The History of Roxbury Town
By. Charles M. Ellis.
Published by Samuel G. Drake 1847

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Chapter 1 - introduction.— Sources of the History of the Town

The object of a town history is to gather up and record family, local, village details. Part are those of every day life. Partbelong to general history, but are so minute or multitudinous as to escape its grasp. Yet all history is made up of these, and each, and the group of each town, may illustrate it, as the life of each man will give some insight into the spirit of his time. There is an interest attached to these accounts of small places, of the same sort as that which is excited by the biography of an individual. We like to know the motives, reasons and method of a man’s action, as every child wishes to see a watch opened. In general men care less for the result, however great, than for the petty moving causes in operation. And the idea that each man is a wheel in the great machine, weighs more with men than they think. But, after all, the chief interest attached to these matters is of a very different sort, and, if this were the place, it might be showii to be somewhat rational and not at together useless, apart from all historical speculation. We love to know the origin of those we spring from, what they did, how they dressed, labored and worshipped. Most men have local attachment so strong that it invests some spot, endeared by association, with controlling interest. The old church, the old homestead, the old school, or something of the sort, bring back dear recollections to every man, and he will find pleasure in all that relates thereto.

I have endeavored to collect here such facts as may gratify these natural feelings, and such as may illustrate history, without pretending to assume its dignity, or be more than the incidents in the life of a little town.

There is in the town, in the records and papers of the town, church and school, much new matter, though they are very meagre in many respects. The Town Records for the first few years are imperfect. They begin with a half obliterated and worn out memorandum of four lines, about the garrison, of a date seventeen years after the settlement, (1647.) Then follows a memorandum of the choice of tile Captain, Lieut. arid three brethren to “ order town affairs,” and an order for an allotment of lands and salaries without any date—then a vote appointing a committee to repair the church and also assessors, then
vote conferring powers somewhat plenary, viz : that " these men shall have for ye present year, full power to make arid execute such orders as they in their apprehension shall think to be conducive to the good of the town" - then a much mutalated page about digging ‘‘rocks’’ and stones out of the highway - then a meeting at brother Johnsons, about the Synod’s act— then some old scraps from the fire act laying a fine of 3 and 12 pence on such as have not ladders to give ready passage to the tops of the houses in case of fire. These are all, down to tIre year 1652.

From that time the records have been regularly kept. The earlier ones however are meagre and imperfect. The earliest have no attestation. Then down to 1666, they are attested by the five men. In 1666 a Town clerk was first chosen, but he merely wrote tile records without attesting them. The first signature by the clerk is that of Edward Dorr in

There is a tradition that the old records of the town were a long while ago burned up, or else destroyed in the revolution. The dates have got a little confused. But so it is that in the lapse of few generations, it has become uncertain whether this event was seVenty years or two centuries ago. One tradition is that the first records of the town were burnt when the second meeting house was burnt down. Men expressed a doubt, in speaking of it, whether they were ever destroyed. But I think it quite certain that the earliest records were destroyed by fire, in 1645.

Under the date of 1652 there is entry which can he partially decyphered although the edges are gone. “The towne booke wherein most mens lands being wrote Gods providence being burned thereby much dammedg may all men, to prevent dammedg as aforesayd dered by the town of Roxbury that there shall be live be chosen to do their best in order to set downland given them by the town or that may belong— thence other ways to make returne unto ye towne
three month, as far as this may be accomplished for the of dammedg as aforesayd & alsoe to record hie ways and other town privileges. 17 of 11 no 1652.”

The Transcript, as it is called, was finished and certified in 1654.

In Eliot’s petition to the Genera1 Court June 20, 1669, for a renewal and confirmation of the school charter, it is recited that “our first book and charter were burned in ye burning of John Johnsons house and by reason of the death of sundry of the donors and the alienation of the tenements we are under this defect that some of the names of the donors are not unto this 2d book personally which were to the

The second book and agreement are still preserved and bear date “the last of August 1645.”

