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Chapter 10: civil History.

  • Petition of the “Farmers” for incorporation.
  • -- reply of Cambridge Selectmen. -- Parochial privileges granted. -- harmony not interrupted. -- incorporation of Lexington. -- Culler of Bricks. -- County Treasurers. -- bounty for killing wolves. -- salary of Treasurers and Jurors. -- Marshal General. -- road to Connecticut. -- Governor Shute's visit to Cambridge. -- double voting. -- small-pox. -- strangers not to be admitted. -- Dogs. -- gratuity to a proposed physician refused. -- Col. John Vassall's honors and disappointments. -- Throat distemper. -- Representatives to the General Court required to serve gratuitously. -- part of Watertown annexed to Cambridge. -- bear shot. -- fire-engine. -- bills of mortality. -- funeral customs
    It has already been stated, that the General Court, March 3, 1635-6, “Agreed, that Newe Towne bounds should run eight myles into the country from their meeteing howse,” and that large farms, near theeight mile line were soon afterwards granted by the town; among which grants was one to Richard Harlakenden of “six hundred acres of upland and meadow, at the place called Vine Brook, in the midway between Newtowne and Concord,” on certain conditions, Jan. 2, 1636-7. This tract of land was in the central portion of the present town of Lexington. The conditions of the grant not being performed by Richard Harlakenden, the land was subsequently granted to his brother, Roger Harlakenden, who died in 1638. Herbert Pelham married the widow of Harlakenden, and became the owner of his real estate; he bequeathed this property to his son Edward Pelham, who conveyed by deeds, Oct. 28, 1693, to Benjamin Muzzey 206 acres in Cambridge, towards Concord, being a part of “Mr. Pelham's farm,” and to John Poulter 212 acres of the same farm. Precisely when the first houses were erected and actual settlements commenced at the “Farms,” so called, does not appear on record; but as early as 1682, about thirty families were there, generally styled “Farmers.” They had then become so numerous and so strong, that they desired a separation from the parent town; but they petitioned at first to be made a distinct parish. Although they were unsuccessful for nine years, and did not fully accomplish their purpose for more than thirty years, their petition and the reply to it are inserted, as they indicate the condition of the people at that period.

    To the honorable the General Court now assembled in Boston,
    October 11th, 1682.
    The petition of several of the inhabitants within the bounds of the town of Cambridge humbly showeth: That by the providence of God, who hath determined the times before appointed [120] and the bounds of the habitations of all men, your petitioners are seated at a great distance, the nearest of them above five miles (some of them six, some seven, some eight, some nine if not ten miles) from the public place of meeting to worship God, in the town that we appertain unto: that your petitioners, by reason thereof, have now (many of us) for a long time conflicted with very great difficulties in respect of themselves, who have been forced to be absent at some seasons of the year, and especially their children, for whose spiritual good and the means leading thereunto they desire to be solicitous as well as for themselves that there are now about thirty families, in which are contained at least one hundred and eighty souls, within the circumstances and condition abovementioned: that your petitioners have humbly and affectionately represented the premises to the Townsmen at Cambridge, at their meetings, withal signifying their desire of liberty from them to call a minister to preach amongst them and catechise their children, they being willing to build a meetinghouse which may be situated so as to be within two miles and an half near thirty families, and to advance for the present forty pounds per annum for his maintenance: that the premises notwithstanding, they have as yet obtained no relief or encouragement from the town of Cambridge in this affair. Your petitioners, therefore, who are the heads of families, fearing the sad effects of this remoteness from the public worship of God and particularly in respect of their children and those that shall come after them, lest they should grow weary of attendance upon the public means of grace, and think it too much (as Jeroboam tells Israel it was to go up to Jerusalem) to travel so many miles for such an end, and so should cease to worship the Lord God of their fathers, think it their bounden duty humbly to address to this honored Court, praying that you will please to take the case of your petitioners into your serious consideration, that by your favor they may be licensed to provide for themselves a person that may be meet and able to dispense unto them the word of God; and that in order thereunto they may be freed from payments to the town of Cambridge, from whom, as their dear and beloved brethren, they no ways desire separation for any other but the forementioned cause alone; declaring it to have been their standing affliction and cause of grief that, by reason of their remoteness, they have not been in a capacity, according to their desires, to enjoy more fellowship and communion with them. And your petitioners shall pray, as in duty bound, &c. James Cutler, Matthew Bridge Senr., David Fiske Senr., Samuel Stone, Senr., [121] Francis Whitmore, John Tedd, Ephraim Winshipe, John Winter, in the behalf of the rest of the families.1

    The petitioners presented a strong case. To travel so far, every week, for the purpose of attending public worship would now be regarded as a grievous burden: and the burden was greater two hundred years ago, when travelling was almost exclusively accomplished on horseback or on foot. But the petition was presented in a time of general distress and alarm. The Charter, regarded as the palladium of liberty, was in imminent peril, and there were fearful apprehensions of calamities which might result from its loss. Financial embarrassment was already felt, and general bankruptcy was feared. Under such circumstances, the town opposed the petition of the “Farmers” and action thereupon was “respited” until the next General Court, at which time the town presented an earnest remonstrance against the proposed dismemberment:—

    To the honorable the General Court assembled in Boston, October the 16th, 1683.

