The first road laid out from Billerica to Concord, in 1660, crossed the Winthrop farm. That was soon followed by “trodden paths,” and latterly the “country roads” and public highways, as the convenience of the early settlers demanded. In the closing years of the eighteenth century, the people cut a way through the forest, bridged Concord River, and made one of the most attractive highways of that locality. The gracefully curving roads across the farm suggest the paths naturally marked out by the early settlers in going from one house to another. [^1] Much produce of these well-tilled acres is now marketed in the great city founded by John Winthrop.
[ nature sketch ]
Chestnut Avenue, Pickman House.
On the extreme southeastern border of the Winthrop farm is a mammoth oak tree, which must have burst the shell of the acorn about the time of the memorable visit of the governor. Many of its companions were sacrificed by the pioneers, to build the strong frame of the first meeting-house in the town of Bed-
ford; [*1] and the worm-eaten timbers may be seen in the second house of worship. [*2] Who it was that dropped his axe at the imploring word, “Woodman, spare that tree,” we cannot tell; but robbed of all its companions it stands a living monument of many transactions since John Winthrop selected his farm. [*3] In the vicinity of this tree, the “minute men” of the town were marshalled in the morning twilight of April 19, 1775; and at the tavern near by, kept by Jeremiah Fitch, the young soldiers who had left their homes at the midnight alarm were given refreshment, before starting for Concord. [*4] The words of their brave captain Jonathan Willson, on leaving the tavern, were, “This is a cold breakfast, boys, but we’ll give the British a hot dinner; we’ll have every dog of them before night.” [*5] Encouraged by the hopeful words of their captain, they hastened on to the protection of the mother town.
[ p 332 ]
chase across the “Great Fields” to intercept the retreating enemy at Merriam’s Corner. Captain Willson was killed by a British bullet, while cheering on his men near the Lincoln Line. Job Lane, a private of the company, was wounded in the same engagement. The only monument ever erected to the memory of this gallant man is an ancient slate stone, which stands at the head of the grave where his family and comrades laid him on the day following his death. It is in the Old Burial Ground of the town. [*6] The motto in Latin on this rude monument is in sentiment the same as that on the flag or banner which was carried at the head of the Bedford company. This flag was carried by Nathaniel Page.
[ house sketch ]
As the Minute Men had been hastily organized, their officers were not commissioned as were those in command of the Company of Militia; they had no regularly adopted standard, and Nathaniel Page took the old flag that had been carried by his ancestors in former
wars. After the scenes of that memorable day it was returned to the Page house, and there kept until the 19th of April, 1875, when it was carried by a delegation of Bedford citizens in the procession at the centennial celebration at Concord. Ten years later, Oct. 19, 1885 (the one hundred and fourth anniversary of the surrender of Cornwallis), it was presented by Capt. Cyrus Page to the town of Bedford. It was thus brought to the attention of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the following report was made:
“It was originally designed in England, in 1660-70, for the three-county troops of Massachusetts, and became one of the accepted standards of the organized militia of this state, and as such it was used by the Bedford company.” [*7]
[ photo print ]
Old Clock, Bedford Church.
Mr. Appleton said that, in his opinion, “this flag far exceeds in historic value the famed flag of Eutaw and Pulaski‘s banner, and, in fact, is the most precious memorial of its kind we have any knowledge of.” [*8] It is highly prized by the descendants of those who fought beneath its folds in the opening scene of the Revolution.
[ p 333 ]
After the death of Captain Willson, the command of the company fell to Lieut. Edward Stearns, his brother-in-law. [^2] Lieutenant Stearns lived on the border of the Winthrop and Dudley Farms. His estate was included in that portion of Billerica that was set off to Bedford in 1766.
[ house sketch ]
The Bacon Homestead.
When the report of the movements of the British soldiers reached the Stearns home, the father and oldest son — Solomon — made haste to the place of rendezvous at the centre, and there joined the company. During their absence at Concord, other members of the family were busy in the preparation of supplies for the army. Three daughters, Rachel, Susanna, and Alice, aged sixteen, thirteen, and eleven respectively, were occupied in making cartridges. A portrait of the youngest of this trio of patriots is extant. It was painted in 1801, and our illustration is a copy of it.
The site of the home of Lieutenant Stearns is that of the residence recently purchased by Dudley L. Pickman of Boston. [*9] Mr. Pickman is a lineal descendant of Lieutenant-Governor Dudley, who, with Governor Winthrop, received the early grants of this territory. Chestnut Avenue, leading to the residence and historic grounds, makes a most beautiful modern connection of these farms of colonial history.
