Name — Boundaries — Benevolence — Records — First Meeting-house and Minister —
Churches Formed — Taxes — Some Old Families and Sites.
Why the petitioners prayed to have the new town called Bedford, is chiefly a conjecture; but we seem to see in it an act of reverence for the memory of the first minister of Concord, who was from Bedfordshire, England. [*1] The part which he had taken in moulding the character of the early settlers, must have had an influence on the succeeding generations, as the language of the petitioners for the new town seems to imply. The session of the General Court, which granted the act of incorporation, was held at Cambridge, and began August 28, 1729. The new town was vested with all the
“powers, privileges and immunities that the inhabitants of any of the towns of this province are or ought by law to be vested with: provided that the said town of Bedford do, within the space of three years from the publication of this act, erect, build and finish, a suitable house for the public worship of God, and procure and settle a learned orthodox minister of good conversation; and make provision for his comfortable and honorable support, and likewise provide a school to instruct their youth in writing and reading.”
By subsequent divisions Lincoln and Carlisle were taken from Concord, and Burlington from Woburn, so that Bedford is bounded at present on the north and northeast by Billerica, east by Burlington, southeast by Lexington, south by Lincoln, southwest and west by Concord, and northwest by Carlisle with Concord River as a division between Bedford and westerly towns. “The newe towne” known as “Newtowne,” 1631; “Cambridge,” 1638, and “Lexington,” 1713, cornered upon Bedford, and later gave up a small portion to her. In the records of March, 1758, we see that Benjamin Farley and Joseph Fassett were granted the right to straighten the line between Lexington and Bedford, and the latter town then acquired the dismal tract known as “Farley Hole.” In
1766 Ebenezer Page’s land was joined to Bedford; this was done to straighten the line. When one, Grimes, petitioned to have his land set off to Lexington the town voted in the negative, and also placed upon record their willingness
“to refer it to the wise and judicious determination of His Excellency, the Governor, and the Honorable Court.” [*2]
The forming of a new town occasioned expenses for which money was needed, and land was called for on which to erect the meeting-house and for other purposes. These needs had been anticipated as appears by the records:
“Bedford, January the 20^th, 1730.
‘This is the account of the money and land that was given to incouragement for the Town in the year 1729.’ ‘Mr. Joseph Dean, Dea. Israel Putnam, Mr. Josiah Fassett, Mr. John Whipple, Mr. Benjamin Colbarn, Mr. Samuel Merriam each gave land, and the following men are credited with gifts of money: Mr. James Lane, Cornet Nathaniel Page, Lieut. Job Lane, Mr. John Lane, Dea. Nathaniel Merriam, Mr. Job Lane, Mr. Joseph Bacon. Mr. John Hartwell, Mr. Jonathan Bacon, Mr. John Fitch and Mr. John Whitmore, of Medford.’ ‘The wife of Nathaniel Whittecor, of Concord, gave five pounds, old tenor.'”
With the records of the town-meeting of January the 7^th, 1729–30, appears the following:
“Mr. William Hartwell gave five pounds and it was delivered to the selectmen, and 20 shillings of it went to pay Mr. Oliver Whitmore for Right in deeds and acknoligin of them befor him. for the law Boak, two pound; for town boak, ten shilings, and the money Remaining is one pound, eight shiling and two pence in the hand of M^r. Nathaniel Meriam. The law book was ordered to be passed about according to the judgment of the selectmen. With a sufficient tract of land and £61 in the treasury these determined people began the work of building up their newly incorporated town.”
The records of the town open with the following:
“In Council September 26, 1729, voted that Mr. Jonathan Bacon, a principal Inhabitant of the Town of Bedford, bee and hereby is fully Impowered and Directed to assemble the Freeholders and other Inhabitanc of the Town to convene as soon as may be to elect and choose Town officers to stand untill the next anniversary meeting in March. [^1][^2]
“Read and concurd,
Consented to. W. Dummer,
A true copy — Examined, J. Willard, Secry.”
