Palisade House of 1630


At a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society, held Jan. 8, 1885, Judge Chamberlain made some observations respecting Samuel Maverick's palisade house of 1630, referred to in the Maverick Manuscript, recently discovered in the British Museum, said:—

It has been generally supposed that Samuel Maverick, assisted by David Thompson, who gave his name to an island in Boston Bay, some time before 1628 erected on Noddle's Island a house protected by palisades and fortified by guns; and that it was in this house that Governor Winthrop and his party were entertained by Maverick when they first came to Boston Harbor from Salem, June 17, 1630.

The sole authority for the erection of such a house on Noddle's Island, and for its existence when Winthrop arrived, is Edward Johnson, in Chap. XVII. of his "Wonder-Working Providence." There being nothing improbable in his account, it has been followed without question by Prince, Hutchinson, Savage, Young, Drake, Frothingham, and many others. But there are facts which seem to be inconsistent with Johnson's statement, though no one of them, nor perhaps all of them combined, is sufficient to overthrow it. Lately, however, additional evidence has come to light, and I now propose to state the whole case. Johnson's narrative is as follows:—

"But to go on with the story, the 12 of July or thereabout 1630, the soldiers of Christ first set foot on this Western end of the World; where arriving in safety, both men, women and children. On the North side of the Charles River, they landed near a small island, called Noddel's Island, where one Mr. Samuel Maverick then living, a man of a very loving and curteous bahavior, very ready to entertain strangers, yet an enemy of the Reformation in hand, being strong for the lordly prelatical power, on this island, he had built a small Fort with the help of one Mr. David Thompson, placing therein four Murtherers to protect him from Indians. About one mile distant upon the River ran a small creek, taking its name from Major Gen. Edward Gibbons, who dwelt there for some years after. On the South side of the River on a point of land called Blackstone's point, planted Mr. William Blackstone, of whom we have formerly spoken. To the southeast of him, near an island called Thompson's Island lived some few planters more. These persons were the first planters of those parts, having some small trading with the Indians for beaver skins, which moved them to make their abode in those parts whom these first troops of Christ's army found as fit helps to further their work."

This account of the coming of Winthrop's fleet, and of the topography of Boston and its vicinity, as well as of the persons he found there, is so incomplete and inaccurate that it raises at once a question as to the authority of Johnson's book on matters apart from his chief purpose—the history of the planting of churches in New England—or only incidental thereto. It was written between 1647 and 1651, and published in London in 1654. Savage's opinion of it as authority may be gathered from his notes to Winthrop's Journal, vol. i. pp. 8, 100, 112. I have looked through its pages, though not exhaustively, and noticed some errors not creditable to a historian who came in 1630, and was engaged in public affairs during his subsequent life. In Chap. VII. he misdescribes the bounds of the colony, and the reservation of mines to the king. In Chap. XVII. he errs by a month as to the date of Winthrop's arrival, and in Chap. XXV. by more than year as to the death of Sagamore John and his people by small-pox. In Chap. XVII. he tells us that the first court was held on board the "Arbella," which possibly may have been, though Savage doubts it; and that Winthrop and other were chosen officers for the remainder of the year 1630—a fact nowhere else mentioned, and contradicted negatively by the absence of any such statement in the place of all others where it would be looked for, the official records of the transactions of that court. In the same chapter he asserts that in 1630 about one hundred and ten persons were admitted freemen. The record says that in October of that year about the same number expressed a desire to be so admitted, but that their request was not granted until May of the next year.

If Johnson were our sole authority respecting the voyage of Winthrop's fleet, his reader could confidently assert that after leaving Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight it came directly into Boston Harbor, and the company first landed about July 12, instead of disembarking at Salem on the 12th of June.

And if we attempt to construct the topography of Boston and its vicinity according to Johnson's description of it, we have one river, the Charles, instead of two, the other being the Mystic; and into the Charles runs Gibbon's Creek, on which he resided many years. On the south side of the river, and opposite to Gibbon's plantation, we should look for Blackstone's Point in Boston. The utter confusion of Johnson's topography is apparent when we place Gibbons where he actually resided, up Mystic River, in the "Charlestown Fields," now Everett, and where his creek runs to this day. Johnson's account, quoted above, was written more than fifteen years after the time to which it relates; and its untrustworthiness is more clearly manifest when compared with Dudley's narrative covering the same period, addressed to the Countess of Lincoln; and its misleading character appears by observing that even the careful and accurate Young, following Johnson, makes Gibbon's Creek tributary to the Charles.

