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Home » Cambridge & Harvard » The History of Cambridge: Settlement of Cambridge

The History of Cambridge: Settlement of Cambridge

2. Settlement of Cambridge

Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his assistants chose the site of Cambridge.

Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his assistants chose the site of Cambridge. From www.uci.edu/programs/humcore/Clark/winthrop.jpg

THE settlement of Cambridge commenced in 1631. It was the original intention of the settlers to make it the metropolis of the Province of Massachusetts. Governor Winthrop, Deputy-Governor Dudley, and the Assistants, having examined the territory lying contiguous to the new settlements, upon view of this spot, “all agreed it a fit place for a beautiful town, and took time to consider further about it.” (4) On the 29th of December, 1630, “after many consultations about a fit place to build a town for the seat of government, they agreed on a place N.W. side of Charles river, about three miles W. from Charlestown; and all, except Mr. Endicot and Sharp (the former living at Salem, and the latter purposing to return to England) oblige themselves to build houses there the following spring, and remove their ordnance and munitions thither, and first call the place NEWTOWN. (5)

The town was laid out in squares, the streets intersecting each other at right angles. One square was reserved for the purpose of a market; and remains open, to this day, still retaining the name of Market Place. (6) The street, leading by the Town Spring to the southward, was called Creek Street. The street, parallel to this, leading from the College to the Causeway, Wood Street. The street, parallel to this, leading from the First Church to Marsh Lane, Water Street.The street eastward, and parallel to this, from Braintree Street to Marsh Lane, Crooked Street, or Lane (7). The street, from the Parsonage to Wood Street, Braintree Street. The street southward, and parallel to this, running from the Town Spring to Crooked Lane, Spring Street. The street, parallel to this, and farther south, running from Creek Street to Crooked Lane, Long Street. South of this a lane on the margin of the marsh, called Marsh Lane. A lane leading from Crooked Street or Lane into the Neck, called Back Lane. Back Lane was narrow and crooked, and is now discontinued and inclosed; and, in its stead, a new street, 45 feet wide, and straight, has been laid out a few rods to the southward of that lane.

According to agreement, the Deputy-Governor, secretary Bradstreet, and other principal gentlemen, in the spring of 1631, commenced the execution of the plan, with a view to its speedy completion. The Governor set up the frame of a house where he first pitched his tent; and the Deputy-Governor finished his house, (8) and removed his family. On some considerations, however, “which at first came not into their minds,” the Governor, in the ensuing autumn, took down his frame, and removed it into Boston, with the intention of making that the place of his future abode; greatly to the disappointment of the rest of the company, who were still resolved to build at Newtown. Having promised the people of Boston, when they first sat down with him there, that he would not remove, unless they should accompany him; they now petitioned him, “under all their hands,” that, according to his promise, he would not leave them. About this time, also Chicketawbut, the Chief of the Indians in the neighborhood of Newtown, visited the Governor with high professions of friendship; which rendered him less apprehensive of the danger from the Indians, and less solicitous for a fortified town. Together with these considerations, to influence the Governor to this new resolution, Boston was now “like to be the place of chiefest commerce.” (9)

Newton in 1636 as reconstructed by the Cambridge Historical Comission

Newton in 1636 as reconstructed by the Cambridge Historical Commission.

Various orders of the Court of Assistants shew, however, that Newtown, still designed for the metropolis, was taken under legislative patronage. On the 14th of June, 1631, the Court, in consideration of “Mr. John Masters’ having undertaken to make a passage from Charles river to the New Town, 12 feet broad, and 7 deep, promises him satisfaction.” On the 5th of July, the Court ordered, “that there be levied out of the several plantations 30 pounds for making the Creek from Charles river to Newtown.” (10) In the course of the same year, a thatched house, in Boston, taking fire from the chimney, and becoming burnt down; “for prevention whereof,” observes the Deputy-Governor, “in our New Town, intended to be built this summer, we have ordered, that no man there shall build his chimney with wood, nor cover his house with thatch.” (11) On the 3rd of February, 1632, the Court ordered, “that 60 pounds be levied out of the several plantations, towards making a palisado about the New Town.” (12)

An historian, who was in New England, at this time, and who left it the year following observes: “Newtown was first intended for a city, but, upon more serious considerations, it was thought not so fit, being too far from the sea; being the greatest inconvenience it hath. This is one of the neatest and best compacted towns in New England, having many fair structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants most of them are very rich.” (13)

