How the First Parish Church in Cambridge Got a New Meetinghouse

By Frederick Robinson
Read January 26th, 1927

AS YOU ALL doubtless know, the first settlement of Watertown was made in the Mount Auburn and
Brattle Street district which was adjacent to the River landing where Sir Richard Salton-stall and his
party unloaded their goods in July, 1630. The first settlers each had a farm in Western Watertown
(now Waltham and Weston), and many sold their eastern lots and moved to their farms or sold their
farms to new settlers. As Watertown grew rapidly, from 1644 to 1754, it was in constant dissension
over the location of the meetinghouse.

The second meetinghouse, built in 1635 near the old cemetery, was so inconvenient for the
western inhabitants that they, in 1692, asked the Governor and Council “to appoint a committee to
chose a site and advise what was best for good settlement and peace among us.” The Governor
ordered a town meeting to be held to discuss the situation.

The record of this meeting reads as follows: “At a generall town meeting warned by order of the
council on the 27th of December 1692 Left governor Magor Phillips, Mr. Russell Esquier, Mr. Sewell
Esquier and Capt Lines being their, it is voted that matters of Difference in Watertown Relating to the
Settleing a minister and the plasing of the meetinghouse is refarred to a comity.

“2. Voted that we do pray the governor and Council to chose a committee, and that we will sitt
down by the determination of that committee in Refarence to matters abovesaid.”

In accordance with these votes Governor Phipps appointed William Stoughton, John Phillips, James
Russell, Samuel Sewall, and Joseph Lynde a committee who, after a hearing, reported that Rev. Henry Gibbs, who had been preaching at the old meetinghouse, “be speedily fixed among
you and whereas there has been a long time Even Ever since the Dayes of your blessed pastor Phillips,
an earnest contending about the place of meeting for the publick Worship of God, Haveing heard &
Duely weighed the Allegations of both Parties in your Publick meeting, and considering the
Remoteness of the most of your Inhabitants from the place where the meetinghouse now stands our
advice and Determination in that matter is, that within the space of four years next coming there be a
meetinghouse Erected in your Town on a Knowl of Ground lyeing between the house of Widow Sterns
and Whitney’s hill; to be the place of meeting to worship God for the whole Town. [This was on
Common Street on what is now the Oakley Country Club]. And if in the meantime the Minister see
cause to dwell in the House where the Reverend Mr John Baily dwell’d the Town pay Rent to the
proprietores as had been accustomed since its building. So praying God to unite your hearts in his
Fear we take leave who are your truly loveing friends and Bretheren. May 18, 1693.”

A town meeting held on May 9, 1694 adopted the recommendations in the report but the Town
Clerk, Ebenezer Prout, claimed that it was not a majority vote and so entered it in the records.

On the same day a remonstrance against the action of the meeting was signed by over one
hundred members which stated that “the Town, nor any part, never desired any Gentlemen to say
where we should build a meetinghouse nor when, and we do absolutely deny to pay one penny toward
any such building at that place, but if the Town shall see cause to Erect a place of meeting for the
publick worship of God at the Western part of our Town as it may be convenient where the Farmers
with such others as will be pleased to Joyne with them shall think Convenient, we shall be willing to be
helpful therein as much as may be thought Necessary.”

As a result the meetinghouse was built nearly a mile farther west than on the site recommended, on Rev. John Knowles’ lot, at the southeast corner of Belmont and Lexington Streets. While this was pleasing to the farmers of the middle precinct, afterwards Waltham, it only served to widen the breach between them and those living in the easterly part of the town.

Rev. Samuel Angier was called to be the minister in the new meetinghouse. As the town had no
settled minister, Rev. Henry Gibbs who had been preaching in the old meetinghouse refused to be
ordained while the strife continued. Later the town voted to have two places of worship, the old and
the new, and Mr. Gibbs accepted the call; but when the day arrived to ordain him, a majority of the
selectmen who were from the middle precinct refused to open the old meetinghouse and the services
were held in the open air.

Mr. Gibbs died in 1723, just when the town was about to build a new meetinghouse on the location
advised by the Governor and Council in 1693. His tomb, with a lengthy inscription in Latin, may be
seen in the old cemetery.

Rev. Seth Storer, in 1724, then began his long pastorate of fifty years, but dissatisfaction with the
site still continued because the people in the village disliked to climb the hill. In 1754 some wealthy
men offered to give a bond to pay for moving the building to the land given to the town by Nathaniel
Harris, at the corner of Common and Mt. Auburn Streets, and the offer was accepted notwithstanding
a protest from the farmers living in what is now Belmont. When the work of remodelling was nearly
finished, the building was burned to the ground. The firebug was never found but the consensus was
that he came from over the hill and was an instrument of Divine Wrath.

On May 23, 1754 a town meeting was held on the site of the burned meetinghouse. The first
article read, “To know the mind of the Town whether they will come into any Measures to provide a
Convenant place for the Inhabitants of the Town to assemble for the Public Worship of God so as to
ease ye Rev Mr Storer of ye Burden of Meeting at his House.

