In a few places have there been the unbroken continuity of history and heritage that marks Cohasset from the earliest days of discovery by the pioneers from the Old World. Here is a pocket of America that typifies in finest focus the courage and the industry that founded and fostered the greatness of the United States.
Captain John Smith, "President of Virginia and Admiral of New England," having explored the coast from Virginia to Eastern Maine, called the country of Massachusetts "the paradise of all these parts." He was the first white man to ease his shallop into the harbor of Cohasset from his ship standing off Minot's Ledge. This was in 1614.
Here he encountered the Indians - (part of the extensive Algonquin nation) - settled in a village called "Sogoguas" (Hard Rock Place) which extended all around the back of Bourne's Rock to the Common.
The Indians called the whole area of our borders "Quonahasset" the long rocky place.
But Captain John Smith thought the name to be "barbarous." So he urged Prince Charles of England to endow the area with a more fitting name. The response was to dub the area "London." Thus, for a time, Quonahasset bore the name of the mightiest city of the British Empire and was so designated on the map devised by John Smith. Yet later, according to the map drawn by John Winthrop in 1639, the name Conahasset appears.
Then came the settlers.
The earliest individual ownership of land was the meadow, some fifteen acres, at the foot of Turkey Hill.
But before a general division of land could take place, it was necessary to establish a border of Cohasset to the south, since difficulties with our neighbors had developed over the "taking of hay." Four commissioners were appointed and in 1640, a boundary line was designed by citizens. This was the first boundary in America to have been established by mutual agreement with no "government" edict. The line was drawn midway along Bound Brook "which runneth into Conahasset salt marshes" straight through to Accord Pond to the west.
This boundary settlement of 1640 "merits a large place in our local history and even in our national history. It marked the first step of federation that culminated in the Colonial Congress and blossomed into the United States."
Early industry was evident as the newcomers on the fringes of the coast, with their cattle and hogs and sheep and goats, hewed and grubbed their way further and further into the forest. Logging and lumbering activities boomed. Fishing, too, became important. Thomas Loring, Clement Bates, Nicholas Jacob and Joseph Andrews acquired the herring monopoly of the Weir River in 1637. Carpenters, weavers and shoemakers were busy supplying the nearly three hundred people gathered here by 1640.
Soon land for timber, salt hay and homestead use was divided into lots for private ownership through a rather complicated system which involved "shares" determined, among other criteria, by size of family, amount of livestock and degree of current affluence. Each share entitled an owner to a strip of land twelve and one half feet wide by one mile deep; for all strips had to be that deep. Thus each share provided the equivalent of a little less than one third of an acre. Some of the smaller shareholders combined their shares. The number of shares allocated increased the width but not the depth of the property. Thus ten shares entitled an owner to a lot 125' wide by 5,280' deep. Stone walls still indicate this earliest "zoning."
Homes began to proliferate. Whole lengths of logs were laboriously sawed into planks; shingles were split from short lengths of cedar or white pine and shaved by draw knife to a thin edge at one end. Joists and rafters and posts and plates were hewed from small trees and trimmed to square form. Nails were hammered out by sturdy smiths. Crude bricks were made of mud and sand cemented together by a mortar made of mud. Hospitality and comfort were judged by the size of the colossal chimneys and fireplaces where, of course, all cooking was done with wrought iron pots and "tools." Land, buildings, livestock, tools, clothing, cooking utensils and furniture could range from a total valuation in pounds sterling of from $425 to more than $1,000.
The earliest house was that of Clement Bates, built on King Street in 1685. Also in 1685 the great, great, great grandfather of President Abraham Lincoln settled in Cohasset where he built his iron works, a saw mill and a grist mill - each using for each the sparse waters of Bound Brook with true "Yankee ingenuity" for two days a week - as separately impounded water spilled over each successive dam. His mansion house still stands and is still occupied.
In the meantime, perhaps to assuage conscience, Indians were "paid off" for the land under a formal but less than definitive agreement signed by the marks of the illiterate savages. The whole costs of the township paid to the Indians was less than the value of twelve acres of land. But perhaps, even at that "price", they would have preferred to transfer the land with a grunt of satisfaction for a few whiffs of tobacco.
It would be fascinating to continue to sketch the development of our town through the eighteenth century, but space does not permit. Instead you are urged to read, The Narrative History of Cohasset by E. Victor Bigelow.
No mention is made here, for example of the part that Cohasset played in the Revolutionary War - except for the following few facts: three of our boys were active participants in the Boston Tea Party in 1773; James Stoddard (17), Abraham Tower (20) and Jared Joy (24). They walked from Cohasset to an from the "party." Others helped to withstand the British assaults on Bunker Hill. Benjamin Lincoln became a famous general under Washington and received a sword of General Cornwallis at Yorktown on the surrender of England to the Colonies.
But, of course, the year 1770 was the most auspicious for Cohasset. For it was in this year, after twenty years of deliberation, that this former precinct, sometimes called "Little Hingham," was granted separation from Hingham by the General Court of Massachusetts.
Thus Cohasset became a corporate town of America - six years before even the venerable city of Philadelphia.
Now, in Anno Domini Nineteen Hundred and Seventy, we observe with Pride the 200th Birthday of our Town!
The preceding article was taken from Cohasset U.S.A. 200 Years, pp. 11-12 found in the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.