Order Making Lexington a Town, 1713

1713 Order Establishing the Town of Lexington, first page
Shortly after the town of Cambridge and the village of the Farms agreed on the conditions of separation, an order of the province's General Court and governor brought the new town officially into being—raised it, in the words of the heading. The petition that must have asked for this is lost, but the order is preserved in the provincial government's record book, where it takes up parts of two pages, left unshaded in the pictures.

Since 1692, Massachusetts had been governed under the provisions of the charter issued by William III, which designated it a province rather than a colony as previously. The General Court now consisted of a popularly elected House of Representatives and a Council that was elected, like the old House of Magistrates, by the members of the General Court from among their own ranks. However, the council's membership was subject to the veto of the royal governor, who held the ultimate power in the province. He could veto any action taken by the Court, and if he didn’t choose to veto it, the king still could—the old colony’s de facto autonomy was gone forever.
1713 Order Establishing the Town of Lexington, second page
The governor’s veto power was balanced by the General Court’s control over how money could be raised and spent, and relations between the executive and legislative bodies in Massachusetts were a difficult and contentious matter right up until the Revolution. Nor was Joseph Dudley, the governor in 1713, known for a cordial relationship with the legislature. He had made a good many enemies in Massachusetts during his service in the Dominion of New England government during the reign of James II. Quite a few of them were still prominent and politically active, but Dudley consistently used his veto to keep them off his council. This did nothing to foster an atmosphere of reconciliation and good will.

But the Northern Precinct’s petition to be separated from Cambridge, which came forward with the town’s approval, was a thoroughly routine piece of business that neither representatives, councilors nor governor had any reason to oppose. The record suggests that the petition sailed through without objection. The first paragraph of the order granting it briefly revisits the meetinghouse grant in 1691, which it rather tantalizingly describes as “obtained … from the Generall Court with Approbation of the Town,” although, as we’ve seen, the 1691 order says nothing about the town’s position, only that the Court had listened to the arguments of both parties. Whoever wrote the 1713 order may have remembered something that isn’t in the records, or may have made an assumption influenced by the current harmony between village and town.

The rest of the order repeats the familiar formula created by the survey committee that drew the boundary line in 1684, which was faithfully copied into nearly every document related to the Farms after that time. It also describes the rights and privileges of the new township using the kind of standard language known in legal circles as boilerplate.

The only new and surprising item is the name the order confers on the town. We can’t say whether the lost petition asked for this name, or indeed for any name. We can see from examples like that of Newton that it wasn't uncommon for a town to ask the legislature to come up with a name.

But why Lexington? The answer is by no means obvious, and differing opinions have been advanced. For an account of them, including my own 2¢ worth, see this page.