History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts

In the early part of the 19th century, the Rev. Dr, Thaddeus M. Harris (at that time, and for many subsequent years, the much respected minister of Dorchester) wrote a history of Dorchester, MA, and published it in the printed Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 9, 1st Series. In the latter part of his life he contemplated publishing a much more elaborate work upon the same subject, for which his long residence in the town, and his taste for historical research, eminently qualified him; but before making much progress in carrying out his design, his declining health and subsequent decease deprived the public of the accumulated materials chiefly entrusted to his memory. After this event, sundry gentlemen of Dorchester, impressed with the importance of collecting and preserving all existing materials tending to illustrate the early occurrences of the pioneer plantation of the Bay (Massachusetts Bay, at the settlement in 1629, included only the territory between Nahant and Point Aldenon. See Andicott's instructions in Hazard, Vol. 1, p. 260.), from which it is believed more than 200,000 persons living in the United States in 1850 could trace their origin, associated themselves together under the name of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society.

This Society had already published the valuable Memoirs of Roger Clap, James Blake's Annals of Dorchester, and Richard Mather's Journal- the original copy of the latter production, in the hand-writing of the author, having been accidentally discovered among some papers formerly belonging to Mr. Blake. In furtherance of its purpose, the Society appointed a Committee to arrange and connect all such facts as they possess into a methodical History of the Town, interspersed with such comments and remarks as would add to the interest of the subject.

The sources of information within reach of the Society were only such as most of the early towns of Massachusetts could furnish. Nearly four years elapsed after the settlement began, before the present town organization of Massachusetts was formed; and during the period of plantation existence few records were made except grants of land. An accurate detail of the early proceedings of the Dorchester plantation would be of great value to the history of Massachusetts, as it covers a period when the present institutions of New England were unfolding, and the West Country Company, which selected this site for their abode, formed a prominent part of the great Association which gathered in England in 1629, under the wing of the Massachusetts patent, and, in the spring of 1630, sailed in seventeen ships for the Bay. Of this fleet the Mary and John, containing their company, were the first to arrive. The early transactions are doubtless much obscured by the removal to Connecticut, in 1635-6, of a large number of the prominent men of the first settlers, taking with them the church records. Diligent inquiry was in vain made for those memorials. The present town record book probably commenced with the settlement in 1630, but the first two leaves, containing four pages, which may be supposed to have been the record of the first transactions of the plantation, are wanting, and were probably lost before Mr. Blake compiled his Annals, more than one hundred years ago. The existing church records commence with the Covenant adopted at the settlement of Mr. Mather, August 23, 1636. The record of births previous to the year 1657 was accidentally burnt, and the few that have been preserved before that date were furnished afterwards from family Bibles. The few facts relating to the first three years, are gathered from the Court Records, Winthrop's Journal, and some other publications usually resorted to in like cases, and from Roger Clap's Memoir. We would gladly exchange the well-filled pages of wholesome religious instruction, written by Mr. Clap for the benefit of his posterity, for an equal quantity of historical facts which his opportunities doubtless might have enabled him to record. Still, he has rendered an invaluable service by the relation as it exists. Mr. Blake's Annals are for the most part a transcript from the town books, with some valuable additions of his own.

The manuscripts in the State archives afforded valuable information for their purpose, and the genealogical part was aided by a diligent search of the Probate Records and Deeds of the County of Suffolk.

