Milton Before It Was Milton

The Landscape


If you were suddenly transported back in time about 15,000 years ago and landed in the same exact spot, what would you see?


ICE!  Nothing but ICE!

You would be in the Last Ice Age.  It would be unrecognizable, but this ice, or glacier, helped form the landscape of New England that we know and love today. See, as the glacier creeped along, it moved rocks, formed cliffs, created mounds of sand called drumlins and smoothed out flat places called glacial plains. We see these cliffs today when we go hiking in the Blue Hill reservation. The flat places are today’s farmland and residential areas. Milton Hill and Bunker Hill in Boston and many of the Boston Harbor islands are drumlins.

Eventually, this great glacier began to melt and slowly recede. As it receded, sometimes a block of ice covered by a layer of earth would remain frozen, while the ice around it melted away. When that last piece of ice finally did melt, the earth on top of it collapsed and created a hole. These holes were deep and they filled up with water. We call these kettle holes and we have two of them right here in Milton.

All of this glacial activity left us with a very hilly town! We have Great Blue Hill, Brush Hill, Buck Hill, and Chickatawbut Hill.


All of these hills make for a very strenuous bike ride but it’s wonderful for hiking and exploring. And the view from the top is beautiful!

Early Inhabitants

Before the settlers landed on these shores, the native people who made a life here were the Massachusett people. The tribe that made their home in and around Milton were called the Neponset, and they were one of many Algonquin speaking tribes in the area.

DSC_0190_6x4 small

The Neponset people moved with the seasons. In summer, they ranged all over the Blue Hills, where they did most of their hunting, but their main settlement was near the falls of the Neponset River, right where the Adams Street bridge now leads into Dorchester.  We know that area today as Milton, Lower Falls.  This was their favored spot and they called it Unquity-Quisset which meant “where the headwaters of the Neponset meet the tidewaters of the bay.” Imagine during a hot day, setting up near a beautiful river filled with fish and cool water, a perfect spot to pass the summer months. In the warm weather,  men would wear breechclouts (breechcloths), which were skins held around the waists with leather thongs.


The women would wear long deerskin dresses. During the cold weather, the women would add leather leggings under their dresses and the men would don deerskin shirts and leggings, as well as moccasins and fur caps. There would oftentimes be decorative fringe on the clothing as well as painted designs, and both men and women used paint on their faces.

These Algonquin-speaking people also farmed. They grew fields of corn and beans, and they planted and cultivated pumpkins and squashes that had been growing in the fields near the Neponset River. They burned the fields to get rid of the stumps and undergrowth and then planted their seeds in hills or rows.  In each hill of corn they buried a couple of little fish.  As the fish rotted, they served as fertilizer to nourish the growing corn. Do you know the name of this wonderfully fishy fertilizer?


They would catch the “fertilizing fish” as the fish made their way up the Neponset River in the spring, and they would catch them in weirs by the falls of the river. A weir is basically an obstruction placed in tidal water or across a river, and it is designed to trap fish. They were constructed using slanted sticks driven into the river bottom. They might look something like this….


The natives also fished used large nets over at the area of Gulliver Creek, in what is now East Milton.  If it’s hard for you to picture where this is, this might help..  Gulliver Creek

Living so close to the ocean, there were plentiful supplies of lobster, mussels, clams, and oysters, and the natives were able to gather them right from the Neponset. With all of the wonderful food from the sea and land, they ate very well.


Nasaump is a traditional Wampanoag dish that is made from dried corn, local berries, and nuts. It is boiled in water until it thickens, and is similar to a porridge or oatmeal.

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 cup strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or a combination of all three
1/2 crushed walnuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds or a combination of all three
1 quart water
maple syrup or sugar to taste (optional)

Combine cornmeal, berries, crushed nuts, and the optional sweetener in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.

This sounds delicious!  What do you think?  Would YOU eat this for breakfast?  Maybe for dessert?

The Massachusett people lived in wigwams, also known as wetus (which you may remember from your class visit to Plimoth plantation).  8-23-2006-14

They made pottery and clay pipes from riverbank clay, which they baked over their fires. They used arrows made of wood and bows strung with moose tendon. Their arrows were tipped with stone or bone. To defend themselves, they relied on tomahawks and bark shields.




