Duxbury’s early settlers: John Washburn

Pictured is the dwelling of the Rev. Ralph Partridge, George Partridge (Ralph’s brother or cousin) and the Honorable George Partridge (George’s great grandson) Currently owned by Stephen and Lisa Fitzgibbons.

John Washburn, a tailor, arrived in Plymouth in 1632. He was taxed in 1633, but not in 1634. In January of 1635 he purchased a house and land from Edward Bumpas. From this chain of events we can surmise that John returned to England in late 1633 and made arrangements for passage for his family and returned to Plymouth in late 1634. His wife, Margery, arrived in Plymouth with her two sons, John, Jr. and Philip in the spring of 1635. John Washburn did not appear on the list of colonists in 1627, and one wonders how he would qualify to share in the 1627 Plymouth Land Division, in which each family received 20 acres for every man, woman and child. There are some inferences that he may have traded the land he purchased from Bumpas for a lot more to his liking. In any event on April 5, 1641 it was ordered that “John Washburn might have forty acres in Duxburrow, if it be there to be had.” John Washburn, Sr. died soon after May of 1670.

In 1642 and again in 1643 a committee was appointed to “set the ancient bounds betwixt the lands of Mr. Thomas Besbeech and John Washburn.” John Washburn had purchased 20 acres of land and buildings from William Latham and he had also purchased land from Edward Bumpas that had once been granted to William Palmer, “which lote he (Palmer) gave up to ye company.” Latham sold 20 acres of land and house to the Rev. Ralph Partridge on Dec. 26, 1639. Identifying which parcel goes where is difficult at best. What we do know is, John Washburn left his homestead farm to his son Philip in 1666. Philip deeded the 40 acres with a house and orchard to Thomas Lasall in 1684 and Mr. Lasall deeded the property to John Partridge, George Partridge’s son within two months. John Washburn and his son John, Jr. were among the fifty-four proprietors of Bridgewater in 1645.  Although John and John, Jr. owned property in Bridgewater its quite possible only John, Jr. moved there right away. John, Sr. shows up in Duxbury records in 1658 but he died in 1670 in Bridgewater. By 1685 with the deed to John Partridge the entire Partridge Farm was either in the hands of George Partridge’s family or the heirs of the Rev. Ralph Partridge, specifically Ralph Thacher.   

The Rev. Ralph Partridge, a respected and honorable man, sometimes used property and later purchased it. I found an instance where two owners did exactly that. William Bassett and Francis Sprague deeded to Mr. Partridge “land now enclosed by the said Mr. Partridge.” That land seems to be closer to what is now Hall’s corner.

By 1658, at the time of his death, Mr. Partridge had accumulated some land in Palmer’s Grant, and Latham’s Grant, and it was now referred to as Partridge Farm. Although greatly reduced in area, a magnificent house still stands where the Partridges and their relatives lived for a long time. The property is currently owned by Stephen and Lisa Fitzgibbons.

The Rev. Ralph Partridge was the much revered first minister of Duxbury’s First Parish Church. He served the town well for over 20 years and compared to some who followed, he could be described as the best of the best. In addition to his preaching and church activities, he was often called upon to tutor the young men in town in the hope they would move on to Harvard. 

Rev. Partridge died in 1658, lamented by friends, family, parish and colony leaders. There were many tributes showing the respect he commanded throughout New England. He was buried in the graveyard by the first meeting house. Although there is no headstone, there is a cobblestoned area about the size of a grave. It was uncovered in the late 1800s and is probably the final resting place of Duxbury’s first minister.

When the Rev. Ralph died he had accumulated over 150 acres in different areas of town. The bulk of his property was left to his daughter, Elizabeth, his only daughter to come to New England. Elizabeth deeded some of the property to George Partridge, possibly her uncle, but at least a cousin. The Partridges who later owned the farm and the Stearns and Richardsons were descendents of George Partridge. Elizabeth’s descendents were Kemps and Thachers. Ralph Thacher, Elizabeth’s son, inherited the Partridge Farm, but he left to preach in Chilmark, on  Martha’s Vineyard and it went into the George Partridge side of the family.

The Partridge Farm was divided into several smaller parcels owned by different owners, but the largest tract was owned by George Partridge and he operated the farm successfully. The property passed through his family for several generations. George Partridge’s great-grandson, sometimes referred to as the Honorable George Partridge (1740-1828) inherited the farm and was probably Duxbury’s most famous Revolutionary patriot. When the Duxbury selectmen received a letter from Boston in 1773 seeking support from the cities and towns in their ongoing dispute with the British authorities, they appointed a committee to respond. The written response most likely fell to George Partridge, the most highly educated member of the committee. Probably written in the parlor of the Partridge Farm house, the letter was so highly regarded by the Patriot leaders that they included George in the councils of the colonies. For the next 10 to 15 years George dedicated his life to the service of his country.

George served with Col. Cotton in the Plymouth Company as Captain of the Duxbury Minutemen in 1773. He marched with that company to fight the British under Captain Balfour in Marshfield. That episode resulted in no bloodshed when the British escaped by sea. He was a representative to the General Court in Boston in 1774. He often traveled to Philadelphia and New York as a delegate to Congress under the old Confederation and later to the Continental Congress. He was a great admirer of George Washington and was present when George Washington gave up his commission. It’s quite possible that he was responsible for renaming Washington Street, where it had been previously called Commercial Street and Main Street.

After the Revolution, George returned to Duxbury, served in the legislature and was sheriff of Plymouth County, a full-time job. He still found time to be active in town affairs. He was actively involved in church business, his many business interests, the farm, and his sheriff’s work. Sometime in the 1790s, Rebecca Frazar, sister of his friend Samuel Frazar, came to the Partridge Farm to work for George. She was much more than a housekeeper, actually a secretary and in a very real sense a business associate. She was the social equal of all who came to the house, a highly unusual situation for that era. Many times her name appeared on legal documents in her own bold signature, Rebecca Frazar, Jr.

George Partridge’s house was where the best minds of Duxbury gathered whether for good conversation or more serious matters. A meeting at his house in 1821 was described in a letter that Sarah Bradford Ripley, wife of the Rev. Ezra Ripley of Waltham and daughter of Capt. Gamaliel Bradford, wrote to her brother Daniel. “Last week father and I took a trip to Duxbury. We spent the day going the rounds and took tea at Mr. Partridge’s. In his small parlor was collected more good sence and soul than would save all Waltham, to wit- Mr. Partridge, Dr. Allyn, Mr. Frazar, Uncle Gershom, and father.”

When George Partridge was 83 in 1823 he wrote his will, leaving $10,000 to the town for support of the minister of the First Parish Church; $9,000 to Rebecca Frazar and one half the dwelling house so long as she shall continue to live in it and make it her home; the dwelling house in which he now lives to Zadock Bradford; $2,000 to Harvard University; $10,000 to several individuals in trust for the establishment of a school or academy in the town of Duxbury (a legacy that, to this day, still benefits the town); and finally “my homestead farm on which I now live and all my other Real Estate to my kinsman George P. Richardson.” The bequest to Rebecca was most likely discussed between her and George Partridge, for soon after his death she bought a house and opened a private school in the home’s ell.

The Honorable George Partridge died on July 7, 1828; Benjamin Kent presided at the funeral service and gave a sermon that has been often quoted. To me, truly the end of a great man and patriot.

Next: the Davenports and Seymours.

                                   Lamont “Monty” Healy       e-mail: monty15@msn.com

                                   8/26/2011                                Blog: DuxburysPilgrimsAndTheirLand.com

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