A BRIEF HISTORY
A party of Puritans from England, passengers on the ship “Mary and John” landed at Nantasket, on the 11th of June, 1630. On the 17th of June, they located themselves at the Indian place of Mattapan, and called it Dorchester, in honor of their pious and learned friend, the Rev. John White, who was from Dorchester, England, 120 miles west of London.
The town was incorporated on the 7th of September 1631 and included most of the territory of the town of Milton, Canton, Stoughton, Sharon, and that part of Boston on which stands “Dorchester Heights.” These lands were obtained from the Indians by purchase, not by combat. Dorchester Heights, it might be remembered, was suddenly converted into a fortress for the protection of Boston harbor on the night of March 4, 1776, on orders from George Washington.
Dorchester was one of the largest towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and included what are now South Boston, Hyde Park, Milton, Wrentham, Stoughton, Dedham, Sharon, Foxboro, and Canton. Dorchester currently lies five miles south of Boston, and seven miles northeast of Dedham.
Dorchester’s first settlers became a regularly organized church, with pastor and officers, and soon erected a house of public worship. Unfortunately, however, no one knows where the first meeting-house was located, nor is there a single stone to designate the site of the original burying ground.
Dorchester’s residents have seen and participated in every event in our country’s history including the Salem witch trials, the King Philip War in 1675-76, the French & Indian Wars, Shay’s Rebellion and many others.
The town remained a rural farming community until it was annexed by Boston on January 4, 1870. Each of Dorchester’s villages has played a part in its history: Mattapan, Neponset, Cedar Grove, Lower Mills, Peabody Square, Field’s Corner/Commercial Point, Codman Square, Franklin Park/Franklin Field, Meeting-House Hill, Glover’s Corner/Savin Hill, Grove Hall, Upham’s Corner, and Edward Everett Square/Columbia.
Dorchester erected America’s first water mill in 1633, and the first grist mill was started on the Dorchester bank of the Neponset River by Israel Stoughton in 1634. Walter Baker & Co., the chocolate manufacturer, was for many years the major employer in the town. Dorchester once contained the only powder-mill, the only paper-mill, the only cracker manufactory, the only chocolate-mill and the only playing-card manufactory in the whole country. Shipbuilding began on the river as early as 1640. In 1832 a syndicate equipped four ships to pursue whale and cod fishery, and built twenty more schooners at Commercial Point. The Putnam Nail Company began the manufacture of horseshoe nails in the 1860s, and in the 1890s the company employed 400 to 500 workers, producing nearly ten tons of nails each day.
Representing the first settlers of the town are two surviving 17th century houses, the Blake House (ca. 1648) in Richardson Park on Columbia Road, owned by the Dorchester Historical Society, and the Pierce House (ca. 1683) on Oakton Avenue, owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
An Interesting Story of Dorchester
Among the first settlers of Dorchester was George Minot, a ruling elder of the church for thirty years. He erected a dwelling-house in what was Dorchester, but is now Neponset. The house was doubtless one of the oldest houses in the country, kept in good repair, and remaining among the lineal descendants of Mr. Minot, who died in 1671. Unfortunately, the house was destroyed by fire in November, 1874.
The house was more celebrated for the female heroism displayed within its walls, than for its antiquity. A party of Narraganset Indians, hunting on the borders of the Neponset river, stopped at elder Minot’s house and demanded food and drink. On being refused they threatened vengeance, and the sachem, or chief of the party, left an Indian in ambush to watch an opportunity to effect it. Soon after, in the absence of all the family, except a young woman and two small children, the Indian attacked the house and fired at the young woman, but missed his mark. The girl placed the children under two brass kettles and bade them be silent. She then loaded Mr. Minot’s gun and shot the Indian in the shoulder. He again attacked the house, and in attempting to enter the window, the girl threw a shovel full of live coals into his face and lodged them in his blanket. On this the Indian fled. The next day he was found dead in the woods. The Indian’s name was Chickataubut, but not the Narraganset sachem of that name. The government of Massachusetts bay presented this brave young woman with a silver wristband, on which her name was engraved, with this motto, – “She slew the Narrhaganset hunter.”
Dorchester's Town Meeting Form of Government
Dorchester claims the credit of having been the first plantation to establish the New England town meeting, when on the 8th of October, 1633, it passed an order establishing the form of town government. This act acquires some importance from the fact of its precedence, and that the example was followed the next year by the other settlements, and led to the law of the General Court, passed in 1636, regulating town governments, which has continued in force to the present day.
“It is ordered that for the general good and well ordering of the affairs of the plantation there shall be every Monday before the court by 8 o'clock A.M., and presently by the beating of the drum a general meeting of the inhabitants of the plantation at the meeting-house there to settle and set down such orders as may tend to the general good as aforesaid, and every man to be bound thereby, without gainsaying or resistance. It is also agreed that there shall be twelve men selected out of the company, that may, or the greatest part of them, meet as aforesaid, to determine as aforesaid.” Edward Everett said: “It set the example in 1633 of that municipal organization which has prevailed throughout New England and has proved one of the chief sources of its progress.”
Our Dorchester Ancestors
Thomas Dewey I
WEBSITES OF INTEREST
Dorchester Atheneum, Home Page. This is a good page.
Dorchester Historical Society.
195 Boston Street, Dorchester MA 02125. Tel. 617-265-7802.
The Society maintains the James Blake House (1648) as well as the Lemuel Clap House (1765) and the William Clapp House (1806). Tours of all houses are given on the second Sunday of each month from 11 AM to 4 PM, or by special request.
Historic New England. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now known as Historic New England.
Old Connecticut Path, Facebook.
Old Connecticut Path, Google, Home Page.
Blake, James. Annals of the Town of Dorchester. Collections of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society. Boston: D. Clapp, Jr., 1846.
Bremer, Francis J. Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995.
Clapp, Ebenezer. History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Boston: Ebenezer Clapp, 1859.
History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society. Boston: E. Clapp, Jr., 1859.
Dorchester Old and New, 1630-1930. Dorchester, Massachusetts, Tercentary Committee. Dorchester: Chapple Pub. Co., 1930.
Drake, Samuel Gardner. Recovery of Some Materials for the Early History of Dorchester: General and Particular. Boston: New England Historical Genealogical Register, 1851.
Hansen, Ann Natalie. English Origins of the "Mary and John" Passengers. Columbus, OH: At the Sign of the Cock, 1985.
Ibid. Dorchester Group: Puritanism and Revolution. Columbus, OH: At the Sign of the Cock, 1987.
Hayward, John. New England Gazetteer: Containing Descriptions of All the States, Counties and Towns in New England. 5th ed. Boston & Concord, NH: Israel S. Boyd and William White, 1839.
Kuhns, Maude Pinney. Mary and John: A Story of the Founding of Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1630. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing Company, 1943.
Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester. A narrative history of the town, 1630-1893. Cambridge, 1893.
Pathways of the Puritans. Compiled under the Direction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary Commission. Boston, 1931.
Proceedings of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Gathering in England, Departure for America, and Final Settlement in New England.... Boston, 1880.
Sammarco, Anthony Mitchell. Dorchester. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 1995.
Ibid. Dorchester Volume II. Images of America Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2000.
Ibid. Dorchester Then & Now. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2005.
Stark, James Henry. Antique Views of Ye Towne of Boston. Boston, 1882 (and later editions). Contains illustrations of Dorchester scenes and houses.
Whitman, Mrs. Bernard. “Early Dorchester” in New England Magazine (May, 1891).
Winsor, Justin, ed. Memorial History of Boston. “Dorchester in the Colonial Period”.
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