    Your humble supplicants, the selectmen of Cambridge, in obedience to a warrant sent to us, and the concerns of our town, do humbly present unto your Honors' consideration, in answer to a petition of the remote farms of our town. Some of your Honors may yet remember the unsettled condition of this church when it was about to remove to Mattabesick,2 for the prevention of which the honored General Court, held at Boston, in March 1643-4, was pleased to grant to this Church a tract of land at Shawshine, and another parcel adjoining to Concord line, for the enlargement of our boundaries, and to enable this church and towne (with the rest of our accommodations) to maintain the ministry in this place, provided the then Church and Elders did continue in this place; which condition was accordingly performed, though this Church and town (as may be demonstrated) was abler to maintain the ministry and defray public charges then than it now is, by reason most of our principal men are now removed from us, some by death and others into England and other countries. We also humbly present unto your Honors' consideration the great disenablement of our church and town by the village on the south side of the River breaking off from us,3 which was so considerable a part of our town, and bare a considerable part of our charge in the maintenance of our ministry, [122] and now bears none of that nor several other charges our town is at; whereby we are greatly disenabled so comfortably to maintain our ministry and discharge our public charges as we want and ought to do, by reason one principal arm of our town is cut off, and our accommodations for husbandry so poor and small, and our trade so little and inconsiderable, that it is even a wonder to ourselves how we do subsist and carry on public charge so well as we do, though we do it not so well as we should. We therefore present unto this honorable General Court's most serious consideration the great damage it will be to this poor Church and town, (that have suffered so many diminutions already), if the honored Court should grant our Farmers' petition to let them have a ministry of their own, and so be wholly taken off from contributing to ours; but much more should we be damnified if the honored Court should grant any part of our outlands unto them, we are so exceedingly straitened in the boundaries of our lands, as we shall plainly demonstrate to the honored Court. For the distance of place that our brethren at the Farms are from the public meeting with us, it is but the same it was when they first settled themselves and families there; and they have there other conveniences with it, and Concord is not far from them, which in bad weather they may go unto. If we should have this arm cut off too, we shall be much disenabled to carry on God's work amongst us, both in Church and Commonwealth; that as it hath been the care of the honored fathers of our Commonwealth formerly to take care for the subsistence and well being of this senior Church of Christ in Cambridge, so we still crave the continued care of the honored fathers of the Commonwealth now in being, that they would not destroy the parent for the offspring. We humbly leave our languishing condition to your Honors' most serious consideration; and your supplicants shall pray as in duty bound, etc. William Manning, Samll. Andrewe, Samuel Chamne, in the name of the town of Cambridge.4

    The consideration of this petition was further postponed until the next General Court. Both the Council and the House of Representatives manifested a willingness, at their session in October, 1684, to establish a village at the Farms; but they could not agree where the division line should be drawn between the village and the parent town, and nothing was accomplished.5 [123] During the troublous times which succeeded,—the disastrous administration of Andros and the perilous Revolution which followed,—no further effort appears to have been made for a division of the town. Seven years afterwards, a new petition was presented; it is not found on the files of the Court, but the result is recorded under date of December 15, 1691:—

    Upon reading the petition of the Farmers and inhabitants of the Farms within the precincts and bounds of the town of Cambridge towards Concord, therein setting forth their distance (the nearest of them living above five miles) from Cambridge meeting house, the place of the public worship, praying that, according to former applications by them several years since made unto this Court for the advantage of themselves, families, and posterity, they may have this Court's favor and license in order to the calling of a fit minister for dispensing the gospel among them; as also that they may be a distinct village for the ends proposed in their said petition:—the selectmen of Cambridge having had a copy of said petition sent them, with a notification of the time for their being heard thereupon this day, and accordingly attending:—After a full hearing and consideration of what was offered by both parties, it is granted and ordered by this Court, that the petitioners be and are hereby permitted and allowed to invite and settle an able and orthodox minister for the dispensing of the gospel among them; and that all inhabitants being within the line formerly stated by a Committee of this Court, anno 1684, beginning at the first run of water or swampy place over which is a kind of bridge in the way on the southerly side of Francis Whitmore's house, towards the town of Cambridge aforesaid, cross the neck of land lying between Woburn line and that of Watertown side, upon a southwest and northeast course, do pay unto the ministers maintained there; and are hereby empowered annually to choose three or five meet persons to assess their inhabitants for the support and maintenance of their minister, as also a Constable or Collector, to gather the same by warrant from the said Assessors. The said Farmers not being hereby discharged from paying their proportion as formerly unto all public charges in the town, except what refers to the ministry, so long as they maintain an able minister among themselves.6

