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History of Dedham,
Grants from the general court. Ancient boundaries. Original state of the land. Forests. Swamps. First crops. Origin of Mother Brook. Description of the village in 1664. Present boundaries. Parishes. Description of the town at the present time.
IN the year 1635, the general court then sitting at New
towne, granted a tract of land south of Charles river to twelve men. The next year nineteen persons, including the first twelve, petitioned the general court, then at Boston, for an additional grant of all the lands south of Charles river, and above the falls, not before granted, and for a tract five miles square, on the north side of Charles river, for the purpose of making a settlement. A grant was made agreeable to this petition.
The land included in the last grant, constitutes the following towns at the present time.
Dedham, which now contains three territorial parishes, and three poll parishes.
Two territorial parishes, and a society of
Needham. Two territorial parishes.
Natick and part of Sherburne.
Under the grant of five miles square, north of Charles river, the grantees acquired a title to Dedham Island, Needham, Natick, and three thousand four hundred acres
in the east part of Sherburne. Philemon Dalton purchased three hundred acres of Samuel Dudley, of Roxbury, situated on or near the south line of Roxbury, and between that line and Dedham village. This land, although within the bounds of Roxbury when purchased, was afterwards considered a part of Dedham; and was ceded to the proprietors of the town, by the original purchaser. The boundary line between the towns at this place was for several years a subject of dispute, but was finally decided by a committee of the general court, in favor of Dedham. The eastern boundary of Dedham, during a century from its first settlement, was a considerable distance west of Neponset river, running nearly parallel with the general course of the river, and about a mile distant from it. But the towns of Stoughton and Dedham, by mutual consent carried back the boundary to Neponset river, and it has ever since remained the dividing line between the two towns. The great care bestowed by the first settlers, in fixing their boundaries with precision, and afterwards at proper periods examining and re-establishing the monuments which denoted them, has had a happy effect in preventing disputes on that subject.
Ancient state of the land.-No record exists which describes the situation of the meadows on Charles and Neponset rivers, or the forests. The meadows on Neponset river were so far cleared of trees and underwood, that they produced grass. The inhabitants of Dedham in the beginning of their settlement, hired those meadows of Israel Stoughton for a pasture for their young cattle. A tradition existed at an early period, that the grass, called foul meadow, which is superior to that of any other kind in the fresh water meadows, was first brought to the meadows in Dedham, by a large flight of wild fowls, and that from thence the meadows and the grass received their names.* All the rivers and streams were clogged with trees, roots and other matter, which had been accumulated by time. The water was in consequence much
*Dr. Nathaniel Ames, the elder, in his Almanack for 1764, gives the following account of the origin of fowl meadow grass. "The famous fowl meadow grass,' says he, "was brought into a spacious meadow on Neponset river, by the wild fowl, which frequent that place, where it first made its appearance about fifty years ago. The seed is now collected, and carried into many parts of the country."-Hutchinson's History, vol. 1, p. 425.
longer retained on the meadows. There are numerous votes in the town records, relating to the clearing of the streams of Charles and Neponset rivers. Numerous committees were appointed, to devise plans for lowering the water in Charles river. Hay, of a very coarse kind, was in the beginning of the settlement obtained from these meadows. In some places on the bank of Charles river, trees are imbeded in the mud eight or ten feet, and are as low as the bottom of the present bed of the river. From these and other data, it is supposed that the Charles river meadows have gradually arisen from a broken impenetrable swamp, covered with fallen trees, and the greatest part of the time covered with water, to its present state. The grass in many places has much improved in quality within present recollection. A coat of peat, from three to four feet in depth covers these meadows, and may have been principally formed within two hundred years. The deep soil of the upland was covered with large trees, principally oak. The large oak tree now standing in front of Mr. Avery's dwelling house in East street, of sixteen feet circumference, is probably much older than this town, and forcibly reminds us, how strong and stately stood his old companions of the forest. Wigwam and Purgatory-Swamps were dismal places. They were covered with a thick growth of cedars and hemlock, These with much underwood rendered these places almost impenetrable. Wigwam Swamp became the resort of wild beasts. It being near the village, the wolf-howl was heard from it. To break up that den, it was made a condition of every grant of land, that the grantee should clear away the wood standing on a certain quantity of land in the swamp.
The land when first cleared produced wheat and flax, although these crops cannot now be produced. From the frequent mention of wheat being made a tender in payment, and the contracts to be fulfilled by the payment of wheat, it may be inferred that it was a usual crop. But I discover no evidence to oppose the statement of Hutchinson that wheat began to blast after the year 1664. The rich mould which had been created by time, rendered the lands productive. It may be presumed that all their crops were good at first, except that of English grass. That article was very scarce for many years, for in 1649 the wet