Northfield — Early Settlement

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

     The territory now included within the limits of Northfield was occupied early in the seventeenth century by the Squakheag Indians, and they were in possession as late as 1669, when, in consequence of the failure of their expedition against the Mohawks (in return for the depredations of the latter upon the country of the Squakheags), the Squakheags abandoned the tract, and in 1669 a committee appointed by the General Court to lay out a plantation at what is now Worcester reported that among other places they had discovered a place called Suckquakege, upon the Connecticut River, and suggested to the court that the places discovered should be reserved to make towns, the better to strengthen "those inland parts." The court approved the report, and ordered the lands mentioned to be thus reserved, and, in 1671, Joseph Parsons, Sr., Wm. Janes, George Alexander, Caleb Pomeroy, Micah Mudge, and others, of Northampton, purchased this place called Suckquakege from the native claimants for "a valuable consideration." In the deed, signed by Massemet, Panoot, Pammok, Nenepownam (his squaw), Wompely, and Nessacoscom, the tract was described as lying on both sides of the Great River, and bounded thus: "The Northerly end at Coassock, the Southerly end on the east side of the Great River down to Quanotock, at the southerly end of the west side of the Great River, butting against Massapetot's land, and so running six miles into the woods on both sides of the river."
     The tract herein conveyed covered 10,560 acres, and in 1673 a second purchase of 3000 acres was made, from Asogoa (the daughter of Souanaett), Mashepetul, Kisquando, and Pampatekemo (Mashepetol's daughter) for a consideration of 200 fathoms of wampumek. The land described in the deed lay "at Squakheag, called by the Indians Nallahamcomgon, and is bounded with the Great River on the easterly side; on the westerly side, a great ledge of hills six miles from the Great River; on the southerly, to a brook called by the Indians Nallahamcomgo, and so straight into the woods on the north to that land that was Massemett's land."
     In May, 1672, the General Court authorized the laying out of a township upon the tract first purchased, conditioned that not less than twenty families should be settled within eighteen months from the date of the grant; that the petitioners took good care to provide and maintain the preaching of the word and ordinances of God among them; and that a farm of 300 acres be reserved for the use of the country. The grant was issued in October, 1672, and provided that the tract should be equal to the contents of six miles square, and not be laid out above eight miles in length by the river. The committee appointed to lay out the township attended to the matter in the autumn of 1672, and reported as follows:

     "We appointed and ordered a brook called Natanis, on the west side of the Great River, to be the bounds at the Southerly end; then we measured about eight miles up the river, to a little river that runs into the Great River, and appointed it to run westerly three-quarters of a mile from the Great River; on the east side of the River to come to the lower end of the Three Little meadows that are below the town's plot, and so to run up the River eight miles, and three miles and three-quarters easterly from the Great River."

