An analysis of the result frequently suggests an examination of the beginning. To know more about an effect one naturally seeks the cause which has produced that effect. When a matter is submitted to scientific investigation, the operator aims to reveal its properties by one or more of the various means which ancient and modern discovery have supplied, in order that he may discover its component parts and analyze their quantity and quality, rarely ceasing to continue his research until the cause and effect are generally if not fully understood. When the life of a person comes suddenly and prominently before us, investigation at once begins. Who is this individual? Where was he born? Who are his parents and they the progeny of what ancestry? Where was he educated? What profession does he follow? Thus pedigree, character and vocation must all submit to the most rigid inquisition until it is positively or negatively demonstrated that the personage is actually possessed of the characteristics imputed to his reputation. When the wonderful development of the powers of a nation or the startling dismemberment of its fragile forces arrests our attention, we seek to understand the reason, and turn the pages of its history, not merely to satisfy curiosity, but to study its political character and the causes which have led to that success or failure, that we may increase our knowledge and wisdom in civil government. In this respect a community or town as a unit of government is not unlike a nation, and, if we would profitably review its history, it is well to turn to its beginnings and characterize the men and women who were the pioneers of its early settlement.
A review of the primitive organization of an old New England town is made the more interesting, if not peculiar, to the student of history for the reason that no precedent therefore at the time definitely existed, and the longer inquiries continue, and the deeper research becomes, the more one is constrained to adopt the conclusion that these early settlers primarily had no formulated design of government any further than to begin and act upon the basis that a government established in the fear and love of God, whose fundamental principle was civil and religious liberty, would shape itself and surely crystallize into such a community as could be successfully controlled by the intelligence of its people.
The earliest settlements of New England were necessarily made along its coast, and when the story of embarkation, the incidental occurrences of the voyage, and the landing upon these shores is told of one, a narrative of the others becomes repetitious and arrests the observing eye or the attentive ear of those only who have a particular interest in the locality whose ancient manuscripts and historic pages are for the first time being reviewed or proclaimed. But these early colonists came from England and consequently their history often becomes exceedingly interesting to their posterity. When the first cabin was built in this immediate vicinity probably nearly a century had elapsed since the first puritan landing upon yonder shore. But neither lapse of time nor the passing away of a few successive generations can intercept the purpose of the inquirer so long as the genealogy of our forefathers can be traced back to the passengers of the vessels which made such long and perilous voyages across the deep Atlantic.
In pursuing the annals of such a people, one’s thought naturally falls within the principle already stated, and propounds the question, who were these men and women who more than two and a half centuries ago transplanted themselves to the barren and inhospitable shores of a new continent? To tell the story of the causes which actuated them to leave their native land, their homes, their friends and all that was dear to them, would be to give a synopsis of the history of the centuries which intervened between the Norman Conquest and the time of their embarkation to the New World, involving causes and results of reformations, revolutions, the rise and fall of dynasties, the success and failures of different families of rulers, particularly that of the House of Stuarts. For the purposes of this address such an attempt would be extremely disappointing. But something, however, may be said in a precursory way, as a preface to the treatment of the subject to be considered. The revolutions and reformations alluded to had radically changed the principles and ideas that once were thought to be so firmly fixed in the minds of all the English speaking people as to be utterly incapable of innovation. But new measures demanded new men. The advancement of new principles in such an age required fearless and powerful advocates. These must be men of faith and virtue, patience and godliness, industry and perseverance, knowledge and foresight, experience and hope, and not wanting in physical endurance. Such qualities as these were not found in the ordinary classes of men and women, consequently none of the latter constituted the earliest immigrants to the American wilderness. Such men, heralding the principles of civil and religious liberty and sowing seeds of antipathy to the feudal system, could not long advocate such doctrines without censure. To live in houses of contentment, to walk in paths of pleasure and ease, was not theirs to enjoy while directing the characteristic energies which their principles of faith required in order that such might become recognized institutions. For many years the school of adversity taught them that the rulers and institutions of the Old World would never tolerate their independent measures, and inculcated in their minds a spirit of determination to seek new territory for the dissemination and growth of those ideas which they believed to be pure, holy, and conducive to the development and welfare of the sect to which they belonged. Such were the circumstances necessarily imposed upon the early settlers of New England to wean them from the homesteads and inheritances of their native land. Depressed, but not discouraged, they resolved upon emigration. To what land would they go? Some of them, pursued with bitter persecution, fled to the coast of peaceful Holland. But a little more than a decade of years convinced these that institutions of civil and religious freedom would require a wider field than the hospitable areas of Amsterdam and Leyden, or even the whole domain of Holland. Meanwhile trading vessels had been plying between the opposite shores of the Atlantic, and, from the navigators of these, the London merchants had gathered vivid descriptions of America which they were not slow in circulating and turning to account, in order that adventurers might be allured into colonizing themselves in America, and a profitable trade thereby established. The map or chart delineated by Capt. John Smith of Virginia fame, who in 1614 explored the coast of New England with some degree of thoroughness, may have been exhibited, or his fascinating representations of its soil, verdure and climate (with the winter left out) may have played a part in preparing the discontented to seek paradisal homes in a wilderness. Be that as it may, America became the land of destination. On her virgin soil their great ideas could take root, and in her fair and almost illimitable fields their institutions could be founded without restraint or limitation. Accordingly, in the late autumn or early winter of 1620 the first wave of immigration reached our New England shore. It has been calculated that during the period from 1620 to 1640 upwards of 22,000 puritan emigrants (the figures have been placed as high as 50,000) sailed from English and Dutch ports. The reasons that compelled the departure of a very large majority of these determined their quality. Massachusetts Bay was no longer unknown to the counties and boroughs of England. The white winged fleets were continually arriving here laden with free humanity. These valuable freights were no sooner discharged than grants of land were sought and assigned, until here and there the whole coast from Cape Cod to Cape Ann became either the garden for the husbandry of its proprietor, the common for the grazing of flocks and herds, or the hunting ground for the capture of game. These rapidly increasing settlements were fortunately if not providentially under the guidance and leadership of three glorious Johns and a hundred or more of their wise adherents. John Carver on the South, John Endicott on the North and John Winthrop in the midst. Through the plans and counsels of such men, colonies were well organized, settlements were crystallized into communities and towns, and the establishment of a Christian commonwealth was made certain.
The interior of a country can only be penetrated by commencing at its borders. That portion of the coast which lies between the Neponset and Monatiquot rivers finally inclosed an area which was limited only by the Old Colony line. It is needless to add that this vicinity lies within that inclosure. As the extensive border is narrowed, and investigation is confined to the territory of an original township, one’s interest first centres upon its people. Here inquisition becomes a slave to curiosity. What foreigners first stood upon these narrow confines? Were they explorers, or sojourners, or did they come to stay? A question not susceptible of a satisfactory answer. They may have been Northmen who explored the American coast from Labrador to Rhode Island as early as the eleventh century, and thereafter, long before the first voyage of Columbus, made several unsuccessful attempts at settlements. It may have been Captain John Smith in 1614, before referred to, or seven years later the pilgrim party who, with the friendly and influential Tisquantum as a providential Indian guide and interpreter, made their first visit along yonder shore, coursing and anchoring their little shallop as occasion or opportunity might require. Here they land upon island — there they roam upon mainland. It may have been David Thomson, the first occupant of the “Farm School island,” from whom its name is derived. Thus far the answer to our question is somewhat conjectural. At a little later period, however, history becomes more reliable. In June, 1625, Captain Wollaston and Thomas Morton, with a few companions and some thirty or forty servants, sailed into Boston harbor, and, probably guided by Morton, selected Passonagesset, the home of Chickatabot (Mt. Wollaston), as the place to pitch their tent and form the beginning of a permanent settlement or trading post. Not with motives and purposes like those who had preceded them under Carver, or those who followed them under Winthrop, did this band establish themselves. The stay of Wollaston was brief. It took but the climate of a single New England winter to cause him to seek the sunny climes of Virginia, leaving his companion Morton, who soon became the leader of the little handful that remained. Subsequently, however, Morton displayed a conduct so offensive to the earlier and later arrivals that more than once he was routed, and finally was compelled to return to England in obedience to the sentence of Governor Winthrop. Of Wollaston very little is known, not even his Christian name, and were it not that he gave his surname to the home of Chickatabot, which it ever since has borne, his figure in history would have been a blank.
