Survey Committee Appointment Order, 1684

General Court Order Appointing Survey Committee
Despite its previous announcement that the Farmers’ petition would be taken up in the next spring session, this is the first evidence that anything was done before the autumn session. On May 17, 1684, the Court ordered the creation of a three-man committee to “view the place in a thorough way, some of the inhabitants of the town and also of the petitioners having notice given to be there”, and to make a recommendation “as to a dividing line between them.”

This order in the General Court's record book tells us a good deal more about where matters stood than any of the responses written in the petition's margin in 1683. We can see from those notes that the Magistrates didn’t approve the Deputies’ proposed solution, but we can’t see whether they opposed it totally, as the Cambridge selectmen had urged, or only in some respects. There's nothing there to explain why the Deputies, especially, were willing to consent to a postponement without an argument.

But the order to appoint a committee and charge it with the task of dividing Cambridge in two suggests strongly that the members of both houses had already concluded that the Farmers should have their own meetinghouse and minister. The Magistrates showed more sympathy with the town’s anxiety than the Deputies did, and were concerned to limit the economic damage that the loss of the Farmers’ tithes might cause. The Deputies, more of whom apparently identified with the petitioners, wanted to make sure that the new parish had enough members to share the economic burden at a level they could afford.

The only way to solve both problems was to draw the boundary between the old parish and the new one in such a way that neither was seriously hurt for the benefit of the other. Unless human nature has changed greatly since the 17th century, there was probably no way to do this that would look entirely fair from both sides.

The Court appointed a committee of three: John Saffyn and John Fayerweather, both Deputies representing Boston, and Captain Thomas Prentice, who had commanded a troop of cavalry during King Philip’s War against the Indians. He was not at this time a member of the General Court, but had been one previously. Interestingly, Prentice (also spelled Prentiss) lived in Cambridge Village and had taken an active role in its several attempts to pull away from the parent town, but the General Court apparently trusted him to act impartially. A well-known and respected citizen, he had managed the project of laying out boundaries for Worcester. This qualification could explain why the Court reached outside its own current membership to select him for the committee—but external appointments of this kind, involving citizens knowledgeable in politics and active in public service, may have been standard operating procedure needing no special explanation.