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An Early Biographical Sketch of
Deacon Edward Convers

FAMILY RECORD OF DEACONS
JAMES W. AND ELISHA S. CONVERSE
By William G. Hill, 1887


Page 101 - 107:

The following is an able and correct sketch of the life of Deacon Edward Convers, and was written by Rev. Leander Thompson, of Woburn, in 1885, and published in October of that year in the Winchester Record.

"Among the first settlers of Woburn, Edward Converse has always been regarded as a pioneer and leader. Yet our knowledge of his history, as of nearly all of his associates, must at this late day, be fragmentary and of course imperfect. ....A man of more than usual enterprise, we find him, from the very outset, ever restlessly pushing forward some new work. In less than a year after settling in Charlestown he established a ferry, the first between Charlestown and Boston. By order of the Court, June 14, 1631, he was authorized, under certain rules and regulations, to manage this enterprise, and for several years it was a leading part of his business. In Winthrop's 'History of New England', we find the following account, given also in substance to Frothingham's 'History of Charlestown: -

"'The governor and treasurer, by order of the General Court, did demise to Edward Converse the ferry between Boston and Charlestown, to have the sole transporting of passengers and cattle from one side to the other for three years from the first day of the next month, for the yearly rent of forty pounds, to be paid quarterly to the treasurer: Provided that he see it be well attended and furnished with sufficient boats, and that so soon as maybe in the next spring he set up a convenient house on Boston side, and keep a boat there, as need shall require, and he is allowed to take his wonted fees, namely, 2d. for a single person and 1d. apiece if there be more than one, as well on lecture days as at other times; and for every horse and cow with the man that goeth with them, 6d., and for a goat 1d., and for a swine 2d., and if any shall desire to pass before light in the morning, or if it is after dark in the evening, he may take recompense answerable o the season and his pains and hazards, so it be not excessive.'

"This lease was given in 1631, and Nov. 9, 1637, it was renewed for three years, Mr. Converse agreeing to pay each year forty pounds into the colonial treasury. This ferry, which crossed the river where now the Charlestown bridge crosses it, was called the "Great Ferry", to distinguish it from another which Thomas Williams had set up, a short time before its establish- ment,between Charlestown and Winnisimmet.

Meanwhile Edward Converse was made, during the first year of engagement with the ferry (1631), a freeman of the Colony, and subsequently served the town of Charlestown on the board of selectmen from 1635 until his removal to his new home in the wilderness, which afterward became Woburn. This removal appropriately introduces his connection with the enterprise of founding the new town. It is hardly too much to say that he was on every committee, and had a part in every movement that had this new settlement in view. He was one of the small company, who, in September, 1640, went from Charlestown to search the unexplored land to the northward, and experienced an almost miraculous escape from death in a terrific night storm by the fall of a large tree under which they had laid themselves down for the night. He was one of the committee of thirteen chosen by the town of Charlestown, Nov. 4, 1640, 'to sett the bounds betwixt Charlestown and the Village, and to appoint the place for the village' His name stands first in a list of seven men chosen by the church in Charlestown, Nov. 5, 1640, the day after the appointment of the town committee of thirteen, as commissioners for erecting a church and town' and 'for carrying on the affaires of this new Town'. Six of these seven commissioners were on the town committee of thirteen, and to these six men, with Edward Converse at the head, was due the success of the enterprise they had in view. At their first meeting, held Dec. 18, 1640, thirty-two mean were found ready to affix their names to the Town Orders for Woburn, upon which they had agreed, the name of Edward Converse being second in the list. Meanwhile the fears of the church at Charlestown had been aroused by the zeal and energies of this handful of men, lest the town should be depopulated. But they went steadily forward, and the church at length yielded, Converse and his associates being accorded, Dec. 11, full power to go on with their work. As ever, Converse seems to have out-stripped all others in his zeal, and to have erected a house in the territory of the proposed town previous to Jan. 4, 1641, for, under this date, a meeting was held at his house, according to Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence, in which many persons were admitted to 'set down their dwellings in this town, yet being shallow of brains, fell ofe (off) afterwards'. It is possible, as some writers have suggested, that the meeting was held at his house in Charlestown, and the words, 'in this town' refer simply to what was 'this town' when Johnson wrote. But early in the next month, Feb. 10, 1641, the same writer tells us, as others also do, that the first bridge was laid over the 'Abersonce', elsewhere and generally called the Abajona River,' over against Edward Converse's house', and called 'Coul (or Cold) Bridge'. This records also seems to assume that the house was there when the bridge was built, though, of course, the reference to it may possibly, but not naturally, be in anticipation of its actual erection. Mr. Champney, in his contribution to the "History of Middlesex County,'' Vol. 22, p526, after saying that the bridge was built in Feb, 1641, adds: 'And the first dwelling-house was erected over against it', that is, the bridge. This is doubtless correct, so far as the location of the house was concerned, but it exactly reverses the statements of the records and of the historian, which affirm that the bridge was built over against the house; the statement of the former implying that the bridge was built first, and that of the latter that the house was built first. Whatever may have been the exact date of the erection of the house, there seems to be no doubt that it was the first dwelling-house erected in Woburn; that of John Mousall being built but a little later on 'Hilly Way'. In the words of the quaint old historian and poet, Johnson, referring to these men: "Too (two) nurses less undaunted then (than) the rest, first howses finish.".