“For the Town to Manifest their Mind, what steps are proper to be taken under the present awful
frown of Heaven Against the Town That ye Divine Anger may be removed and ye Divine Blessing obtained and ye peace of ye Town promoted” (which was done accordingly.)

A committee was also appointed to arrange with Mr. Storer for a day of humiliation, fasting, and
prayer. Here ended a century of bickering. The following month a new meetinghouse was ordered built
at a cost £5251 old tenor. Twenty years later the Provincial Congress met in it. Here Washington
received an address of welcome while on his way to take command of the army at Cambridge, and for
over a year Watertown was the seat of government of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

I have gone into this matter at length, for in my own mind the disgust of many people, possibly
some living in the easterly part of the town, was partially the cause of what happened just at this time
when Cambridge coveted a slice of Watertown.

Let us now pass to Cambridge and see how church affairs stood there. In 1745 Rev. George
Whitefield had passed through Massachusetts like a fiery comet, causing dissension and disruption in
the churches. Paige in his history of Cambridge says of him, “Without discussing the subject in
controversy between him and his opposers, it is sufficient here to record the historical fact, that the
Pastor of the Cambridge Church [Rev. Nathaniel Appleton] and the Faculty of Harvard College set their
faces as a flint against Mr. Whitefield, who had denounced the College and the New England clergy, as
teachers of an unsavory and unprofitable religion, and alleged that a large number of grave and
learned divines, held in honor and reverence throughout the vicinity, were in fact unconverted and
destitute of vital piety.” Mr. Appleton, having been requested by some of his church and congregation
to invite Mr. Whitefield to preach in Cambridge, laid the matter before the Association of Ministers,
who unanimously objected; so Mr. Whitefield preached in the open air upon the Common in June of
that year. Mr. Whitefield continued in his work of the “Great Awakening” as it was called, and in 1747
we find him as far south as Maryland. I found in the Massachusetts Archives a letter addressed by him
to Josiah Willard, Secretary of State, who apparently was one of his converts, which is interesting not
only for his comment on the situation after he left here but also for his hint that a donation from his friends
would be most acceptable.

New-town in Maryland
May 6th 1747 Hon’d S’.

A few days agoe I had the pleasure of Yours dated November 28th. I embrace this first
opportunity of returning You my hearty thanks for the unmerited kindness & affection expressed
therein — May the Redeemer give me an humble heart & grant that all favours conferred upon me
by Instruments may lead me nearer to Him, the Source & Fountain of all! But what shall I say to
Dear New England’s sorrowful circumstances? It pities me to hear that She is still lying in the Dust
— However; this had generally been the case—. Trying & Distressing times have generally followed
awakening & converting times — May Jesus second them with another alarm of his holy spirit, &
then all will be well yet! Glad wd I be to come & offer myself once more to do New England
service; but I am afraid many Ministers, & the Heads of the people would not bear it. However,
was this my only reason, it would soon be answered — But here are thousands in these Southern
parts (as You have observed Honrd Sr.) that scarce ever heard of Redeeming grace & love — Is it
not my duty as an Itinerant, since other places have had their calls & awakening seasons, to go
where the Gospel has not been named. Those that think I want to make a party or Disturb
Churches do not know me — I am willing to hunt in the woods after sinners; & according to the
present temper of my mind, could be content that the name of George Whitefield should die, if
thereby the name of my Dear Redeemer could be exalted — Indeed I am amazed that He employs
me at all — But what shall we say? He hateth putting a way — Therefore I am not consumed —
Grace severing grace shall be all my Song — Last winter’s mercies have renewed my obligations to
extol free Grace — I suppose You know what I mean — If it shall please a Gracious God to stirr my
Friends to exert themselves a little now, I trust I shall shortly be Delivered out of my
embarassments, & owe no man any thing but love — I could enlarge but several things forbid — In
heaven Honrd Sr. we shall have no interruptions. That You may be supported thro all the fatigues
of your journey thither, & with all Your Dear family at length safely arrive at Abrahams harbour is
the earnest prayer of

Honrd Sr. Yours &c

In 1747 the people of Cambridge living on the south side of the river petitioned the General
Court to be set off into a separate parish. This was denied as were similar ones, until 1779 when a
new church was incorporated. The Congregational churches were giving neither aid nor comfort to
the followers of itinerants about this time. It is quite evident that these early petitioners were converts or
adherents of Whitefield, as is shown by a lengthy remonstrance to one petition addressed to the
Governor and Council in 1748, which I quote:

To his Excellency William Shirly Esqr Capt Gen1 and Govern’ in Chief in and over his Majestys
province of the Massachusets Bay in New Engd, and to the honble his Majs Council, & ye honble
House of Representvs in General Court assembled at Boston the 5th day of April Anno Domo 1748.
The petition of Several of the Inhabitants of that part of the Town of Cambridge Lying on the South
Side of Charles River

