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Charlestown Land

Source: “Charlestown Land,” Great Migration Newsletter 2[1991]:6.

[page 6]

As with several of the other Massachusetts Bay towns of the first decade, the town of Charlestown, presumably in response to an order of the General Court, compiled an inventory of landholding.  In the case of Charlestown, this compilation was made in 1638, and was called the Book of Possessions (A Report of the Record Commissioners Containing Charlestown Land Records, 1638-1802, Third Report of the Record Commissioners [Boston 1883]).

For the average landholder, this inventory in 1638 included seven or eight parcels of land, although many Charlestown proprietors had more than eight, whether through grant or purchase.  As a probe of the landgranting process in Charlestown, we will study the inventory of William DADY.  DADY had arrived in 1630, probably as part of the WINTHROP Fleet; he was neither very high nor very low on the social and economic scale.  In the Book of Possessions he holds eight pieces of land.

In order to illuminate the earliest landgranting, we will analyze DADY’s holdings in reverse chronological order.  Just before the compilation of the 1638 inventory, the town made a large grant of land, in two parcels per proprietor, on the north side of Mystic River, called at this time Mystic Side, later to become Malden and parts of other towns.  DADY’s allotment appears on page 36 of the earliest volume, under date of 23 April 1638.  He receives Lot #51, with a line reading “5-30-5”; this is to be interpreted to mean that he received five acres on Mystic Side, thirty acres “above the Ponds,” and had received five acres in a previous related grant.  The first two of these three parcels correspond to numbers seven and eight in the inventory.

Parcel six is noted as the third item in the above grant, but was in fact granted more than a year earlier, on 6 March 1636/7 (p. 27).  This was billed as the “First Division of lands on Mistickeside.”

The fifth entry in the inventory is a half acre of meadow in Mystic Field.  This meadow land was granted in 1635, and William “DADE” receives Lot #49, between the lots of Thomas SQUIRE and George FELCH, which corresponds with the description in the inventory (p. 19).  The fourth item is “common for two milch cows.”  The granting of these proportional, proprietary rights in pasturage was recorded in 1637, but without an exact day and month given.  William DADY received two “shares.”

This 1635 grant of meadow is the earliest direct grant to William DADY which is found in the town records, leaving three parcels unaccounted for – a houselot and two two-acre parcels of arable land in the East Field.  All of these parcels were on Charlestown Neck itself.  We may assume that these were the earliest grants to William DADY, and were granted at a time before it was felt necessary to record such grants; in this way Charlestown landgranting is similar to that in all other towns studied to date.

There were a few other recorded grants prior to the 1635 meadow grant in which DADY participated, but these were made to a limited number of the proprietors, and correspond to what are labelled as land in the Line Field in the inventories.  Why these grants were limited is not clear.

Scanning several other inventories similar to DADY’s shows a similar pattern.  In the first five years of Charlestown, most of the proprietors received a houselot, usually on the Neck, and a piece or two of arable land, sometimes on the Neck and sometimes not.  No meadow was granted until the town was five years old, which implies that prior to that time meadow was used in common.  This arrangement was formalized in the grant of the “milch cow commons,” which correspond to later references to the stinted commons.  In this way Charlestown was different from its neighbors Cambridge and Watertown, where a piece or two of meadow was granted early along with the houselot and the arable land.

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