Besides the Winthrop Farm, there was included in the town of Bedford at the time of the incorporation, other lands that represent very early grants; and the grantees were men of prominence in the
colony. There was a farm of five hundred acres granted to Capt. Daniel Gookin, a valuable servant of the colony and a co-worker with the Apostle Eliot. One of the same extent granted to the Rev. Joseph Mitchell, a minister of Cambridge, was purchased by Michael Bacon in July, 1682, for two hundred pounds. It was occupied by the Bacon family for several generations. The purchaser was of the third generation in this country, and was an occupant of the land, probably by lease, before he bought it of the widow of the grantee. He had a mill on Shawshine River, which crossed the farm, before King Philip’s War. He was allowed, during that war, two soldiers from the colony’s forces to protect his mill.
[ object sketch ]
Old Flag carried at Concord, 1775.
It is recorded that the mill was burnt during the Indian outbreak. If so, it was soon rebuilt, and there has been a mill for the accommodation of the farmers ever since. The mill, nestling in the midst of the foliage and reflected in the shining water, makes a pleasing combination of what is rare both in history and in nature. [*10]
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It was the land in this vicinity, that has been already referred to as having been explored in 1636, with an eye to settlement. Not far from the mill was the Shawshine House, alluded to in a report of 1642. [*11] It was first occupied as a trading post with the Indians.
[ portrait print ]
Rev. Samuel Stearns.
The house at the Bacon homestead is one of the most ancient dwellings of the town, seven generations of the family having been born here. [*12] Jonathan Bacon, a member of the fourth generation, was a leader in the work of incorporating the town. He was a prominent citizen of Billerica, appointed by the selectmen of that town in 1699, “to sell victuals and drink.” [*13] He was in the Indian war in 1706, was a representative to the General Court in 1726, and in 1729 was recorded as a “principal inhabitant,” and ordered by the Colonial Court to assemble the people and organize the town of Bedford. [^3]
His nearest neighbor, half a mile away, was Nathaniel Page, who settled here in 1687. The Page house is another of the historic dwellings of the town. [*14] Eight generations of the family and name have been identified with it, among them some brave warriors and prominent men of the town. A beautiful house in the colonial
style of architecture has been recently built by the family, but the old mansion is still preserved.
Among other private residences of the early days is that known as the Stearns Mansion. [*15] It was built, soon after the Revolution, for the third minister, Rev. Joseph Penniman. He was a very eccentric man. His peculiarities are perpetuated by various family traditions, and are also shown in the epitaphs on stones at the graves of two children in the burial ground where Capt. Jonathan Willson is buried:
“Dec. 22, 1790. Hannah, daughter of Rev. Joseph Penniman and Hannah, his wife, aged 18 yrs, 4 mos, 11 days.
Ah! now, no notice do you give
Where you are and how you live!
What! are you then bound by solemn fate,
To keep the secret of your state?
The alarming voice you will hear,
When Christ, the Judge, shall appear.
Hannah! from the dark lonely vault,
Certainly, soon and suddenly you’ll come,
When Jesus shall claim the treasure from the tomb.”
[ silhouette ]
From a silhouette of 1820.
“August 21, 1778. Molly aged 3 yrs, 6 mos, and 3 days.
Ah! dear Polly, must your tender parents mourn
Their heavy loss, and bathe with tears your urn,
Since now no more to us you must return!”
When the peculiarities of Rev. Mr. Penniman became unbearable, his pastor-
[ p 335 ]
ate was brought to an end. He was succeeded by Rev. Samuel Stearns, who purchased the house of the retiring pastor and there established his home. Rev. Samuel Stearns was of the sixth generation in the country, and from the same family as Lieutenant Edward Stearns, before referred to. The name has been variously spelled, but the same coat of arms is claimed by the various branches of the descendants of Isaac, who came to this country in 1630, probably with Gov. John Winthrop. [*16]
[ object sketch ]
Sign of David Reed’s Tavern.
The fourth minister of the town began his work in 1796, and remained in the pastoral office nearly forty years. He came to the town when the ecclesiastical and municipal affairs were in a somewhat chaotic state, and he was helpful in the introduction of reforms that have been continued to this day. The Stearns Homestead was the birthplace of Rev. Samuel H. Stearns, one of the pastors of the Old South Church in Boston, Rev. William A. Stearns, D.D., LL.D., late president of Amherst College, Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns, D.D., late pastor at Newark, N.J., Josiah A. Stearns, A.M.,
Ph.D., a noted schoolmaster of Boston for forty years; and Rev. Eben S. Stearns, D.D., LL.D., chancellor of the State University of Nashville, Tenn. All of these, with the exception of the last, were baptized in the first meeting house of the town. The second son, William Augustus, was baptized on the day of his birth, a cold Sabbath in March, 1805. The custom of performing this ceremony on the Sabbath immediately following the birth was rigidly adhered to by the pastor of the town.
