HOW BROCKTON WAS NAMED, 125 YEARS AGO

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*English General: Sir Isaac Brock

"Bands played, flags waved from every window, and the town buzzed with excitement
when the citizens of North Bridgewater went to the polls to select a new name...."
 

The Origin of "Brockton,"

"No city in America has a greater degree of identification with the Pilgrims than Brockton, Massachusetts...."

The fascinating history leading to how this city - which is one of Old Bridgewater's four direct descendants - ultimately received its name involves numerous narratives, maps and deeds associated with the Olde Plymouth Colony and the greater Brockton area. Because many of these sources are tied to the Protestant Reformation, a clear understanding of this timeless subject requires a bit more more than a casual awareness of the religious history that lead to the founding of New England and the establishment of the original 13 colonies of the United States.

For example, because the militant Popes of that time had staked out the Americas for Roman Catholicism, the quintessentially Protestant Pilgrims were fortunate that the Spanish, Portuguese or French etc. did not abruptly curtail their "intrusion" into this "new" continent. (See "http://bullsburning.itgo.com/essays/Caetera.htm , Papal edicts on the "rights of conquest and the concept of vacuum  domecillium" and the Papal Bulls of Urban the 7th  etc.) Unlike the conquistadors who sailed the North and South Atlantic with the goal of satiating their lust for gold, New England's Pilgrims and Puritans were initially concerned with establishing safe havens within which they could respectively practice Christianity. But, their ultimate contribution to the idea of religious liberty, freedom and toleration for all did not evolve until much later....

In any case, on with the story.... -

Shortly after landing in Plymouth Harbor, the Pilgrims found themselves in a much harsher environment than they had anticipated. In fact, over the next twelve months, more than half of them died from either starvation or disease. But to their eternal credit, because they were so thankful to have the opportunity to worship in peace, none of the original "saints" ever took advantage of the many opportunities they later had to return to their former homeland.

They were convinced it was Almighty God himself who had "providentially led them to this land." Rightly or wrongly, they believed there was "plenty of room in this vast, still relatively barren, continent for all...."

Probably because of the Pilgrim's rigid adherence to Bible-based Christianity, they did not launch a typical 17th century European onslaught upon the Indians; Unlike the Spanish in South America, they did not hammer potential "converts" into subjugation, and follow up with psycho/religious pacification.

But in spite of their relatively extraordinary commitment to religious principles, the Pilgrims were far from being without flaws. Perhaps their major shortcoming was that - after failing to persuade the Indians to adapt to the English methods of sub-dividing land and legally arranging for its private ownership, village development, and the cultivation of the surrounding acreage - they virtually ignored the fact that aboriginal survival was dependent upon unbounded hunting and fishing.

The major upshot of all of the above was that, while they were able to readily convince the Indian leader Massasoit himself to accept them as neighbors and greatly assist them in becoming established here, they were never able to persuade the majority of his Wampanoag tribe to live harmoniously with them as fellow Christians....

The Peace Treaty of 1621

The Pilgrim's John Carver and Massasoit agreed to a treaty containing the following concepts:

But more about this later.

    Originally called the "Duxbury New Plantation," the English Crown sanctioned its first attempt to settle an inland community in New England as a way of compromising a minor boundary dispute that had developed between the already settled coastal communities of Duxbury and Marshfield.... 

Accordingly, on March 23rd, 1649, (old calendar) Duxbury's Pilgrims and their descendants were authorized to resolve the issue by purchasing a stretch of land claimed by Massasoit, the great Indian leader of the Wampanoags. Local Indians referred to this virtually unoccupied interior territory (due to a plague three years earlier)  as "Satucket."

 The Sachem Treaty was formally signed in 1649 at an Indian site called Sachem Rock in what is now East Bridgewater. It not only complemented the remarkable three-decade period of peaceful co-existence that had existed between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, it led, seven years later, to the establishment of the first inland Township in what later became New England.

While Miles Standish, Constant Southworth, and Samuel Nash represented the Europeans in this amicable transaction, Massasoit alone signed the agreement on behalf of the Indians. The price was seven coats, nine hatchets, eight hoes, twenty knives, four moose skins and twenty yards of cotton. Ever since, non-Indian immigrants have been pouring into this area and - except for slaves of course - enjoying its extraordinary resources.