In John Eliot's diary [which will be referred to] is this record, viz:

“1645" Toward ye end of ye 1st month (called March) there happened by God’s providence a very dreadful fire in Roxbury streete. None knoweth how it was kindled, but being a fierce wind it suddenly prevailed. And in this man’s house was a good part of ye county magazine of powder of 17 or 18 barrels which made ye people that none durst come to save ye house or godds tilll it was blown up & by that time ye fire had taken ye barns & outhouses (which were many & great) so That, none were saved. In this fire were strong observations of God’s provideuce, to ye neighbours and towne, for ye wind at first stood to carry ye fire to other liowses hut suddenly turned it from all other howses only carrying it to ye out houses & barns thereby.

And it was a fierce wind & thereby drave ye element hack from ye neighbors howses which in a calm time would, by ye great heate have been set on fire.

But above all ye preservation of all people from hurt & other howses from fire at ye blowing up of ye powder, many living in great danger yet none hurt & sundry iiowses set on fire by ye blow, but all quenched, thro God’s mercy in christ.”

Considering therefore that the early records were all kept for one body, that those of the school, and those having the records of lands were both burned and that the rfown Records prior to the time of this fire are not in existence, there can be little doubt that they were also burnt up. Probably the “old Towne Booke” named in the note respecting the Transcript contained the whole respecting titles, the,. schoole and the towue, and the petition some twenty years after the fire was caused by some question arising respecting the charter or the agreement of the school.

The “Ancient Transcript" is an ancient book which contains a list of the lands owned by the respective inhabitants. This record is of great value in tracing the tiilcs of individuals. The present book is probably not the first hut a copy niade about 1666 to 1670 by Goodman Denison.

At the end of this volume is what appears to have been part of another older hook hound up with it, in which is a memorandum that it was “bought in 1639 & paid for by Vote of Town, fower shillings for entry therein of weighty business.”

I discovered one loose leaf in this volume, of great interest. A particular account of this leaf will be given in another connection. The Town Register of births, marriages and deaths, seems to have been copied tip to 1654 in one hand. Very likely by Mr. Dudley. From 1690 to 1706, entries have also been copied into this volume from small paper books kept by the clerk.

There is a volume kept by the clergyman of tile first church which, in its strange medley, has records of interest. It has often been referred to. it is valuable for its records of matters belonging to town and family histories. It contains a receipt for making ink—an anagram on Mrs. Tomson—Harvard memorial—laws as to fashions, particularly the long hair which was an abomination to round heads—certain propositions concerning church membership, baptism, &c.—a list of church members from the formation of the church to 1775 — a record of the baptisms and deaths from 1644 to 1750 — a diary from 1642 to 1677 — a record of the pastors of the church, and some parish votes and donations.

The list of church members seems to have been made sometime after the formation of the church. I should judge not far from 1650. Besides the dates, this record contains facts concerning the families of the first settlers and in many instances accounts of their characters.

It is said that all the ancient records were burned,
and that the inhabitants afterwards came together and gave in an account of their families, the births, marriages and deaths, as fully as they could, and handed in the description of their lands for the Transcript. The absence of any books prior to the date of the fire, and the mode in which the oldest records are made UI) confirm the tradition. A gentleman of Roxbury, distinguished for his antiquarian tastes, remembers to have read this account in an anniversary sermon preached by the first Mr. Walter, who must have known many of the first settlers. I have not been able to find any copy of this sermon.

The diary notes the chief events of the day, very much after the style of the remarkable events in some of our almanacs. Some of it is trifling, but it is valuable for verifying dates, and chiefly so as illustrating the character of John Eliot.

The records of the several later parishes and of the schools contain much that is interesting.

Besides the various records there are many old papers still preserved by members of the older families ol the town, deeds, wills, letters and documents of one sort and another. Most of these have been found in old chests in the midst of garret dust and lumber. No doubt many such have been destroyed as cumbersome rubbish. Few care for these mementos of early days. But some preserve them, and I am indebted to many for rendering nm valuable facilities from such materials for this work. I am especially indebted to a few, who take an interest in such matters, and who have raked, out of these old heaps, things worth preserving.

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