WMM Westford Colonial Minutemen

Westford's Training Field (Common)

Manual of Arms
Diagram from a mid-18th century British Manual of Arms


As is the case in many New England communities, the Westford town land presently known as the "common" was once set aside as a training field for the local militia.  So important (and indeed, required) was service in the local militia, that town resources were expended in acquiring sufficient land for training and practice of their martial skills.  While peacetime saw such gatherings occur only three or four times each year, the frequency increased significantly during times of conflict, such as the months leading up to the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and her colonies.  Those who were required to muster were ordinary townsmen, and as such, were not always the most capable military men.  It was nevertheless expected, as ones civic duty, to be prepared to defend the community in times of need.  One of these calls to muster on the "Common trainingfield" can be found in the 1772 letter from Zaccheus Wright, the town clerk, to corporal William Hildreth of Capt. Jonathan Minot's company.

The following sections provide a transcript of the original 1748 deed, detailing the purchase of land in the town center for the purposes of a militia training field.  The original document is on display at the Westford Museum.  In addition, excerpts from the town records which relate to this purchase and later expansion of the town common are outlined.  Finally, some biographical information on the principle figures in the transaction is provided.


The following information has been compiled by, and is reproduced through the kind permission of, Bob Oliphant.  Thanks also go to Jane Hinkley for her thorough research and Katrina Corcoran and Marilyn Day for additional work transcribing the original document.

Transcription of the Original Deed
 To all People to whom these Presents shall come, Greeting.  Know ye that I Joseph Underwood of Wesford in the County of Middlesex in his Majesty’s Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, Husbandman: For & in Consideration of the sum of Twenty Pounds in Bills of Public Credit of ye old Tenor to me in hand before the ensealing hereof well and truly paid by Capt. Thomas Read, Lieut. Jonas Prescot, Junr. & Mr. John Abbott all of sd Wesford and all a Commtee chosen by sd Town, May The Twenty first, 1744 Bot. of sd Underwood a piece of Land for the convenience of a Training Field, as by sd vote will mo fully appear) The Receipt whereof I hereby acknowledge & myself herewith fully satisfied & contented, & whereof & of every part & parcel thereof, do exonerate, acquit & discharge them the sd Capt. Thomas Read, Lieut. Jonas Prescott Junr. & Mr. John Abbott Commtee & their constituents forever by these Presents: Have given granted, bargained, sold aliend, conveyed & confirmed; & by these Presents do freely, fully & absolutely give, grant, bargain, sell, aliene convey & confirm unto them the sd Capt. Thomas Read, Lieut. Jonas Prescot, Junr. & Mr. John Abbott, Commtee in trust for sd Town of Wesford, & to sd Town their Constituents forever, Two small Tracts of Land lying & being in Wesford aforesd near the Meeting House, both containing a Quarter of an Acre, be it more or less, both sd tracts being comprehended within the bounds following: viz. beginning at the Southwesterly Corner at a Maple Tree growing out of a Rock that is between two Roads, & about Ten or Eleven Rods South of the Meeting House, from thence running North Easterly, crossing the Road, to a heap of Stones, & so on to a Black Oak Tree marked, & still running on to a Stake & Stones at the Corner of sd Underwood’s wall; from thence running Westerly about Eighteen or Nineteen Rods by the Way till it comes to another way, & thence to the Bound first Mentioned, Excepting out of this Bargain & Sale all the Ways that may be contained within the above mentioned bounds of the Premises.  To Have & to hold the sd granted & bargained Premises, with all the appurtenances, Privileges, and commodities to the same belonging or in any wise appertaining, to them the sd Capt. Thomas Read, Lieut. Jonas Prescot, Junr. & Mr. John Abbott, Committee in trust for sd Town of Wesford, & by them to sd Town their Constituents, forever to their only proper use, Benefit & behoof forever, free from all incumbrances of what name or nature whatever, that might in any measure injure obstruct or make void this present Deed.
Furthermore I the sd Joseph Underwood, for myself my Heirs, executors & administrators, do Covenant & engage the above demised Premises to them the sd Capt. Thomas Read, Lieut. Jonas Prescot, Junr. & Mr. John Abbott, Commtee in trust for sd Town of Wesford & by them to sd Town & their Constituents against the lawful claims or Demands of any Person or Persons whatsoever, forever hereafter to warrant, secure & defend by these Presents.  In Witness whereof I have here unto set my hand & seal this Seventh Day of December, Anno Domi One Thousand Seven Hundred & Forty Eight; & in the Twenty Second Year of the Reign of King George the Second.
    Signed, Sealed and Delivered
    in the presence of
    [signed] Willard Hall
    [signed] Eph. Craft.
    [signed] Joseph Underwood {Seal}

Middlesex ss December ye 8th 1748
Joseph Underwood above Named personally appearing and acknowledged the fore going instrument to be his free act and deed before me                    Thomas Read Justice of Peace

And a later addition:

Lowell, Middlesex ss North District.
Recorded Feb. 23, 1893 Book 240, Page 127                Attest Joseph P. Thompson Reg.