Centered along a tract the Wampanoags called Nunkatesset - presently referred to as the Town Brook section of West Bridgewater - the above Duxbury Plantation was gradually "given over" to 54 planters i.e., colonial farmers. Most significantly - in 1656 - no more than sixteen of them took up permanent residence in this still beautiful enclave and were involved in formally incorporating the area as the town of Bridgewater. ( See www.oldbridgewater.com and www.oldbridgewater.org)

Over the next decade these original American pioneers not only cultivated the first large tracts of interior agricultural land, they established the first industrial center in what eventually became the original thirteen colonies. 

A modicum of regional lore has it that the name Bridgewater was selected to honor of England's Earl of Bridgewater, who died in 1649. However, the following theory also has been put forth: Having emerged out of Europe's bloody religious wars, the first whites to take permanent refuge in this part of the New World (i.e., the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth in 1620 and the Puritans who landed in Boston in 1629) were passionately aware of their spiritual identity. Accordingly, they were entirely cognizant of the role that the "often radical" town of Bridgewater, England was playing in defending Protestantism back home in the motherland.... (To learn more about some of the fierce religious battles that were being waged in the Bridgewater, England, Salisbury Plain and the Sedge Moor areas around this time, please see www.bpc.org/resources/books/wylie/pro-b07.pdf , "The Martyrs Of The English Reformation."and Guy Fawks Day.

Of keen related interest, the unique geo-hydrological, and and later cultural similarities, that once existed between the orientation of the old English towns of Bridgewater, Taunton, and the nearby Salisbury Plain & River etc. are probably more than coincidental. A remarkable example of this is the orientation of similar landmarks in the Northwestern section of the 600 square mile "Old" Pilgrim Colony and the southwestern extremities of the 400 square mile "New" Puritan Bay Colony are  See "America's Oldest Boundary Line".

Preceding the crude and primarily secular frontier of the "Old West" by some 200 years, the Bridgewater precinct's most revered structures were its meeting house and the associated residence of its first full-time minister Reverend James Keith. Amazingly, the original parsonage component of this ancient complex still stands as the "oldest existing parsonage in North America." Lovingly managed by the Old Bridgewater Historical Society of West Bridgewater, the charming structure can be viewed by appointment. (Please see www.oldbridgewater.com and www.oldbridgewater.org)

Using a combination of primitive alidades and pacing, the first survey plats the early settlers drew up of Old Bridgewater were somewhat imprecise..... For example, the earliest reference indicates its boundaries were determined by "how far a man could walk [outward] in every direction from a tree in East Bridgewater called the "Center Tree." Arguably, because such a trek at that time would have taken some two hours, the original "First Parish" probably encompassed about 100 square miles.

The weir

Evincing the above settler's cavalier attitude towards the abundance of available virgin land at their disposal in this "virtually unpopulated interior wilderness," when it was later determined that Bridgewater's eastern extremities encroached upon land already granted to the town of Halifax, its northern and southern portions were simply extended "to equalize the trade." Thus continued the temporarily peaceful but inexorable process of converting Bridgewater's initially roughly circular shape into an irregular "geometric" agglomeration of ever more formally subdivided and entitled parcels.

For a detailed descriptions of the numerous purchase and sales agreements - and later boundary conflicts - that were critical in leading to Bridgewater's "final" configuration, please see Sachem Rock, SatucketChief MassasoitChief Chicatawbut, and www.Kingphilip.com.  Also see some of the the associated deeds that later involved competing Indian leaders, one of whom apparently "hoodwinked the Pilgrims into paying him for a good deal of land that was actually owned by Massasoit,"

In any case, over the next several decades of the original Bridgewater's existence, thousands of immigrants - primarily of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant stock - moved into this new frontier. And not surprisingly, by the mid-1670s, the related pressures had become so great an Indian confrontation was waiting to happen. Finally, in 1676, major associated skirmishes manifested in King Philips War.  See www.Kingphilip.com

By 1692, after the Puritans had - not entirely peacefully - assimilated the territory of their fellow Plymouth Colony Protestants into the Bay Colony - forming the Massachusetts Commonwealth - more than a dozen parish/townships had begun to take shape in the Bridgewater area - which  scholars now refer to as Old Bridgewater. Ever more populated by the descendants of the original Pilgrims and Puritans, as well as the constant flow of new arrivals from Protestant England, the area became ever more theologically unified - at least on the surface. For example, this entirely new culture on the face of the earth commenced to claim they were "covenant people," living in the "New Jerusalem" described in the Bible. This deeply held concept not only enhanced the once powerful Massachusetts Congregationalist Theocracy, it led to a "just claim" to all of the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and Connecticut. And of course, 200 years later it helped forge American expansionism under the aegis of "manifest destiny..."

