Josiah Chapin

By John Trainor

We often understate (and sometimes even forget) Mendon’s single-minded reconstruction effort following the town’s entire evacuation in the early winter of 1676 during the heated King Philip War. Every home, barn and outhouse had been torched to the ground by February 1676, sending all residents packing. They sought protection in the more secure towns to the east like Medfield and Dedham as well as their prior home-towns of Weymouth and Braintree. Just prior to their forced return-trek eastward towards the Atlantic they had received written correspondence from the General Court at Boston directing them to remain in their very unprotected plantation. Surely, that letter didn’t go over very well…they ALL left their charred ruins! We discuss that letter in our Walking Tour of Old Cemetery that is available to you on YouTube.

Many of Mendon’s founding families chose not to return after the war. Different families however grabbed the reins, trudged back to Mendon and rebuilt the town in the 1680’s and ‘90s. We all remember learning about the new meeting houses that were built at the center of town (now Founders’ Park), the 2nd one in 1680 and another, (the 3rd), in 1690 because the town had outgrown the 2nd.

Some of the influential families of the 1680s were Colonel William Crowne, Reverend Joseph Emerson, the Haywards, the Albees, the Warfields, the Chapins and the Tylers, among others. Many of them are discussed in our History of Mendon Video Mini-Series. (For links to the series, see the bottom of this page.) For instance, remember how Col. William Crowne owned a huge chunk (over 1/3rd) of Nova Scotia for just a blink of an eye and then he quickly lost it with the overthrow of Oliver Cromwell by King Charles II. He finally settled in Mendon, seeing that it was such an up-and-coming new community. We tell that story in Episode Two – Chapter One of our History of Mendon Video Mini-Series. In that same episode, Chapter Two, we also learn about Albee’s Grist Mill on the Mill River. The mill was critical to Mendon’s early success.

Some of the 1690’s Mendon families were the Rawsons, the Tafts, the Wheelocks, the Daniels, and the Posts, among others. The Rawson story (about Reverend Grindall and his wife Susannah) is especially intriguing in Episode Three. Their beautiful, pictorial above-ground tomb can be viewed to this day at Old Cemetery…DEFINITELY worth a visit.

One family that we can’t forget in Mendon history is the Josiah Chapin Family. Fortunately for us, Angel Gomez, a descendant of the Chapins chose to visit with us here in Mendon in October of 2020. We would have missed this opportunity to expand on the Chapin accomplishments without his research visit. Angel arrived from his California home to explore his ancestral family who came from (you guessed it) Weymouth and Braintree, eventually moving to Mendon way back in the late 1600s. Angel wanted to know more so he contacted the wonderful people at the Mendon Historical Society to get the real scoop and as they say, the rest is history.

Angel visited Old Cemetery on a typically beautiful New England fall day in the not so typical year of 2020, our Corona Virus Pandemic Year. We socially distanced, yet we still managed to experience a wonderful early fall sunny afternoon discussing Mendon’s past and the Chapin contribution.

Josiah served as one of the great leaders of his time to help resettle the isolated, shattered community.  He provided leadership to restore the previous agricultural way of life, and he worked with other town leaders to prepare for the town’s growth. His dedication and love of the town of Mendon provided inspiration for his children, relatives, and descendants. Josiah Chapin was a special leader who helped the people of Mendon rise from the ashes of war.

Josiah was born Oct. 29th 1634 in Berry, Pomeroy, Devonshire, England. His actual birth date has some documented discrepancies. His birth may actually be anywhere between 1634 and 1637. He arrived in Roxbury, Massachusetts between 1635 & 1638. We recall the period called “The Great Migration” with the sizeable influx of settlers from England. In 1656 he took the Oath of Fidelity in Springfield, was a farmer and land surveyor, and moved to Braintree in 1661. He married Mary King of Weymouth on November 30, 1658. They had 11 children…NO television back then.

From 1661 to 1681 he was a resident of Braintree, Massachusetts, served as a Selectman there in 1673 and was made a Freeman of the Colony in 1678. He married Lydia Brown September 20, 1676 in Ipswich, Massachusetts and they had four children. Still no TV.

He then moved to Mendon with his family. From 1681-1726 he was a leading citizen in town. He was a selectman for many years; Chairman for 11 years. He was Justice of the Peace by a commission said to have come from the British Parliament. In 1683 he was Surveyor of Highways in Mendon. In 1693 he was Clerk of the Market. He served five years as Commissioner of Assessments and was Moderator in 1716 and 1718. For many years he was the largest taxpayer in Mendon. The town thanks you once again for that, Josiah.

