History of Plymouth County Massachusetts

Rejecting the traditions of men, and adhering closely and resolutely to the teachings of inspired Scripture, a congregation of faithful men was formed for the worship of God and the enjoyment of his ordinances, at the village of Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire, England, in the year 1606. Of this church, John Robinson was the teacher, while Richard Robinson, a somewhat older man, was the pastor. Harassed by persecution, they resolved to quit their native soil, and take refuge in Holland: a purpose which they accomplished in 1608. After sojourning in Amsterdam a few months, they removed to Leyden, where they remained about eleven years. A just concern for their children, who were liable, by a prolonged residence in Holland, to lose, not only their native tongue and their very name as English, but also to follow the evil practices which prevailed around them; this, together with an earnest desire to extend the bounds of Christendom, determined them at length to remove beyond the Atlantic, and to set up the banner of the Cross in the New World. After many disappointments, the plan was carried into execution in the latter part of the year 1620.

On Monday, the eleventh day of December in that year, reckoning according to the old style, corresponding to the twenty-first of that month, new style, an exploring party of ten men from the Mayflower, which had brought them across the ocean, landed at Plymouth. The party consisted of John Carver, William Bradford, and other leading individuals.1 After a full examination of the locality, they determined:

To begin there the new settlement. Having made report of their companions, the vessel was brought into the harbor a few days after, and the settlement commenced.

So severe were their sufferings, partly from the length of the voyage, they had been on shipboard since August 1, but more from the inclemency of the season, and from bad food, it came to pass that forty-six of the company, out of one hundred and two who came in the Mayflower, died before spring.

In March 1621, they were visited by a party of the natives, headed by Massasoit their chief sachem, from the borders of Rhode Island. A treaty of friendship and mutual succor was concluded, which remained in force fifty-four years.

The aboriginal inhabitants of Plymouth County, at the time of which we are speaking, were very few in number. A few years previous, a terrible pestilence had most exterminated the powerful nation of the Pokanokets, who once overspread the whole region included between Narragansett Bay and the coastline of Plymouth County. Instead of three thousand warriors whom they could have raised ten years before, scarcely five hundred could now be found. Within the bounds of this County, only the Namaskets, a small subdivision of Pokanokets, were to be found in 1620; they were seated in Middleboro.

In the following November, the infant colony was strengthened by the arrival of Robert Cushman and about thirty other emigrants, in the Fortune, a vessel of fifty-five tons burden. Their number was still further increased in July and August 1623, by the arrival of the Ann and Little James, two small vessels bringing about sixty passengers. To those who came in the four vessels already named, is now restricted, by correct usage, the appellation of Pilgrims. During these three years, terrible hardships were endured without a murmur, by these heroic men and women, in the firm belief that God had sent them to these then inhospitable shores, for the maintenance of Gospel liberty, and for the advancement of his cause. When ten years had elapsed, the colony had increased to the number of only three hundred persons. With, the exception of an outpost established at Manomet, in the present town of Sandwich, the population was confined, during those ten years, wholly to the town of Plymouth, including Kingston and Duxbury. The progress of settlement, from various causes, was far less rapid than in the neighboring colony of Massachusetts Bay.

A spirit of enterprise, however, was early awakened among the Plymouth people. About the year 1630, they had established a post for trading with the Indians on the Penobscot, and two or three years later, another on the, Kennebec, and still another on the Connecticut, at Windsor. These establishments soon came to an end.

Sixteen years after the landing, there were eight towns within the colony. We will name them in the order of their establishment.

1. Plymouth, inclusive of the present towns of Kingston, Plympton, Carver, part of Halifax, and part of Wareham.
2. Duxbury is reckoned the second town in the colony, because its church, originally the second church in Plymouth, was gathered in 1632, though the town was not incorporated till 1637. It included Pembroke and Hanson.
3. Scituate, including Hanover, was incorporated in 1636.
4-7. Sandwich, Taunton, Yarmouth, and Barnstable, neither of which are now in Plymouth County, were incorporated in 1639.
8. Marshfield, taken from Duxbury, was incorporated in 1640. It waa afterwards increased by adding a section of Scituate.

To these towns, Bridgewater was added in 1656, and Middleboro in 1669. We omit to mention ten or twelve other towns, incorporated between 1640 and 1690, and not now belonging to the County of Plymouth.

In 1646, the population of the town of Plymouth was greatly diminished by the removal of many of its inhabitants to Eastham, on Cape Cod. Eastham then included Wellfleet and Orleans. Bridgewater was at first a mere extension of Duxbury, from which town it received its inhabitants.