    In the remonstrance against this division, in 1683, it was represented that the town would be grievously “damnified” if the [124] “outlands,” or common lands not yet divided, should be granted to the petitioners. The Court listened thus far to the remonstrance, and preserved to the town the ownership of this public property, some of which was afterwards sold to the precinct. Two such sales are entered on the Town Records, under date of Jan. 16, 1692-3. It should be added, that these financial transactions indicate a friendly spirit in both parties, the separation having apparently been effected without such sharp controversy as occurred in the case of Newton. In the same spirit, March 11, 1699-1700, the town “voted, to give the little meeting-house bell to the Farmers. Voted, that the Selectmen, in the name of the inhabitants, do give their thanks to Capt. Andrew Belcher for the bell for their meeting-house he has given them.”

    Twenty-one years after their establishment as a precinct, the Farmers, according to their original design, sought to be entirely separated from the town of Cambridge, and to be a “township by themselves.” This separation was readily obtained on terms satisfactory to both parties. The Cambridge records show that,— “At a meeting of the inhabitants belonging to the meeting house in the Body of the town of Cambridge, orderly convened the 1st December 1712, Capt. Thomas Oliver was chosen Moderator. And whereas the Farmers, at their public meeting on the 28th of October last, appointed a committee to petition the town that they may be dismissed from the town, and be a township by themselves, as appears by their petition bearing date the 6th November, 1712, which has been now read; voted, That Capt. Thomas Oliver, Mr. Jonathan Remington, and Andrew Bordman, be a Committee to treat with the Committee appointed by the Farmers aforesaid; and that the articles to be proposed to the said Committee, as terms of their dismission, are their paying a part toward the charge of the Great Bridge, and to the Town House, and a consideration for some of our Poor.” The meeting was then adjourned until Jan. 12, 1712-3, at which time it was “Voted, That the Farmers, upon their being dismissed from the town, shall annually pay to our Town Treasurer such a proportion of our part of the charge of the Great Bridge over Charles River in Cambridge as shall fall to them according to their annual proportion with us in the Province Tax. (2) Voted, That the said Farmers shall pay their proportion of twenty-five pounds toward the arrears of our Town House. The aforesaid articles being complied with by the Farmers. Voted (3) That the article that has been proposed, referring to their paying their [125] proportion toward the relief of some of our Poor, (viz. Robert Webber and Richard a negro, and his wife,) be referred to the Committee formerly appointed, (viz. Capt. Oliver, Mr. Remington, and Andrew Bordman,) to debate further upon, who are fully empowered in behalf of the town, either to insist upon the said article or to consent to their being dismissed from the town upon the articles aforementioned which they have complied with.” In accordance with this agreement, the Farmers were incorporated March 20, 1712-13, by an act of the General Court, which provided that the “tract of land known by the name of the northern precinct in Cambridge be henceforth made a separate and distinct town, by the name of Lexington, upon the articles and terms already agreed on with the town of Cambridge.” 7

    During this period and half a century afterwards, very few public events occurred, materially affecting the welfare of Cambridge. Some facts, however, though of a more private or personal character, should not be entirely overlooked, as they throw light on the state of society and the condition of the people.

    By the Town Records it appears that Cullers of Bricks were first elected, Nov. 10, 1684: Town Clerk, as an officer distinct from the Selectmen, March 13, 1692-3: Town Treasurer, March 30, 1694: Assessors, July 16, 1694.

    The County Records indicate that Thomas Danforth was Treasurer of Middlesex, before 1657, when he was succeeded by Edward Goffe, who died in 1658, and John Stedman was appointed, who held the office until 1683; Samuel Andrew was his successor and remained in office until 1700, except during the administration of Andros. All these were Cambridge men. In the settlement of the Treasurer's accounts, charges were allowed in 1690, to wit: “52 wolves killed by the English, 20s. per wolf, and one killed by an Indian, 10s., is £ 52. 10s. . . . Paid one half the charge of Cambridge Great Bridge, £ 26. 7s. 6d..” And in 1696, the Treasurer was allowed twelve pence in the pound of all collections and disbursements; Grand Jurors were paid two shillings per day for attendance; no allowance was made for travel, but the county paid for their dinners at one shilling each. Seventy-six wolves had been killed, and 13s. 4d. per head was allowed in compensation.