While the depleted number of the Wollaston Company had been idling away their time by seeking enjoyment in May Pole dances and gain by bartering fire arms with the Indians, the adjacent settlements had been busy in learning the methods of agriculture adapted to New England soil and climate. As a consequence, Wollaston lands were undeveloped, and upon their evacuation, Winthrop, Saltonstall and Company were quick to see their opportunity. This company of settlers, organized before leaving the English port, was composed of some men well fixed in worldly goods, and not improbably of that class of the English gentry who had been educated to passions for landed estates. No sooner did these tread the soil of the trimountain district than their hunger for large possessions of land was made manifest. But little Boston was too limited to satisfy their demands, to say nothing of their desires. Five or six miles beyond the Dorchester lands lay Wollaston territory then unclaimed by any settlement in the full meaning of that term. The General Court convened in May of 1634 and probably the principal business considered was the limited territory of Boston and the necessity of its “enlargement," a word well fitted to the situation, for while the boundaries of Boston might then be incapable of extension, its dominions could be enlarged. Accordingly, in September of the same year, the following appears of record: “It is ordered that Boston shall have enlargement at Mount Wollaston.” And thus Wollaston, including this vicinity, became a part of Boston and so remained until 1640. No sooner was this accession secured than grants from the General Court were solicited, and large allotments assigned. The names of Wilson, Quincy, Coddington, Hough and others, all residents of Boston, appear among the recipients. Never before nor since were extensive farms so needed.
At this time it may be well to briefly remark concerning one of these recipients who took a prominent part in the growth of WolIaston, and whose name has been perpetuated in connection with the support of our schools. I refer to the name of William Coddington. This personage was a thriving Boston merchant and the owner of much property. Boston’s first brick house is said to have been built by him. In the December following Boston’s enlargement at WolIaston, five individuals were appointed to seek out and assign “what may be sufficient for William Coddington and Edmund Quincy to have for their particular farms there.” A large tract bordering upon the bay was assigned to the two, a partition of which was subsequently made. We cannot linger to discuss the cause and effect of the antinomian controversy. Suffice it to say that the great preacher, John Wheelwright, and Anne Hutchinson promoted and held to certain religious tenets which at one time threatened the whole colony with disintegration. It was for the dissension which arose from Coddington’s sympathy with the doctrines upheld by these principals that caused him to retreat to the frontier of Rhode Island, whose parent he afterwards became. His Wollaston possessions, by some process of law then better understood than at the present time, subsequently came under the control of Old Braintree, as will more fully appear by reference to the first page of its records. In such manner has benefaction been ascribed to the name of Coddington. These acquisitions enabled the land proprietors to sow rental seeds, which were not long in germinating, and whose fruit might have ripened into a perfect system of land tenure had it not been for the resolute opposition and determined resistance of the sixty-nine freeholders of Old Braintree, whose compact some sixty or seventy years later made it possible for the vassals of this country to own the manor free from the dominant interference of a lord.
A few years wore away, during which the town of Boston made grants to such of the multitudes that flocked to these shores as could be induced to locate at Wollaston. There, it appears, a hamlet was soon formed of members not of the character of Morton, their predecessor, but of church going people, who soon experienced the toil and inconvenience of attending church at Boston seven miles away. After Wheelwright’s banishment, their complaints became grievous and soon were heeded. On September 16, 1639, the first church at Braintree was gathered and the covenant signed by eight persons, including pastor and teacher. This church by some is held to be the fifteenth, by others the twentieth, in the Massachusetts Colony. Here the second settlement of Massachusetts Bay was commenced (that at Weymouth being the first), but not the second church. The next General Court displays the progressional spirit of the young colony by acting upon their petition to be incorporated as a town. Progress prompts resistance and advancement reveals obstacles, and their enthusiasm in this direction did not prove to be an exception to the rule. The authority to incorporate a town came from the General Court. But for the better understanding of the situation it should be borne in mind that the General Court of that day was not the General Court of the present day. That body under the terms of their charter was very similar to a corporation of the present day, who periodically had meetings and chose directors, the members or proprietors of the one corresponding to the stockholders of the other. The common territory of Wollaston was a part of their capital stock, and when the occupants of its soil petitioned for the immunities of a town government, the granting thereof conveyed very different privileges from the franchise which a similar act of our Legislature affords today. The perplexities of the situation, however, had been anticipated. Months before the consummation of their purpose, they had been busy in endeavoring to adjust the difficulties which were certain to confront them when their petition came to be considered by the General Court. Success in their project imported certain conditions as an appendant, the terms of which follow the record of the birth of Braintree. And so it was that on May 13, 1640 (O. S.), “The petition of the inhabitants of Mount Wollaston was voted, and granted them to be a town according to the agreement with Boston — and the town is to be called Braintree.” Thus the Braintree of 1634 to 1640 was a part of Boston, and her records for that period can there be found.
Braintree, in so far as its name and area were concerned, was now incorporated, and was Wollaston no more. But its system of town government seems to have been undetermined, and probably many of its citizens lived through the primitive stages of its existence without experiencing much, if anything, to indicate the transition. It appears, however, that a volume for recording its proceedings was provided, and as if something significant of a beginning must therein be written, the deed of the Coddington School land was recorded on its first page. Such was the beginning and the close of Braintree’s memoranda for the year 1640.
Sixty years more brings us to the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Braintree’s community within its northern confines had enlarged, generations had been born who had invaded the common lands of its southern frontier, and with woodman’s axe had felled the oaks and pines of the forest, constructed the log cabin, and, with rude implements of husbandry, transformed the stubborn soil into mellow ground, and produced crops sufficient for both man and beast. This was the time that Boston began to assert its claims to certain rights in the soil of the Braintree waste lands, and to tighten the coil which more than a half century before had been so carefully adjusted. The dispute waxed warmer and warmer, until it had assumed all the elements of a quarrel. January 10, 1697-8, the mutual agreement was signed by sixty-nine of the freeholders of Braintree, each covenanting with the other “to defend our ancient Rights,” to which allusion has already been made. For several years the contest was waged without abatement. Town meetings were held, at which votes were passed and committees of adjustment appointed. The issue was an important one to the future interests of Braintree. One which was either to establish or intercept the perpetual payment of a fixed rent-charge by the occupants of the land, an issue which if decided affirmatively would forever forbid the improvements on land wholly enuring to the benefit and ownership of the toiler who made them. In other words, it was a struggle to introduce into New England the feudal system in its mature and most perfect form. It was then that Braintree fully comprehended the meaning of the word “enlargement.” Finally a compromise was effected in 1708, when seven hundred pounds subscribed by the proprietors of the Braintree lands purchased the so-called rights of Boston, and thereby defeated a well-planned attempt at tenure system in America. It was during this same period and the few years of it which closed the seventeenth century that those events transpired in England which produced marked features in the development of Braintree, as well as other New England towns. With the Revolution of 1688 ended the Stuart dynasty which enabled the colonists to rid themselves of the obnoxious and insulting Andros, and to receive William and Mary’s provincial charter in which was embodied many of those principles of liberty which before had been denied them. That Braintree was mindful of these progressional events appears from her records.