Table of Contents

    • Smith's Voyage to Massachusetts, and the Excursion of the Plymouth Pilgrims to the Bay
    • Thompson's visit to Dorchester, and settlement on the Island afterwards called by his name.
    • The Neponset Tribe of Indians
    • Emigration in 1630.
    • Mr. John White.
    • Arrival of the Dorchester Company
    • Mattapan selected by the Dorchester Company.
    • The Town laid out and House Lots distributed.
    • Portions appropriated for Cultivation.
    • The Trade of Fishing
    • Boundaries of the Town.
    • Freemen and their Privileges.
    • Return of Emigrants.
    • The Dorchester Record Book.
    • Orders relating to Meetings of the Plantation
    • Erection of first Meeting-House.
    • Building of Stoughton's Mill.
    • New Burying-Ground commenced.
    • Controversy about removing to Connecticut
    • List of the first Settlers of the Town
    • Additional Settlers previous to 1636
    • Second Emigration from England
    • Privations and Influence of Woman in the Settlement of the Country.
    • Additional Names of Male Inhabitants of Dorchester prior to 1700
    • Removal of a part of the Colony to Connecticut.
    • The Pequot War
    • Orders of the General Court and of the Town
    • Orders of the General Court and of the Town (Continued)
    • Settlement of Dorchester, in South Carolina, and of Midway, in Georgia
    • Ecclesiastical Council at Medfield.
    • Religious Association of Young Men.
    • Land for Free Schools.
    • Death of Gov. Stoughton.
    • Boundaries of the Town.
    • Town Orders, &c.
    • Arrival and Preaching of Rev. George Whitfield ; its effects in the Church at Dorchester.
    • New Meeting-House.
    • Siege and Capture of Louisbourg.
    • Heavy drafts of Men and Money.
    • Excessive Drought.
    • Great Earthquake.
    • Death of Gen. Hatch
    • Colonial Events preceding the Revolution.
    • Great Celebration in Dorchester.
    • Patriotic Resolutions by the Town
    • Rev. Jonathan Bowman.
    • Rev. Moses Everett.
    • Drafting of Soldiers for the War.
    • Fortifying of Dorchester Heights.
    • Small-pox Hospitals
    • Forestalling Provisions.
    • The Currency.
    • The Revolution.
    • Names of Dorchester men engaged in the War
    • Shays's Rebellion.
    • Col. Pierce's Diary of Important and Interesting Events
    • Duel at Dorchester Point.
    • Three young Men drowned.
    • Annexation of Dorchester Neck to Boston.
    • Revival of Business at Commercial Point.
    • Gathering of the Second Church, and the Controversy with Rev. Dr. Codman
    • Political Parties.
    • New Meeting-House of the First Parish.
    • Situation of Dorchester.
    • Houses.
    • Population.
    • Dress and Customs of our Ancestors
    • Brief Sketch of the Religious Societies of Dorchester
    • The Public Schools of the Town
    • Brief Notices of the Early Teachers in the Public Schools
    • Graduates of Harvard College from the Town of Dorchester
    • Neponset River.
    • Its Sources, Tides, &c.
    • Neponset Tribe of Indians.
    • Navigation of the River.
    • Various Fishes in its Waters.
    • Ferries, Bridges, &c.
    • Some Account of the various Mills on Neponset River
    • Societies, Banks, Ministerial and Church Lands, Burial Grounds, Epitaphs

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Source: Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society: History of the town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Published 1859 at Boston, by E. Clapp, Jr.

Settlement of Dorchester, in South Carolina, and of Midway, in Georgia.

October 22, 1695, was the usual lecture day in this town, but was set apart for the purpose of ordaining Rev. Joseph Lord in the ministry, to go to South Carolina. There were messengers from the Churches in Roxbury, Nonantum, Boston, Milton and Charlestown. Mr. Lord first prayed, then preached a sermon from 5th of Matthew 13th verse. Mr. Morton, of Charlestown, gave the charge, and Mr. Hobart the right hand of fellowship. Those who entered into church covenant with Mr. Lord, were Joshua Brooks and Nathaniel Billings, of Concord; William Norman, of Carolina; William Adams, of Sudbury; Increase Sumner and William Pratt, of Dorchester; George Fox, of Reading; and Simon Dakin, of Concord. It is probable that Nathaniel Billings was a relative of the individuals of that name in this town, and it is not unlikely that Mr. Norman came on from Carolina for the purpose of encouraging this early missionary enterprise. Rev. John Danforth preached to this company upon parting, and their friends accompanied them to the place of embarkation, where they took leave of each other, "after kneeling down and mingling their supplications" to God, "with every expression of Christian tenderness."

