Shutesbury — Early Settlement
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
About the year 1733, 95 persons, a majority of whom resided in Lancaster, constructed a public highway from that town to the Connecticut River, and upon the plea that their private enterprise, effected at considerable cost, had resulted in great public benefit in shortening the distance from certain towns in Hampshire County to Boston, they joined in a petition to the General Court asking for an appropriation of lands to recompense them for their outlay. The petition was presented by William Richardson, and on Dec. 11, 1734, the House of Representatives ordered "that the petition be granted and the petitioners allowed and empowered by a surveyor and chainman, on oath, to survey and lay out a tract of the unappropriated lands of this province of the contents of six miles square." The conditions of the grant were that it should embrace land near the highway laid out by the petitioners, that four years after the return and acceptance of the plat 60 families should be settled, and that each family should build a house 18 feet square and 7 feet stud, and clear and break four acres of land for tillage and four acres for English grass. The settlers were also to lay out a lot for the first settled minister, one for the ministry, and one for a school, to build a meeting-house, to settle a learned and orthodox minister, and to fit the road, upon which the grant was based, for a cart-way,—all to be done within the space of four years. The council declined to concur in the order then, but did so in 1735, and on the 13th of May of that year the proprietors held their first meeting, in Lancaster, at the house of William Richardson. Capt. Oliver Wilder was chosen moderator, and Jonathan Houghton proprietors' clerk.
As before noted, the original petition to the General Court bore the names of ninety-five persons, as follows
Benjamin Ballard, Oliver Wilder, Ezra Sawyer, Joshua Church, Nathaniel Wilder, Richard Wilde, Peter Atherton, John Goss, William Goss, Jonathan Houghton, Samuel Sawyer, Joseph Moore, Nathaniel Sawyer, Jonathan Osgood, John Wilder, Jr., John Fletcher, Josiah Richardson, Shubael Bayley, Ebenezer Pulley, Benjamin Houghton, Jr., Ephraim Wilder, Jr., James Ross, Benjamin
Atherton, Thomas Sawyer, Nathan Willard, Gamaliel Beaman, Ephraim Wilder, David Osgood, Jonathan Powers, Daniel Rugg, Joshua Houghton, Benjamin Houghton, Thomas Fairbank, Hezekiah Gates, Daniel Albert, John Rugg, Joseph Bennett, Peter Joslin, Nathaniel Carter, Hezekiah Whitcomb, William Richardson, Joshua Osgood, Josiah Osgood, Fairbank Moore, Hooker Osgood, Jr., Oliver Moore, Thomas Tooker, Daniel Houghton, Andrew Wilder, Jonathan Houghton, Jr., John Snow, Ephraim Wheeler, John Sawyer, John Whitcomb, Samuel Carter, Samuel Willard, Jr., Edward Phelps, Bezaliel Sawyer, Moses Osgood, Gardner Wilder, Josiah Wilder, Abner Sawyer, Jonathan Whitcomb, Thomas Carter, Ephraim Sawyer, Jonathan Bayley, Benjamin Osgood, Jonathan Wilder, Thomas Wright, John Rugg, Abijah Willard, John Bennett, Thomas Dix, Joshua Phelps, James Wilder, Jr., Jonathan Sawyer, Benjamin Whitcomb, Thomas Wells, Dr. Thomas Wells, Jonathan Burt, John Barnard, Ebenezer Sheldon, Jonathan Dickinson, David Smith, Jonas Houghton, Bezaliel Wilder, Thomas Temple, Joseph Clary, John Toon, James Warren, Shubael Gorham, Andrew Belcher, John Little, Elisha Bigby.
At a meeting of the proprietors in October, 1735, it was voted that the persons named above, together with three associates,—to wit, Col. Job Amey, Thomas Dudley, and John Chandler, —be declared the proprietors of the new township in equal parts; each paying an equal proportion of the past charges, and being subject to the conditions of the grant respecting the settlement, Joseph Clary and Thomas Wells being alone excused from said obligations. The tract secured by the petitioners in the grant was more than six miles square, and included, besides the tract now covered by Shutesbury, the southern portion of the present town of Wendell, and a strip of land set off on the east to New Salem. It was about ten miles long, and six miles wide at its widest part.
