History of Halifax Massachusetts

By Nathaniel Morton

Graywacke and Granite is the geological formation of Halifax. Prof. Hitchcock says of the former that “it is capable of being made some of the best land in the State.”

Halifax is located near the center of the county, 28 miles from Boston, and 12 miles from Plymouth Road. It contains 11,285 acres; 1700 of it water and about 200 swamp, abounding in beds of peat from 2 to 10 feet thick.

It was here in 1676, that Capt. Benj. Church “captured the Monponsetts and brought them in, not one escaping.”

According to tradition, Mr. Sturtevant was the first settler, establishing himself near the residence of Thomas Holmes.

In 1733, a house of worship was built. This is now in use as a Town House. Halifax was incorporated July 4th, 1734, and was named for the Earl of Halifax.

John Cotton, a man of distinction, and author of the “History of Plymouth Church,” was first pastor, succeeded by Wm. Patten, in 1757; Ephraim Briggs, 1769-1801; Abel Richmond, Eldridge G. Howe, Revs. Howland, Kimball and Brainard, and Wm. A. Forbes, present pastor, installed in 1866.

The people of Halifax were uncompromising patriots. Just before the Revolution, a soldier named Taylor deserted from the British company stationed at Marshfield and fled to Halifax, to the house of Mr. Thomas Drew. Three of the company were detailed to take the deserter back. In effecting this, a ruse de guerre was resorted to, and one of their number was sent in advance to pretend that he, also, had deserted, hoping to detain him, until his two comrades in arms should arrive. Mr. Drew saw through their arts and advised Taylor to flee for his life, into the woods, which was quickly done. When the other two had joined their comrade, and found to their chagrin that the bird had flown, they become exceedingly exasperated. They then went to the house of Noah Thompson, who was sick on his bed, and threatened to shoot him, with their pistols cocked, if he did not reveal the hiding-place of the deserter, Taylor. Thompson, with sublime courage rose up in bed and took down his gun, which hung above his head on wooden hooks and brought it to his shoulder, while the fire flashed from his eyes, and said: ‘ “You are dead men, or leave my house.”

They probably thought “discretion the better part of valor” and started on their way with disappointed hopes to join their company. In the meanwhile, the tidings of the affair flew in all sections like wild fire, and by the time they had got to the meeting-house, two minute men, Bradford and Bartlett, belonging to a company then organized in expectancy of trouble with the Mother Country, ordered them to stop and surrender, but their guns being hors du combat, the British soldiers cocking their pistols, ordered the minute-men into the road and marched them down to the house of Daniel Dunbar, who was a Tory, and placed them in the house as prisoners. It was not more than an hour before the house was surrounded by the whole company of minute men, and ”the surrender of their comrades demanded, which was refused. Upon this they threatened to break in and take them by force. The British soldiers retaliated by saying, that if they did so they would instantly kill the two prisoners, who entreated their friends, not to molest them as they felt sure the threat would be executed. It was finally determined upon to send for Josiah Sturtevant, who was a Justice of Peace, under the King, and he decided to bind the prisoners, Bradford and Bartlett, over to the court, to be tried for breaking the law upon the king’s highway. Sturtevant subsequently, was driven away, shot at, and died, among the would-be enslavers of his country June 7th, 1777, the town voted to give $150, for men to fill the quota, provided they enlisted, for three years, or during the war. Among the Revolutionary soldiers, was a slave owned by Caleb Sturtevant. Among the “Haligonians” who served in the Continental army, were Nathaniel Holmes, James Tillson, Josiah Thompson, Prince Witherel, Consider Pratt, Home’ Sears, Zebediah Thompson, Joshua Former, Elisha Faxon, Joseph Tillson, Richard Bosworth.

In 1812, the town furnished an entire military company, which was commanded by Capt. Asa Thompson, popularly known as the “tall Captain,” who was 6 feet 6 inches in height, and it is said that people would collect around South Boston Bridge, to see him march his company over. This company is the oldest in the State, and was chartered by John Hancock, in 1792, and served in the late rebellion. It is at present in a flourishing condition, and commanded by Capt. Charles V. Lyon. It will long be remembered by the people, how quietly this organization responded to the call of President Lincoln, April 16th, 1861; for which it was complimented by the Press of Boston.