In like manner he gives us an incomplete account of the old planters. He names Maverick, Gibbons, Blackstone, and Thompson, but says nothing of those found at Winnisimmet as early as 1626, nor of Walford and his palisadoed house at Charlestown, nor of the Spragues and the remnant of the hundred planters who Higginson says were there in 1629.

A writer of this description can hardly be deemed an authority on any controverted point; and yet he is the sole authority, so far as I have observed, that places any residence whatsoever on Noddle's Island before 1635.

I now bring together those facts which lead me to believe that Samuel Maverick's fortified house was at Winnisimmet, and not at Noddle's Island, as is asserted by Johnson; and that it was at Winnisimmet he entertained Winthrop and his party, June 17, on his first visit to Boston Bay.

In the first place, Samuel Maverick and John Blackleach, joint-owners of that part of Winnisimmet which does not now belong to the United States, sold the same to Richard Bellingham, Feb. 27, 1635, as appears from "Suffolk Deeds," lib. i fol. 15, the fuller bounds of which will be found in the part now owned by the United States Maverick seems to have owned exclusively, as some years later he sold a portion of it to William Stitson. And inasmuch as there is no evidence of any conveyance or allotment of that plantation to them or to any other party, the presumption is that before the coming of Winthrop they had acquired a title to it, which was respected by the new government.

In the second place, Samuel Maverick had a house at Winisimmet as early as Aug. 16, 1631, a little more than a year after he entertained Winthrop. This is clear from the following record:—

"August 16, 1631. It is ordered, that Mr. Shepheard and Robert Coles shall be fined five marks apiece, and Edward Gibbons twenty shillings for abusing themselves disorderly with drinking too much strong drink aboard the Friendship, and at Mr. Maverick his house at Winnisimmet."

He was living there in December, 1633.

"John Sagamore died of the small pox, and almost all his people; above thirty buried by Mr. Maverick of Winnisimmet in one day,... Among others, Mr. Maverick of Winnisimmet is worthy of perpetual remembrance. Himself, his wife and servants, went daily to them, ministered to their necessities, and buried their dead, and took away many of their children."

Who was "Mr. Maverick of Winnisimmet"? Besides the Rev. John Maverick, of Dorchester, there were three men of the name of Maverick—Samuel, Elias, and Moses, who were admitted freemen, respectively, in 1632, 1633, and 1634. Samuel and Elias, it is almost certain, were brothers; and both lived at Winnisimmet, and on the same estate—now the property of the United States. But there was only one "Mr. Maverick," and he was Mr. Samuel Maverick. In saying this, I exclude the Rev. Mr. John Maverick, of Dorchester.

Uniformly and without exception, both in the Colony Records and in Winthrop's Journal, Samuel Maverick is called "Mr. Maverick;" nor is Elias or Moses ever so called until a much later period. At that time, "Mr." was not only a mark of rank, but of seniority as well; it was an absolute, as well as a relative term.

There being, therefore, only one "Mr. Maverick," let us assume for a moment that he lived on Noddle's Island instead of at Winnisimmet, and then consider the likelihood of "himself, his wife and his servants going daily" in a skiff over the half-frozen bay between Noddle's Island and Winnisimmet in December weather to minister to the dying Indians.

We are absolutely certain that there was a house at Winnisimmet in 1631; and there are some reasons which indicate that neither at that time nor for some time after was there any residence at Noddle's Island. If Maverick had a fortified house at Noddle's Island in 1630, as Johnson asserts, it must have been well known to all people, certainly to Winthrop and the members of his family; and yet within six months after Maverick is thought to have entertained the Governor there, "three of his servants coming in a shallop from Mistic—Dec. 24, 1630—were driven upon Noddle's Island, and forced to stay there all that night, without fire or food." The reader is ready to ask why they did not seek shelter and food in the hospitable house of Samuel Maverick.

