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William Wood's Map and Description of New England in 1635

By Robert RAYMOND

In 1635 William Wood published in London his, New Englands Prospect. A true, lively, and experimentall description of that part of America, commonly called New England: discovering the state of that Countrie, both as it stands to our new-come English Planters; and to the old Native Inhabitants. Laying downe that which may both enrich the knowledge of the mind-travelling Reader, or benefit the future-Voyager. While this lengthy treatise (speaking of the title, not the book) may appear on the title page and in modern bibliographies, I rather think the practice of the day was to include both title and description on the title page. I'm quite comfortable assuming the intended title was simply, New Englands Prospect.

The map to the left, "The South part of New-England, as it is Planted this year, 1639," was the frontispiece of Wood's book; frontispiece being a fancy word for the illustration that appears opposite a title page, whether or not the title was longer than the first chapter of the book.

I've reproduced below, Wood's description of the plantations along Massachusetts Bay, along with an enlarged detail of the corresponding portion of the map. I've annotated the map and added corresponding numerals to the description to aid in correlation. Otherwise, the text is taken directly from Chapter 10 of Wood's, New Englands Prospect...


A Selection from William Wood's New Englands Prospect

1. It may adde to your content and satsfaction to be informed of the situation of every severall plantation, with his conveniences, commodities, and discommodities, &c. where first I will begin with the outmost Plantation in the Patent to the Southward, which is called Wichaguscusset, an Indian name [Weymouth]: this as it is but a small Village, yet it is very pleasant; and healthfull, very good ground, and is well timbred, and hath good stoore of Hey ground; it hath a very spacious harbour for shipping before the towne; the salt water being navigable for Boates and Pinnaces two leagues. Here the inhabitants have good store of fish of all sorts, and Swine, having Acornes and Clamms at the time of yeare; here is likewise an Alewife river.

Detail from William Wood's 1635 map,
The South Part of New-England

2.Three miles to the North of this is mount Wolleston ["Merry Mount" now Braintree], a very fertile soyle, and a place very convenient for Farmers houses, there being great store of plaine ground, without trees. Neer this place is Massachusets fields where the greatest Sagamore in the countrey lived, before the Plague, who caused it to be cleared for himselfe. The greatest inconvenience is, that there is not very many Springs, as in other places of the countrey, yet water may be had for digging: A second inconvenience is, that Boates cannot come in at a low water, nor shippes ride neere the shore.

3.Sixe mile further to the North, lieth Dorchester; which is the greatest towne in New England; well wooded and watered; very good arable grounds, and Hay-ground, faire Corne-fields, and pleasant Gardens, with Kitchin-gardens: In this Plantation is a great many Cattle, as Kine, Goats, and Swine. This Plantation hath a reasonable Harbour for ships: Here is no Alewife-river, which is a great inconvenience. The inhabitants of this towne were the first that set upon the trade of fishing in the Bay, who received so much fruite of their labours, that they encouraged others to the same undertakings.

4.A mile from this Towne lieth Roxberry, which is a faire and handsome Countrey-towne; the inhabitants of it being all very rich. This Towne lieth upon the Maine, so that it is well wooded and watered; having a cleare and fresh Brooke running through the Towne: Vp which although there come no Ale-wives, yet there is great store of Smelts, and therefore it is called Smelt-brooke.

5.A quarter of a mile to the North-side of the Towne, is another River called Stony-river; upon which is built a water-mill. Here is good ground for Corne, and Medow for Cattle: Vp Westward from the Towne it is something rocky, whence it hath the name of Roxberry; the inhabitants have faire houses, store of Cattle, impaled Corne-fields, and fruitfull Gardens. Here is no harbour for ships, because the Towne is seated in the bottome of a shallow Bay, which is made by the necke of land on which Boston is built; so that they can transport all their goods from the Ships in Boats from Boston, which is the nearest Harbour.

6.Boston is two miles North-east from Roxberry: His situation is very pleasant, being a Peninsula, hem'd in on the South-side with the Bay of Roxberry, on the North-side with Charles-river, the Marshes on the backe-side, being not halfe a quarter of a mile over; so that a little fencing will secure their Cattle from the Woolves. Their greatest wants be wood, and Medow-ground, which never were in that place; being constrained to fetch their building-timber, and fire-wood from the Ilands in Boates; and their Hay in Loyters: It being a necke and bare of wood: they are not troubled with three great annoyances, of Woolves, Rattle-snakes, and Musketoes. These that live here upon their cattle, must be constrained to take Farmes in the Countrey, or else they cannot subsist; the place being too small to containe many, and fittest for such as can Trade into England, for such commodities as the Countrey wants, being the chiefe place for shipping and Merchandize.

