The First Official Frontier of the Massachusetts
In the Significance of the "Frontier in
American History," I took for my text the following announcement
of the Superintendent of the Census of 1890:
Up to and including 1880 the country had a
frontier of settlement but at present the unsettled areas has
been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there
can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of
its extent, the westward movement, etc., it cannot therefore any
longer have a place in the census reports.
Two centuries prior to this announcement, in
1690, a committee of the General Court of Massachusetts recommended
the Court to order what shall be the frontier and to maintain a
committee to settle garrisons on the frontier with forty soldiers
to each frontier town as a main guard.2
In the two hundred years between this official attempt to locate
the Massachusetts frontier line, and the official announcement of
the ending of the national frontier line, westward expansion was
the most important single process in American history.
The designation "frontier town" was
not, however, a new one. As early as 1645 inhabitants of Concord,
Sudbury, and Dedham, "being inland townes & but thinly
peopled," were forbidden to remove without authority;3
in 1669, certain towns had been the subject of legislation as "frontier
towns;"4 and in the period of King Philip's War
there were various enactments regarding frontier towns.5
In the session of 1675-6 it had been proposed to build a fence of
stockades or stone eight feet high from the Charles "where
it is navigable" to the Concord at Billerica and thence to
the Merrimac and down the river to the Bay, "by which meanes
that whole tract will [be] environed, for the security & safty
(vnder God) of the people, their houses, goods & cattel; from
the rage & fury of the enimy." 6 This project,
however, of a kind of Roman Wall did not appeal to the frontiersmen
of the time. It was a part of the antiquated ideas of defense which
had been illustrated by the impossible equipment of the heavily
armored soldier of the early Puritan régime whose corslets
and head pieces, pikes, matchlocks, fourquettes and bandoleers,
went out of use about the period of King Philip's War. The fifty-seven
postures provided in the approved manual of arms for loading and
firing the matchlock proved too great a handicap in the chase of
the nimble savage. In this era the frontier fighter adapted himself
to a more open order, and lighter equipment suggested by the Indian
The settler on the outskirts of Puritan civilization
took up the task of bearing the brunt of attack and pushing forward
the line of advance which year after year carried American settlements
into the wilderness. In American thought and speech the term "frontier"
has come to mean the edge of settlement, rather than, as in Europe,
the political boundary. By 1690 it was already evident that the
frontier of settlement and the frontier of military defense were
coinciding. As population advanced into the wilderness and thus
successively brought new exposed areas between the settlements on
the one side and the Indians with their European backers on the
other, the military frontier ceased to be thought of as the Atlantic
coast, but rather as a moving line bounding the un-won wilderness.
It could not be a fortified boundary along the charter limits, for
those limits extended to the South Sea, and conflicted with the
bounds of sister colonies. The thing to be defended was the outer
edge of this expanding society, a changing frontier, one that needed
designation and re-statement with the changing location of the "West."
It will help to illustrate the significance
of this new frontier when we see that Virginia at about the same
time as Massachusetts underwent a similar change and attempted to
establish frontier towns, or "co-habitations," at the
"heads," that is the first falls, the vicinity of Richmond,
Petersburg, etc., of her rivers.8
The Virginia system of "particular plantations"
introduced along the James at the close of the London Company's
activity had furnished a type for the New England town. In recompense,
at this later day the New England town may have furnished a model
for Virginia's efforts to create frontier settlements by legislation.
An act of March 12, 1694-5, by the General Court
of Massachusetts enumerated the "Frontier Towns" which
the inhabitants were forbidden to desert on pain of loss of their
lands (if landholders) or of imprisonment (if not landholders),
unless permission to remove were first obtained.9 These
eleven frontier towns included Wells, York, and Kittery on the eastern
frontier, and Amesbury, Haverhill, Dunstable, Chelmsford, Groton,
Lancaster, Marlborough,10 and Deerfield. In March, 1699-1700,
the law was reenacted with the addition of Brookfield, Mendon, and
Woodstock, together with seven others, Salisbury, Andover,11
Billerica, Hatfield, Hadley, Westfield, and Northampton, which,
"tho' they be not frontiers as those towns first named, yet
lye more open than many others to an attack of an Enemy." 12
In the spring of 1704 the General Court of Connecticut,
following closely the act of Massachusetts, named as her frontier
towns, not to be deserted, Symsbury, Waterbury, Danbury, Colchester,
Windham, Mansfield, and Plainfield.
