« AnteriorContinuar »
are forced to quit the place) doo beare an equal share in Town charges with us. Those who are not yet come up to us are a great and far yet abler part of our Proprietors ..."1 In 1684 the selectmen inform the General Court that one half of the proprietors, two only excepted, are dwelling in other places, “Our proprietors, abroad,” say they, “object that they see no reason why they should pay as much for thayer lands as we do for our Land and stock, which we answer that if their be not a noff of reason for it, we are sure there is more than enough of necessity to supply that is wanting in reason.” 2 This is the authentic voice of the frontier.
Deerfield furnishes another type, inasmuch as a considerable part of its land was first held by Dedham, to which the grant was made as a recompense for the location of the Natick Indian reservation. Dedham shares in the town often fell into the hands of speculators, and Sheldon, the careful historian of Deerfield, declares that not a single Dedham man became a permanent resident of the grant. In 1678 Deerfield petitioned the General Court as follows:
You may be pleased to know that the very principle & best of the land; the best for soile; the best for situation; as lying in ye centre & midle of the town: & as to quantity, nere half, belongs unto eight or 9 proprietors each and every of which, are never like to come to a settlement amongst us, which we have formerly found grievous & doe Judge for the future will be found intollerable if not altered. Of minister, Mr. Mather ... & we ourselves are much discouraged as judging the Plantation will be spoiled if thes proprietors may not be begged, or will not be bought up on very easy terms outt of their Right ... Butt as long as the maine of the plantation Lies in men's hands that can't improve it themselves, neither are ever like to putt such tenants on to it as shall be likely to advance the good of ye place in Civill or sacred Respects; he, ourselves, and all others that think of going to it, are much discouraged.3
Woodstock, later a Connecticut town, was settled under a grant in the Nipmuc country made to the town of Roxbury. The settlers who located their farms near the trading post about which the Indians still collected, were called the "go-ers," while the “stayers” were those who remained in Roxbury, and retained half of the new grant; but it should be added that they paid the go-ers a sum of money to facilitate the settlement.
1 J. G. Metcalf, Annals of Mendon, p. 85.
2 P. 96. Compare the Kentucky petition of 1780 given in Roosevelt, Winning of the West, ii. 398, and the letter from that frontier cited in Turner, Western State-Making (American Historical Review, i. 262), attacking the Virginia “Nabobs," who hold absentee land titles. “Let the great men,” say they, “whom the land belongs to come and defend it."
3 Sheldon, Deerfield, i. 188–189.
This absentee proprietorship and the commercial attitude toward the lands of new towns became more evident in succeeding years of the eighteenth century. Leicester, for example, was confirmed by the General Court in 1713. The twenty shares were divided among twenty-two proprietors, including Jeremiah Dummer, Paul Dudley (Attorney-General), William Dudley (like Paul a son of the Governor, Joseph Dudley), Thomas Hutchinson (father of the later Governor), John Clark (the political leader), and Samuel Sewall (son of the Chief Justice). These were all men of influence, and none of the proprietors became inhabitants of Leicester. The proprietors tried to induce the fifty families, whose settlement was one of the conditions on which the grant was made, to occupy the eastern half of the township reserving the rest as their absolute property.
The author of a currency tract, in 1716, entitled Some Considerations upon the Several Sorts of Banks, remarks that formerly, when land was easy to be obtained, good men came over as indentured servants; but now, he says, they are runaways, thieves, and disorderly persons. The remedy for this, in his opinion, would be to induce servants to come over by offering them homes when the terms of indenture should expire. He therefore advocates that townships should be laid out four or five miles square in which grants of fifty or sixty acres could be made to servants. Concern over the increase of negro slaves in Massachusetts seems to have been the reason for this proposal. It indicates that the current practice in disposing of the lands did not provide for the poorer people.
But Massachusetts did not follow this suggestion of a homestead policy. On the contrary, the desire to settle towns to create contin
1 These facts are stated on the authority of E. Washburn, Leicester, pp. 5–15: compare Major Stephen Sewall to Jeremiah Dummer, 1717, quoted in Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, ii. 505 note 4.
2 Compare the Virginia system, Bruce, Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century, ü. 42, 43.
3 For this item I am indebted to our associate Mr. Andrew McF. Davis: sce his Colonial Currency Reprints, i. 335–349.
uous lines of settlement along the roads between the disconnected frontiers and to protect boundary claims by granting tiers of towns in the disputed tract as well, no doubt, as pressure from financial interests led the General Court between 1715 and 1762 to dispose of the remaining public domain of Massachusetts under conditions that made speculation and colonization by capitalists important factors. When in 1762 Massachusetts sold a group of townships in the Berkshires to the highest bidders by whole townships, the transfer from the social-religious to the economic conception was complete, and the frontier was deeply influenced by the change to "land mongering.”
