We trace the first historical narrative we have of Middleboro, back to the account given by Captain Dermer, who visited this place the year previous to the first landing of the Pilgrims. He came here to restore Tisquantum or Squantum, a kidnapped Indian.
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The first time the soil of Middleboro was ever pressed by the foot of a white man, so far as we know, was in 1616. A vessel was at that time wrecked at the north-east of Cape Cod, and from it a Frenchman escaped, was taken captive and brought to Namasket. Then tall primeval forests waved over the hills, and there must have been a native beauty and freshness about the whole scene.
“Here-stood the Indian hamlet, there the lake
Spread its blue sheet, that flashed with many an oar,
Where the brown otter plunged him from the brake
And the deer drank; as the light gale flew o’er,
The twinkling maize field rustled ou the shore”
Then the original lords of this fair heritage roamed in conscious dignity through the plains and valleys of Namasket. Would that the French sailor had left us a history of the three eventful years of his captivity, coming hither as he did before the blighting influence of civilization had been experienced, or the dusky ranks of the Indians had been thinned by pestilence. But a sad change was speedily manifest. The captive must have witnessed the ravages of that plague, which swept over all this region, about the year 1617, when the inhabitants died so rapidly that there were not enough survivors to bury the dead; died as it is now believed, of the malignant yellow fever.
Three years later, Namasket was visited, for the first time, by an Englishman. It was a lovely spring morning, the birds caroled from the tree tops, amid expanding leaves and fragrant blossoms.
But a retrospective glance seems necessary in order to an understanding of this visit. In 1614, the famous John Smith, having charge of two vessels, explored the whole coast of New England, “from Penobscot to Cape Cod.” Having secured 40,000 codfish and 1100 beaver skins, he returned with one vessel to England. The other was left in charge with Capt. Hunt, to fit himself for Spain with a load of dried fish. Having crossed over from Cape Ann to Cohasset and the South Shore, Hunt enticed 20 natives on board his craft, under the pretence of trade, and confining them in the hold, sailed for Malaga, where they were sold as slaves. Among then was one named Squanto, called also Tisquantum, a native, it is said, of Patuxet, or Plymouth.
After remaining in bondage, we know not how long, he is said to have been redeemed by Spanish monks and sent to London. Here he was shown for a wonder. He was then a goodly man, of brave aspect, stout and sober in demeanor, and could speak English so much as to say to those who came to see and to wonder at him, “Welcome, welcome.”
Squanto was subsequently sent back to this country by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, in an exploring vessel.
In May, 1019, Capt. Dermer, commander of the craft, having searched every harbor on the coast, landed at Plymouth, and finding all dead there, he says, “I travelled alongst a day’s journey to a place called Nammasquyl, where finding inhabitants, I dispatched a messenger a day’s journey further west, to Poconoket, which bordereth on the sea; whence came to see me two kings, attended with a guard of 50 armed men, who being well satisfied, with that, my savage and I discoursed unto them, being desirous of novelty, gave me content in whatsoever I demanded. Here I redeemed a Frenchman, who, three years since, escaped shipwreck at the north-east of Cape Cod.”
Capt. Dermer, however, came near losing his life at the hand of the Sachem Corbitant, who had been exasperated by the treatment some of his tribe had received from previous white visitors to the coast.
The “26 men’s purchase,” made of the Sachem Wampatuck, in 1662, and confirmed by the court at Plymouth in 1663, included all the land bounded by the Indian path on the south, Tippacunnecut and Hasnappit Brooks on the east, Winnatuxet River on the north, and Tetiquid and Nemasket Rivers on the west. The original settlement seems to have been made under this purchase, but many others soon followed until the whole town, (and more,) was clear of all Indian claims, except “Quittaub and part of Tetiquid,” where there were remnants of tribes.” The town was incorporated July 1, 1669.
Purchases continued to be made of the Namasket Indians during the succeeding ten years, even after the grant by the Court, until the settlers became the proprietors of the whole territory, except Quittaub and Tetiquid. We have records of the whole: some of them are from Wampatuck, some from Metispaquin, and one or more from Philip, chief sachem of the country of Pokanawkot. “The 26 men’s, in March 1662; “the great men’s,” in 1663; “the 8 men’s,” “the Purchade,” in 1662, July; “the major’s, or 5 men’s,” in 1663; “the Little Lot-men’s,” in 1664; “Wood’s,” in 1667 ; “Prince and Coombs,” in 1668; and the “Twelve men’s,” in 1672; “the south purchase,” in 1673; “the 16 shilling,” in 1695, and several small tracts and gores not named by any title.
In 1675, the town having been settled, and a mill and some twenty or thirty houses having been built, and “Philip’s War” having broken out, the whole town was broken up and the mill and houses were all burnt.
In 1677 the settlement began to be renewed, but the town was not fully organized until 1680.
In 1680, an Indian war having broken out in Maine, the town was ordered to send two men to the service by the Council of War, and John Thompson and James Soule were impressed for the service; but they refused to attend the service, and were sentenced to pay four pounds each in money into the treasury of the town for their use, or to be imprisoned until they could pay the same with the fees.
