A petition was presented to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in May 1656 for the right to start a new plantation by thirteen men then residents of the Town of Sudbury. They were Edmond Rice and two of his sons, Edward and Henry Rice, John Howe, John Ruddocke, John Bent and his son Peter Bent, William Ward, John Woods, John Maynard, Thomas Goodenow, Thomas King and Richard Newton. The next year, 1657, the names of John Rediat, Solomon Johnson, John Johnson, Samuel Rice, Thomas Rice, Peter King and Christopher Banister became proprietors. By 1660, when house lots were apportioned to the proprietors, the names
of Kerley, Barnes, Belcher, Bellows, Rutter, Barrett, Holmes, Axtell, William Brimsmead and Jonathan Johnson appear, in all a total of thirty-eight land owners. The last tow, William Brimsmead and Jonathan Johnson, were respectively the minister and the blacksmith, each being given a 30-acre lot as inducement to settle in the new plantation. The size of the house lots ranged from 50 acres down to 16 acres, and the wealth, ability to improve the land, as well as active participation in the founding of the settlement were considerations in determining the houselot size for each individual. The fifty acre men were Edmond Rice, William Ward, John Ruddock and John Howe.
Of these, William Ward and John Ruddocke, could have come from or been closely connected to Marlborough in Wiltshire in Old England, some seventy miles west of London. Rice came from Hartfordshire thirty miles north of London and Howe maybe from Warwickshire seventy miles northwest of London. Nearly all of the 38 first settlers listed above were born in England and were staunch adherents of the Puritan Church. Many of them brought wives and families with them. All seem to have had some schooling.
John Howe was the first to locate on the new English Plantation and was probably here in 1656, possibly earlier. He seems to have been a fur trader and built a home of sorts at the intersection of two Indian trails – the Nashua Path which lead to the north, and the Connecticut going west. His land abutted both the Indian’s Planting Field and the hill called Whipsuppenike where the Indians had had their town. He also kept an inn where English travelers and traders could stop when enroute through Marlborough. A house now stands on the site of his original dwelling between Bolton Street and Stevens Street and southerly from Union Street. This house was erected by children and grandchildren of John Howe but has, over the centuries undergone transformations so that its appearance of
antiquity has disappeared.
John Howe could speak the Indian language, as could several of the early settlers, ad in turn the Indians could speak some English. Across what is now Bolton Street from John Howe’s dwelling was the Indian Planting Field and legend has it that a pumpkin vine rooted in one Indian’s planting patch grew over and produced a fine pumpkin on a neighbor’s plot. Whose fruit was it? The question was taken to John Howe. He looked over the situation and took his knife and cut the pumpkin in two, giving each Indian a half. This judgment in the manner of Solomon impressed the Indians as being eminently fair and satisfying.
The Indian’s Planting Field, situated as it was just south of the main division line between the Indian’s 6000 acre Town and the English Plantation, disturbed the English, and they wished to acquire it, but as it was the Indians’ most valued possession of ancient development, they on the advice of Rev. John Eliot, refused to relinquish it. As a compromise, and hopeful of future possession, the English set up their first house lots and built their first houses in a grand semicircle, or crescent, bordering the Indians’ Field. This was not only entirely due to the covetousness of the English, but the land was some of the best in the 72 square miles of the plantation, but had many small streams of water, and a fair amount of open meadow and also was the nearest to Sudbury and served by
mainline Indian trails.
John Howe’s trading post was at the northeastern end of the semi-circular housing development, and John Ruddocke’s framed house at the northwestern end on what is now Mechanic Street a short way beyond Elm Street. The other first houses to the number seven or eight were widely spaced in between these two. At about where the Old Post Office stands the settlers built in 1661 a house of Rev. William Brimsmead which was to be a feet and a story and a half high with dormer windows on the second floor. Christopher Banister, Obadiah Ward and Richard Barnes were the builders. Near this house for the minister, in 1662 the Town built a small Meeting House, but by error this was erected on a corner of the Indian’s Planting Field on what is now the Old High School Common. Chief Onamog
of the Indian group readily deeded to the Town that land covered by the Meeting House, plus ten feet all around it and enough land to reach what is now Main Street. In 1706 the Town acquired the remainder of what constitutes the Common and the old cemetery and Prospect Street, purchasing from the assigns of Daniel Gookin’s heirs.
William Ward built off West Main Street on land that included Ward Park. Opposite the Meeting House, Jonathan Johnson built his blacksmith shop and home. Edmund Rice built where City Hall stands and John Woods to his east on Ames Place. John Maynard built on the southerly end of Howe Street. Others built on Hudson and Ash Streets, on Pleasant and South Streets and on constantly widening circle of homesteads around the core.
The settlers surveyed the meadow lands and swamp lands, the latter often times covered with valuable growth of gigantic cedar trees. These lands they divided up, pro rata, in accordance with the size of the house lots. Uplands, also with good timber, were apportioned out. Many square miles of the area remained “common lands” for pasturage of cattle with a shepherd or cowherd in attendance, and also as reserves for future settlers. The “common lands” remained under the management of a group of citizens called “Proprietors” until 1796, they having control of unassigned lands, not only in Marlborough itself, but in Westborough, Northborough and Southborough which had been separated from Marlborough for 170 or more years.
Of the 72 square miles that were set up by a committee of the General Court in 1656, the Towns of Westborough and Northborough were set off in 1717, and the Town of Southborough in 1725. The Indian Plantation of nearly ten square miles was annexed to Marlborough in 1716, and from this and a small area of original Marlborough territory the Town of Hudson was set off in 1866. Marlborough in 1660 adjoined Lancaster on the northwest, and the Indian Town on the north, but in every other way was bounded by unassigned land of the Colony. It was not until 1791 that a gore of land to the east was annexed to Marlborough so that the Town of Sudbury’s west line. When Framingham became a Town in 1700, it also abutted Marlborough’s east line. The annexation of the Indian Town brought Marlborough’s north boundary to the Town of Stow. Part of Lancaster eventually became Berlin, so that today the 22 square miles that comprise the City of Marlborough are bounded by Sudbury and Framingham on the
east, Southborough on the south, Northborough on the southwest, Berlin on the northwest and Hudson on the north.