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September, 1636, nineteen persons presented a petition to the general court, wherein they request a ratification of the former grant to them, and a further grant of all lands above the falls in Charles river and north of it, not before granted and five miles square on the south side of Charles river, and that they may be exempted from country charges four years, and have other encouragement in their non-age. The request was granted with three years exemption from public charges.
Town Covenant.-It was many years before the government of the colony could make a sufficient number of general laws to regulate the plantations. Each town it must be presumed before the enactment of a general law, to regulate their own affairs, made laws for themselves. How Dedham supplied this deficiency we shall see in the account of its town covenant, and by-laws. It did in fact legislate for itself in a great variety of matters. The town covenant, (we should call it in our times, a constitution,) laid the foundation for making legitimate by-laws. The preamble to this instrument begins thus :-“We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do in the fear and reverence of our Almighty God mutually and severally promise amongst ourselves, and each to other, to profess and practice one faith according to that most perfect rule, the foundation whereof is everlasting love.
“ Secondly, we engage by all means, to keep off from our company such as shall be contrary minded, and receive only such into our society as will in a meek and quiet spirit, promote its temporal and spiritual good.
* Thirdly, that if any differences arise, the parties shall presently refer all such difference unto one, two or three of the society, to be fully accorded by them.
Fourthly, that every man who shall have lots in the town shall pay all such sums for the public charges, as shall be imposed on him rateably, and shall obey all such by-laws and constitutions as the inhabitants shall judge necessary for the management of their temporal affairs, for religion, and for loving society.
Fifthly, for the better manifestation of their intentions herein, they subscribe their names, and bind themselves, and their successors forever to the true observance of this covenant.”
There is no date to this instrument, but it was executed before the second act of incorporation, for the petitioners for that act, state that they were at present under covenant. One hundred and twenty-six persons signed this instrument.
Town government composed of seren men.—The inhabitants having thus acquired the right in their aggregate capacity to make laws, for three years exercised it. But as the affairs of the plantation required monthly town meetings, this diverted them from their necessary business; and in 1639, they delegated all their power, to seven men to be annually chosen. The power of these seven men, was as extensive in every respect, as that of the whole town, in legal meeting assembled, excepting in after times they were prohibited from making free grants, admitting townsmen, and making dividends of the lands. These seven men kept records of their doings, and inserted them in the town records, and they are recorded promiscuously among the doings of all the proprietors. The seven men met monthly for many years, made many necessary by-laws for the establishment of highways and fences, for the keeping of cattle, and swine, and horses; for keeping proper register of land titles, and of births and marriages; for the support of schools and religion ; for additional bounties for killing wolves and wild cats; for the extinguishment of Indian claims. As the by-laws of the society best show its situation, a few are here inserted.
By-Laws.-A committee shall be appointed to examine the characters of new comers, and make report of their inquiries to the town. All persons coming into the town, shall declare their name, and explain their motives. August, 1636.
No person in covenant, shall bring his servant with him and thereby entitle the servant to lots of land-but the servant shall bring testimony of a good character before he is permitted to reside here. August, 1636.
All the waters in town are declared free to all for fishing
The first settlers, if married men, shall have home lots of 12 acres, and unmarried men 8 acres. 1636.
No man having lots in town shall sell them without leave of the company. 1636.
Absence from town meeting shall be punished by fine, one shilling for the first half hour, and three shillings for the whole meeting. 1637.
A long act is made for the establishment of highways. 1637.
Every house holder shall provide a ladder for his house, under a penalty of five shillings. 1639.
The officers called wood reeves shall be chosen annually, who shall have power to order the burning the herd walks, and give orders concerning the same. To give orders for cutting wood and timber on the common lands. To cause the by-laws respecting ladders to be observed. To collect the penalties for trespasses on the common lands. To view fences, and cause them to be made and repaired
A lengthy statute provides for the discovery of mines, within the limits of the town. One of its provisions require the finder of a mine to make a report thereof as soon as may be to the selectmen. Two reports were | made, one of a copper mine at Wrentham, and another of a bright and shining metal, somewhere near a brook in Natick. There was then a considerable extent of unexplored territory. It was natural where every thing was new, that some heads should be turned on mining projects. Who these men were, I do not know.
