The subject of this website is Lexington’s beginnings. What happened in our town on April 19, 1775 is well known, but of course the town was here long before then—first as a sparsely settled agricultural district of Cambridge; then as a growing precinct with its own church, minister, selectmen and constable; and finally as a fully independent town, free of political ties to the older town it had sprung from.

It’s less easy to find information about the 77 years between 1636—when the unsettled area that is now Lexington was first declared part of Cambridge—and 1713, when Lexington became a town and began keeping its own records. References to the initial grants of land in “the Farms” (as the future Lexington was then called by Cambridge’s settlers) begin in 1637, although the earliest landholders seem to have been investors rather than settlers, and it’s thought that the first permanent inhabitant didn’t arrive until about five years later. The records kept by the town of Cambridge during these years are terse and don’t tell us a great deal.

In 1682, however, Cambridge Farms (or sometimes Cambridge North Farms), as people from outside Cambridge were calling the village by then, appeared on the historical stage with a petition to the colonial legislature, asking permission to build its own meetinghouse and appoint its own minister. From that point onward we can follow a paper trail of documents that tell us the story: how the village overcame resistance from Cambridge and its allies in the legislature, endured a delay caused by the political conflict between Massachusetts Bay and England, and finally won its own parish, nine years after first submitting that petition—how it then set up its church, and finally how, after a period of growth and prosperity, Cambridge Farms’ desire to complete its separation from Cambridge was achieved through friendly negotiations between village and town.

Those documents, most of them in the Massachusetts state archives, others in the archives of the City of Cambridge and the Lexington Historical Society, are the primary contents of this website. Presenting them in detail as clearly as possible made it necessary to format the site in a size that works best on a desktop or laptop computer, and may, unfortunately, be hopeless on phone-sized devices regardless of their intelligence.

This website also describes the early geographical history of first Cambridge and then Cambridge Farms/Lexington as their boundaries were drawn and redrawn over time. For the convenience of visitors who would like to know more about the religious and political contexts in which Lexington’s formation came about, the last part offers brief accounts of the Puritans, the commonwealth they built, and their struggle to preserve a relative independence from royal control—a struggle that significantly added to Cambridge Farms’ long wait for a church of its own.

Charlie Bowen
Lexington, Massachusetts send me a message, northfarms

The website’s parts are listed across the navigation bar at the top of the page. Here is a brief description of each:
  • Documented Beginnings[+]
    In chronological order, the surviving documents tell the story of Cambridge Farms’ progress from a remote corner of Cambridge to a new parish and precinct and then to an independent town. Each document has an introductory page that describes its role in the story, and from that page you can go to either an image of the original manuscript with a literal transcription, or a modernized transcription that, without changing the wording, follows present-day spelling and punctuation conventions. Notes explain a few passages that may be tricky to understand.
  • Cambridge on the Map[+]
    Cambridge in its early years went through some extraordinary changes in size, first becoming a monster on the map and then gradually returning to its original modest dimensions. This part of the site describes both the growth and the shrinkage (in both of which Lexington was one of the players) and represents them on a map that you can compare with modern town lines.
  • Lexington on the Map[+]
    Most of the boundaries of present-day Lexington were established while it was still Cambridge Farms. Changes since 1691, when the line between it and the rest of Cambridge was drawn, have been relatively few. As with Cambridge, this part includes a map that shows the changes over time and allows comparison with current town lines.
  • Colonial Contexts[+]
    Three contexts in which the development of Lexington took place are described here: the religious tradition that motivated the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay colony, the nature of the government and society the settlers established here, and the long conflict with the English crown in which Massachusetts Bay attempted—ultimately in vain—to keep the independence it had gained during its first decades by a combination of luck and cunning.

This website was last updated on April 14, 2015.