The History of the County of Worcester
in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
By Peter Whitney
Printed in Worcester Massachusetts by Isaiah Thomas, 1793
In the collection of the Shrewsbury Historical Society
In the year 1717, November 2nd, a grant was made to certain persons, chiefly of Marlborough, who petitioned therefore, of all the lands lying between the original grant of Lancaster on the north; Marlborough, on the east; Sutton on the south; and Worcester on the west. Most of the first settlers were from Marlborough. The tract of land was very long (about fifteen miles north and south) but not very wide (from three and a half to four and five miles.) The whole was called, by the proprietors, Shrewsbury from the beginning.
In about ten years from the date of the grant, it was so stocked with inhabitants, as that the General Court incorporated it as a town, by an act which bears date December 19, 1727, and gave it the name whereby it had all along been distinguished.
The town so flourished and increased, as that in a little more than twenty years a second parish, in the northerly part, was formed, viz on the 17 December 1742, which has since been made a distinct town.
The south part of this original grant which is now Shrewsbury, is about seven miles in length from north to south, and about three and an half or four miles in width; and it is bounded by Worcester on the west; by Boylston on the north; by Westborough and Northborough on the east; and by Grafton on the south. It is situated about six miles from Worcester courthouse, a little to the northeast, and from Boston 41 miles a little to the southwest. The post road from Boston to Worcester, and so on to New York, &c. passes directly through the town; and the great road from Vermont, and from the upper part of New Hampshire, and northwestern part of the county, unites with the post road about a mile and an half west of the meetinghouse. Besides which there is a road of considerable travel from the northward, directly through Shrewsbury, To Providence.
The ecclesiastical history of this place is but brief, and is as here follows:
On the fourth day of December 1723, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ was gathered here, and on the same day the Rev. Job Cushing was ordained their first Pastor. He continued in peace and love with his people, and faithfully serving the Lord in the work of the ministry almost 37 years; and was suddenly cut off, by a fit of the apoplexy, August 6th, 1760, in the 67th year of his age. And on the 23rd of June 1762, the Rev. Joseph Sumner was solemnly invested with the pastoral office in this place; and who still continues to minister to them in holy things. There are a few Baptists in the south part of the town, but no church of that denomination.
Before we proceed to a Geographical Description of this town, I have thought that so remarkable and sorrowful an occurrence as took place in Shrewsbury, in its infancy, ought to be recorded in this history. I shall give it in the words of the account published in the only Newspaper (I have been told) then printed in Newengland, if not on this side Philadelphia. It was a small half sheet printed by B. Green.
"Boston, August 15th, 1723
"An exact account of the awful burning of Capt. John Keyes’s house, with five persons in it, at Shrewsbury, in the night between the 7th and 8th of this inst. Taken from a letter of the Rev. Mr. Breck of Marlborough, and from the mouth of Mr. Ebenezer Bragg of the same, formerly of Ipswich, the only person of those who lodged in the house, who, by a distinguishing providence, escaped the flames.
"Capt. Keyes was building a house about nine or ten feet off his old one. It was almost finished. And Mr. Bragg aforesaid, the carpenter, with his brother Abiel, of 17 years of age, and William Oaks of 18, his apprentices, were working about it. Capt. Keyes, with his wife and four daughters, lodged in the old one; and the three carpenters, with three sons of the Captain’s, viz. Solomon of twenty, John of thirteen, and Steven of six years of age, lay in the new. On the Wednesday night, going to bed, they took a more than ordinary care of the fire, being excited there to by the saying of one, He would not have the house burnt for an hundred pounds; and the reply of another, He would not for two hundred. Upon which, they carefully raked away the chips lying near it, and stayed till the rest were almost burnt out; and then they went all six together into three beds in one of the chambers; and were very cheerily and merry at their going to bed, which was about ten of the clock.
"But about midnight Mr. Bragg was awaked with a notion of the house being on fire, and a multitude calling to quench it; with which he got up, saw nothing, heard no voice, but could hardly fetch any breath, through the stifling smoke; concluded the house was on fire, perceived some body stirring, against whom he hit two of three times in the dark: And not being able to speak, or to breathe any longer, and striking his forehead against the chimney, he thought of the window and happily found it: When he gained it, he tarried a minute, holding it fast with one hand, and reaching out the other, in hopes of meeting with some or other to save them, till the smoke and fire came so thick and scorching upon him, he could endure no longer; and hearing no noise in the chamber, only, as he thought, a faint groan or two, he was forced to jump out, and the window being small, head foremost; though he supposes, by God’s good providence, he turned before he came to the ground. As Mr. Bragg was just got up again, Capt. Keyes being awaked in the old house, was coming to this side of the new, and met him. But the flame immediately burst out of the windows, and house was quickly all on a light fire. No noise was heard of the other five who perished; and it is very questionable whether more than one of them moved out o their beds. The old house was also burnt, and almost every thing in it: But the people were saved, through the great goodness of God. But a most dreadful sight it was in the morning, to see the five bodies frying in the fire, among the timbers fallen down in the cellar, till towards the evening, when the few almost consumed fragments, without heads or limbs, were gathered, put into one coffin, and buried. Psalm LXVI, 3, Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! James iv, 15th, Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. Luke xii, 40th, Be ye therefore ready." Thus far the newspaper.
The Capt. Keyes above named, was afterwards the well known and much esteemed Major John Keyes, who died in Shrewsbury, not many years since, in a very advanced age. The new house which was burnt, stood on the great road about Three quarters of a mile eastward from the present meetinghouse. And upon the same spot a large dwelling house now stands.