But no sooner had foreign relations assumed a favorable appearance than those of a domestic and ecclesiastical nature claimed the watch and attention of every parishioner. The effect of settlements on the frontier and waste lands now became apparent to the first church of Braintree. Three or four miles distance from the meeting house had caused the inhabitants of the southern frontier who wished to enjoy the privileges of public worship to regard Sunday as a day of toil rather than a day of rest. Such in their turn claimed the right of withdrawal, while those located at the north and in the vicinity of the meeting house strongly opposed the seceding policy. Year after year the claim was pressed without success, until finally rebellion seized upon the minds of the south enders, to allay which, advice was proffered, reconciliation sought, councils convened, the General Court petitioned, but all without avail. The claimants were persistent in their efforts to make Sunday a day of rest. Their persistency culminated in erecting a meeting house in 1706 on or near the site of the First Church of (North) Braintree. A church was there gathered September 10, 1707, and on the same day Rev. Hugh Adams was ordained its pastor. But a meeting house and a newly gathered church did not relieve its members from assessments to support the minister at the old church. The burden of double taxation proved too exasperating for the new society. The two factions became unrelenting in their positions. The comprising offers of the south were treated with disdain by the north, and the situation became lamentable. Finally the light of reason dawned upon them, and it became apparent that separation was inevitable. Measures of reconciliation followed. A town and parish meeting and a ratification of its action by the General Court separated the town into a north and south precinct in 1708, the dividing line being substantially the same as that between the present Braintree and Quincy. This event, coincident with her independence from Boston land claimants, made the year 1708 memorable in the annals of Old Braintree, and forms an epoch in her history.
We have now advanced in our narrative to an era where Cochato, as originally defined, will soon begin to take a part in the drama of the eighteenth century. Thus far we have endeavored to trace the progress of a few of those events and incidental occurrences in which the precincts of Old Braintree had a common interest, and which form links in the chain that moors the present to remote dates in the past.
As we draw near the confines of ancient Cochato, here again we find ourselves at another beginning, where imagination quickens and will not be suppressed. Investigation commences. Whence this name Cochato? Is it not an Indian denomination, and did Indians at any time occupy this vicinity? As to the origin of this name, nothing seems to have been found affording a definite and reliable answer. It was probably a title given either to a Sagamore or a branch of the Neponset tribe of Indians. The aboriginal tribes of America were numerous, and that some of them inhabited this vicinity is quite certain from the vestiges which here and there have appeared. How they became extinct before our forefathers settled here admits of an answer bearing a semblance of truth. It is a fact, which before in order of date might have been mentioned, that throughout the years 1616 and 1617 a pestilential disease visited the eastern portions of Massachusetts as now defined, the ravages of which seem to have been confined exclusively to the Indian. Its work of destruction was complete. The warriors of the Massachusetts were reduced from three thousand to not much above a hundred, which weakened the tribe to such an extent that it nominally transferred its federal allegiance to Massasoit, chief sachem of the Pokanokets. For years after, the unburied bones of the red men lie bleaching on the surface of their native soil. This may account for the absence of the Indian in Cochato two centuries and more ago. It certainly affords a reason why the early settlers of our vicinage experienced so little of the Indian hostility and massacre when compared with that of other sections of Massachusetts.
As to the condition of this section of Old Braintree in the early years of the eighteenth century, the Hon. Samuel Sewall has recorded in his diary under date of September 9, 1704, as follows: “Col. Hawthorne and I set out for Bridgewater. Sam. Moody waits on me. Bait at Braintree. A Taunton man, Mason, overtakes us and becomes a very good Pilot to us through the wilderness. Dine late at Waldo’s upon the edge of Bridgewater. Got to Howard’s about a quarter of an hour before sunset Sept. 10.” So this eminent jurist in his own words tells us that in 1704 he traveled through this very street which was then but a beaten path. Let us indulge our imagination while we endeavor to review the experiences of the little company having so distinguished a personage, as they journey through our midst. Had we joined the party an hour or two after leaving their baiting place in Braintree, and just after their horses had forded the Monatiquot or Farm River (as it was then indiscriminately called), and trudged along the bridlepath, we could have seen Mason, Sewall and Hawthorne in one, two, three order, each keeping within speaking distance of the other, and yet rarely indulging in conversation except when the defective condition of the trail required a warning from the leader or the deviations of the path a moment’s consideration. The path was probably quite well defined, and to one accustomed to such journeying not difficult to follow. It led from the river southward in nearly the same course as our North Street is now located, except in its deflection to avoid Flagg Meadow (so-called), which presently will be defined more particularly. But how still! The loamy soil made footsteps almost noiseless. Hardly a sound was heard except the occasional urging of the weary horse, the rustling of the leaves by the gentle breeze, or the caw of the crow signaling an enemy’s approach. Step by step they diminish the distance to be overcome. The little brook at the foot of yonder hill is forded, and slowly they make their ascent to the elevated site nearly covered by the canvas under which we are convened. Here, tired of sitting in the saddle, they come to a halt, and one after another they dismount. This is a familiar spot to Mason. Its attractions had caused him to mark it. Having already discovered that his companions were lovers of nature, he turns toward the north, and a simple gesture, unaccompanied by any human voice, is all that is necessary to secure the attention of eyes that had long been trained to admire the beauties of an inartificial landscape. It was the ninth day of September, and many of the maples had commenced to assume their autumnal tints. Through the openings here and there could be seen the diversified scenery of the broad valley until it began to climb the southern slopes of the Blue Hill range. The Judge at once recognizes the hills. These were like neighbors to him, but perhaps never before had he been permitted to take in at one view the whole chain, or even their sunny side at all. The view was as charming and picturesque then as now. But not then did they know that these hills were composed of material which was to be distributed through nearly all countries of the civilized world, or that 635 feet was the altitude of the Great Blue Hill, which is now believed to be the highest elevation of land on the eastern coast of the United States from Maine to Florida. At this time probably not a house or cabin had been built in what was then called Cochato. Here we will leave the Hon. Judge to pursue his journey toward Bridgewater, thanking him for his brief allusion to our locality, having been fully convinced that then he appropriately termed it a wilderness.
The deed of 1665, a mere muniment of title from the Indian Wampatuck, the son of Chickatabut (a fac simile of which may be seen in our library), and by which Samuel Bass and others, the grantees therein named, sought to frustrate the disputed land claims of Boston, included this wilderness out of which Boston had already carved Edward Bendall’s farm of 400 acres, also a small portion of the 3000 acres assigned to John Winthrop called the iron works grant, and other smaller parcels. It was this wilderness that comprised a part of the grant from the town of Boston to Ephraim Hunt, John Wilson and John Baxter in 1708, who received the same as trustees for the proprietors of Braintree. From these individuals, particularly from Ephraim Hunt, the title to many of the early allotments of land in this vicinity was derived. It may be of interest to consider some of them. In so doing it must be borne in mind, however, that roads did not exist until settlements became sufficiently dense to necessitate their construction. In prospecting for a farm the proximity of a spring, river or pond was one of the essential features sought. There were no wells in those days. Hence the reason why early settlers so often selected the depressions of the country in which they located.
Among the earliest pioneers to erect in ancient Cochato a shelter for man and beast were the following:
William Linfield, whose father was the owner of land here as early as 1702, pitched his tent on the Bridgewater path near the Avon line, and as early as 1723 had a house a little south of the homestead of the late John Linfield. Previous to this he probably occupied a log cabin according to the custom of the times. A portion of his lands is still in the possession of one of his descendants, whose surname he bears.
John French and Samuel Bass are entitled to honorable mention. The former, a grandson of John and Grace French, who first settled in Dorchester but soon removed to Old Braintree, located some distance north of the Holbrook Station on land owned until recently by his great grandson, the late Wales French. His posterity became very numerous and their kindred may be traced into nearly all parts of our country. The latter, a great grandson of Deacon Samuel Bass, the first deacon of Braintree’s first church, also a great grandson of the Hon. John Alden, the Pilgrim of Mayflower fame, settled northerly of but adjacent to his neighbor French on land which is now owned by the heirs of the late Doctor Ebenezer Alden, a descendant of both Samuel Bass and John Alden.
