Vital Records of Williamstown, Massachusetts
Vital Records of Williamstown, Massachusetts: To the End of the Year 1849
The vital records of Williamstown are imperfect. The following records of
births, marriages and deaths include all entries to be found in the books of
record kept by the town clerks; in the Baptist church records; and in the
cemetery inscriptions. These records are printed in a condensed form in which
every essential particular has been preserved. All duplication of the town
clerks' record has been eliminated, but differences in entry and other
explanatory matter appear in brackets. Parentheses are used when they occur in
the original record; also to show the difference in the spelling of a name in
the same entry; and to indicate the maiden name of a married woman.
Abbreviations found within the Vital Records of Williamstown,
Williamstown lies in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. Its northern line of five miles in length is, for that distance, the southern line of Vermont. The entire northern line of Massachusetts was long in controversy between that state and New Hampshire, and was finally settled on by the Privy Council in England, March 10, 1740, in these words: "That the northern boundary of Massachusetts be a curved line pursuing the course of the Merrimack River at three miles distance, on the north side thereof, beginning at the Atlantic Ocean and ending at a point due north of Pawtucket Falls, and a straight course drawn from thence due west, until it meets with his Majesty's other governments."
This line was actually run the next year by a surveyor named Richard Hazen, a prominent citizen of Haverhill, on the Merrimack, and accordingly is sometimes called "Hazen's line," and has never since been altered. Pawtucket Falls are the rapids on which the city of Lowell was long afterwards built; but by some means the line to be drawn "due west," from a point three miles north of them, was really drawn about 1° 45' north of due west; so that Massachusetts, so far as Williamstown is concerned, gained thereby more than one-third of the area of the town; otherwise the meadows of the Hoosac, the site of the College, the slopes of Prospect, and all the lands north of a line about midway between the two villages, would have been adjudged to New Hampshire, and afterwards have fallen to Vermont. It was indeed a blessed error of the compass that kept this fine strip of country within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.
When Richard Hazen ran his line in 1741, he did not know precisely at what point to the westward to stop; for the boundary between New York and Massachusetts had not then been definitely settled, and the authority under which he acted ordered the line to be extended west "until it meets his Majesty's other governments." There had been, however, a general understanding ever since the Dutch "New Netherland" had been conquered by the English in 1664, that that Province extended twenty miles east of Hudson's River. Indeed, a futile attempt had been made by the very commissioners, who took possession of the Province in the name of King Charles the Second, to draw, on that understanding, the western boundary line of Connecticut. So far as Massachusetts was concerned, such a line would correspond pretty nearly with the summits of the Taconic Hills. Accordingly, Hazen carried his line westward over the top of this range, calling that part crossed by the line " Mount Belcher," from the name of the governor under whose commission he was surveying, and supposed that the ultimate New York boundary would run along those summits, but, for the sake of convenience, he continued the line "to Hudson's River, at about eighty poles from the place where Mohawk River comes into Hudson's River."
Yet misunderstandings, as between New York and Massachusetts in relation to their boundary line, began early, and continued until 1773; some of the New York patroons claimed that their land-grants reached over into the valley of the Housatonic. A few Dutch pioneers had crept up the Hoosac from the westward, very near to the point where Hazen's line crosses that river. In 1739 the first committee from the government of Massachusetts, that came into this valley to survey it, complained in their report of "the great opposition we met with from sundry gentlemen from Albany," and the committee of the General Court to which this report was referred recommended "that the government of New York be informed by proper letters of the resolution of this Court herein, and that we are ready to join commissioners with such as shall be appointed by them for the stating and perambulating the bounds between each province." The same committee refer to " the better securing the undoubted right this government have to those and other lands thereabout," and also refer to the lands as those "whereon some few people have already got and inhabit"; again, in 1749 another committee "are further of opinion that a letter be sent from this government to the government of New York once more, to press them to join commissioners with such as shall be appointed by this Court for settling the boundaries between this government and that of New York"; but at length, in 1773, all these anxieties were quieted by a Board of Mutual Commissioners, who, with the governors of the two provinces, met at Hartford, Connecticut, and agreed on the line substantially as it now runs, although the line was not drawn and finally established till the summer of 1787, while the Federal Convention that framed our National Constitution was in session at Philadelphia, both parties in the meantime having appealed to the Congress of the Confederation to appoint commissioners for that purpose.
