To the guidance of the legislative councils; to the assistance of the executive and subordinate departments; to the friendly co-operation of the respective State Governments; to the candid and liberal support of the people, so far as it may be deserved by honest industry and zeal, I shall look for whatever success may attend my public service; and knowing that “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain,” with fervent supplications for His favor, to His overruling providence I commit, with humble but fearless confidence, my own fate and the future destinies of my country.
Nine miles south of Boston, just a little back from the escalloped shores of Old Ocean, lies the village of Braintree. It is on the Plymouth post-road, being one of that string of settlements, built a few miles apart for better protection, that lined the sea, Boston being crowded, and Plymouth full to overflowing, the home-seekers spread out north and south.
In Sixteen Hundred Twenty, when the first cabin was built at Braintree, land that was not in sight of the coast had actually no value. Back a mile, all was a howling wilderness, with trails made by wild beasts or savage men as wild. These paths led through tangles of fallen trees and tumbled rocks, beneath dark, overhanging pines where winter’s snows melted not till midsummer, and the sun’s rays were strange and alien. Men who sought to traverse these ways had to crouch and crawl or climb. Through them no horse or ox or beast of burden had carried its load.
But up from the sea the ground rose gradually for a mile, and along this slope that faced the tide, wind and storm had partly cleared the ground, and on the hillsides our forefathers made their homes. The houses were built facing either the east or the south. This persistence to face either the sun or the sea shows a last, strange rudiment of paganism, making queer angles now that surveyors have come with Gunter’s chain and transit, laying out streets and doing their work.
A mile out, north of Braintree, on the Boston road, came, in Sixteen Hundred Twenty-five, one Captain Wollaston, a merry wight, and thirty boon companions, all of whom probably left England for England’s good. They were in search of gold and pelf, and all were agreed on one point: they were quite too good to do any hard work. Their camp was called Mount Wollaston, or the Merry Mount. Our gallant gentlemen cultivated the friendship of the Indians, in the hope that they would reveal the caves and caverns where the gold grew lush and nuggets cumbered the way; and the Indians, liking the drink they offered, brought them meal and corn and furs.
And so the thirty set up a Maypole, adorned with bucks’ horns, and drank and feasted, and danced like fairies or furies, the livelong day or night. So scandalously did these exiled lords behave that good folks made a wide circuit ’round to avoid their camp.
Preaching had been in vain, and prayers for the conversion of the wretches remained unanswered. So the neighbors held a convention, and decided to send Captain Miles Standish with a posse to teach the merry men manners.
Standish appeared among the bacchanalians one morning, perfectly sober, and they were not. He arrested the captain, and bade the others begone. The leader was shipped back to England, with compliments and regrets, and the thirty scattered. This was the first move in that quarter in favor of local option.
Six years later, the land thereabouts was granted and apportioned out to the Reverend John Wilson, William Coddington, Edward Quinsey, James Penniman, Moses Payne and Francis Eliot.
And these men and their families built houses and founded “the North Precinct of the Town of Braintree.”
Between the North Precinct and the South Precinct there was continual rivalry. Boys who were caught over the dead-line, which was marked by Deacon Penniman’s house, had to fight. Thus things continued until Seventeen Hundred Ninety-two, when one John Adams was Vice-President of the United States. Now this John Adams, lawyer, was the son of John Adams, honest farmer and cordwainer, who had bought the Penniman homestead, and whose progenitor, Henry Adams, had moved there in Sixteen Hundred Thirty-six. John Adams, Vice-President, afterwards President, was born there in the Penniman house, and was regarded as a neutral, although he had been thrashed by boys both from the North and from the South Precinct. But at the last, there is no such thing as neutrality.