In 1690 the population of the town was two hundred.
A considerable accession seems to have been made to our population just before or about the year 1690, one of the consequences of the prosecutions for witchcraft in the county of Essex, Mass. As nobody was safe, many fled into the Plymouth Colony, then a separate government, and where no witch was prosecuted, no Baptist whipped, no Quaker hanged; all the principles of the Pilgrims being opposed to things of this kind. The families of Thomas, Bennett, Smith, Morse and several others came in at this time to avoid these witch evils. There were two brothers by the name of Thomas, young men, who were drawn to serve on a witch jury, at Salem. They did not believe in witches, but knew if they expressed their disbelief, they would suffer persecution. They fled to this town, one settling on the Pond, and the other on the River, the descendants of the two families taking the names of the “Pond,” and “River” Thomases.
In 1691 Plymouth was annexed by royal charter, to the colony of Massachusetts, much to their dissatisfaction, and the town, for a long series of years, sent no Deputies to Boston.
In 1776, the population of Middleboro was 4,479. The next winter, the males above sixteen years of age were 1066, embracing five In-dians and eight Negroes. In 1791 there were but 4626, being an increase of 47 in 15 years, showing an immense emigration. A large portion of the towns of New Salem and Shutesbury, Mass., and Woodstock, Vt., emigrated from Middleboro.
The different portions of Middleboro still bear some of the significant Indian names, Titicut signifies the place of the great river. Eliot, in his Indian Bible, uses, it is said, the same word in translating the great river Euphrates.
Namasket, a compound of Namusk, or as the Indian Bible has it, Namosog, and et, signifies the place of fish.
Assowamset signifies the place of white stones, and is expressive of the quartz locality in that vicinity.
Of the names, Namasket seems to have been the most comprehensive’ and is sometimes used to embrace a large portion of the territory of Middleboro; as when the early writers speak of the “Kingdom of Namasket,” in distinction from the ”little town of Namasket.”
That Middleboro was once densely populated with savages, is evinced by the following considerations:
The fact that Taunton and Namasket Rivers swarmed with bass, shad, and herrings; the brooks emptying into them with delicious trout, and all the great ponds with white perch and pickerel; while the deer, moose, wolves, bears, foxes, and wild fowl, filled these forests, served to make it an inviting residence for the red man.
That this was the stronghold of the Indians is evinced by the fact that Middleboro was not settled by the whites till 40 years after the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and was not organized into a town till years after Bridgewater and Taunton, and Sandwich, the latter including Wareham and Rochester, had been incorporated. The crowded state of the Indian cemeteries demonstrate the fact, that Namasket once teemed with multitudes of savages. In 1827, while digging down a small knoll, on the premises of Maj. John Shaw, in the village, more than eighty Indian skeletons were removed.
Middleboro constituted the occasional residence of the principal chiefs of the New England tribes. Here Massasoit and Corbitant the proud sachem of his tribe were accustomed to resort with their chosen followers, to pass a portion of the hunting and fishing season. At Titicut, dwelt the family of the great Chicataubut, whose sway extended to Neponset, where also he had a residence. His son, Wampatuck, sachem of the Monponsets, had an interest in this territory.
On the Assowamset Neck lived the mighty Tispaquin, surrounded with his 200 braves, the subjugation of whose tribe closed up the terrible war of King Philip in this vicinity.
The Indians cultured the Indian corn in this vicinity in the following manner. Having tied the shoulder blade of a moose, or fastened a large clamshell to a stick, they dug small holes in the earth, four feet apart and placed therein a few herrings for manure. They then dropped in four or five clevels of corn and covered them up with the same rude instrument.
“What sort of a hand should we make at farming with only the means of these settlers. True, they had fish and needed no other manure. But as to oxen and plows, they had to dig for the want of them, and as for shovels, there was not an iron shovel in town till within the age of a very elderly man now alive among us, and if they had a hoe they got it from England. Such a thing as digging and stoning a well was not so much as thought over. Their wooden shovels would perform no such service. All their houses must be built hard by some living spring. The springs and seats of their houses are many, if not all of them, know known and apparent.”
Henry Wood and Ephraim Tinkham were two men who erected the first dwelling-houses at Namasket; Wood upon the Gen. Washburn farm, and Tinkham upon the Ichabod Wood place.
In 1675, the following are the names of those who were house-holders, and who were driven back to Plymouth by the Indians: John Thompson, Isaac Howland, Francis Coombs, Samuel Fuller, John Morton, Nath’l South worth, Ephraim Tinkham, Henry Wood, William Nelson, David Thomas, John Cobb, Jabez Warren, Edward Bump, Moses Simmons, Samuel Barrows, Samuel Eaton, Francis Billington, George Soule, Obadiah Eddy, Samuel Pratt, George Vaughan, John Shaw, Jacob Thompson, Francis Miller, John Holmes and John Alden.
The first meeting after the war, (the record of which is the first we have,) was in June, 1677, when they lament the loss of their records, and resolve upon the repossession of their estates. The same families seem to have returned, attended by some others, of whom are the following: William Bartlett, John Haskell, Giles Ricard, Anthony Snow, Henry Warren, Jonathan Dunham, John Miller, David Wood, Benjamin Wood, Samuel Eddy, Zachariah Eddy, Jonathan Wood, Gershom Cobb, William Cushman.