    May 22, 1691. “Upon the death of John Green, late Marshal General, in the beginning of the last Court of Assistants, Mr. Samuel Gookin being appointed by said Court to supply that [126] vacancy, and sworn to the faithful discharge of his duty in that place, the said Samuel Gookin is hereby confirmed in the said office of Marshal General of this Colony.” 8

    June 17, 1700. The General Court granted five pounds, to aid in repairing the road to Connecticut, “especially betwixt Wooster and Brookfield,” which was described as “much incumbered with trees fallen, and many rocky swamps, and other obstructions to travellers, drovers, and others, to the hazarding life or limb of both men and horses.” 9 Six years earlier, Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth, afterwards President of Harvard College, accompanied the commissioners appointed to treat with the Maquas or Mohawks, at Albany, and travelled over this road to Brookfield, then generally called Quaboag: “Capt. Sewal and Major Townsend, being commissioned to treat with the Mockways, set out from Boston about half an hour past twelve, Monday, August 6, 1694. Several gentlemen did accompany them to Watertown, and then returned. At Watertown we met with Lieutenant Hammond and thirty troopers, who were appointed for a guard to Springfield. We came to our first stage at Malberough, about half an hour past eight in the evening. We lodged at Abraham How's,10 and thence set forward the next morning about half an hour past seven of the clock. There was nothing remarkable this day, but only Mr. Dwite, of Hatford, did accidentally fall into our company, and after the same manner, scil. accidentally, he and his horse both together fell into a brook; but both rose again without damage. This day we dined in the woods. Pleasant descants were made upon the dining room: it was said that it was large, high, curiously hung with green; our dining place was also accommodated with the pleasancy of a murmuring rivulet. This day, some of our company saw a bear; but being near a thick swamp, he escaped our pursuit. Towards night we heard (I think) three guns; but we knew not who shot them. Our whole company come this day to Quaboag, about sundown, not long before nor after.” 11 The easterly section of this road is mentioned by Pemberton, under date of Sept. 30, 1783, in his manuscript “Chronology,” preserved in the library of the Mass. Hist. Society: “A gentleman of this State remarks, ‘that soon after the settlement of our Fathers at Boston, the persons appointed to explore the country, and lay out public roads did it as far as the [127] bank by Mrs. Biglow in Weston, and reported that they had done it as far as they believed would ever be necessary, it being about seven miles from the College in Cambridge.’ ” It is proper to add, that I have never seen any contemporary authority for this extraordinary statement.

    Col. Shute, the newly appointed Governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, arrived in Boston, Oct. 4, 1716, and on the 15th day of the same month commenced a journey to New Hampshire. Instead of crossing the ferry to Charlestown, he passed out of Boston over the neck, through Roxbury and Brookline, to Cambridge Great Bridge. The commencement of his journey, and the manner of his reception in Cambridge, are described in the “Boston News Letter,” October 22, 1716: “On Monday last, the 15th current, his Excellency, our Governor, about eight o'clock in the morning, set out from hence by land for his other government of New Hampshire, attended by the honorable the Lieut.-Governor and several of the chief gentlemen of this and that Province, and on this side of the river was met by Spencer Phips Esq., with his Troop of Horse, the Sheriff of Middlesex, and other gentlemen of that County, and by them conducted to Harvard College in Cambridge, where he was received by the President, Fellows, and Students, and entertained in the Hall with a congratulatory Latin Oration, by Mr. Thomas Foxcroft: after which his Excellency was pleased to take a view of the Library, and then proceeded on his journey to Lynn,” etc.

    Col. Edmund Goffe was elected Representative, June 6, 1721. “Samuel Smith was charged with putting in two votes in the first voting for Representative, made oath that he put in but one vote for Representative. Also Daniel Gookin being charged with putting in two votes at the second voting for a Representative, made oath that he put in but one vote for a Representative: said oaths were administered in the public meeting per Mr. Justice Leverett.” 12