In some of the first years, the annual election of the Governor and Magistrates of the Colony was holden in this town. The people, on these occasions, assembled under an oak tree, which long remained a venerable monument of the freedom, the patriotism, and the piety, of the ancestors of New England. (14)

The first considerable accession to the society appears to have been in August, 1632, when “the Braintree company which had begun to sit down at Mount Woolaston by order of Court, removed to Newtown. These were Mr. Hooker’s company.” (15) Mr. Hooker, however, having not yet come to New England, they were still destitute of a settled minister. But a preparation for the privilege of the public ministry, and of the ordinances of the gospel, was an immediate and primary object of their pious attention. This year, accordingly, they “built the first house for public worship at Newtown, with a bell upon it.” (16)

The removal of the Governor into Boston having occasioned a misunderstanding between him and the Deputy Governor, “the ministers, for an end of the difference, ordered, that the Governor should procure them a minister at Newtown, and contribute some towards his maintenance for a time; or if he could not by the spring effect that, then to give the Deputy, towards his charges in building there, 20.pounds” The Governor accepted this order, and promised a compliance with it. The Deputy governor, however, on the reception of one part of the order, returned it to the Governor, professing to full a persuasion of the Governor’s love to him, and so high an estimation of it, that “if he had given him 100 pounds, instead of 20 pounds, he would not have taken it.” Notwithstanding the variance, which had subsisted between these venerable men, “yet they peaceably met about their affairs, without any appearance of any breach or discontent; and ever after kept peace and good correspondency together in love and friendship.” (17)

Thomas Hooker sculpture by Francis L. Wadsworth (1950), located east of the State House of Connecticut.

Thomas Hooker sculpture by Francis L. Wadsworth (1950), located east of the State House of Connecticut. From Kinnexions.com: Images of Historical Hartford

The recent settlers of Newtown had, while in England, attended the ministry of the Reverend Thomas Hooker, who, to escape fines and imprisonment for his non-conformity, had now fled into Holland. To enjoy the privilege of such a pastor, they were willing to migrate to any part of the world. No sooner, therefore, was he driven from them, than they turned their eyes towards New England. They hoped that, if comfortable settlements could be made in this part of America, they might obtain him for their pastor. Immediately after their settlement at Newtown, they expressed their earnest desires to Mr. Hooker, that he would come over into New England, and take the pastoral charge of them. At their desire he left Holland; and, having obtained Mr. Samuel Stone, a lecturer at Torcester in Northamptonshire, for an assistant in the ministry, took his passage for America, and arrived at Boston September 4, 1633. With him came over the famous Mr. John Cotton, Mr. John Haynes, afterwards governor of Connecticut, Mr. Goff, and two hundred passengers of importance to the Colony.* “They got out of England with much difficulty, all places being belaid to have taken Mr. Cotton and Mr. Hooker, who had been long fought for, to have been brought into the High Commission; but the master being bound to touch at the Wight, the pursuants attended there, and the mean time the said ministers were taken in at the Downs.” (18) Mr. Hooker, on his arrival at Boston, proceeded to Newtown, where he was received with open arms, by an affectionate and pious people He was now chosen pastor, and Mr. Stone teacher, of the people at Newtown; and on the 11th of October, 1633, after solemn fasting and prayer, they were ordained to their respective offices.

The fame of the removal of these eminent men to America invited over vast numbers of Puritans, who could not find rest under Archbishop Laud’s severe administration; “insomuch that, for several years, hardly a vessel came into these parts, but was crowded with passengers for New England.” (19)

An historian of this early period piously notices “the admirable acts of Providence” toward the people of Newtown, in this infancy of the settlement. “Although they were in such great straites for foode, that many of them eate their bread by waight, and had little hopes of the earths fruitfullnesse, yet the Lord Christ was pleased to refresh their spirits with such quickening grace, and lively affections to this temple-worke, that they did not desert the place. And that which was more remarkable, when they had scarce house to shelter themselves, and no doores to hinder the Indians accesse to all they had in them; yet did the Lord so awe their hearts, that although they frequented the Englishmen’s places of aboade, where their whole substance, weake wives and little ones lay open to their plunder, during their absence, being whole dayes at Sabbath-Assemblies, yet had they none of their food or stuffe diminished, neither children nor wives hurt in the least measure, although the Indians came commonly to them, at those times, much hungry belly (as they use to say) and were then in number and strength beyond the English by far.” (20)