The leading men, from the settlement till 1690, were William Bradford of Plymouth, Edward Winslow of Marshfield, Miles Standish and John Alden, of Duxbury, and Thomas Prince of Eastham, afterwards of Plymouth, all of the first generation. To these may be added of the second generation, William Bradford the younger, Josiah Winslow, Thomas Hinckley, Thomas and Constant Southworth, James Cudworth, Benjamin Church. Of the spiritual guides of the colonists, we may mention William Brewster of Plymouth, Ralph Partridge of Duxbury, Peter Hobart and John Norton of Hingham, (then in Suffolk County), Edward Bulkley and Samuel Arnold of Marshfield, Samuel Puller of Middleboro, John Lothrop and Charles Chauncy of Scituate.

The early population were almost all cultivators of the soil. What little wealth there was, existed chiefly in lands and buildings. The iron manufacture was introduced into the Old Colony in 1652, by James and Henry Leonard, who had previously been connected with the forges at Lynn and Braintree. But their establishment was in the present town of Raynham, in the County of Bristol; and several generations passed before the manufacture of iron was commenced within the County of Plymouth. The first vessel constructed in the County was built in the year 1641, and measured but forty or fifty tons. The comparative poverty of the inhabitants kept them for many years behind their neighbors in Massachusetts.

The prosperity of the Old Colony in general and of this portion of it in particular, was greatly checked by the great Indian War of 16756, commonly referred to as “Philip’s War.” We shall notice the events of this war no further than they immediately affected Plymouth County.

The war broke out in June 1675, in an attack made by the Indiana on the town of Swanzey, which then included Barrington and Warren in Rhode Island. A small force was immediately collected from the Plymouth towns, and marched to the scene of blood. Being there joined by troops from Boston, they had little difficulty in driving Philip from his lair at Mount Hope, now Bristol, E. I.; but it was only that he might ravage and destroy in other places. Numbers of his men crossed the Bay in canoes, and fell upon the settlement at Middleboro, then recently commenced. This settlement, and Dartmouth in the present County of Bristol, they utterly destroyed. Those of the inhabitants who were not cruelly butchered, were driven off, and did not return till after the war.

The celebrated campaign against the Narragansett Indians, which utterly broke in pieces that powerful tribe, was conducted under the orders of Josiah Winslow of Marshfield, son of Governor Edward Winslow, and himself Governor of Plymouth Colony at this time. .At the head of one thousand men, of whom more than half were from Massachusetts Colony, three hundred from Connecticut, and the remainder from Plymouth, he penetrated in the depth of winter into the heart of the Narragansett Country, in the present County of Washington, Rhode Island. Three thousand five hundred Indians of fierce and resolute spirit, had betaken themselves to a solid piece of upland, containing five or six acres, situated in the midst of a swamp, which at any other season of the year, would have been found utterly impassable. This natural defense the Indians had fortified by rows of palisades, making a barrier nearly a rod in thickness. The only entrance to this enclosure was over a bridge, consisting of a large tree which had been felled for the purpose, which could only be passed by men in single file. This bridge was defended by a blockhouse, or rude bastion made of logs. Such was the Narragansett fort.

The colonial army, having passed the night of the 18th of Dec. 1675, which was cold and stormy, without shelter, and with little food, marched at early dawn on the 19th, wading through the deep snow to attack this formidable fort, garrisoned by an enemy more than twice their own number. Men who were determined to conquer or die entered the fort, and after a sharp conflict of two or three hours gained possession of it, inflicting a loss on the enemy of probably a thousand fighting men, besides women and children consumed in the burning wigwams: but themselves suffering the loss of seventy men killed including six captains, and one hundred and fifty wounded. Such was the “Great Swamp Fight,” never to be forgotten in the history of New England.

On the 13tk of March, 1676, the Indians made an attack on the hamlet of Eel River, now Chiltonville, three miles south of the principal village in Plymouth, and killed eleven of its inhabitants.

The tide of war now rolling towards the Plymouth Colony, the authorities despatched Captain Michael Pierce of Scituate, with fifty of the English, and twenty friendly Indians from Cape Cod, to attack the remains of the Narragansett tribe, who exasperated with their recent defeat, lost no opportunity of falling upon defenseless settlements. Capt. Pierce having been waylaid by a strong force of the enemy, near Pawtucket Falls, a severe action took place Match 26, 1676, in which Capt. Pierce was killed, and all of his white companions, save one, met the same sad fate. The loss of the enemy was supposed to be nearly thrice as great. This was the most serious disaster sustained by the Plymouth Colony during the war.