Thus about the close of the seventeenth and
the beginning of the eighteenth century there was an officially
designated frontier line for New England. The line passing through
these enumerated towns represents: (1) the outskirts of settlement
along the eastern coast and up the Merrimac and its tributaries,--a
region threatened from the Indian country by way of the Winnepesaukee
Lake; (2) the end of the ribbon of settlement up the Connecticut
Valley, menaced by the Canadian Indians by way of the Lake Champlain
and Winooski River route to the Connecticut; (3) boundary towns
which marked the edges of that inferior agricultural region, where
the hard crystalline rocks furnished a later foundation for Shays'
Rebellion, opposition to the adoption of the Federal Constitution,
and the abandoned farm; and (4) the isolated intervale of Brookfield
which lay intermediate between these frontiers.
Besides this New England frontier there was
a belt of settlement in New York, ascending the Hudson to where
Albany and Schenectady served as outposts against the Five Nations,
who menaced the Mohawk, and against the French and the Canadian
Indians, who threatened the Hudson by way of Lake Champlain and
Lake George. 13 The sinister relations of leading citizens
of Albany engaged in the fur trade with these Indians, even during
time of war, tended to protect the Hudson River frontier at the
expense of the frontier towns of New England.
The common sequence of frontier types (fur trader,
cattle- raising pioneer, small primitive farmer, and the farmer
engaged in intensive varied agriculture to produce a surplus for
export) had appeared, though confusedly, in New England. The traders
and their posts had prepared the way for the frontier towns,14
and the cattle industry was most important to the early farmers.15
But the stages succeeded rapidly and intermingled. After King Philip's
War, while Albany was still in the fur-trading stage, the New England
frontier towns were rather like mark colonies, military-agricultural
outposts against the Indian enemy.
The story of the border warfare between Canada
and the frontier towns furnishes ample material for studying frontier
life and institutions; but I shall not attempt to deal with the
narrative of the wars. The palisaded meetinghouse square, the fortified
isolated garrison houses, the massacres and captivities are familiar
features of New England's history. The Indian was a very real influence
upon the mind and morals as well as upon the institutions of frontier
New England. The occasional instances of Puritans returning from
captivity to visit the frontier towns, Catholic in religion, painted
and garbed as Indians and speaking the Indian tongue,16
and the half-breed children of captive Puritan mothers, tell a sensational
part of the story; but in the normal, as well as in such exceptional
relations of the frontier townsmen to the Indians, there are clear
evidences of the transforming influence of the Indian frontier upon
the Puritan type of English colonist.
In 1703-4 , for example, the General Court of
Massachusetts ordered five hundred pairs of snowshoes and an equal
number of moccasins for use in specified counties "lying Frontier
next to the Wilderness." 17 Connecticut in 1704
after referring to her frontier towns and garrisons ordered that
" said company of English and Indians shall, from time to time
at the discretion of their chief comander, range the woods to indevour
the discovery of an approaching enemy, and in especiall manner from
Westfield to Ousatunnuck.18. . . And for the incouragement
of our forces gone or going against the enemy, this Court will allow
out of the publick treasurie the sume of five pounds for every mans
scalp of the enemy killed in this Colonie.'' 19 Massachusetts
offered bounties for scalps, varying in amount according to whether
the scalp was of men, or women and youths, and whether it was taken
by regular forces under pay, volunteers in service, or volunteers
without pay.20 One of the most striking phases of frontier
adjustment, was the proposal of the Rev. Solomon Stoddard of Northampton
in the fall of 1703, urging the use of dogs "to hunt Indians
as they do Bears." The argument was that the dogs would catch
many an Indian who would be too light of foot for the townsmen,
nor was it to be thought of as inhuman; for the Indians "act
like wolves and are to be dealt with as wolves." 21
In fact Massachusetts passed an act in 1706 for the raising and
increasing of dogs for the better security of the frontiers, and
both Massachusetts and Connecticut in 1708 paid money from their
treasury for the trailing of dogs.22
Thus we come to familiar ground: the Massachusetts
frontiersman like his western successor hated the Indians; the "tawney
serpents," of Cotton Mather's phrase, were to be hunted down
and scalped in accord with law and, in at least one instance by
the chaplain himself, a Harvard graduate, the hero of the Ballad
of Pigwacket, who
many Indians slew,
And some of them he scalp'd when bullets round him flew.23
Within the area bounded by the frontier line,
were the broken fragments of Indians defeated in the era of King
Philip's War, restrained within reservations, drunken and degenerate
survivors, among whom the missionaries worked with small results,
a vexation to the border towns,24 as they were in the case of later
frontiers. Although, as has been said, the frontier towns had scattered
garrison houses, and palisaded enclosures similar to the neighborhood
forts, or stations, of Kentucky in the Revolution, and of Indiana
and Illinois in the War of 1812, one difference is particularly
noteworthy. In the case of frontiersmen who came down from Pennsylvania
into the Upland South along the eastern edge of the Alleghanies,
.as well as in the more obvious case of the backwoodsmen of Kentucky
and Tennessee, the frontier towns were too isolated from the main
settled regions to allow much military protection by the older areas.
