And so they march, three in a row
following to, following fro
the umbrella takes the lead
and they bob their heads in time
in uniform, they march along
trying to find where the rest have gone
girls come from far and wide
to see their passage on the green
and so they march right off following their lead
and in forestlands to find the rest
Do you know where you would be if you were standing on the same spot you are now, but in the fall of 1725? You would be in a little place called Charlestown End. Charlestown End had no meeting house, no burial ground, and just a small school-house. In fact, there were only between 250 and 300 people living in what could barely be termed a village. The residents were dependent on the settlement of Charlestown for their civic needs. And, to the minds of the time, more importantly because they were labouring “under great Difficulties by their Remoteness from the place of public worship”. This view is understandable since the church in Charlestown would have been a three-hour walk away. Some of the citizens had even started to attend church at the Wakefield meeting house, despite it being outside their community.
It may come as a surprise to our modern way of thinking that the first town meeting would take place on Christmas Eve. Our civic forefathers were predominantly members of a religious sect known as Puritans. This meant they frowned upon many of the religious celebrations that characterized the church of the day, including Christmas. Many New England towns even went so far as to make the traditional decor of the season illegal. In particular, evergreen decorations were deemed to be pagan and thus banned.
Just earlier that month on December 17, 1725, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay had passed an Act which declared the northern portion of Charlestown to be a separate and distinct town known as Stoneham. At this first town meeting, they discussed the most important issues of the day, those pursuant to fulfilling their portion of the Act. While there was already a small school-house built in 1718, they had to make provisions for a meeting house, an orthodox minister, school teacher, and burial ground.
Why call it Stoneham? Contrary to what digging through your garden would tell you, it isn’t because of all the stones in the ground. Stoneham, Massachusetts is actually named after a small town in England located about 5 miles north of Southampton that was well known for the quality of its stone.
During that first meeting, the new residents of Stoneham voted that the meeting house would “stand between the black oak tree and the red oak tree, upon the hill near the east end of the school-house”. Wondering where that is today? The original center of town was near the intersection of Pleasant and Summer Streets. Who made all of these important decisions? That would be the 65 free, tax-paying adult males who were the only ones with the right to vote. Green, Gould, Williams, and Cowdrey were all among the names listed on the very first tax roll and these same names echo to us through the years on our streets. Next time you find yourself driving through the town, read the names on the street signs and see if you can find them all.