James Bagley very early arrived. He lived easterly of the Bridgewater path previous to 1716 on land now occupied by the Central Cemetery, the old or northerly part of which he gave for burial purposes. The precise date of the opening of this burial ground is unknown, but probably about 1716, as by the record of Rev. Samuel Niles there were but three burials in it up to October 17, 1717.
Deacon Thomas Wales and Joseph Wales, two brothers, and children of Nathaniel Wales, the last chosen elder of Braintree’s First Church, also early settled here. The former’s home was westerly of the Bridgewater path near the present Stoughton or Wales Street. The latter settled on South Street on the site until lately occupied by the late Apollos Wales and his father, the late John Wales. These two brothers had very large families and their descendants are still quite numerous here.
John Niles, the carpenter, and John Niles, the cooper, or senior and junior (so-called for the purpose of distinction) were cousins and grandchildren of John Niles of Old Braintree, and came here at a very early date. In conversation not long since with a friend of mine whose historical and genealogical knowledge of ancient and modern Cochato is entitled to a marked degree of accuracy, he remarked that he had learned from sources not wholly traditional that John Niles, the carpenter, had his cabin on a site easterly from Central Cemetery as now inclosed. Subsequently he built a house easterly of the Bridgewater path on the elevation of ground nearly opposite the easterly terminus of Liberty Street. The latter John Niles, the junior and cooper, a man of considerable prominence, became a neighbor to John, the carpenter, by fixing his domicile on or near the site of the old homestead of the late Jason Holbrook on the southerly side of Liberty Street. The mortality of the family of this timely settler has historical reference. He died May 7, 1752, and within ten days thereafter his wife, his brother Ebenezer, his son Peter, his son Nathan, and his sister Mrs. Benjamin Clark all died, and were among the early burials in the cemetery near by.
Samuel Pain, great grandson of Moses Paine, one of Old Braintree’s early pioneers, lived easterly of the Bridgewater path a few rods northerly of Bear Swamp Brook.
Capt. Moses Curtis preferred to be neighbor to William Linfield and lived on land afterwards occupied by Rev. Joel Briggs just within the town of Avon. He was always identified with the interests of Ancient Cochato, although not strictly within its territorial limits.
Alexander French, a grandson of John and Grace French, owned land from the Bridgewater path to Cochato River and for many years had his home near the recent homestead of the late Jackson Belcher.
Gideon Thayer owned a large farm at the West Corner, living there until 1734, since which time it has been owned by the Mann family.
David Eames lived on Mill Street, a neighbor to John French, Jonathan Hayden on the Bridgewater path on or near the site of the homestead of the late Charles Holbrook, Benjamin Hayward on land near the junction of North Main and Grove Street, Ebenezer Niles on a portion of Bendall’s farm in the vicinity of West Street, and John Smith at Tower Hill not far from the residence of his grandson, the late Simeon Smith. It is said that the log cabin of the latter was not taken down until about 1750.
To the eastward, far beyond the Cochato River, on what is now South Franklin Street, dwelt Thomas Fenton on what afterwards became the homestead of the late Isaac Spear, and still farther southward in what is now Brookville could be found Daniel Thayer.
In the soil of the Blue Hill valley on the trail to Dorchester, Edmund Littlefield chose to raise his crops. The fertility of this soil has since been successfully tested by the husbandry of the late Joseph Hunt and posterity.
David Niles, John and William Nightingale, John Allen, Samuel Bagley, James Penniman, Samuel Speer, Ebenezer Copeland, Nathan Belcher, and others whose names are historically mentioned, settled here during Cochato’s primitive period.
In the minds and hearts of these early settlers had been inculcated the principles of religion. Like their ancestry they loved their God and Him alone they must worship. The meeting-house of Rev. Samuel Niles’ church was the home of their public worship. He was their faithful minister and his pastoral charge had been satisfactorily performed. But their reciprocal relations were fast becoming burdensome to both. For a third time history had begun to repeat itself in Braintree. Again Sunday to some had become a day of toil. To travel from five to eight miles to enjoy the privileges of religious services signified the invasion these settlements had made upon the wilderness, twenty years of industry and progressive civilization, and consequently the necessity of the organization of another church. The parent church, as if profiting by her experience of twenty or more years before, encouraged and approved the project.
Accordingly March 13, 1726 (O.S.), the New South Precinct was set off from Braintree’s Second Precinct, and during the following summer and fall a meeting-house was erected and so far completed as to partially afford accommodations to the eager worshippers. Although a rude structure in itself, nevertheless the generations of those days knew not what it was to exchange the venerable cathedrals and churches of England for meeting-houses with walls of mud or logs and roofs of thatch, as did the forefathers of a few generations before.
January 5, 1727 (O.S.), the General Court confirmed the action of the Second Precinct by granting the petition of twenty-eight of Cochato’s prominent men, many of whose homes have been located, and from this date commences the civil and religious government of the ancestry of this community. From this date Braintree is divided into three precincts, the North, the South and the New South, which subsequently assumed the names of North, Middle and South Precincts. The name Cochato now becomes merged in the appellation “South Precinct” except in so far as the brook in yonder valley serves to remind us of its origin and antiquity.
For reasons not infrequent in those days, circumstances did not permit the gathering of a church until May 28, 1731 (O.S.), at which time the recently chosen pastor, Rev. Elisha Eaton, and nine laymen formed the nucleus of the church which twelve years ago celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary.
The period from January 5, 1727 (O.S.), to March 9, 1793, is precinct, consequently some of our early history must be found in the records of this church and parish, whose annals and history it will not be my purpose to repeat, because so thoroughly told at the anniversary just mentioned. The historical discourses of that occasion are still fresh in the memories of those who heard or have since read them. For this and other reasons, it will not be my aim to review the history of the South Precinct in its parochial relations, but rather its municipal character, which was more or less influenced and shaped by the combined action of all of Braintree’s precincts. That we may fully comprehend these relations, perhaps it may be well in a few words to consider them.
The term “precinct” is used synonymously with “parish” but not with “town.” Precinct and town are distinct in their nature, object and powers. While the former is established solely for the purpose of maintaining public worship, its powers being limited to that effect, the latter, a civil and political corporation, is established for municipal purposes. Under the colonial law both might subsist in the same territory and be composed of the same people, and so continue until a parish was therein created, the territorial limits of which might include the whole town, or only a part of it, in which case the remaining portion became the first parish. Until so legally separated, both parochial and municipal affairs were transacted at the town-meeting, and the doings thereof indiscriminately recorded. While such a body might appear a unity, yet it was dual, and the functions of the one entirely distinct from that of the other. As this South Precinct was organized in the first instance as a parish and not as a town, the customs and usages which three score and more years of precinct existence had made habitual, was therefore very little disturbed when it became the first parish of a newly incorporated town.
Life in the new parish with all its responsibilities was now real. To exercise the powers, privileges and immunities with which the General Court had endowed it, meant a life of sacrifice, perseverance, industry, economy. With these characteristics the recipients were well acquainted. The burdens, however, were not to be borne by them alone. New endowments brought new life and accessions to the vicinage.
Among those who, during the precinct period, came with hands ready to subdue the wilderness, we find the names of many persons whose posterity still lingers with us. The following are the surnames of some of them: Adams, Alden, Baker, Beals, Belcher, Burrell, Chessman, Clark, Faxon, Hayward and Howard, Holbrook, Hubbard, Hunt, Hunting, Jones, Jordan, King, Mann, May, Newcomb, Paine, Porter, Sawin, Spear, Turner, Vinton, Wales, West, Whitcomb, White, Wild, and others. These men with their families were not here as sojourners, they had come to stay. They with their sons built the walls in the forests about us; transformed the woodlands into pastures and fields; and year after year, generation after generation, sowed and planted and harvested the fruits of their toil. Their wives and daughters were no idlers. In every household were found the spinning wheel, the reel, the winder and the loom. These women, eager to perform their part, converted the flax, the wool, and later the cotton, into fabrics which clad the members of their respective families. Such were some of the employments of our fathers and their noble wives during the precinct days of our existence.
