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Medford, Condita, 1628.

BY way of contrast to the recent launching on the Mystic, let us turn backward the pages of authentic history to a date almost three centuries ago and read it as quoted by our local historian in 1855:—
July 4, 1631. The governor built a bark at Mistick which was launched this day and called “The Blessing of the Bay.”

and again,
Aug. 9. The governor's bark being of thirty tons went to sea.

The historian says, ‘It cost one hundred and forty-five pounds,’ and quotes the owner (Governor Winthrop) as saying, five years later, ‘I will sell her for one hundred and sixty pounds.’ It would be interesting to follow, were it possible, the career of this early product of Mystic river ship building, and to know if the governor realized his ten plus per cent profit. We trust that he did, but even so we cannot style him a ‘profiteer.’ Now note the following words of our historian, which preceded the quotations above noted which he evidently made in their support:

To this heroic and Christian adventurer belongs the honor of building the first vessel whose keel was laid in this part of the Western World; and that vessel was built on the bank of Mystic River, and probably not far from the governor's house at ‘Ten Hills.’ There is a tradition that it was built on the north shore of the river, and therefore in the limits of Medford.

Just what ‘this part of the Western World’ means is open to query, but it is a known fact that a vessel was built by the Popham colonists in Maine at an earlier [p. 66] date. This he seems to have been unaware of, or overlooked, and while stating that the Blessing was built near the governor's house at Ten Hills, mentions a tradition about the north side of the river, and immediately says, ‘the record concerning it is as follows: “The governor built a bark at Mistick which was launched this day and called The Blessing of the Bay.” ’

We do not deny but that there was a tradition current relative to early ship building on the north side of the river. In fact, we think there may have been, and that Mr. Brooks, who wrote as above in 1855, at the age of sixty, had it from his forbears, who were men of mature age, when Thatcher Magoun established his shipyard on the ‘north side of the Mistick,’ and when later other ship-builders found the remains of old ways and timbers farther down beside the river.

So Mr. Brooks transfers Winthrop's ship-building from Charlestown to Medford, by saying, ‘the record concerning it is as follows,’ and quotes: ‘July 4, 1631. The governor's bark, etc., etc.’ Now as we look at it, the governor's bark (the Blessing) was built just where the governor wrote that it was, at ‘Mistick,’ the ‘Ten Hills Farm’ in Charlestown (present Somerville), and not in Medford at all. Neither had Governor Winthrop any possessions whatever in the Medford of that day, and while as governor he had governmental oversight and interest in all parts of the little early colony, we know of only twice (by record) of his bodily presence in the then Medford. Not to detract a particle from his worth or fame, we think that much that has been said about his paternalism of Medford is largely overdrawn, and confessing to our own share in the same are willing to be forgiven.

Now, while tradition has been said to be an unsafe guide, it may be well to look into this a little. Our historian was an enthusiast in anything relating to our history, as witness his story of the so-called Cradock house, the Baldwin apple, the Touro-Lafayette episode, [p. 67] and the ‘old black schooner’ (a smuggler) on the Mystic, so hastily unloaded.

But what about the tradition of the governor's bark? for traditions have some value after all. Perhaps it can be supported and made less shadowy by authentic record. Let us see. There is, in the archives of our State House, carefully preserved, a letter from, and in the handwriting of, another ‘Governor,’ the presiding functionary of the London Company chartered by King Charles I, who made that company a grant of land in New England in width from three miles north of the Merrimack river to three miles south of the Charles river and westward to the South sea in which to do business. The company had sent over a colony which settled at Nahumkeeke, i.e. Salem, with a few at Cape Ann, i.e. Gloucester, but who left there and settled at Mattapan (present Dorchester) and a few at Nantasket. All these were under the supervision of a local governor, John Endicott.

There had some from Salem found their way across country (or otherwise) to the Mistick valley, and had here settled in the interests of that presiding functionary who was styled ‘governour,’ and whose name was Matthew Cradock. We have the evidence of that in the testimony of the Spragues, who, coming from Salem in 1629, found them here settled and employed. Now let us return to the letter of Cradock. Endicott had written a letter to him from Salem, dated September 13, 1628. It took just five months for it to reach Cradock, who three days later, February 16, 1628-9, replied to it, writing the letter we have mentioned, and which we have personally seen and examined. The letter acquainted Endicott of the enlargement of the company (since his departure from England), of the purchase of another ship, of the hiring of two more (and possibly another), in which were to be sent about three hundred colonists, one hundred head of cattle and various supplies for the reinforcement of the colony of which Endicott was in charge. [p. 68] Various directions were given in that letter, among them one is significant and is especially interesting. It directed that after reaching these shores, these

three vessels may go to the banck with 29 waigh of salt. . . lynes, hookes, knives, bootes and barvells necessary for ffishinge

It was further directed that if they were not expected to return (to the colony),

that then you send our barke that is already built in the colony to bring back our fishermen and such provision of salt if any remainder bee and also of hookes lynes &c of use to you on all occasions

Take especial note of this: the company (through its chief, Cradock) writes of a bark already here built. For Cradock to have known of it (no cable or wirless or airships in those days) its construction must have been an accomplished fact when Endicott wrote to Cradock in September of 1628. The question naturally arises, where was ‘our bark built in the colony’? and another, was it the ‘governor's bark’? Note that the time of writing, February 16, 1628-9, which was (the twelfth month of 1628) before Winthrop's election as his successor and before Winthrop's departure for New England. We have no account of any ship-building at Salem, none at Dorchester or Nantasket at that early time, and ask, where then but at Medford where the Spragues found Cradock's men established? There was no lack of timber for their use, and as to metal work and rigging the earliest record of the company (now extant) shows provision for iron, steel, copper and sailcloth. It was an organized business corporation of men of means who began the Bay colony, and sent their employees across the sea equipped for service, and who followed their first adventure with more and better provision and personnel, including the governor with the king's charter on which to erect a government.

Therefore the tradition of a governor's bark, not Winthrop's but Cradock's, ‘on the north side of the river, and therefore in the limits of Medford,’ in the light of [p. 69] Cradock's reference takes on new interest. Especially is this so when we refer to the story of Wood in his New England Prospect, of the Rebecca, sixty tons, and one of one hundred tons the next year, built here by Cradock's men.

What name that earlier ‘governor's bark,’ the ‘our barke already built in the colony’ bore, we shall probably never know. Its tonnage may have equalled or exceeded that of Winthrop's fancifully named one of thirty tons, and compared favorably with the Talbot of forty-six and one-half tons, which brought the colonists of Salem under Endicott across the stormy Atlantic. It certainly antedated the Blessing of the Bay by two years, and its mention by Cradock (still existing in his own hand) points to a settlement of Medford in 1628.

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