True Tales from Canton’s Past: Flowers at a Grave

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The leaves crunch underfoot, just as they did exactly 300 years ago in the same spot. There is a mossy bed that surrounds the head and footstone, and the October light dapples through the leaves of beautiful poplar. Much has changed beyond the walls of this place, but the reflections on life and sanctity are part of a continuum that defines our small town. There is perhaps no more sacred a place to our history and memories than Canton Corner Cemetery. And the starting point is the final resting place of Gilburt Indicott.

The 300-year-old footstone of Gilburt Indicott (Photo by the author)

The 300-year-old footstone of Gilburt Indicott (Photo by the author)

The gravestone still reads “Indicott,” but the name came down through history as Endicott. And the family tree in America begins right here in this cemetery. The gravestone states that Endicott died on October 18, 1716, at age 58. A later descendent from Canton named George Munroe Endicott conducted extensive research and found that “Gilbert Endicott, son of John,” was born on October 22, 1648. It has been accepted that this reference in the parish records of Marldon, Devonshire, England would make our man out to have been 67 years old instead of the 58 on his gravestone. And who doesn’t want to be thought of as 10 years younger — even in pre-colonial Dorchester?

Interestingly, even if Endicott was 58 years old when he died, he packed a terrific amount of activity in his life, which ended here in Stoughton and what is now Canton. In 1676, Endicott was serving as a soldier in King Philip’s War under Captain John Jacob of Hingham. It was a bloody and vicious campaign. In Medfield, less than 12 miles away, the “Indians had burnt about forty houses, near half the town, and killed and wounded about twenty people.” Military patrols guarded the towns between Milton to Plymouth Colony, and Endicott was likely a foot soldier in this war.

In 1677, Endicott received a grant of land in Wells, Maine. The condition of the grant was such that “he should build a house within one year, and should not desert the place unless he leaves an occupant upon it.” The small rural community on the seacoast was begun by the enterprise of Edmund Littlefield in 1641. Many of the people who came to Wells and took grants of land did not continue long enough to fulfill the conditions attached to them, but moved to other places within a few years of their arrival. Endicott, however, seemed to thrive. In 1681 he received a second grant on the eastern side of Branch River and also purchased 50 acres of land from Major William Phillips.

The property that Endicott had bought from Phillips was upland on a little river at Cape Porpus. He erected a small sawmill and prospered enough to sell the property in 1683. Endicott married Hannah Gooch (spelled Gowge) in 1686. And they were still in Wells in 1691 when he purchased 30 acres of land in York, Maine. There is also a record of him being in Dorchester for a time in 1690.

Yet living in Maine was quite difficult, for these were hostile and dangerous times for the Endicotts and their neighbors. In June of 1691, the Abenaki tribe attacked the village of Wells and the residents had successfully taken shelter and fought off the attackers in a garrison house. Things really went from bad to worse when on January 24, 1692, the morning after Candlemas Day, the town of York was burned to the ground by a band of 150 Abenaki Indians. The warrior Indians began systematically breaking into every home, killing the inhabitants inside, and then setting fire to the house. At some point, the killing stopped, and, as one observer wrote, “It would seem as if the savages themselves grew weary of the bloodshed.”

With the exception of four garrison houses where some managed to take shelter, all of the 18 or 19 houses on the north side of the York River were burned. Between 40 and 48 people were killed in the massacre, with an estimated 100 others taken captive and forced to march with their captors to Quebec. Indian hostilities continued even after the horrific attack in nearby York, Maine, and many families started an exodus from the region.

By 1696, after almost 20 years in rural Maine, the Endicotts moved to Reading, Massachusetts. It was there that James Endicott was born and where Hannah was baptized. Many of the early settlers in Maine had left and gone to Massachusetts for safety. Interestingly, several of Gilbert Endicott’s neighbors from York escaped after the Candlemas Day Massacre and settled in what is now Canton and Stoughton. Our local historian, Daniel T.V. Huntoon, wrote, “It is a touching incident in our local history that the emigrants driven from the place of their first settlement in the Province of Maine, should have named the new place of their residence “York” and that this name should have been applied to a part of our town from that time to the present.”

It is also ironic that when Gilbert Endicott came to Ponkapoag in the “wilds of Dorchester,” that he should again engage closely with the Indians. In 1700, Endicott built a house here and had a second child named Sarah who was baptized in the church in Milton. A lease from the Ponkapoag Praying Indians is dated February 27, 1704-5. In exchange for a yearly payment of “£4 in pepper-corn,” Endicott received an illegal lease that would supposedly run for 200 years. Endicott also owned land in what is now Sharon that was bounded by Massapoag Brook.

In Canton, he settled at what is now the intersection of Chapman and Washington streets and kept an unlicensed tavern. In 1702 he was obliged to appear before the court for permission to continue his enterprise, which was allowed. Yet he had many simultaneous occupations.

It would appear from all the real estate transactions that Endicott was fairly prosperous. In 1708 he purchased a half-acre of land in Orange (now Washington Street) in Boston. Quite the enterprising man, he built a dwelling house “of 30 foot long, 20 wide & 22 studd with a flatt roof on his land scituate at ye South end of Boston.” This too was to become an inn, but Endicott found it difficult to license and so he ended that venture in 1711.

Gilbert Endicott died in 1716 and was buried in a new burying ground to the rear of where the new meetinghouse was being built. Today at Canton Corner, this gravesite is the most ancient of the early settlers. On this past Tuesday night, 300 years to the day of his death, this author, accompanied by a handful of residents, walked quietly through the leaves to the grave. Kneeling in the damp grass, we took a moment to reflect. In the flickering light from colonial-era lanterns we paid homage to the legacy and memory of Gilbert Endicott. It was an emotional and touching scene as we left flowers at the grave — perhaps for the first time in hundreds of years. Rest in peace, Gilburt Indicott, 1648-1716.

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