Before the permanent settlers arrived in Massachusetts, the Native people had already encountered Europeans.  European ships had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of gold but many of them came here to trade for animal furs. By the early 1600’s, there was a regular flow of traders going back and forth between Europe and North America. Unfortunately, the Europeans image010

carried more than pretty glass beads for trade. They also carried disease, and the Native people had no resistance to this disease. Many of them died; in fact, only about 1 in 5 survived the sickness. Even the great sachem, Chickatawbut died from the disease. What was left of the Neponset people was handed over to Chickatawbut’s brother, Kitchamakin. Before the town of Milton was even settled and established, the Native population was greatly reduced.

images-1Be a detective and look for clues to the past.  What kind of reminders do we have here in Milton to remind us of the Native people before us?  Street names, pond names, signs, markers….DSC_0858

Maybe if you’re lucky, one day when you’re hiking in Blue Hill you’ll find an arrowhead! But even if you don’t, it’s still fun to EXPLORE!! Send us a note and tell us about your adventures!!

A Town Called Milton


In the year 1634, a shipload of folks from England landed near Boston in what is now Dorchester. Over the past few years, Europeans had been settling farther away from Boston to find more farmland, and by 1640 Milton had been settled as a village of Dorchester. They called their new home Unquity, which came from the Native American word, Unquity-Quisset. The actual town name would come later! This wonderful spot on the Neponset River was ideally situated between the two established towns of Plymouth and Boston and was destined to become a perfect location for a settlement.


Who were these brave souls who traveled across a vast ocean in order to begin a new life? They packed up their belongings and their families and left behind everything that was familiar to them. They endured a hard ocean voyage that lasted  more than two months! Boy, would you be in trouble if you didn’t have “sea legs.”

imagesThis trip must have been extremely difficult. They suffered from poor food, overcrowding, sickness, and unsanitary conditions. The Europeans had an adventurous and courageous spirit.

The People


These new “Americans” weren’t rich; they were working men and women. Some were seeking religious and political freedom, some wanted to own their own land and have room to grow.  They were house builders, shipbuilders, teachers, preachers; everyone had something to offer to the community. But no matter what their skill was, if they wanted to be granted some land in this new place, they had to prove they could contribute to the growth of their town.

Many of these early settlers started small farms. They cleared land, made fences for the animals they had brought, and planted fruit trees along with wheat, rye, and barley seeds they had brought from England. They learned a great deal from the Neponset people, such as how to plant corn and fertilize it with fish. And like the Native Americans, they learned to cultivate the wild pumpkins and squash. Their cattle roamed and grazed where the Native Americans had had their corn fields.  They fished in the plentiful Neponset River using nets and weirs.

At that time, the Neponset offered up plenty of fish – Bass, mackerel, shad, flounder,  as well as oysters, mussels, and clams!!!


And guess what?  The clams were used for “swine” food!!

The English settlers called pumpkins “pompions” and they came up with different ways to prepare them to eat.  Here is a yummy little recipe and it’s considered one of the earliest written recipes from New England.  The fellow who jotted this recipe down was John Josselyn, a traveler to the area in the 1600’s.  Check it out below, and see if you can follow the recipe-it’s written as he wrote it, which means it might sound a little bit funny..


….the ancient Housewives manner is to slice them when ripe, and cut them into dice, and so fill a pot with them of two or three Gallons, and stew them upon a gentle fire a whole day, and as they sink, they fill again with fresh Pompions, not putting any liquor to them; and when it is stew’d enough, it will look like bak’d Apples; this they Dish, putting Butter to it and a little Vinegar, (with some Spice, as Ginger,&c.) which makes it tart like an Apple, and so serve it up to be eaten with Fish or Flesh; It provokes Urine extreamly and is very windy”   (in other words, this will make you have to run to the bathroom and cause you to be very gassy…… thanks for the warning Mr. Josselyn!!)

Israel Stoughton

One of the first people we know about who came to Milton was Israel Stoughton. In 1634, at the spot in the Neponset River where the Native Americans used to catch fish, he built a mill to grind the Native American’s corn into meal. He also built a footbridge so people could cross over the the river easily. He settled in Milton and raised his family. One of his sons would grow up to to become a Royal Governor and one of the Salem Witch Trial judges.

