Early Grants [2/2]

Indian Claims — Having obtained the English right to the territory the pioneers had an obligation to their predecessors, the Indians, to discharge; this may be regarded by some as only the demands of the moral law, yet it has been gratifying to all subsequent generations that it was faithfully discharged and of benefit to those who participated as it doubtless prevented much anxiety and bloodshed.

The disease that had visited the Indians previous to the coming of the Pilgrims, had reduced them in New England from more than 18,000 warriors to about as many hundred. Of the five tribes that were located south of New Hampshire, the Massachusetts occupied the territory north of Charles River and west of Massachusetts Bay, and was supposed to number about 300. They were divided into villages of which Musketaquid was one. Its limits were designated by the act of the General Court passed September 2, 1635:

“It is ordered that there shall be a plantacon att Musketequid, & that there shall be 6 myles of land square to belong to it.” [*1]

It embraced about two-fifths of the present town of Bedford, besides Concord and other lands. Of this tract of wilderness they obtained a quit claim from the natives in the following year. According to depositions taken in 1684 it appears that the deed from the natives was executed by Squaw Sachem a widow, who represented her late husband, Nanepashemet, Wappacowet, next in power to the King, who had claimed the widowed Sachem

*1 This is practically correct, yet a divergence southwesterly beginning a little west of the Trinitarian meeting-house, is thought by C. W. Jenks, a careful student of early bounds, to establish the “old line” somewhat different, in that vicinity of the town. [*2]

in marriage, and by others of the tribe. [*3] The Indian title according to deponents was given in consideration of

Wompompeag, Hatchetts, Hows, Knives, Cotton Cloath & shirts with a new suit of cotton cloath, a linnin band, a hat, shoes, stockins and a great Coat

for the new husband of squaw Sachem, he was “the pow wow, priest, witch, sorcerer or chirurgeon” of the tribe. [*4] When considered in the light of the present, the compensation was trifling, but it satisfied the natives and the treaty of purchase secured friendly relations.

The Indian settlement of the Shawshine Grant was known as Wamesit or Weymesit, situated between the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, being a favorable location for securing sufficient food. There is but slight evidence that the Bedford portion was frequented by the Indians of any village, although it is probable that the broad open plains were annually burnt over and rudely cultivated, while the birchen canoe of the red man plied up and down the Shawshine and Concord. The long mound or breastwork now seen on the east shore of the Concord River, in Greenwood’s Grove near Bedford line, is suggestive of Indian origin and may have been built to aid in hunting. [*5]

All of the aboriginal claims to the Shawshine grant were extinguished by the “Wamesick Purchase of 1685.” Thus the entire territory of Bedford was honorably obtained from the natives.

Billerica had thousands of acres of common grounds that were apportioned at different times among the early settlers. Those who had come later bought of the grantees and settled in the outlying district (now Bedford). They had not shared in the allotments, while they had paid their proportion of the charges. They petitioned the General Court, and on Friday, November 16, 1705, it was ordered

“That Capt. John Lane, Jonathan Bacon, John Wilson and other, the Petitioners that are Freeholders & Inhabitants of the sd. Town of Billerica, be Intitled to & have a proportionable share with other the Commoners Proprietors, & Inhabitants of the sd. Town in all future Divisions of all undivided and waste Lands belonging to the sd. Town, according to their Proportion to the Town charges for the space of seven years past.”

The town in 1707–8, January 29, granted to the purchasers of Cambridge Church Farm a ten-acre right

“to promote and maintain peas and quietness among us.”

Captain Lane and others who thus secured a right, received their portion in the subsequent divisions of the common grounds. Their portions seem to have been west of Concord River.

An accession was made to the town on the extreme northwest by which a small tract of the Dudley Grant was obtained. This was the Edward Stearns farm, set off from Billerica in 1766. By this addition the historic and enduring landmarks, “Two Brothers,” or “Brother Rocks” were secured to Bedford. [*6]

[ p 9 ]

Evidence does not favor the supposition that the original grantees of Shawshine territory established homes or began the settlements included in this town and perhaps never viewed their landed possessions.

“Extensive meadows bordering on rivers and lying adjacent to upland plains have ever been favorite spots to new settlers.” [*7]

A topographical survey shows that this territory offered attractions to settlers, and there is unmistakable local evidence that early settlers pushed out from the villages as soon as it was prudent and established homes near the winding Shawshine which in itself furnished power for industry. There are traces of roads long since discontinued. Depressions on the surface of neglected fields near which may still be seen the purple lilac and the thorny pear.

The General Court ordered in 1635 that no new buildings should be erected more than half a mile from the meeting-house

“except mill-house and farm-house of such as had their dwelling-house in some town.”

This was a precaution against the Indians and lasted about eight years. This leads to the conclusion that the settlements in Bedford territory, previous to 1643 were confined to the Shawshine house. The “Corne mille” with its adjacent buildings, antedates King Philip’s war (1676), and according to Billerica records the Bacon, afterwards Fitch mill was located before 1663. It is mentioned thus:

“16: 1: 63.  Will^i Tay & George farley are Apoynted to Lay out a highway from the Towne, leading to M^r. Mitchell’s farme, and to y^t land y^t was Lay^d out for M^r. Edward Oaks’ farme, on y^e south East end of Mr. Winthrop’s great meadow, to be layd out four polls wide.” [^1][*8][*9]

The Shawshine House was one of the Indian trucking houses which preceded the first settlements of New England, where the natives bartered furs, etc., for English merchandise. [*10] And as appears by the report of the exploring committee was within the present limits of Bedford and possibly the Kenrick dwelling marks the site. [*11] The records of Billerica furnish evidence that it was occupied by a family, as Hannah, infant daughter of Henry Jefts died

”y^e first weeke of May, 1653.”

