History Of North Adams, Massachusetts

Reminiscences Of Early Settlers.
-Extracts From Old Town Records.-
Its Public Institutions, Industries And Prominent Citizens,
Together With A Roster Of Commissioned Officers In The War Of The Rebellion.
By W. P. Spear.
North Adams, Mass.: Hoosac Valley News Printing House. 1885.


[Transcribed by Dave Swerdfeger]

THE town of Adams, including what is now Adams and North Adams, was originally known as East Hoosac.

This township was first explored and surveyed in 1749, by a committee of the General Court of Massachusetts. They were instructed to lay it out six miles square. Not believing in the doctrine of instruction, however; it was laid out seven miles long, from north to south, and five miles broad, from east to west. It is the only town in Berkshire County of a perfectly regular form.

In 1750 Captain Ephraim Williams secured a grant of two hundred acres of land in the town, on condition that he would reserve ten acres for a fort, and build and keep in repair for twenty years a grist and saw mill.

In June, 1762, East Hoosac, with nine other townships, was sold at auction, for £3200, to Nathan Jones, who soon after received as partners in this land speculation Colonel Elisha Jones and John Murray.

In October, 1762, forty-eight building lots of one hundred acres were laid out, embracing the very heart of the township, mostly interval land along the Hoosac river and its south branch. In 1776, twenty more lots of similar size were laid out, and Israel Jones, having then become a resident, was authorized to admit sixty settlers, in accordance with the requirements of the General Court.

Two years after, the remaining lands were apportioned among the settlers.

The town was incorporated October 15, 1778, with the name of Adams, in honor of Samuel Adams, the illustrious leader in the Revolution, the signer of the declaration of independence, and afterward Governor of Massachusetts.

The first annual town meeting was held March 8, 1779, when Captain Phillip Mason was chosen moderator: Isaac Arnold. town clerk; Captain Phillip Mason, Captain Israel Jones and Captain Reuben Hinman, selectmen. Captains were plenty in those days of war and commotion, and were naturally looked upon as the leading men in civil as well as military affairs.

Captain Reuben Hinman was also chosen town treasurer. The meeting was adjourned till March 22, when Luther Rich, David Jewell and Eleazer Brown were chosen assessors; Elias Jones, Gideon Smith, Jonathan Husse, Stephen Smith, Phillip Mason, Ruluff White, Oliver Parker, Johuathan Hale and Daniel Sherman, surveyors of highways: Lemuel Levenwortli, collector, (he was superceded June 17 by Justus Holt); William Barker, collector of taxes: Edmond Jenks, Benjamin Baker, William Smith, Jedediah Hurd and John Kilburn, committee of safety. Their business was to watch and thwart the tories, Indians, British and other enemies of American liberty. Similar officers existed in all the towns, and kept the courage of the people of New England from slumbering.

The first town tax on record was £100, for making and repairing the highways, to be paid in labor at two shillings six pence per day, or Indian corn at two shillings six pence per bushel. The building and support of the roads was then, as now, a heavy burden. A stony soil, rapid running streams, enormous tree stumps and steep hillsides must have made the travelling anything but desirable in olden times. It was voted to pay the collector of taxes nine pence on the pound for collecting of rates. This was equal to 3 3/4 per cent. The collector of the present day gets 11/16 of 1 per cent. for his work. The pay of town officers was not so large as to cause much wire pulling to get offices.

For the first year the bills of the selectmen were as follows: Reuben Hinman, one pound, thirteen shillings; Phillip Mason, nine shillings; Isreal Jones, eighteen shillings, receiving thirty-six for one, Continental money having depreciated to less than three cents on the dollar. The assessors were each allowed £3 for their services, at the ratio of forty for one.

The practice of sinking taxes began in the very first year, nineteen pounds and twelve shillings, due from six different unfortunates, were abated in the collectors' bills.

The number of voters at the time of the town's organization is not ascertainable. An estimate, however, may be formed from the vote cast April 19, 1779, in favor of forming a new state constitution. It was unanimous-44 present—and a delegate was empowered to represent the town in a constitutional convention.

At a town meeting held November 5, 1779, the question of annexing a part of Adams to New Providence—now Cheshire—was put and decided in the negative; yeas 24, nays 48. This would show 72 votes cast. As such a local question must have been somewhat exciting, it may be supposed that special efforts were made to bring out the voters, and that their attendance was full.

A town meeting was held May 1st, 1780, for the purpose of considering the new constitution or frame of government. Two of the articles were passed by 60 votes. One relative to the judiciary was rejected unanimously, and that the judges mentioned should be elected annually. One relative to the executive power was voted against unanimously, with this objection: That every person liable to do duty ought to have a voice in choosing, the officers to command him.

Article 2 of chapter 6 was passed with this addition, That the justice be debarred from holding a seat in the General Court. A committee, consisting of Nathan Comstock, Justus Holt and John Eaton, was appointed to examine and make amendments.

The watchful, independent spirit of the people of that time is seen in these votes in favor of an elective judiciary, elective military officers, and the separation of the judicial and legislative departments of the state.

During the two or three years after the town's organization, town meetings were very frequent. They were held every few weeks. In 1779 there were ten. A great deal of work had to be done. The critical events of the war raised new questions continually for the voters to act upon; and it is no disparagement to the early settlers to say that they were inexperienced in the arts of wire-pulling and sly political scheming, and could not "fix" things so they would stay "fixed" for a whole year.