Richard Collecott

Richard Collecott was a fur trader who built his home in Unquity, and it was probably the first house in Milton. In 1636, Collecot, as an agent of Dorchester, signed a treaty with Kitchmakin, the chief of the Neponset tribe. This treaty gave most of the land south of the Neponset River to the town of Dorchester and left the Neponset people with only 40 acres to live on.  You would think that buying up that much land would cost a lot of money!! The price of the land?  Twenty fathoms of wampum.


Wampum are decorative beads made from whelk or clam shells. The term is shortened from the Massachusett word, wampumpeag, meaning “white strings of shell beads”.

What on earth is a fathom??  A fathom is about 6 feet long.  So, let’s see, you do the math!! How much wampum did Mr. Collecott have to hand over?

The town of  Dorchester now extended almost all the way to  the Rhode Island border and included today’s towns of Milton, Canton, Stoughton, Sharon, Foxboro, and Wrentham.

The settlers believed that the land was theirs because it had been granted by the King of England, and most didn’t think that the Native people had any right to the land. This view was reinforced by the fact that the Native Americans would often move their encampments from place to place along with the change of season.

John Eliot, known as the “Apostle to the Indians,”  preached to the Neponset people down by the banks of the Neponset River, and it was through his encouragement that the Neponset tribe was relocated to a Reservation at Ponkapoag.

AH02-0094_John-Eliot_1659 John Eliot

John Glover

John Glover was born in England and traveled to America in 1631. A tanner (a person that makes leather and other items made from an animal’s hide) by trade, he brought cattle with him, trained workers, and collected material for setting up a tannery on the Dorchester side of the Neponset River. In 1636, he secured 30 acres of land just south of Turner’s Pond. He had grown into a man of wealth and importance in Dorchester, and it was on this new land that he began to establish his farm that became grazing pasture for his cattle.

The place….

More and more people began to settle in the area and build homes in Unquity,  and by 1662 there were about 20 families living in town. They had a meeting house, a tavern, farmhouses and farmland, pastureland, cartways that served as roads, a grist mill, and two different boat landings on the Neponset River. Though still a part of Dorchester, Unquity  was beginning to consider itself a separate town and was less dependent on the larger town across the river. So in 1662, the people living south of Dorchester petitioned the Government of Massachusetts and received permission to separate from Dorchester. Milton was born.

Where does the name Milton come from?  Robert Tucker was the first of many “Tuckers” to arrive in Milton, and he settled on Brush Hill in 1663. It is believed that Milton is named after the town in England that Robert Tucker came from, which was…. can you guess??  Milton Next Gravesend. 

Tucker’s house, the oldest in Milton, is still standing on Brush Hill Road.


Let’s Meet at the Meetinghouse!

The early Milton settlers went to church in the larger town of Dorchester, across the Neponset River.  In 1638, it was decided that they needed their very own minister here in town, and all members would share in the expense of hiring one. A meetinghouse was built in 1650 and it served as a church, a social club, and town hall. On Saturday, people might go to the meetinghouse for a town meeting and on Sunday they would return for a church service.


Church and government were so close that they functioned as one. In fact, every man had to be a church member to be able to vote at town meeting. Most people would have come to church every Sunday even if the law had not required them to do so. It was one of the only times during the week neighbors could see each other, exchange news, and connect as a community. People worked hard six days a week and were glad to have a day of rest.

The sermon was usually an all-day event. They would first gather at the meeting house in morning to hear a long sermon. If it was summer and if they lived too far away to go home for lunch, they probably picnicked in the fields. If it was winter, they would have had their between-service meals in a little house built nearby. Then they would go back to the meeting house for a long afternoon of sermons and prayer.

By 1681, after many different visiting ministers, Milton finally found a permanent minister in Peter Thacher. We know quite a bit about Peter Thacher because he kept a diary.  Reading the diary is a good way to learn about the man who wrote it AND the town he lived in.


What kinds of things do we discover about Mr. Thacher from his diary?  Well, we know that he had a large and busy family. He owned a Native American slave who served in his household for over 40 years. We also discover that he learned the local Native American dialect and he preached to the Neponset tribe at Ponkapoag. He traveled to Cambridge every Spring to attend the Harvard graduation and he often traveled to Boston to meet with other ministers or to shop.


He liked to bowl, smoked a pipe, loved music and played the bass viol. He liked to hunt, to pick strawberries, and to picnic with friends in the Blue Hills. Are you surprised by the little bits that you have learned about Peter Thacher the person?

