The Rescue of Tisquantum
along the
Nemasket-Plimoth Path




By: Maurice Robbins
as Published by the
Massachusetts Archaeological Society



Prior to the English occupation of New England the area was covered by a network of trails running from one native town to another or leading to a favorite hunting or fishing camp. These narrow forest trails avoided steep grades and swampy areas, crossed rivers at shallow places, but otherwise followed the shortest route between destinations. With some exceptions the major trails were inland rather than coastal as the rivers are widest at their mouths and are difficult to cross at flood tide.

Both the Indians and the English selected sites for villages with the same characteristics in mind- good drinking water, cleared land for planting, etc. Consequently, many English settlements occupied the sites of former Indian towns, and thus the original trails were continued in use. At first the English traveled on foot as had the Indians, but as horses became available, trials became bridle paths and were widened. Eventually, wheeled vehicles were introduced for inter-village travel and, as the traffic increased, the old footpaths were again widened to permit their use. Two-wheeled vehicles came first, but were quickly replaced by four-wheeled carts that could carry greater loads. Now the trails became roads, were straightened at some spots, widened to allow for passing, and abrupt turns, difficult for four-wheeled wagons to negotiate, were eliminated.

As the unoccupied areas between towns were laid out and occupied as farms, houses and buildings appeared by the roads, and resistance to any change in location of the right-of-way stiffened. This situation tended to maintain the "status quo" of the early network of roads. After all, what farmer would welcome a new piece of road that cut through his cultivated fields or pasture, who was willing to have his land cut in two simply to straighten a road?

Another development which also tended to perpetuate the road system was the growing use of paths to delineate boundary lines. In those days it was costly and difficult to run long lines through the virgin forest. It was much easier to make use of an established path. For example, the "Five Menís Purchase" (in Middleboro) was bounded on the north by the Lower Plymouth Path and on the south by the Upper Plymouth Path. Such instances made possible the definite mapping of a portion of an old path.

The paths or trails shown on the accompanying map were established by a very careful research of available records. Town and County documents and maps, references in town meeting minutes to highways and bridges (building and maintenance), various accounts of journeys in diaries, letters, and military movements, were among the many sources used. Whenever available, the older residents of an area concerned were questioned, often with surprising results. Many of these old paths and roads are still in use and some retain their ancient names. There is a Plymouth Road in Middleboro and in the Bridgewaters, a Rhode Island Road in Middleboro and Lakeville, and a County Road in nearly every southern New England town.

With the passage of time, native footpaths became bridle paths, cart paths, stage roads and, finally, highways. The Indian wading places were bridged where the rivers had been crossed on steppingstones or with the help of poles driven into the streambed. Main roads were widened so that vehicles might pass at will, and roadbeds were "hardened" within the limits of towns, to prevent rutting and dust. Finally, with the advent of the motor vehicle and the demand for ever greater speed, the roads were paved. We live now in the day of the super-highway, with its multiple lanes and median strip, driven straight as a string through the countryside regardless of natural impediments. Even today, however, there is in certain instances a great reluctance to change; many a rural land owner raises objection to an invasion of his land and the dispute must be settled in the courts.

If oneís objective is to reach a given destination in the shortest possible time and the consumption of a minimum amount of fuel, todayís super-highway is the answer. Instead of being constantly alert for a possible Indian ambush, one must be aware of the radar speed trap and give attention to the 55 miles per hour road sign. Things never completely change; there are still road hazards.

On the other hand, it is relaxing to follow the twisting, wandering of an old country road, traveling at a leisurely place and recalling the scenes and events of yesteryear. It is interesting to view the spots that can be pointed out at which some historic event took place, and perhaps take a picture or two for oneís collection. It is restful to leave behind the "hustle and bustle" of modern travel and follow in the footsteps of the earlier Americans.





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