Humbly Shews

That we the Subscribers a few days since got Information that a pet? had been lately exhibited to
yor Exy and Hones signed by five of our Neighbours inhabiting the same part of the Town who call
themselves a Comtee &c praying again that it may be made a distinct and seperate parish for the
Reasons therein mentioned; That since a petit” for the Same purpose signed by Twenty Nine persons
inhabiting or owning Lands there was prefer’d to your Excy and hones last May Sessions, and was
with so much Justice almost unanimously dismissed, we must confess we had little Reason to expect
a Second petit” for the very same thing should be so soon presented to your Excell? and Honcs by
any of our Neighbours if ever, at least while we continue in the same Circumstances ; But since it is
done and the sd petit” is so far sustaind as that the first precinct of Cambridge on the North side of
the River (as we understand) are called upon to make answer to it, we also beg leave again to show
our dislike of the thing petitioned for. And for as much as some of us the Subscribers were on the
Like occasion admitted to exhibit a petit” to your Excellv & Honrs containing some of the many
Reasons we had, and still have against being incorporated into a seperate precinct, we now pray that
the same may be again taken and considered as a part of our Objections and Reasons against
granting that Request; and further beg leave to add a few more Reasons to our former ones, chiefly
by way of answer to the Second petition. But since that is very long and particulr, we will not
attempt to Trouble yor Excell? and Honrs with a particul1 and distinct consideration of all their
pretended Reasons for being set off as aforesd (for fear of being tedious) tho we could easily do it, &
Should venture upon it, if the Case required it; But before we come to pticulars we would take leave
to observe that the Conduct of those five petit” (who stile themselves a Comte) is somewhat
surprizing to us in boldly presuming a Second Time to petition for the same thing which yor Ex? and
Honrs have so lately very justly deny’d to grant them; which is requesting your Ex? and Honours to
act a part utterly inconsistent with your Selves, and to grant at one Sessions, what you deliberately
refused at another, without any Change or alteration of the Case, and looks as if they were resolved
to take no denial of their Request, tho’ never so unreasonable, but still conceived hopes of carrying their point by a bold importunity, when Reason has failed them; and
as tho’ they thought your Excell? and Hon” had not affairs of greater importance to attend than the
impertinent petitions of Such importunate and restless Suitors, and that we as well as the Town of
Cambridge had nothing to do but to make answers to them. And as if they considered this Great and
general Court as a proper place for every little neighbourhood and Cluster of Inhabitants up and
down in the province and their agents to try their Skill and abilities in, and discover their Talents, at
draughting petitions Answers Replications and the like. And we cannot forbear taking notice of the
unjustifiable artifice of these five petit” in asuming to themselves the Specious name and Stile of a
Committee for we know of no such Comtee ever appointed among us for any such purpose, nor that
we ever had a meeting of our Neighbourhood to chuse such a Comtee. therefore we apprehend they
have made use of that title to conceal the weakness of their party and that it may appear more
numerous and considerable than in Truth it is, for we are very well assured that the Number of the
original petitioners is considerably lessen’d instead of being increasd, notwithstanding the unwearied
and almost incessant endeavours that have been used to increase it; for two of those petitioners are
lately dead, several of them have declared that they have withdrawn their Names and will have no
hand in promoting this Alteration, and another of them is left out of the Tax Bill for the Support of
the minister because of his great age, besides several others of them have declared that they knew
nothing of this second petition, nor did they ever understand that it was ever intended by this
Committe to prefer it or renew the first petition; But perhaps this petitioning Comtcc may flatter
themselves that the real weakning of their party is amply supplyd by the large numbers of
nonresident proprieters consenting that their lands should be included in their intended precinct and
be taxed accordingly, but this will help the matter but very little, if it be considered that their Lands
(saving the Lands of two or three of them) consist of but a few Acres of salt marsh apiece, and all
the lands of those nonresidents put together are not taxed at quite £ 10 old Tenor towards the
Ministers Rate. And as to the Special Reasons assigned for the Renewing the said Petition we find
that this committe complain of the unreasonable and intolerable Burden which they and the Rest of
us in our Neighbourhood have been groaning under for these many years past, in being oblig’d to
pay our full proportion of the Ministers rate in the first precinct, Tho’ we cannot attend the publick
worship there without extreme difficulties, & at the same time being wholly at the Charge of
Supporting ye preaching of the Gospell amongst ourselves to avoid these difficulties; which is a
burden that we must sink under if not Releivd: Now in answer to this we would say that however
unreasonable this may be, yet we are certain, that the method proposed by them will be so far from
mending our Condition that it will render it much worse than it now is, or ever has been, for by this
means the Burden which they say is already almost insupportable will be twice as heavy as it now is.
Our full Quota of the Ministerial Rate not amounting to quite i 15? old Tenr including the Lands of
those non residents: and the expense of supporting the preaching amongst ourselves thro’out the year hitherto amounting to no more than £
208. of that Tenr or thereabouts which sums put together make no more than £ 365. of the old Tenr
and we cannot in Reason Expect to come off with less than double that Sum annually in Salary and
other things for the Supporting a settled minister among us, besides advancing a large sum of
money for his Settlem1 which must also be advanced to every Successor as often as there needs