Besides the feeling of the town was very democratic, and the voters would not tolerate encroachments or meddlesomeness by their officers. The votes in regard to the constitution of 1780 show a wholesome distrust of rulers.

The patriotism of the early settlers is evinced by their liberal contribution toward carrying on the revolution. Probably no community in the state was more deeply imbued with the spirit of '76, or more free in offering her best blood and her hard-earned property to the cause. Money she had little or none, as is proved by the taxes being paid in produce. Following are some resolves of the various town meetings, copied from the records:
  • July 5, 1779—Voted to give the nine months men ten dollars a month, to be paid in grain at the stipulated price, viz: Wheat at 6 shillings, rye at 4 shillings and Indian corn at 3 shillings per bushel, and 100 Continental dollars as a bounty before the march.
  • July 23, 1779—Voted that the selectmen make provision for the men that are draughted to the place of rendezvous.
  • March 20, 1780—Made choice of David Smith, John Kilburn, Ambros Parker, committee of safety.
  • May 25. 1780—Voted to pay William Harrendeen 270 Continental dollars to make good the depreciation of money due to him as wages, for service in the Continental army.
  • June 20, 1780—Voted that the town will raise money by a tax to hire their quota of soldiers to serve in the Continental army six months. Voted to give each man that shall engage in the service for six months a bounty of two pounds ten shillings for each month he shall serve, to be paid in produce at the stipulated price or in money equal there to.
  • July 10, 1780—Voted that Captain Reuben Hinman be refunded the sum of three hundred dollars, which sum he gave a six months man, out of the town treasury.
  • Voted that the three months men now to be raised have fifty shillings per month in addition to the state wages, to be paid in the same manner and at the same time the six months men are paid.
  • December 28, 1780—Voted that a committee be appointed to report what bounty shall be given to the soldiers now to be raised for three years.
  • Voted that Enos Parker, Levi Brown and Samuel Law be a committee for that purpose.
  • Report of the committee—That each person who shall engage in the Continental army for three years, or during the present war, shall be entitled to receive the sum of fifty pounds per year for every year he shall serve, including the Continental pay, and each soldier so engaged shall receive the sum of thirteen pounds previous to his marching if he chooses, thirteen pounds more at the expiration of the first year, and the remainder of the money annually.
  • Voted that the town agree to and will comply with the above report.
  • February 12, 1781—The question being put whether the town will agree to class its inhabitants in order to raise its quota of men for the Continental service, voted in the negative.
  • Voted to choose a committee to hire or raise said men.
  • Voted that Joab Stafford, Solomon Gardner, Giles Barnes, Sam'l. Lowe and Sam'l. Day be a committee for the above purpose.
  • May 15, 1781—Voted to lay a tax on the town of three hundred pounds hard money for the purpose of procuring a stock of ammunition and defraying town charges, Continental currency to be received at the common exchange.
  • July 19, 1781—Voted that each soldier engaging to serve in the Continental army three months shall receive from the town of Adams the sum of four pounds for each month he shall serve, to be paid in silver or in grain; wheat at six shillings, rye at four shillings and Indian corn at three shillings per bushel; the soldier so engaging to sign an order for the selectmen of Adams to draw his state wages; that three pounds of the four be paid such soldier previous to his marching, if required, and the remainder by the first day of January, 1782.
  • Voted to assess a tax on the inhabitants of Adams for the sum of two thousand one hundred and eighty pounds state money, to purchase 24,000 weight of beef and a quantity of clothing.
  • August 17, 1781—The question being put whether the town will make good the wages of the six and three months men, carried in the negative.
  • February 21, 1782—The question being put whether the town will do anything toward procuring a man to serve three years in the Continental army for Captain Isaac Hathaway's class, voted in the negative.

It is here very proper to give South Adams her full credit as the principal settlement in the time of the Revolution. The "South End," so called in the records as early as July, 1780, had probably ten times as many inhabitants seventy-five years ago as the "North End," and the latter could never have caught up and gone ahead but for her more extensive water power on two streams. The land is much better for farming in the vicinity of South Adams, and her sturdy yeomanry were for many years the backbone of the settlement.

Therefore, the patriotism and self-sacrifice of Revolutionary times were chiefly displayed by our southern friends, and are not cited here as proofs of the early glory of this part of the town. It had little or no glory, because there was scarcely anybody living here to let their light of patriotism shine. On the site of this village there were probably not five houses in 1780. Following is an exact copy of an antique paper whereby a soldier of this town bound himself to serve in the Revolutionary army three years:
    I Benjmin Hazzard of the Common Welth of massachustts County of Berkshire and Town of Adams have Inlisted my Self as A Soldier in the Sarvice of the United Statts of America For the Time of Three years and Promis to Obev and Subject my Self to all the Laws and Regulations of the Army and my Superior Officer in Witness whare of I have Set my hand this Twenty Third Day of march 1781 and For Class No. 2 of Whome Mr. Darius Bucklin is head. His BENJMIN X HAllARD. Marke.
Among the first settlers of the township of Adams were Abiel Smith and his sons Gideon and Jacob, John Kilborn and John McNeal of Litchfield, Conn.; Reuben Hinman and Jonathan Smith of Woodbury, and Messrs. Parker, Cook and Leavenworth of Wallingford. These settlers, and others who settled with them, did not remain a long time. Most of them sold their land to purchasers from Rhode Island, many of them Quakers. Others not belonging to that order soon followed from the same state, until Rhode Islanders occupied nearly the whole town, and Adams still contains many of their descendants.

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