If Maverick before 1630 had built a house on Noddle's Island, under a claim of right, and was living there in April, 1632, the order of the General Court of that date is at least singular. Why should he be excluded, on his own estate, from "shooting at fowls," or from taking them with nets, and the exclusive privilege of those acts be given to one John Perkins?

As we have seen, Maverick had a house at Winnisimmet as early as August, 1631. In the previous October, within four months after Winthrop's visit, he, Dudley, and Maverick sent out a pinnace to Narragansett for corn for the colonists; and the next year they went as far as Virginia on the same business; and on the return of the bark, "she came to Winysemett." Why should she go to Winnisimmet instead of Noddle's Island, if Maverick's residence was there?

It is significant that though Wood's map, made not later than 1634, and the newly discovered Winthrop map of about the same date, both indicate a settlement at Winnisimmet, neither of them affords the slightest indication of any residence on Noddle's Island, which on the latter is represented as covered by forests. Nor does Wood, in his text, say more of Noddle's Island than to class it with woods, water, and meadow ground where the inhabitants pasture their cattle; but he states "that the last town in the still bay is Winnisimmet, a very sweet place for situation, and stands very commodiously, being fit to entertaine more planters than are yet seated."

I have said that aside from Johnson there is absolutely no authority for saying that Maverick, or any one else, had a house on Noddle's Island in 1630. There are reasons for conjecture that such was the case until some time in 1634. Maverick sold part of his Winnisimmet estate to Bellingham in 1635, but he still had one hundred and fifteen acres left, now the United States Hospital grounds; and, as I conjecture, and as Wood's plan seems to indicate, his house was on that part. He acquired title to Noddle's Island in April, 1633, but, as we have seen, was at Winnisimmet as late as December of that year. He may have built on Noddle's Island in 1634. That is probable from the following facts: In July, 1637, Sir Harry Vane and Lord Ley dined with Maverick at Noddle's Island. He doubtless had a house there at that date. From May, 1635, to May, 1636, he was in Virginia; and that his house was built before he took that journey may be inferred from the fact that his wife, writing to Trelawny, dated her letter from "Nottell's Iland in Massachusetts Bay, the 20th November, 1635." Unless he built in the winter before going to Virginia, we are thrown back into the year 1634. And that it was built earlier than that date is probable from the circumstance, already stated, that he was living at Winnisimmet in December, 1633.

But it is scarcely worth while to pursue the question further, when we have evidence which is clear and conclusive. The following extract from the newly found Maverick Manuscript settles the question:—

"Winnisime.—Two miles Sowth from Rumney Marsh on the North side of Mistick River is Winnisime which though but a few houses on it, yet deserves to be mencond. One house yet standing there which is the Antientest house in the Massachusetts Government, a house which in the yeare 1625 I fortified with a Pillizado and fflankers and gunnes both belowe and above in them which awed the Indians who at that time had a mind to Cutt off the English. They once faced it but receiving a repulse never attempted it more although (as now they confesse) they repented it when about 2 yeares after they saw so many English come over."

There is no ambiguity in the above statement. The house was fortified in 1625. Was it built then, or in 1623, when Thompson may have been in the Bay? If Maverick's statement, made May 30, 1669, that "it is forty-five years since I came into New England," is to be taken strictly, he was not in the country before May 30, 1624; but neither this nor his other assertion, that "I have been here from the very first settling of New England by the English," should be construed with literal exactness. Nor do I think we are to understand him as saying that temporary structures, such as must have sheltered the settlers at Wessagusset, were not erected before his palisade house at Winnisimmet. On the principal fact—that not later than 1625 he erected at Winnisimmet the first permanent house in the Bay Colony, and that the same was standing as late as 1660—I think we may safely rest. Maverick could not have been mistaken in respect to anything so important in his personal history, nor had he any reason for misstating it. He certainly knew the facts of his own life better than Johnson, on whose sole authority all opposing statements are based. And Johnson's statement in regard to this matter, as well as to many other matters which may be supposed to have fallen under his observation, is coupled with assertions which we know to be untrustworthy. The historian of East Boston [William H. Sumner] has discussed the question, Who was Mr. Maverick, of Winnisimmet? with considerable ingenuity; but the authority for his main assumption had not then been discredited by the Maverick Manuscript, nor does his discussion include the facts essential to the determination of the question.

Mellen Chamberlain, Proceedings, June, 1885

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