7.This necke of land is not above foure miles in compasse, in forme almost square, having on the South-side at one corner, a great broad hill, where-on is planted a Fort, which can command any ship as shee sayles into any Harbour within the hill Bay. On the North-side is another Hill equall in bignesse, whereon stands a Windemill. To the North-west is a high Mountaine with three little rising hills on the top of it, wherefore it is called the Tramount. From the top of this Mountaine a man may over-looke all the Ilands which lie before the Bay, and discry such ships as are upon the Sea-coast. This Towne although it be neither the greatest, nor the richest, yet it is the most noted and frequented, being the Center of the Plantations where the monethly Courts are keept. ... Here likewise dwells the Governour: This place hath very good land, affording rich Corne-fields, and fruit full Gardens: having likewise sweet and pleasant Springs. The inhabitants of this place, for their enlargement, have taken to themselves Farme-houses, in a place called Muddy-river, two miles from their Towne; where is good ground, large timber, and store of Marsh-land and Medow. In this place they keepe their Swine and other Cattle in the Summer, whilst the Corne is on the ground at Boston, and bring them to the Towne in Winter.

8.On the North-side of Charles River is Charles Towne, which is another necke of Land, on whose North-side runs Misticke-river. This Towne for all things, may be well parallel'd with her neighbour Boston, being in the same fashion with her bare necke, and constrained to borrow conveniences from the maine, and to provide for themselves Farmes in the Countrey for their better subsistance. At this Towne there is kept a Ferry-boate, to conveigh passengers over Charles River, which betweene the two Townes is a quarter of a mile over, being a very deepe Channel. Here may ride forty ships at a time. Vp higher it is a broad Bay, being above two miles betweene the shores, into which runnes Stony-river,and Muddy-river.

9.Towards the South-west in the middle of this Bay, is a great Oyster-banke: Towards the North-west of this Bay is a great Creeke, upon whose shore is situated the Village of Medford, a very fertile and pleasant place, and fit for more inhabitants than are yet in it. This Towne is a mile and a halfe from Charles Towne, and at the bottome of this Bay the River beginnes to be narrower, being but halfe a quarter of a mile broad.

10.By the side of this River is built New-towne [Cambridge], which is three miles by land from Charles Towne, and a league and a halfe by water. This place was first intended for a City, but upon more serious considerations it was not thought so fit, being too farre from the Sea; being the greatest inconvenience it hath. This is one of the neatest and best compacted Towns in New England, having many faire structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants most of them are very rich, and well stored with Cattell of all sorts; having many hundred Acres of ground paled in with one generall fence, which is about a mile and a halfe long, which secures all their weaker Cattle from the wilde beasts. On the other side of the River lieth all their Medow and Marsh-ground for Hay.

11.Halfe a mile Westward of this plantation, is Water-towne; a place nothing inferiour for land, wood, medow, and water, to New-towne. Within halfe a mile of this Towne is a great Pond, which is divided betweene those two Townes, which divides their bounds Northward. A mile and a halfe from this Towne, is a fall of fresh waters, which conveigh themselves into the Ocean through Charles River. A little below this fall of waters, the inhabitants of Water-towne have built a Wayre to catch Fish, wherein they take great store of Shads and Alewives. In two Tydes they have gotten one hundred thousand of those Fishes: This is no small benefit to the plantation: Ships of small burden may come up to these two Townes, but the Oyster-bankes doe barre out the bigger Ships.

12.The next Towne is Misticke, which is three miles from Charles Towne by land, and a league and a halfe by water: It is seated by the waters side very pleasantly; there be not many houses as yet. At the head of this River are great and spacious Ponds, whither the Alewives presse to spawne. This being a noted place for that kinde of Fish, the English resort thither to take them. On the West side of this River the Governour hath a Farme, where he keepes most of his cattle. On the East side is Master Craddockes Plantation, where he hath impaled a Parke, where he keepes his cattle, till hee can store it with Deere: Here likewise he is at charges of building ships. The last yeare one was upon the Stockes of a hundred Tunne, that being finished, they are to build one twice her burden. Ships without either Ballast or loading, may floate downe this River; otherwise the Oyster-banke would hinder them which crosseth the Channell. The last Towne in the still Bay is Winnisimet [Chelsea]; a very sweete place for situation, and stands very commodiously, being fit to entertaine more Planters than are yet seated: it is within a mile of Charles Towne, the River onely parting them.

