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.”
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!!)
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 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.
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.
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!!!”
Okay 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!! firstname.lastname@example.org 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!