J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Mystery and Myth in Millis

A regional section of the Boston Globe recently reported on a talk by Paul LaCroix, president of the Millis Historical Society, about archeological explorations of a site called the Fairbanks Stone House. The property extends over the border to Sherborn.

The newspaper states:
Town records indicated that the Stone House, built in the 1640s as a garrison during a Native American uprising, was torn down in the late 1800s but its exact location was undocumented. . . .

LaCroix found large amounts of slag in addition to the 3-by-3-foot stone foundation of a “bloomery,” the type of furnace used in the 17th century for smelting iron. British policy at that time did not allow the independent manufacturing of products, requiring that all raw resources be exported from the Colonies.

Yet the sheer amount of iron found and the absence of any other iron works in the area indicate that the Stone House bloomery was open from as early as 1643 to as late as 1760, when the property became uninhabited. The first official integrated iron-production operation in North America, the Saugus Iron Works in Saugus, was in operation from 1646 to 1688. The existence of this bloomery in Millis is significant in understanding Colonial industrial activity.
The end of the article quotes LaCroix this way: “I’m not an archaeologist, I’m a history buff,” LaCroix said. “But I learned the hard way, and now I’m a fair hand at it.”

LaCroix did the digging with “family members, community volunteers and the expertise of local archaeologists and surveyors.” However, the article doesn’t include comments from any full-time archeologists or historians. I’d be interested in knowing what they think of those conclusions.

Millis also claims a tavern where George Washington stopped on his way to Cambridge in 1775, shown above. This is apparently based on an unsourced statement by the Rev. E. O. Jameson in The History of Medway, Mass., 1713-1885, published in 1886. (Millis had been East Medway until that year.) Jameson wrote that Moses Richardson (1740-1826) had “kept a public house on the old Mendon Road, where George Washington dined on his way to Cambridge, Mass., in 1775.”

Gen. Washington’s visit seems unlikely since he traveled from Springfield through Worcester to Watertown, and that road didn’t go through Medway/Millis. Washington’s journey away from Cambridge in 1776 took him through Providence, so he probably didn’t see Richardson’s tavern then, either. (See maps here.)

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