The First Village Post Office of Taunton

AN INTRODUCTION TO TAUNTON

By Maryan Nowak

 

As early Massachusetts settlements became established, sources of power and transportation became vital elements for survival. Taunton, with its establishment as a town in 1639, focused its early development along the confluence of what we now know as the Taunton River and the Mill River, located approximately one-half mile southeast of the present center of the city.

The Taunton River, known then as the "Great River", provided transportation upstream northeast through the Bridgewaters toward the Plymouth Colony and downstream south to Mount Hope Bay and the Atlantic. This river continued as the principle source of transportation for Taunton manufactured goods from the 17th century well into the 20th century; long after the establishment of a viable railroad transportation system.

The earliest records suggest that a gristmill was already in place on the Mill River when the settlers petitioned for the establishment of the town in 1639. Some thirty years later saw the first manufacturing enterprise on the Mill River where a sizable forge was erected for the production of household wares and tools. Subsequently, over the next century and a half, other gristmills, saw mills, a variety of copper and iron works and a multitude of diversified businesses sprang up along the length of the Mill River.

 

AN INTRODUCTION TO EAST TAUNTON

The earliest records indicate that Elizabeth Poole, (sometimes spelled Pole) affectionately, but inaccurately, known as the foundress of Taunton, came from Dorchester in 1637 and settled in "Teticutt", a section comprising a part of East Taunton and Lakeville. Legend has it that she purchased her land from three Indians known as Josiah, David and Peter, for a jack-knife and a peck of beans. The exact bounds of her plantation are not known except that history records that it was bound by Littleworth brook on the west and was joined with the Shute farm on the south, all on the extreme eastern side of the present East Taunton.

It is no wonder that the settlers that came were attracted to the area. It proved to be rich in many resources. There was the Taunton River for transportation, the annual spring run of herring (alewives), iron ore from the bogs, clay from the river banks, stands of timber and a fertile plain for the cultivation of corn and beans.

As with all early settlements, the usual grist and sawmills were erected to provide the necessities of life. It was not until 1723-4 that the first significant attempt at manufacturing was made in this area. Captain John King and others established the colony’s first iron hollowware works, known as King’s Furnace, on Littleworth brook. This foundry was a going enterprise for 100 years until it was abandoned in 1828.

At the beginning of the 19th century, as industry started to flourish in Taunton, the Dean Cotton Mill was established in 1812 near the Littleworth brook area for the manufacture of cotton yarns. It was located on the site of a former gristmill, originally owned by the earliest of settlers.

As this south-east corner of East Taunton grew, General Cromwell Washburn, a late owner of King’s Furnace, became the postmaster of the first East Taunton post office on September 4, 1828. That same year the foundry closed and a some people departed the area, the post office was not far behind, with its closing on September 3, 1830. Soon after, the Dean Cotton Mill closed its doors and was sold for the manufacture of boxboards and staves.

In 1824, the first significant East Taunton use of the Taunton River, as a power source, came with the construction of a dam and foundry. This was the beginning of the shift of industry from the use of ponds and brooks to the river and the shift of the population as well. Here, on the same site, Samuel L. Crocker and others established in 1844 the Old Colony Iron Works; an extensive manufactory that was located on both sides of the river, with elaborate canals, dams, rail facilities and numerous specialty iron works. By 1850, the area around the iron works was dotted with homes, stores and a variety of other businesses to meet the needs of the residents. Quickly, the business expanded and soon employed some 500 hands.

Opportunity was knocking for Benjamin B. Taylor, one of several grocers now established in Squawbetty. He, like many grocers before and after him, quickly realized that a post office was good for business and initiated the documents to establish the office.

 

THE NAME SQUAWBETTY

The northern section of East Taunton, referred to as Squawbetty, was probably derived from an Indian squaw named Betty. Her Indian name was Assowetough, the daughter of Chief Sassamon of King Phillip’s Was fame. Her brother David Hunter, on his deathbed, convinced his brothers George and Joseph that their sister Betty should have some of his lands. And so by deed, dated March 11, 1697, Betty was deeded the land… "next unto Taunton bounds as far up by the great river as to ye place where said David Hunter’s uppermost ffence came to said River, to fence in ye neck then called David’s Neck and from hence on a direct line to ye bounds betweene Middleborrow’s land’… That location, now in the north-east corner of East Taunton was identified on early maps of Taunton as Squawbetty.

In July 1683 the records of the General Court at Plymouth indicate that she was indicted for the murder of her child and also of her husband.

In 1861 the Commonwealth Indian Census listed the Middleboro Tribe, including the descendents of Betty, living on Betty’s Neck in Lakeville, some 5 miles from the original Squawbetty site. This land remained in the family’s possession until the death of Miss Charlotte Mitchell at age 82 in 1930.

Although the above story has traditionally been accepted, perhaps romantically so, as the derivation of the name Squawbetty, earlier records indicate a possible older historical relationship.

The records also refer to this location to be, "at a place called by the Indians Squabbanasett."

 

THE POST OFFICE SITE

The early maps of Taunton (1851 & 1861) without question identify the part of East Taunton of our story as Squawbetty. Although the river was the town boundary, (Taunton and Raynham) the area across the river was also abundantly dotted with houses and businesses catering to the 500 hands of the iron works and considered a part of Squawbetty.

The map of 1851 identifies the location of 2 stores in the immediate area and through the process of elimination; because of distance, location and ownership, focuses on a building now numbered 37 Old Colony Avenue. It is an old structure of two stories, hip roof and of the architecture of the times. Local historians collaborate the site of the second East Taunton post office as being in this building.

 

BENJAMIN B. TAYLOR

POSTMASTER 1/8/1850 – 9/15/1853

Postmaster Benjamin B. Taylor, Squawbetty’s first and only postmaster was born in Parsonfield, Maine, then the District of Maine, on August 2, 1808, the son of Paul and Sara Taylor, both born in the District.

He is buried in the South Cemetery in Raynham along with his wife who died on September 4, 1894 and their son who preceded them both.

 

SONG OF SQUAWBETTY

VERSE: Our pleasant little river town,

This Indian tale has handed down;

And all the years have proved it true;

If you should live the winter thru,

Till herrings run and spring returns,

Then you shall live till autumn burns

The summer verdure from the tree,

In elm-arched street of Squawbetty.

 

CHORUS: In Squawbetty, the winds blow free,

O’er valleys green by Taunton stream;

Where sea gulls, wheeling in the sun,

Dip low to scream: "The herring run!"

So spring has come and all is well

In Squawbetty, while our hearts swell

With thanks, another spring to be,

Alive in dear old Squawbetty.

 

VERSES: Tis herring time in Squawbetty;

And tho we wander far from thee,

To travel half the world around.

Come March, nostalgic thoughts rebound,

That Patrick’s Day must herald spring,

In Squawbetty, where herrings bring

The first sure sign that winter ends,

Our homesick hearts, this mirage mends.

Writer Unknown

 

 

 

 

TOP BACK

Back to HOME

Back to History Section

Thank you to one of our local historians,
Maryan Nowak of Taunton