At the first meeting of the proprietors, in May, 1735, a committee was appointed to lay out the tract in lots to be apportioned to the proprietors, no one of whom, however, was to draw his lot until he had paid into the common treasury £5 10s. for past and future charges. From this payment Col. Dudley and Andrew Belcher were relieved on account of services rendered the proprietors. By reason of the grant being made on account of a highway the place was first called Roadtown, and that name it retained until the incorporation of the town.
Lots were drawn by the proprietors, Oct. 30, 1735, and in the proprietors' record of the assignment of lots it is shown that 59 persons agreed to settle upon the lots drawn by them, but who of them actually settled it is difficult to determine from the records. Many of them did not settle as they agreed to, and the proprietors, as will be hereafter shown, used urgent measures to compel them to do so. Forty-four of the persons who drew lots chose to be relieved from the obligation of settling, and were thus relieved by giving the proprietors their notes at two years, pledging the payment of £18 each for the concession, it being understood that the money received for the notes was to be used in building a meeting-house. After the apportionment of lots and the payment of all debts the treasury of the proprietors had on hand a surplus of £119 13s.
The first actual settlers were undoubtedly Jonathan Burt and Bezaliel Wilder. Each was granted a lot, conditioned "that he build a house upon it and dwell therein as a settler by May, 1737." The road from Lancaster to Sunderland was, according to the order of the General Court, improved and cleared in 1735, and in this work the proprietors paid for labor 7s. per day to each man, "he to find his own subsistence."
In the assignment of, lots, a tract of 500 acres lying south of the road from Lancaster to Sunderland was reserved for the use of the then governor, Andrew Belcher. This tract was known as "the governor's farm," and out of it the governor deeded 4 acres adjoining the road to the inhabitants of Roadtown "for the building of the meeting-house and school-house, and for a burying-place and training-field, forever." Besides Burt and Wilder, Thomas Temple, John Barnard, Benjamin Houghton, the Osgoods, and the Sawyers settled as early as 1737.
A saw-mill was built on the south branch of Roaring Brook in 1737 by Jonathan Burt, Bezaliel Wilder, Nathan Farrar, and James Wilder, who, as an encouragement thereto, were granted 20 acres of land and £50. The saw-mill proprietors were to furnish the settlers good pine boards at 40s. per thousand for ten years, or "saw to the halves," or for 20s., the settlers finding the logs.
The proprietors' meetings were held in Lancaster until Sept. 6, 1738, and after that they were held in Roadtown, the first one being at Jonathan Burt's house, June 6, 1739. From this fact it would seem that by the latter date there must have been a considerable settlement in Roadtown.
In 1740 the proprietors, seeing that many persons who had agreed to settle upon the tract had neglected to do so, petitioned the General Court for measures to compel the delinquents to fulfill their obligations. Several of those, too, who had given their notes to be free from obligations to settle, had refused to pay the notes at maturity, and suits were instituted against them.
In 1744 it was agreed that timber which should fall and lie twelve months unclaimed should be "any man's." In this year 15s. were assessed upon each original right, to defray the charges of the ensuing year.
In 1743, Bezaliel Sawyer was granted 120 acres of land to encourage him in the building of a corn-mill, but, he failing to ratify the contract, the grant was transferred to Benjamin Harris in 1747, and in that year Mr. Harris built a grist-mill in the southeast part of Roadtown, on what was known as Harris' Brook. In 1754, Jonas Lock built a grist-mill at what is now known as Lock's Pond.
Roads were built in 1756 from the meeting-house to the north line of the tract, from the meeting-house to the south line, and from New Salem west line to Sunderland east line. On these roads men were paid 2s. per day for labor. In 1758 the Quarter Sessions was applied to for a county road through Roadtown, and in that year another effort was made, by petition to the General Court, to compel those who had promised but failed to settle to do their duty in the matter. A road was opened in the north end in 1756, another in 1763, and in 1766 there was one from the north line to Caleb Whitney's, and one from Oliver Wetherbee's to the middle county road. The non-settling proprietors caused much vexation, and in 1765 they were proceeded against to compel them to settle, but with what success is not recorded. Two of Roadtown's early settlers—Richard and James Wilde—enlisted at Northfield, 1760, in Capt. Salah Barnard's company, and marched in Gen. Amherst's army upon Montreal, which, in September of that year, passed, with the entire province of Canada, into the possession of the British crown.