    In 1721, the small-pox prevailed more extensively and fatally than ever before in Boston and its vicinity.* A statement of results was made officially in the “Boston News Letter” : “Boston, Feb. 24, 1721-2. By the Selectmen. The number of persons visited with the small-pox since its coming into town, in April last past, having been inquired into by direction from the Selectmen, amounts to 5,889:—844 of whom died and were buried in the preceding months, as follows:—May, 1; June, 8; July, 11; Aug., [128] 26; Sept., 101; Oct., 411; Nov., 249; Dec., 31; Jan., 6.” The extent of the destruction of life in Cambridge, by this scourge, is not known with exactness; but references to it are found in the “New England Courant:” “Cambridge, Thursday, Nov. 30, 1721. This morning died here William Hutchinson, of Boston, Esq., of the small-pox, in the 38th year of his age.” (Dec. 4, 1721.) “Last week died one of the Indian hostages (mentioned in our last) of the small-pox at Cambridge.” (Jan. 22, 1721-2.) “On Friday last, the General Assembly of this Province met at Cambridge, there not being a sufficient number of members to make a House on Wednesday, to which day they were before prorogued. They are adjourned till Tuesday next, when they are to meet a few miles out of town, the small-pox being now in the heart of that place.” (March 5, 1721-2.) The Town Records show that a Committee was appointed, Jan. 29, 1721-2, to provide “for the relief of such persons and families as may stand in need thereof, in case the small-pox spread amongst us.” Inoculation for the small-pox was first introduced in Boston at this time by Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, who encountered the most violent opposition. “Out of 286 persons who were inoculated for the smallpox, but six died.” 13

    In 1730, the small-pox again prevailed in Cambridge with alarming violence. Nine town meetings were held between March 20 and April 3, to devise means for its extermination. A vote passed at the first of these meetings indicates that inoculation had been injudiciously or carelessly practiced: “Whereas Samuel Danforth, Esq's late practice of inoculation of small-pox amongst us has greatly endangered the town, and distressed sundry families amongst us, which is very disagreeable to us; wherefore, voted, that said Samuel Danforth, Esq. be desired forthwith to remove such inoculated persons into some convenient place, whereby our town may n't be exposed by them.” The College studies were broken up for a time; but the students were recalled by an advertisement, dated May 2, 1730, and published in the “Weekly Journal:” “The small-pox having been lately at Cambridge, which occasioned the dispersion of the scholars to escape danger; but now, through the Divine goodness, that distemper having utterly ceased here; it is agreed and ordered by the President and Tutors, that the undergraduates forthwith repair to the College, to follow their studies and stated exercises. Benjamin Wadsworth, Pres.” The distemper returned again [129] before the end of the year, as appears by a paragraph in the “News Letter,” dated Oct. 8, 1730: “We hear from Cambridge, that Mr. William Patten, Representative for the town of Billerica, being taken sick of the small-pox, while the General Assembly was sitting there, is since dead, and was interred on Monday last, the 5th instant.” On Saturday, Oct. 3, the Court was adjourned to meet at Roxbury on the next Wednesday.

    Again, in 1752, the small-pox caused the cessation of study in College from April 22 until Sept. 2; and the corporation voted, May 4, “that there be no public Commencement this year,” and in October voted to have no winter vacation. The town appointed a committee, May 18, to devise measures to prevent the spreading of the disease, and on the 3d of October, “voted that a public contribution be in the three parts of this town, next Lord's-day come seven night, for the speedy raising of money to defray the charges the town have been at in the support, &c., of sundry persons lately visited with the small-pox, belonging to this town. Also voted that the thanks of this town be given to the Selectmen of the town of Charlestown for their great friendship, assistance and civility to us, when visited with the small-pox.” I find no record of the number of lives destroyed in Cambridge by this visitation of the small-pox. But its ravages were frightful in Boston during the previous year. Professor Winthrop recorded the fact, in his interleaved Almanac, that while only five persons in Cambridge had the disease in 1751, of whom three died, in Boston, with a total population of 15,734, 5,060 whites had it the natural way, of whom 470 died; also, 485 blacks, of whom 69 died; and by inoculation 1,985 whites and 139 blacks were sick, of whom 24 whites and 6 blacks died.

    The town continued, as aforetime, to be watchful against the admission of undesirable associates. “At a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants of the town of Cambridge, orderly convened 9th Decr. 1723.—Whereas, of late years, sundry persons and families have been received and entertained amongst us, to the great trouble of the Selectmen and damage of the town: for preventing such inconveniences for the future, Voted, that henceforth no freeholder nor inhabitant in said town shall receive or admit any family into our town to reside amongst us for the space of a month, without first having obtained the allowance and approbation of the freeholders and inhabitants of said town, or of the Selectmen for the time being, on penalty of paying to the Treasurer of said town, for the use of the poor, the sum of twenty [130] shillings. Also voted, that no inhabitant in said town shall receive and entertain any person into their family (excepting such as are received by reason of marriage, or such as are sent for education, or men or maid servants upon wages, or purchased servants or slaves), for the space of a month, without having the allowance and approbation of the freeholders and inhabitants, or selectmen, as aforesaid, on penalty of paying the sum of twenty shillings for the use of the poor, as aforesaid.”