one, we having no parsonage Lands; Now if there were a necessity for our continuing under one of
these two Burdens we should without any Hesitation chuse the Lightest which is the present one; But
we apprehend there is no necessity for either, in asmuch as it is very probable that the people of the
first precinct on the North Side of the River will readily consent to make us a reasonable allowance
for defraying good part of the Charges we are at in supporting the publick worship amongst
ourselves, in the manner we have hitherto done, considering the difficulty of our attending it at the
old meeting house in the winter Seasons, if a Suitable application be made to them for it, which we
think has never been made as yet, for whenever application has been made, it has been done with
such negligence, but withal insisting upon such Terms as seemd rather to bespeak a denial than a
grant of the request, and we have good Reason to believe this petitioning Com”* and divers others of
the original petit” were in the time of it better pleased with a denial than they would have been with
an equitable and Reasonable allowance in money on ace1 of our extraordinary Charges in supporting
the publick worship as aforesaid, that they might apply to yor Excell? & Honours with a better Grace
to be set off into a precinct, for that is the thing they have all along aimd at; be their pretences what
they will, and nothing else will content them. Again we find that this sham Com”* look upon our
desireing to be exempted and excepted out of their intended precinct was unreasonable it being
inconsistent with the Nature of Government, and the necessity of things: Now in answer to that, we
say that it cannot be pretended that there is any necessity of our being set off and incorporated into
their intended precinct, because we find that the General Court has frequently and especially of Late
years, excepted many persons and their Estates out of new precincts, altho’ they were within the
Limits thereof, and what has been done may be done again and what may reasonably and justly be
done, we hope ever will be done; And as to the nature of Government, we have other apprehensions
of it than these Five Gent” seem to have, for we can by no means think that the dividing and
crumbling ancient Towns, Corporations, Churches and Congregations into little precincts & feeble &
Independent Societys is any ways Serviceable to the Governm’ either of Church or State, since every
such division is so far a weakening & dissolving of them, and if pursued by Subdivisions into such
small weak handed and weak headed Societys or congregations as some people are seeking after
must in Time bring on an intire dissolution of them; and we think that among the many bad Omens
now threatning our Ecclesiastical Constitution this odd way of multiplying Churches only by dividing
them, is none of the least: We further observe that this mock Comtce seem to take amiss what was
suggested by your Ex> and Hon” in our former petition concerning their having imbibed some such notions in Religion as were like to hinder a quick
settlement of a Minister amongst us if we were about it, and fear it may be taken as a Charge
against them of being erroneous in some fundamental points of Religion; to which we say that we did
not mean to charge them with any gross Errors in Doctrine, but only with having lost their Taste &
Relish for the solid & rational Preaching of the Gospel and being easie with none but ye new fashiond
feeling Preaching (as tis call’d) which has made such noise in the Land for some years past, and this
we affirm is the Case of many among us that we for our own parts still utterly dispair of any tolerable
agreem’ among us in the Choice of a Minister to Settle with us. This we have had sufficient trial and
proof of already in supplying the Pulpit of our new meeting House. For our Neighbours have refused
to admit the Pious & Learned Professor of Divinity¹ or any of the Fellows of the Colledge so much as into nomination for preaching with us even only for a Season, because forsooth (to use their own
expression) they are dumb Preachers, & therefore have chosen rather to go Ten or Twenty Miles for
a Minister that would preach yc Gospel (as they emphatically speak it) than hear any of those worthy
Gent” tho’ so nigh at hand. As to ye insinuation that the difficulty of attending the publick worship at
the old meeting house has in times past occasioned a neglect of it in our Neighbourhood and had a
bad effect on one or two in it, We say that it is a groundess and injurious insinuation as to the
neighbourhood, and an idle and fond conceit as to the particular person pointed at, for there is but
one of all our Neighbourhood that dont attend the publick worship on Lords Days constantly, when
they are able; indeed they don’t all flock after the Lay Itenerant Preachers who in their Rambles thro’
ye Country have sometime stop’d and turned into some houses in our Neighbourhood, to hold forth
on week days, tho’ one or two of this notable ComtM as well as divers others of the petitioners and of
our Neighbours have seldom faild to give their attendance punctually upon such happy occasions;
and abating such instancies, we are not sensible of much difference between our peoples attendance
on the publick worship of late years and formerly. The last Reason we shall now offer against our
being set off from the first precinct is, that we have lately at a meeting of the precinct voted to
enlarge our Rev Pastors Salary very considerably beyond what it has been for some years past which
we apprehend is binding upon us to continue as members thereof, and is also as binding upon this
comtee as well as the original Petit” since they were joynd in the thing and did not any of them
protest against the Vote. And may it please your Excellv and Hon™ these are some of our Reasons
for dissenting from so many of our Neighbours in this affair which some of them are so eagerly and
clamorously pursuing, and we are ready to prove the several facts before mentioned if it be required,
and since we are humbly of opinion that our Reasons aforesaid are conclusive against the prayer of
their Petition we therefore pray that ye Petit11 be dismissed or at least that we and our Estates
within the limits of their intendedprecinct may be excepted out of the same. And your petit” as in duty bound shall ever pray &c

¹ Edward Wigglesworth.


