Historical Sketch of Dorchester

From Leading Business men of Back Bay, South End, Boston Highlands, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester

Published 1888 Mercantike Publishing Company, Boston

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Of all the suburban towns and cities which have been absorbed in Boston, as she has spread her encircling arms further and further into the surrounding country, none have more strongly and notably retained their individuality than Dorchester. This has been the result of its long cherished memories and traditions which have seemed dear above most earthly things to the many old residents who still constitute the bulk of the people in the region, and not until many years have changed the people and their characters will the memory of their separate town-life be forgotten. The history of the town has been one of unusual interest even among the towns of New England and one of which its people may well be proud. It reaches back to the earliest days of this country, as Capt. John Smith of Virginia, first English settler, is known to have stopped here in 1614, and traded with the Neponset Indians. lie found, moreover, that the French traders had been here before him, this being a favorite spot with the natives, and when one of the first settlers was digging the cellar for his log cabin, in 1631, he found French coins, which were doubtless a relic of a trader’s visit. Capt. Smith quarrelled with the Indians here and took French leave, and the place does not seem to have been visited again until 1621, when a military expedition, probably under the command of Miles Standish, and of which a good idea can be gained from Longfellow’s celebrated poem, came hither from the Plymouth Colony, now about a year old. They, however, soon departed and were followed in 1626 by the first regular settler, a gentleman by the name of Mr. David Thompson, who estab lished himself on the island in the harbor now known by his name. He was the first recorded inhabitant of Boston Hartor, and carried on quite an extensive trading business with the Indians. A few other unknown wanderers settled in this vicinity before the arrival of the Mass ichusetts Bay Colony, under the leadership of John Winthrop, to which the real founding of the town must be ascribed. The Indians inhabiting this section were known as the “Neponsets,” a branch of the great nation after which Massachusetts was named. At this time their chief was Checkatabot, generally regarded as the most influential chieftain around the bay, so that his friendship was greatly sought and valued. The deed of the region was obtained from him and his descendants. The Neponset tribe numbered at this time about one hundred men, which rapidly decreased, and after the death of Checkatabot, in 1633, it lost all unity and weight. They possessed large corn fields in the vicinity of Dorchester, which have long been cleared and cultivated, and which were a great advantage to the early settlers here.

That portion of the Massachusetts Bay Colonists who settled at Dorchester, were among the most honored and influential of them all. Rev. John White, was the original mover in obtaining the charter for the Massachusetts Colony, and no other beside WTinthrop was more active or effective in getting together the company to whom so much of New England’s growth is due. Mr. White was the rector of Dorchester, England, and organized the Salem company, which, under John Endicott, settled that town in 1628. In the following year was organized a body known as the Dorchester Company, consisting of about sixty families, two ministers of the gospel, two government officials, and three military leaders, so that in size, character and means the settlers of Dorchester had few equals among the early colonists. They arrived here May 30, 1630, and landed on the south side of Dorchester Neck. They immediately settled to work arid soon had one of the most thriving settlements on the coast. Among the leading men were the Rev. Mr. Maverick and Rev. Mr. Wareham, Messrs. Rossiter and Ludlow, government officers from London, Capt. John Mason, Capt. Richard Southcote, quarter-masters John Smith, Henry Wolcott, Thomas Ford, George Dyer, William Gaylord, William Rockwell and William Phelps. Isaac Stoughton, George Minot, Roger Clap, George Hall, Richard Collicott and Nathaniel Duncan were younger men who were very active in every line of work

