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The 1638 “Six Mile Grant”– Lynnfield in the Wilderness



Local government

The success of local government in early New England presaged the triumph of the democratic experiment in America. Land grants in Lynnfield and surrounding communities developed into some of the first settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Local town boundaries as we know them today; however, evolved slowly.

In addition to a longing for religious freedom, the desire to possess their own land prompted resourceful Englishmen to immigrate to the New World. For an investment of 50 pounds, each “adventurer” would receive 200 acres in the Colony. Workmen and artisans wxere offered 50 acres per family upon arrival in exchange for their services. The need for strong bodies and skilled hands was apparent. Pretentious manners and philosophical preoccupations would not fell a tree or raise a barn.

In March 1638, the “Six Mile Grant,” as measured from the Lynn Meeting House, was distributed to some 100 Lynn residents. This expanse of about 13 square miles included much of present Lynnfield, Saugus and “Redding” (now Wakefield) near Lake Quannapowitt. When counties were established in Massachusetts in 1643, “Redding” became part of Middlesex County, while Lynn, including “Lynn Fields,” became part of Essex County.

Early settlers

Eventually each village would have a meeting house presided over by a minister “called” for life. A military company would be formed, drilling on the training field or common. Schools were soon established. At first, dwellings were centrally located near the common, although farms belonging to these households were often miles distant. Our historian Thomas Wellman related in the 1890’s: “In winter the hilltops, and the swamps as well, resounded with the axe of the woodman, as he felled the trees for timber or for fuel, although Lynnfield cannot boast such huge trees as many years ago.”

The leading citizens of “Redding” included William Cowdrey, deacon for 40 years; Nicolas Browne, member of the General Court; and Adam Hawkes, forever associated with North Saugus, whose descendants spread throughout the countryside. Lynnfield settler Isaac Hart, whose wife was accused of witchcraft in 1692, purchased sizable acreage from Thomas Hutchinson. His progeny intermarried with the Smith and Parsons clans for generations in Lynnfield.

A large grant of 500 acres in what is now Lynnfield Center was awarded to Edward Holyoke. His son, Elizur, married the daughter of William Pynchon, the founder of Springfield, Mass. Edward Holyoke’s grandson and namesake later served as president of Harvard College. Another ambitious landholder was Ensign Thomas Bancroft. His property was in the vicinity of Reedy Meadow Golf Course, near the historic Danforth House.

Although not included in the original “Six Mile Grant,” the estate of the Honorable John Humphrey was also significant in the Lynnfield settlement. Its extent measured a mile or more around beautiful Suntaug Lake. This worthy was a close associate of Governors John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley. The rigors of the winter in the wilderness; however, disenchanted Humphrey’s wife, Lady Susan, daughter of the Earl of Lincoln. The Humphries returned to England. Their acreage was later peopled by the Mansfield and Newhall clans in South Lynnfield.

Difficult days

In Charles Upham’s Volume I of “Salem Witchcraft,” first published in 1867, we find a powerful description of the herculean task of opening the New England forests to cultivation. The author observes, “The earliest inhabitants of every wooded country, who subdued its wilderness, were truly a race of giants... He who best knew how to fell a tree was justly looked upon as the valuable and leading man. To bring a tall giant of the woods to the ground was a noble and perilous achievement.” (p. 23)

Upham speaks of properties literally a stone’s throw from Lynnfield. Unfortunately, what appeared to be a limitless supply of land in the 1640’s had shrunk dangerously small by the end of the century. Controversies over deeds and boundaries, the historian argues, most likely contributed to the witchcraft madness of 1692.

The exact location and identity of many parcels in the “Six Mile Grant” have not been determined. Nevertheless, we who reside in the general locality may assume that we live on homesteads granted to men and women of vision and courage who cleared the land, established the town of Lynnfield and paved the way for America’s successful experiment in democracy.

By Helen Breen

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