Notes on the Purchase of Westford Common

From the Town Records

The Town Records provide the following entries pertaining to the purchase of what is now Westford Common [spelling and capitalization per the original records]:

    Wesford, May 21, 1744.
At a General Town Meeting of the Freeholders and other inhabitants of the Town of Wesford Duely Warned and meet at the meeting house in sd Wesford…
Voted and Chose Capt Thomas Read and Lt Jonas Prescott Jr and John Abbott as a Committe for to Treat with Mr Joseph Underwood about bying a piece of Land for the Convenancy of a training field Round the meeting house half an acre more or less as they see fit.

    Westford, March 6, 1748-49
At a General town Meeting of Freeholders and other inhabitants of the town of Westford Regularly assembled to meet at the meeting house in sd Westford…
Voted the Selectmen shall order the money out of the treasury for purchasing the land of Mr. Underwood for a training field.

    Westford, March 24, 1748-49
Pay to Mr. Joseph Underwood the sum of 5 £ for the land which the Comtee bought of Mr. Underwood for a training field.

    Westford, April ye 13, 1767
At a meeting of the Select Men…  Pay to Deaon John Abbott the Sum of 4=10=8 [4 pounds 10 shillings & 8 pence] for fifty three Rods of Land purchased of him by vote of the Town to make an addition to the Training field to be in full for sd Land.

An old undated newspaper article states of the Common that:

Prior to 1744 this land was owned by Joseph Underwood.  It may have been called waste land as the public traveled over it in any direction , although, according to tradition, there was a highway through the center of it.

In 1893, through the kindness of the late John M. Fletcher, who turned over to the selectmen the deed to the common which he found in some old papers that came into his hands, the selectmen found that there was no record of it in the registry of deeds office.  It was then recorded in the Middlesex north district registry of deeds office, Book 240, page 127.

John Marion Fletcher (1846-1923), mentioned above, was a postmaster in Westford for many years and also served in many town offices.  He was the son of John Bateman Fletcher (1802-1888), who lived on the south side of the Common at 4 Lincoln Street and was the owner/proprietor of the J. B. Fletcher’s store located next to his home at 6-8 Lincoln Street.

Men of Distinction

The men mentioned in the deed were all prominent in the early history of Westford.  Joseph Underwood, Thomas Read, Jonas Prescott, and Ephraim Craft all appear on Westford’s first Tax List, c. 17291.   Capt. Read and Lt. Prescott were probably leaders of Westford’s Train Band, the name then use for the local town militia which would be the principal users of the new Training Field.

Joseph Underwood was born in Reading in 1681 and died in Westford in 1761.  He was one of the original settlers of Westford Center and owned a tract of land on the easterly side of Tadmuck Hill.  His home was near the intersection of Leland Road and Main Street.  He appears in the Chelmsford Town Records as early as 1724 when he was a petitioner from the “new parish” seeking a schoolmaster who could also preach.  “He was one of the original members of the first church; was active in all public affairs, and was evidently a man of character and influence.  He was a farmer and innholder, and owned a large tract of land on the eastern slope of the hill on which the Central Village now stands, reaching up to the Common…  It was the best land near the centre…  His dwelling stood nearly opposite Mrs. Leland’s, where a cellar-hole yet remains [near 1 Leland Road where that road now enters Main Street].”2

Thomas Read was born in 1687 and was also an original settler of Westford.  His farm was on the northwesterly side of Francis Hill, his house located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Stony Brook and Lowell Roads.  Thomas Read served in a snow-shoe militia company in Chelmsford during Dummer's War in 1723-24.  He was elected “fifth Selectman” at the first Town Meeting held March 2, 1729-30.  In 1734 Joseph Underwood and Capt. Thomas Read were chosen to work with men from other towns in establishing Middlesex County.  He died in Westford in 1773.

Jonas Prescott was born in Forge Village in 1703; both his father and grandfather were also named Jonas.  His grandfather was a blacksmith in Groton and built an iron foundry in Forge Village where his father then settled.  His home was located on the north side of W. Prescott Street just to the east of the present baseball fields.  Jonas Prescott died in Westford in 1784.

John Abbot was born in Billerica in 1713, the son of Deacon John Abbot.  He joined the church in Westford in 1735 and was chosen deacon in 1762.  “He was a school teacher, town clerk, and selectman for many years.  He lived in the centre of the town.”3

The first witness to the deed, Rev. Willard Hall (1703-1779), was the first pastor of First Parish Church, serving from its inception in 1727 until his death in 1779.  He was born in Medford, Mass., and graduated from Harvard College in 1722.  He also ran a small farm situated to the north and east of the church along Main Street.  His home, one of the earliest in Westford Center, was located near the site of the J. V. Fletcher Library.  During the Revolutionary War, Rev. Hall’s loyalty diverged from that of the vast majority of his congregation.  One of only three Loyalists in Westford, he “remained steadfast in his loyalty to the king until he died, in 1779.”4

The other witness, Ephraim Craft, lived near the site of 3 Depot Street.  He came to Westford before 1730 from Roxbury, Mass., where he was born in 1701.

Notes on the Original Document

When the deed was preserved at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass., in the summer of 1999, the paper on which the deed was written was found to have a watermark dated 1742 consisting of a crown with two supporting lions.  The paper was undoubtedly made in England and imported to the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

The brownish ink used for the deed was probably made from iron oak gall.  The seal was made of beeswax with vermilion coloring and sealed with shellac.

 1 Hodgman, pp. 25-32.
 2 Ibid, pp. 478-479.
 3 Ibid, p. 435.
 4 Ibid, p. 102.

Last Updated 6 January, 2003

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