Scituate was attacked April 20, and nineteen houses and barns burned. The inhabitants succeeded in repelling the enemy. Bridgewater was attacked May 8, but the assailants were repulsed. During the whole war, though Bridgewater was repeatedly attacked, and though Bridgewater men faced the enemy in battle, not a single inhabitant of that town was killed.

On the 12th, of August, 1676, Philip, the chief promoter of all this mischief, beset at his own home on the peninsula of Mount Hope by the forces of that brave partisan leader, Capt. Benjamin Church, was killed by a Saconet Indian, named Alderman, and the war substantially ended.

In this severe struggle, Plymouth Colony was nearly ruined. After many ineffectual attempts to obtain a charter, which it never possessed, Plymouth Colony was annexed to Massachusetts in 1692.

The history of the County since that time is merged in the history of Massachusetts. Until this day, however, some portion of the distinctive traits of the first settlers may be discerned among its population. To a remarkable degree, the old Pilgrim love of liberty, coupled with the determination to do right at all hazards, still exists among their descendants. During the long and arduous struggle, which so recently ended in the overthrow of slavery in our land, no portion of the American people were more outspoken, and perhaps none so nearly unanimous in their condemnation of that enormous wrong, as the people of the three southern counties of Massachusetts.

The County of Plymouth has furnished its full proportion of talent, of genius, of learning, and of enterprise; though men of eminence have often been drawn off to wider fields of action. Its sons have borne their full share of toil, of effort, and of suffering, in all the contests in which the country has been engaged, and have often been advanced to positions of honor and influence.

The County of Plymouth was organized in 1685, and then consisted of the following towns:

Plymouth, then including Plympton, Kingston, Carver, part of Halifax, and part of Wareham.
Duxbury, then including Pembroke and Hanson, and small portions of Kingston.

Scituate, then including Hanover.

Marshfield.

Bridgewater, then including West Bridgewater [the original settlement], North Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, and Bridgewater, the last having been known as the South Parish in Bridgewater.

Middleborough, including Lakeville, and part of Halifax.

Accord Pond Shares, Ford’s Farm, Plantations, parts of Scituate, Hanover, and the whole of Abington.

Accord Pond in Abington, [I think], was so named to commemorate the harmony of the Commissioners, who run the line between the Colonies of Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth.

There are no data from which we can learn the precise population of the County of Plymouth at that time, nor for a long time after. In 1675, the whole population of the Colony of Plymouth, including what in 1685 became the counties of Plymouth, Bristol and Barnstable, was estimated at seven thousand, five hundred, (7,500.) The population of those three counties, did not in 1585, probably exceed 10,000. The population of Plymouth County at that time may be set down as not exceeding 4000.

Some estimate may be formed of the comparative population and importance of the several towns composing Plymouth County, from the following statement.

In 1690, a body of troops was raised in Plymouth Colony, to be tinder the command of Major Benjamin Church, and to march against the Indians, who were then ravaging our eastern frontier, or the portion of Maine which lies between the Piscataqua and the Kennebec. The soldiers who were to go and the money to be raised were apportioned among the towns of Plymouth County as follows:

Plymouth was to pay 5 pounds and raise 4 men.
Duxbury was to pay 52.10 pounds and raise 2 men.
Scituate was to pay 8 pounds and raise 6 men.
Marshfield was to pay 4 pounds and raise 3 men.
Bridgewater was to pay 3 pounds and raise 3 men.
Middleboro was to pay 1 pounds and raise 1 men.
Total                        23.10                      19

From this it appears that Scituate was then the most important town in the county. If a sufficient number of volunteers could not be obtained, the deficiency was to be supplied by impressments.

A portion of the force which was to go with Church was raised in the other counties, Bristol and Barnstable. I believe also that a portion of Church’s command was raised in the neighboring Colony of Massachusetts. In Plymouth Colony, all the able bodied males between 16 and 60 were enrolled in the military companies, though clergymen and many others were exempted.

In 1692, the Colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, were united, much to the dissatisfaction’s of the former.

Authorities consulted in the preparation of the foregoing sketch.

  1. Baylies’ [Francis] Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth.
  2. Barry’s [John Stetson] History of Massachusetts.
  3. Palfrey’s [John Gorham] History of New England.
  4. Felt’s {Joseph Barlow] Ecclesiastical History of New England.
  5. Drake’s [Samuel Gardner] History of Boston.
  6. Hawe’s [Joel] Tribute to the Memory of the Pilgrims.
  7. American Quarterly Register.


MLA Source Citation:

A transcription of the Plymouth County Directory and Historical Register of the Old Colony, Middleboro, Mass: Published By Stillman B. Pratt & Company, 1867. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/massachusetts/history-of-plymouth-county-massachusetts.htm - Last updated on Feb 13th, 2013


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