Medfield, Massachusetts

From Partridge Nest

Medfield is a town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts. It was first settled by Europeans in 1649, and by Partridge's as early as 1651.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 14.6 square miles, of which 14.5 square miles is land and 0.1 square mile (0.62%) is water. The Charles River borders almost one-third of Medfield. Medfield is surrounded by the towns Dover, Norfolk, Walpole, Millis, and Sherborn. The Charles River marks the Millis border.

Important Jurisdictional Events

The list of events below is provided so that researchers understand the jurisdictional challenges of finding records for Medfield.

  • 1649, first settled by Europeans
  • 1650, May 22, established, from a part of Dedham, called New Dedham.
  • 1651, 11 January, Meadfield became a town.
  • 1659, May 28, land was granted to Medfield.
  • 1713, October 24, 1713, a part of Medfield was established as Medway.
  • 1793, Norfolk County established, prior to this Medfield is a part of Suffolk County

The territory that Medfield now occupies was, at the time of colonization, Neponset land. As part of the English settlement of the area, it was sold by the Neponset leader Chickatabot to William Pynchon in the late 1620s. In 1633, Chickatabot died in a smallpox epidemic that decimated nearby Neponset, Narragansett and Pequot communities. Because Chickatabot and Pynchon's deal left no written deed, the Massachusetts General Court ordered "those Indians who were present when Chickatabot sold lands to Mr. Pynchon, or who know where they were, to set out the bounds thereof". Fifty years later, Chickatabot's grandson Josias Wampatuck brought a land claim against Medfield and the other towns created within the borders of the Chickatabot purchase, for which he received payment. Of those lands, Dedham was the first town formed.[1]

The majority of present-day Medfield had been granted to Dedham in 1636, but the lands on the western bank of the Charles River had been meted out by the General Court to individuals. Edward Alleyn, for example, had been granted 300 acres in 1642.Dedham asked the General Court for some of those lands and, on October 23, 1649, the Court granted the request so long as they established a separate village there within one year. Medfield (New Dedham) was first settled in 1649, principally by people who relocated from the former town. The first 13 house lots were laid out on June 19, 1650.

Dedham sent Eleazer Lusher, Joshua Fisher, Henry Phillips, John Dwight, and Daniel Fisher to map out an area three miles by four miles and the colony sent representatives to set the boundaries on the opposite side of the river. The land that Dedham contributed to the new village became Medfield, and the land the colony contributed eventually broke away to become in 1713, Medway, Massachusetts. Millis, Massachusetts would later break away from Medway.

The separations were not without difficulty, however. When Medfield left there were disagreements about the responsibility for public debts and about land use. There were some residents who did not move to the new village who wanted rights to the meadows while others thought that the land should be given freely to those who would settle them. A compromise was reached where those moving to the new village would pay £100 to those who remained in lieu of rights to the meadows. It was later reduced to £60, if paid over three years, or £50 if paid in one year.

Tax records show that those who chose to move to the new village came from the middle class of Dedham residents. Among the first 20 men to make the move were Ralph Wheelock, Thomas Mason, Thomas Wright, Samuel Morse, John Morse and his son Daniel, John Frary, Sr., Joseph Clark, Sr., John Ellis, Thomas Ellis, Henry Smith, Robert Hinsdale, Timothy Dwight, James Allen, Henry Glover, Isaac Genere, and Samuel Bullen. By 1664, several of their sons would join them, as would Joshua Fisher and his son John, and several other Dedhamites. Those who moved there often moved with family members, and many would move on from their to other inland communities. It is also possible that those who left Dedham for Medfield were those most disaffected by the political or social climate within the town.

Town Meeting voted to release Medfield on January 11, 1651 and the General Court agreed the following May. Medfield became the 43rd town in Massachusetts.[2]

The Rev. Ralph Wheelock is credited with the founding of Medfield. He was the first schoolmaster of the town's school established in 1655,[3] and now has an elementary school named after him.

Half the town (32 houses, two mills, many barns and other buildings) was destroyed by Native Americans during King Philip's War in 1675.[3] The house and barn of John Partridge was burnt during this attack, and he also suffered the loss of cattle, two horses, and household items. His sister, Margery Mason suffered worse, losing her husband and sons, house, barn, and household goods, about a dozen head of cattle and many sheep. William Partridge, residing on the East side of Charles River and near the garrison, suffered no loss.

Descendants of the three Partridge siblings still reside in Medfield today.

Genealogical Sources for Medfield, Massachusetts Research


  1. Tilden, W. S. (1887). History of the town of Medfield, Massachusetts, 1650-1886 : with genealogies of the families that held real estate or made any considerable stay in the town during the first two centuries, pp. 21-23. Boston: G. H. Ellis. Quotation from the General Court, qtd. by Tilden.
  2. Tilden, W. S. (1884). "Medfield". In D. Hamilton Hurd (Ed.), History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, pp. 439–41. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis & Co.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tilden 1884, p. 442.