The center of the town was fixed at Allen’s Plain, south of Old Harbor, and here the dwelling houses clustered about the meeting house and the fort, though the quiet attitude of the Indians rendered the latter unneeded. The first summer was attended by much sickness owing to scarcity of provisions, but the settlers soon conquered these difficulties in a large measure. They were said to have been the first settlers who set systematically to work at fishing, and in this were very successful. The town was divided into lots of from fifty to one hundred acres apiece. The Dorchester church was organized at Plymouth, Eng., before the company sailed, and was the oldest in the State, outside of the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth. In all civil and military affairs, Dorchester for a long time took the lead in this vicinity. The right to use the name of Dorchester was conveyed in 1630, by the Court in London. Out of one hundred and eight freemen in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, twenty four hailed from Dorchester. A visitor named Wood wrote in 1633 that “Dorchester is the greatest town in New England ;“ but its laurels were soon contested. A great deal of attention was early given to fishing and commerce. The Dorchester Record Book goes back to 1632-33, and is the oldest in Massachusetts. In 1633, the governinent which had been in the hands of the church and freemen, was vested in the form of a town, being also the first of its kind here, and followed soon by all the other settlements. The first selectmen were Mr. Johnson, Mr. Pomeroy, Mr. Richards, John Pierce, George Hull, William Phelps and Thomas Ford.

The first meeting house in Dorchester and the colony was erected in 1631 at the corner of the present Pleasant and Cottage Streets. In 1633 a sign of business progress is noted in the erection of a mill by Isaac Stoughton, and in 1634, a bridge over the Neponset was completed. The first general court of the colony met in 1634, Dorchester being represented by Isaac Stoughton, Wm. Phelps and George Hull. A burying ground was commenced in 1633. The tax for the whole colony for 1633 was $800, of which Dorchester paid the largest single amount, $80; Boston only furnishing $48. In 1633, a ship load of eighty persons and twelve kine arrived to increase the town at Dorchester.

A large part of the first settlers of Dorchester were led, in 1686, to emigrate to the valley of the Connecticut river, having heard of its fertile soil. Over sixty persons, among them Mr. Maverick and Mr. Warham, the minoster Mr. Ludlow and other leading men, went on this new expedition. But their places were taken by another company of about one hundred persons, under the leadership of the Rev. Richard Mather, who arrived from England in the same year. So the little settlement went on increasing steadily, despite loss and desertion. An interesting evidence of her advance is shown in the fact that a ship was built at Dorchester in 1642, one of the earliest in this country. In 1645, a sum of $235 was collected to build a new meeting house. The life of the town from now on through the century was that of the typical New England in its infant stage and growth. One of Dorchester and Massachusetts’ leading citizens, Maj.-Gen. Humphrey Atherton, died here in 1661. In the following year the town of Milton was set off from Dorchester. The unsettled state of affairs in England in the last part of the 17th century, caused great anxiety here, which was however soon overpast. The first actual touch of Indian fighting at Dorchester occurred in 1675, at the outbreak of King Philip’s war when there was considerable bloodshed all around. Fourteen men enlisted for the war, of whom two were killed and two wounded in the final and decisive battle of the war in Rhode Island.

The town was much interested in the witchery troubles in 1681, though it did not go so far as to disgrace itself by any actual executions. In 1695, a party under the leadership of the Rev. John Lord, left here and founded, the town of Dorchester, South Carolina. The expedition was for a religious purpose, and is said to have been the first missionary company that ever left the shores of New England. By it was planted the first Congregational church in the south, as formerly Dorchester people had founded the first church in Connecticut Those early Dorchesterites seem to have been great originators. An interesting movement, reminding one of the present century, was a religious association formed by the young men of Dorchester in 1.697, at that time a unique and marked step. Lt.-Gov. Wm. Stoughton, one of early Dorchester’s most able and distinguished men, died in 1701. His epitaph is one of the most beautiful and expressive of its kind ever written. Several earthquakes were felt here in 1727, it being a very remarkable year for natural phenomena, storms, etc. The year 1740 was remarkable for the visit of the Rev. George Whitefield who made a great impression and did a great work for good.

The war of Independence first began to be thought of here in 1761, and no place was more enthusiastic in its endeavors and preparations. In 1771, the town drew up resolutions to the British government, vigorous and bold in plain statement of cold facts, and at the same time appointed a committee of correspondence, as follows:
Capt. Lemuel Hobinson, Capt. John Hemans, and Samuel How. At Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, it was nobly and largely represented, anti the great critical movement of the seige of Boston was made here; March 16, 1776, the night expedition passed through Roxbury, and worked all night in the fortifications on Dorchester Heights. Unable to destroy or attack it, the British troops were obliged to rapidly evacuate, March 18, 1776, as the possession of this place left Boston at the mercy of the Continental cannon.

