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And who was Peter Tufts?

Such was the query made in a recent address before the Medford Historical Society. It was a pertinent query, and in a measure answered by the speaker, who alluded to the so-called ‘heretics and vandals’ and assailers of vague tradition who have given his name to a substantial old brick dwelling house in our city which for forty years had been otherwise styled.

As shown in a genealogy of 1855, there were three of the name (father, son and grandson), other Peters more remotely related, and nearly four hundred of the Tufts surname.

The eldest Peter Tufts was an early settler in Malden and came to Medford, purchasing his land of the son and executor of Richard Russell, who had acquired title of Collins, and he of the Cradock heirs. [p. 66]

It is well to remember that territorially the Medford of its earliest days was but about four square miles entirely surrounded by Charlestown, entirely north of the river, and Peter Tufts' purchase in the eastern corner. And Peter Tufts (father or son, perhaps both) had a dwelling-house erected. Young Peter, who successively was Ensign, Leftenant and ‘Captain Peter,’ was twenty-two when he took unto himself a wife, Elizabeth Lynde of Malden, in 1670. As their daughter Anna, born in 1676, is the first written in Medford records, there may have been more of the family that we have no record of.

What legends shall we build up of that time, the Medford people, and its dwellings and homes? Well, the Medford people of that day were not the cosmopolitan Americans of today; they were English emigrants and their children, distant but loyal subjects of the British king. Peter Tufts' boyhood was during the time of Cromwell and the commonwealth, and during its last eight years was the restoration. And during all these years a Puritan commonwealth and a Puritan church were growing and established this side the sea, its capital, Boston, but five miles away.

But the home town of Peter Tufts was a small and slow-growing one, barely emerging from the status of a twenty-five-hundred-acre farm owned by a single proprietor who never saw any of it. When Peter's father came and bought some land, a few others did, and two also built substantial dwellings.

Over in Malden (as Mystic side had come to be known) and not far away were several dwellings, and one of them remains there today.1 Across the river was the dwelling of the first Governor, Winthrop, and farther west his farm house, somewhat enlarged, and later to be noted.2 But these were not in Medford, but in Charlestown for nearly a century. But the big brick house awaited and housed the large family of Captain Peter that were to help people [p. 67] the Medford that was to be. His neighbors and associates, the Wades, Willows, Francis, Bradshaw, and Whitmores were scattered along the road that followed the old Indian trail across the plain, across the three brooks and over the hill to the fords and fishing places to parting of the ponds. Not until the coming of these neighbors had there been any semblance of a town government, and unlike any other named place in the colony of the Puritans, no church gathered. In fact, the inhabitants of Meadford had in 1684 seemed to think themselves of some importance, and sent Peter Tufts and neighbor Nathaniel Wade to the great and general court to ascertain their status. And they came back with the memorable reply, and the little four-mile hamlet learned that it had ‘been and is peculiar and have power as other towns as to prudentials.’

Thereafter they began to really be somebody, and began to have town meetings. Peter Tufts was then thirty-six years old and was prominent thereafter in Medford affairs. The dark angel of death had visited the big brick house and taken Peter's wife Elizabeth, and four children were needing a mother, and after a year Peter brought home a second wife, Mary, who was to increase the family brood to sixteen.

There were four children, and perhaps a like increasing number in the other dwellings along up the Mystic, and Peter was leftenant and forty-five years old when Meadford people felt the need of a meeting-house. And Peter Tufts was one of the committee that got it erected, and one of the more important ones who seated the town therein. He lived farthest away, but they found the central location on the ‘great rock’ where the road led off to Woburn. It might be interesting to follow him through the succeeding years, in town meetings there and the town's effort to maintain worship without any existing church organization—not a very successful venture, either, as the town records, which had begun to be kept, show us. [p. 68]

But the eighteenth century had begun, and in 1712 a new movement started—Meadford had a Fast Day and time of prayerful consideration of ‘church gathering.’ Preparing for this, one Brooks provided ‘neats toong and cheese,’ and Captain Peter must have killed the fatted calf for ‘veall for the fast,’ and Mrs. Hall ‘entertained the ministers.’ What the liquid refreshment was does not appear, but the town paid the bill, as the town book shows eleven shillings and ninepence, a very modest outlay. Doubtless Peter Tufts had his part in the general jubilation at the ordination feast of the new minister, Rev. Aaron Porter. We wish he had left some record of his mile-and-half journey up to the meeting-house just after the wild ‘snow-stown, when more people came than could get into the meeting-house.’

What might not have Peter Tufts told of the times in which he lived, of the days of the witchcraft delusion and terror; of the royal governor Andros and his underling Lidgett over across the river; of Andros' ousting and the news of the accession of the new sovereigns, William and Mary. The tax-payers then were only about thirty, and Peter Tufts was one very notable among them, one of the men that had to do with the making of the fifty-year-old hamlet into a town called Meadford.

The genealogy of Peter Tufts' family is a curious study. What a fatality must have hovered about that old house that six of the first seven children of Peter and Mary Cotton Tufts should, in early infancy, die, and only John (the third) be spared, he whom his townspeople, in 1712, wanted for their minister. Next, in 1700, was Simon, who was Medford's first physician. And Simon had just attained his majority when Captain Peter passed away in 1721. We read that the property his father Peter bequeathed him in Medford ‘consisted of seventeen acres of land, five of which were at Snake-hole.’ And where was Snake-hole? Was it the wonderful tunnel we were told of when we visited the fine old [p. 69] home of Captain Peter? We don't think so; still, we have a little curiosity as to that locality and how it got the name. We have gathered up the few incidents named with the wish that others more curious may be more successful in their quest of the doings and life of Peter Tufts, who must have been a prominent man in Medford ‘in colony times under the king.’

1 Old Wellington house.

2 Royall House.

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