In one respect, however, there was an increasing recognition of the religious and social element in settling the frontier, due in part, no doubt, to a desire to provide for the preservation of eastern ideals and influences in the west. Provisions for reserving lands within the granted townships for the support of an approved minister, and for schools, appear in the seventeenth century and become a common feature of the grants for frontier towns in the eighteenth. This practice with respect to the New England frontier became the foundation for the system of grants of land from the public domain for the support of common schools and state universities by the federal government from its beginning, and has been profoundly influential in later western states.
Another ground for discontent over land questions was furnished by the system of granting lands within the town by the commoners. The principle which in many, if not all, cases guided the proprietors in distributing the town lots is familiar and is well stated in the Lancaster town records (1653):
And, whereas Lotts are Now Laid out for the most part Equally to Rich and poore, Partly to keepe the Towne from Scatering to farr, and partly out of Charitie and Respect to men of meaner estate, yet that Equallitie (which is the rule of God) may be observed, we Covenant and Agree, That in a second Devition and so through all other Devitions of Land the mater shall be drawne as neere to equallitie according to mens estates as wee are able to doe, That he which hath now more then his estate Deserveth in home Lotts and entervale Lotts shall haue so much Less: and he that hath Less then his estate Deserveth shall haue so much more. 1
1 Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts (1768), ii. 331, 332, has an instructive comment. A. C. Ford, Colonial Precedents of Our National Land System, p. 84; L. K. Mathews, Expansion of New England, pp. 82 ff.
? J. G. Holland, Western Massachusetts, p. 197. • Jos. Schafer, Origin of the System of Land Grants for Education, pp. 25–33.
This peculiar doctrine of "equality" had early in the history of the colony created discontents. Winthrop explained the principle which governed himself and his colleagues in the case of the Boston committee of 1634 by saying that their divisions were arranged "partly to prevent the neglect of trades.” This is a pregnant idea; it underlay much of the later opposition of New England asa manufacturing section to the free homestead or cheap land policy demanded by the West and by the labor party in the national public domain. The migration of labor to free lands meant that higher wages must be paid to those who remained. The use of the town lands by the established classes to promote an approved form of society naturally must have had some effect on migration.
But a more effective source of disputes was with respect to the relation of the town proprietors to the public domain of the town in contrast with the non-proprietors as a class. The need of keeping the town meeting and the proprietors' meeting separate in the old towns in earlier years was not so great as it was when the new-comers became numerous. In an increasing degree these new-comers were either not granted lands at all, or were not admitted to the body of proprietors with rights in the possession of the undivided town lands. Contentions on the part of the town meeting that it had the right of dealing with the town lands occasionally appear, significantly, in the frontier towns of Haverhill, Massachusetts, Simsbury, Connecticut, and in the towns of the Connecticut Valley.? Jonathan Edwards, in 1751, declared that there had been in Northampton for forty or fifty years “two parties somewhat like the court and country parties of England. . . . The first party embraced the great proprietors of land, and the parties concerned about land and other matters.” 3 The tendency to divide up the common lands among the proprietors in individual possession did not become marked until the eighteenth
1 D. H. Hurd (ed.), History of Worcester County, i. 6. The italics are mine. ? Egleston, Land System of the New England Colonies, pp. 39–41. 3 P. 41.
century; but the exclusion of some from possession of the town lands and the “equality” in allotment favoring men with already large estates must have attracted ambitious men who were not of the favored class to join in the movement to new towns. Religious dissensions would combine to make frontier society as it formed early in the eighteenth century more and more democratic, dissatisfied with the existing order, and less respectful of authority. We shall not understand the relative radicalism of parts of the Berkshires, Vermont and interior New Hampshire without enquiry into the degree in which the control over the lands by a proprietary monopoly affected the men who settled on the frontier.
The final aspect of this frontier to be examined, is the attitude of the conservatives of the older sections toward this movement of westward advance. President Dwight in the era of the War of 1812 was very critical of the “foresters,” but saw in such a movement a safety valve to the institutions of New England by allowing the escape of the explosive advocates of “Innovation."1
Cotton Mather is perhaps not a typical representative of the conservative sentiment at the close of the seventeenth century, but his writings may partly reflect the attitude of Boston Bay toward New England's first western frontier. Writing in 1694 of Wonderful Passages which have Occurred, First in the Protections and then in the Afflictions of New England, he says:
One while the Enclosing of Commons hath made Neighbours, that should have been like Sheep, to Bite and devour one another. . . . Again, Do our Old People, any of them Go Out from the Institutions of God, Swarming into New Settlements, where they and their Untaught Families are like to Perish for Lack of Vision? They that have done so, heretofore, have to their Cost found, that they were got unto the Wrong side of the Hedge, in their doing so. Think, here Should this be done any more? We read of Balaam, in Num. 22, 23. He was to his Damage, driven to the Wall, when he would needs make an unlawful Salley forth after the Gain of this World. . . . Why, when men, for the Sake of Earthly Gain, would be going out into the Warm Sun, they drive Through the Wall, and the Angel of the Lord becomes their Enemy.
In his essay on Frontiers Well-Defended (1707) Mather assures the pioneers that they “dwell in a Hatsarmaneth," a place of "tawney
1 T. Dwight, Travels (1821), ii. 459-463.