[ house sketch ]
The house of worship known as the Old Parish Meeting House, was erected in 1816. It has stood three-quarters of a century, with few changes externally, but the inside has been refitted at different times in accord with the demands of the progressive age. The clock in the meeting house was given at the time of dedication, by Jeremiah Fitch, a native of the town, and a Boston merchant for whom Bedford Street in that city was named. The clock was made during the last war with England, and was naturally mounted with patriotic emblems. Here are represented the American eagle and the chain of states then comprising the Union. The town of Bedford has not been so fortunate as many towns in receiving gifts; among those who have
[ p 336 ]
been recorded as public benefactors is Hannah Reed. She gave a piece of land for a “public promenade or walk.” Through the purchase of land beyond it for a Union schoolhouse, the full benefit of the gift is being realized by the youth of the town. [*17]
The town has always been well supplied with inns. The Shawshine House was a tavern at the time of the incorporation, kept by Benjamin Danforth, who was succeeded by Capt. John Webber, who came to Bedford about 1760. He was from Medford, and he became the founder of a large and influential family. Of the twelve children born at the old tavern, eleven survived their mother, who died at the age of thirty-eight years, and the aggregate age of the eleven was seven hundred and eighty-one years, making an average of seventy-one years. The eight sons lived to the average age of about seventy-six years.
The Webber Cradle, brought with the immigrant to this country, has been used by the family in Bedford since 1690, and is a relic of interest.
A tavern established by David Reed about 1790 was a noted hostelry during the years of stage coaches. [*18] The old sign is still in existence; and the house, in which great questions were discussed, is now the beautiful residence of Elihu G. Loomis, a Boston lawyer. The old tavern at the centre of the town has been recently improved, supplied with the modern conveniences and comforts, and is a pleasant retreat for weary denizens of Boston. They find in old Bedford a town which has abolished the sale of intoxicating liquors, and has an enviable reputation for morality, and which is as healthful and beautiful to-day as it was when Winthrop and Dudley paddled down the river to locate their farms.
[ nature sketch ]
The Winthrop Oak.
- A. E. Brown’s “Governor Winthrop’s farm” (1892)
in The New England magazine: Vol 6 (pp 331-336)
- farm ∨ farm,
- brother-in-law. ∨ brother-in-law,
- inhabitant,” ∨ inhabitanc,”
- Historic properties and neighborhoods (2015)
- The Bedford Flag unfurled (2000)
- The Bedford sampler  (1967)
- Johnson’s History of Bedford (1960)
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891)
- County atlas of Middlesex (1875)
- “the first meeting-house”: the (rebuilt) first meeting-house
Stood “on the north side of the Common, very near the road”. (BHB) p 54
NB: Brown is here quoting an address (from 1868) by William A. Stearns.
Frame “stripped and demolished” in the summer of 1816. (BHB) p 16
- “the second house of worship”: now First Parish Church: 75 Great Road
- “a living monument”: the Old Oak
It was “so badly damaged in the hurricane of 1938 that it had to be cut down”. (Johnson) p 40
- “the tavern near by”: (what was then) Fitch Tavern
Now a private residence: 12 Great Road
- cf. Jonathan F. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879)
in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration p 22
- “the Old Burial-Ground”: the Old Burying Ground: 7 Springs Road
- cf. Appleton’s “The Bedford Flag” (1886)
in Proceedings of the Mass Hist Soc: Vol II (p 199)
NB: This statement has since been proven doubly wrong:
The Bedford Flag was painted “certainly not before 1704”, and Brown himself “eventually decided that the Bedford Flag and the Three County Troop flag were in fact not the same”. (BFU) pp 11 and 74
- cf. Appleton’s “The Bedford Flag” (1886)
in Proceedings of the Mass Hist Soc: Vol II (p 200)
- “the residence”: the Dudley L. Pickman House: 228 Dudley Road
- “the mill”: the Bacon–Fitch–Clark mill
Stood due east of (what is now) Carleton-Willard. (CAM) p 46
Purchased and demolished by the Town in 1947. (HPN) p 288
- “the Shawshine house”: the Shawsheen House trading post
The location of this structure is still in dispute. (HPN) p 400
- “the house”: the Michael Bacon House: 229 Old Billerica Road
- “victuals”: food
- “the Page house”: the Nathaniel Page homestead
Formerly stood at 85 Page Road. (BS1) p 14
Moved. Now at 89 Page Road. (HPN) p 282
- “the Stearns Mansion”: the Penniman-Stearns House: 26 Great Road
- cf. Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) II: pp 32-33
- “a Union schoolhouse”: now Town Center: 12 Mudge Way
- “a noted hostelry”: (what was then) Reed Tavern
Reed Tavern “was destroyed by fire in the the early part of the 20th century”. (HPN) p 239
Replaced by the Reed–Lane–Loomis House: 5 Brooksbie Road