On the New England frontier, because it was adjacent to the coast
towns, this was not the case, and here, as in seventeenth century
Virginia, great activity in protecting the frontier was evinced
by the colonial authorities, and the frontier towns themselves called
loudly for assistance. This phase of frontier defense needs a special
study, but at present it is sufficient to recall that the colony
sent garrisons to the frontier besides using the militia of the
frontier towns; and that it employed rangers to patrol from garrison
These were prototypes of the regular army post,
and of rangers, dragoons, cavalry and mounted police who have carried
the remoter military frontier forward. It is possible to trace this
military cordon from New England to the Carolinas early in the eighteenth
century, still neighboring the coast; by 1840 it ran from Fort Snelling
on the upper Mississippi through various posts to the Sabine boundary
of Texas, and so it passed forward until to-day it lies at the edge
of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
A few examples of frontier appeals for garrison
aid will help to an understanding of the early form of the military
frontier. Wells asks, June 30, 1689:
1 That yor Honrs will please to send us speedily
twenty Eight good brisk men that may be serviceable as a guard to
us whilest we get in our Harvest of Hay & Corn, (we being unable
to Defend ourselves & to Do our work), & also to Persue
& destroy the Enemy as occasion may require 2 That these men
may be compleatly furnished with Arms, Amunition & Provision,
and that upon the Countrys account, it being a Generall War.26
Dunstable, "still weak and unable both
to keep our Garrisons and to send out men to get hay for our Cattle;
without doeing which wee cannot subsist," petitioned July 23,
1689, for twenty footmen for a month "to scout about the towne
while wee get our hay." Otherwise, they say, they must be forced
to leave.27 Still more indicative of this temper is the petition
of Lancaster, March 11, 1675-6, to the Governor and Council: "As
God has made you father over us so you will have a father's pity
to us." They asked a guard of men and aid, without which they
must leave.28 Deerfield pled in 1678 to the General Court, "unlest
you will be pleased to take us (out of your fatherlike pitty) and
Cherish us in yor Bosomes we are like Suddainly to breathe out or
Last Breath." 29
The perils of the time, the hardships of the
frontier towns and readiness of this particular frontier to ask
appropriations for losses and wounds,30 are abundantly illustrated
in similar petitions from other towns. One is tempted at times to
attribute the very frank self-pity and dependent attitude to a minister's
phrasing, and to the desire to secure remission of taxes, the latter
a frontier trait more often associated with riot than with religion
in other regions.
As an example of various petitions the following
from Groton in 1704 is suggestive. Here the minister's hand is probably
2 And more then all this our paster mr hobard
is & hath been for aboue a yere uncapable of desspansing the
ordinances of god amongst us & we haue advised with th Raurant
Elders of our nayboring churches and they aduise to hyare another
minister and to saport mr hobard and to make our adras to your honours
(we haue but liter left to pay our deus with being so pore and few
In numbr ether to town or cuntrey & we being a frantere town
& Iyable to clangor there being no safty in going out nor coming
in but for a long time we haue got our brad with the parer of our
lines & allso broght uery low by so grat a charg of birding
garisons & fortefycations by ordur of athorety & thar is
saural of our Inhabitants ramoued out of town & others are prouiding
to remoue. axcapt somthing be don for our Incoridgment for we are
so few & so por that we canot pay two ministors nathar ar we
wiling to liue without any we spend so much time in waching and
warding that we can doe but liter els & truly we haue liued
allmost 2 yers more like soulders then other wise & accept your
honars can find out some baser way for our safty and support we
cannot uphold as a town ether by remitting our tax or tow alow pay
for building the sauarall forts alowed and ordred by athority or
alls to alow the one half of our own Inhabitants to be under pay
or to grant liberty for our remufe Into our naiburing towns to tak
cer for oursalfs all which if your honors shall se meet to grant
you will hereby gratly incoridg your humble pateceners to conflect
with th many trubls we are ensadant unto.31
Forced together into houses for protection,
getting in their crops at the peril of their lives, the frontier
townsmen felt it a hardship to contribute also to the taxes of the
province while they helped to protect the exposed frontier. In addition
there were grievances of absentee proprietors who paid no town taxes
and yet profited by the exertions of the frontiersmen; of that I
shall speak later.