Josiah’s 3rd wife, Lydia (Brown) Chapin, died October 8, 1711 in Mendon. He married Mehitabel Metcalf on June 22, 1713. He was the author of the so-called Manuscript of Josiah Chapin, a genealogical account of his family.

His military record was exemplary, being designated as Sergeant of the Massachusetts Colonial forces at Mendon in 1685; Ensign in 1687; Lieutenant in 1689 and finally Captain in 1692.

Josiah Chapin, Esq. died in Mendon, Massachusetts on September 10, 1726 having out-lived his three wives.

Josiah Chapin served the town of Mendon during its darkest hour. The town had been left in charred ruins from the King Philip War. All structures built by the new citizens of the fledgling frontier town had been destroyed. Josiah served as one of the great leaders of his time to help resettle the isolated, shattered community.  He provided leadership to restore the previous agricultural way of life, and he worked with other town leaders to prepare for town growth in areas of population, economy, and geography. His dedication and love of the town of Mendon provided inspiration for his children, relatives, and descendants. Josiah Chapin was a special leader who helped the people of Mendon rise from the ashes of war.

Josiah’s purchase of property at what is now 21 North Avenue, (just down North Avenue from the current Taft Public Library towards the lights on the same side) leading eastward to Muddy Brook in 1682 marked the beginning of his contributions to the recovering town. He was elected to the board of selectmen, and he was awarded a contract for a saw mill on Muddy Brook, probably not the best choice of locations.

His life of public service was exemplary, but the construction of a saw mill on the slow flowing brook was hardly successful. The water supply and current were insufficient. It is not known how long the operation lasted.

By 1690, the second meeting house that had been built in 1680 was not able to accommodate the town’s growing population. A town meeting vote awarded to Josiah and others a contract to form a committee to build a new structure, the Third Meeting House.

It would be way, way bigger than the previous one. This one was 30 feet by 30 feet. It was expected that other citizens would contribute their time and money. Reverend Grindall Rawson, the scholarly spiritual leader in this difficult time, brought strength and confidence during his pastorate from 1680 until his death in 1715. The Third Meeting House provided a home for religious services and town meetings through 1736 when the 4th Meeting House at the north end of Old cemetery was erected.

As the town continued to recover, Josiah’s leadership provided guidance in several areas. Mendon added more property to its eight mile square tract with its North Purchase in 1692. It included a parcel in what is today the part of Milford that includes Purchase Street.

In 1701, a town pound was built at a location where the Baptist Church currently exists on Main Street. The first school-house was constructed in 1709 on George Street, and a schoolmaster, Deacon Warfield, was hired. Current Mendon residents certainly appreciate School Meadow, our bucolic pastoral images near George Cemetery.

A noon house was constructed the same year, about one hundred feet south of the Third Meeting House, and very close to the pound. It provided a place where worshipers could take a mid-day break in Sunday worship. A large open center fireplace provided warmth on cold winter days where they could enjoy respite before returning to the Meeting-House during the afternoon.

As a highly respected leader, Josiah took on many other roles and responsibilities. He served as Representative in the General Court in Boston between 1704 through 1721. He served many years as an assessor and justice of the peace. He directed the construction and maintenance of new roads, bridges, and dams. He helped to negotiate contracts with Reverend Grindall Rawson and Reverend Joseph Dorr. He served as an advisor to Mendon’s new developing government. He served as a beacon of light during Mendon’s darkest hour.

Josiah was the eighth generation grandfather of William Howard Taft. He was related to the grandparents of John and Samuel Adams. The Chapin family lineage has included many others who have made positive contributions to our town, state, and nation. Like Josiah, who helped Mendon rise from its darkest hour, many who were inspired by him rose to the challenges of their times.

The Chapin line of descendants, cousins, and step relatives who devoted their lives to public service was extensive. Josiah’s son, Seth, served as a town official. His granddaughter, Lydia Chapin Taft, lived in Uxbridge and became involved with women voting rights. She was the first woman to vote legally at a town meeting in the colonies in 1756. The Lydia Taft Nursing Home in Uxbridge is named in her honor. Her significant story is worth stating here.