This is the earliest event noted in Billerica Records. The first birth recorded was that of Samuel, son of George Farley, (March, 1654). The former, Henry Jefts, may be the same person who has been shown as having a portion of the common lands in 1708, and the surname of the latter, Farley, we have seen in connection with a portion of the same land.

Michael Bacon, who purchased the Mitchell grant must have been located on the estate before he became the possessor, as births of his children are recorded as early as 1671, and if the first mill was built by him he must have been there before 1663, and then or very soon had neighbors as appears from the following record in Billerica, showing the assignment of families to garrison (“No. 10”).

“13. 6^m. ’75 (1675).
At a publick Towne Meeting —

The Towne, considering the providence of God at the p^rsent calling us to lay aside our ordinary occations in providing for our creatures and to take special care for the p^rserving of our lives and the lives of our wives and children, the enemy being near and the warnings by gods providence upon our neighbors being very solemne and awfull, do therefore order & agree joyntly to p^rpare a place of safety for women and children, and that all persons and teams shall attend y^e said worke untill it be finished; [*12][*13][*14] and account of y^e wholl charge being kept it shall be equally divided upon the inhabitants with other Towne charges.”

At a meeting of the selectmen and a committee of the militia, held “14. 8^m. 1675,” a list of garrison-houses is reported, in which is the following:

“Also, Timothy Brookes house is allowed for garrison & to entertain Michael Bacon’s family, & to have two garrison soldiers to defend y^e mill & himself, y^e master of the garrison. (Timothy Brooks bought of George Farley a part of the Oakes Grant in 1673).”

In the assignment of families to garrisons the records show that

“Also, Job Laine was allowed to fortify his own owne house, and to have two soldiers for garrison-men to defend his house, in case y^e country could spare them.”

The settlements increased so that in 1728 an effort was made to secure the formation of a new town. Following the custom in forming a new township, petitions were made to the inhabitants of Billerica, by the settlers on that side of the proposed township, and to Concord by the settlers on the Concord side. The petitions were substantially as follows:

“To the gentlemen, the Selectmen and other inhabitants of Concord, in Lawful meeting assembled: the petition of sundry of the inhabitants of the northeasterly part of the town of Concord humbly showeth: That we, your humble petitioners, having, in conjunction with the southerly part of Billerica, not without good advice, and, we hope, upon religious principles, assembled in the winter past, and supported the preaching of the gospel among us, cheerfully paying in the meantime our proportion to the ministry in our towns, have very unanimously agreed to address our respective towns, to dismiss us and set us off to be a distinct township or district, if the Great and General Court or assembly shall favor such our constitution.

We, therefore, the subscribers hereunto, and your humble petitioners, do first apply to you to lead us and set us forward in so good a work, which, we trust, may be much for the glory of Christ and the spiritual benefit of ourselves and our posterity. [^2] Our distance from your place of worship is so great that we labor under insupportable difficulties in attending constantly there, as we desire to do. In the extreme difficult seasons of heat and cold we were ready to say of the Sabbath: ‘Behold what a weariness is it.’ [*15] The extraordinary expenses we are at in transporting and refreshing ourselves and families on the Sabbath has added to our burdens. This we have endured from year to year with as much patience as the nature of the case would hear, but our increasing numbers now seem to plead an exemption; and as it is in your power, so we hope it will be in your grace to relieve us. Gentlemen, if our seeking to draw off proceeded from any disaffection to our present Rev. Pastor, or the Christian Society with whom we have taken such sweet counsel together and walked unto the house of God in company, then hear us not to-day. But we greatly desire, if God please, to be eased of our burdens on the Sabbath, the travel and fatigue thereof, that the word of God may be nigh to us, near to our houses and in our hearts, that we and our little ones may serve the Lord. We hope

[ p 10 ]

that God, who stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to set forward temple work, has stirred us up to ask, and will stirr you up to grant the prayer of our petition, so shall your humble petitioners ever pray, as in duty bound, etc.” [*16]

The petition had seventeen signatures, all from the Concord side. As many more petitioned from the Billerica side to their town. Concord granted her consent without objection, but Billerica clung to her outlying acres with more tenacity. This may be accounted for by the fact that she was being shorn of lands in other directions, and this new proposition, if successful, was to take some other most valuable citizens. Their remonstrance did not avail at the Court, and the Act of Incorporation was passed September 23, 1729.



  1. M^r. ∨ Mr’.
  2. subscribers ∨ subsbcribers



  1. “plantacon” (i.e., “plantation”): settlement
  2. “the Trinitarian meeting-house”: now First Church of Christ: 25 Great Road
  3. “Wappacowet”: [ an error for ] Wompachowet
  4. “chirurgeon”: [ archaic ]: surgeon
  5. “breastwork”: chest-high fortification
  6. These boulders lie on the eastern bank of the Concord River, due west of Chestnut Lane, which stems from (the fittingly-named) Dudley Road.
  7. cf. Shattuck’s History of the town of Concord (1835) p 3
  8. “y^t”: that
  9. “four polls” (i.e., “four poles”): about 20 meters
  10. “trucking”: trading
  11. “the Kenrick dwelling”: the Shawsheen House–Danforth Inn: 137 Shawsheen Road
    NB: The location of the “Shawsheen House” trading post is disputed. (HPN) p 400
  12. Only the letter “r” is superscript. (Succeeding letters are not.)
  13. “awfull” (i.e., “awful”): awe-inspiring
  14. “teams”: teams of horses
  15. cf. KJV’s Malachi 1:13
  16. cf. KJV’s 2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3
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