The census of the town was taken in 1776, when it was found to number 1550 persons; 1515 white, and 35 negroes; number of families 291. The town offered large bounties for enlistment, and not only did seventy-nine soldiers go out from this town, but they even came from other towns to enlist on account of the large bounty. £5,343 were paid out by the town in one way and another to the soldiers, and their patriotism and generosity never grew cool throughout the whole struggle. Many distinguished soldiers hailed from Dorchester, among them Col. Samuel Robinson, and Lt.-Col. Samuel Pierce. In 1780, £40,000 was raised by the town for the hiring of soldiers, more than was spent in all the other years of the war put together. Some fifty men or more went from this town in 1787 to aid in the suppression of Shay’s rebellion. The year 1801 was rendered memorable by the occurrence of a duel, the only one recorded in the town, between a Mr. Miller and a Mr. Rand, over a love affair. The latter gentleman had first shot, but failed to hit. Then Mr. Miller wanted it decided without bloodshed but Mr. Rand would not consent and so was killed. As early as 1803, prominent citizens of Boston began to agitate the annexation of Dorchester Neck to that city, and in spite of vigorous opposition on the part of Dorchesterites, a bill was passed by the Legislature granting it in 1804. In the following year the South bridge from Boston was completed at a cost of $56,000. The old meeting house was so shattered by the severe gale of September, 1815, that a new one had to be built the following year. The town took an earnest and active interest in the war of 1812—15, and contributed a full quota of men and money. The population kept on steadily increasing as follows:
1790 1,722
1800 2,347
1810 2,930
1820 3,684
1830 4,064
1840 4,458
1846 6,500
1848 7,386
1850 7,968
1855 8,357

The town has always taken great interest in educational matters, and one of its first public movements was the ordering of a tax to maintain a school in Dorchester. The Rev. Thos. Waterhouse was the first school-master, and the first building was erected at the corner of Pleasant and Cottage streets. Gv. Stoughton of Dorchester, left at his death in 1701, the sum of £150 to the schools of Dorchester, which was carefully applied. The funds allotted to the schools by the town, increased steadily with its growth, being in 1S05, $1650; in 1806, $1906; in 1807, $2,000; in 1812, $2,700; in 1821, $2,377; in 1857, $23,622.98. Since that time the schools have steadily advanced with the tines, and are now on a level with the best in the state. The town has always taken a great interest in Harvard, almost all its school teachers and leading professional men having graduated there. Several hundred, among them some of Harvard’s greatest men, have been graduates of that University.

The union of Dorchester and Boston, in 1869, was one of the great eventful occurrences in its history. After discussion for many years and not without some struggling, the act of union was passed by the Legislature in 1869, and this was accepted by both places in January, 1870. Since that time the growth of the place has been rapid, though absorbed in that of Boston. It has come to be one of the most popular and delightful district anywhere in the vicinity for residences, and a great number of beautiful rural mansions have been erected in recent years. The accessibility of Dorchester, as well as its topical and scenic advantages, have contributed to this result. The main thoroughfares through the district, are Washington, Bowdoiu, Hancock and Boston streets, and Dorchester avenue. Commercial interests are very largely centered about these and off from them in every direction lead beautiful avenues lined by extensive, park-like grounds and charming villas. Savin Hill is one of the spots especially famed for its surpassing beauty, being a lovely height, with commanding view of the water on three sides, and with its beauty of decoration and residences visible for miles around. Landscape gardening is an art much practiced, and unrivalled effects and triumphs in horticultural art are achieved. Elm avenue, near Grove Hall, is noted for its fine residences.

