History of Grafton
ADVENTURE - Shops - HISTORY & HERITAGE - Dining & Lodging
History and Engraving by John Warner Barber 1845
GRAFTON. THIS town is composed of a tract of land, 4 miles square, which was reserved for the Indians when the town of Sutton was granted for settlement. It was called by the Indians Hassanamisco, and was known by that name till it was incorporated by the general court, in 1735, and named Grafton. As the Indians diminished, the white people became proprietors, in 1728, of the soil by purchase, for the consideration of 2,500, and the grant was made on condition "that they should provide preaching and schooling, and seats in the meeting-house for the remaining Indians." The general court, from the first, appointed a committee of three to superintend and take care of the Indian property, both personal and real. But this committee have little or nothing to do at present, as the Indians are nearly gone. " In 1765, there were 14 Indians in town. This number gradually diminished, but it was not till about the year 1825 that the last of the Nipmucks ceased to exist. They received the yearly income from their funds in the month of May, at which time they usually had a joyous holiday. Blankets, psalters, and psalm-books were distributed among them, as well as money. In 1830, there were 14 of a mixed Indian and negro race, which yet hold some of the Indian lands, and receive the benefits of the small remaining fund."
The Congregational church was formed in this town in 1731, of which Rev. Solomon Prentice was ordained first pastor. He was dismissed in 1747, and was succeeded by Rev. Aaron Hutchinson, ordained in 1750. He continued with the people till 1772, when he was dismissed. Rev. Daniel Grosvenor was ordained the next pastor, in 1774. By reason of ill health, he was dismissed in 1788. Rev. John Miles, the next pastor, was ordained in 1796, and was succeeded by Rev. Moses E. Searle, in 1826 ; Rev. John Wilde, the next minister, was ordained in 1832.
The above engraving shows the appearance of Grafton, as it is seen about half a mile distant, on the Providence road. The village stands on a commanding "eminence, with an extensive prospect to the westward. The spire seen on the left is that of the Congregational (Orthodox) church ; the next is the Baptist ; that on the right is the Unitarian. The surface of this town is hilly and uneven, and in general rocky ; but the soil is good and productive. The Blackstone river arid canal pass through the south west corner of the town, and one of the principal tributary streams to that river flows through the west part of Grafton, and by a fall of more than 50 feet supplies unfailing water-power to extensive works for the manufacture of cotton and woolen goods. There are 5 churches, 2 Congregational, 2 Baptist, and 1 Methodist.
Population, 2,910. Distance from Worcester, 8 miles, and 36 from Boston. In 1837, there were 5 cotton mills, 14,054 spindles; 2,053,320 yards of cotton goods were manufactured ; value, $278,014; males employed, 134; females, 226; one woolen mill, 4 sets of machinery; 70,000 yards of cloth were manufactured; value, $120,000; males employed, 34; females, 25. There were 18,672 pairs of boots, 671,538 pairs of shoes, manufactured; value, $614,141; males employed, 906; females, 486. The following account is taken from Mr. Brigham's Centennial Address, delivered April 29, 1835. " This town is a portion of a large territory, formerly called the Nipmuck country. The limits of this country were not very well denned, but probably included all the southern part of the county of Worcester, a few of the adjoining towns in the state of Connecticut, and westward to the Connecticut river. Like most of New England when first visited by the English, its population was very sparse. It had been wasted away by pestilence, or by the fatal incursions of the fierce and warlike Maquas. Its inhabitants possessed a milder and less warlike character than most of the neighboring tribes, and were accordingly brought into subjection to them. What was the nature of this subjection, or in what relation they stood to these tribes, it is now difficult to state with much accuracy. It is known, however, that they paid them tribute ; and perhaps this, in time of peace, was the only acknowledgment of servitude required.
The first mention made of this country is by Gov. Winthrop, who, with a number of others, made an excursion up Charles river in January, 1632. After they had gone up about fifteen miles, he says they ascended a very high rock, ' where they might see all over Neipnett, and a very high hill due west.' No white man probably ever set foot on its soil till the autumn of 1635, when it was traversed by a company of English, consisting of sixty persons, who, thinking themselves straitened for land about Massachusetts bay, had determined thus early to emigrate to the more fertile banks of the Connecticut. What portion of the Nipmuck country they crossed, is not known ; but as their destined point was at Wethersfield, is it improbable that they crossed this town, and that here, two hundred years ago, that small company of emigrants, under the broad canopy of heaven, invoked the blessing of God on their arduous enterprise ? " No other notice is taken of the Nipmucks or their country, until the benevolent project of converting the Indians to Christianity was undertaken. This was in 1646. Strong hopes were then entertained of its success. Among those who were willing to devote their time, wealth, and talents to this cause, none were more conspicuous than John Eliot, known in his own day as the apostle to the Indians. He commenced his benevolent labors among the Indians at Natick, with whom the Nipmucks had a friendly and constant intercourse, and by that means they were probably first induced to attend his preaching. In an account of his success, written to the corporation of London, in 1649, he says, ' that a Nipnet sachem hath submitted himself to the Lord, and much desires one of our chief ones to live with him and those that are with him.' In another account, written in 1651, he says, 'there is a great country lying between Connectacott and the Massachusetts, called Nipnet, where there be many Indians dispersed, many of whom have sent to our Indians, desiring that some may be sent unto them to teach them to pray to God.' Soon after this, Eliot probably came to this town; for, in 1654, he had met with such success, that the general court, on his petition, set it apart for the use of the Indians. The design of this was, as appears from Eliot's petition, to prevent any conflicting claims between the English and Indians, and to preserve to the latter the quiet and undisturbed enjoyment of lands which they and their fathers had held from time immemorial, but over which the state claimed jurisdiction. From that time, for a number of years, Eliot frequently visited this town, and made such progress in his benevolent labors, that, in 1671, he formed an Indian church here, the second of the kind in Massachusetts. "No Indian town gave stronger assurances of success than this, at that time. Hassanamesitt, as it was then called, had become the central point of civilization and Christianity to the whole Nipmuck country. A school was here established, where the Bible was read and studied in the Indian language. Young men were there educated and sent into the neighboring towns to preach the gospel. A regular government was created, and the forms of law strictly observed. The population of the town was small, which were furnished with teachers from this place. The chief ruler of the whole Nipmuck country, Wattascompanum, had his residence here, and from this place issued his orders and decrees to his subjects. A writer of that day calls him ' a grave and pious man,' and, from some examples given of the exercise of his authority, there is no doubt that he administered his government with efficiency, if not with liberality. "In 1674, Eliot, with another devoted friend to the Indians, Major Daniel Gookin, again visited all the ' praying Indians' of the Nipmuck country, the latter of whom wrote an account of them. He describes this town with much greater particularity than Hubbard, who called it ' a place up into the woods beyond Medfield and Mendon. ' Gookin says, ' the name, Hassanamesitt, signifieth a place of small stones. It lieth about thirty-eight miles from Boston, west-southerly, and is about two miles eastward of Nipmuck river, and near unto the old road way to Connecticut. It hath not above twelve families ; and so, according to our computation, about sixty souls ; but is capable to receive some hundreds, as generally the other villages are, if it shall please God to multiply them. The dimensions of this town is four miles square, and' so about eight thousand acres of land. This village is not inferior unto any of the Indian plantations for rich land and plenty of meadow, being well tempered and watered. It produceth plenty of corn and grain.