  • Marriage to Josiah Taft
    Lydia Chapin married Josiah Taft on December 28, 1731, and she became known as Lydia Chapin Taft. They were married at the Congregational Church in Mendon. Josiah was born on April 2, 1709, and was the grandson of the first American Taft, Robert Taft. Josiah’s father Daniel, had been a local squire and Justice of the Peace.
  • Lydia and Josiah settled in Uxbridge. Josiah Taft, according to the Proprietors Records, was on his way to becoming a large landholder in Uxbridge. As Josiah purchased and sold land, Lydia set up housekeeping bringing into play all the skills she had been mastering. Josiah was a farmer and soldier, and Lydia was a colonial mother and homemaker. They were members of a new village, and helped to form a town that became a respected community.
  • The old town meeting books list an Ensign Josiah Taft as continuously being elected the moderator for town meetings (noting his militia title change to Captain after a few years). Josiah was in the Uxbridge militia; enrollment in the military was compulsory with training being done in the local fort or training fields in each town. Every man was required to have a weapon and ammunition and to be prepared to act when called upon.
  • Josiah Taft was chosen several times to represent Uxbridge both on important matters with neighboring towns and in the General Court. The Vital Records register Lydia and Josiah as having seven children between the years 1733 and 1753, also recording the deaths of two-month-old Ebenezer in 1735 and seven year old Joel in 1749.
  • Josiah became a prominent citizen in early Uxbridge. He was a farmer, a local official, and a Massachusetts legislator. He served a number of terms on the Board of Selectmen, in the Massachusetts General Court, and as town clerk and town moderator. Lydia and Josiah were among the wealthiest families in Uxbridge.
  • Place in Early American History
    Please listen carefully here. In the autumn of 1756, Josiah and Lydia’s 18 year old son, Caleb, became ill while studying at Harvard, and died on September 19th. Josiah went to Boston to bury Caleb. After returning home, Josiah himself became ill and died on September 30th, at age 47. This happened immediately prior to an important vote concerning the town’s financial support of the French and Indian War.
  • As we all know at that time the only individuals allowed to vote were freeholders – free male property holders – and Josiah’s estate was valued as one of the largest in the town. Josiah’s untimely death opened the door for Lydia’s giant step into America’s history of women’s suffrage. Given the important nature of the vote, the landowner and taxpayer status of Josiah’s estate, and that Lydia’s oldest surviving son was still a minor, the townspeople voted to allow Lydia, the widow Josiah Taft, to vote at this important meeting on October 30, 1756.
  • Lydia cast her vote in favor of appropriating funds for the regiments engaged in the French and Indian War, thereby giving herself the distinction of being the first woman to vote in America. The early town records demonstrate at least two other occasions when Lydia voted in official Uxbridge Town meetings in 1758 and again in 1765.
  • Lydia Chapin Taft died at Uxbridge on November 9, 1778, at the age of 65, after the United States had officially declared its independence and was engaged in the Revolutionary War. Her historic vote would precede the Constitutional Amendment for women’s suffrage by 164 years, and would elevate her from the role of wife and mother to a symbol of women’s suffrage.
  • Lydia Chapin Taft’s historic vote and her role in the history of women’s suffrage was recognized by the Massachusetts legislature on April 1, 2004, when they approved An Act Designating State Highway Route 146A in the town of Uxbridge as the Lydia Taft Highway:
  • State highway route 146A from state highway route 122 to the Rhode Island state boundary shall be designated and known as the Lydia Taft Highway, in recognition of Mrs. Taft’s unique role in American history as America’s first woman voter. The department of highways shall erect and maintain suitable markers in accordance with the standards of said department bearing the inscription: Lydia Taft Highway – Commemorating America’s First Woman Voter – 1756

As we stated earlier, Josiah Chapin’s descendent, Angel Gomez stimulated this Mendon Morsal video. Thank you Angel. Let’s learn a few more snippets of the Chapin lineage directly from him.

Angel’s Video Here:

Mendon Menu

We the People – Mendon History Video Mini-Series

Episode One – Mendon Roots (1620 – 1662)   
Chapter 1 – The Great Migration (38 minutes)
Chapter 2 – Lurking in the Wilderness (36 minutes)

Episode Two- A Town No More (1662 – 1676)
Chapter 1 – The Trek (38 minutes)
Chapter 2 – Under the Torch (49 minutes)

Episode Three – Out of Ashes  (1676 – 1763) (57 minutes)

Episode Four – Mendon Radicals (1763 – 1783) (57 minutes)

Episode FivePost American Revolution and Golden Age (1783 – 1845) (62 minutes)

Episode SixMendon’s Wild Ride (1845 – 1928) (53 minutes)