Order Granting the Farmers’ Petition, 1691

General Court Order Granting the Farmers' Petition
At the end of 1691, only a few months before a new charter permanently transformed the governance of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (converting it in the process into the Province of Massachusetts), the colony's resuscitated General Court finally rendered a decision on the Farmers' petition, now almost nine years old.

The order granting the petition referred to “former Applications by [the inhabitants of the Farms] several Years since made unto this Court.” It’s logical to assume that the Farmers had now submitted a new petition, but the Court's order summarizes their appeal in terms that could all have been taken from the original petition of 1682. It’s possible that a fresh copy of that petition, with its text unchanged, was presented to the Court, or even that the original petition itself—perhaps in response to lobbying on behalf of the Farmers—was simply brought out of a drawer and dusted off for the occasion.

The 1691 order refers to a hearing before the General Court, in which representatives of both parties argued their respective sides of the case. It’s unlikely that this was merely a reference to the hearing held in 1683, as the order—written after the court had sat and adjourned on Tuesday, December 15, 1691—says “The selectmen of Cambridge having had a copy of said petition sent them with a notification of the time for their being heard thereupon, this day and accordingly attending after a full hearing and Consideration of what was offered by both parties, it is granted, and ordered… [etc.].” Despite modern conventions of punctuation, which don’t apply well to 17th-century writing, this passage says clearly that the hearing took place “on this day,” that is, at the December 15 sitting just adjourned. (The order might have been written a day or even a week later, but the date of the session is clearly stated in the record book, and “this day” could have reference only to that date.)

It’s much easier today to capture all the “back and forth” of a hearing or debate than it was when pen and ink were the only tools available for the purpose. So it’s understandable that the record is parsimonious with details. But it would be good to know whether or not Cambridge was still as determined to hang onto that extra half-mile of territory beyond the survey committee's boundary as it had apparently been in 1684. It’s possible that the town had by this time come to realize that it had nothing to fear from this development.

The order of 1713 that transformed the Farms from a precinct of Cambridge into a town named Lexington looked back on this action of 1691 in these words: “Whereas upwards of twenty years since the Inhabitants or Farmers dwelling on a certain tract of outlands within the Township of Cambridge … obtained leave from the General Court with approbation of the town to be a hamlet or separate precinct … [etc.]” The phrase that I've put in italics suggests that harmony had been achieved on that occasion, but we can’t be sure that this was any more than a rhetorical flourish on the writer’s part 22 years later. Unfortunately, the silence of the 1691 order on “what was offered by both parties” doesn’t help us with this.