If we were to trust to these petitions asking
favors from the government of the colony, we might impute to these
early frontiersmen a degree of submission to authority unlike that
of other frontiersmen,32 and indeed not wholly warranted by the
facts. Reading carefully, we find that, however prudently phrased,
the petitions are in fact complaints against taxation; demands for
expenditures by the colony in their behalf; criticisms of absentee
proprietors; intimations that they may be forced to abandon the
frontier position so essential to the defense of the settled eastern
The spirit of military insubordination characteristic
of the frontier is evident in the accounts of these towns, such
as Pynchon's in 1694, complaining of the decay of the fortifications
at Hatfield, Hadley, and Springfield: the people a little wilful.
Inclined to doe when and how they please or not at all." 33
Saltonstall writes from Haverhill about the same time regarding
his ill success in recruiting: "I will never plead for an Haverhill
man more," and he begs that some meet person be sent "to
tell us what we should, may or must do. I have laboured in vain:
some go this, and that, and the other way at pleasure, and do what
they list." 34 This has a familiar ring to the student of the
As in the case of the later frontier also, the
existence of a common danger on the borders of settlement tended
to consolidate not only the towns of Massachusetts into united action
for defense, but also the various colonies. The frontier was an
incentive to sectional combination then as it was to nationalism
afterward. When in 1692 Connecticut sent soldiers from her own colony
to aid the Massachusetts towns on the Connecticut River,35 she showed
a realization that the Deerfield people, who were "in a sense
in the enemy's Mouth almost," as Pynchon wrote, constituted
her own frontier36 and that the facts of geography were more compelling
than arbitrary colonial boundaries. Thereby she also took a step
that helped to break down provincial antagonisms. When in 1689 Massachusetts
and Connecticut sent agents to Albany to join with New York in making
presents to the Indians of that colony in order to engage their
aid against the French,37 they recognized (as their leaders put
it) that Albany was "the hinge" of the frontier in this
exposed quarter. In thanking Connecticut for the assistance furnished
in 1690 Livingston said: "I hope your honors do not look upon
Albany as Albany, but as the frontier of your honor's Colony and
of all their Majesties countries." 38
The very essence of the American frontier is
that it is the graphic line which records the expansive energies
of the people behind it, and which by the law of its own being continually
draws that advance after it to new conquests. This is one of the
most significant things about New England's frontier in these years.
That long blood-stained line of the eastern frontier which skirted
the Maine coast was of great importance, for it imparted a western
tone to the life and characteristics of the Maine people which endures
to this day, and it was one line of advance for New England toward
the mouth of the St. Lawrence, leading again and again to diplomatic
negotiations with the powers that held that river. The line of the
towns that occupied the waters of the Merrimac, tempted the province
continually into the wilderness of New Hampshire. The Connecticut
river towns pressed steadily up that stream, along its tributaries
into the Hoosatonic valleys, and into the valleys between the Green
Mountains of Vermont. By the end of 1723, the General Court of Massachusetts
That It will be of Great Service to all the
Western Frontiers, both in this and the Neighboring Government of
Conn., to Build a Block House above Northfield, in the most convenient
Place on the Lands called the Equivilant Lands, & to post in
it forty Able Men, English & Western Indians, to be employed
in Scouting at a Good Distance up Conn. River, West River, Otter
Creek, and sometimes Eastwardly above the Great Manadnuck, for the
Discovery of the Enemy Coming towards anny of the frontier Towns."
The "frontier Towns" were preparing
to swarm. It was not long before Fort Dummer replaced " the
Block House,"and the Berkshires and Vermont became new frontiers.
The Hudson River likewise was recognized as
another line of advance pointing the way to Lake Champlain and Montreal,
calling out demands that protection should be secured by means of
an aggressive advance of the frontier. Canada delenda est became
the rallying cry in New England as well as in New York, and combined
diplomatic pressure and military expeditions followed in the French
and Indian wars and in the Revolution, in which the children of
the Connecticut and Massachusetts frontier towns, acclimated to
Indian fighting, followed Ethan Allen and his fellows to the north.40
Having touched upon some of the military and
expansive tendencies of this first official frontier, let us next
turn to its social, economic, and political aspects. How far was
this first frontier a field for the investment of eastern capital
and for political control by it? Were there evidences of antagonism
between the frontier and the settled, property-holding classes of
the coast? Restless democracy, resentfulness over taxation and control,
and recriminations between the Western pioneer and the Eastern capitalist,
have been characteristic features of other frontiers: were similar
phenomena in evidence here? Did "Populistic" tendencies
appear in this frontier, and were there grievances which explained
In such colonies as New York and Virginia the
land grants were often made to members of the Council and their
influential friends, even when there were actual settlers already
on the grants. In the case of New England the land system is usually
so described as to give the impression that it was based on a non-commercial
policy, creating new Puritan towns by free grants of land made in
advance to approved settlers. This description does not completely
fit the case. That there was an economic interest on the part of
absentee proprietors, and that men of political influence with the
government were often among the grantees seems also to be true.