     From a publication made by Rev. John Hubbard, it appears that upon this tract, now known as Northfield, "settlers located in the spring of 1673, and built small huts surrounded by a stockade and fort. In the centre of their collection of huts they built one for public worship, and employed Elder William Janes as their preacher." The town-plot was laid out at the southerly end of what is now known as Northfield Street, and the settlers who located there in 1673, and shortly thereafter, were Ralph Hutchinson, Elder Wm. Janes, Robert Lyman, Cornelius Merry, John Hilyard, James Bennett, Joseph Dickinson, Micah Mudge, John Alexander, George Alexander, Samuel Wright, William Miller, Thomas Bascom, William Smeade, William Hurlbut, Jr., and Thomas Webster.
     The new settlers pursued their lives in peaceful security until early in 1675, when the Indians began to grow trouble-some, and the news of the destruction of Brookfield, in August of this year, together with subsequent Indian depredations, alarmed the Northfield settlers to such a degree that they abandoned their settlements and fled to Hadley in the latter part of that year.
     After its destruction and desertion, Squakheag was a barren waste for seven years, until 1682, in the spring of which year the original proprietors of the tract addressed a petition to the General Court asking that the vacancies on the committee originally in charge of the plantation might be filled, two of the members thereof having died. The committee was accordingly completed, and agreed in the spring of 1683 with the proprietors that 40 families should be settled upon the town-plot by May 10, 1686, and lots were accordingly granted to John Lyman, Joseph Parsons, Sr., Wm. Janes, Geo. Alexander, Samuel Wright's heirs, John Alexander, Robert Lyman, Win. Miller, Jos. Dickinson's heirs, Ralph Hutchinson, Micah Mudge, Cornelius Merry, John Hilyard, Thos. Webster, Wm. Clarke, Samuel Davis, Nathaniel Alexander, John Clary, Jr., Samuel Boltwood, John Taylor, John Woodward, Benjamin Palmer, Richard Francis, Isaac Warner, Richard Lyman, Jos. Pumery, Eleazer Warner, John Hutchinson, Thos. Hunt, Daniel Warner, Wm. Gurley, Zachary Lawrence, John Marsh, Benj. Wright, Ebenezer Wright.
     Of the first settlers, in 1673, Samuel Wright, Jos. Dickinson, and James Bennett were killed by the Indians, while others had abandoned their rights, but the majority of them, as has been seen, participated in the second settlement of the tract.
     By common consent very little was done toward effective settlement until May, 1685, when John Woodward, Wm. Clarke, Jr., and Richard Lyman were granted the privilege of building a saw-mill, and 20 acres of land as an encouragement. In response to the petition of Win. Clarke, "in behalfe of those that are preparing to resettle the village of Squakeage," the General Court extended the southerly bound of the east side of the river two and a half miles, to Four-mile Brook. About twenty families entered upon the settlement during this year (1685), and among them were those of Micah Mudge, Cornelius Merry, John Alexander, Wm. Miller, Samuel Davis, Benj. Palmer, John Clary, Jr., and Benj. Wright.
     A substantial fort was built, and about this time, too, John Clary, Jr., having received an offer of 20 acres of land for an encouragement, set up a grist-mill on Mill Brook.
     A piece of land was reserved on the meadow hill for a burying-place, and near the spot, it is related, Sergt. Samuel Wright was slain by the Indians in 1675. There he was buried, and that circumstance decided the location of the public grave-yard.
     Roads were laid out in 1685 through Great Meadow, north and south; one between the minister's lot and Wm. Miller's lot; one through Bennett's meadow; and numerous others.
     Early in 1686 a lot was laid out on Moose Plain for a high-way and a ferry, and a new fort was also built near John Clary's grist-mill. Renewed apprehensions of Indian troubles began to be felt in May, 1686, and all males between the ages of sixteen and sixty were required to take turns in standing on watch at night, as well as to train during four days in the year. At this time there were 29 actual settlers in Squakheag.
     In August, 1687, a third purchase of land was made from the Indians by the proprietors of Squakheag (at this time called Northfield), and this land, containing 65,000 acres, embraced the larger portion of original Squakheag, and extinguished the Indian title to that tract.
     The settlement prospered fairly, but was doomed to a brief existence, for, the signs of fresh Indian troubles becoming realities with the outbreak of King William's war in 1689, Northfield was once more deserted, and her inhabitants, fleeing to a place of safety, found it again at Hadley. Queen Anne's war following in 1702, and continuing until 1713, Northfield remained unsettled and desolate for a period of more than twenty-three years.
     Late in 1713 such of the surviving proprietors of Squakheag as had not located permanently elsewhere petitioned the General Court for a revival of the former grant, and the court, in ordering the revival, ordered also that the town should be called Northfield, that 40 families should be settled within three years, and that a minister be settled within the same time.
     Twenty persons engaged to settle, but only eight settled during 1714, to wit: Benjamin Wright, Joseph Alexander, Nathaniel Alexander, Isaac Warner, Zechariah Field, Hezekiah Stratton, Peter Evans, Thomas Taylor. Eleazer Mattoon was an addition to the settlement in the spring of 1715. In 1716 the new settlers were Benoni Moore, Remembrance Wright, Jona. Patterson, Benjamin Janes, Jonathan Janes, and Daniel Wright.
     In June, 1716, the General Court directed that 10 men in the public pay should be allowed for the covering and encouragement of the plantation of Northfield. To December, 1716, the people carried their grists to Hadley, but at that date Steven Belding, of Swampfield (Sunderland), built a grist-mill on the site of John Clary's old mill. Late in 1717, Jonathan Belding, of Hatfield, brother to Steven Belding above, put up a saw-mill near the grist-mill. In 1728, Jonathan bought out his brother's interest, and the mill privileges thus acquired remained with him and his descendants until 1812. A pound was built in 1718, and bricks were made from clay dug in the street.
     Ebenezer Field, of Deerfield, settled in Northfield in 1720, and set up the first blacksmith-shop there in that year, when also Stephen Crowfoot opened a carpenter-shop. At this time the town of Northfield included within its limits what are now portions of Vernon, Vt., and Hinsdale and Winchester, N. H., the north portion of Northfield, which assisted in making these towns, being cut off in 1740, when the new province line was run. The original grant, in 1672, made the town equal to six miles square, or eight miles long by four and one-half miles wide, and to this, in 1685, there was an addition of two and one-half miles to the south end, east of the river.
     Josiah King, stationed at Northfield previous to 1725, as one of the garrison, obtained a grant of a home-lot in that year, and set up in business as a shoemaker.
     The earliest practicing physician in Northfield was the wife of William Miller. She pursued the practice during both the first and second settlements of the town, viz., between the years 1673 and 1702.
     Father Rasle's war, enduring from 1723 to 1726, brought Northfield once more face to face with troublous experience; but the settlers stood their ground this time, and, peace descending again in 1726, the pursuits of home-life were pushed forward with renewed vigor.
     The first paupers with which the town was burdened were Thomas Stoddard, his wife, and children, who are noticed in a record of date 1736.
     After an interval of eighteen years of peace, the old French and-Indian war broke out in 1744, terminated nominally in 1749, was renewed in 1754, and continued until 1763. During this extended period the people of Northfield passed through harassing and distressing experiences, but they stood the brunt bravely, and, upon the return of peace, began with rapid strides to push the settlement toward an abiding prosperity.
     The first tavern of which mention is made was the one kept by Capt. Samuel Hunt in 1762, and previous thereto. Ebenzer Field kept one in 1771, as did Hezekiah Stratton about 1763. Elias Bascom opened a clothier's shop in 1770; Hophni King was the carpenter in 1763; and Dr. Medad Pomeroy was a practicing physician here in 1768. A post-office was established in Northfield in 1797, and Solomon Vose appointed postmaster; and in the same year Solomon Vose and others was incorporated "Proprietors of an Aqueduct in Northfield," for the purpose of conveying water by subterranean pipes in the town.
     In 1799 the Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike Corporation, composed largely of Northfield men, was organized, and authorized to lay out a road from Northfield through Warwick, Orange, Athol, and other towns. The first pleasure-carriage seen in the town was a two-wheeled chair, owned by Jonathan Belding, in 1763, but carriages drawn by horses were not introduced until 1800, when Hezekiah Stratton owned a two-horse hack.
     In 1811 the Northfield Artillery Company was organized, and subsequently entered the service in 1812.
     John Barrett was the first lawyer, and practiced from 1784 to 1816. The first birth in the town, as shown by records extant, was that of Lydia, daughter of Remembrance Wright, in 1713; the first marriage, between Daniel Shattuck and Rebecca Boltwood; and the first death, Sarah Meriam, 1719.

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