Daniel Dana Thos Dana

Caleb Dana

Benjamin Cheney

John Smith

Daniel Smith

Ebenezer Gee

Thomas Dana Junr

Daniel Dana Junr

Henry Coolidge

John Cheney

John Smith

Benjamin Crackbone

About this time the First Parish of Cambridge, becoming fearful that sooner or later the people
living on the south side of the river would be set off into a separate parish, looked about for means
to make up the loss; and being aware of the dissatisfaction on the part of those living in the
easterly part of Watertown with the location of their meetinghouse, resolved to take advantage of
the situation, knowing that the same cause had resulted in setting off Weston and Waltham. In so
doing, probably they did not consider that they were breaking the tenth commandment. Accordingly, in 1748 a petition was presented to the General Court asking that a part of
Watertown and a part of Charlestown be annexed to Cambridge.

Unfortunately this petition, which was denied, and the answer of Watertown, cannot be found
in the State Archives, neither is it in the town records; but a committee was appointed in March
1749 who successfully opposed it.

In December 1753 another petition was presented to Governor Shirley and the Council for the
same purpose as follows:

Province of the Masstts Bay

To his Excellency William Shirley Esq. Captain General and Commander in Cheif in and over the
Province aforesaid, To the Honourable and Council & House of Representatives in General Court
Assembled at Boston December 4th 1753.

The first Parish in Cambridge in the County of Middlesex Humbly Shew —

That they at Present are not, and for some time past have not been, provided with a Decent
or Suitable House for the Worship of God and other necessary Publick Uses, and as this has
been, and Still is very Greivous to them, so it is attended with this aggravating Circumstance —
That they are Likely to Continue Destitute of Such an House So Long as the Parish is Confined
to its Present Limits —

That a number of the Inhabitants of the Parish thinking it to be the Indispensable Duty of
the Parish to Provide a House, wherein the Inhabitants might with Safety to their Health as well
as Decency & Convenience assemble together for the Publick Worship of God, Did procure a
Parish Meeting for that Purpose on the Thirtieth Day of October Last When the Parish finding,
that so great a number of their Principall Inhabitants (being accomodated by a Meeting House
which they Had built on ye South Side of Charles River) Were against paying any thing towards
building an House on the North Side of that River, as that they Could not Obtain a vote to Raise
money Suffucient for that Purpose by a Tax, Voted, “That a new House for the Publick
Wor-“ship of God be built by this Parish in ye Place where the Old Parish Meeting “House now
stands. Provided Harvard College will Bear one Seventh Part “of ye charge and a farther sum of
Six Hundred and Sixty Six pounds thirteen “Shillings and four pence can be raised by ye Sale of
ye Pews and Otherwise “without a Tax,” and “That Samuel Danforth Edmund Trowbridge Esq.
Mr. “William Fletcher, Deacn Whittemore Deacn Prentice Capt. Caleb Dana & “John Wyeth be a
Committee to Enquire whether the College will bear that “Proportion of ye charge and See if the
Said Sum of Six hundred & Sixty Six “pounds thirteen Shillings & four pence can be So Raised.”

That Although it was not Doubted but that ye College would be willing to pay their
Proportionable Part towards Building the House yet ye Committee aforesd finding they could
not Raise the said Sum of Six hundred & Sixty Six pounds thirteen Shillings & four pence or any
thing Near it by ye Sale of ye Pews and Otherwise without a Tax, reported accordingly to the
Parish at ye Adjournment of their meeting on ye twentieth Day of November Last, When ye
Parish Voted, “That a new House for the Publick Worship of God be built “by this Parish on
Some Part of the Hill where the Old Parish Meeting House “now Stands Provided Harvard
College bear their Proportionable Part of ye “Charge of Building and Repairing the same from
time to time and that our “Neighbours who usually attend the Publick Worship with us and their
Estates “be added to this Parish.”