Shortly after the founding of the above described First Parish Congregation in greater Bridgewater, another religious entity appeared upon the scene. Located along "Old" Bridgewater's southern extremities along the Taunton river, this particular 30 square mile plantation was officially sanctioned by both the English Crown and appointed Pilgrim authorities in 1681. Interestingly, the first whites to settle and cultivate this area took a queue from the Wampanoags and called it "Titicut" after the name the Indians had long ascribed to what is now the contact zone between Middleboro and Bridgewater. 

By 1710 - after the upper section of Titicut had achieved the status of a full fledged parish/township - it began to refer to itself as South Bridgewater. And in 1820 - at the time this area was officially incorporated - its leaders formally ascribed it as "Bridgewater." Most interestingly, the present town of Bridgewater, which is one of "Old" Bridgewater's oldest direct descendants, is the only community that continues to bear the exact name of the now defunct and once much larger motherland. 

Shortly after the American Revolution - in order to eliminate the confusion the above plethora of naming arrangements was causing regional authorities - the newly formed U.S. Post Office saw to it that the original center of "old" Bridgewater and some 18 square miles surrounding it were specified as the "West Parish" ... Finally, in 1822, this parish was formally incorporated as the town of West Bridgewater . 

Of course, while all of the above was occurring, the population was rapidly increasing and ever more formal subdivisions of land were emerging. Moreover, two more religious communities were being carved out of "old" Bridgewater's remaining 70 square miles. The latter constituted the East Bridgewater Parish, established in 1723, and the North Bridgewater Parish (now called Brockton,) which was officially founded in 1738. Respectively, in 1821and 1823, the latter two communities were also incorporated into towns. 

It should be noted, here, that six additional Congregationalist entities were partly formed out of gores along Bridgewater's periphery. In these cases, however, the church buildings and the social/political centers they were associated with were formed outside of said Bridgewater's boundaries.

In summation, it should be reiterated that it was the "children" of the the above groups - and not the Pilgrims and the Puritans themselves - who were largely responsible for forging the unique New England sense of religious toleration that still serves as a viable model for the world.

Finally, it should be noted that the present-day communities that were wholly spawned by "mother Bridgewater" include present day West Bridgewater, Bridgewater, East Bridgewater and Brockton. Meanwhile, the towns that were created from portions of land that were annexed away from the said motherland include present day Stoughton, Avon, Holbrook, Abington, Whitman, and Halifax.... (Although a few amateur regional historians have argued that Easton should be added the latter list, it is the writer's view that to date no scholarly substantiation exists for such a claim.)

NOTE: The 350th anniversary of the founding of the "original" Bridgewater - which historians now formally call "Old Bridgewater" - is scheduled to commence during the Spring of 2006 and culminate during Thanksgiving week of that year. Needless to say, the writer hopes this highly significant event will receive the regional, state and national, attention it deserves. 

Now to the specific related, abridged, story of  HOW THE ONLY CITY IN PLYMOUTH COUNTY RECEIVED ITS NAME:

"Except for Lieden, Holland and Plymouth, England No city in the world has a greater degree of identification with the Pilgrims than Brockton, Massachusetts...."

As reviewed above, the area now called Brockton was one of the ten (possibly 11) largely complete towns that evolved out of the original 1656 Bridgewater plantation... And for the next 39 years this portion of the parish attracted no permanent white settlements. Finally, in 1697 - the same year that the Salem "witches" were tried and condemned - the Puritan immigrant Zaccheus Packard and his rapidly growing family moved down into the area. And for the next 144 years, as North Bridgewater (now Brockton) grew faster than any of its neighbors, the towns lying directly to its south and southeast harmoniously shared the Bridgewater portion of its name with them.... 

Specifically, the first expression indicating public dissatisfaction with the name Bridgewater appeared during the early 1850s in the North Bridgewater Gazette. But nothing seems to have come of it.

The next such critique appeared shortly after the Civil War, during which time the town had achieved considerable notoriety for it skill in producing military boots and shoes. It was at this time that a few "uppity" leaders first began to suggest that the name of their bustling town was no longer distinctive enough to suit them. 

Similar arguments reappeared in 1871, claiming that "since our community is well on its way towards becoming a great center of shoe manufacturing, it is high time we have own name...." Meanwhile, a growing number of citizens were beginning to feel that references to their town as "a mere compass direction" was somehow demeaning. Not unlike what was, and still is, the case with some citizens of East and West Bridgewater, "they did not appreciate the fact that they were thought of as the north end of someplace else."

