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Cohasset's Break from Hingham

David Wadsworth

Reproduced, with permission, from Treasury of Cohasset History, ed. J. M. Dormitzer (Town of Cohasset, Mass., 2005), pp. 31-34.

Cohasset once was Hingham’s Second Precinct and Second Parish before it became a separate town in the year 1770, some 135 years after the establishing of the parent settlement at Bare Cove. Not until 1670 had the upland areas of East Hingham, or Conahasset, been divided up among Hingham landowners. The first settlers in the Conahasset area were Hingham families who built farms and homesteads in several scattered parts of the newly opened Conahasset uplands.

Clement Bates and Ibrook Tower located near today’s King Street; Israel Nichols lived next to the rough highway now called Jerusalem Road at Strait’s Pond; Perth MacFarlin built at Turkey Meadow in an area of Conahasset which today has since reverted to the Town of Hingham; Daniel Lincoln constructed his home near Little Harbor and the Town Common; and Nathaniel Nichols settled on the ocean’s edge near today’s Black Rock Beach. John Jacob soon built his homestead near the cold spring at the present Spring Street. There were others, also, whose identities are not clear in the early records . . .

Conahasset’s earliest roads may have been old Indian trails which began as cart paths used by the first harvesters of salt hay at Hingham’s eastern shores. Additional highways soon developed to link together the scattered farms and homesteads springing up in several places. But the journey between the new settlement at Conahasset and the parent town of Hingham, some four miles in length, continued to be difficult in the extreme, and dangerous during the winter months.

By the year 1711 more than twenty families lived in the Conahasset area, and most found the overland trips to the town’s meetinghouse and school to be arduous if not impossible. The fact was that the new village often was not able to send representatives to town meetings, nor were its children able to attend the distant schoolhouse. Conahasset’s young people were lacking the advantage of education, and its families were frequently unable to participate in the vital municipal and religious functions of the town. Still missing from the growing community in East Hingham were two important figures, a clergyman and a schoolteacher.

Finally on May 17, 1713, Hingham voters gave their consent for the building of a new meetinghouse on the town’s common land at Conahasset. They also granted Conahasset residents the liberty to engage a clergyman of their own choice. The first meetinghouse and church soon was constructed, but several years were to pass before a permanent clergyman could be found.

Despite the concessions made by Hingham’s voters, agitation continued to increase among the Conahasset families for limited autonomy in the form of a separate precinct in Hingham’s eastern section. This movement for the establishment of a precinct was strongly opposed in the parent town, and Conahasset’s petitions were defeated at Hingham town meetings. Finally the acrimonious dispute between the two villages was placed before the colonial government at Boston, where it was settled.

In November 1717 the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted a bill establishing Conahasset as a separate precinct and parish in the Town of Hingham. Thus the growing community of East Hingham achieved a certain autonomy, particularly in matters of religion and schools. Conahasset became the Second Precinct and Second Parish, with the right to maintain its own church and schoolhouse and to levy taxes for the support of a minister and a teacher.

Cohasset’s first record book of Precinct and Parish Meetings begins with the first meeting, held July 14, 1718. At that meeting, precinct voters chose Daniel Lincoln to be the moderator and Thomas James as clerk. A committee made up of John Orcutt, Joshua Bates, and Joseph Bates was appointed to warn of and announce the holding of future meetings. The most important business of the new precinct was to find a permanent clergyman to occupy the pulpit of the parish church. Thus began a search which would last until the year 1722, when the Reverend Nehemiah Hobart, grandson of Hingham’s first minister, Peter Hobart, accepted the call of Conahasset’s parishioners and raised a home on today’s North Main Street, across the street from the precinct meetinghouse where he would preach.

In matters other than schools and church, municipal authority remained vested in the town government at Hingham. The precincting of Conahasset may have solved the problems of education and worship, but roads to Hingham remained difficult to traverse, and the new precinct found itself continually underrepresented at important town meetings held in the parent village. The discontent remained and soon became disaffection as Conahasset’s families longed for a final and complete separation from Hingham.

The new community on the eastern shore grew rapidly to become a center of seafaring activity and shipbuilding to rival its older parent. Agriculture, small industry, and fishing combined to produce a thriving group of villages in the uplands and along the shore, and strong community leadership developed within the Second Precinct. Thus it happened that fifty-three years after the establishing of the precinct, its residents once again went before the Great and General Court of the colony praying for separation from the original town.

On April 26, 1770, the petitioners were granted their wish to incorporate the Second Precinct in Hingham into a district by the name of Cohasset. Cohasseter Benjamin Lincoln was further instructed to see that a meeting would be held to organize the new district. The signature of Colonial Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson made it official on the same day, and the new town found its most cherished dreams realized with the stroke of a royal pen.

Despite some hard feelings lingering on both sides, long since buried, parent and offspring communities found it easy to work together for their next common goal, the independence of their colony and the founding of a new nation.

From David Wadsworth, “Cohasset Broke Away from Hingham in 1717,” Cohasset Mariner, n.d. Reprinted with permission of the author. For more information on Cohasset’s separation from Hingham, see Bigelow, Narrative History, pp. 182-203.