That as this seemd the only Probable means whereby the Parish might be provided with a
House Suitable for the Purpose aforesd So they Humbly Con-cieve Your Excellency & Honours
will think it Reasonable they should by this Means be enabled to Do it for these Reasons —
Namely —ist That as a Considerable number of ye Inhabitants of Charlestown & Watertown heretofore for
many years have, so it is Probable they always will attend the Publick Worship of God in ye first
Parish in Cambridge as they Live not only much Nearer to the Meeting House there, than to
that in Charlestown , or Watertown, but as the Ways are also much Better —

2d That the first Parish in Cambridge Cannot Support ye Gospells as it ought to be Without
their assistance, When neither Charlestown or Water-town, Stand in any need of it, The
Inhabitants of Watertown, that the first Parish in Cambridge Desire may be annexd to them,
Paying very Little towards the Support of ye Gospell in Watertown, and those of Charlestown
paying Nothing at all towards it there —

Therefore Your Petitioners humbly pray That the Limits of the first Parish in Cambridge may
be Extended So far Easterly and Westerly as to Include the Aforesd Inhabitants of Charlestown
and Watertown and their Estates, within Certain Boundaries to be appointed by your Excellency
& Honours, as also near four hundred acres of Land belonging to the Inhabitants of Cambridge
Lying in Charlestown and Watertown; That thereby ye first Parish in Cambridge may be
Enabled to Build a Decent & Suitable House for ye Pub-lick Worship of God and Other Public
Uses or that your Excellency & Honours would Relieve Your Petitioners in ye Premisses in Such
Other manner as to Your Excellency & Honours shall Seem Best —


Ebenezor Stedman

Henry Prentice

John Wyeth

Jona Hastings

A Comittey of the y First Parish in Cambridge

To this the town of Watertown made answer:

Province of the Masstts Bay

To His Excellency William Shirley Esq. Captain General & Commander in Chief in and over the
Province aforesd. To the Honourable the Council and House of Representatives in Court now Sitting in
Boston, Dec. 1753.

Whereas the Town of Watertown has been Served with a Copy of a Petition of the first Parish in
Cambridge preferred to Yor Excellency and Hons by Samuel Whitemore & Others a Commtee of sd
Parish wherein they pray for reasons Set forth in sd Petition that Several of the Inhab” who Dwell in
the Easterly part of Watertown with their Estates may be Anexed to said Parish &c — Whereas the
Petit” is So Lax Your Respondants must Confess they are at a Loss to know How far Sd Parish wld
have their Bounds Extend whether one or two Miles East and West or what they mean by the four
Hundred Acres of Land mentioned in their Petn &c. Until these Misteys be cleared up your Respond’8
must acknowledge they are not capable of giving a proper Answer thereto. As to what they Assart,
that the Inhabts of Watertown w* they pray for, pay but Little towards the Support of the Gospel,
and that Watertown has not any nead of them &c. Your Respond18 Reply, that the Easterly Inhab” of
Watertown pay as much in Proportion to their Estates towards the Support of ye Gospel in
Watertown as any of the Inhabts of sd Town. But in as much as the Parish abovesd has a very grat
advantage of Watertown by having four Members now belonging to this Honourable Court, Your Respondents beg
leave therefore to make a more perticuler answer to the Petition abovesd by giving Your Excell? &
Hons a true Representation of the Situation and Circumstances of Watertown. It is well known that
the Bounds of Watertown originally were of Considerable Extent Containing ab( Twenty one
Thousand Acres, but by Reason of Weston & Waltham being taken off into Seperat Towns it is now
Reduced to ab’ Four Thousand Acres (one of the Smallest Towns in this Province) on which Smal
Tract of Land there is Ab’ Ninty five families settled, many of wch being low in ye world (tho
Numeros) ar also Deeply in Debt w^ putts them to great Difficulties to Support their families pay
their just Debts and help support the Gospel. Watertown being in Such a Situation it cant be thought
with any propriety that Watertown can spare any of their Inhabts as not neading them.

Your Respondents beg leave also to Represent to Your Excel? & Hons the Situation and
Circumstances of the first Parish in Cambridge. We think we have just ground to assart that said
Parish is under very good Circumstances being Advantaged both by Nature & Providence They being
well Situated for Trade and Business As they have a Comodous Navigable River that Runs thro the
Center of Said Parish as also Large Quantities of Clay for making Brick &c. And it is thought by good
Judges that If the Able and forehanded Gentlemen (wch sd Parish abounds with) were Spirited for
and wld Improve their Money wch they put out upon Interest — in Setting poor Men to Work in
Making brick & Transporting them &c, It wld be of great Advantage to sd Parish and by that means
they might flourish Like the Industrious Town of Medford who carry on such business to their great
Advantage, and thereby render themselves not only a bright Example of Industrey, but a Credit to
the County they belong to. Your Respondents wld further Observe the great Advantage the said
Parish has by the College being in it, not only for the bringing up their Sons to Learning but by the
Yearly Revenue paid thereby into the sd Parish, as also the ready sale of what they may to spare of
the Produce of their farms, as also the great Advantage the sd Parish has as being the Center of the
Shier Towns where the Courts are held, and where the people are Obliged to Expend much of their
Money in Transacting of their Affairs &c. Also in sd Parish are the most Profitable Offices in the
County viz. Probat Offices Rejester and County Rejestry, as well as the Justices of the pleas &c. Upon
which Representation of sd Parish (which we imagine can’t be Denyed) We Doubt not but that Your
Excellency & Hons will be of Opinion (the sd Parish having Such great Priviledges and Advantages
Vastly above wr Watertown has or can have) that the prayer of ye sd Parish for Some of the Families
& Estates in Watertown is Very Unreasonable.