According to the Braintree records, it was very early in this period that roads were petitioned for. They were not always granted, however. As the surplus of the fruits of industry increased it became necessary to market it, and the capacity of the saddle-bag became inadequate.
It is quite apparent that the oldest road in the South Precinct is that of North Street with South Main Street, its early name being the “Old Beaten Path,” and subsequently called the Bridgewater Road. It was not until 1714 that any formal location was made. Its general course was then as now, except between Oak Street and the railroad bridge, where it deflected to the west. On this deflection, still discernible, lived Amos Stetson, the grandfather of the late Hon. Amasa Stetson. Other old homesteads along this road were that of Deering Spear, where Rufus A. Thayer now resides; the Niles houses as before mentioned; that of Rev. Elisha Eaton, near the home of the late Charles Holbrook; that of Jeremy Thayer, still standing (Devine’s house); that of Rev. Moses Taft on the corner of Cottage Street.
The road now comprising Oak and Canton Streets, as early as 1721, was laid out for a convenient “cart way” to Dorchester near Punkapog. On this road was the Gideon Thayer homestead, which in 1734 was purchased by Joseph Man, the common ancestor of the Mann family, who was grandson of Richard Man, the Scituate planter.
The easternly portion of Liberty Street was located in 1723.
South Street was located in 1731 and again in 1764. On this road lived Lieut. Joshua Hayward, subsequently the home of the late Doctor Ebenezer Alden, Sr. It was this Joshua who was the donor of the £50 which, with its accumulation, forms a part of the funds of the First Congregational Church.
North Main, with Orchard Street to Oak Street, was located in 1733 for a “more convenient passing to meeting.” The trail to Milton was through this road and thence by Oak, Canton and Old Streets. The oldest house on this road, so far as known, was that of the late Samuel Belcher, a descendant of Braintree’s Gregory Belcher, and the first of the name to come to this precinct. This house is still standing on the easterly side of the road a few rods northerly from West Street. His son Samuel lived in the old house quite recently removed which stood near the westerly side of the road a little southerly of the residence of Henry A. Belcher, and is remembered by many at the present time.
Mill Street, while an ancient path, was not formally located until 1748, probably because of the expense in bridging the river at the mill of the late Deacon Peter Thayer and Barnabas Clark, both of whom early fixed their homes here.
Franklin Street (in Holbrook) in 1731 was located from Cranberry Brook to Daniel Thayer’s, in the vicinity now called Brookville. On this way lived Deacon John Holbrook, in a house recently removed, but still an ancient landmark near the Braintree line, who was the great, great grandfather of the late Elisha Niles Holbrook; Naptali Thayer in a house near Tumbling Brook; Joseph White on the Winthrop Church site; Col. Jonathan Bass on the late Lewis Whitcomb homestead; Elihu Adams, brother of President John Adams, near the beautiful elm which was transplanted by Col. Jesse Reed nearly a century since; Noah Whitcomb on premises of his grandson, the late Simeon Whitcomb.
The road between the east and west villages was located as the bridle path originally ran, which was from the square (in Holbrook) to Water Street, thence to Centre Street, thence southerly on Centre to South Street, thence on South Street to the square at the meeting house. On this road, just east of the Cochato River, resided Benjamin Paine, the ancestor of most, if not all, the Paines of Holbrook, and who was great grandfather of the late Silas Paine, who lived on the homestead at the time of his death.
It was during the period of precinct growth that Great Britain, in the exercise of her sovereign power and will, manifested a disposition to discipline her American Colonies to a sense of submission to “taxation without representation.” While her colonial subjects were young and without experience in an English parliament, yet their limited education had been savored of the rights of man, and prepared for their protection and defense. In those days patriots were here. Old Braintree had some of them, and the matter contained on nearly twenty pages of her records shows with what spirit the oppressions of the sovereign power of England were received. The first was in relation to the Stamp Act, the last the Declaration of Independence. Great excitement then prevailed. Then there were no Tories living in the South Precinct. At least Mrs. John Adams seemed so to think when she saw the powder being transferred from the north end of the town to a place of concealment more southern. But the outcome of it all is familiar. The Revolution was inevitable and it came. Battles were fought, blood was shed and independence from the mother country was achieved, all during our precinct years. No attempt will be made to give a perfect list of the persons who performed military service in this war. The following is a partial list of those who either lived in, or were identified with, the interests of the South Precinct, namely: Col. Jonathan Bass, Capt. Seth Turner and his son Seth, Capt. Joseph Richards, Capt. Eliphalet Sawin, Nathaniel Niles, Noah Whitcomb and his son David and grandson Moses, Gideon Tower, Nathaniel Hubbard, Jr., Joseph Mann, Edmund Smith, John Hill, John Madan and others.
It has been remarked that we had no Tories here in Revolutionary days. But history records the fact that one, William Martin, of Boston, whose wife Anna owned certain lands on North Street in the vicinity of Martin’s Rocks (so-called) in 1781 was adjudged to be an absentee under the Absentee Act, whereby this property was confiscated and escheated to the Commonwealth, and Levi Thayer and Paul Thayer, two of our early citizens, became its tenants until about 1805, when the judgment was reversed on the ground that under the Act the property of a married woman could not be confiscated, a decision which must have caused Paul and Levi no inconsiderable loss.
The precinct period was now rapidly waning, and the near future almost revealed the change which was to separate parochial from municipal government. Population had increased, and many persons in their religion had adopted the Baptist persuasion, who, joining with the residents of Stoughton (Avon) in 1780, formed a church, and soon after erected a house for worship in the extreme southern limits of the South Precinct. Such action may have produced inequality in the burden of taxation and hastened town incorporation. Be that as it may, the incorporation of the North Precinct into a town by the name of Quincy in 1792, seemed to quicken in the people of that day and generation an inspiration for independence in municipal government, notwithstanding the gentle remonstrance of the parent. The precinct garment which sixty-five years before had been prepared for these people, had now been outgrown, and the exigencies of the situation demanded a new pattern.
Accordingly, in 1792 a petition for the incorporation of a new town was resolved upon, and what should be its name? If some surname was to be adopted, who should receive the honor? There were no landed gentry here, and the little hamlet offered no personage who had so distinguished himself as to be entitled to such a compliment. Their decision, however, was not long deferred. The revolutionary period had developed an abundance of material. Their perception had been quick and their memory lasting. Side by side with the patriots of Massachusetts had stood the sons and patriots of Virginia in the struggle for independence. Among the latter there had died, nearly twenty years before, a young man whose natural abilities, trained at William and Mary College and professionally disciplined at the Temple in London, had led him to the front ranks of usefulness and service to his country. Having distinguished himself in the House of Burgesses as a leader well fitted to guide and direct legislative bodies, he became the first president of the Continental Congress which assembled at Carpenter’s Hall, September 5, 1774. The characteristics of the man already suggest his name, and it is hardly necessary to say that our forefathers thought it appropriate to perpetuate the name of Peyton Randolph. This petition to be incorporated as a town, setting forth substantial reasons therefor, with “Randolph” for its name, signed by one hundred and twenty of the citizens of the South Precinct, of whom Joshua Howard and Elisha Wales were the Alpha and Omega, was now complete. It was presented to the General Court; it was granted, and the Town of Randolph came into existence March 9, 1793.
Bidding adieu to Braintree, our honored parent, and to our sister Quincy, let us here take the century pendulum and swing to the present day. At this station we meet our guests, our friends, our relatives, those who were born here and those who were not, all of whom have gathered to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of our home which the self-denial, enterprise and industry of our ancestry commenced, and which many still living have received either by inheritance or adoption. From this standpoint let us gaze upon the past and note some of the events completed within this cycle of years without attempting to venture in fields assigned to the historian.