"The historical facts of the first house and the first bridge and probably also the first mill, in Woburn, so intimately associated with Edward Converse's enterprise, appropriately introduce us to the part he acted in the organization and affairs of the new town.

"We have already noticed that his name is at the head of the seven commissioners appointed to superintend the general business of settling the town, which issued in securing the act of incorporation in 1642. His connection with the work of gathering the church previous to Oct. 6, of that year (the date of incorporation) we pass for the present, in order to notice more consecutively his secular life and activities. To the persistent energy of Edward Converse, more than to any other one man, the success of the seven commissioners seems to have been due. And when Charlestown Village was finally called "Woobourne", by the act of the General Court, and recognized as the twentieth town in the Massachusetts Colony, we can easily imagine that the satisfaction and joy of no other man equalled those of this ever-restless worker.

"Why the newly incorporated municipality did not immediately so far organize as to choose the appropriate officers for administering its affairs is at present wholly a matter of conjecture. The records mention a general meeting as early as Nov. 8, 1643, in which some minor and comparatively unimportant matters of business were transacted, but there is no hint of a regular organization till April 13, 1644, about eighteen months after the incorporation. On that day the freemen of the town made choice of the first board of selectmen, consisting of Edward Johnson, Edward Converse, John Mousall, William Learned, Ezekiel Richardson, Samuel Richardson, and James Thompson, - seven good and honest men. The name of Edward Converse stands second on this board, as given in the Woburn records. From this time onward until his death, he appeared, as ever before, to have been a foremost man in all public business. On March 3, 1649, he was one of four of the selectmen appointed to negotiate with the town of Charlestown the matter of the disputed boundary between the two towns. He was also, year after year, one of a board of commissioners for the trial of "small causes." In 1660 he was deputy to the General Court. And for nineteen years, from 1644 till 1663, when he died, he was annually chosen a member of the board of selectmen.

"We come now to consideration of Edward Converse, in his religious character and life. "In the very outset of his career as a citizen of Charlestown, we find his name in the list of subscribers to the First Church covenant of that town (Aug. 27, 1630), the first being that of Gov. Winthrop. When this original First Church was removed, three months afterward, to Boston, though his relation to it for some time remained as before, he did not, like Winthrop and many others, remove his family across the river. Accordingly, when the present First Church of Charlestown was organized (Nov. 2, 1632), he and others, having obtained letters of dismission from the church in Boston, united with those who had not been members of that church in the new organization. As a member of that church, he was ever prominent; and was one of the seven members of it who were commissioned to effect, in the name of the mother church, as also in the presence and with the consent of the appointed representative of the Colony, the outward organization of the church in Woburn. This organization was effected Aug. 24, 1642, and on the second day of the following December Thomas Carter was ordained and installed pastor. It is highly probable, though not definitely ascertained, that of the two men who laid their hands on the young candidate's head and formally ordained him to the work of the ministry, instead of delegating the power to the messengers of the churches, Edward Converse was one. It is certain that he was one of the first two deacons of the church, and remained in office till his death.

"From all that has been ascertained respecting the religious character of Edward Converse, we readily infer that he was a man of strongly marked idiosyncrasies. Prompt, clear-headed, devout, conscientious, outspoken and unflinching, and yet prudent, self-contained, and uniform, are the adjectives that best describe his whole career. A single curious incident, mentioned by Johnson in his Wonder-Working Providence, well illustrates a trait which often seem to manifest itself. It occurred more than twenty years after his removal from Charlestown to Woburn, and only about three months before his death. "In May, 1663, Isaac Cole, constable, and Edward Converse, one of Capt. Johnson' associates in the board of selectmen at Woburn, were arraigned; the former for refusing to take and publish the King's letter, and the latter for having spoken of it as Popery. The Court, after haring, discharged Converse, on the ground that his language did not reflect on his Majesty's letter. This account assumes the Converse did speak of the king's letter as popery, but in language so carefully guarded that even papal servants of the king could not easily make out a case again him.

"But though the good old father of the town came forth from his arrest by the officers of the king unscathed and apparently untroubled, there was one passage in his busy life as a citizen which seems have seriously disturbed him, and which resulted in an arbitration between him and one of his neighbors. The erection and operation of his mill on the Abajona River so overflowed the adjacent meadow of Robert Hale as to be an insuperable obstacle in the way of the latter's improvement of his own land. This naturally led to complain and difficulty. But at length an honorable arbitration seems to have happily ended the controversy in a very fair and Christian way."

(The Will of Edward Converse followed the above narrative.)


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