This town suffered severely in the late war, and lost 22 men, out of a population of 739. Their names will be preserved to all coming time, on a monument, soon to be erected to their memory.

On the 5th of July, 1848, by fire, the manufacturing interests, of the town were ruined. In the conflagration, 1 woollen mill, and 3 houses, were destroyed, and thus about 50 males and females, were compelled to seek employment elsewhere. This was the greatest misfortune that ever befell this town, and from which it has never recovered.

There are 3 churches, 1 Orthodox, 1 Universalist, 1 Baptist, and 150 dwelling-houses. Present valuation, $365,471.00. One fact concerning the longevity of the citizens is worthy of mention. The average duration of life, up to the time of the late war, was 54 years, and of those who died, nearly one-half fell victims to consumption.

Perhaps in no town in Plymouth County, is wealth so equally divided. But two paupers are maintained, at public expense. This is essentially an agricultural community, but there is no reason why, if the resources were properly developed by capital and enterprise, that we should not present a better spectacle than an increase in population of only 16 souls for the period of 36 years.

Monponsett Pond has always been a famous place of resort for wild fowl. In 1754, Mr. Drew, built a vessel here and floated it down the Winnetuxet to Newport.

John Thompson, who came from Wales in 1622, whose lineal issue to the eighth generation are now in Halifax, many of them residing on what was formerly his homestead, built a log house on the land now owned by Ephraim B. Thompson, which was burnt by the Indians during Phillip’s war.

Soon after, in 1677, John Thompson, returned from the garrison at Middleboro, and built a frame house, (he being a carpenter), eight rods north of where the former house was burnt. It was lined with brick, originally, (with loop holes), so as to be proof against musket balls. This house was taken down in 1838. The site where the saw-pits, in which the boards and joist were sawed, with a whip-saw, is now extant. These houses were then in Middleboro, but now, within the limits of Halifax.

John Thompson, about the time his house was burnt, was commissioned by the Gov. and Council at Plymouth, as Lieutenant. Thus commissioned, he equipped himself with a gun, brass pistol and sword. The gun-stock and barrel, is 7 feet 4 1-2 inches; the length of the barrel is 6 feet, 1 1-2 inches; caliber, 12 balls to the lb.; lock, 10 inches long; whole weight of the gun, 20 lbs., 12 ounces. It is considered quite a muscular feat to hold it, and sight at arms length. The sword is 3 1-2 feet in length. These two have descended to Zadock Thompson, and the pistol to Ephraim B. Thompson.

John Thompson’s customary hour of rising was at 4 o’clock, especially on Sabbath morning. The breakfast repast must be closed, even in summer, on or before the rising sun.

Either he or his wife would go to church at Plymouth and return, every Sabbath, a distance of 13 miles.

Died in Revolutionary Service From Halifax

We failed entirely in our efforts to obtain in season for publication, from the Town Officers, the facts concerning the citizens of Halifax, who laid down their lives for their country. The Middleboro Gazette says:

“The Soldiers’ Monument was finished by the Quincy Granite Co. The base is four feet square, the second section three feet square, and the shaft 28 inches at the base and 16 at the top, with a total height of twenty feet. On a raised shield are the words, “Our Patriot Soldiers,” and the date, 1867, to show when erected. On one side is a bronze plate, with the names, ages, dates; &c., of the twenty-four men lost from this town. It cost $1000, and is erected on the square in front of the Congregational church.”

The following are the names of those who died in the service from Halifax. The list was received too late for classification under its proper head:

Martin S. Morse
James D. Fuller
Z. L. P. Britton
Wm. H. Fuller
Frederic E. Fuller
Horatio W. Cornish, killed
Herbert P. Bosworth
John Wood, killed
Benj. F. Durgin
Edward Bishop
Nathaniel B. Bishop; killed
Lewis S. Wade
Edward A. Richmond, rebel prison
Joseph S. W. Richmond
Charles W. Soule
Lorenzo A. Tower
James A. Lyon
Joseph L. Melton
Joseph T. Bourne
Abel T. Bryant, died in navy
Oliver E. Bryant
George Drew 3d, killed
Cyrus Thompson
Luther Hayward

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