The Acts of 1794 and 1830 required each town in the Commonwealth to file in the archives of the State House a plan of its territory. A plan signed by the selectmen of the town, but by no surveyor, dated January, 1795, representing the mere outlines or boundaries of the town with North and Main Streets delineated, and two grist mills located, seems to have satisfied the requirements of the first Act. Another plan more elaborate than the former in representing the roads and topography of the town was made and filed in accordance with the second Act. It was not until 1840 that a plan of the town was made which fully represented its roads and located the homes of its citizens. This plan was the work of private enterprise.
The first town meeting was held April 1, 1793, and Dr. Ephraim Wales was chosen its moderator. The executive powers of the town have been vested in a “Board of Selectmen,” comprising three members. Joseph White, Jr., Dr. Ebenezer Alden, Sr., and Micah White, Jr., constituted the first board. The number of different individuals who have been called to assume the responsibilities of this office has been fifty-five. A glance at the list cannot fail to attract attention and excite favorable comment. A board of selectmen for an ordinary New England town is a remarkable institution. In the words of another, it may be said that “it cannot be reasonably doubted that much of the wonderful success of the famous New England town government was due to the efficiency of the representative board. Only through the wisdom and executive skill of such a body, not too cumbrous for a sufficiently rapid transaction of business, could the country Village have grown into a populous borough, without clothing itself in the centralized organism of a municipality. And vast and numerous as were their powers there is little evidence in the records of any serious encroachments on the prerogative of the town meeting.” The financial and clerical duties of the town have thus far devolved upon eleven individuals, each performing the duties of both officers. Samuel Bass was elected the first clerk and treasurer, and the present incumbent has held the offices for more than one-third of the century we are reviewing. The first representative to the General Court was Samuel Bass.
Our ecclesiastical history is full of interest, and to most of you it is familiar. We point with pride to our churches of architectural beauty, whose spires, as a finger pointing heavenward, remind us of the word, of faith, of prayer, of works, and that “it is not the whole of life to live, nor all of death to die.”
The territory within the limits of the town, at the time or its incorporation, was the area over which the shepherds of the Church of the First Parish had pastoral charge until 1818, when it was narrowed by those living east of the Cochato River becoming incorporated into a parish there. Six pastors only have ministered grace to this flock. The combined number of years of the respective terms which three of these servants did faithfully and untiringly labor in the vineyard of their Lord and Master, is eighty-two, seventy-eight of them being within the past century.
The second church, organized since Randolph’s inception, is the First Baptist, an offspring of Rev. Joel Briggs’ church, located at our extreme southern border and before referred to. In 1819 the Aldens, Littlefields, Madans, Manns, Smiths, Spears, Stetsons, Thayers, Tolmans, Waleses, Whites and Howard, Lines, Reed and Tucker withdrew from the society where they had kept the vows which nearly forty years before they made beneath the shades of an apple tree, and established themselves in that part of our town known as the Baptist Village. Their field of labor thus far has appeared to be more localized than our other religious societies. Nineteen pastors have shared in the rewards for tending and watching over the members of this fold.
Next in order of time comes the St. Mary’s Catholic Church, whose period of usefulness has covered nearly a half century. Its membership is very large. Its original house of worship was erected in 1849, under the superintendence of Father Rodden, which was enlarged several years since under the direction of Father Burns. The territory over which this society exercised jurisdiction in its early days was quite extensive, embracing no less than that of Randolph and no inconsiderable portion of the adjoining towns. The Catholic societies of Holbrook and Avon, until recently, were under the pastoral care and watch of the priest and curate of the Randolph parish. Nine resident priests and six curates have faithfully administered to the spiritual wants of our people embracing the Catholic faith.
At Tower Hill we find a neat little chapel where the Methodist believers gather to hear the word of God and partake of the heavenly bread. This society, which owing to recent organization has not labored long in its chosen field, has been doing good work, and its laborers have been assiduous and prayerful in the work assigned them.
The infant society of our town is the Unitarian, called the Church of the Unity. It has been organized but a few years and has erected a beautiful church, which with its tasteful surroundings presents an ornamental appearance, and adds much to the beauty and attractions of our street. While it has had but two pastors, it has made a substantial beginning.
These churches have been dedicated to God. They are symbols of a worshipping people. As the religious principles, which well nigh two hundred and fifty years ago actuated the generations then living to moor these temples in this place of anchorage, moved westward, church organization and the public school system followed in the wake. But two hundred and fifty years ago ten miles westward from the sands of yonder shore was the west. Then those who pushed westward to claim the wilderness had with them the love and fear of God, and the desire to dedicate a house to His worship with all possible haste. Then they who drifted a league or two towards the setting sun, made sure that their cable was fast to the church to which they were anchored. Then the missionary was one of the pioneers. Then communication must be frequent and isolation meant heathenism. Then the means of communication was the saddle-horse and the courier. Then the wealth and resources of the west were unknown. But what a change has been wrought. The railway and steamship have developed and revolutionized the world. By means of these propelling agents the emigration of the eastern hemisphere becomes the immigration of the western. In tidal waves it has been rolling in upon us, not spending its force until checked by the Rocky Mountain range, where spraying over the summits it courses down the western slopes to the agricultural and mining industries beyond. This immigration! What does it mean? What is to be its effect upon the institutions of our country? A problem not of easy solution. Composed of people of all nationalities, many of them without religion, education, or morals, by means of the railroad they are scattered through our western states and territories to be soon followed by the agents, missionaries and contributions of these churches. Here they organize a Sunday school or gather a church, there they distribute charities or assist in building a house for worship, laboring with untiring zeal that our territories may become Christian commonwealths. Nor has the work of these churches been confined to domestic efforts, but looking still farther westward their vessels have gone out through the Golden Gate to the islands of the sea beyond, bearing messengers whose teachings have already Christianized their inhabitants and transformed their principles of government into systems like our own.
In colonial times, near the church stood the schoolhouse, but, strange to say, our early colonial laws denied the clergyman the privilege of being a schoolmaster. It seemed to have been early discerned that church discipline alone would not supply such a general education as the people who were to govern a nation required. Accordingly, as early as 1647 the Massachusetts Bay law required “that every township in this jurisdiction of the number of fifty families shall appoint some one to teach their children to read and write . . . and every township having one hundred families or more shall support a grammar school.” While under this act schools were compulsory, yet the method of support did not make them the free school of the present day. Our public schools in precinct days were undoubtedly very far from satisfying the desires of the people. In 1730, £8 was the first money voted by the Town of Braintree for the support of a school in the South Precinct. In 1790, it was £35, 5s, 9d. In 1792 (after Quincy’s incorporation), £61, 10s. The amount raised for the support of schools at Randolph’s first town meeting was £50. The same amount seemed to satisfy each of the two succeeding years. The number of schools at that time was probably two, one in each village. In 1871, $12,500, and in 1872 (after Holbrook’s incorporation), $7,500 were raised. In 1892, about $13,000 were expended for fifteen schools taught by a corps of seventeen teachers, most of whom were born here or within the town as originally incorporated.
Here it seems appropriate to mention some of our noble benefactors who have contributed generously to the cause of education. The dead cannot speak, and, if the modesty of the living will allow, I will venture to name some of them. Prominent among these is the late Hon. Amasa Stetson, the son of John Stetson and grandson of Amos Stetson, before mentioned, who was a descendant of Robert Stetson, also a Scituate pioneer. He was born in Randolph, March 26, 1769. Being a man of strict economy and business integrity, he accumulated a large fortune. With this he handsomely remembered his native town in 1842, not only with a ten thousand dollar school-fund, but with the Town Hall which bears his name. A further contribution to this school fund was made by the late Hon. Seth Turner in the sum of $1,000, the income of which is to be applied to scholarship prizes.