Melville Egleston states the case thus: "The court was careful
not to authorize new plantations unless they were to be in a measure
under the influence of men in whom confidence could be placed, and
commonly acted upon their application." 42 The frontier, as
we shall observe later, was not always disposed to see the practice
in so favorable a light.
New towns seem to have been the result in some
cases of the aggregation of settlers upon and about a large private
grant; more often they resulted from settlers in older towns, where
the town limits were extensive, spreading out to the good lands
of the outskirts, beyond easy access to the meeting-house, and then
asking recognition as a separate town. In some cases they may have
been due to squatting on unassigned lands, or purchasing the Indian
title and then asking confirmation. In others grants were made in
advance of settlement.
As early as 1636 the General Court had ordered
that none go to new plantations without leave of a majority of the
magistrates.43 This made the legal situation clear, but it would
be dangerous to conclude that it represented the actual situation.
In any case there would be a necessity for the settlers finally
to secure the assent of the Court. This could be facilitated by
a grant to leading men having political influence with the magistrates.
The complaints of absentee proprietors which find expression in
the frontier petitions of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century
seems to indicate that this happened. In the succeeding years of
the eighteenth century the grants to leading men and the economic
and political motives in the grants are increasingly evident. This
whole topic should be made the subject of special study. What is
here offered is merely suggestive of a problem.44
The frontier settlers criticized the absentee
proprietors, who profited by the pioneers" expenditure of labor
and blood upon their farms, while they themselves enjoyed security
in an eastern town. A few examples from town historians will illustrate
this. Among the towns of the Merrimac Valley, Salisbury was planted
on the basis of a grant to a dozen proprietors including such men
as Mr. Bradstreet and the younger Dudley, only two of whom actually
lived and died in Salisbury.45 Amesbury was set off from Salisbury
by division, one half of the signers of the agreement signing by
mark. Haverhill was first seated in 1641, following petitions from
Mr. Ward, the Ipswich minister, his son-in-law, Giles Firmin, and
others. Firmin's letter to Governor Winthrop, in 1640, complains
that Ipswich had given him his ground in that town on condition
that he should stay in the town three years or else he could not
sell it, "whenas others have no business but range from place
to place on purpose to live upon the countrey." 46
Dunstable's large grant was brought about by
a combination of leading men who had received grants after the survey
of 1652; among such grants was one to the Ancient and Honorable
Artillery Company and another to Thomas Brattle of Boston. Apparently
it was settled chiefly by others than the original grantees.47 Groton
voted in 1685 to sue the "non-Residenc" to assist in paying
the rate, and in 1679 the General Court had ordered non-residents
having land at Groton to pay rates for their lands as residents
did.48 Lancaster (Nashaway) was granted to proprietors including
various craftsmen in iron, indicating, perhaps, an expectation of
iron works, and few of the original proprietors actually settled
in the town.49 The grant of 1653 - was made by the Court after reciting:
(1) that it had ordered in 1647 that the "ordering and disposeing
of the Plantation at Nashaway is wholly in the Courts power ";
(2) "Considering that there is allredy at Nashaway about nine
Families and that several! both freemen and others intend to goe
and setle there, some whereof are named in this Petition,"
Mendon, begun in 1660 by Braintree people, is
a particularly significant example. In 1681 the inhabitants petitioned
that while they are not "of the number of those who dwell in
their ceiled houses & yet say the time is not come that the
Lord's house should be built," yet they have gone outside of
their strength "unless others who are proprietors as well as
ourselves, (the price of whose lands is much raysed by our carrying
on public work & will be nothing worth if we 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 . . ." 50 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." 51 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
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. Or minister, Mr. Mather .
. . & we ourselves are much discouraged as judging the Plantation
will be spoiled if tines proprietors may not be beg,,ed, 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.52
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.