Are you a code breaker????

Peter Thacher’s diary, just like old town records, is not easy to read and it’s helpful if you have a key to figure it out.  See if you can decipher some of his diary entries below.. but you will need this key….

  • Some words are abbreviated.   In some words, like those beginning with a “w”, all the middle letters are left out, the meaning of the word has to be guessed from the first letter and the last letter.  (example:  wn means “when”; wc means “which” and m stands for mister)
  • Some words are written by combining other letters with a y. The y was pronounced like th.  (yt is “that,” ye is “the,” yn is “then,” and ys is “this”)


June 15.   y day wee made Candles


September 11.  ys morning wee came to ye Ministeriall house…diverse hands came to help us.  goodman Tucker brought some burnt wine and Cakes & a loafe of bread goodman Craine sent us a Chease & an apple py & some turnops & bread  Young Daniel sent mee a quart of wine.  m Homan a quarter of meet.

What would your teacher say if your writing resembled Mr. Thacher’s?  I think they might say  “Where are your commas?  Where are your periods?  And you need to study your vocabulary words!!!”

images-1Okay kiddos, are you ready to do some more exploring in Milton?  Next time you are out taking a stroll along Adams Street, keep your eyes peeled for historical markers!  See if you can locate the marker below and send us a note to tell us you found it!!  What street is it near?  Remember, you have a hint to go on already…

(Hint: it’s somewhere along Adams Street.)


Reads:  Opposite This Tablet Stood Milton’s First Meeting House

Built Prior to 1660

Milton Historical Society 1908

** There is something that is NOT accurate about the picture on the marker above.  I wonder if you know what it is!!

Can you identify this historical marker?  Where is it?  What is it? It’s here somewhere in Milton, waiting to be discovered by YOU!


A Growing Town

As more and more folks began moving into Milton, the character of the town began to emerge, and there was a lot of growth and change along the Neponset River. Remember that first grist mill  built in 1634? It soon was joined by other mills and businesses, and “Lower Mills” soon became a busy place.

Gunpowder Mill

Can you guess what the Gunpowder Mill produced?  Bingo!  You guessed right — gunpowder, of course! Using charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter, mill workers ground these all together and dried them into cakes  (and I don’t mean lovely little cakes that you might eat with tea).  The cakes were broken into powder and would then be packed up to supply the local militia!  It could be treacherous working in this type of mill, and it certainly was the case back in 1744 when the Milton gunpowder mill BLEW UP!corned+gunpowder

Fulling Mill

Fulling is a step in woolen cloth making, which involves the cleaning of cloth to eliminate dirt and oil, which helps to thicken and strengthen it.


After they wove the woolen cloth, they would send it to the fulling mill to be cleaned and strengthened. 


The sawmill was important as more and more people began settling and building homes here in Milton. The mill would cut logs that came from plentiful forests and turn them into boards. This cut down on the work that used to be done by hand. Imagine how hard it would be to make a house from trees with just hand tools like an axe and a hammer!

Snuff Mill

This mill ground tobacco into dust. A gentleman would sniff this tobacco dust, also know as snuff, and it would make him sneeze. How silly is that?!

Snuff had been fashionable in Europe for a long time, and some early Americans kept up the tradition.  artwork_images_990_737169_giuseppemaria-crespi

As more mills appeared along the river, it must have gotten louder and very active down by the wharf. The mills changed owners often, some burned down, some were moved, and new ones were built.  One of Milton’s most important industries was the making of CHOCOLATE!!


Yum, yum, yum!

Chocolate Days

Cocoa was a very popular drink in the 18th century , though the ingredients came from far away and the process of making it is complicated (but worth the effort)!

Cocoa beans are from the cocoa fruit, and this fruit grows in the  tropics. new_cocoaplantA young cocoa plant


Cocoa beans are seeds inside the cocoa fruit!

These beans would be shipped north by traders who went down to South America to buy them. The beans would be unloaded at the Captain’s Landing in Milton village. From the landing, they were taken in wagons to the storage tanks near the chocolate mill. The beans were roasted, their shells cracked and removed, and their kernels were ground into paste. The fat, or cocoa butter, was removed and sugar was added. This mixture was dried into a cake, which was then broken up and pounded into a powder… and voila… COCOA!!  And cocoa is the main ingredient in making yummy chocolate deserts and drinks.  220px-Chocolate_girl

chocolatepot                                                                                                                    Serving up hot chocolate!!

