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Lieutenant Sprague's long fence.

We are presenting an extract from the early records of Charlestown, relative to a boundary fence erected within the limits of present Medford.

The reader should remember that the Medford of 1662 was entirely surrounded by Charlestown, but not included in it, and had no town government or records till 1674, when the few new owners of Mr. Cradock's farm began to associate themselves for that purpose.

We find a quotation from this record (on p. 51, Vol. XV. of the register) by Mr. Hooper in his article on the ‘Stinted Pasture.’ We give the entire record and in the actual form in which the record commissioners reproduced it in 1883:—

Articles of Agreement made And Concluded this 15th 2nd mo: 1662, betweene the selecte men of Charlestowne, In the behalfe of the propriators of the stented Common of the one partie: And Leffttenant: Richard Sprague: of the other partie: Concerning the fencing the said Common: which lieth betweene Cambridge And Mr Winthroups farme: And sattisfection for the same.

Imprimis the said Leffttenant Richard Sprague: is to make up and mayntayne all that fence belonging to the said Common betweene it and Mr Winthroups farme: which said fence is to begine at misticke Bridge and so Along in the Lynne betweene the said Common and Mr Winthroups farme: to A Rocke which is for A Bound marke: Aboute some: six or seven: pooles: one the south [p. 36] east side of Winters Brooke: where it is to meeit Mr Winthroupes farmes fence: The fence is to be made sufficiently, And so mayntayned for One And twentie Yeares Next Insueing the Date hearof, Sufficient to fence of all reasonable Cattle: and to make good all Damoges that may Arrise from any difficentse in the said fence: or any part there of: Exsepting the Gate which he the said Richard is not to mayntayne: In Consideration where of the said Leffttenant Richard Sprague is to have the use of twentie Cowe Commons the full terme of twentie one yeares A fore Exspresed: he and his Assignes: And at the end of the said Terme thay are to be Serrendered up unto the said propriators Againe. Also he is to have free Leave And Libarty to make use of any Stones: or Brush: from of the Common: for making or repeairing the said fence: And for the true performance of every perticular Above Exspresed: the Selecte men in the behalfe of the propriatores And Richard Sprague for him selfe: his heires Executors And Administrators: Doe firmly by these ptsnts bind them selves each partie: to the other: In the Just and full summe of Two hundred Pounds: In witnes where of thay the boeth parties have heare unto Interchangably put theire hands: the day and yeare Above written: It was also Agreed upon before the signing hear of, that what the said fence shall be Adjudged worth at the end of the fore mentioned terme of one and twentie yeares: more than it is at this present: is to be payed unto the said Richard Sprague: or his Assignes:

The fence at present is Adjudged worth thirtie pounds by muttuel consent.

Signed And Delivred In the Presents of

Lieutenant Sprague was one of the three brothers who, with four others, formed the exploring party sent by Endicott from Salem in 1628-29. He was then but twenty-four years of age. They went out into an unknown country, following the Indian trail, and lighted on ‘an uncouth wilderness, full of timber,’ and adjoining ‘the farm Mr. Cradock's servants had planted.’ He became a settler in the peninsula we know as Charlestown the next year with Governor Winthrop's company and was a man of note in the town.

Governor Winthrop died in 1647 but his farm was still in possession of the family and a fence was required between it and Charlestown's ‘common land.’ Through [p. 37] the latter was but one ‘road to Manottomy’ (present Broadway, Somerville), and through ‘Mr. Winthrop's farm’ only the Charlestown and Cambridge roads (now Main and Harvard streets in Medford.)

The ‘fence’ Richard Sprague built was probably mainly a stone wall, topped with tree branches or ‘brush’ secured from the ‘comon,’ or wooded Walnuttree hill. Thus reinforced, it was a barrier against the ‘reasonable Cattle’ turned into the ‘stinted comon, without the peninsula.’ A little corner of the common land extended down the river, but the fence began at Misticke bridge and crossing that corner followed ‘the Lynne between’ the farm and common (near present Florence street and College avenue, crossing the latter near the railroad) and to and beyond Two-penny brook to the ‘Rocke which was A Bound marke’ where the farm fence began. It is useless to look for that ‘Rocke’ today in the congested district east of Winter brook, but the old stone wall, now along College avenue may be of the original ‘fence’ of 1662, moved eastward when the brick tower was built a century ago over a spring on the Winthrop land. The ‘gate’ referred to was doubtless across the Cambridge road, now Harvard street, near St. Clement's church.

Lieutenant Sprague was fifty-seven years old when he contracted to build this fence and keep it secure for twenty-one years against the damages of reasonable Cattle, only the gate being excepted. And what was his compensation for the original outlay and continuous repair? Simply a twenty-one year leasehold of enough pasture ground for twenty cows,—not an acquirement of title thereto. He died November 25, 1668. His will, made just previously, made his wife his executrix. One of his bequests to her was his interest in eleven cow commons, and to the church in Charlestown the remainder of his ‘interest in those twenty cow commons which I am to have for mayntayning the fence against Mr. Winthrop's farm, on condition that the proprietors [p. 38] release my executrix from care of the fence.’ It would be of interest to know the outcome of this, as he said further:—

I do declare it to be my mind and will that in case the church do not accept the commons on ye terms xpressed, then the Deacons shall receive of my Estate thirty pounds in goods out of the shop or in Cattle, to be employed for the church's use as they shall see meet.

His wife survived him six years, but in her will is no mention of cow commons or fence.

Note now. This contract made two hundred and sixty-two years ago valued the fence at thirty pounds, with possibility of appreciation, the sum named in the will. Ninety years later, portions of both farm and common were annexed to Medford; the fence entirely in Medford limits. It was one hundred and forty years before the canal, and one hundred and seventy-three before the railroad came through farm and pasture; and one hundred and eighty-eight when Tufts College ‘set a light on the bleak hill,’ no longer wooded. Just two centuries later, within our own remembrance, came the embanked reservoir beside the college. Since then the entire West Somerville and Medford Hillside sections of two cities have been built, whose limits are now reached, beyond which they may not pass. Where Lieutenant Sprague began his fence, the Mystic Valley parkway crosses Main street, and follows the river through Medford, Somerville and Arlington beside the lower lake, then in Charlestown. On this barrier, but fifteen years old, we see no reasonable Cattle, but modern automobiles, one hundred and thirty-five in five minutes on Sunday afternoon pass by, and no ‘gate mayntayned.’ In the intervening reservation the birds, pheasant and quail, find sanctuary.

Lieutenant Sprague may have seen such, and perhaps larger game, while the fence was building along the border of the cow pasture, where stands the broadcasting tower of Amrad, W. G. I.

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