An Ordinary Family: The History of the Reeds

The Fowle-Reed-Wyman house located on Old Mystic Street. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia user Daderot.
The Fowle-Reed-Wyman house located on Old Mystic Street.

The Reed family lived in Arlington, Massachusetts for almost two centuries. For many years, this farming family lived in what is now known as the Fowle-Reed-Wyman home on Old Mystic Street. The building is one of the oldest standing structures in Arlington and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. John Fowle built the home in 1706 on the land once owned by Squaw Sachem, leader of the Pawtucket Confederation. The house has stood the test of time, but the people who occupied it did not. This exhibit reminds us that despite the Reeds’ ordinary circumstances, their story opens a window into the lived experiences of colonial and post-colonial New England.

Below is a brief timeline of the Reed family and the history of Massachusetts.

In 2012, former resident of a nearby farmhouse Susan Hamilton donated the Fowle-Reed-Wyman collection to the Arlington Historical Society. The documents were found in her childhood home and they span from 1694 to 1853 and follow the Reed family over five generations. From the eldest Daniel Reed, who bought the Fowle-Reed-Wyman home from John Fowle in 1707, to the descendants of Captain Daniel Reed in the late 19th century, these documents chronicle the complex reality of race, class, and gender in antebellum New England.

The collection contains documents such as deeds, tax bills, wills, inventories and contracts. The family left behind a plethora of records, but none were personal papers such as letters or diaries. Thus, secondary research was necessary to recreate the lives of the family. Information on the family was also found in birth, marriage, death and census records. The use of documents outside the collection allowed us to write history from the bottom up and construct the lives of this family in Arlington’s past. As author Robert A. Gross said, “by seeing how earlier Americans have lived and struggled in their daily lives, we can come to recognize them as people like ourselves.” The Reed family dealt with the everyday experiences of human life: they played and worked, married and started families, and they grew old and faced sickness and death.

Next: Queen of the Mystic




Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and Their World. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.