Lexington began as a collection of agricultural properties belonging to investors who lived in Cambridge, of which this area was a part, but not a residential part. As the 17th century continued, however, more settlers took up residence here and made it their home. The progress of ‘Cambridge Farms’ from a rural neighborhood in 1682 to a precinct with its own church in 1691, and finally to a fully independent town in 1713, is marked by a series of handwritten documents that begins with a petition to the General Court and ends with an order issued by the Court and approved by a royal governor. This part of the website presents these documents in their chronological sequence. They tell the story—the public and political story, at least—of our town’s beginning.

Each document chapter consists of a descriptive introductory page that gives access to two supplementary pages: one with an image of the original manuscript text and a literal transcription below it, and another containing a more readable transcription that follows modern conventions of spelling and punctuation. (It doesn’t change the text in any other way, but explanations are provided where the language is obsolete or obscure.)

Chapters in this part...

  • Cambridge Farmers’ Petition, 1682[+]
    Families in the outlying Farms district of Cambridge petition the General Court (legislature) of Massachusetts Bay for permission to build a meeting house and engage a minister. They are prepared to build the meeting house and pay for the minister’s support, but ask to be excused from also paying to support the minister in Cambridge. Since all of them live 5 to 10 miles from the Cambridge meeting house, they are often prevented by bad weather from getting to services there, and fear lest their children grow up without proper religious instruction. They have brought their problems to the town meeting, but have “obtained noe relief or encouragment; from the Towne of Cambridge in this affaire.”
  • General Court Response, 1682[+]
    The Court’s responses are written in the petition’s margins. In 1682, the Magistrates suggest postponing the case until the next session and directing both the petitioners and the town to send representatives. The Deputies consent.
  • Cambridge's Counterpetition, 1683[+]
    The selectmen of Cambridge address the General Court, asking that the petition be denied because of the financial hardship they fear it will inflict on the town by reducing the number of tithe-payers.
  • General Court’s Two Responses, 1683[+]
    The margin of the petition contains two responses from the houses of the General Court in the fall session of 1683. The Deputies propose granting the petition, but the Magistrates withhold their consent. Then (without stating the reason), the Magistrates propose a further postponement, to the next year, and the Deputies consent to this.
  • Survey Committee Appointment Order, 1684[+]
    In the next spring session, the General Court issues an order appointing a three-man committee to survey the ground, question representatives of both sides, and advise the Court where a boundary should be drawn between the new parish and the old one.
  • Survey Committee Report and Map, 1684[+]
    The committee submits a brief report and recommends a dividing line running northwest to southeast by the compass, and crossing the Cambridge-Concord road at a point that they specify by reference to landmarks. They also submit a simple map that they may have used in their survey, but it doesn’t show the dividing line.
  • General Court’s Two Responses, 1684[+]
    On a new leaf, the Magistrates propose granting the petitioners the status of a precinct, which allows them to build a church and frees them from supporting the Cambridge minister as long as they support one of their own. However, they also propose moving the dividing line proposed by the survey committee a half mile further from the Cambridge meeting house, thereby reducing the town’s loss of tithe payers. The Deputies make their consent conditional on keeping the line where the committee put it. The Magistrates come back with a second proposal: to follow the committee’s recommendation, but only for a trial period of seven years, at the end of which a final decision will be made about whether to move it back a half mile or leave it alone. But the Deputies withhold consent.
  • Intermission: 1684–1691[+]
    The issue of Cambridge Farms' desire to form a parish is overtaken by events: the colony's charter is revoked; King Charles II dies; King James II imposes a government without elective representation called the Dominion of New England; James and the Dominion are overthrown, and negotiations begin with his successor, King William III, on the terms of a new charter.
  • Order Granting the Farmers’ Petition, 1691[+]
    Between the fall of the Dominion of New England and the arrival of a new royal charter in the spring of 1692, the General Court—suspended when Joseph Dudley delivered King James’s provisional charter in 1686, and called back into session in 1689 without a new election—was back in business. Late in 1691 they take up the Farmers’ case again, and issue an order granting the petition on the terms the Court had proposed in in 1684, with the difference that the boundary line between the two parishes is placed right where the survey committee (and the Deputies) had said it should be. No more is heard about the half-mile adjustment urged by the Magistrates.
  • Cambridge Farms Parish Covenant, 1696[+]
    Preparing for the ordination of their first minister, Benjamin Eastabrook (spelled Estabrook in later generations), a group of leading members sign, on behalf of the congregation, a covenant written for them by Samuel Willard, the minister of Old South Church in Boston: one of the colony's most prominent preachers and theologians (or as they were called then, divines)—a conservative thinker and skillful defender of the old Puritan doctrines, and, perhaps incidentally, Benjamin Eastabrook’s father-in-law. The covenant expresses the congregation’s commitment to follow the true Christian path, as orthodox Puritans define it, and serves as a statement of purpose for the new parish.
  • Cambridge Town Records, 1712–1713[+]
    Although no copy survives of the Farmers’ request to finally cut the ties that connect them politically to the town of Cambridge, we do have a good account of the town’s reaction, which is calmer and more businesslike than it had been when the Farmers petitioned to divide the parish in 1682. The town deputes three selectmen to negotiate the conditions of separation with a committee from the Farms, and sets forth clearly what their negotiating position should be. In a second meeting, the selectmen report that the Farmers have agreed to the two most important points on their list, and the meeting decides to leave it to their discretion whether to insist on the third point or to let it go.
  • Order Making Lexington a Town, 1713[+]
    With no opposition from Cambridge, the Farmers’ petition (which must have existed although it hasn't survived) is passed by the General Court without controversy, or at least without any that has left traces. This order establishes (“raises” as they said at the time) Cambridge Farms as an independent township, and gives it the name Lexington—which may have surprised the townspeople, as there is no discoverable evidence that any of them had ever thought of calling it that before they saw this order.