Winthrop’s Farm (1892) [1/2]

[ portrait print ]


A Chapter of Old Bedford History.

By Abram English Brown.

It was an early custom in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay to reward the labors of leading men by grants of the common lands. When John Winthrop, the “father of the colony” and “founder of Boston,” arrived with his associates at Salem, there were thousands of acres extending inland from tide water, of which but little was known, save that they were inhabited by Indians and wild beasts. Samoset‘s “Welcome, Englishmen,” confirmed by Massasoit, was the greeting which encouraged the Pilgrims to penetrate the wilderness about Plymouth, within sound of their own

guns, which they had early planted on the brow of the hill. A company, in which were unprincipled men, had begun the settlement of Wassagusset, (Weymouth), and pushed inland far enough to arouse the animosity of the natives by injudicious treatment. The few settlers at Saugus (Lynn) and Mishawum (Charlestown) had been too much occupied in their struggling settlements to peer far into the wilderness beyond them. John Endicott and his Puritan followers had scarcely time to establish homes for themselves at Naumkeag (Salem), when the “great immigration” took place, and

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John Winthrop came as Governor, with Thomas Dudley as the Deputy. Five days after the arrival of these eminent men at Salem, the former records in his diary:

“Thursday 17 (June) We went to Mattachusetts to find a place for our sitting down.” [*1]

This exploring journey between Salem and Charlestown was made on foot. While they doubtless kept within sight of the shore, they must have had an eye to the vast forests which covered the plains and capped the hills toward the setting sun. As landed estates were the basis of wealth and influence in the mother country, it is reasonable to suppose, and by subsequent actions of these men conclude, that they were not so oblivious to self-interest as to pass these unexplored tracts without thinking of the possible wealth that lay beyond them.

The years that immediately followed the temporary settlement at Charlestown, of Winthrop and his associates, and their permanent location at “Trimontaine” (Boston), were full of hard work and anxiety for all, but especially trying for the one who had been intrusted with the charter, during the voyage across the

Atlantic. It is difficult at this day to conceive of the burdens that were cheerfully borne by John Winthrop during the formative period of the colony. At first there was so much unanimity among the people that the governor was elected by a “show of hands.” But this harmony did not continue long; differences of opinion arose among the freemen and found expression at the elections, and the office of chief executive alternated between Winthrop and Dudley, with an occasional change from both. John Winthrop was so thoroughly determined to establish a permanent colony and an independent church where they could “enjoy God and Jesus Christ” (as he wrote to his wife), that he graciously stepped from the leadership to minor positions, according to the caprices of the freemen, and labored always with an eye single to the prosperity of the enterprise. [*2]

[ nature sketch ]
The Two Brothers.

When the more important matters of government had been adjusted, and new settlements had been commenced beyond the limits of the Bay, the General Court took measures to explore the land in the vicinity of the rivers and determine “as

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[ document photo ]
A Portion of the Deed of Conveyance of the Winthrop Farm.

to its fitness for settlement.” In 1635, a band of pioneers had purchased Musketaquid (Concord) of the Indians, and begun a settlement there. In the following year, the records show that adventurers were looking toward the bordering lands of “Shawe Shin,” “to see whether or not it may not be a fitt place for a plantacon.” [*3] The open lands in the vicinity of the rivers and the adjacent highlands were looked upon as particularly favorable locations for settlement, and that land lying between the Concord and Shawshine Rivers seems to have been sought for by more than one.

It appears that the court was desirous of rewarding Winthrop and his associate, Thomas Dudley, for their long and faithful services; and in November, 1637, a grant of one thousand acres was made to each, “where it may not prejudice any plantation granted nor any plantation to be granted w^th out limiting to time of impv^t.” [^1][*4]

During the early years of the colony, all was not harmony in domestic circles. A severe controversy sprang up between Governor Winthrop and Deputy-Governor Dudley. The impulsive nature of the latter had been severely aroused by the former’s decision to re-locate his house; personal matters were allowed to influence public acts, and this family quarrel (the first recorded in Massachusetts) caused a good deal of trouble for others.

These eminent men were more intimately associated than through their official positions, — their children had united the families by marriage. But the “root of bitterness” was not cast aside until they located their farms, when the effect of their unfriendly relations upon the community seemed to dawn more clearly upon them. [*5] The record in

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Winthrop’s Journal, under date of April 24, 1638, is as follows:

“The governour and deputy went to Concord to view some land for farms, and, going down the river about four miles, they made choice of a place for one thousand acres for each of them. They offered each other the first choice, but because the deputy’s was first granted, and himself had store of land already, the governour yielded him the choice. So, at the place where the deputy’s land was to begin, there were two great stones, which they called the Two Brothers, in remembrance that they were brothers by their children’s marriage, and did so brotherly agree, and for that a little creek near those stones was to part their lands.” [*6]

[ house sketch ]
Job Lane’s House.

The “two great stones,” which are represented in the illustration, stand not only as the boundary of their farms, but

are a monument of the reconciliation there reached between the founder of Massachusetts and of Boston, and his associate in power, as well as between brothers through the marriage of children.

In point of fruitful suggestion for the artist, the locating of these farms comes close upon the landing at Plymouth. The eminent governor, dressed in short clothes, cloak, and ruff, with but one companion, and he an unfriendly brother, travels out on foot through the wilderness to the young settlement at Concord; and there on the bank of the river destined to be the scene of an opening revolution, the two embark in a boat — doubtless an Indian canoe. They paddle along with the sluggish current, rounding the many curves, until within sight of two boulders, which must have been lodged there during the glacial period, they moor their bark, select their farms, and become friends and brothers indeed. [*7]

[ nature sketch ]
Road dividing the Winthrop Farm.

