Survey Committee Report and Map, 1684

Survey Committee Report
The committee handed in its report, which was duly countersigned by Edward Rawson, secretary of the house of Magistrates. It has no date, so all we can say is that it must have been later than May 17, when the committee was appointed, and earlier than October 17, the date of the General Court’s 1684 response to the Farmers’ petition, which refers to this report. The committee members, all of whom signed the report, recommended a dividing line that is still the southeastern boundary of Lexington, separating it from Arlington (which continued to be a part of Cambridge until 1807) as well as Belmont and Winchester. (The parts of both towns that touch this line originally belonged to Arlington.)
Survey Committee Map
Although the committee delivered this map along with its report, the map represents only the territory they intended to survey—that is, the part of Cambridge that lay northwest of the town’s meetinghouse. Disappointingly, the map doesn’t show the location of the dividing line that the report recommends. The committee must have prepared the map before they did the survey, perhaps with the intention of adding the boundary line once it was defined—but if so this step was never taken.
The survey committee's report shows that the General Court had already resolved, in principle at least, to grant the Farmers’ petition: it noted that the district out toward Concord—the Farms, in other words—“is ordered to become a village.” That district already had boundaries defined between it and the towns on the three sides not facing Cambridge: Watertown to the southwest, Concord to the northwest, and Woburn to the northeast. All that was needed to complete the definition of the new village was a straight line running across the fourth, southeastern side, opposite and more or less parallel to the Concord line; this would be the Farms’ boundary with Cambridge.

But deciding where to put the line involved more politics than geometry. If it were drawn too close to Cambridge, the town might—or feared that it might—or at least claimed to fear that it might—lose so many supporters of its own ministry that those who remained would be unable to provide enough support. If, instead, the line were drawn too far away from Cambridge, the new parish might contain too few households to support the ministry they planned to establish. Not only that, but some of the petitioners who lived five or six miles from the Cambridge meetinghouse might still be obliged to undertake an arduous weekly journey to go there, instead of to a new meetinghouse that was much closer to home. The committee, reporting that they “received information from and heard the allegations of both parties,” were doubtless made familiar with all of these arguments.

Their decision was to define a line that ran from southeast to northwest by the compass, and to anchor it at a point where it crossed the Cambridge-Concord road (today’s Massachusetts Avenue) 5½ miles distant from the Cambridge meetinghouse. The language in which the report described this boundary was subsequently repeated in every document that refers to the boundaries of the new parish—up to and including the order that transformed the former precinct of Cambridge Farms to the town of Lexington, 29 years later:
The most convenient place for the dividing line to run is, at the first small run of water or swampy place, over which there is a kind of bridge in the way on the southerly side of Francis Whitmore's house towards the town of Cambridge aforesaid, which line is to run across the neck of land that lies between Woburn line and that of Watertown upon a southwest and northeast course.
We can only hope that by 1713, the swampy road in front Mr. Whitmore's house had been at least somewhat improved.
Boundaries of the new parish/precinct
Here is a home-made map that shows (approximately, to say the least) the new parish/precinct as the committee's recommendation defined it. Seven years were to pass until, in 1691, the General Court consented and the precinct was created; until then, the Farmers had to continue making their arduous Sabbath-day journeys to the Cambridge meetinghouse. (As we'll see, the delay was due mostly to political distractions and interruptions that had nothing to do with the issue of Cambridge versus the Farms.)

The scale makes it look as if the distance from the Cambridge meetinghouse to the place where the boundary crosses the road (today Massachusetts Avenue) is less than 5½ miles. But that distance was measured along the road, which detoured around a couple of ponds and contained more twists and turns than my sketched-in version is able to show.

The “eight-mile line” on the map was Cambridge's first western boundary, declared by the General Court. It was in effect only until 1644, when a large grant pushed the town out to the west and north, and by 1691 it wasn’t much more than a memory. This and other details of this region’s interesting geographic history are unfolded in the parts of this website that describe Cambridge and Lexington on the map. (To find your way there, use the navigation bar at the top of the page or visit the site map.)