Your Respondents beg leave further to Say That Watertown when con-ven’d to consider of
sd Parishes Petit” The Vote was put “Whether it is the mind of the Town to Set off any of the
Easterly Inhab” of Watertown & ye Estates to the first Parish in Cambridge” and their Vote was
(Unanimously) in the Negative.

And further Altho the abovesd Parish Doth not pint out in their Petition
which Persons in Watertown sld be Anexed to them Yet Several of the Persons which the Town
Apprehend the sd Parish had an Eye to being present at their Meeting they were Personaly
Asked by the Moderator whether they were willing to be set off to the first Parish in Cambridge
who Personally Declared they were not. —

Finally. As there was a Petition of the Same Nature with the present Petition, preferred to
ye Great & General Court but a few years Since, and for Reasons then given was Dismisst. So
Your Respondents Humbly hope that Excellency & Hons will for the Reasons Now offered See
cause to Dismiss the present Petition of the sd first Parish in Cambridge So far as it Relates to
any of the Inhabts of Watertown.

All which is Humbly Submitted to Your Excellency & Hons. —

Joseph Mason

Jonas Bond

John Brown

A Committee for & in behalf of Watertown

This time Cambridge was successful and on April 19, 1754 an act was passed annexing
about five hundred acres of the easterly part of Watertown, which included the first settlement
known as “Ye Towne,” to Cambridge.

The loss of this territory was the cause of some resentment, for in 1762 a remonstrance was
addressed to the Selectmen of Cambridge concerning repairs on the bridge which contemplated
narrowing the passageway between the abutments. The selectmen of Watertown say, “Not long
since while we were Labouring under great Difficulties of another nature we lost near one seventh
Part of ye Town by its being annexed to Cambridge.”

In 1770 when Watertown was considering leasing or selling Sir Richard’s Landing, the
Selectmen of Cambridge, believing that annexation gave them title to the property of Watertown
within its bounds, demurred. A meeting between the Selectmen of both towns was held at the
Richardson Tavern, where over their toddies a friendly agreement was made, whereby one half of
the landing was to belong to Cambridge and the other to Watertown. The question of which was to
belong to whom was settled by writing on one slip of paper “North” and on the other “South.” They
were then put into a hat and Cambridge drew “North.” They then voted that the road or way
leading down to the landing on Charles River by the side of Samuel’s Hill is the King’s Highway.
The title to the landing belonged to Watertown until taken by the Commonwealth for Park purposes.

In 1855 a tract comprising a part of the Cambridge Cemetery was annexed and again in
1885 the Winchester estate and a portion of the Simon Stone farm, about thirty-three acres in all,
were annexed to extend the cemetery. For this the city paid Watertown $15,000 to compensate it
for loss of taxes.

The tract annexed in 1754 comprised all the territory bounded as follows: From a point on
the river opposite Sparks Street along the River to a point about two thousand feet beyond the old
landing, thence through what is now Cambridge and Mount Auburn cemeteries to the County Road,
then along the road to a stone bound, then north to the southern shore of Fresh Pond, across the
Pond to the Cambridge line, then easterly along the line to what was the West Gate of the
Palisade, then south to the point of beginning on the River.1

I have with me a map of the territory called “Ye Towne,” made many years ago by the late
W. H. Whitney from ancient records and modern surveys, which shows the location of the old
roads and the lots of the first settlers. That part of Brattle Street from Elmwood Avenue to Mount
Auburn Street was not laid out until 1812. Busby’s Lane, later called Fresh Pond Lane, ran to
Mount Auburn Street. Back of Sir Richard’s and George Phillips’ lots was a large tract called the
Common. The map makes it appear that several acres of what is now Fresh Pond were once a
swamp and must have been excavated when the great icehouses were built at its eastern end.

Many families of wealth and social prominence lived in this part of the town. Among them
were the Coolidges, Stones, Amos Mar-rett, and others. Sir Richard’s house was near the corner of
Chan-ning and Brattle Streets, and Rev. George Phillips’ house was on what is now Elmwood. Here
in 1767 Thomas Oliver, the Tory, built Elmwood, later owned by Elbridge Gerry who before that lived in a house at the corner of
Coolidge Avenue and Mt. Auburn Street. What some claim is the oldest house in Cambridge was
built before 1684 by John Holmes, who sold it at that time to Dr. Richard Hooper. The house on
Brattle Street opposite Channing Street was built by Amos Marrett about 1746, was sold by him to
Capt. George Ruggles in 1764, and by him in 1774 to Thomas Fayerweather.

¹ “Line to begin at Charles River and from there to run in the line between the lands of Simon Coolidge, Moses
Stone, Christopher Grant, and the Thatchers and the land of Col. Brinley & Ebenezer Wyeth to the Fresh Pond so
called.”—Acts and Resolves, 1754, April 18.

The meetinghouse stood near the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Mt. Auburn Street, either
on Mr. Chafee’s lot or across the way where the Old Folks Home now is. It has always been
accepted as a fact that the meetinghouse was one of the first structures erected in the new
settlement in 1630.

