Papers of John Adams, volume 1

Report of the Braintree Committee for Repairing Highways, 21 May 1764 JA Niles, Samuel Hayward, Joshua Braintree, town of Report of the Braintree Committee for Repairing Highways, 21 May 1764 Adams, John Niles, Samuel Hayward, Joshua Braintree, town of
Report of the Braintree Committee for Repairing Highways
Braintree, 1764 May 21st.

The Committee appointed to Consider of Some Plan for Repairing the High ways1 having taken the Same into Consideration Report as follows (viz.)


That there be a Tax laid on Polls and Estates this present year for that purpose.

That the Tax on Polls be two shillings per Poll and the Same proportion on Estates according to the Last Town Tax.2

That the assessors be directed as soon as may be to assess the Inhabitants accordingly and to deliver to the Several Surveyors a List of those Persons that are or may be assigned to their Respective districts with the Several Sums each one shall be Respectively assessed and that each Person so assessed shall have Liberty if he See Cause to pay the Sum he is assessed in said List or Tax in working on the High ways at the Rate of Two Shillings Per Day for a Man, Two Shillings Per Day for a pair of oxen, and eight pence Per Day for a Cart and Two Shillings Per Day for a Horse and Horse Cart. And if any Person or Persons shall refuse or neglect to work out his or their proportion at the Rates aforesaid on their being Legally Notified by the Surveyor in that Case the Surveyor or Surveyors shall return a List of Such Delinquent or Delinquents by the first of November next to the assessors with the Sum due from each one Respectively which Sum or Sums of Money remaining due on said Tax the assessors are directed when they make the next Town Rate to add to Such Delinquents Town Tax in a distinct Collumn by it Self and to impower the Several Constables in their Warrants to them to collect the Same and pay it in to the Town Treasurer. Excepting as hereafter expressed (viz.) That if it should be found unnecessary to Expend the full of that Proportion on the ways in the North Precinct that one half of Such Surplusage be returned to the Precinct Treasurer of that Precinct and for the use of that precinct and that the other half be returned to the Town Treasurer. And further. That all such Sums of money as shall come in this Way into the Town Treasury be appropriated to the Reparation of High ways in the Town and to no other purpose.3 And that each Surveyor be impowered to hire Persons at Customary Reasonable wages to work on the High ways to the amount of the Sum to be worked out by his district which Persons shall be paid by draughts on the Town Treasurer.

All which is Submitted. Saml. Niles Joshua Hayward John Adams

The above Report being Read was voted accepted and the Reparation of the High ways within said Town to be managed in Conformity thereto the ensuing year.


MS (Braintree Town Records, 1731–1783, p. 227–228); in hand of Elisha Niles, town clerk.


As early as 1730, Braintree's town meeting had considered proposals to substitute a system of tax-supported road maintenance for the traditional reliance on annually appointed surveyors who were expected to get out the inhabitants to labor, or furnish labor, on the roads (CFA2, Three Episodes , 2:674–676). On 1 March 1756, the town adopted such a plan, but the decision was reversed by another vote two weeks later. Although the question was revived in 1760 and 1761, Braintree did not actually approve the experiment of “Repairing the Highways by a Tax” until the town meeting of 19 March 1764 ( Braintree Town Records , p. 346–347, 370, 376, 395).

JA was instrumental in winning this reform in Braintree in 1764, and his 21 March 1761 memorandum on local conditions and legal authorities respecting the question of road assessments ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:203) demonstrated his long-standing interest in the subject. In later years, JA recalled that the old system left the roads “very bad, and much neglected,” and that he considered “a Tax a more equitable Method and more likely to be effectual.” Thus, at the town meeting of 19 March 1764, he joined advocates of the road tax “in a public Speech, carried a Vote by a large Majority and was appointed to prepare a By Law to be enacted at the next Meeting.” Having learned that Roxbury and Weymouth had already instituted the maintenance plan under discussion in Braintree, JA continued: “I procured a Copy of their Law and prepared a Plan for Braintree, as nearly as possible conformable to their Model, reported it to the Town on 21 May and it was adopted by a great Majority” (same, 3:279).


The last tax, set 24 Aug. 1763, was £300 ( Braintree Town Records , p. 393). The proportion of town taxes to be paid by estates has not been ascertained; but if Braintree in apportioning town taxes followed the customary practice in Massachusetts with regard to province taxes, it would expect to raise two-thirds of the total tax from estates, the other third from polls.


The plan adopted by Braintree differed slightly from the Weymouth model as to rates of assessment and of valuation of labor and draft animals, but JA's plan preserved the basic principles of the Weymouth system: townsmen might fulfill their obligations by either labor or taxes, and the proceeds of such tax payments were reserved for bridge and highway maintenance. See Weymouth Hist. Soc., History of Weymouth, Massachusetts, Boston, 1923, 2:568.