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Medford Square in the early days.

The following address by Moses W. Mann of West Medford was delivered before the Medford Rotary Club.

My instructions read thus—‘You are to tell of Medford square as it has been.’ So I will begin with its earliest known time.

Three hundred years ago it was only the home and haunt of native Americans, the Indian red men. Across it lay the trail or beaten path they made in their journeyings and on which our three streets, Main, Salem and High converge. Near that junction was a small pond and a little way up stream the river was fordable. Opposite that ford the hill rose abruptly high with only a narrow passage at its foot along the river's edge. [p. 52]

A former Medford man in writing of his native town said, referring to the eastern and western parts, ‘Medford was a spectacle town, a bulky red nose stuck up between the glasses.’ The surface of that nose was dark red gravel but the bones behind it are the darker Medford granite which shows now so plainly up Governors avenue.

The earliest white men to come here were Captain Myles Standish and eight others from the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth on September 21, 1621, and it was said they liked here so well that they wished they had been settled here. In 1629 came an exploring party overland from Salem, then but just settled, and found established here a company of men who were in the employ of one Matthew Cradock, a wealthy London merchant.

They had erected some log houses for shelter, and were building a small vessel for their fishing. Their work was a business adventure of Cradock's, of which he had several, beside the corporate affairs of the Massachusetts Bay Colony of which he was the president, or governor, as they styled him. And because they did so, do we call our chief magistrate governor. This exploring party found the Mystic valley and ponds, ‘a country full of stately timber and some Indians called Aberginians,’ whether because they were aborigines (dwellers from beginning) or not, we may not say.

Several early travellers mention this settlement as ‘a scattered village with but few houses as yet’ and tell of a ‘park impaled in which cattle were kept till Cradock could stock it with deer.’

Such facts are the meagre information we have of the earliest Medford. Remember the country here was then a wilderness, its animal life wild, the former human life barbarous, even savage. And remember, also, that it was not Pilgrim Plymouth or Puritan Boston that sent those first settlers here to occupy this territory and prepare the way for those later residents who became that body politic we call a town. [p. 53]

It was a tract of land four miles along this side the river and about a mile wide, which they occupied. They were called his servants, workmen of various trades, and in 1634 the tract was granted to their employer as his farm or plantation. They gave it the manorial name of Mead-ford or Medford (from his English country seat) and the principal building became known as Meadford house.

Its owner never came over from England and so never saw his New England possession. It, and his business affairs were managed by his agents, Mayhew, Davison and lastly Edward Collins, and who, some years after Cradock's death, purchased the whole farm of the heirs.

Now, as I have told thus of those long ago times and place, have you formed a mental picture of how this neighboring territory we call Medford square looked then, and of the few people here located along the banks of the Mystic river?

In those days the place was also called M-i-s-t-i-c-k, from the Indian name of the river Missi-tuk, which meant great tidal river. But there was nothing mystical or mysterious about it. It was the Englishman's way of pronouncing the Indian word—and by and by he spelled it M-y-s-t-i-c-k-e, and later, abbreviated into our common Mystic. I trust you have also seen that those early comers of Cradock's venture antedated the Puritan settlers of Charlestown and Boston by one—perhaps two—years. I know our town seal said Medford— Condita—1630, but Cradock's men came in 1629 or 1628.

But with the coming of Governor Winthrop with King Charles' charter, their squatter sovereignty ceased and all were under the authority of the Great and General Court.

I really wish the first mention of Medford in the authentic records of that Court was of a pleasanter nature to quote, but I remember that the late James Hervey said, ‘if we are to be historical we must tell the truth.’ [p. 54]

Under date of September 23, 1630, we read that ‘one Austin Bratcher, dying lately at Mr. Cradock's plantation, a jury found that the strokes given by Walter Palmer were accounted manslaughter.’ But two months later, Palmer (who was from Charlestown) was acquitted, not to the satisfaction of everybody, as one Thomas Fox was fined for saying the Court had been bribed. An unpleasant episode—Medford's entrance into the limelight of history.

During the first ten years the fording place was used in crossing the river, unless a boat or raft served, but in 1639 the agent Davison had a bridge built a little way below. It was one hundred and fifty feet long, very narrow, and but little above the marshes that bordered the river. And very soon he found his good work had got him into trouble as his employer's farm was only on this side, and this structure, desirable as it was, was half in the adjoining town of Charlestown. So troubles of various kinds came up, and towns west and north were called upon to assist in its maintenance for nearly a century. Davison must have gotten roiled up some over it for he was up before the Court for swearing an oath, and fined.

In 1640 Captain Edward Johnson and others came up from Charlestown over this new way and bridge and turned about by the little pond and along the varge way, following the old trail across the brook and up another hill and then northwesterly about five miles, and settled Waterfield and Charlestown village. Two years later they organized a church, and were incorporated by the General Court in this terse, brief form ‘Charlestown Village is called Wooburne.’

With this and other going to and fro, our country roads may be said to have begun. The Salem path easterly of course was older. The settlement of Woburn is well told by Mr. Evans in his ‘Seven against the Wilderness.’

An interesting incident is told in Governor Winthrop's [p. 55] diary about one of the earliest mentioned women in Medford. The story reads: ‘One Dalkin of Medford, with his wife, had been to Cambridge for the Sabbath, and returning found the tide too high at the ford for a safe passage. Dalkin got over but told his better-half to wait for the tide to recede; but she persisted in crossing, and losing her footing was borne along by the current. Dalkin shouted loudly for help and their faithful dog plunged in after his mistress, who, seizing the dog's tail, was safely towed ashore.’

Another road was in time developed, first called ‘the way to Blanchard's.’ Blanchard was the owner of a house built in 1657, then in Malden, but now by annexation, in Medford, the oldest house in our city. We know it as the Blanchard-Bradbury-Wellington house. Next, this road was Distil-house lane, later Ship street and now Riverside avenue.

In 1754 two portions of Charlestown were annexed, on opposite sides of Medford, extending from top of Winter hill a mile into present Winchester.

To be concluded in December Issue.

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