Early Settlement Issues

The First Settlers

Looking back at the early history of our community, the list of the initial thirty-eight land grantees in Marlborough is interesting. Among the grantees, about thirteen were born in England. The age range was from sixty-eight (Edmund Rice) to eighteen (Samuel How).


All thirty-eight came to Marlborough from Sudbury except for two political grantees – Andrew Belcher, an important Boston figure who owned land in Sudbury, and Joseph Holmes, a young family friend of Reverend John Eliot, the Indian missionary. Neither of them ever lived in Marlborough, and their lands were soon transferred to others.


Of the second generation men, five grantees were sons of Edmund Rice, two were sons of William Ward, and two were sons of John How Sr. Others with sons who were grantees included Solomon Johnson, Thomas Goodenow, Thomas King, and Richard Newton. In addition, numerous sons-in-law were grantees. The balance were young men who had joined the progressives in seeking land reform in Sudbury.

Complete list of initial land grantees from Charles Hudson’s History of Marlborough

Three men received the largest grant of fifty acres – Edmund Rice, William Ward and John Ruddock. The initial grant of land was important because it would determine the size of all subsequent land grants within the town.


Grant size was determined by the perceived ability of an individual to pay taxes, since those with the largest grants would also have the largest tax. Others with significant grants were selectman Thomas King (39.5), Thomas Rice (35), Edward Rice (35), and Thomas Goodenow (32). Those who received thirty acres included John How Sr., William Kerly, John Johnson, Richard Newton, John Woods Sr., John Rutter, and Peter Bent. Thirty acres were also set aside for a minister and blacksmith.  Most of the second generation men in Marlborough received between sixteen and twenty-four acres.


The minister’s role was filled by Reverend William Brinsmead. Although his name appears as both ‘Brinsmead’ and ‘Brimsmead’ in the colonial records, he spelled it ‘Brinsmead.’ so that is how it will be spelled here. The origin of William Brinsmead in Marlborough is very much a mystery. He was a student of Harvard, but never graduated. Harvard had gone from a three-year program to a four-year program, and, since Brinsmead didn’t complete the final year, he failed to graduate.


He first appears in the colonial records on September 20, 1660 where a tax rate is set for his support. We find, however, that the support over the next few years is sporadic. There is some indication that the new town took some years to gain traction. Some of the settlers didn’t build their homes in the allotted time, and tax receipts were problematic. Some of the necessary functions of government continued to be conducted in Sudbury.


The minister’s house wasn’t built until 1662 and the Meeting House was built in 1663. This seemed to leave the minister with a part time job. Finally, sometime in 1663, after some discord over land distribution, Brinsmead left Marlborough and preached for a time in Plymouth.


Another development worthy of note is the granting of land to a woman. On September 26, 1659, the following was recorded in the colonial records. “There is given and graunted unto Mary the wife of John How Senior, and to her heirs and Assignes forever: the Little Swamp at the end of ye sd Jn Hows House Lott, the same being about sixe Acres more or Lesse.”

This land is located in the marshy area between Stevens Street and Bolton Street, north of Fowler Street, where John How Sr. had his house lot. The granting of land to Mary How is all the more remarkable because in Puritan New England women were only allowed land ownership when their husbands had passed away.


The reason for this grant is not entirely clear, but the most likely reason is the role Mary How played in the settling of the town. John How Sr. had built the first home in Marlborough and operated an Inn there for the other settlers to use when they came to Marlborough to build their own homes. Mary must have been the primary caretaker at the Inn and for her contributions was given the Little Swamp as a token of thanks.

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