    The meeting-house was equally guarded against improper intrusion, though by a less severe penalty. On the 12th of May, 1729, it was “Voted, that so often as any dog or dogs is or are seen in the meeting house on the Lord's day in the time of public worship, the owner or owners of said dog or dogs shall for every such offence pay one shilling, half to go to the officer appointed to regulate said dogs, the other half part of said fine to be for the use of the poor of the town. And on refusal to pay said fine or fines, the aforesaid officer is hereby obliged, authorized and empowered to prosecute the owners of the above described dogs before any one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace in said County. This to continue for one year.”

    March 10, 1728-9. “Put to vote, whether said inhabitants would grant the sum of 50£. for Joseph Hanford, to fit him out in the practice of physic, and it passed in the negative.”

    In 1736, John Vassall (afterwards Major and Colonel) purchased the large estate at the southwest corner of Brattle and Ash streets, and became a resident in Cambridge. He was born in the West Indies, inherited a princely fortune, married (in 1734) a daughter of Lieut.-gov. Spencer Phips, became at once a very popular citizen, and was elected Selectman and Representative in 1739, and again in 1740. Shortly after his second election, some enthusiastic friend thus exulted in the “Weekly Journal” of May 20, 1740

    Cambridge, May 19. On Monday last came on the choice of a Representative for this town in the approaching General Assembly. The meeting was as full as most that ever were known among us on such an occasion, there being 109 qualified voters present at it. After the Selectmen had put an end to some tedious contests and lingering delays, (which arose on adjusting preliminaries, and which only interrupted and kept off the business of the day,) we at length had the liberty to proceed fairly to the choice; and then it soon appeared that Mr. John Vassall was chosen by the overbearing majority of more than double the number of all those votes which [131] were not for him, viz. by the majority of 75 to 34; a proportion much greater on the side of the person chosen our Representative this year than he14 had who was our Representative the last. By this it seems a certain person elect has a growing interest.

    Alas for the fickleness of popular favor. Mr. Vassall was not afterwards elected either Selectman or Representative until a few months before his death in 1747. His “interest” attained its full growth suddenly, like Jonah's gourd, and as suddenly collapsed. He was disturbed by a disparaging remark of a townsman, and sought legal redress with disastrous result. The history of the suit is entered on the Records of the Inferior Court for the County of Middlesex, December term, 1740, page 172. By this it appears that Samuel Whittemore of Cambridge, Deputy Sheriff, on the 13th of March, 1739, declared publicly that though Mr. Vassall had been elected Selectman, he “was no more fit to discharge said trust than the horse that he, the said Samuel, then rode on.” On the next day Vassall commenced suit, claiming £ 1,000 damage for defamation of character; he caused Whittemore to be arrested and imprisoned. On the trial, two months afterwards, the Court adjudged that “the words . . . . spoken by the said Samuel were not actionable.” Vassall appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed the judgment of the Inferior Court. Whittemore then sued Vassall, for false and malicious imprisonment, and recovered £ 200 damage and costs of court. So much appears on record. Tradition says that the writ was served on Vassall at his own table, when surrounded by a large and fashionable dinner-party.

    Mr. Vassall was equally unsuccessful in his appeal to the General Court for protection against what he regarded as a personal insult and an encroachment on his official privileges. John Hovey had recovered judgment against him on two bonds, notwithstanding his “plea of privilege (as on file) which was overruled by the Court,” and had levied on his estate. The Records of the General Court show that notice was issued, Dec. 5, 1740, to John Hovey and Samuel Gookin, to make answer to Mr. John Vassall, Representative of Cambridge, who complained of sundry insults received from them. Dec. 10, Mr. Samuel Gookin appeared, and the case was fully examined. “Then the question was put, whether it appears to this House that an attachment being served on Mr. John Vassall's estate on the 18th of November [132] last is a breach of the privileges of the members of this House. It passed in the negative.” But this was not the end. December 18, 1740, “A petition of Mr. John Hovey of Cambridge, praying that this House would order Mr. John Vassall, the member of Cambridge, to refund his expenses occasioned by an unjust and groundless complaint of said Mr. Vassall, particularly mentioned in said petition, for the reasons exhibited,— read, and in answer thereto, ordered, that the said John Vassall pay to the petitioner, the said John Hovey, the sum of ten pounds, in full recompense for his time and expense occasioned by said complaint.”

