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Mendon Residents Defied Legislative Mandate: Threatened With Loss of Homes

Mendon residents have a long history of being independent thinkers. They have been known to make decisions on their own without giving in to outside pressures when voting for political candidates, taxes and town spending. There have also been times when the state and federal governments have imposed laws that were not to their liking. Perhaps today's town citizens inherited this tendency because of a situation experienced by their ancestors.

Mendon was a pioneer town of 38 families when Nipmuc Indians attacked it on July 14, 1675. The attack was a surprise to the residents of the eight-year-old town, because as far as they knew, relations had been peaceful. The Indian deed of 1662 allowed Nipmucs to continue to hunt and fish within the town boundaries. They were well aware of skirmishes that had taken place in Plymouth and Swansea between Wampanoags and English settlers. These were due to injustices directed at the Indians; but the Nipmucs had not voiced such problems.

King Philip, chief of the Wampanoags since his father's death in 1662, was outraged at the loss of his people's land, religion and way of life. He lobbied the Nipmucs and Narragansetts to join him before they suffered a similar fate. The Mendon attack was the first outside of Plymouth Colony. It meant all out war. It was the intent of the three tribes to force the settlers back to Europe to preserve their native homeland and culture. The peaceful co-existence with the Nipmucs was over. The attack, led by Matoonas, left five people dead and the town in terror.

People of Mendon lived in daily fear of a second attack. Some families moved back to Braintree and Weymouth, and others prepared for military conflict by building a fort. The nearest town was Medfield, separated by 15 miles of forest. By October, only 19 families remained. They had defective guns and inadequate ammunition. It was clear that if they remained in the vulnerable, isolated town, their survival would be doubtful.

In light of the desperate situation that they were in, the remaining residents hoped to get help from the General Court in moving back to fortified Braintree and Weymouth. Instead, a letter was delivered on November 3, ordering that all residents who had left were to return, and that all remaining residents were forbidden to leave. The order further stated that all residents who did not comply with this directive would forfeit their homes and property. The residents were stunned and horrified, and they let Boston know that they would be defying the order. Shortly thereafter, they abandoned the unprotected town.

The decision proved to be a wise one, because in February 1676, the warriors returned and burned down every building in town. The war ended in August with King Philip's death. Families returned over the next three years and reclaimed their charred properties. Their homes were rebuilt, and by 1680, a new meetinghouse was constructed at what is now Founders' Park.

The King Philip War was devastating to both the Indians and the settlers. The towns in Southeastern New England gradually recovered and were rebuilt, but the Nipmucs, Wampanoags, and Narragansetts were never the same.

The strong-willed pioneers of the fledgling Mendon stood up to the General Court and defied a mandate that would have put them in mortal danger. They exercised their right to democracy, where people have input in how their government makes decisions. Their ancestral lineage to today's Mendon residents would have been different had they succumbed to the pressures of the 1675 legislature. Our founding fathers rest in peace in Old Cemetery, knowing that they helped to set the framework of how we govern ourselves today.


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