No system of education is now considered well organized without its library. The earliest library with which our town became acquainted was in April, 1825, when the late Hon. Seth Mann sent a communication to the town donating $50 to each of the school districts for the purchase of books. The thanks of the town were voted, and Rev. Calvin Hitchcock, Rev. Benjamin Putnam, Rev. David Brigham, Capt Samuel French, Jr., Daniel Faxon, Dea. Silas Paine, and Dea. Asa Thayer were chosen a committee for carrying into effect the object of the donor. The beautiful library building which adorns Central Square was a generous gift to our town in 1874 from the heirs of the late Royal Turner, grandson of Col. Seth Turner (before mentioned), who settled in this town about 1770, and was the seventh generation from Humphrey Turner, of Scituate. With this building was also given $10,000 to constitute a fund with which to furnish and sustain a library. This library now contains nearly 12,000 volumes, and has been under the management of a board of trustees created by virtue of the donor’s deed. To this fund has been added $10,000, the bequest of the late Hon. Seth Turner, which is to be further increased by the provisions of the will of the late Royal W. Turner. By the recent acts of our Legislature, free public libraries are easily attained. According to the last report of the Library Commissioners, only fifty-three towns in the State (about three per cent of its population) are without a free library.
Previous to 1845, about forty young men, who were either residents or identified with the interests of this town, had graduated from the colleges of New England. Nineteen of these became clergymen, and most of the others pursued a professional life. Since 1845, the number of college graduates has been very limited. While such a result is to be regretted, yet it by no means conclusively proves any lack of desire in young men to improve their intellectual abilities. On the contrary, it proves that the schools and facilities for education are now so far superior to those of a half century since that many of the branches of education which then could only be acquired at the feet of college professors, youths in our public schools now learn even before they reach their teens.
The relative position of Randolph, when compared with the population of other towns in the State, is the 103d, there being 102 larger towns and cities and 249 smaller ones.
In a town so small, does it pay to make so large an expenditure of money for educational purposes? Is the expenditure of $13,000 for fifteen schools and about $1,300 for library purposes a good investment? Do the returns justify the expense? When we visit these schools and look into the bright, intelligent countenances of the boys and girls there assembled, and observe the improvement in the method of teaching, the eagerness with which the children prey upon the subjects presented to them, the mature thought which comes from the minds of premature bodies, we cannot but answer, Yes, it pays. When we visit the factory and there see the operatives developing the resources of our country, and at the close of day had them at their homes or in the market place reading the news of the day which they have spent in toil, or in the lyceum discussing the issues of the times, can we say it has not paid? When we notice the readiness with which the mechanic applies the rules of mensuration in his work, and the precision with which the engineer and architect by logarithmic calculations reduce their work to a scientific demonstration, we hear them saying, it pays, it pays. When we compare the educational advantages of the present with those of one hundred years ago which were purchased for £50 per year, we seem to catch whispers from the sealed lips of our fathers and from these who have so generously contributed along the way, praising our action in this direction and echoing the words, “it has paid.” When we consider the effect which the social relation in our schools and colleges produces on the minds of their students by destroying all the elements of society which are inclined to crystallize into aristocracy or sectarianism, we are ready to exclaim, it is good, indeed, the investment has paid. After conversing with the octogenarian lady and hearing the narrative of her school days, how that reading and writing were all that seemed to be necessary for herself and sisters, while her brothers were expected to learn to cipher and to acquire some knowledge of the construction of language, we then reflect upon the number of female colleges and seminaries now scattered throughout our land with the advantages they offer, and upon the positions which these and our public schools have enabled women to till with so much honor and credit to their sex, and hear them repeating the same answer, it has paid, it has paid.
But what has supported these institutions during the long period we are reviewing? Our agricultural and manufacturing industries both claim the honors which are decidedly in favor of the latter. One hundred years and more ago the principal employments of the people here were such as are common to a farming community. The horse, the ox, the wind and water, were the propelling powers. Seven or more mill sites which could only move the wheel during the rainy season of the year were then utilized, where now hardly a vestige of a mill remains. Living upon the elevated coast of the Bay, no large river supplied sufficient power to keep factory wheels in constant motion. Notwithstanding the opposition to industries derived from natural sources, the population continued to increase. The husbandmen of the soil gradually became the boot and shoe mechanics. Randolph was among the earliest towns in Massachusetts to commence the manufacture of boots and shoes. At the middle of the past century it stood in the front ranks, and was a centre of the boot and shoe industry. For miles around, the enterprise of Randolph then sought and fed the skilled mechanic. Men, women and children with busy fingers then completed the hoot and shoe on the homestead. The work with the spinning wheel and the loom had been superseded by the cotton and wool machinery. But the boot and shoe mechanic defied the inventor. No machine could be made to stitch and peg and last the shoe. The power of steam was of no avail without a machine as a counterpart. But alas! To the surprise of all, inventions for stitching and pegging and lasting came, and no sooner had they arrived in their state of perfection than steam, the great and powerful counterpart, was applied to them. The capacity of the factory must be fitted to the capacity of the machine. The machine could not go to the workman but the workman must come to the machine. The little shop in the door yard consequently became vacated. Larger and larger grew the factory until its proportions became immense. Seven or three or even one year’s apprenticeship became unnecessary. The machine, the great operator, “knows it all.” A few months’ association with him makes each with the other well acquainted. His fee for tuition in most cases is trifling. Of some he has required the sacrifice of a finger, a hand, an arm or a leg. Sometimes in case of gross inattention to his call the penalty has been death. He ignores the experience and knowledge of the gray-headed workman, and seeks for his companions the active persons below fifty years of age. For the old he has no sympathy, but directs them to the almshouse. Machinery and steam have said to our small manufacturers with limited capital, you can’t compete with us, and they could not. They have therefore withdrawn from the contest and yielded the field to the two conquering giants.
And so it follows, that while modern inventions furnish many luxuries to those who fifty or even twenty-five years ago were not in reach of them, and cheapen the products of industry to such a surprising extent, and, from the introduction of new modes of travel, afford our people the opportunity of seeing all parts of the world at trifling expense, yet humanity in its frailty does not its murmuring cease. The journeyman of sixty years complains of the cruel treatment he has received from the heartless machine, and avers that his seven years apprenticeship in early life had proved a waste of time, as now it availeth him nothing when it ought to serve him best. The journeyman of thirty years is dissatisfied because his employer, either through prosperity or adversity, had retired from business, and the machine which previously laid out and prepared his work had refused to operate. Having never served an apprenticeship, and having no capital with which to purchase machinery, this dependent creature is last seen knocking at the doors of other factories and there soliciting an introduction to another machine. Our farmer complains of the railroad, because by it the market where once he found a ready sale is amply supplied. His wood no longer commands its former price because the railroad reaches to the coal mines. His hay is no longer desired because of the room required to store it. His fruits and vegetables afford him no profit because the steamship and freight train so frequently communicate with warmer climes, whose exports secure the early high prices. His fields which once waved with golden grain consequently now yield only pasturage, cedars and birches. Beaten at every turn he makes, and with no abatement of taxation, he finally exclaims, indeed, indeed, what am I to do with my hills and valleys.
Reflecting further in this direction, we recall the recent sharp conflicts between labor and capital, growing out of an improper adjustment of the capacities of steam and machinery, associated with imperfect methods of trade, finance and immigration. We also take a passing thought of how the manufacturing industries of all New England towns are to be retained and compete with those of the West and South with the raw material and fuel at the doors of their factories. But these fertile themes are too broad to treat at this time and place.