The officers elected under the above call were:
“Moderator, Jonathan Bacon; selectmen, Samuel Fitch, Nathaniel Merriam, Jonathan Bacon, Nathaniel Page and Daniel Davis; town clerk, Samuel Fitch; constables, Israel Putnam and Stephen Davis; town treasurer, John Fassett; surveyors, Job Lane and Samuel Merriam; tithingmen, Daniel Cheever and Josiah Fassett, fence-viewers Obed Abbott and Benjamin Colburn; Hog Ref., James Wheelor and Jonathan Bacon; [*3] sealer of weights and measures, John Lane; [*4] field drivers, Thomas Woolley and John Whipple.” [*5][^3] *1
*1 The simple statement of a name does not identify in some families, hence we note in this connection that Jonathan Bacon was a son of Michael purchaser of the Mitchell grant. Samuel Fitch was the head of the family in town. Nathaniel Merriam, dea., 1730, was first of the numerous family in Bedford, was descended from Joseph, of Concord, who died in 1646. Nathaniel died in 1738. Nathaniel Page was the third of the name in Bedford. Daniel Davis was son of Samuel and Mary (Medows), born, 1673. [*6] Israel Putnam, cousin of General Israel Putnam, born, 1690, was deacon, 1730; married daughter of Jonathan Bacon. Stephen Davis was father of Deacon Stephen, died 1738, John Fassett, treasurer, was son of Patrick died 1736. It is a coincidence of interest that his brother Samuel, was first treasurer of Westford (Bedford’s twin sister).
[ p 11 ]
The meeting-house was so nearly completed before the act of incorporation was passed that the first town-meeting was held in it, and at a second meeting held seven days later
“The town excepted of the meting-house, as the former commety had agreed with Joseph Fitch, for four hundred and sixty pounds.”
Like the houses of worship of the early settlers of New England, this offered but few attractions, save a shelter from the storms; but the people made haste to put it in a more attractive condition. At the same meeting they chose a committee
“To see the meeting-house parfected and finished,”
“provide a ministor.”
They voted to raise
“Forty pound to mantain preachin among us,”
“for a Reat of fifteen pound to defray the charges that shall be or may a Ries in the Town.”
Another action of the same meeting
“was to chous this four men: Mr. John Fassett, Mr. Nathaniel Meriam, Co^r. Nathaniel Paige, Mr. Josiah Fassett to tacke dedes of the land that is for the town that is given or that is sold.” [^4]
In January, 1730, it was voted
“to lot out the pue ground and seat the meting hous.”
The instructions to the committee were,
“The man and his wife to set in the pue (excepting deacons), ther shall be but one poall to an esteat in seating the meting hous and pues, and they are to have respect to them that are fifty years of age or upward; thos that are under fifty years of age are to be seated in the meting hous acording to ther pay. The front foer seat in the galeree to be equal with the third seat below in the body of seats.”
The progressive spirit of these early citizens of this town is seen in their willingness to allow the sexes equal rights in the pews. “Men’s stairs” and ” women’s stairs” are often referred to in the records, but suggest the division among the singers. In the absence of a floor-plan the descriptive location of the pews is as follows:
“Stephen Davis’ pue is at the East End of the meeting-house, south of the east door going to the women’s stayers.”
A committee was soon chosen to
“treat with Mr. Hancok and with Mr. Rugels and Mr. Whiting in order to a fast, and thay appointed a fast on the 22nd day of January, 1729–30.”
The ministers of the neighboring towns assembled and held a “fast,” and a call was soon extended to a young man who had been preaching for the people.
“Mr. Bowes was choas to be our ministor.”
The town agreed to give him
“ninety-five pounds the first year, an hundred pounds the second year, and so on annually: to give him five and twenty cords of wood yearly; that the money be all wayes in proportion to its present valuation and credit which is at eighteen shillings per ounce, that his salary be paid every half year.”
Mr. Bowes also had £200 as a settlement fee, which was partly paid by a deed of sixteen acres of land, at £8 per acre. Rev. Nicholas Bowes was ordained as the first minister of Bedford, July 15, 1730, and the church was organized on the same day. Rev. John Hancock, of Lexington (father-
in-law of Mr. Bowes), was moderator of the council. Rev. Mr. Appleton, of Cambridge had a part in the service.
Some time before the church was organized “the Brethren” had met and proposed to form themselves into a state of church relation. [^5] They had voted that a person on entering the church should give in writing a confession of his faith which should be read in public. There were twenty-four foundation members. The foundation covenant was purely evangelical in spirit and the government was strictly of the Congregational order. The parent towns had equal representation in the new church.