There are several fine parks in the Dorchester district, the best known being the old square on Meeting House hill, which, although careful attention is given to its culture anti adorning, still retains exquisite touches of antique charms. The old colonial days are brought to mind by historical memorial and the proud traditions of the town are tenderly revived and cherished. It is charmingly situated and in every respect a delightful spot. The soldiers’ monument which has been erected here by the people of Dorchester to the memory of their honored dead, adds a touch of modern splendor to the old-time spot. The architect of the monument, was Mr. B. F. Dwight, and he has succeeded in producing an admirable and substantial effect, well in keeping with the red Gloucester granite of which the monument is composed. It is after the form of an obelisk, and including the pedestal, is thirty-one feet high, and eight feet square at the base. The names of the fallen heroes are inscribed in tablets on the pedestal. It was dedicated in September, 1869. Of other pleasant parks in this district are, the square on the top of Mount Bowdoin, and the one at the corner of Church and Bowdoin streets, known as Eaton Square, both elegantly laid out.

Uphain’s Corner is one of the most interesting spots in this old, yet progressive town. Nowhere else can be better seen that blending of the old and the new than here. About this spot the very earliest settlements were made, and it has always been a leading center of Dorchester, both in business and social life. The old burying-ground here contains tombstones with older inscriptions and dates than any other place in this country, with one possible exception in Virginia, can show. One can linger for hours in this old spot among the treasured memorials of the very earliest days of our country. Since the union with Boston, Upham's Corner has made great advances in the commercial and now contains a number of large and beautiful build— ings representing some of the leading houses in this vicinity.

Grove Hall has gained a fame all thrugh this country and others as occupying a unique and unrivalled position in the treatment and cure of a disease hitherto regarded as incurable. The originator and manager is Dr. Charles Culls, and under his able direction this institution, incorporated in 1870, has grown steadily until it has attained its present preeminence. It has relied entirely on voluntary contributions, and from this source a round $600,000 have now been received, and nearly 2,000 patients have received treatment. The main building, known as the Consumptives’ Home, is a large and elegant mansion, capable of accommodating eighty patientsThere are other buildings, including two homes for children, one for those suffering from diseases of t.be spine, and a free chapel. When we remember that this great work was begun entirely without funds, and that no solicitation for aid has ever been made, but what has come has been voluntary, no wonder that Dr. Cullis calls it “a work of faith,” and believes in answer to prayer. The system which has been maintained since the beginning has been that of the famous Orphan Asylum of Muller, and it admits all poor persons sick with consumption, without home or friends, whether white or black, old or young, foreign or native. The success and fame of this noble work is no less an honor to Dorchester, than it is an unmeasured blessing to thousands suffering from this scourge of New England which has been combatted so unsuccessfully in the past. That it will continue to grow in prosperity is no less the desire than the assurance of all who have known it.

Among the oldest and most influential churches in New England is the First Parish Unitarian Church of Dorchester. It was organized May 20, 1630, just previous to the departure of the Dorchester settlers from Plymouth, and the first services were held in June, 1630, in the open air. The church has only had twelve successive ministers in more than 250 years. Among the most famous of these were the Rev. Richard Mather, who served 33 years, John Danforth, 48 years, Thaddeus Mason Harris, 43 years, and Samuel J. Barrows. The present structure was built in 1866, and is one of the most interesting objects in the town.

The second church of Dorchester was founded in 1808, with a membership of 64, and its size and ièfluence have steadily increased since that time. In course of its eighty years it has had but three pastors: John Codman, D.D., James H. Means, D.D., and E. U. Packard, D.D. It has been a great power for good as the place has grown, and its influence has ever been on the right side. Dorchester is rich in charitable works and institutions, among which is the Industrial School for Girls, a noble work founded in 1855. It is situated on Center street, and capable of maintaining about thirty girls annually. The annual expense is over $5,000, met by legacies and subscriptions. In every department of its life, religious, educational, commercial social and philanthropical, Dorchester is fully alive and widely active, giving numerous evidences of being one of the most energetic sections in this lively city. Its popularity and adaptability for suburban residences must surely increase for a great many decades yet to come, and it will ever remain one of the most beautiful and healthful regions within the city bounds.

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