Above is an old chocolate pot from the 1700’s. They would prepare their hot chocolate using this type of pot.

In 1765, a local businessman named James Baker met a recent immigrant named John Hannon on the banks of the Neponset River. John Hannon was looking for work and knew how to make chocolate. With the help of Mr. Baker, Hannon was able to set up a business, “Hannon’s Best Chocolate,” which lasted for 15 years.

hannon chocolate

Old wrapper for Hannon’s Best Chocolate!!

In 1780, James Baker bought the business and changed the name to Baker Chocolate Company.  The smell of chocolate in Milton lasted for over 200 years!!!

Town Government


Like many New England towns, Milton governed itself — and was proud of it. The townspeople elected or appointed their own officers, assigned their own taxes, and punished their own lawbreakers. At this time, remember, America was still a colony of England. There was a Royal Governor in Boston who was chosen by the King of England. Early on, the Royal Governor had little to do with daily life in the villages. As long as the towns did their job of taking care of themselves, no one interfered with them.

In Milton, as in many villages, town meeting was important. Any citizen could come to express his opinion. Three selectman were elected to run the town on behalf of the citizens — just like we do today — and other town officers were elected or appointed, such as the Constable, who collected the taxes. Town meeting is still alive and well in Milton!!  You may have parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who are Milton town meeting members!!

Can you guess what some of the early town officer positions were?

Here’s a hint… it had something to do with this…..


The official Fence Viewer!  The person who had this position was very important, because he settled disputes about property lines. It was his job to make sure that someone didn’t put up a fence or wall on his neighbor’s land. That seems a little funny now when you think about how much land people had back then. The Fence Viewer also made sure that people took good care of their fences — you wouldn’t want Mr. Glover’s cow escaping and getting into his neighbor’s cornfield. That could spell trouble!


Who’s watching the fence?? These guys are making a break for it!!

Another position?  Well, it involved these guys below…

  Claude Moore Colonial Farm

The town Reeve was responsible for the animals of the town. One of his duties was to inspect all pigs to be sure each pig had a ring in his nose, so he could not root around in the crops.  If an animal was spotted without a ring, the owner would be fined! If a stray animal was caught, it would be taken to the town pound, a kind of “lost and found” from which the owner would come and collect it.

milton town pound

There were many pounds throughout Milton’s history.  The one above was the 4th pound and was located on Canton Avenue, across from Holmes Lane, not too far from today’s Milton High School.

Another town position was the Tithingman.  The Tithingman had multiple duties.

A Change in the Air

For many years, New England towns had the freedom to govern themselves without any real interference from representatives from Britain. But that began to change. England had fought the French for many years over control of the land in North America. England got help from the colonists, and France got help from the Native Americans, who they met trading furs in Canada. The French and Indian War lasted from 1754-1763, and while England gained a lot of territory after the war was over, they spent a lot of money along the way! (They were also fighting the French in Europe.)


King George III of England reigned from 1760-1820

King George and Parliament decided that they should tax the colonists to raise money to pay for their very expensive war. After all, they had helped to protect the colonists from the French and Natives, hadn’t they? So they started taxing certain essential items like tea.  (I bet you already knew that).


Drinking tea in the British Colonies (from the Newport RI Historical Society)

Yes, the colonists enjoyed their tea. And they resented these taxes. They were becoming restless as England continued to impose stricter laws on them. There was now a lot of talk about independence and overthrowing England’s rule.

One of the rules that England imposed upon the colonists was no more town meetings. Those resourceful colonists found a way around that and started holding countywide meetings. At these meetings, folks would gather to share their complaints about England and try to decide what to do.

At the same time, representative from all of the colonies were meeting in Philadelphia.  This meeting was called…


The Continental Congress!!

Our town played a role in all of this!  During the summer and fall of 1774, one of the county meeting was held in the home of Daniel Vose, right here in Milton.  DanielVoseDelegates from 19 towns came to pay a visit to Daniel in September 1774, and they all agreed that England’s taxes and orders were illegal. They decided that they would NOT obey them.  What to do????  They said that the people of Massachusetts should form their own government and their own army. They called their declaration the SUFFOLK RESOLVES.


