Uxbridge Breaks Tradition and Makes History: Lydia Chapin Taft by Carol Masiello

Lydia Chapin was born in the town of Mendon (c. 1711) and like all little girls born west of Medfield she was a pioneer in a frontier town. When Lydia was born, the town had just finished rebuilding after its burning during King Philip's War (1670) and was starting its western expansion toward New Sherborn (present day Douglas) and Providence (the southern boundary was on the Providence Plantation line). Eight miles square was the original deed and men like her father were part of the land divisions and purchases that were making Mendon a town to be proud of. A sawmill was finally being built on the Second Bridge River, the first schoolhouse with Deacon Warfield as schoolmaster had just been built, the meetinghouse was being expanded and roads were being laid out to the western part of town. Oblivious to all of this, Lydia's days were filled with learning the skills needed to be a successful "goodwife". She would learn from her mother, grandmother and aunts how to make soap, spin both flax and wool, scour her pewter, make candles, bake and care for the sick, all the while she practiced humility and patience. While men worried about the bounty on wolves, draining swamps, cutting cedar trees and laying out roads, women were more concerned with mice in the larder, foxes in the henhouse and mountainous piles of laundry.

Our young lady's life would see many important changes in the geography and politics of her town, but because she was a woman she would be on the outside looking in. The expansion into the western part of town had taken place and the inhabitants of that section were a rabble-rousing crew. They had many complaints about the way they were treated, ranging from the distance they had to travel to the meetinghouse for worship (although the town had allowed the construction of a noon house on Rawson's farm in 1709) to the posting of warrants in inconvenient places. The new saw mill and gristmill had been located too far from the western part of town and these inhabitants believed that they were being taxed for all of these without gaining any benefit from them. In 1727 this crew of malcontents would separate from Mendon and be part of the newly incorporated town of Uxbridge and from this lively and politically charged town would come Lydia's future. In 1731 Lydia became the wife of Josiah Taft of Uxbridge and her name and Uxbridge's would become linked with women's rights. Josiah Taft, according to the Proprietors Records, was on his way to becoming a large landholder in Uxbridge. As Josiah purchased and sold land, Lydia set up housekeeping bringing into play all the skills she had been mastering. Both she and her husband were a part of a new village and they along with their fellow citizens helped to form a town that became a respected community.

The old town meeting books list an Ensign Josiah Taft as continuously being elected the moderator for town meetings (noting his militia title change to Captain after a few years). Josiah was in the Uxbridge militia; enrollment in the military was compulsory with training being done in the local fort or training fields in each town. Every man was required to have a weapon and ammunition and to be prepared to act when called upon. He was chosen several times to represent Uxbridge both on important matters with neighbor towns and in the General Court. The Vital Records register Lydia and Josiah as having seven children between the years 1733 and 1753, also recording the deaths of two-month-old Ebenezer in 1735 and seven year old Joel in 1749.

According to local history, in 1756 the Taft's son Caleb was studying at Harvard when he was struck ill and died. Josiah, eleven days after returning from his eighteen-year-old son's deathbed, died suddenly on September 30th. The October 25th town meeting records simply say that on account of Josiah's death a new moderator will be chosen. With the death of Josiah, Lydia is left to care for 16-year-old Asahael, 6-year-old Bezaleel and 3-year-old Cloa. As seems to be her fate, her life and the life of her town are again intertwined. The French and Indian war is being waged and towns must vote as to whether to increase the amount they will contribute to the cost of the war. The only individuals allowed to vote were freeholders, (free male property holders), and Josiah's estate was valued as one of the largest in the town. Out of respect for his large contribution to the town, the town fathers allowed Lydia to vote as Josiah's proxy. She cast a vote to increase the town's contribution, thereby giving herself the distinction of being the first woman to vote in this country. She is mentioned in town records a few times more, once in 1758 to reduce her highway rates and another in 1765 was to change her school district.

Lydia died Nov. 9,1778 and is listed in the Vital Records as simply, "Taft, Lydia. w. Of Capt. Josiah". Hundreds of years later, Lydia's single vote would elevate her from the role of wife and mother to a symbol of woman's suffrage. To her she did nothing noteworthy, she did what she was brought up to do. Lydia after all was a colonial woman.