As early as May, 1634, it appears that the number of inhabitants at Newtown had become disproportioned to the township. “Those of Newtown,” says Governor Winthrop, complained of straitness for want of land, especially meadow, and desired leave of the Council to look out either for enlargement or removal, which was granted; whereupon they sent men to see Agawam [Ipswich] and Merrimack, and gave out they would remove.” (21) In July, six inhabitants of Newtown went passengers in a vessel “bound to the Dutch plantation, to discover Connecticut river, intending to remove their town thither.” (22)

At the General Court, which sat at Newtown in September, “many things were agitated and concluded, as fortifying in Castle-Island, Dorchester and Charlestown, with diverse other matters. But the main business, which spent the most time, and caused the adjourning of the Court, was about the removal of Newtown. They had leave of the last General Court to look out for some place for enlargement or removal, with promise of having it confirmed to them, if it were not prejudicial to an other plantation; and now they moved that they might have leave to remove to Connecticut.” The subject was largely and warmly debated; “the whole Colony being affected with the dispute.” When the question was put to vote, fifteen of the Deputies voted for leave of departure, and ten against it; the Governor and two Assistants voted for it; but the Deputy Governor, with all the other assistants, voted against it; so a legal act could not be obtained. Hence arose a great difference between the Governor and Assistants, and the Deputies, concerning the negative voice. “So when they could proceed no further, the whole Court agreed to keep a day of humiliation to seek the Lord,” which was kept, accordingly, in all the congregations. The Court met again soon after; but before it proceeded to business, Mr. Cotton (on Mr. Hooker’s declining) preached from Hag. ii. 4. “And it pleased the Lord so to assist him, and to bless his own ordinance, that the affairs of the Court went on cheerfully; and the congregation of Newtown came and accepted such enlargement as had formerly been offered them by Boston and Watertown” (23) This first enlargement was, doubtless, in breadth, to the southward and westward. When the first settlers erected “the New Town” between Charlestown and Watertown, it was “in forme like a list cut off from the broad-cloth of the two fore-named towns.” (24)

The people of Newtown manifesting a persevering determination to remove into Connecticut, and those of some neighbouring towns concurring at the same time, in the wish and project of removal to other places; the General Court, in May, 1635, gave them leave to remove whither they pleased, in condition that they should continue under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.

4 ^ Gov. Winthrop’s Journal, printed at Hartford, in 1790.

5 ^ Prince’s Chronology, vol. II. 8. Three numbers only of a second volume of this Chronology were ever published.

6 ^ For the original names of the streets of Cambridge, I am indebted to William Winthrop, Esquire, (a descendent of Governor Winthrop) who, in some other particulars, has obligingly contributed to the correctness of this history.

7 ^ This street was straightened the present year.

8 ^ It stood on the west side of Water Street, near its southern termination at Marsh Lane.

9 ^ Belknap’s American Biography, II. 339. Hubbard’s MS. Hist. of N. Eng.

10 ^ Prince, II. 30, 31. This creek, or passage, which is still open, extends from the river to a northerly direction, to the upland on the west. Chicketawbut was the sagamore of Neponcett, which could not have been far from Boston, for, on the 14th of February, 1962, “the Governor and some other company went to view the country as far as Neponcett and returned that night.” The first mention of this Indian chief, within my knowledge, is March 23, 1631, when “Chickatabot (thus spelt by Gov. Winthrop.) came with his sannops and squaws, and presented the Governor with a bushel of Indian corn.” In April, he “came to the Governor again, and he put him into a very good new suit from head to foot; and, after, he sat meat before him, but he would not eat till the Governor had given thanks, and after meat he desired him to do the like and so departed.” He died, of small pox, in November, 1633, when that disorder occasioned “a great mortality among the Indians,” and carried off many of his people. Winthrop’s Journal, 24, 26, 32, 56.

11 ^ Prince, II. 23.