Here in the woods at Dedham, a number of strangers met, they had come from various places in England, and had probably acquired some slight knowledge of each others intentions, when they first set out from Watertown, to come into this place. There were then no general laws in the colony to regulate their various interests, or their common enterprizes. It was after the first coming of the first inhabitants to this place, that the general court delegated powers to the selectmen, to execute according to their best discretion, what was afterwards regulated by general statutes. They had the common intent of dwelling in the town. They formed a civil society, out of its first simple elements. They actually did what theorists have conjectured might be done in such a case ; but of which they could never exhibit a well authenticated instance. The colony government originated in a grant from the king. It was the offspring of royalty. It was a gift. The Dedham society originated in a compact, the laws derived their force from the consent of the people. It was the beginning of the American system of government. It is the first rude specimen of a constitution, which I have seen, although something similar in substance must have taken place in all the early plantations.
Measures to support public worship.—The first settlers not only procured a religious teacher, and built a meeting house, and performed every other act necessary for the immediate establishment of public worship among them; but as they might well fear that a more corrupt age would not be willing to make the necessary exertions for that purpose, they therefore laid the foundation for ministerial funds. When so much other work was to be done, they built a meeting house in 1637. The pitts, (so the pews are called in the records) were five feet deep, and four and a half feet wide. The elders seat, and the deacons seat, were before the pulpit; the communion table stood before these seats, and was so placed that the communicants could approach it in all directions. This house was pulled down in 1672 ; and one much larger erected on the scite of the old one. This house had three pair of stairs, in three corners of the meeting house. Men were seated in the galleries on one side, and women on the other, the boys in the front gallery. The duty of a tythingman in those days, was arduous, and he received as much pay for his services, many years, as the deputy to the general court. He was obliged to go on errands for the elders, whip the dogs out of the meeting house, and prevent disorder among the boys, who I find whenever they sit together have a strong propensity, like the Pretorian bands, to mutiny and insubordination. The business of seating persons in these two houses, came under the jurisdiction of the elders. The greatest tax payer had the best seat. This was a subject of some difficulty.
Method of supporting ministers. During Mr. Allin's ministry of thirty-two years, the records do not shov: any rate assessed for his support. He depended on voluntary contributions, and on the liberal free grants from the proprietors. At his death he was the greatest landholder, (Deacon Chickering excepted) of any in town. All the succes sors of Mr. Allin, bad salaries voted them by the town, although the salary was paid voluntarily by the people without a tax many years.
· Funds.-When the Dedham proprietary was divided into five hundred and twenty-two shares, called cow common rights, the proprietors devoted eight of these shares, to the support of a teaching church officer. The shares drew dividends whenever they were made of the common lands, and remained unsold until after the revolution. Since that time, some of these lands have been sold, and the proceeds suffered to accumulate until the amount will afford a good living for one clergymen. These funds now belong to the first parish in Dedham.
School funds and Schools.--In 1614, the inhabitants declare their intention to devote some portion of their lands to the support of schools, and did then grant lands to trustees for the purpose of raising a fund, of the annual income of twenty pounds to support schools, which sum they determined should be the salary of the school master. Before the lands granted could be productive, the town raised by various ways, the sum of twenty pounds to hire a schoolmaster. This regarding the number and situation of the inhabitants is by far the greatest effort that has been made by any of their successors. In 1680, captain Daniel Fisher, and ensign Fuller, report that Dr. William Avery, now of Boston, but formerly of the Dedham church, out of his entire love to this church and town, freely gives into their hands, sixty pounds for a latin school, to be ordered by the selectmen and elders. This fund was many years in the hands of trustees, but it was either wrongly appropriated, or discredited by the operations of bills of credit, and there is scarcely a man who knows that such a donation was ever made. In 1695, the owners of the Dedham proprietary granted to trustees 300 acres of their best lands at Needham, to support schools, to be called the school farm. This farm was afterwards sold by order of the town to defray its ordinary expenses, and a vote made to indemnify the agents for so doing. In thirty years from this sale, the town instructed a committee to recover the school farm, and voted a larger sum to support a lawsuit for the recovery of it, than the compensation received for it. This was not done until a second and third generation, badly educated, and unmindful of the great duty of instructing themselves had appeared. The first school house was built in 1648. The masters salary, until 1695, was twenty pounds ; it was then raised to twenty-five pounds.