Fortunately but one man was killer from Middleboro, in King Philip’s war. His name was Robert Dauson.
Until within 125 years there were very few neat cattle and few horses; and no grass except woods-grass and fresh meadow grass, and no vehicle on wheels except carts, not a wagon for ox or horse. Easy and warm spots of land were selected for their corn, and as for potatoes, it is not 150 years since they were first known among us.
In the Indian burying ground on Assowamset Neck, located between the Rochester road and Little Quittecus, are a number of graves with rough headstones. There are two, with regular head and foot stones of slate, with the following inscriptions.
“To the memory of Lidia Squeen, who died in 1811, age 72,
Epitaph. In God, the poor and helpless find A judge most just, a parent kind.
The other was erected “to the memory of Jean Squeen, who died April 13th, 1794, in the 23d year of her age. Also of Benjamin, who died at sea, April 22d, 1799, in his 26th year, children of Lydia Squeen, a native.”
Epitaph. When Earth was made and time began. Death was decreed the fate of man.
In 1710, July 19, the West Precinct was incorporated, being nearly the same territory known as Lakeville, including a part of Taunton.
In 1743, the parish of Titicut was incorporated, and included all that part of Middleboro, west of Purchade Brook, (with the exception of a few families,) and northerly of Trout Brook, including a part of Bridgewater.
In 1783 the parish of North Rochester was incorporated, and included all that part of Middleboro south of a line from Posksha Pond, due east to the town of Carver, with a part of Rochester and a part of Freetown.
The Herring question has always been an exciting one at the annual town meetings. In 1708, 6d a load was the price of fish. The size of the loads began to increase, owing to men’s selfishness, until in 1725, it was voted that 8,000 fish be a load. For many years the herring privilege was sold by the Selectmen, at public vendue, to the highest bidder, and these officers were authorized to furnish liquor at the expense of the town.
Middleboro always took great interest in military matters, having furnished at different times, of commissioned officers for the militia service, enough to form a regiment. At one time there were in town nine infantry companies and one cavalry.
The first mill in town was for grinding corn, and was located near the present site of the Star Mills. Two sawmills were early built on Bartlett’s Brook, but we have no account of any manufacturing until 1734, when a slitting mill was built, by leave of the town, on Namasket River, at Oliver’s Works. Strong objections were made to the work, on account of its apprehended detriment to the fishery, herrings being considered as indispensable to the raising of corn, as well as an article of food.
The best farming land in town is in the Titicut part. At present a large number of citizens are employed in the shoe business, Bay State Straw Works, Star Woolen Mills, and the various box and sawmills in different parts of the town.
Of antiquities, the most interesting is the Old Morton House, a part of which was erected about 200 years ago. For some years it served as a fort, to protect the settlers from the Indians, having been provided with port holes.
In 1833-4, the first newspaper was published in Middleboro. The name was the “Old Colony Democrat,” Benj. Drew, editor and printer. The office was soon removed from the place. The “Namasket Gazette” was commenced Oct. 7, 1862, by Samuel P. Brown. In 1854, the establishment was purchased by Rev. Stillman Pratt, and the name changed to the “Middleboro Gazette and Old Colony Advertiser.” Since the death of Mr. Pratt senior, Sept. 1, 1862, the paper has been published by his son, Stillman B. Pratt.
Of distinguished painters, Middleboro has produced Cephas Thompson, and his two sons, Cephas G. and Jerome B. Thompson ; of musicians. Professor Oliver Shaw, of Providence, has been perhaps the most celebrated; of lawyers, the first rank has been accorded to Zachariah Eddy ; while perhaps her most generous and wealthy merchant has been Enoch Pratt, of Baltimore, who has so munificently endowed the Pratt Free School, at Titicut.
Deborah Sampson, the well known female warrior of the Revolution, enlisted from this town, and served for about two years under the assumed name of Robert Shurtleff. Lavinia, wife of C. G. Stratton, (Gen. Tom Thumb) and Minnie Warren, the well known dwarfs, were natives and are now residents of Middleboro.
Luke Short, who died here in 1746, aged 116 years, was converted when about one hundred years old, as a result of a sermon he heard preached by John Flayel, about 80 years previous.
Moses Thompson, who died Dec. 2, 1858, aged 96 years, 5 months was the last Revolutionary soldier from the town.
The oldest literary institution in town is Peirce Academy, Prof. J. W. P. Jenks, Principal. A very large cabinet and apparatus belongs to the institution. For a view of the building, as well as the First Baptist Church, see engraving. The Pratt Free School occupies the building formerly known as Titicut Academy
The incorporated name of the town was Middleberry, and in the Old Colony records it was often written Middlebury. Afterwards the spelling of Middleborough was adopted, and by general consent the useless appendage of the ugk lias of late years been usually dropped, leaving the name Middleboro.
Note. Most of the foregoing facts were gathered by the late Messrs. Rev. Stillman Pratt and Z. Eddy, Esqr