Joseph Warren, the gentleman above, presented the Suffolk Resolves to his buddy Paul Revere, a name I’m sure you are all familiar with!


Interesting little side note … Paul Revere opened up the country’s very first copper mill,  right next door in Canton, MA!!


Here’s a pic of Paul Revere’s house in Canton. It has since been demolished.

Paul Revere carried the Suffolk Resolves to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and that paper from Milton, MA was read to the delegates. The Continental Congress used the Suffolk Resolves as the basis for the Declaration of Independence.  The rest, as they say, is history.


washington_mediumimages-1This beautiful weather is perfect for doing some investigative work.  Can you spot some of these things here in town??


Click on the marker above to see if you can read what it says. Do you know what this is? Maybe we can find it together during your 5th grade tour! I wonder who will spot it first?

The monument below is something you may walk or drive by every day… do you recognize it? I can’t wait to see who will point it out during the tour. Maybe it will be YOU!!


Milton In The Young United States

After the Revolutionary War, Massachusetts was no longer an English colony; it was part of the United States.  The people of Milton were citizens in a new democracy!!  In 1789, the Constitution of the United States became the law of the land, and George Washington became the first president of the new country.


Most people in Milton would not have had a chance to meet the new president, who lived all the way down in Virginia. But Washington’s vice president was a different story. That was John Adams, and he lived practically next door in Quincy!


I bet  Milton residents were proud to have a neighbor serve in the very first administration of our new government.

But there were famous people even closer to Milton than Adams.

One of Milton’s Revolutionary War heroes was Joseph Vose. The name Vose is familiar to you, I’m sure.  (Remember Daniel Vose , of the Suffolk Resolves House?) Joseph Vose was a distant cousin of Daniel. During the Revolutionary War, the British Army had fortified lighthouses with guns to control Boston Harbor. Joseph Vose of Milton led a party of 60 men in boats to a harbor lighthouse. He burned the lighthouse and took away the the British guns. Our hero!!


An 18th century view of Boston Harbor

Joseph Vose was made Colonel of the First Massachusetts Regiment and joined George Washington’s army.  He took part in the siege of Yorktown, which ended in the English surrender and the end of the war! He returned home to his lovely hometown, Milton, MA, and lived there until he died in 1816.  The home that he built and lived in is still standing — on Voses Lane (named after him, of course).

Screen shot 2013-05-18 at 1.27.20 PM Screen shot 2013-05-18 at 1.26.57 PM

Left: A pic of Joseph Vose’s home from 1900

Right: Recent photo of Joseph Vose’s home at 34 Voses Lane

Our little Milton continued to grow. New homes were built in the colonial style but were a little larger than before. Houses were built with larger windows, spacious hallways and more detail. Some people even chose to build their homes so that they looked a little like houses from Greece and Rome.

Can you guess why?

Because they believed our country, like the great societies of ancient Greece and Rome, was destined for great things.

Greek revival

See the Greek columns on this house? Doesn’t that look grand? It used to sit on Blue Hills Parkway between Eliot Street and Brook Road.

Wealthy Boston merchants also discovered that seacoast villages like Milton were wonderfully cool places to spend the summer. People began building summer cottages here so they would have a place to escape to during the hot summer months.

China Trade

For a long time, Boston had been trading with England for tea and with South America for cocoa beans. Now, sea captains like Robert Bennet Forbes sailed even as far as China, on the other side of the world.

Canton Factories

Painting of Canton harbor 1805

Canton is a Province of China

Note the American flag!!

Robert Bennet Forbes

Robert Forbes and his mother were on a ship that was captured by the British in 1811, when Robert (or Ben, as he was called) was 7 years old.  When he was 13, he went to sea as a deck hand on a boat bound for China.  When he was 18, he met one of the richest merchants in China, Hoqua, with whom he began a long-lasting friendship.

148_thumbHouqua, Chinese merchant and friend to Robert Bennet Forbes.

Robert Forbes, along with other traders from Philadelphia, Newport and Salem, developed a thriving trade with China.

In 1833, Forbes built a home for his mother on Milton Hill.  The house was built as a memorial to his brother, Thomas, who was drowned in a typhoon off the China Coast in 1829.