Their journey and settlement were beautifully described by Professor John B. Mallard, in a Centennial Address delivered before the people of Midway, Georgia, on December 6, 1852, but not published. He says, " The Macedonian cry of the pious in Carolina was heard in New England, and the religious sentiment of the Dorchester settlers was awakened. They had planted the first Church in Connecticut, and now they were ready to gather another to send to the far distant borders of the south." " On the 5th of December the first missionaries that ever left the shores of New England, were offering up their evening prayers from the decks of two small vessels on the bosom of the Atlantic. What an interesting company did those two frail barks contain ! Infancy, not knowing whither it went; youth, with all its joyousness; middle age, with its conscious weight of responsibility; the old and the young; the strong and the weak; the protector and the protected !"

"Landing on the shores of Carolina they threaded their way to the Ashley river; and twenty miles from the abode of civilized man in the midst of an unbroken forest- where wild beasts prowled, they fixed their habitation; and February 2, 1696, under the boughs of a weather-beaten oak (still standing and stretching its branches over the resting-places of the dead), they took the sacrament of the Lord's supper, renewed their vows and gave public thanks to that Being who had led them on in safety." This was the first sacrament ever celebrated in Carolina.

These people called their new home Dorchester, and soon erected a meeting-house, and established the Congregational order of church government, under which they nourished. Rev. Hugh Fisher succeeded Mr. Lord in the ministry there. The latter returned to Massachusetts, and was settled at Chatham. Rev. John Osgood followed Mr. Fisher, and was ordained in 1735. The increase of inhabitants made it necessary to occupy more land than could be found in their neighborhood to answer their wants. The unhealthiness of the place also tended to make them dissatisfied with their abode; and on May 11th, 1752, three persons from this settlement set off upon an exploring expedition, having heard of more favorable locations in the adjoining colony of Georgia. They returned and made a favorable report of the land they had found, and proposed a removal. The proposition was favorably received by a majority of their number; but some were reluctant to part from the homes which had cost them so much toil, and had become endeared to them through the hardships invariably connected with new settlements.

On the 6th of December, 1752, Mr. Benjamin Baker and Mr. Samuel Bacon, with their families, arrived at Midway, in Liberty County, Georgia. This place was called Midway, because it stood about half way between the rivers Altamaha and Ogechee-Mrs. Baker died the day after their arrival. Their minister, Rev. Mr. Osgood, finding a general desire among those who remained in Carolina to remove, accompanied them to Georgia, where the whole Church and society eventually settled. " The Secretary of the Colony of Georgia, in a letter to Benjamin Martyn, in England, dated August 7th, 1755, sets down the number of those who removed from Carolina to Georgia (in 1752), as 816 men, women and children." He also wrote in the highest terms of the character of these settlers, whose reputation had preceded them and had grown as they became better acquainted. He says, " I really look upon these people moving here, to be one of the most favorable circumstances that could befall the Colony." More than one hundred years have elapsed since their removal to Midway, and their descendants still retain those traits of character which in their ancestors called forth the praise of the Secretary of the colony. They still adhere to the Congregational system of church government, and " the village church and the village school " have been and still are the glory of the place.

This settlement has furnished Georgia with two governors; two of its most distinguished judges; the Theological Seminary of South Carolina and Georgia with an able professor; the Methodist Episcopal Church with an influential and pious bishop; the Presbyterian and Baptist Churches of that State with many of their ablest and most useful ministers; and six of her sons have been called to professorial chairs in collegiate institutions.

The patriotism of the people of Liberty County, during and previous to the Revolutionary war, was known throughout the country. They chose to take part with their brethren in the contest which they supposed would ensue, and not being able at first to bring the people of Georgia up to their standard, they joined the Continental Congress on their own account, and chose Dr. Lyman Hall to attend the same at Philadelphia, where he signed the Declaration of Independence. Soon after, four more delegates were sent from Georgia. Dr. Hall was a native of Connecticut, a graduate of Yale College, and in 1783 was elected Governor of Georgia.