile from its former position at or near Sparks Street, thus adding to Cambridge some of its most valuable area for dwellings. Between 1802 and 1820, other desirable acquisitions, including the Norton estate, were acquired from that part of Charlestown which is now Somerville.

After 1732, Menotomy was the Second Parish of Cambridge, until 1807, when it was incorporated a distinct town under the clumsy title of West Cambridge, for which the name Arlington was substituted in 1867.

After 1779, the territory remaining on the south side of Charles River was known as the Third Parish, or Little Cambridge, until 1807, when it became a separate town under the name of Brighton. In 1873, Brighton was annexed to Boston.

It was in the natural course of things that these outlying districts should with increase of population become organized at first into independent parishes and afterward into separate towns. In 1650, they were little else but wilderness. The palisades were needed to protect Cambridge from wild beasts much more than from any human foes. On February 13, 1665, we find the constables ordered ‘to allow Justinian Holden ten shillings towards a wolf, killed partly in Watertowne and partly in this.’ It would be interesting to know on just what principle the locality of that brute's death was divided. In 1690, the town treasurer allows £ 1 per wolf for 52 wolves killed by Englishmen, but an Indian for the same service gets only half price. In 1696, the reward for killing 76 wolves was 13s. 4d. per head. Bears also roamed in the woods, and persons were sometimes killed by them, but the appearance of a bear in 1754 in what is now East Cambridge was remarked upon as extraordinary.

The nearest Indian tribe dwelt to the west of Mystic Pond, and was governed by a squaw sachem. The land occupied by Cambridge was bought of this tribe, apparently for £ 10 beside [10] an annual present of a coat to the squaw sachem during her lifetime. The relations between white men and red men were friendly. In 1644, these Mystic Indians voluntarily put themselves under the protection and jurisdiction of the English government at Boston. Eliot's first sermon to the Indians was preached in 1646 at Nonantum, south of Charles River, and at that time within the limits of Cambridge. More than 1000 Indians in the country between Boston and Worcester came to profess Christianity, and it was hoped that Harvard College could be used effectively in civilizing them. But Harvard had only one Indian graduate, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, who received his degree in 1665 and died the next year. In the terrible crisis of King Philip's War some of the ‘praying Indians’ found the ties of blood stronger than those of religion, and a fierce popular distrust was aroused against them. In the early spring of 1676, there was a feeling of alarm in Cambridge lest the town should be attacked, and timber was gathered for strengthening the fortifications, which had suffered from neglect; but the panic soon subsided, and after that year such dangers were removed to an ever receding frontier.

The settlers of New England dreaded heresy far more than they dreaded Indians, and in 1646 a synod of delegates from the colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven was assembled at Cambridge, in order to define their creed and agree upon a system of church government. The work of the synod was finished in 1648. The Westminster Assembly's creed was adopted, as also a ‘platform of church discipline,’ known as the Cambridge Platform, upon which all the Congregational churches of New England were able to stand for the next four generations.

While the synod was in session the first permanent schoolhouse was built, on the west side of Holyoke Street, where it stood until 1769; for nearly another century its site was occupied by the printing-press long since famous as the University Press. The parsonage was built in 1670, on the north side of Harvard Street, with a glebe of about four acres attached to it. In 1680, the number of ratable polls was returned as 169, which indicates a population of about 850 souls in Cambridge. Their annual allowance for the parson was about £ 51 in cash and £ 78 in provisions, besides 20 loads of firewood and the use of house and land. The schoolmaster was paid about £ 20 a year. [11]

In thus mentioning schoolhouse and parsonage, one nearly completes the outline picture of the little seventeenth-century town. But one other building, of high consideration and importance, calls for mention, to wit, the village ale-house. Our Puritan forefathers did not frown upon such good cheer as was there provided, but they took care that it should be dispensed by discreet and responsible persons. An innkeeper in those days must be a man of approved character, and the position was most respectable. We find that in 1652 ‘the townsmen do grant liberty to Andrew Belcher to sell beer and bread, for entertainment of strangers and the good of the town.’ The wife of this Andrew Belcher was sister of Thomas Danforth, the deputy-governor; their son, who also became mine host, was a member of the Council, and their grandson was Jonathan Belcher, royal governor of Massachusetts and of New Jersey. In 1671, at the northeast corner of Mount Auburn and Boylston streets, the first Belcher opened the famous Blue Anchor Tavern, which remained on that spot until 1737, when its sign was transferred to a more commodious house on the west side of Boylston Street, nearly opposite the recent site of the post-office. In a parlor of the Blue Anchor, the selectmen of Cambridge used to hold their meetings, in which the carking cares of public business were pleasantly assuaged with cool punch in the summer months and fragrant flip in winter.

