Papers of John Adams, volume 1

54 Report of the Braintree Town Committee for the Sale of the South Common, 12 April 1762 JA Niles, Samuel Wales, Thomas Braintree, town of Report of the Braintree Town Committee for the Sale of the South Common, 12 April 1762 Adams, John Niles, Samuel Wales, Thomas Braintree, town of
Report of the Braintree Town Committee for the Sale of the South Common
Braintree, 1762 April 12th.

The Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Braintree Qualifyed by Law to vote in Town affairs being assembled by adjournment from the Twenty ninth of March last.1

The Bonds of Arbitration between the Towns Committee and the Leasees of the South Commons with the award were read before the Town.2

Then the Committee Respecting the South Comons offered their Report thereon to the Town which is as follows (viz.)

We the Subscribers the Committee appointed to consider and report what method appears most advantageous to the Town relative to the disposal of the South Commons beg leave to report that having considered that Subject as thoughroughly as we were able it appears to us that the Town would reap very considerable advantages in the alleviation of their Taxes and the removal of jealousies and animosities by proceeding to appoint and impower a Committee to make sale of the whole of said South Commons in such Lotts and Divisions as shall be thought proper at public vendue and we beg leave further to Report as our opinion that the Proceeds of the sale of the Lands within said Commons formerly Sett apart for the Ministry be appropriated to that use.3

John Adams Samll. Niles Thomas Wales
Braintree, April 12th. 1762.

The above Report being read before the Town was Voted accepted Benjamin Cleverly4 entered his Dissent against the proceedings of the meeting.

Voted. That the vote Respecting accepting the Committees Report as above be Reconsidered and Null.

Voted That the first Clause in the Committees report Relative to the Sale of the South Commons be accepted.

Voted That a Committee be appointed and impowered to proceed to the sale of the said South Commons, Agreeable to the Committees report and to make and execute good and Lawfull Deeds of the same in the Name and behalf of the Town.


Then Collo. Josiah Quincy, Samll. Niles Esqr. and Captn. Thomas Wales were appointed a Committee for the purposes aforesaid.

Voted, A Committee be appointed to consider in what manner the proceeds that may Arise by the Sale of the South Commons be Secured to the Town as a fund that the Town may Reap the annual benefit and if possible be under no Capacity of being allienated.

Then Voted Messrs. John Adams, Samuel Bass, John Hayward, Deacon James Penniman, Deacon Jona. Allen be a Committee to consider that affair and Report to the Town.5

MS (Braintree Town Records, 1731–1783, p. 214); in hand of Elisha Niles, town clerk.


Uncertainty exists concerning JA's earliest official participation in Braintree town affairs. In his Autobiography he wrote at length of his appointment as a surveyor of highways “In March” of an undesignated year, apparently shortly after he had “become a Freeholder,” which was certainly by 1761, when he inherited substantial property from his father. The town records do not list him among the appointees to this office until 1765. However, as the town customarily named at least a dozen surveyors each year, and as only ten are listed for 1763 and only three for 1764, it is possible that several names were omitted from the lists entered by the clerk in the town records for these years, and JA's may have been among them (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:278–279; Braintree Town Records , p. 399). At the very least, we know that in March 1761 he was gathering extensive information, presumably offered to the town, on customs, procedures, and laws respecting the maintenance of highways; see Diary and Autobiography , 1:203.

It was in a different capacity, a year later, that JA first indisputably appears as a servant of the town. At a meeting held on 29 March 1762 the town considered the report of a committee which had met with the lessees of Braintree's South Common lands. The committee had found that the lessees were “unwilling to fulfill the conditions of their Lease” and submitted a “Representation” of the lessees' grievances. This Representation closed with the proposal that, if the Town would not release the lessees from the terms of their leases, the dispute be left to arbitration by “three or five indifferent Men” to be chosen by the lessees and a Town committee. JA, Samuel Niles, and Thomas Wales were named a committee to “join issue with the Leasees,” and the same committee was to report, “at the adjournment” of the 29 March meeting (that is to say, at the next town meeting), on “what may be proper for the Town to act Respecting the South Commons either by Renting or Selling the same” ( Braintree Town Records , p. 382–383). The committee made the present Report on the South Common (or “Comons”) on 12 April. For the history of the Commons as an issue in Braintree, see note 3, below, and entries of 19 May 1762, 1 April, 30 Sept. 1765, below.


These papers have not been found.


The “jealousies and animosities” surrounding Braintree's common lands are ably described in CFA2's Three Episodes , 2:661–665. These 1800 acres, divided between the North and South Commons, demanded attention at “almost every town-meeting,” and CFA2 tabulated “no less than 180 votes” on the subject in the Braintree Town Records . (His copy of Bates' text, heavily marked in the margins, is in the Adams Papers Editorial Office.) Proposals to sell the Commons were made as early as 1753, but in Nov. 1754, the town voted instead to lease the lands. This proved no solution, for public ways were laid out through the North and South 56Commons in 1755, and the lessees' efforts to maintain walls along these paths and to protect their lands from trespassers resulted in numerous complaints to the town and to modifications of the original leases to compensate the leaseholders ( Braintree Town Records , p. 326, 338–339, 350–351, 352, 361).

South Common lessees may have been more impatient than their counterparts in North Common, for the South Common group received less generous terms in settlements made with the town as these disputes arose. Too, the South Common, which “included that high ridge of rocky hills directly south of the easterly end of Water street” in modern Quincy, may have been less profitable to its lessees than the North Common, which ran from the town lands on Granite Street and included quarries as well as arable acres, extending through modern Adams Street and including the “Blue Hill” lands (Pattee, Old Braintree and Quincy , p. 37–40; and map in CFA2, Three Episodes , vol. 2, following p. 578).


The Cleverlys were an Anglican family and thus found unacceptable the proposed allotment of the proceeds of the sale to the Congregational “Ministry.” Benjamin's brother, Joseph Cleverly, though not ordained, for many years conducted services at Christ Church in Braintree as a “teacher.” On the Cleverlys see JA, Diary and Autobiography , vols. 1 and 3.


The Report of this committee is at 19 May, below.