    An epidemic occasioned great alarm in 1740. It was called the “throat distemper,” and was probably the same “influenza” which Thacher describes: “The amazing rapidity with which it spread through the country resembled more a storm agitating the atmosphere than the natural progress of a disease from any contagious source. Almost a whole city, town, or neighborhood, became affected with its influence in a few days, and as it did not incapacitate people in general from pursuing their ordinary occupations, it was common to observe, in every street and place of resort, a constant coughing, hawking, and wheezing, and, in public assemblies, little else was to be heard or attended to. Although all classes of people experienced the operation of the influenza, it is remarkable that a small number, comparatively speaking, were so ill as to require medical attendance, and instances of its fatal termination were of rare occurrence.” 15 It proved so fatal here, however, that the students were dismissed from College by vote passed June 23, 1740: “Whereas, through the holy Providence of God, several families in the town of Cambridge are visited with the throat distemper, and the President's and Steward's families are under very afflicted circumstances by reason of that mortal sickness; and whereas we apprehend that there is great danger of the distemper spreading and prevailing as it hath done formerly in other places, and that the students are much endangered thereby; therefore Voted, that they be immediately dismissed from the College, and that the vacation begin from this time; and that the Commencement for this year be not until the expiration of the vacation.” 16 [133]

    In former days, each town was required to pay its own Representatives in the General Court, and was liable to a fine if not duly represented. This town, however, on the 14th of May, 1750, “Voted, that the town will make choice of two Representatives to represent them at the next General Court, or Assembly, provided the same serve the town gratis: also voted, that they will proceed to choose two Representatives, upon that condition only, that those who are chosen be not the Representatives of said town unless, upon their choice, they declare that they will serve the town gratis, as aforesaid. Then Andrew Bordman and Edmund Trowbridge Esqs. were chosen Representatives,” and both accepted the office. The same course was pursued the next year, and the same persons were elected. But, in 1752, Andrew Bordman refused the office on this condition, and Henry Vassall was elected in his stead. This practice was soon afterwards wholly abandoned.

    April 19, 1754. The territory lying west of Sparks Street and south of Vassall Lane was transferred from Watertown to Cambridge by the General Court, by a line described thus: “To begin at Charles River, and from thence to run in the line between the lands of Simon Coolidge, Moses Stone, Christopher Grant, and the Thatchers, and the land of Colo. Brinley and Ebenezer Wyeth, to the Fresh Pond, so called.” 17 Several acres were subsequently added to Cambridge, bounded westerly on Coolidge Avenue, extending to and including the Cambridge Cemetery.

    Some excitement was occasioned as late as 1754, by the appearance of a bear in the easterly part of Cambridge, long after we might suppose this section of the country to have been rid of wild beasts. The “Boston News Letter” of September 19, contained this paragraph.

    On Tuesday last, a Bear, that had wandered down to Cambridge, was discovered on Lieut. Govr. Phips' farm,18 and being closely pursued took to Charles River; whereupon several boats put off from Charlestown, and one from [134] the west part of this town, which last shot and entered two bullets into him; but not killing him, the Bear made directly towards the boat and got one paw upon the side, upon which one of the men struck an adze into his skull, and despatched him in an instant, and brought him ashore. The whole of the body weighed 196 pounds. When he was opened, a great number of the bones of fowls &c. were found in his belly.

    The earliest notice which I have seen of a fire-engine in Cambridge is dated March 3, 1755, when, “upon the motion of Capt. Ebenezer Stedman and others, referring to the town's agreeing with Henry Vassall Esq., who has an Engine and is willing the same should be improved for the town's use on certain conditions, the question was put whether the town would act on said motion, and it passed in the negative.” In all probability, however, the town then possessed one or more engines. Boston had one before 1679, and seven as early as 1733;19 and Cambridge would not be likely to remain entirely destitute. Yet the machines then in use might seem almost worthless, compared with the powerful steam-engines recently introduced.