By the mid 1870s, it was clear that the political time had arrived when it was logical to give North Bridgewater an alternative name.... Initially, most of the town's 2,300 voters were in favor of names that were symbolically related to the Plymouth motherland. For example, among the favvorites were: Winslow, honoring the second Governor of the Pilgrim Colony; Alden, after "Speak for yourself!" John Alden; Mitchell, after the first European tanner of shoe-leather, Experience Mitchell; and Standish after Miles Standish the Pilgrim's military leader.... 

Interestingly, Miles Standish had also been one of the signers of agreements with the Indian Chief Massassoit and the leaders of the Puritan Colony to the north at the time Old Bridgewater was established. In this role, he had traversed the area of Brockton, now called Montello, many times in connection with settling a series of boundary disputes that began in the year 1649.... 

After several lively public meetings on the issue, the name Standish emerged as the front runner.... "Perhaps a bit too abruptly," local Postmaster, Edward Southworth, and 250 fellow signers of a petition, now seized the moment and submitted it for formal approval by the Massachusetts State Legislature. 

 However, before this august body had a chance to meet and accept the proposal, a contrary minded group of Civil War veterans - along with numerous citizens who were sympathetic to their perspective - submitted a petition requesting that the name Stanton, honoring Lincoln's Secretary Of War, Edwin M. Stanton, also be given consideration. At this juncture, the said legislature promptly dismissed the latter plea, approved the name Standish, and ordered the citizens of North Bridgewater to ratify it at their next town meeting.... 

On May 9, 1871 - "after a somewhat rancorous and unseemly debate" - the town voted not to accept Standish by the relatively close margin of 460 to 427. And not surprisingly, the naming process now degenerated into utter chaos.... 

Over the next three years, new names, many of which had little or nothing to do with Plymouth, the Pilgrims or the Civil War, flew thick and fast. Examples include Norwood, Madison, Avon, Montello, Adelphia, and Aberdale. Also bandied about were numerous appellations, having no apparent rhyme or reason - such as Pyrola, Amberg, Philo, and Gaston.  

Adding to the confusion, a small group of citizens with a literary bent now tried to "boom" the name Bryant, in honor of famed Romantic poet - and former resident - William Cullen Bryant. His name had little staying power, however, because he persisted on making utterances that roundly criticized the increasing ugliness associated with the rapid industrialization of his once extraordinarily beautiful hometown.... For example, his offhand commentary regularly declared that "the whole place now rattles and clatters." 

Eventually, the bulk of Bryant's supporters switched their support to names being touted by local naturalists and transcendentalists. And while names such as Thoreau and Emerson developed a following, they too failed to fully resonate. This may have been because this was prior to the emergence of the great local environmentalist leader Daniel Waldo Field. Field's father was also an environmentalist and happened to be friendly with Bryant and an admirer of his role in establishing Central park in New York City.

It should also be noted here that, although it also failed to gain favor, the Latin name Violet was Bryant's personal name preference. This was because "because more than a dozen varieties once grew abundantly along North Bridgewater's waysides and because as a boy, he had written a beautiful ode to them"

Also of great interest, is the lack of success of the name Peregrine. The common designation for a native bird in the falcon family - which  because it has the ability to fly at speeds of over 250 miles per hour and is the fastest creature on the planet - locals found it appealing because it was the first name of a certain Peregrine White. Of course, White was first caucasian child born in America. Locally, White was also remembered and appreciated for having planted hundreds of European fruit trees throughout the Old Bridgewater area... 

Interestingly, the Pilgrims themselves had honored White by making him the recipient of the third piece of land ever to have been granted in North Bridgewater. Consisting of a beautiful a beautiful 673 acre stretch it  ran from what is now Cary Hill in Brockton, through central Montello. The tract, which adjoined what is now Field Park, was deeded to him in 1667.

The bottom line on the name Peregrine is that, even though the Plymouth County D.A.R managed to borrow the cradle White he had slept in on the Mayflower from Plymouth authorities - and dramatically display it in the front window of a local bank - this name also failed to resonate.... 

Editor's note: In this century, Peregrine falcons - which were becoming extinct due to pesticides and poaching - have been released in cities to nest on the roofs and ledges of tall buildings. Preying upon pigeons, they are now flourishing. See the image of a beautiful Peregrine falcon and an Oriole which were incorporated in some of the "Brockton flags" that were proposed in 1981, and more fully described below....

