History of Rochester Massachusetts

By Charles Sturtevant, M. D.

Rochester, called by the Indians Menchoisett, a large town-ship of about fifty-eight square miles, distant 10 miles from New Bedford, and 20 from Plymouth; was settled by persons from Scituate, Marshfield, Plymouth and Sandwich, who in 1638, obtained a grant from the Provincial Court, at Plymouth “to locate a township and organize a religious Society in Sippican,” an Indian locality near the head of Buzzard’s Bay. They named their settlement Rochester, from the town of that name in Kent County, England, whence many of them emigrated. These settlers did not however actually take up their residence in Rochester, until 1651, when Rev. Samuel Arnold, John and Samuel Hammond, Moses and Aaron Barlow, Samuel White, John Wing, Joseph Dotey, Jacob Bumpus, Joseph Burge, (or Burgess), John Haskell, Abraham Holmes, Job Winslow, and ____ Sprague, with probably others whose names are lost, established themselves and erected their church in that part of the present town of Marion, known as Little Neck. At this place may be seen to this date, the traces of their primitive burial-place, and tradition has it that until heir antique church was done, they worshipped upon and around a largo fiat rock, since known as Minister’s Rock. Some time about this date a few families from the old town of Dartmouth, now Acushnet, who were friendly to the Indians in this vicinity, came and built a village between the Indian settlements of Sip-pi-can and Mat-ta-poi-sett. Here lived an old chief by name To-to-sin, a friend of King Philip, who frequently visited here. From him, the locality is called To-to-sin’s, or Towser’s Neck.

Radiating from these centers the population spread to the North and West, making the nest village at Rochester proper, especially at the locality since known as Leonard’s Forge, or Handy’s Mill. Here the first corn-mill in this part of the County was erected by the town, in 1704, having a perpendicular shaft, and attended by Peter Black-mer, who was appointed to that office and that of Town Clerk. The villages were yearly augmented by people coming from Boston, Salem, and Plymouth, and in 1709, Rev. Timothy Ruggles was ordained, the first minister in the town. In 1733, the settlers in Mattapoisett, were set off as a distinct parish under the pastoral care of Rev. Ivory Hovey. His immediate successor in 1772, was Lemuel LeBaron4. These two men continued in the ministry for 100 years. Rev. Thomas Robbins, D. D., the successor of Mr. LeBaron, possessed in his day the most valuable private library in the state. It consisted of over 3000 volumes and 4000 pamphlets, some of them rare. He also had an extensive collection of coins and manuscripts.

Still another religious society in the North village, or Snip-pa-tuit, was formed in 1748, under the ministry of Rev. Thomas West. These four precincts, agreed in 1670, to hold their town-meetings in the central village, thereafter to be known as Rochester town, the other villages retaining their Indian names till recently. In 1685, the town was incorporated, by the Provincial Court.

In 1775, Rochester voted to sustain the Continental Congress, whenever they, might see fit to withdraw their allegiance from the crown, and in the succeeding struggle for Independence, this town furnished more men in proportion to territory or inhabitants, than any other town in the Old Colony. In 1816, the spotted fever made fearful ravages in the village of Mattapoisett, and in the western part of the central village. The population of the entire town being 2800, 61 heads of families were stricken down by this disease.

The surface of the town is level, the soil light, sandy, and not remarkably fertile, but bearing some fine pine and cedar forests. There are several large ponds, one of which, Snippatuit, together with its outlet to the sea, from a valuable herring privilege. The occupation of the people is chiefly agricultural, and considerable attention is paid in the winter, to the sawing and preparing for market of a large amount of box-boards. Rochester Academy was built and opened for educational purposes in 1839. It has always sustained an enviable reputation as a literary institution and continues to flourish under the present efficient management of Miss C. M. Rounseville. The educational standard has always been high in this town, and public spirit has liberally aided in whatever might elevate it.


4 In 1696, a French privateer was wrecked in Buzzard’s Bay, the crew were carried prisoners to Boston; the surgeon, Dr. Francis Le Baron, came to Plymouth, and having performed a surgical operation, the town being destitute of a physician, they petitioned Lieutenant Governor Stoughton for his liberation, that he might settle in their town. This was granted, and he married Mary Wilder, and he practised physic till he died, at the age of 36 years. Dr. Le Baron did not relinquish the Catholic religion, and was strongly attached to its ceremonies. He never retired to rest without placing the cross on his breast. He left descendants, and all those of his name in this country are descended from him. Thacher’s History of Plymouth. There are other versions of this affair.

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