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.53
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 run-aways,
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.54 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.55 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
But Massachusetts did not follow this suggestion
of a homestead policy. On the contrary, the desire to locate towns
to create continuous 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.56 When in 1762 Massachusetts sold a group of
townships in the Berkshires to the highest bidders (by whole townships),57
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.58 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 enter- vale Lotts shall haue so much Less: and he
that hath Less then his estate Deserveth shall haue so much more.59
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 as a 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.60
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." 61 The tendency to divide up the common
lands among the proprietors in individual possession did not become
marked until the eighteenth 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 towards
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
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 serpents,"
are "inhabitants of the Valley of Achor," and are "the
Poor of this World." There may be significance in his assertion:
"It is remarkable to see that when the Unchurched Villages,
have been so many of them, utterly broken up, in the War, that has
been upon us, those that have had Churches regularly formed in them,
have generally been under a more sensible Protection of Heaven."
"Sirs," he says, "a Church-State well form'd may
fortify you wonderfully! " He recommends abstention from profane
swearing, furious cursing, Sabbath breaking, umchastity, dishonesty,
robbing of God by defrauding the ministers of their dues, drunkenness,
and revels and he reminds them that even the Indians have family
prayers! Like his successors who solicited missionary contributions
for the salvation of the frontier in the Mississippi Valley during
the forties of the nineteenth century, this early spokesman for
New England laid stress upon teaching anti-popery, particularly
in view of the captivity that might await them.
In summing up, we find many of the traits of
later frontiers in this early prototype, the Massachusetts frontier.
It lies at the edge of the Indian country and tends to advance.
It calls out militant qualities and reveals the imprint of wilderness
conditions upon the psychology and morals as well as upon the institutions
of the people. It demands common defense and thus becomes a factor
for consolidation. It is built on the basis of a preliminary fur
trade, and is settled by the combined and sometimes antagonistic
forces of eastern men of property (the absentee proprietors) and
the democratic pioneers. The East attempted to regulate and control
it. Individualistic and democratic tendencies were emphasized both
by the wilderness conditions and, probably, by the prior contentions
between the proprietors and non-proprietors of the towns from which
settlers moved to the frontier. Removal away from the control of
the customary usages of the older communities and from the conservative
influence of the body of the clergy, increased the innovating tendency.
Finally the towns were regarded by at least one prominent representative
of the established order in the East, as an undesirable place for
the re-location of the pillars of society. The temptation to look
upon the frontier as a field for investment was viewed by the clergy
as a danger to the "institutions of God." The frontier
was "the Wrong side of the Hedge."
But to this "wrong side of the hedge"
New England men continued to migrate. The frontier towns of 1695
were hardly more than suburbs of Boston. The frontier of a century
later included New England's colonies in Vermont, Western New York,
the Wyoming Valley, the Connecticut Reserve, and the Ohio Company's
settlement in the Old Northwest Territory. By the time of the Civil
War the frontier towns of New England had occupied the great prairie
zone of the Middle West and were even planted in Mormon Utah and
in parts of the Pacific Coast. New England's sons had become the
organizers of a Greater New England in the West, captains of industry,
political leaders, founders of educational systems, and prophets
of religion, in a section that was to influence the ideals and shape
the destiny of the nation in ways to which the eyes of men like
Cotton Mather were sealed.63
Footnotes: Chapter II
1 Publications of the
Colonial Society of Massachusetts, April, 1914, xvii, 25-271. Reprinted
with permission of the Society.
2 Massachusetts Archives,
xxxvi, p. 150.
3 Massachusetts Colony
Records, ii, p. 122.
4 Ibid, vol. iv, pt.
ii, p. 439; Massachusetts Archives, cvii, pp. 160-161.
5 See, for example,
Massachusetts Colony Records, v, 79; Green, "Groton During
the Indian Wars," p. 39; L. K. Mathews, "Expansion of
New England," p. 58.
6 Massachusetts Archives,
lxviii, pp. 174-176.
7 Osgood, "American
Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, i, p. 501, and citations: cf.
Publications of this Society, xii, pp. 38-39.
8 Hening, "Statutes
at Large," iii, p. 204: cf. 1 Massachusetts Historical Collections,
v, p. 129, for influence of the example of the New England town.
On Virginia frontier conditions see Alvord and Bidgood, "First
Explorations of the Trans-Allegheny Region," pp. 23-34, 93-95.
P. A. Bruce, "Institutional History of Virginia," ii,
p. 97, discusses frontier defense in the seventeenth century. [See
chapter iii, post.]
9 Massachusetts Archives,
lxx, 240; Massachusetts Province Laws, i, pp. 194, 293.
