Marshfield, founded in 1640 by Edward Winslow, retains much of the character of its pre-Colonial past. Verdant glens, vast sweeping stretches of marshland, the quiet power of its rivers and pounding surf of its coastline have changed over the centuries, but enough remain to envision what the land must have looked like to early settlers.
Winslow, a shipmate of the Pilgrims who ventured to the New World aboard the Mayflower in 1620, moved north to Marshfield in 1632 onto land granted by the Plymouth Colony Court. He would later serve as the colony’s governor.
Born 400 years ago this year, he and his descendants would leave their mark on Marshfield for centuries to come; the historic Winslow House still stands at the corner of Webster and Careswell Streets, nearly 300 years after it was built.
With Winslow’s settlement came a road — perhaps the first official road in the country — connecting Marshfield with the Plymouth Colony. This byway, today known as the Pilgrim Trail, still exists is patches, including a stretch off Webster Street that was recently. included in a parcel recorded by the National Register of Historic Places. A true father of his town, Winslow was responsible for Marshfield’s first church, school and for organizing its first town meeting. Today he lies buried in a cemetery named for him, not far from the land he settled.
As centuries passed, Marshfield grew, but not as some communities with a central hub and outlying spokes of settlement. The town grew up in several distinct areas whose personalities are recognizable more than 350 years later. Green Harbor, Brant Rock, Fieldston, Rexhame, Marshfield Hills, Humarock, North Marshfield and others sprang up and came together only gradually as the years progressed.
During the Colonial era, Marshfield was home to Nathaniel Ray Thomas, a famous Tory of his time, who declared allegiance to the English crown in the face of opposition from his Marshfield neighbors. In order to protect Thomas from retribution, the Commonwealth garrisoned British soldiers at Thomas’ estate. On hearing the news, several Patriots planned a raid, calling off the attack only after learning the British had positioned cannon on the estate. Weeks later, after the Battle of Lexington, a Patriot militia stormed Thomas’ land only to find the British troops had fled by boat.
Fifty years later, attorney, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State to three presidents Daniel Webster bought the Thomas estate and began a career as gentleman farmer. Webster entertained numerous dignitaries, and conducted affairs of state from his Marshfield home, giving his last speech here shortly before his death in 1852.
The landscape of Marshfield has changed considerably over the years. In 1872 a dyke was built, the road over which connected Brant Rock with Green Harbor. The project was the subject of heated debate among farmers, who were eager to drain and work the land, and fisherman, who claimed the dyke would interrupt the river’s tidal flow and silt in the mouth of Green Harbor. Despite the controversy, the dyke was built, opening thousands of acres of lowland on which hundreds of families live today.
At the north end of town, the mouth of the South River was blocked during the fierce Portland Gale of 1898. The storm forced the original mouth at Rexhame closed and opened a new mouth about a mile north at Fourth Cliff. These two phenomena resulted in a more stable tidal system making virtually the entire town accessible by horse, foot and, later, automobile.
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