The Hopkinton Settlers

Map of Original Hopkins Lease lands
Map of Original Hopkinton Lease Plots
It's hard to read about the struggles of the past inhabitants of Magukaquok, the village of Praying Indians. These poor people were banished to Deer Island during King Philip's War, and their land was later purchased by the trustees of the legacy left by Edward Hopkins. There was no agreement among the past inhabitants of the praying town to sell the land but it seems the leaders in Natick ignored their pleas. This lead them to send a desperate letter to the Hopkins trustees themselves. In a letter dated September 5th, 1715, sent to the Hopkins Trustees, the poor villagers argued their case. In broken English, they wrote: Letter from Magunkaquog Villagers
Letter from Magunkaquog Villagers
"To the most honorable Samuel Sewell and all those men at the meeting on Monday last, that we are just poor Indians and are not willing to sell our land or to part with it in any ways" This document, held in the Harvard University Archives, clearly indicates that at least some Magunkaquog villagers were not in agreement and did not approve of Harvard's takeover. One day after the large parchment deed was signed, Samuel Sewall was informed that Isaac Nehemiah, one of the Native signatories, had hanged himself with his own belt. Sewall recorded the sale and the suicide in his diary, without noting any connection between the two. On October 11, 1715, a large handwritten deed between the Committee of Agents for the Indian Proprietors of the Plantation of Natick, and the Trustees of Edward Hopkins was signed for eight-hundred acres of land in Middlesex County formerly known as Magunkaquog. The former Magunkaquog villagers who had taken on the English ways and had helped the English during King Philip's War were left with nothing. Thus began the Town of Hopkinton. Map of James Gordon Plots 1742
Map of James Gordon Leases Near Maspenock
Beginning in 1720, the Trustees entered into 99-year leases with Hopkinton tenants at an annual rate of no more than nine pence an acre. The leases stated that the Province tax on the land would be paid by the Trustees. In 1740, the Trustees revised the leases and in return for a reduction of rent to one penny per acre annually for the duration of their 99-year leases, and three pence afterwards, the tenants agreed to pay their own Province taxes on the land. The General Court approved the terms of the new leases in 1741, and in 1742 a new indenture form was printed and used for more than twenty years. James Gordon was born in 1693 in County Down, Ireland, and traveled to Boston about the year 1718. He was a successful merchant who imported Irish linen products. When he arrived in Massachusetts, he served as one of the first constables in Boston. In 1723, he bought pew sixty-two in Boston's King's Chapel. By 1736, his status in the church had risen to the point that he became the chapel's first warden. James Gordon was also a successful land speculator who leased or purchased lands in different parts of Massachusetts during the early to mid-1700s. In 1742, he co-signed for six plots of raw land in Hopkinton from the Hopkins Trustees. At that time, many people were migrating to New England from Ireland and Scotland. James Gordon, as "Marchant Signee", represented several Scotch-Irish farmers who wanted to settle in the hills of Hopkinton. These legal instruments have been archived electronically by Harvard University. Unlike the English, who were accustomed to owning land, the Scotch and Irish had been tenant farmers in their home country and were more likely to agree to the land lease agreements that the Hopkins Trustees were offering. Man and oxen plowing fields
Depiction of Hopkinton Tenant Farmers
These hardy souls moved their families, cleared the land, brought in domestic animals, and built some of the first farms in town. On Sept. 2, 1724, a Congregational Church was organized in Hopkinton. Seven of the original members of this church were Scottish-Irish Presbyterians who James Gordon had signed for. Five other Scottish families soon joined the church. The beginnings of the church were informal, and no real discussion of church government was had at the outset. These families only conscientiously assented to the covenant and united in Christian communion but without much form of organization. They worshiped together in peace for seven years until April 9, 1731, when the church elders voted to comply with the "Platform of Church Discipline" that had been agreed to by the synod of churches in Cambridge. This gave great offense to the Presbyterian families, and 10 of the families immediately withdrew from the communion of the church. They were brought under church discipline, and eventually, they were excommunicated from the church they had helped found. The records of the First Congregational Church in Hopkinton contain the names of those who were excommunicated. William Dunahy, Robert Hambleton, Jane Wark, Rebecca Wark, John Hambleton, Israel Gibbs, Mary Gibbs, Hugh Hambleton, and Mary Hambleton were some of the others expelled.. Shunned and isolated, they continued to farm their fields for another three years until they could find someplace else to live and practice their religion. In 1734, these families all left town with their animals and belongings in tow and traveled through the harsh wilderness to the west approximately ninety miles to the mountainous area of what is now Blandford Massachusetts. They had only the milk from their cows to sustain them as they traveled. On the day of their arrival to their new land, a severe snowstorm commenced and continued for three days, leaving a body of snow on the ground to a depth of three to four feet. The only shelter they could find in the forest was under the protective boughs of the pines and hemlocks. The snow soon began to melt, and they were then able to clear away trees and erect temporary cabins. They named their new settlement New Glasgow, as they were promised a church bell from their old home city of Glasgow, Scotland, if they would name their town after it. Blandford, Massachusetts- Founded by farmers who left maspenock
