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FROM the year 1726 the records of Lancaster become
continuous, are complete, and in good condition. All before that date is fragmentary. The earliest existing volume opens with A. D. 1653, in which year the Nashaway Plantation was formally given the classic name it now bears. The earlier pages of that book, however, are a copy, made about 1657, of the first records. Of " the old book,” often referred to therein, no leaf remains, and many pages of the transcript have disappeared, while others are badly worn and almost illegible. During the first seventyfive years of the town’s life, the inhabitants nearly all held proprietary rights in the common lands; and we find the clerks recording indiscriminately, often upon the same pages, action of the freemen as electors, of the proprietors dividing their landed estate, and of the people directing local improvement and church administration. After the settlement of Rev. john Prentice in 1708, special church records begin, and a register of births, marriages and deaths dates from about 1718, in which a few earlier dates have been casually inserted. This register is exceedingly imperfect. The earliest recorded meeting of the proprietors, as distinct from the town-meeting proper, was Feb. 4, 1716, statute provision having been made for such meetings March 25, I713. The doings of regular town—meetings continued, however, to be recorded with proprietary action until ‘I726, when a new book was opened for the former. The proprietors used the old volume until 1810, about which time the proprietors’ clerk made a careless copy of the whole, by which we know that the records
will charge—and justly-—that the editor has magnified his office by multiplying comments of his own, he would state that, in what he has intruded, he is honestly striving only to bring into light something heretofore obscured, or to adduce evidence respecting matters in doubt, or to combat those false impressions about men, localities, and events which his experience has found unwarrantably rampant among us.
Even though considered -— as by too many it will bemerely a list of the Nashaway pioneers, and a schedule of their landed possessions, this transcript of our forefathers’ records is of especial value; but it has a deeper import. It is Lancaster’s modest contribution to the story of the growth of human freedom. The planters of Massachusetts brought with them dogmas of spiritual tyranny, and old world political formulas, which proved too inelastic when framed into social and civic institutions, for the government of a restless community facing the deprivation, toil, and dangers of the colonist. Struggles with savage men and savage nature compelled self dependence, and soil and climate favored liberty of thought and conscience. As novel external conditions modified daily life and individual character, political life progressed, and ever towards freedom. The process of this progression -- so painful and slow that the actors were perhaps unconscious of advance— is nowhere more plainly depicted, and nowhere offers more of interest to the student of history, than in the records of our older towns. In the “orderly agitations” of the New England town-meeting was cradled the germ of our nation’s constitutional life.