12 ^ Prince, II. 57. This fortification was actually made; and the fosse, which was then dug around the town, is, in some places, visible, to this day. It commenced at Brick Wharf, (originally called Windmill Hill) and ran along the northern side of the present Common in Cambridge, and through what was then a thicket, but now constitutes a part of the cultivated grounds of Mr. Nathaniel Jarvis; beyond which it cannot be distinctly traced. It enclosed above 1000 acres.

13 ^ Wood’s New-England Prospect.

14 ^ This venerable oak stood on the northerly side of the Common in Cambridge, a little west of the road leading to Lexington. The stump of it was dug up not many years since.

15 ^ Winthrop’s Journal, 42. It is highly probable, that this company came from Braintree, in Essex county, England, and from its vicinity, Chelmsford, where Mr. Hooker was settled, is but eleven miles from Braintree: And Mr. Hooker “was so esteemed as a preacher, that not only his own people, but others from all parts of the county of Essex flocked to hear him.” The names of this company, constituting the first settlers of the town of Cambridge, are preserved in the records of the Proprietors, under the date of 1632, and are as follow:

Jeremy Adams
Matthew Allen
John Benjamin
Jonathan Boswell
Mr. Simon Bradstreet *
John Bridge
Richard Butler
John Clarke
Anthony Couldby, or Colby
Daniel Dennison
Thomas Dudley, Esq.
Samuel Dudley
Edward Elmer
Richard Goodman
William Goodwin
Garrad Hadden
Stephen Hart
John Haynes, Esq +
Thomas Pleate
Rev Thomas Hooker
Thomas Hosmer
Richard Harlackenden
William Lewis Richard Lord
John Masters
Abraham Morrill
Hester Mussey
Simon Oakes
James Olmsted
Capt. Daniel Patrick
John Prat
William Pentrey
Joseph Redinge
Nathaniel Richards
William Spencer
Thomas Spencer
Edward Stebbins
John Steele
Henry Steel
George Steele
Samuel Stone
John Talcott
William Wadsworth
Andrew Warner
Richard Webb
William Westwood
John White

* afterward Governor of Massachusetts.
+ afterward Governor of Connecticut. His house stood on the west side of Market Place. For his character see Trumbull’s History of Connecticut, I. 223.

16 ^ Prince, II. 75. This church stood on the west side of Water Street, and south of Spring Street, near the place where these streets intersect each other, about 30 rods south of where the congregational church now stands.

17 ^ Winthrop’s Journal. Governor Winthrop is characterised, by Morton, as “singular for piety, wisdom, and of a public spirit; as a man of unbiassed justice, patience in respect of personal wrongs and injuries, a great lover of the saints, especially able ministers of the gospel; very sober in desiring, and temperate in improving, earthly contentments; very humble, courteous, and studious of general good.” Dr. Belknap justly observes, that “he was eminently qualified for the first office of government, in which he shone with lustre, which would have done him honour in a larger sphere, and a more elevated situation. He was the father, as well as governor, of an infant plantation.” His house, in Boston, stood a few rods north of the Old South church, where the pile of brick stores has been recently built. The late John Winthrop, Esq. Hollis Professor of Math and Nat. Philos. was his descendant of the fourth generation; and James and William Winthrop, Esquires, now living in Cambridge, are descendants, of the fifth generation. Gov. Winthrop died in 1649, aetat. LXIII.
Amer. Biog. II. 337. Magnalia, II. 8.

Thomas Dudley, Esq. is characterised as “a man of sound judgement in matters of religion and well read, bestowing much labour that way; as a lover of justice, order, the people, Christian religion æ the supreme virtues of a good magistrate. He was exact in the practice of piety in his person and family all his life. He was principal founder and pillar of the colony of Massachusetts; and several times, Governor and Deputy Governor of that Province. He was principal founder of the town of Newtown, [Cambridge] being zealous to have it made the metropolis.” On Mr. Hooker’s removal to Hartford, he removed from Newtown to Ipswich, and afterward to Roxbury, where he died, in 1653. aetat. LXXVII. Wonder working Providence. Morton’s Memorial. Prince. Mather.

18 ^ Trumbull, 5. II.

* ^ Winthrop’s Journal

19 ^ Neal

20 ^ Wonder-working Providence.

21 ^ Winthrop’s Journal.

22 ^22 Ibid.

23 ^ Winthrop’s Journal

24 ^ Wonder-working Providence, 61.

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