Blandford, Massachusetts- Founded by Scotch-Irish Farmers
They quickly organized a Presbyterian church and built a small meetinghouse. As the community began to grow in population, the residents desired to be incorporated as a town. As a final hardship for these poor souls, when the village of New Glasgow applied for incorporation in 1741, Gov. William Shirley noticed that they had an extra square mile on the township survey, and as punishment, he made them call the town Blandford, named after the ship that had brought Shirley to America from England. So the Town was incorporated as Blandford and the poor immigrant farmers of New Glasgow never received their bell. Although there are no land records of the Nelson family purchasing or leasing the farmstead from the Trustees after the excommunicated Scotch families left, there is a record of one of them being sold by a man named Seth Nelson in the year 1809. In no man's land on the line between Mendon and Hopkinton, the Nelsons very well may have just taken over the abandoned farm. In any event, there is no remaining land record of the Nelsons buying the land but there is a record from when they sold it in 1809. The Nelson family were prominent in the towns of Mendon and Milford and the history books have Seth's original homestead located in Bungay. Nathaniel Nelson was born on April 22, 1701. He married Deborah Chapin, the daughter of Capt. Seth Chapin, on April 15, 1725. Nathaniel was listed as a weaver in deeds and other legal documents. He was chosen as a deacon of the First Church in Mendon and then a ruling elder. He inherited one-third of his father's real estate. Nathaniel and Deborah Nelson had four sons and three daughters. The Nelson family were very pious people. Nathaniel's son and grandson would follow in his footsteps and become deacons of the church. Seth Nelson was born on June 22, 1735. He married Silence Cheney on Oct. 28, 1756. Seth and Silence Nelson had seven sons and five daughters, according to historian Rev. Adin Ballou, who wrote the book, History of the Town of Milford, Worcester County, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1881. "Seth Nelson always resided on our territory; was a deacon of the church and a worthy citizen. His family homestead is understood to have been in the vicinity of Bungay, perhaps the Partridge place, so-called". Location of Nelson Homestead-Old Town Road
Location of Nelson Homestead-Old Town Road
In fact, the Nelson homestead was close to "Bungay", but not the "Partridge Place" that Ballou spoke of. We know that the Partridge Place was built by a man named Joseph Cody in 1760. Instead, the old Nelson homestead stood just over the town boundary line in Hopkinton at the end of what we now call the Old Town Road. In the 1809 deed, it mentions the land formerly was owned by John Nelson. Cellar Hole of the Seth Nelson Homestead
Cellar Hole of the Seth Nelson Homestead-Old Town Road
Seth's son, John Nelson, was born on Aug. 27, 1761. He married Betty Brown of Newport, Rhode Island on Nov. 28, 1782. Betty Brown, lived in Newport, Rhode Island until she was sixteen years of age when the family fled to Milford. Her father was a soldier in the Revolutionary Army and during his absence, a British fleet came to take possession of the Island. Well of the Seth Nelson Homestead
Well of the Seth Nelson Homestead-Old Town Road
"Betty and her mother, with a married sister and her little child and another daughter quite young, fled with the frightened people across Howland's Ferry to the mainland, leaving everything in their house, even a dinner in the process of cooking, and made their way to Milford on foot." "In April 1799, John Nelson left with his family taking all of his cattle and goods and next day they settled on a farm in the north part of Worcester". Like his father and grandfather, John Nelson Jr. went into the ministry and would become pastor of the First Church and Society in Leicester, Massachusetts, where he served a long and illustrious career. "John Nelson graduated from Williams College in 1807, being one of three to be honored with an English Oration. In scholarship, said one of his class, he had no superior. He had struggled hard for his education, his course had been interrupted by teaching, and he was diffident and depressed in spirit. He gave his father's note for his college bills, and had five dollars in his pocket, which he had borrowed." In 1809, Seth Nelson sold the farmstead to a man named Zenas Ball, grandson of the original settler Josiah Ball. Since we know that John Nelson had given his father Seth's note to pay for college and was broke when he graduated, it seems likely the note was paid off by selling the farm. Another clue that this was the case is the fact that Seth Nelson made sure to include a stipulation that the land once belonged to John Nelson. Shortly after the sale, the farm would be sold to Zenas's sister Rachael Ball and her husband John Despeaux. This name was misspelled Desper or Dispah on some maps and documents. John Despeaux was born on June 6, 1782, and he married Rachel Ball on July 5, 1807. It appears that John came from a poor family and eventually married into one of Milford's wealthiest families. According to Ballou, the Despeaux family was among those who were "warned out of Milford" due to a pauper phobia panic in 1791. These "warnings" were a legal mechanism used at the time to remove impoverished individuals from a town and protect the limited available funds of public relief. This allowed the poor to stay in a town but not receive any public aid. Later, the towns would set up poor houses instead of warning individuals out.