The site of the worthy Belcher's first ordinary, before the Blue Anchor days, seems not to be known; and the more is the pity, for there we may be pretty sure that the regicide judges, William Goffe and his father-in-law Whalley, must at some time have found entertainment. From their arrival on the 27th of July, 1660, these men lived in Cambridge, without any attempt at concealment, until the 26th of the following February, when they deemed it prudent to retire to New Haven.

The regicides, like other visitors to Cambridge in those days, are likely to have been impressed with its tidy and comfortable appearance. In the tavern talk to which they listened, they may have heard that witchcraft, that torment of the Old World, had come to plague the New. For over in Charlestown a few years ago Margaret Jones had cured sick people without resort to bleeding or emetics, and when she was hanged for these diabolical practices, at the moment her soul quit the body there [12] was a gale in Connecticut that blew down trees. Then there was a Cambridge woman by the name of Kendall, who picked up the child of Goodman Jennison, of Watertown, and kissed and fondled it, and a few hours afterward the child grew pale and died; wherefore, as was natural, the witch Kendall was hanged on Gallows Lot.

Another topic for the Puritan ale-house would be the ‘damnable heresy’ for which Mr. Henry Dunster, President of Harvard College, was censured by the magistrates and dismissed from office in 1655. This shameless Dunster had publicly denounced the practice of infant baptism as unscriptural. In spite of august synods, in spite of the ‘vigilancy’ of Mr. Shepard and other learned parsons, it was impossible to keel the serpent of heresy out of this New World Eden. Had not those froward Quakers persisted in leaving Rhode Island, where they were hospitably treated, and coming to Boston, where they were not wanted? There was Mary Dyer, who had lately been hanged on Boston Common because she would not go away when told to; and then came Elizabeth Horton to disturb the peace of Cambridge by crying through the streets that the Lord was coming with fire and sword to judge his people, nor would she desist till she was flogged out of town at the cart's tail. Still worse: there was Benanuel Bowers, gentleman and land-owner (up north, near the Charlestown line), whom no threats could restrain from declaring himself a Baptist, and who for giving a glass of milk to starving Elizabeth Horton was fined £ 5. This bold Benanuel himself turned Quaker, and was for twenty years a thorn in the orthodox flesh of our little town. Over and over again he was fined 20s. for staying away from church, and now and then for entertaining Quakers at his house, £ 4 and costs. In 1677, for refusing to pay his fine, he was thrown into jail and kept there for more than a year. He solaced himself by writing verses, of which the following are a specimen, and sending them by his wife to Thomas Danforth, one of the magistrates:--

It is nigh hard this fifteene years since first oure war begun
And yet the feild I have not lost nor thou the conquest wunn
Against thy power I have ingaged which of us twoo shall conquer
I am resolvd if God assist to put it to the venter
Both my person and estate for truth Isle sacrafise
And all I have Ile leave at stake Ile venter winn or loose, etc.

[13] For these audacious sentiments Mr. Bowers was sentenced to pay £ 5, or take twenty stripes. A few weeks later, in the church one Sunday morning just after the benediction, we see him jumping up on the pew seat and haranguing the people with his tale of wrongs, despite the minister's angry protests, until presently the constables come in and drag the irrepressible Benanuel out of the sacred edifice. Such scenes were witnessed in Harvard Square two centuries ago. May all of us who hate oppression, and love independence of spirit, do honor to the memory of sturdy Benanuel Bowers.

In that same meeting-house in 1745 did George Whitefield's admirers wish to have him invited to preach, but the minister, Mr. Appleton, would in no wise give consent; so Whitefield spoke in the open air to a crowd that covered the Common. This preaching marked the downfall of the era of Puritan theocracy; and nothing more was needed to emphasize and accentuate that downfall than the introduction of the Church of England into Cambridge. Our story of the Beginnings of Cambridge may fitly close with the founding of Christ Church, hard by God's Acre, in 1759. A century after its founding there was hung in its belfry a chime of bells, and for many a year to come may their cheerful music

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

1 Wood's New England's Prospect, p. 45.

2 Mather's Magnalia, III. v. 12.

3 New England's First Fruits, p. 12.

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