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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – It can be said that among the New England settlements, Shrewsbury is not an old town, as it was not until 1717 that the actual grant for establishing the town was made by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay.
In early colony and provincial records, as well as early deeds recorded at Cambridge and Worcester, one frequently sees references to a tract of land larger than any of the existent towns of the Commonwealth, as “lying between Marlborough, Worcester, and Lancaster” or “joining ye west side of Marlborough town bounds” or “lying east of Quinsigamond Ponds.”
One quite naturally questions why formation of this large tract of land into a town was delayed until after other territory in the vicinity was established as towns. However the answer could have been quite simple, all the cheapest portions of land had been previously granted, although the grantees had never taken steps to develop them.
To fully understand and appreciate the first group of men that guided the affairs of our town, one needs to go back to the very earliest land grants.
Five of these early grants, also called farms, were made in the years 1659 and 1700 by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay.
The “Davenport” Farm, covering 650 Acres was granted to Captain Richard Davenport, commander of Castle Island, in Boston Harbor, in consideration of his public service. It was laid out in that part of Shrewsbury, which is now West Boylston. His sons and grandsons came to Shrewsbury about 1736 and settled upon this grant.
The “Haynes Farm,” sometimes called the Quinsigamond Farm, covered 3200 acres, an was granted originally to Isaac Johnson, in consideration of his investment in the common stock of “The Governor and company of ye Massachusetts Bay in New England.” Mr. Johnson died before he had an opportunity to develop the grant, and it was eventually purchased by John and Joseph Haynes of Sudbury, and their brothers in law, Nathaniel Treadway of Watertown, and Thomas Norton. This farm covered land east of Lake Quinsigamond to the Northboro line, and included some of what is now Boylston, Lancaster, Grafton and Westboro. It was the largest of the five grants and it was the owners of this tract of land that formed the nucleus of the group of people that were to eventual settle Shrewsbury.
The “Malden Farm” consisting of 1000 Acres of land, was granted to the town of Malden, and included sections of what are now Boylston.
Secretary Edward Rawson received from time to time, grants of several parcels of land to supplement his meager salary, and among these was 500 acres lying between Maroboro, Lancaster, and Worcester. Rawson Hill was the name of the grant, and Cold Harbor Brook ran through it. The Northeast section of Shrewsbury today, is predominantly made up of this Rawson grant.
Sewall’s Farm of 1500 acres was made up of land which Judge Samuel Sewall purchased from James Russell, one of the treasurers of the colony. The Sewall grant bordered the north end of Lake Quinsigamond.
Part or all of these grants were in what was the area of the town of Shrewsbury, and the original settlers of those grants were closely tied to our history.
The actual movement for the settlement of Shrewsbury started in April 1717. This is described in the deed of partition of Haynes Farm, dated April 1717, in the Cambridge Registry.
A meeting was held at this time by 23 heirs and purchasers of the rights of the three original owners o the Haynes Farm, a which they appointed a committee to go with John Brigham, a surveyor, and divide the parcel into three pieces in preparation for drawing lots. A second meeting was held on December 10, 1716, at David Dow’s house in Sudbury, at which time a committee reported that the farm had been divided by east and west lines into three parts.
Lots were then drawn, an the north part feel to the heirs and purchasers of the right of Joshua Haynes, and the middle part to the heirs and purchasers of the right of Nathanial Treadway.
Of the 23 signers of this deed, the following or their children settled in Shrewsbury: John Keyes, Joseph Noyes, Moses Newton, Daniel How, Elias Keyes, Samuel Wheelock, Thomas Hapgood, Edward Goddard and William Taylor.
In the session of the General Court of Massachusetts Bay, on November 2nd, 1717, the tract of land to be made a township was granted. A provision of the grant was that there be “at least forty families settled on the land” with “an orthodox minister” within a space of three years, and that a lot be set aside from the grant for a church, and another for a school.
More coming soon in Part 2 of the History of Shrewsbury
Excerpts from “The Road we Have Traveled
This is a reprint of the very first article printed in the Shrewsbury Lantern, one year ago today.