Eighteen Feet Square and Seven Feet Stud

“Know all men by these presents, that I Samuel Shadwick of Newton in the County of Middlesex and Province of the Massachusetts Bay housewright am holden and stand firmly bound and obliged unto William Dudley of Roxbury, [there follows 10 additional names] … all of the Province aforesaid, in the full and just sum of forty pounds, to be paid to the said Dudley [and the 10 others] … a committee for the admitting settlers into the line of towns so called … which payment well and faithfully to be made I bind my self, my heirs, executors and administrators firmly by these presents. Sealed with my seal. Dated this seventh day of December 1736.”

Why was Samuel Shattuck pledging to pay members of a committee overseeing the settlement of new towns the sum of £40, equivalent in today’s economy to about $1,875? It all becomes clear in the rest of this old land-deed document that I found at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The money would only have to be paid if house-builder Shattuck failed to fulfill certain tasks within a specific time frame.

“Now if the above-bounden who is admitted into the township No. Four in the line of towns shall build a dwelling house of eighteen feet square and seven feet stud on his home lot, and fence in and break up for plowing, or clear and stock with English grass, five acres of land within three years next after this date, and cause his said home lot to be inhabited, and shall pay his proportionable part of the charge of building a meeting house and settling a minister, with the other admitted grantees in said township, then the above-written obligation shall be utterly void, but on failure hereof to be in full force, strength and virtue.”

In other words, build a house and start farming in the wilderness, or pay up (precursor to “Live Free or Die”?). Settlers bought land with sweat equity, while Massachusetts expanded its territory. Samuel Shattuck was one of many petitioners who had asked for a tract of land to settle on, and the General Court in May of 1735 had responded by designating 15 townships, ordering “that the lands on both sides Connecticut River, at or near the falls [this would be Bellows Falls] over to Rumford [the old name for Concord] on Merrimack River, should be laid out into townships of the contents of six miles square, and directed the above-named committee to admit into the said townships, such of the petitioners as should offer themselves, and give bond to the faithful performance of the conditions and terms of the said grant.” The towns running between “the falls” and “over to Rumford” were to be laid out in a double row in what is now southwestern New Hampshire and were simply assigned numbers rather than names.

Massachusetts also desired a northern line of towns for protection as explained by Governor Belcher in May of 1736, quoted in the Journal of the House of Representatives: “I hope this Court will give all proper encouragement for a speedy settlement of those lands, which will fix such a barrier for that part of our frontiers, as will be of great safety to the Province upon any rupture that may happen with our neighbors” (the French and Indians).

Of note in this undated map of provincial Massachusetts by Dr. William Douglass is the “frontier double line of townships as a barrier against the Indians.” From Monadnock Records of 3 Centuries by Helen Nutting. Present-day town names are super-imposed over the map – Samuel Shattuck’s deed was in Acworth (No. 4).

At the time, Massachusetts believed that it owned the land under consideration here, but the province of New Hampshire claimed the very same land. Massachusetts continued granting townships until King George II resolved the dispute in 1740 by establishing the boundary which we know today.

Resolution of the boundary dispute created mass confusion amoung Massachusetts land grantees. New Hampshire did not recognize the newly created townships nor the claims of Massachusetts settlers. It is highly likely that Mr. Shattuck neither built a house in town No. Four nor, considering the chaos surrounding the King’s boundary ruling, paid the £40 penalty to Mr. Dudley’s committee.


Randy Miller is a fiddler, pianist, music teacher, and tunebook publisher active in contra dancing since the 1970s. His contradance band, Celticladda, was formed in 2006 and performs nationwide. Randy’s website is www.fiddlecasebooks.com.

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