Let us now proceed to describe the town of Shrewsbury. Much the greater part of this town in upon quite high land. Indeed it is one large and extensive hill, and the meetinghouse stands nearly upon the highest part of it: The land falls but very little to the north: To the south, the decent is long, but gradual: To the east, as the great road runs, there is a descent towards Northborough, for the space of two miles or more, nay, even some way into Northborough: To the west there is half a mile of rocky plain, and then a pretty steep descent to a small plain, before you come to the head of Long Pond, and beyond that the land rises immediately, and there is quite a steep hill before you leave Shrewsbury, on the way to Worcester. The town in not very uneven considered all together, but is pretty rocky. There is a very large and extensive prospect from the middle of the town, and all round the meetinghouse, east and west, north and south, and from some parts of the town seven meetinghouses can be discerned. The land, in general, is rather rough and hard, but the soil is strong, rich, and very productive when subdued. The higher lands are very good for orcharding, and fruit trees of all kinds, and for pasturage, and even for mowing; for the land is not dry, and it bears a dry season exceeding well. It is not so well proportioned with tillage land; however, what they till is very productive, and richly repays the labour bestowed upon it. There is very little poor broken, waste land in the town. And it is richly stored with a fine young thrifty growth of the best of wood for fuel, such as oak of all kinds, walnut and chestnut, and the lower lands bear ash, birch, maple, &c. &c. The town is pretty well supplied with waters by various springs and rivulets, although there is not one large stream which runs through the town. The largest stream in the town is that which issues from Sewall’s Pond, which is within the limits of Boylston, and running southerly a mile and a quarter, falls into Long Pond, on the road to Worcester over which is the bridge at the head of said pond. This pond, called by the natives Quinsigamond, but commonly Long Pond is a beautiful piece of water, in he form of a crescent, nearly four miles in lengths, as it runs (though on straight line but three miles and twenty four rods) and it is from 100 rods to nearly a mile in width, although in one place, it be not more than forty rods. This pond lies almost wholly within the bounds of Shrewsbury, ot more than one acre falling within the limits of Worcester. It is erhaps the largest and finest pond in the county. Indeed it may very fitly be denominated a lake. Upon the top of the hill, on the west side of Shrewsbury it appears to travelers as a large river, ornamented with woods on each side. It affords great plenty of fish, as pickerel, large perch, eels, shiners, breams &c. and the brooks which run into it contain some trout. The water of this pond is in general deep; in some places it as been found ninety six feet deep. In this pond there are a number of slands of various sizes. The first, or uppermost, at the north end is called Little Pine Island, has upon it a thicket of vines, and contains about quarter of an acre. The second is Grass Island, covered with grass and willows and which has been mowed in a dry season. The third is called Sherman’s Island and contains about one acre and an half, and has a growth of small timber and wood upon it, of different kinds. The fourth is called Bowman’s Island and of about three acres, and is clothed with pine and other timber. The fifth is denominated Bayberry Island, from the considerable quantity of those berries which grow thereon: this contains about three acres. The sixth is another Grass Island having upon it willows and water bushes. The seventh is known by the name of Grape Island, of about the fourth of an acre, bears large quantities of grapes. The eighth, commonly called Sharp Pine Island of three quarters of an acre, is covered with diverse sorts of wood. The ninth is known by the name of Ram Island, of two acres, covered with oak and chestnut. The tenth and last is a very large island and generously call Stratten’s Island; this contains about 150 acres; a considerable part of which is under cultivation and there are three families living thereon, having good farms: These are inhabitants of Shrewsbury. This island has oak, chestnut, walnut and some pine thereon. There are two or three other places in the pond where land appears in a dry season, but at other times are covered with water. This is bounded north and west, by the Long or Great Pond; southeast by what is called Half Moon Pond ; south by Flint’s Pond ; east by Round Pond all which communicate with each other. From them runs a river at the southeast which passes into Grafton whereupon there are a number of mills and other water works. There is a small outlet from Long Pond, southerly, into Flint’s Pond and from Flint’s Pond eastwardly, there is an outlet into the river just mentioned. And what is truly noticeable is this, while the water, more generally runs out of Long Pond into Flints Pond, yet in the drier seasons of the year, the water runs out of Flint’s Pond into Long Pond ; for Flint’s Pond is fed by springs and rivulets, which keep it always full. There is a pond called Jordan Pond lying about half a mile eastward of the great of Long Pond and about midday of the length of it; and from this there is an outlet, by which waters from some parts of the year empty into Long Pond. On the stream which runs from Sewell’s Pond into, Quinsigamond or Long Pond, there is a grist mill. Besides this there is a stream which rises in the northwest part of the town, on which there are two saw mills: This runs southerly and empties into Long Pond on the eastern side. There is also another stream which rises from springs a little south of the meetinghouse, on which are mills, and running northeasterly, comes to the side of the great road, affording a fine watering place to travelers and teamsters, and there it is joined by two other rivulets, and taking a southeast direction, and running through the southwest angle of Nortborough, there empties into the River Assabet.
In this town are both Pot and Pearl. Ash works, and where large quantities are made in a year.
The people in Shrewsbury are generally farmers, though they have a due population of traders in European and West India goods, and mechanics of various sorts. On the great road the buildings are large and handsome; and the town makes a pretty appearance; and the number of inhabitants, when the census was taken was 963.