Topsfield originally was part of the 17th-century coastal plantations of Salem and Ipswich, with large tracts of its territory granted to residents of Ipswich between 1634 and 1642. At first known as the “the new meadowes at Ipswich,” by 1650 it had enough settled population to be incorporated as an independent town of Topsfield. (from the Massachusetts Historical Commission survey report for the Town of Topsfield.)
Large allotments of land amounting to about 4375 acres, were granted by the colony’s leaders very early, comprising more than one-half of Topsfield’s present acreage. The persons who were awarded the lots, sometimes referred to as “king’s grants” were merchants and men of influence and power who had joined or invested n the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the decade of intense Puritan migration. They were all from towns in the southeast or southern coastal areas of England.
Gov. John Endecott, believed to be from Dorset, Dorchester, who received in 1639 a grant of 550 acres of land north of Salem bounds upon the Ipswich river.
Gov. Simon Bradstreet from Lincolnshire was granted 500 acres the same year. As early as May 14, 1634, the General Court of the Company made the grant to Simon Bradstreet, who later became Governor of the colony.
John Winthrop, Jr. from Groton, Dorset (near Ipswich UK) was granted 300 acres in 1639, when Ipswich was ordered to satisfy him for the £20 he had paid the Sagamore of Agawam for land. The larger part of this land lay in what is now Linebrook Parish, Ipswich. Having led the settlement of Ipswich, he later departed and became Governor of Connecticut. John Winthrop, Jr., sold his three hundred acre allotment on March 21, 1642/3, to “Edward Parke citizen and merchant taylor of London,” for £250. Parke never joined the Colony and twelve years later sold the 300 acres to John Appleton and Richard Jacob, both of Ipswich for “three score and fifteen pounds,” a loss of £175. These men sold the land to Abraham How, who established his family in Linebrook, part of the Town of Ipswich.
Samuel Symonds, from Great Yeldham, Essex, England, an Assistant, living in Ipswich, was granted 500 acres known as “Olivers” at Pye brook. Francis Peabody, who set up the first grist mill in the town, bought one half of the Samuel Symonds grant in 1650. 150 acres (later known as the Hobbs-Bell property) near the intersection of East St. and Rt. 1 was sold in 1652 to Isaac Cummings of Ipswich.
Rev. Nathaniel Rogers, the Minister at Ipswich from Haverhill, Suffolk, received a grant of 300 acres, laid out in Feb. 1650. The grant lay between the Ipswich River on the south, Gravelly Brook on the east, and Howlett’s Brook on the west. This grant was in the possession of Ensign Thomas Howlett of Ipswich in 1651
Capt. Daniel Patrick, a Puritan who had previously removed to Holland, settled in Ipswich in 1637 and was granted 300 acres before 1640, the year he sold it to William Paine of Ipswich. Capt. Patrick’s land lay north of the river and east of Fish brook and extended nearly to what is now the Common and Main Street.
John Whittingham, a merchant in Ipswich, was among the most wealthy and influential persons in Ipswich. He came from Lincolnshire, England, with his mother “when he had land assigned to him“. He acquired by grant or purchase about 800 acres of land that is now he commercial center of Topsfield, extending to Perkins Street on the south along Prospect and South Main Streets. At the east this holding was bounded by land held by William Paine.
William Paine, of Suffolk County England, was a wealthy merchant in Boston and Ipswich, and obtained by allotment about 700 acres. He also purchased before 1640, Captain Patrick’s 300 acres and owned extensive holdings on Jeffreys Neck. He granted Little Neck to the Town of Ipswich for the benefit of the Ipswich Schools “forever,” funded the first school, establishing the Feoffees of Little Neck.
Thomas Dorman was allotted 125 acres at the same time that the Rev. Nathaniel Rogers received his grant on Feb. 22, 1649/50 of about 70 acres. Most of the land lay north and east of Pye brook with the Samuel Symonds land easterly and the Winthrop grant at the northeast. Dorman was the only large owner of land in the New Meadows who lived on his grant. Much of this land remained in the Dorman ownership until the widow Phebe Dorman sold it in 1821.
(Excerpt from: The History of Topsfield by George Francis Dow, published inn 1940 for the Topsfield Historical Society.)
The large lot assignments represented a considerable property value as is shown by the sale of John Winthrop, Jr., three hundred acres for £250 that he received as compensation after purchasing for £20, all of Agawam from Masconomet. The proprietors accordingly felt it desirable to set up a new township and induce settlers to come and buy their lands. As early as the fall of 1639, they took concerted action and petitioned the Great and General Court for such authority. An order of the Court, adopted Nov. 5, 1639, reads as follows: “Whereas the inhabitants of Salem have agreed to plant a village neare the ryver which runs to Ipswich, it is ordered, that all the land neare their bounds, between Salem & the said ryver, not belonging to any other towne or person, by any former grant, shall belong to the said village.”
An order of the Court adopted at a session held Oct. 17, 1643. “ordered & granted that Mr. John Endecott & the said inhabitants of Ipswich, viz., Mr. Bradstreete, Mr. Symonds, Mr. Whittingham, Mr. William Paine, Mr. Robert Paine, & such other of Ipswich or Salem as they shall associate to themselves, shall have liberty to settle a village neare the said ryver of Ipswich, as it may bee most convenient for them to which the foresaid land shall belong.”
The proprietors of the lands at the New Meadows then sought yoemen to buy their farms and develop the settlement beside the river. Abraham Redington and his brother John, were here before 1650 as tenants on the Bradstreet farm. Walter Roper, William Howard, Humphrey Gilbert, Thomas Browning and Thomas Dorman also lived in Topsfield about the same time. Zaccheus Gould probably was here in the spring of 1644, living on the Captain Patrick grant. Gould took an active part in creating a town there and was one of its leading citizens. William Paine sold land to Zaccheus Gould, where the historic Gould House now stands. Gould had lived at Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England, and was unsuccessful in having the town be named “Hempstead” after his former parish.
An order of the General Court was considered at a town meeting held in Ipswich, Feb. 25, 1645/6, and the following statement appears on their records, “That since (the General Court) has not demanded any charges or contributions of their Inhabytants at the New Meddows to the Towne of Ipswich, neither are they resolved to require (any) charges or contributions of the said Inhabitants hereafter.” This effectively created the future Town of Topsfield.
In 1648, the following petition was presented by the landholders to the Great and General Court, “We Humbly Intreat this honored Court that you would be pleased to bestow a name upon our Village at the new meadows at Ipswich.” The Colony leaders responded Oct. 18, 1648. “Upon the request of those whom it most concerns, the village at the New Meadows at Ipswich, shall be henceforth called Toppesfield.”
- The History of Topsfield by George Francis Dow, published inn 1940 for the Topsfield Historical Society.)
- The early history of Topsfield, National Register of Historic Places Documentation Prepared by Gretchen G. Schuler & Anne M. Forbes, Preservation Consultants, April 2005
- The Transportation and Transformation of the English Shire in America: Essex Couty, Massachusetts, 1630-1768, by Harold Arthur Pinkham Jr.
- Indian vs English Views Regarding Rights to the Land, Salem Deeds site
- Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society
- Massachusetts Historical Commission survey report for the Town of Topsfield
- Perzel, Edward S.: “Landholding in Ipswich,” Essex Institute Historical Collections, October 1968