Also of interest, as the years rolled by, many of the above names that reflected regional pride seemed to lose their public appeal and numerical preeminence . And quite significantly, the profusion of alternate names that kept emerging caused so much confusion, the door was finally opened for the chance consideration of a brand new name; the one which eventually won out: 

As the story goes: "During the height of the above controversy, a local streetcar tycoon named Ira Copeland happened to be traveling through the Canadian side of Niagara Falls when, on one of his stopovers, his 'quick' ear happened to pick up the name Brockville, Ontario being called out by a conductor. Simply put, it stuck in his mind. Working it over and over in his thoughts, he finally transposed it into the name Brockton, "merely because he thought it sounded pleasantly crisp, business-like, prosperous and altogether how the name of an emerging industrial community ought to sound."

When he finally got home to North Bridgewater, he ran the revised name by his friends and acquaintances. And almost immediately afterward, Postmaster Edward Southworth, began to tout "Brockton" as his favorite. Perplexed by all the wrangling over the many existing proposals, he and others found the name to be refreshing., "possessing the unique and proper ring of distinguishment." 

Remarkably, the fact that Brockville was located in Canada, and honored Sir Isaac Brock - the heroic British Revolutionary officer who was most responsible for preventing the USA from annexing Northern Canada in 1812 - had little negative relevance here.... Nor did the fact that Brock was memorialized by monuments in foreign cities like London, Montreal, and Queenstown." And as time passed, the name Brockton became as popular with the local masses as it was with the the town's more cosmopolitan and influential manufacturers and merchants. 

Nevertheless, the name "Brockton" still needed formal approval. And this time, on March 28, 1874, the Massachusetts General Court readily accommodated a local proposal to allow that name to be among three finalists in a runoff.... 

As campaigns for Allerton, Avon, and Brockton gained momentum, the town took on a holiday spirit.... Every weekday evening, debates on their respective pros and cons sprang up along North Bridgewater’s Main Street. 

The name Allerton, honoring Pilgrim merchant, Isaac Allerton was the first to falter. Even though he had been the first person to import shoe making materials to America - and North Bridgewater was on track towards becoming the world leader in shoe production - Allerton gradually lost momentum. Finally persuaded it had no chance of winning, its supporters withdrew it from formal consideration and divided their support between the names Avon and Brockton. 

Next, name Avon began to lose favor. The principle reason was that the nation already sported 11 communities by this beautiful English name and Postmaster Southworth got his fellow postmasters throughout New England to advise against voting for it. his argument was that "because it is so commonplace it will cause confusion in mailing,." 

On May 5th, 1874 - when 1,492 North Bridgewaterites went to the polls to make what would be their absolutely final decision on the matter - "bands were playing, and flags were waving from every window...." The final tally was 1081 votes for Brockton and only 411 for Avon.... 

Having finally settled the issue, a spontaneous sense of relief and unity set in.... "Bonfires were lit, church bells were rung,  and hundreds of exuberant citizens marched and cheered in the streets throughout the night... One relatively sophisticated  citizen - who had been pushing for the name Shakespeare - rationalized that "Even though the name Brockton uniquely honors one of our nation's former enemies, it was a better choice than Pyrola, Amburg, or Gastown...."Another scholarly gentleman wondered "if citizens from the adjoining towns of East Bridgewater and West Bridgewater might now follow suit and make a move to change their respective names." Shortly thereafter, the Commercial House - the hotel building, and associated hall on Center Street where the votes had been cast - was renamed "The Brockton." 

(Interestingly, in 1881 - during the even more heated controversy over whether the town of Brockton should be officially incorporated as a city - the above vacated Brockton Hotel was burned to the ground by an arsonist. Some claim the fire was set by radical "ruralists" who had not only been against the name-change in the first place, but had growled that "Brockton is already wicked enough as it is and there is no need for it to become a city. Remarkably, statistical records indicate that if this only city to emerge out of Plymouth County had remained merely a quaint agricultural village - without all the rattling and clattering that greatly bothered hometown poet William Cullen Bryant - "it would have suited more than a third of its citizens just fine...." )

ADDENDUM:

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Please see the fascinating story of the - little known - "Brockton Flag:"  ...which was dedicated and buried in a time capsule on the East lawn of Brockton's City Hall over 20 years ago. 

Also see the nine interesting "runner ups" associated with the Brockton And Old Bridgewater Flag Contest, which was held on the one hundredth anniversary of the incorporation of Brockton as a City.....

Return to home: www.brocktonma.com

The author heartily and cordially welcomes any and all of your comments on the above.

Please send them to: gerrybeals@comcast.net

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