10 In a petition (read
March 3, 1692-3) of settlers "in Sundry Farms granted in those
Remote Lands Scituate and Lyeing between Sudbury, Concord, Marlbury,
Natick and Sherburne & Westerly is the Wilderness," the
petitioners ask easement of taxes and extension into the Natick
region in order to have means to provide for the worship of God,
"Wee are not Ignorant
that by reason of the present Distressed Condition of those that
dwell in these Frontier Towns, divers are meditating to remove themselves
into such places where they have not hitherto been concerned in
the present Warr and desolation thereby made, as also that thereby
they may be freed from that great burthen of public taxes necessarily
accruing thereby, Some haveing already removed themselves. Butt
knowing for our parts that wee cannot run from the hand of a Jealous
God, doe account it our duty to take such Measures as may inable
us to the performance of that duty wee owe to God, the King, &
our Familyes" (Massachusetts Archives, cxiii, p. 1).
11 In a petition of
1658 Andover speaks of itself as "a remote upland plantation"
(Massachusetts Archives, cxii, p. 99).
12 Massachusetts Province
Laws, i, p. 402.
13 Convenient maps
of settlement, 1660-1700, are in E. Channing, "History of the
United States," i, pp. 510-511, ii, end; Avery, "History
of the United States and its People," ii, p. 398. A useful
contemporaneous. map for conditions at the close of King Philip's
War is Hubbard's map of New England in his "Narrative"
published in Boston, 1677. See also, L. K. Mathews, "Expansion
of New England," pp. 56-57, 70.
14 Weeden, "Economic
and Social History of New England," pp. 90, 95, 129-132; F.
J. Turner, "Indian Trade in Wisconsin," p. 13, McIlwain,
"Wraxall's Abridgement," introduction, the town histories
abound in evidence of the significance of the early Indian traders'
posts, transition to Indian land cessions, and then to town grants.
15 Weeden, loc. cit.
pp. 64-67; M. Egleston, "New England Land System," pp.
31-32; Sheidon, "Deerfield," i, pp. 37, 206, 267-268,
Connecticut Colonial Records, vii, p. 111, illustrations of cattle
brands in 1727.
16 Hutchinson, "History"
(1795), ii, p. 129, note, relates such a case of a Groton man; see
also Parkman, " Half Century," VOL i, ch. iv, citing Maurault,
"Histoire des Abenakis," p. 377.
17 Massachusetts Archives,
lxxi, pp. 4, 84, 85, 87, 88.
19 Connecticut Records,
iv, pp. 463, 464.
20 Massachusetts Colony
Records, v, p. 72; Massachusetts Province Laws, i, pp. 176, 211,
292, 558, 594, 600; Massachusetts Archives, lxxi, pp. 7, 89, 102.
Cf. Publications of this Society, vii, 275-278.
21 Sheldon, "Deerfield."
i. p. 290.
22 Judd, "Hadley,"
p. 272; 4 Massachusetts Historical Collections, ii, p. 235.
23 Farmer and Moore,
"Collections," iii, p. 64. The frontier woman of the farther
west found no more extreme representative than Hannah Dustan of
Haverhill, with her trophy of ten scalps, for which she received
a bounty of £ 50 (Parkman, "Frontenac," 1898, p.
24 For illustrations
of resentment against those who protected the (Christian Indians,
see F. W. Gookin, "Daniel Gookin," pp. 145-155
25 For example, Massachusetts
Archives, lxx, p. 261; Bailey, "Andover," p. 179; Metcalf,
"Annals of Mendon," p. 63; Proceedings Massachusetts Historical
Society, xliii, pp. 504-519. Parkman, "Frontenac" (Boston,
1898), p. 390, and "Half-Century of Conflict" (Boston,
1898) i. p. 55, sketches the frontier defense.
26 Massachusetts Archives,
cvii, p. 155.
27 Ibid., cvii, p.
230; cf. 230 a.
28 Massachusetts Arehives,
lxviii, p. 156.
29 Sheldon, "Deerfield,
i, p. 189.
30 Massachusetts Archives,
lxxi, 46-48, 131, 134, 135 et passim.