The persons thus appointed were John Ewing, David Rittenhouse, and Thomas Hutchins, all distinguished men, the first two citizens of Philadelphia, and the last, who did the work and made the report in the name of the three, was the first prominent American geographer. He had been assisted in the survey by Professor Samuel Williams of Harvard College, afterwards a citizen and the first historian of Vermont. The line as thus settled by national authority is a straight line north by east, and its length as stated in the report was "fifty miles, forty-one chains, and seventy-nine links." A small equilateral triangle of land at its extreme southwest corner has since been granted by the state of Massachusetts to the state of New York, but with this insignificant exception the boundary-line between them is still Hutchins' line of 1787. It so happened that this line did not coincide at all with the west line of Williamstown as laid out in 1749 by a committee of the General Court of Massachusetts, but ran 446 rods to the west of the southwest corner of the town as then laid out, and gradually approached the old line as it ran northwards, and crossed it about a mile and a half south of Hazen's line, which line it struck at last about half a mile east of the top of the Taconic Ridge. This point is now the northwest corner of the town of Williamstown, of the county of Berkshire, and of the state of Massachusetts. It is also the southwest corner of the state of Vermont; and it cuts into two very nearly equal parts the eastern line of the state of New York. It is marked at present by a small marble monument, which was probably set when the line was run in 1787. Its latitude is 42° 44', and its longitude 73° 13' west from Greenwich. Not far from 150 acres of the original town of Williamstown was in this way cut off from its northwest corner and thrown into New York, while a gore of land on the southwest of the old town was thrown into Massachusetts, and fifty years later (April 9,1838) annexed to Williamstown. The present western line of the town, accordingly, is Hutchins' line for that distance, and is very nearly eight and one-fourth miles in length, and is in direction N. 20° 15' E., keeping all the way pretty near to the highest points of the Taconic Range.
The southern line of Williamstown, including, since 1838, the baseline of "the Gore," makes a straight course of very nearly six and three-fourths miles in length, and in direction a little south of east from the New York boundary to the western line of the present town of Adams. This course, bounding Hancock and New Ashford on the north, descends from the ridge of the Taconics, passes across the narrow valley of the Hancock Brook, runs over " Stratton Mountain "so-called (a huge wedge almost closing up the Williamstown valley on the south), so as to bring into the town the finely rounded northern face and summit of that mountain, next crosses the still narrower valley of the Ashford Brook, and then climbs up the steep side of Saddle Mountain, to strike the Adams line but little to the south of the peak of Greylock.
From this lofty point, the eastern boundary of the town, which is the only one of its four sides meeting with no change since Colonels Partridge and Choate and Captain Dwight traced the town's limits as a committee of the General Court in 1749, runs its course of about eight and one-fourth miles slightly to the east of north, at first high up along the western slope of Greylock,—about sixty rods from its highest summit, — and so along the western slopes of Mounts Fitch and Williams, all three of whose high heads are in what was the old township of East Hoosac, and then obliquely over the strong shoulder called " Wilbur's Pasture," which serves to unite Mount Williams with Mount Prospect, and then adown the gorge between these and diagonally across the valley of the Hoosac, — just cutting in twain the long woollen-mill in Blackinton,—and then climbing the slope of East Mountain to the north of the river, and passing along its western side more than half-way up to its summit, hits Hazen's line at last, and makes the northeast corner of the town.
Within these four lines are enclosed as nearly as may be fortyseven square miles, or 30,000 acres, of wonderfully varied surface.