We will learn a lot about Robert Bennet Forbes and his family during your 5th grade Milton History Tour!!   You can visit the Forbes Museum website here.

The Forbes Museum folks have been kind enough to supply the Milton schools with a copy of “Cabin Boy”, which is a story of Robert Bennet Forbes very first trip to China.


Ask your teacher or Mrs. Henry, your amazing school  librarian!!  They have been set aside specifically for the 5th grade classes!!

At this time, in Milton and the rest of New England, an increasing numbers of folks had everything they really needed for survival.  They were beginning to want things just for the enjoyment of owning them.  What kinds of things do you think came from China?


Beautiful silk robes


Fine porcelain


                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Tortoiseshells for combs

They even brought back bird’s nests and sharks’ fins, reputed to make very delicate soups.  But this is what we say to such a soup today…….


Americans developed an interest in Chinese art. You might see wallpapered dining rooms with images of monkeys and peacocks …..2011EY3002_jpg_ds

and plates wriggling with (yikes!)


What did the Chinese accept as in exchange for all of these goods??


Furs and ginseng!!  Ginseng is a little man-shaped root that grew wild all over New England. It was treasured in China as a strengthening medicine.

The Wharf

In the early years of the young democracy, many of Milton’s businesses had something to do with the trading of goods that came into the wharf, and shipbuilding was booming!

Between 1786 and 1815, the Milton shipyards built 33 boats:

16 Ships

6 Brigantines

3 Schooners

8 Sloops


Ship traffic down at the wharf was so busy that in 1833, according to Daniel Vose’s records, 74 sloops and schooners dropped anchor in Milton and discharged their cargoes. That’s more than a ship a week!

Crackers on ice, anyone?

In 1801, the Bent cracker factory began to bake what they called “ship’s biscuits.” Made only of flour and pure spring water, they would last for many months down inside of a ship without spoiling. The term “cracker” came from the sound they made when they were in the oven.


Another important item that was loaded on the ships a little later was ice. Ice is very common here in New England winters, but ships leaving Milton wharf back then were going to parts of the world that had never seen ice. Some crafty New Englanders had figured out that if they packed ice in sawdust and put it in a wooden box, it would stay frozen for months. Strange, huh?


Before long, crates full of ice were being shipped out of Milton bound for warmer climates — as far away as India!

The 20th century

As Milton entered the 20th century, it was still very much like the quiet residential community it had been a hundred years before.


Friends having a picnic at the summit of Great Blue Hill

There were fewer than 5,000 people living in Milton in the early 1900’s.  Horses were still an important part of the economy. They assisted in the cutting of ice on the ponds in winter,


they drew heavy sledges through streets to pack down the snow, they pulled plows in the fields in summer and drew watering carts through the streets to lay the dust. A governess (a girl or woman employed to care for a child) may take their young friend out for some fresh air in a cart pulled by a horse or a donkey?


Young children out for a ride with their governess on Bradlee Road in Milton.

The coming of cars did a lot to change Milton.  The first cars looked very much like carriages, only they didn’t use horses.  They even called them “horseless carriages.”  1st-auto-ad


An early “horseless carriage”

Gradually, cars took the place of carriages, but it wasn’t until 1914, when Henry Ford used the assembly line to turn out the Model T, that owning and driving one’s own car became a reality for most people. With the coming of cars, Milton built many new roads. During this time, there was a greater choice of transportation.  Trolleys went almost everywhere in New England.  With trains, cars, and trolleys, some of the older forms of transportation began to fade. This would forever change our “little” country town.

images-1You will be reading all about the Granite Railway in your classroom history binder!  There is a piece of the Granite Railway history waiting to be discovered by a 5th grade history detective.

Granite frog today

Milk for sale!

In the late 1800’s, the Manning family settled on Thacher Street in Milton and began selling milk from their horse drawn wagon. By the 1920’s, the wagon was now a milk truck and the family milkman was born!

Thatcher Farm

Up until 1963, Milton’s Thatcher Farm had 250 cows, and all of the milking, processing and delivering happened from their Thatcher farm location.

Today, Thatcher Farm is alive and well!  Now the farm fresh milk arrives in glass bottles from a family farm in New Hampshire but the dairy and home office remains right here where it always was, in Milton!

Have you ever paid a visit?


or maybe they’ve paid you a visit?