Extracted and edited from “History And Antiquities of Every Town In Massachusetts” by John Warner Barber, 1848.
The towns of Belchertown, Ware, and Pelham, were originally included in one tract, and styled the Equivalent Lands, from the following circumstance. The towns of Woodstock, Somers, Enfield, and Suffield, in Connecticut, were formerly supposed to belong to the province of Massachusetts, and were for many years under her jurisdiction; and though it afterwards appeared that they were included within the boundaries of Connecticut, the province of Massachusetts still claimed jurisdiction over them. It was, therefore, agreed between the two governments, that an equal extent of territory should be given to Connecticut as an equivalent. This, and the adjacent towns above mentioned, were included in that territory, and were thence denominated the Equivalent Lands. Connecticut afterwards sold a considerable portion of this township to six individuals, in and near Boston, one of whom was the Hon. Jonathan Belcher, who was for many years afterwards the governor of Massachusetts colony. About the year 1740, the towns in Connecticut above mentioned threw off the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and have since been incorporated with that state.
The grant made to these proprietors was first laid out in 1727. Another grant, comprising about 14,000 acres, adjoining this, on the north, was subsequently made to several inhabitants of Northampton, of whom Pemberton, Vance, Saltonstall, and the reverend and venerable Jonathan Edwards, were the principal proprietors. This tract was laid out into lots of 100 acres each, about the year 1760, and the whole became a town corporate by an act of the general court in 1761. The remaining section of the equivalent lands was sold to Col. Stoddard, of Northampton.
This tract of country, from Shutesbury to Chicopee river, it appears, was formerly distinguished as the best hunting-ground in this vicinity for deer and other wild game. The hunters were accustomed to encircle a large tract of land by a line of fires, which, burning in every direction, gradually encompassed the game in a circle so narrow, that they became an easy prey to their pursuers; and in process of time our native forests were destroyed, and, in a great measure, consumed by the hunters’ fires. But these lands which had been thus burnt were soon covered with a species of wild grass, affording excellent pasturage for cattle; and for many years great numbers of cattle and horses were annually sent out from Northampton and Hadley to graze upon these hills during the summer season. The practice of burning over these lands also continued a considerable time after the first settlement of the place.
This town was first known by the name of Cold Spring. It took its name from a noted cold spring in the eastern part of the town, near the path that was formerly traveled from Northampton to Brookfield and Boston. After leaving Hadley, there was, for many years, no house nearer than Brookfield; and this spring, lying midway between the two towns, afforded a convenient place for refreshment to the traveler in his solitary journey through the wilderness. As the communications between the towns upon the river and the eastern section of the state became more frequent, the spring became a celebrated watering-place for travelers, and finally gave name to the township. In honor of Governor Belcher, one of its original proprietors, it was, however, in the act of its incorporation, called Belcher’s Town; which, by common usage, has passed into the name of Belchertown. The town is now about twelve miles in length, with an average breadth of about five miles, and is estimated to contain about 34,000 acres of land. The first settlement of the town was made about 1732, by two or three families. The first permanent inhabitant was Dea. Aaron Lyman, who settled in the east part of the town, near the celebrated spring above mentioned. His son, the late Major Lyman, was the first male child born in the town. The next settlement that was made was by Col. Timothy Dwight, who established himself near the middle of the town. He was originally the sole proprietor of the lands in the central part of the town, a valuable portion of which remains to this day in the possession of his descendants. The settlements were gradually increased by successive emigrants from Northampton and Hatfield.
The following view was taken from near the public house, situated at the south end of the wide street or common, in the central part of Belchertown. It shows the two Congregational churches, and in the distance, at the north end of the common, is seen “the Belchertown Classical School.” It was incorporated 1836. This institution is one of much promise; it is in a flourishing state, and has at present about sixty pupils of both sexes. The village is situated on a hill, and consists of about forty dwelling-houses, three churches, 2 Congregational and I Baptist, a number of mercantile stores and mechanic shops. Distance, 15 miles from Northampton, 18 from Springfield, 28 from Greenfield, 10 from Ware village, 9 from Amherst college, 8S from Worcester, and 77 from Boston. Population, 2,598. In 1837, there were 3,000 sheep in this town; wool produced, 9,000 lbs., valued at $5,400. About 600 one-horse wagons were manufactured, the value of which was estimated at $24,000.
Southern view in Belchertown.
It appears probable, from some imperfect town records, that the first minister, the Rev. Edward Billings, was ordained here in 1739. Mr. Billings left no church records, and the names and number of the first members cannot be ascertained; it appears, however, at this period, that the entire population of the town consisted only of twenty families. Mr. Billings continued pastor about twelve years, when he was dismissed on account of a difference of sentiment between him and his church respecting the admission of members. He was afterwards installed over the church at Greenfield, and died in a few years. The next pastor was Rev. Justus Forward, who was ordained Feb. 25, 1756. The population had then increased to 55 or 60 families, comprising about 300 souls, and the church at that time consisted of 69 members. The following is a list of the male members, viz.:
Dea. Aaron Lyman,
Dea. John Smith,
Mr. Forward continued in the ministry more than fifty-eight years, and died March 8th, 1814, in the 84th year of his age. Rev. Experience Porter, the next minister, was installed pastor in 1.814; he resigned in 1825, and was succeeded by Rev. Lyman Coleman the same year: Rev. Jared Reid, the next pastor, was installed in 1833. The Brainerd church was organized in 1834.
The following inscriptions are copied from monuments in the grave-yard, about a mile eastward of the village:
Sacred to the memory of Hey. Justus Forward, pastor of the church in Belcherstown, who, skilled in Evangelical Doctrine, exemplary in christian duty, prudent in council, valiant for the truth, faithful and successful in labours, after a long and useful ministry, in which with reputation to himself, and. to the spiritual benefit of his flock, he served God, and his generation, fell asleep March 8, A. D. 1814, in the 84th year of his age, and the 59th of his ministry. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.
In memory of Capt. Nathaniel Dwight, who died March 30th, 1784, in the 72d year of his age. He was one of the first settlers of this town, & was esteemed & employed in public business in town and county thro’ his whole life.
Come honest sexton with your spade,
And let my grave be quickly made;
On Heaven’s decree I waiting lie,
And all my wishes are to die.
Tho’ I must die and turn to dust,
I hope to rise among the just.
Jesus my body will refine,
I shall with him in glory shine.
* The author is indebted for the history of this town principally to a communication from the Hon. Mark Doolittle of this town. It was published in the Hampshire Centinel, a newspaper printed in this town, in 1627.
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