Four months after this memorable visit, the court added two hundred acres to the governor’s farm, and still later an addition of sixty acres was made. The governor, in common with others, had a preference for low grass land, and this final enlargement was to consist of a tract of meadow to the eastward of his first selection.

Whoever paddles up and down the Concord River, where its waters touch the western border of the town of Bedford, cannot fail to see the ground on which Winthrop stood, in very much the same condition in which the governor left it two centuries and a half ago. The “Two

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Brothers” still stand out alone and above all other stones, as conspicuous as is the record of the founder of Massachusetts Bay Colony, among the records of his successors in office. [*8] New England presents few memorials, unadorned by the hand of man, that can be compared with these boulders, as regards the events which they commemorate. [*9]

The southern boundary of Winthrop’s farm was “Concord old line,” one side of the “six mile square” which Rev. Peter Bulkley and his associates purchased of the Indians. The northern boundary was the “little creek” running from inland to the river.

[ house sketch ]
The First Meeting House.

It is not probable that Winthrop ever again visited his farm, although he enjoyed the satisfaction of the possession. The duties incident upon the growth of the rapidly increasing company of immigrants, during the remaining eleven years of his life, absorbed all of his time and strength. The farm remained in its natural condition, and in the family possession, fifteen years after the death of the eminent governor, when it was sold by his eldest son, Fitz John, the governor of Connecticut, to Job Lane of Malden. [*10] The deed of conveyance is still in possession of the descendants of the purchaser. It is a well-executed instru-

ment, written on vellum, and reads as follows:

“This Indenture made the Second Day of August in the Year of our Lord one thousand Six Hundred Sixty and Four, in the Sixteenth Year of the Reigne of our Sovereign Lord Charles the Second by the Grace of God over England, Scotland, France, and Ireland King and defender of the faith to wit. Between Fitz John Winthrop of New London, in the colony of Connecticut in New England, Esquire, on the one part and Job Lane of Malden in the County of Middlesex in New England, builder, on the other part — witnesseth that the said Fitz John Winthrop for and in consideration of the sum of two hundred and thirty-two pounds, currant money in New England, by the value thereof in cattle and other currant pay of New England, to him in hand before the sealing and delivery thereof well and truly paid by the abovenamed, Job Lane, whereof and wherewith the said Fitz John Winthrop doth acknowledge himself to be fully satisfied and contented, and will be thus,” etc.

The seal, a very unique appendage, bears the impression of the family signet.

[ house sketch ]
Fitch Tavern.

Job Lane paid for the farm by building a house for Fitz John Winthrop, at New London, Connecticut. He erected a dwelling upon the eastern side of the

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farm, and this is thought to be now standing and occupied as a family residence. [*11] It was used as a garrison during the time of King Philip’s war. During later Indian troubles, it was the fort from which Mary, daughter of Col. John Lane, fired at and killed a lurking red man. She had vainly tried to convince the guard of the approaching enemy, and having taken

matters into her own hands, she soon proved the truth of her impression. [*12]

[ nature photo ]
Mill on the Shawshine.

The Winthrop Farm remained intact until the death of Job Lane, in 1697, when it was divided among his heirs. It was then surveyed for the first time and found to contain fifteen hundred acres.

[ object photo ]
Alice Stearns.
From an old painting.

The governor, having no means of measurement, made sure to include within his bounds the full amount granted to him. As the deed above quoted, in part, included twelve hundred and sixty acres, “more or less,” the heirs of Job Lane were the first to realize the full extent of the farm. The oldest son received one half — a double portion — according to the laws then in force, and the remaining half was divided between the heirs of two deceased daughters of Job Lane. On the former half the Lanes have lived and flourished, and the eighth generation now occupies a portion. One fourth of the farm — a daughter’s share — was occupied by Samuel Fitch, grandson of the purchaser, and was the birthplace of several sons who became eminent men in the colony.

The Winthrop Farm became a part of the town of Bedford through the act of incorporation of September, 1729, but as the creek referred to was taken as the northern boundary of the new town, only one of the boulders was included. An addition was made in 1766, which brought the dividing line farther to the northward

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and secured to the town the enduring companion.



  1. prejudice ∨ piudice



  1. cf. Winthrop’s journal entry (17 June 1630), as published
    in his History of New England: Volume I (1825) p 27
  2. cf. KJV’s Matthew 6:22
  3. “plantacon” (i.e., “plantation”): settlement
  4. “impv^t”: improvement
  5. cf. KJV’s Hebrews 12:14-16
  6. cf. Winthrop’s journal entry (24 April 1638), as published
    in his History of New England: Volume I (1825) p 264
  7. “moor their bark”: secure their boat
  8. These boulders lie on the eastern bank of the Concord River, due west of Chestnut Lane, which stems from (the fittingly-named) Dudley Road.
  9. Just two years after publication, “1638” was engraved on each rock. (BS1) p 138
  10. Fitz-John Winthrop was John Winthrop’s grandson, not his son. John Winthrop’s son was John Winthrop the Younger, who was himself the father of Fitz-John.
  11. “a family residence”: the Job Lane House (now a museum): 295 North Road
  12. cf. Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) p 21

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