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Why Cohasset Is in Norfolk County

David Wadsworth

Reprinted with permission from the Cohasset Historical Society, Cohasset, MA (Town of Cohasset, Mass., 2005), pp. 64-67.

When one looks at a county map of the South Shore area, one is struck by the fact that Cohasset appears as an island of Norfolk County, cut off from the rest of the county by the adjacent towns of Hingham and Hull, in Plymouth County. This apparent anomaly in county boundaries often leads to questions about the reason for Cohasset's separation from the rest of Norfolk County. Why would the town exist as a noncontiguous part of that county, when geography would appear to dictate that it should be part of Plymouth County? Another related question would be, why does Norfolk County ("North Folk") lie to the south of Suffolk County ("South Folk")? The reason, as one might well suspect, lies in the early history of colonies and counties in Massachusetts.

For the answer to those historical stumpers we look to early Colonial history, when counties, or shires, were first established at the Massachusetts Bay. The first counties were established by the General Court of the colony in 1643 and consisted of Essex, Norfolk, Middlesex, and Suffolk. That first Norfolk County, further north than Suffolk, was absorbed by Essex County in 1679, thus eliminating the northern shire name. At that time the towns south of Boston were part of Suffolk County and bordered on the neighboring Plimouth Colony to the south.

By the mid 1700s Hingham and Cohasset's District Court was located at Roxbury. The towns petitioned for the forming of a new county, out of the southern and southwestern parts of Suffolk County, and in 1793 the new county was formed, with county seat at Dedham. It would carry the vacated shire name of Norfolk. Cohasset, Hingham, and Hull were among the towns designated to be included in the new county. Prior to formation of the county in 1793, both Hingham and Hull asked to remain in Suffolk County, citing difficulty of land travel to the new county seat. Cohasset, by then a town in its own right, decided to accept membership in the new county and became a part of the new Norfolk County . . .

Neighbors Hingham and Hull remained, for the time, in Suffolk. Not long afterward both Hingham and Hull had second thoughts about remaining in [a] county that included the city areas, and in 1803 they moved to join the more rural Plymouth County instead. Thus it was Hingham and Hull who caused the anomaly that left Cohasset surrounded by Plymouth County. The southern boundary of Norfolk County today follows the ancient boundary between Massachusetts Bay and New Plimouth colonies called the Patent Line. In Plymouth County only Hingham and Hull are north of that line.

As the result of the realignment of counties in 1793, Cohasset deeds and probate records prior to that date are to be found at Suffolk County Registries in Boston. Only from 1793 are the town's land and probate records located at Dedham. Cohasset has provided at least one notable Norfolk County commissioner since that time: John Quincy Adams Lothrop, who served at Dedham in 1893-94. Son of Caleb Lothrop (builder of the house on Summer Street now named for him), J.Q.A. Lothrop had been a distinguished public servant in the town government for many years before being elected to county office. He died in 1894. Since 1793 the town also has supplied numerous other county officials, including court officers and deputy sheriffs, assistant district attorneys, and an operations manager. From time to time some sentiment has been expressed to change Cohasset from Norfolk to Plymouth County, but today that seems not to be a particularly popular idea.

The present county line, following the ancient Colonial Patent Line, extends from near Rhode Island northeastward to a point called Bound Rock a few feet from Mordecai Lincoln's old mill building at North Scituate. From there it travels in a general north direction following the thread of the Conahasset River (sometimes called the Gulf Stream) until bending northeast to cross Border Street and to meet the shore near Bailey’s Creek at Cohasset Harbor. The original Patent Line between colonies dates from about 1640, but several changes of that boundary have occurred in more recent time.

Perhaps the most notable boundary change in the town's history, or at least the most prolonged boundary dispute, centered around ownership of a number of acres of salt marsh and meadow on the south side of Cohasset's harbor entrance. That dispute between Hingham and Scituate, over land called the Three Score Acres, and dating from earliest Colonial days, finally was resolved in the latter 1800s, with the Three Score Acres being given to Scituate. For two centuries first Hingham, then Cohasset and Scituate debated about ownership of those acres of once valuable salt marsh, and both towns had been known to levy taxes on the same properties. Hingham's, then Cohasset's, claim to the Threescore Acres was recognized for the better part of the two centuries, but by the latter 1800s the state's Great and General Court had resolved the issue in Scituate's (and Plymouth County's) favor.

Other boundary changes include acquisition by Cohasset of a part of Border Street called Scituate Neck beyond the Mill Bridge in the early 1800s and, earlier, the return to Hingham of a section of Cohasset called Rocky Nook near Turkey Hill. At one time some residents of Beechwood petitioned for return of their part of Cohasset to Hingham, but that petition was not granted.


From David Wadsworth, “Why Is Cohasset in Norfolk County?” Historical Highlights, Cohasset Historical Society, Winter 1998. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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