The current number of the Genealogical Register contains a letter written by John Masters of
Watertown in March, 1631 to Sir Thomas and Lady Barrington in England in which he speaks of
being about to build a “house for God to dwell in.” The building must have been a crude shelter,
for only four years later, in 1635, a rate of £80 was levied for the new meetinghouse on the high
ground of the Common between Arlington and School Streets. The letter also discloses that
Masters was acting as Sir Richard’s agent after his departure for England, and tells of his many
cattle and “Kyne,” horse and swine, goats and poultry.

Right worll¹

My good Lady Barrington and Sr Thomas Barrington wth mr Robte Barrington and my good Lady
Lampleath, and to the Right Worll Sr Gilbte Garrett and his good Lady and to Sr Willm Massome, and
his good Lady with all the Rest of the Gentlemen and Gentlewomen in all yor families, Grace and
peace be multipled in o(u)r Lord Jesus Christ to you all,: Right worll and welbeloued I knowe not how
sufficiently to stile you, nor yet how to greet you as you deserue at my hands, nor yet as yor
worthines requires, but haueing so much experience of takeing in good part my rudenes in
speakeing, I make bold to trouble you in writeing, but yor great kindnesse and respect of mee, that
am so vnworthie, makes mee to muse, how I should in any measure requite it, but I knowe not how
to doe it, but I pray you to accept of the acknowledgment of all yor kindnesse, by way of
thankfulnes: and because you desired mee to write of this Country, I thought it fitt to deferre it untill

¹ These two words, wherever used in this letter, stand for “Right Worshipful.

The Country is very good, and fitt to receiue Lords and Ladies, if there were more good houses, both
for good land and good water, and for good Creatures to hunt and to hawke, and for fowling and
fisheing, and more also, o(u)r natures to refresh in: and if you or any of yors will Come here, I
knowe you might haue good cheere: but because the Right worll Sr Richard Saltonstall hath putt mee
in place to oursee his great family, wth his worthy sonne, and that his busines being so great as it is,
I Cannot write so large as I would: for besides his great family, he hath many Cattle & Kyne, and
horse and swine, and some Goats and poultry, hee hath also much building at his owne house, and
fenceing, ploweing & planteing, and also to helpe build the new Citty, and first for a house for God to
dwell in, these things will require my best dilligence, because that Sr Richard will be long absent and
therefore seeing that hee is now come over, to aduise with the wise, to advance the glory of God in
planteing the Gospell here, and to helpe forward those that intend the good of this Country,
therefore I pray you, to Conferre with him of the same, for I haue made bold to acquaint him wth the
acquaintance of your worps:¹ and then Sr Richard will enforme you of all the p’ticulars that can be
said of this Country, so much of it also as will bring ouer my Lady Lampleath, and Sr George her
husband, and some others of my good Sr ffrancys Barringtons lineage, that I may lay my selfe
downe at their feet, to doe them some service, for that extraordinary loue & kindnesse and respect,
that I received from my good Sr ffrancys and my good Lady, wch I feare I shall neuer be able to
requite. I am vnwilling to take off my hand from write-ing in paper, but if I could write you any
better matter, but I hope hereafter to answere yor letters, wch will make mee much more, all yor
debtors. My God and my Lord and yor God, blesse you all and yors, with all heauenly blessings, and
heauenly graces, vntill wee all meet in heauen in o(u)r places. Amen.

Yor friends in all Seruice, till
death end.

John Masters.

Watertown, neere Charles riuer,

New England: March 14th 1630²

¹ The two words stand for “Your Worships.”



Mr. Samuel’s hill was where the Cambridge Hospital now is, and was so called for Samuel
Saltonstall who inherited the tract originally assigned to his father. He is referred to in our records
as Mr. Samuel several times; once he was paid a shilling for a fox. In later years he owned a farm
in Waltham called “Mr. Samuel’s farm.” It is now beneath the waters of the Cambridge Water

This year, the Metropolitan District Commission is again recommending a bridge across the
Charles from the old landing to Soldiers Field. I earnestly hope it will be called the Saltonstall bridge in honor of one of the three
great leaders who helped to found the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in New England and who, after
his return to England, looked after its interests there. The landing, which became a part of
Cambridge, was called Sir Richard’s Landing for 150 years after the settlement, later Oliver’s
Landing, and then Gerry’s Landing, although both were merely incidental.

At my suggestion the Commonwealth in 1930 recognized the fitness of restoring the ancient
name by erecting a marker calling it Sir Richard’s Landing. Why cannot the Cambridge Historical
Society cause the wooden sign “Gerry’s Landing” to be removed, leaving the permanent marker to
honor him of whom Dr. Francis wrote over one hundred years ago: “He has always been regarded
as one of the venerated fathers of the Massachusetts settlement.”



Taken From Volume 24 of the Cambridge Historical Society Proceedings, which can be found in their entirety here.