    The Town Record of Births and Deaths in the last three quarters of the eighteenth century is very imperfect; all the deaths recorded between 1722 and 1772 are contained on two folio pages. Professor Winthrop inserted brief bills of mortality, for a few years, in his interleaved almanacs, which afford a glimpse of the truth:—

    1758. Bill of mortality in first Parish in Cambridge.20

    Under 2 years old 12
    Between 2 and 5 = 2
    Between 5 and 10 = 0
    Between 10 and 20 = 1
    Between 20 and 30 = 2
    Between 30 and 40 = 2
    Between 40 and 50 = 1
    Between 50 and 60 = 1
    Between 60 and 70 = 1
    Between 70 and 80 = 0
    Between 80 and 90 = 3

    1762. Causes of death, etc.



    1763. Causes of death, etc.

    Fit, (suddenly)2

    In the “Boston News Letter,” November 30, 1764, is a reference to a custom then recently introduced, but unwisely abandoned afterwards. “On Monday the 19th instant died at Cambridge, in the 78th year of her age Mrs. Hannah Burrill, relict of the late Hon. Theophilus Burrill Esq., and sister to the Rev. Mr. President Holyoke, at whose house she had for some time past resided. She was a gentlewoman of a virtuous disposition, and possessed of many amiable qualities. Her remains were interred the Thursday following, without the expense of mourning apparel, agreeable to the laudable method now practised in Boston. As this is the first example of the kind in that town, and introduced by a gentleman of so worthy and respectable a character, we doubt not it will acquire imitation.” 21

    1 Mass. Arch., XI. 24.

    2 See chap. VI.

    3 See chap. VIII.

    4 Mass. Arch., XI. 25.

    5 Mass. Arch., XII. 27, 28.

    6 Mass. Prov. Rec., VI. 205.

    7 Mass. Prov. Rec., IX. 258, 259.

    8 Mass. Col. Rec., VI. 184.

    9 Mass. Prov. Rec., VII. 99.

    10 The Wayside inn, celebrated by Longfellow.

    11 Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc., XXXI. 102.

    12 Town Records.

    13 Drake's Hist. Boston, pp. 562, 563.

    14 He was his own predecessor. The increased majority indicated the “growing interest.”

    15 Medical Biography, i. 28.

    16 In a private note-book, the steward of the College, Andrew Bordman, Esq., made this record: “Our grandchild, Ruth Bordman, died 23 June 1740: our grandchild Andrew Bordman died 24 June 1740: both of the distemper called the throat distemper.” Memorials are found in the burial-place, of “Mrs. Margaret Holyoke, wife to the Revd. Mr. Edward Holyoke, President of Harvard College,” who died June 25, 1740, aged 39; and of “William Holyoke,” their “youngest son,” who died June 23, 1740, aged nearly three years. Similar memorials are found of two children of Mr. Ebenezer Stedman,—Martha, who died June 23, 1740, aged 4 years; and Sarah, who died June 24, 1740, aged nearly 6 years. The dates indicate that all these were victims of the same disease.

    17 Mass. Prov. Rec., XX. 228.

    18 This farm embraced East Cambridge, and extended westerly nearly to Columbia Street. Five years later, in September, 1759, Dr. Belknap, then a student in Harvard College, made this record: “A great many bears killed at Cambridge and the neighboring towns about this time, and several persons killed by them.”—Life of Belknap, p. 11.

    19 Drake's Hist. Boston, 431, 593.

    20 The First Parish then embraced what is now the whole city.

    21 Rev. John Cotton of Newton, in a letter dated Nov. 7, 1717, and preserved in the library of the Mass. Hist. Soc., says that at the funeral of Hon. Andrew Belcher, “All the ministers there had scarves and gloves. They say 50 suits of cloaths were made. All first cousins, Remington, Blowers, &c., put into mourning. John Colman, Caswell, &c., all that had been apprentices to him, were also. 90 dozen of gloves were bought, and none of any figure but what had gloves sent 'em.”

    A bill of expenses at the funeral of Col. Edmund Goffe, in October, 1740, remains on file in the Probate Office; it was rendered by Edmund Trowbridge, Esq., grand nephew of the deceased. Among the charges are these:—

    To 5 pair of gloves at 7s. 6d., and a mourning weed,£1176
    To a pair of shoe buckles, 6s., knee buckles, 4s. 6d., black studs, 1s. 3d.,0119
    To a hat, 60s., mourning wigg, £ 5,800
    To a pair of gloves, black silk, 25s.150
    To a suit of mourning for the widow, and pair of shoes,3000
    To another pair of black silk gloves, 25s.150
    To ten rings of Mr. Hurd, as per account,23140
    To mourning for my aunt Barnard,3360
    To the same for my sister Dana,3360
    To a pair of gloves for her husband,080
    To cash paid the taylors for making the cloaths,3190
    To two gallons of wine, 30s., a dozen of pipes, and 2 papers of tobacco, 5s.1150
    To cash paid for bricks, and bricking the grave,1100
    To stones to cover the grave,0100

    This bill was allowed by the judge, though the estate was soon afterwards rendered insolvent. The Belcher estate was large, and might easily afford the outlay. It is to be regretted that the efforts made by President Holyoke and others to abolish such extravagant and useless customs were ineffectual.

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