Thus far in the Christian Era, century periods have been more or less disturbed by wars. Our forefathers in the eighteenth had the Indian, the French and the Revolutionary. We of the nineteenth have had the war of 1812, the Mexican, and that of the Great Rebellion. Of the latter we will speak briefly. Would that we could blot it from the pages of history. If in the eighteenth century the church, the schoolhouse and the town meeting had been as thoroughly established in towns throughout the Southern States as they were in New England, rebellion in 1861 would not have assailed the ramparts of Fort Sumter, nor there sought to debase the dignity and honor of our country by tearing the bunting from its flag-staff. As these institutions caused old Braintree to voluntarily relinquish her hold upon the thirty six slaves which history charges her with owning in 1754 and 1755, so these institutions, seasonably commenced, would have so moulded in the minds of the people of the Southern States such sensibilities to humanity that slavery never could have gained that ascendency which afterwards threatened the dissolution of our union. On the other hand, the close of the eighteenth century and the middle of the nineteenth found slavery a fixed institution. Freedom and slavery were struggling to exist under the same government, a situation wholly untenable. One or the other must yield. Its adjustment made war inevitable and it came. From April, 1861, to Lee’s surrender in 1865, this war was waged with cruelty, horror and devastation. It is not necessary to be reminded of it. It is sufficient here to say that the call to redeem our country’s honor so inspired our citizens with patriotic devotion that many of Randolph’s sons contributed their life blood toward the price of its redemption. Dreadful were the experiences of the four years which all then living endured. Without a murmur our citizens filled the quotas they were called upon to furnish, supported the widows and orphans of fallen heroes, paid their money with a liberal hand, until secession was annihilated, rebellion conquered, peace restored, and our starry dag, perfumed with the gentle zephyrs of a united land, waved from the capitol of every State.
It is a pleasure to refer to our local newspaper which since 1857 has weekly visited our homes. It is to this periodical that the future historian of the town must look for much of the material for his work. The wood cuts of our public buildings and factories, which through the enterprise of the present proprietor have appeared in its recent issues, are a feature which will disclose to the eye of our posterity our appearance at the present time. A series of articles contained in the early issues of this paper on Randolph’s early history and family genealogies before its division, written by the late Dr. Ebenezer Alden, should receive our grateful acknowledgments. Had it not been for these voluntary efforts on the part of this noble contributor, many important facts in our early history would have been lost, or now only traditional.
Let us now lay aside the dusty volumes and pamphlets whose pages have revealed to us much that has been presented, and much that has not, and let our eyes rest on the beautiful landscape which kind nature has bestowed upon us, with the artificial offerings which our citizens have contributed, and which it has been our delight to show you from the procession in which you have joined today.
We point with no small degree of pride to our streets, more particularly that of our Main Street with its beautiful shade trees, where one hundred years ago there appeared only the tow-path of the saddle horse defined by the green grass growing to its borders, and where now rolls the fleeting car driven by a power unseen and marvelous, affording convenience and luxurious enjoyment alike to the professionalist, the mechanic and the weary pedestrian; to our cemeteries, where repose the ashes of our pioneer forefathers, the bones of our fallen heroes, and the remains of near and dear relatives, and where our earnings have been well nigh lavished in affectionate esteem and remembrance of those whom we loved; to our accommodations in the magnificent coaches drawn by the powerful locomotive on either side of us; to the electric light, whose rays will soon gleam through the evening darkness to lend enchantment to the festivities of this occasion; to our system of water works, which not only meets the requirements of domestic use, but, when coupled with our efficient fire department, is always ready to check a conflagration.
Across yonder valley can be seen the dwelling-place of our daughter, the Town of Holbrook, who, notwithstanding the admonitions of her parent, willfully withdrew from us and set up for herself under a different name (as most all daughters do) on February 29, 1872. When finally our General Court and the Governor then in office took the part of our daughter and granted her the freedom and independence which she desired, and named her in honor of Elisha Niles Holbrook (before mentioned), one of her successful merchants, and all was over, we girded up our loins and sought consolation. None, however, worthy of mention could be found save two that human nature suggested. Shall we speak of them? Now that we feel in our humorous condition we will do so. First, that she couldn’t have a birthday but once in four years, and second, that the healthfulness of our town might be much improved because of the loss of nearly all our Paines. But, when nearly two decades had passed since her withdrawal, we began to feel a sense of pride in her prosperity, and, thereafter reciprocating our friendly relations, we welded ourselves together with iron bands, and every day since have been drinking to one another’s health the pure waters of the same calm and peaceful lake which lies in the bosom of our mother and grandmother, Braintree.
And now turning from these tangible surroundings which are the product of our own immediate efforts and contributions, let us pay tribute to some of the many events, discoveries and inventions which the past century has witnessed and in which we have a common interest and enjoyment with the rest of the world. At the incorporation of this town, the thirteen Colonial States had been increased by the accession of Vermont and Kentucky only, making a total population of about 4,000,000. Not a railroad or a steamboat existed in the world. The words telegraph, submarine cable and electric car would have conveyed no intelligent idea to the human mind. Telescopes were practically mere toys. A newspaper was a rare sight, as Dr. Franklin is reported to have said that in 1771 but twenty-five of them were published in all America. The Post Office Department existed merely in name, as the primitive roads prevented even an approximation to usefulness. In 1790 the number of post-offices in the United States was but seventy-five. The log, the fireplace and the tinder box provided the means for artificial heat, while the darkness of the night was dispelled by the dame of the lighted candle or the cotton threads which spent the oil in the dish. The rude and clumsy appearance of the agricultural implements plainly indicated their domestic build and the scarcity of iron industries. The parson was the chief man of the village and next to him in influence stood the schoolmaster. The inventor was regarded as a man of eccentric notions and the results of his ingenuity as objects of ridicule.
But we are now living in a different age. Can it be the same country? Forty-four stars on our national flag are the emblems of forty-four States in our solid Union, containing a population according to the last census of nearly 63,000,000. A modern geographical map of the United States presents a network of railroads in the meshes of which are now the church, the schoolhouse, the farm and the factory. The tropical circles have formed a good gauge for the rail and cable which have hooped our planet. The days that the slow stage coach spent in conveying communications to New York, the rapid mail train now delivers in as many hours, the telegraph in as many minutes, and the telephone in as many seconds. Our improved telescope explores the starry heavens, and piercing the ethereal space reveals to the human eye the more remote planets of our solar system. The newspaper of today is an hourly visitor, and the stentorian voice of the newsboy proclaims alike the domestic and foreign news of the previous hour. The wonderful development in the knowledge of chemistry has supplied us with the photograph, the anesthetic and much that is conducive to the happiness and welfare of man.
We have lived a century. As a municipality, we have fought the battles of life for the last quarter of the time since the veil which shrouded America from the eyes of Europe was rent by that bold and enterprising genius, Christopher Columbus, whose name the whole world is now honoring by bringing their peace offerings to the shrine of the hemisphere he discovered four hundred years ago. Contemporaneously with this national celebration of the fourth centennial of American life, we hail with delight the celebrity of the first centennial of our existence as a town.
It has been pleasant to review the course we have run, and muse upon some of the reflections which have come to us while looking backward over our pilgrimage. The burdens of the past suggest the responsibilities of the century now dawning upon us, the success of which depends much upon the impetus of the present, and may its momentum be accelerated by the pure principles we have inherited, and will transmit to the posterity who are to shape the future destinies of our town. To portray our future would be futile if not vain. The prophetic voices of John Milton in 1641, of Sir Thomas Browne in 1682, of John Adams from 1755 to 1813, of Robert Burns in 1788, of Charles James Fox in 1794, and others, pronounced remarkable revelations as to the future destinies of our country. It is well to have our prophets, but prophecies alone never can sustain a nation like ours. This can be attained only through the purity and devotion of each individual of a God-fearing people. We now live in a day when it is considered an honor to be a private citizen,—an humble, obedient, temperate, educated private citizen. And whenever such an individual looks at himself as a mere unit of our 63,000,000 of population, and shrinks to a realization of his own insignificance, let him remember that such no doubt was the experience of our ancestors when they adopted the motto of our country “E Pluribus Unum.”