Daniel Reed (1666 – 1741) and Colonial New England Farms

Daniel Reed was born in Woburn, MA to Ralph and Mary Reed. He bought land in Charlestown (later part of Arlington) from John Fowle in 1707. Squaw Sachem owned the land before the arrival of settlers in Massachusetts. Like his father, Daniel was a farmer. According to the deeds listed in the collection, Daniel owned about 169 acres in Charlestown and 106 acres in Woburn. Although he owned almost 300 acres of land, Daniel and his family were not considered wealthy. They were small property holders and therefore part of a “middling” class. The family may have lived comfortably, but they could not live without work. A step down from the gentry, the middle class consisted of smaller farmers and artisans and was the backbone of the colonies. This class contained the largest portion of the population and used titles such as “Farmer,” “Husbandman,” and “Yeoman.”

In New England, society centered on the township, which consisted of approximately twenty families and a minister. During the earliest period of British colonization, towns had public squares that served as the focal spaces for the townspeople, with their farms spreading out from the center of town. Most Massachusetts Bay Colony families were farmers who settled vast swaths of chartered land.

Drawing of a salt-box house (Comfort Starr House located in Guilford, CT) illustrating the distinctive roof line
Drawing of a salt-box house (Comfort Starr House located in Guilford, CT) illustrating the distinctive roof line

In the 17th century, New Englanders primarily lived in houses that were small and unpainted and that stood in unshaded clearings to prevent the wood from rotting.

The home Daniel Reed purchased for his family, which is now known as the Fowle-Reed-Wyman House, is a First Period home and is located on Old Mystic Street. Like most First Period homes built between 1626 and 1725, it is characterized by a steeply pitched roof and a central chimney.

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. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia user Daderot.

The house is the oldest standing structure in Arlington and has been listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places since 1975. The Reed family lived in the house until 1775, when they sold it to Wyman family relatives.

Farms in early America were no more than 250 acres. Anything exceeding that measure made it difficult for single families to cultivate. It is a common misconception that early American farmers were self-sufficient: growing all their own food, weaving their own cloth and mending their own tools. This lifestyle was indicative of a small population of settlers (no more than 2%) on the frontier. The average colonist bought most manufactured goods from England and local artisans in the community were responsible for repairs. Farms differed from region to region in the colonies. In New England, low stone walls and fences served mark the farms’ borders.

Colonists used to cultivate crops according the style they learned from local Native American population: piling up dirt and planting crops such as corn, beans and squash in the same mound, in order to prevent weeds from growing. They also fertilized their crops by burying fish in each mound. In addition to crops, farming families would raise a fair amount of fowl, such as pigeons (squab), chickens, guinea hens, Cornish hens and ducks. These domesticated animals were kept in fenced in yards in order to determine who owned them. Horses and cattle were vital to New England farms. Horses were the chief mode of transportation, and pulled wagons and plows. Farmers used cattle more for meat than dairy. Their diets were meager, and, like horses, they foraged for much of their food. Oxen were cattle that farmers trained for work. They were cheaper to acquire and care for than horses, they pulled heavier loads, and were eaten.

In 1694, Timothy and Martha Reed sold land to their brother Daniel Reed in Woburn, MA. The land consisted of thirty-two acres near cedar swamps and belonged to their father Ralph Reed.
In 1694, Timothy and Martha Reed sold land to their brother Daniel Reed in Woburn, MA. The land consisted of thirty-two acres near cedar swamps and belonged to their father Ralph Reed.

By 1698, Daniel was thirty-two years old and ready to start a family. In New England society, in order to begin this process, he needed land. He first bought land in his hometown of Woburn, and branched out to Charlestown (later part of Arlington) in the early 18th century. He bought this land from his brother Timothy in 1694. According to the oldest document in the Fowle-Reed-Wyman collection, Timothy sold the Sylvanus Wood Farm belonging to their father, Ralph Reed, to Daniel. Other documents in the collection demonstrate that Daniel purchased an additional 74 acres in Woburn from Joseph and Sarah Walker four years later in 1698. According to the deed, the land was “part plow land, part meadow and part swamp.” Meadows contained native plants that colonists used pasture or mowed for hay. Farmers even bought swamps, draining them to use as additional pastureland.

With enough land to maintain his own farm, Daniel married his first wife, Sarah Johnson, on January 17, 1699/1700. The average age of marriage in New England in the late 17th century was 27 for men and 22-23 for women. Daniel married Sarah Johnson when he was in his early 30s, a bit above the average. In colonial New England, people could not marry until they came of age (18 for women; 21 for men). Parents essentially “owned” their children’s labor until then and relied on them to help run the farm and household. After coming of age, both men and women needed time to accumulate property and income to support a family. It took Daniel longer to acquire the necessary wealth to buy land before he was able to marry and have children.

Daniel’s first wife died in 1703, only a few years after their marriage. The following year, Daniel married Susanna Johnson. With Sarah and Susanna, Daniel had four children: Daniel (b. 1698/1699), Sarah, Seth (b. 1703-1705) and Samuel (b. 1707).

At some point in the early 18th century, Daniel decided to expand his real estate from Woburn to Charlestown (now part of Arlington). In May 1707, Daniel Reed purchased 85 acres in Charlestown from John Fowle. It was “a tract of land containing eighty five acres, or there abouts be the same more or less Lyinge and beinge in the Bounds of Charlestowne…beinge part of that tract of Land comony caled and knowne by the Name of Squa Sachems Farme…” Daniel and Susanna later purchased land adjacent to this farm from Martha Fowle Lybourn and Samuel Lybourn for £100. A week later, Daniel and Susanna rented this same land to Jonathan Dows, a shipwright, for only £60. In the deed it describes the home as a tenement, so Daniel and Susanna may have wanted the farm as additional income.

In 1738, Daniel’s son, Seth, wrote up a contract stating that he owed his father £2,000. It goes on to state that if Seth and his heirs promised to provide Daniel with proper care and medication (if needed), then “the above obligations shall be void and of none effect…” The contract does not explicitly state it, but Daniel could have been transferring his land and home to his son Seth, provided that he care for him in his old age. Daniel later died on December 19, 1741 at age 67. He is buried in Arlington at the Old Burying Ground.

Below are documents in the collection related to Daniel Reed.

Next: Seth Reed: Farmer and Slave Owner



Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Banks, Charles Edward. The Planters of the Commonwealth; a Study of the Emigrants and Emigration in Colonial Times: To Which Are Added Lists of Passengers to Boston and to the Bay Colony, the Ships Which Brought Them, Their English Homes, and the Places of Their Settlement in M. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub., 1967.
Drake, Samuel Adams. History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts: Containing Carefully Prepared Histories of Every City and Town in the County. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880.
Hurd, D. Hamilton. History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis, 1890.
Parker, Charles Symmes. Town of Arlington, past and Present; a Narrative of Larger Events and Important Changes in the Village Precinct and Town from 1637 to 1907,. Arlington: C.S. Parker & Son, 1907.
Reed, Jacob Whittemore. History of the Reed Family in Europe and America. Boston, MA: J. Wilson and Son, 1861.
Russell, Howard S. A Long, Deep Furrow: Three Centuries of Farming in New England. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1976.
Vital Records of Arlington, Massachusetts, to the Year 1850. Boston: Published by the New-England Historic Genealogical Society, at the Charge of the Eddy Town-record Fund, 1904.