31 Massachusetts Archives,
lxxi, p. 107: cf. Metcalf, "Mendon," p. 130; Sheldon,
"Deerfield," i, p. 288. The frontier of Virginia in 1755
and 1774 showed similar conditions: see, for example, the citations
to Washington's Writings in Thwaites, "France in America,"
pp. 139-195; and frontier letters in Thwaites and Kellogg, "Dunmore's
War," pp. 227, 228 et passim. The following petition to Governor
Gooch of Virginia, dated July 30, 1742, affords a basis for comparison
with a Scotch-Irish frontier:
We your pettionours
humbly sheweth that we your Honours Loly and Dutifull Subganckes
hath ventred our Lives & all that we have In settling ye back
parts of Virginia which was a veri Great Hassirt & Dengrous,
for it is the Hathins [heathens] Road to ware, which has proved
hortfull to severil of ous that were ye first settlers of these
back woods & wee your Honibill pettionors some time a goo petitioned
your Honnour for to have Commisioned men amungst ous which we your
Honnours most Duttifull subjects thought properist men & men
that had Hart and Curidg to hed us yn time of [war] & to defend
your Contray & your poor Sogbacks Intrist from ye voilince of
ye Haithen-But yet agine we Humbly persume to poot your Honnour
yn mind of our Great want of them in hopes that your Honner will
Grant a Captins' Commission to John McDowell, with follring ofishers,
and your Honnours' Complyence in this will be Great settisfiction
to your most Duttifull and Humbil pettioners-and we as in Duty bond
shall Ever pray . . . (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, i, p.
32 But there is a note
of deference in Southern frontier petitions to the Continental Congress--to
be discounted, however, by the remoteness of that body. See F. J.
Turner, "Western State-Making in the Revolutionary Era'' (American
Historical Review, i, pp. 70, 251). The demand for remission of
taxes is a common feature of the petitions there quoted.
33 Proceedings Massachusetts
Historical Society, xliii, pp. 506 ff.
34 Ibid., xliii, p.
35 Connecticut Colonial
Records, iv, p. 67.
36 In a petition of
February 22, 1693-4, Deerfield calls itself the "most Utmost
Frontere Town in the County of West Hampshire" (Massachusetts
Archives, cxiii, p. 57 a).
37 Judd, "Hadley,"
38 W. D. Schuyler-Lighthall,
"Glorious Enterprise," p. 16.
39 Sheldon, "Deerfield,"
i, p. 405.
40 "I want to
have your warriours come and see me," wrote Allen to the Indians
of Canada in 1775, "and help me fight the King's Regular Troops.
You know they stand all close together, rank and file, and my men
fight so as Indians do, and I want your warriours to join with me
and my warriours, like brothers, and ambush the Regulars: if you
will, I will give you money, blankets, tomahawks, knives, paint,
and any thing that there is in the army, just like brothers; and
I will go with you into the woods to scout; and my men and your
men will sleep together, and eat and drink together, and fight Regulars,
because they first killed our brothers" (American Archives,
4th Series, ii, p. 714).
41 Compare A. McF.
Davis, "The Shays Rebellion a Political Aftermath" (Proceedings
American Antiouarian Society, xxi, pp. 58, 62, 75-79).
42 "Land System
of the New England Colonies," p. 30.
43 Massachusetts Colony
Records. i. p. 167.
44 Compare Weeden,
"Economic and Social History of New England," i, pp. 270-271;
Gookin, "Daniel Gookin," pp. 106-161; and the histories
of Worcester for illustrations of how the various factors noted
could be combined in a single town.
45 F. Merrill, "Amesbury,"
pp. 5, 50.
46 B. L. Mirick, "Haverhill,"
pp. 9, 10.
47 Green, "Early
Records of Groton," pp. 49, 70, 90.
49 Worcester County
History, i, pp. 2, 3.
50 J. G. Metcalf, "Annals
of Mendon," p. 85.
51 P. 96. Compare the
Kentucky petition of 1780 given in Roosevelt, "Winning of the
West," ii, p. 398, and the letter from that frontier cited
in Turner, "Western State-Making" (American Historical
Review, i, p. 262), attacking the Virginia "Nabobs," who
hold absentee land title. "Let the great men," say they,
"whom the land belongs to come and defend it."
52 Sheldon, "Deerfield,"
i, pp. 188-189.
53 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, p. 505, note 4.
54 Compare the Virginia
system Bruce, "Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth
Century," ii, pp. 42, 43.
55 For this item I
am indebted to our associate, Mr. Andrew McF. Davis: see his "Colonial
Currency Reprints," i, pp 335-349
56 Hutchinson, "History
of Massachusetts (1768); ii, pp. 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.
57 J. G. Holland, "Western
Massachusetts," p. 197.
58 Jos. Shafer, "Origin
of the System of Land Grants for Education," pp. 25-33.
59 H. D. Hurd (ed.),
"History of Worcester County," i, p. 6. The italics are
60 Egleston, "Land
System of the New England Colonies," pp. 39-41.
61 Ibid., p. 41.
62 T. Dwight, "Travels"
(1821), ii, pp. 459-463.
63 [See F. J. Turner,
"Greater New England in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century,'
in Ameriean Antiquarian Society "Proceedings," 1920.]
top of page