Hometown History #65: Our County of Presidents
We are indebted to our County Register of Deeds for a timely article about our county and its many distinctions as well as timely notice of key celebrations this month.
By William P. O’Donnell
Norfolk Register of Deeds
As the dog days of Summer approach, it means some significant dates in history are also upon us. One of these dates is June 20th, which is the day back in 1793 some 229 years ago, that Norfolk County was established. Legislation that was signed by the first Governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock, established Norfolk County. Yes, that is the same John Hancock who was made famous by the manner in which he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Communities South of Boston sought for many years to separate from Suffolk County. After years of unsuccessful petitions and continued negotiations, a grouping of towns led to the creation of a new Norfolk County by the General Court of Massachusetts.
The new Norfolk County went to the South, following the old boundary between Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colonies. In the North, it encompassed Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, all sections of Boston today, as well as Brookline. Norfolk County extended to the Rhode Island boarder. Norfolk County consisted of twenty-one towns in 1793 with a population of 23,828.
All the land records of the Norfolk County towns, including those communities that would later become a part of Boston, are recorded at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. All these records, back to 1793, are available for viewing and research whether by computer via the internet or by the old fashion way of going through the books at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds in Dedham. The hand written records recorded at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds between 1793 and 1900 have all been transcribed to make the history and information in these land record readable.
What is the History that has come alive in these documents? The best example involves another significant date in History, the 4th of July. The second President of the United States, John Adams, predicted way back then, that this country would celebrate its Independence Day with “pomp and circumstance.” Ironically, President John Adams died on July 4, 1829. There are land records at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds, of not just President John Adams, but three other Presidents of the United States; 6th President, John Quincy Adams, 35th President, John F. Kennedy and 41st President, George H.W. Bush. These four Presidents of the United States were all born in Norfolk County. I would venture to say, there are not too many Counties in America that could claim 4 Presidents of the United States. This is why Norfolk County is known as the “County of Presidents.”
Additional towns have been incorporated into Norfolk County since 1793. One of these communities, Norwood, is celebrating its 150th Anniversary. Norwood was incorporated as a town in 1872. A June 22, 2022 event at the Norwood Town Hall will celebrate as part of Norwood’s 150th Birthday Celebration the stories and people behind the recorded documents found at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. You can learn about the “housewright” who was the force behind the selection of the name of Norwood, Tyler Thayer. There is a land record signed by an Air Ace, who flew over 258 combat missions over enemy territory – Colonel George T. Lee. Learn about a member of the First African American family to settle in Norwood, who later became a long serving member of the Norwood School Committee and Blue Hill School Committee – Henry Diggs.
The land records at the Norfolk Registry tie in to a Governor from Norwood, a professional baseball player, an entertainer, and other people and places that make Norwood such a special and vibrant community. Some folks find the information in the old land records interesting. The Norwood, June 22, 2022 event will have the “pomp and circumstance” President John Adams talked about. If the documents are not your thing, go on by the Norwood Town Hall on June 22, 2022 to listen to Retired Massachusetts State Trooper and United States Marine, Dan Clark, sing celebrating 150 years of the Town of Norwood in song.