August 4, 1730, Israel Putnam and Nathaniel Merriam were chosen deacons, and on the first Sabbath of September following, the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was first administered. At the first public Thanksgiving service on November 12, 1730, a collection was taken for the use of the church amounting to £6.
“Some time after They purchased another Flaggon & 2 more Pewter Tankards.”
The town of Bedford was now fully organized and in complete running order, both as a municipality and an ecclesiastical body, and was early recognized as such by the Province and neighboring churches. December 23, 1733, the deacons were chosen to represent the church at the ordination of Rev. Mr. Ebenezer Hancock, of Lexington, and in October, 1735, at the ordination of Rev. Mr. Clapp, of Woburn. The first recognition from the Province in the way of a tax was in 1730, amounting to £20 13s. 7d. There was also assessed the town’s proportion of the representative tax in 1729, which was £7 19s. 9d., the minister’s salary, the expenses of the ordination of Rev. Mr. Bowes, the allowance to Joseph Fassett
“for time spent at General Court in perfecting our township, together with his pocket expenses while there,”
and the county tax, making a tax of £188 9s. 6d.
The allowance to Jonathan Bacon for his time spent “in perfecting our township,” was £8 8s. 3d., doubtless paid from funds in the treasury. Such a drain on the limited income of the early settlers of Bedford must have been a severe trial of their courage, and especially hard after the town tax of the first year of their existence as a municipality. In 1729 they paid
“a Meting-houes Reat of £300 8s. 3d.,”
“town and minister Reat of £51 15s. 4d.”
There is no evidence that more than two voters lost courage, and they were refused an abatement of their proportion of the tax.
There are but few of the farms of the town that remain in the same family possession as at the incorporation and only two instances where the descent of possession has not occasioned a change in the surname
[ p 12 ]
of the possessor. The estate owned by Josiah Davis has been in the family and name since 1696, when purchased by Samuel Davis (son of Dolor), one of the pioneers of Concord. [*7] It has passed through six generations from Samuel, in each of which there has been an Eleazer. Thirty-eight children in five generations of the name of Davis have been born on this estate.
The estate held by the heirs of Cyrus Page was purchased by Nathaniel Page in 1687. [*8] The present owners are of the eighth generation. The original dwelling is still standing. Mrs. Sarah Sampson owns and occupies the estate that came into the family possession about 1733; she is of the fourth generation of the family of Zachariah Fitch. [*9][^6]
Lands on the Concord side of Bedford are still held by descendants of William Hartwell, who was among the pioneers of Concord, and the homestead was held in the family name and occupied by Hartwells continuously for two hundred years. [*10] The present house was erected in 1758.
The homestead of Benjamin Fitch has been held in the family and name since 1730, and the “corne-mill” of King Philip’s War, on the Shawshine River, is still identified by modern buildings, but has passed from the family possession. [*11] Job B. Lane owns and occupies a portion of the Winthrop Farm that was purchased by Job Lane in 1604 and divided by his heirs in 1697. [*12]
“Stone Croft Farm,” owned by Miss Caroline M. Fitch, came to the family by purchase in 1766. [*13] The dwelling was built about 1700. The mill site, on Vine Brook, near Shawshine River, was occupied by John Wilson as early as 1663.
The site of the first meeting-house is very nearly identified by the second, which is now standing. [*14]
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 10–12
- Inhabitant ∨ Inhabitanc
- Freeholders ∨ FreeholDers
- Whipple.” *1 ∨ Whipple. *1″
- town ∨ tow
- Brethren” ∨ Brethren
- 1733; ∨ 1733,
- “the first minister of Concord”: Peter Bulkley
- “the Governor”: Sir Francis Bernard
- “Hog Ref.”: Hog Reeves
- “sealer”: seal-affixing examiner
- “field drivers”: stray-animal impounders
- “Medows”: [ a variant of ] Mead
- “the estate”: the Eleazer Davis homestead: 255 Davis Road
- “the estate”: the Nathaniel Page homestead
Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
- “the estate”: the Zachariah Fitch House: 145 Davis Road
- “the homestead”: the Daniel Hartwell House: 245 Davis Road
- “The original Fitch house . . . does not survive; its location has not been determined.” (HPN) p 282
- “a portion of the Winthrop Farm”: the Job Lane House (now a museum): 295 North Road
- “Stone Croft Farm”: (what had been) Fitch Tavern
Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
- “the second [meeting-house]”: now First Parish Church: 75 Great Road