13. The chiefe Ilands which keepe out the winde and the sea from disturbing the Harbours, are first Deare lland, which lies within a flight-shot of Pullin-point. This Iland is so called, because of the Deare which often swimme thither from the Maine, when they are chased by the Woolves. Some have killed sixteene Deere in a day upon this Iland. The opposite shore is called Pullin-point, because that is the usuall Channell. Boats use to passe thorow into the Bay; and the Tyde being very strong, they are constrained to goe a shore, and hale their Boates by the seasing, or roades, whereupon it was called Pullin-point. The next Iland of note is Long Island, so called from his longitude. Divers other Ilands be within these: viz. Nodles Ile, Round Ile, the Governours Garden, where is planted an Orchard and a Vine-yard, with many other conveniences; and Slate-Iland, Glasse-Iland, Bird-Iland, &c. These Iles abound with Woods, and Water, and Medow-ground; and whatsoever the spacious fertile Maine affords. The inhabitants use to put their cattle in these for safety, viz. their Rammes, Goates, and Swine, when their Corne is on the ground. Those Townes that lie without the Bay, are a great deale nearer the Maine, and reape a greater benefit from the Sea, in regard of the plenty both of Fish and Fowle, which they receive from thence; so that they live more comfortably, and at lesse charges, than those that are more remote from the Sea in the Inland-plantations.

14.The next plantation is Saugus [Lynn], sixe miles North-east from Winnesimet: This Towne is pleasant for situation, seated at the bottome of a Bay, which is made on the one sid with the surrounding shore, and on the other side with a long sandy Beach; which is two miles long at the end, whereon is a necke of land called Nahant: It is sixe miles in circumference; well wooded with Oakes, Pines, and Cedars: It is beside well watered, having beside, the fresh Springs, a great Pond in the middle; before which is a spacious Marsh. In this necke is store of good ground, fit for the Plow; but for the present it is onely used for to put young cattle in, and weather-goates, and Swine, to secure them from the Woolves: a few posts and rayles from the lower water-markes to the shore, keepes out the Wolves, and keepes in the cattle. One Blacke William, an Indian Duke, out of his generosity gave this place in generall to this Plantation of Saugus,so that no other can appropriate it to himselfe. ...The very aspect of the place is fortification enough to keepe off an unknowne enemie, yet may it be fortified at a little charge, being but few landing places there about, and those obscure.

15.Foure miles Northeast from Saugus lyeth Salem, which stands on the middle of a necke of land very pleasantly, having a South river on the one side, and a North river on the other side: upon this necke where the most of the houses stand is very bad and sandie ground, yet for seaven yeares together it hath brought forth exceeding good corne, by being fished but every third yeare; in some places is very good ground, and good timber, and divers springs hard by the seaside. Here likewise is store of fish, as Basses, Eeles, Lobsters, Clammes, &c. Although their land be none of the best, yet beyond these rivers is a very good soyle, where they have taken Farmes, and get their Hay, and plant their corne; there they crosse these rivers with small Cannowes, which are made of whole pine trees, being about two foote and a halfe over, and twenty foote long: in these likewise they goe a fowling, sometimes two leagues to sea; there be more Cannowes in this towne than in all the whole Patent; every houshould having a water-horse or two. This Towne wants an Alewife river, which is a great inconvenience; it hath two good harbours, the one being called Winter, and the other Summer harbours, which lieth within Derbies Fort, which place if it were well fortified, might keepe shippes from landing of forces in any of those two places.

16.Marvill Head [Marblehead] is a place which lieth foure miles full South from Salem, and is a very convenient place for plantation, especially for such as will set upon the trade of fishing. There was made here a ships loading of fish the last yeare, where still stands the stages, & drying scaffolds; here be good harbour for boats, and safe riding for ships.

17.Agowamme [Ipswich] is nine miles to the North from Salem, which is one of the most spacious places for a plantation, being neare the sea; it aboundeth with fish, and flesh of fowles and beasts, great Meads and Marshes and plaine plowing grounds, many good rivers and harbours and no rattle snakes. In a word, it is the best place but one, in my judgement, which is Merrimacke, lying eight miles beyond it, where is a river twenty leagues navigable, all along the river side is fresh Marshes, in some places three miles broad. In this river is Sturgeon, Sammon, and Basse, and divers other kinds of fish. To conclude, the Country scarce affordeth that which this place cannot yeeld. So that these two places may containe twice as many people as are yet in new England: there being as yet scarce any inhabitants in these two spacious places.

Three miles beyond the river of Merrimacke is the outside of our Patent for the Massachusets Bay. These be all the Townes that were begun, when I came for England, which was the 15. of August 1633. 

(New Englands Prospect..., William Wood, 1635, pp. 31-38. As quoted in A Book of Old Maps Delineating American History..., Emerson D. Fite and Archibald Freeman, 1926, reprinted 1969, pp. 136-139.) Sunday, 18-May-2003 11:41:55 MDT