Table of Contents
Inventory of the Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Town Records
In the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library
In 1652, the territory of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, was purchased by Governor William Bradford and associates from the Native Americans Massasoit and his son, Wamsutta, and subsequently divided among thirty-six individuals. The territory, a quadrangular area measuring about fourteen miles on each side and intersected by three rivers, included the present towns of Dartmouth, Westport, New Bedford, Fairhaven, and Acushnet, Massachusetts, as well as portions of Tiverton and Little Compton, Rhode Island. Settlers to the area came from Plymouth, Duxbury, and Boston, Mass., as well as from neighboring Rhode Island towns. In 1664, the territory was incorporated as a town which, in 1674, held its first documented town meeting. The natural divisions of the rivers led to the separation of the town of Dartmouth into three towns in 1787: Westport, Dartmouth, and New Bedford, which still included the towns of Fairhaven and Acushnet. The present town of Dartmouth covers an area of sixty-five square miles and, as of 1982, has a population of 23,966.
Scope and Content Note
Most of the records in this collection reflect the administrative, legal, and financial activities of various Dartmouth, Mass., town officials from 1674-1868. Among these materials, which are arranged in Sub-group 1 of the collection, are records of the selectmen, assessors, and tax collectors.
Town government in Dartmouth was similar to that in most New England towns established during the seventeenth century. Three selectmen, elected for a term of one to three years, were responsible for overseeing the general administration of the town, which included such matters as supplying and maintaining a militia, licensing innholders and retailers, constructing highways, and promoting public health. The multiple duties of the Dartmouth selectmen from 1674-1851 are reflected by minutes of town meetings, correspondence, petitions, recommendations to the Massachusetts General Court for liquor retailing licenses, bonds of support for illegitimate children, agreements, highway and school records, apprenticeship indentures, orders, committee reports, militia records, and volumes of memoranda.
Taxes for state, county, and town governments were calculated by assessors, who made valuations on polls and real and personal property. Records of the Dartmouth assessors consist of a census of the town inhabitants in 1837 and 1840; tax tables, 1795-1805; volumes of valuations, 1809, ca. 1820-ca. 1840; and notices, certificates, correspondence, and similar material, 1755-1822.
Tax collectors or constables were responsible for collecting taxes from town residents named on lists compiled by the assessors. These lists, dating from 1744-1868, constitute the bulk of the tax collectors' records in this collection, with the most complete and largest number of lists covering the years 1766-1771 and 1828-1841. These volumes are supplemented by orders along with bills and receipts of collectors and constables, 1781, 1823, 1847.
In addition to serving as tax collector when necessary, the constable was also responsible for maintaining peace and order, serving court writs and warrants, and warning inhabitants of town meetings. Dartmouth constables' records, 1738-1813, principally consist of orders from selectmen concerning warnings of town meetings and from assessors concerning collection of taxes.
Other town officials represented by records in this collection are town clerks, overseers of the poor, surveyors of highways and land, registrars of voters, and town treasurers. Town clerks recorded births, deaths, and marriages, and kept a record of the proceedings of the selectmen and town meetings. Marriage intentions, 1809-1825, comprise the records of the Dartmouth town clerk.
Overseers of the poor were elected to care for indigent persons, whether legal residents of the town or transients, by means of direct financial aid, "binding out" as apprentices, or employment at the local work house. In Dartmouth, the selectmen assumed these duties. Records of these officials in this collection, dating from ca. 1780-1841, consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence, notices, resolutions, agreements, promissory notes, and bills and receipts.
Town surveyors were responsible for overseeing road repairs financed by a specific tax levied by the assessors and for recording land divisions, lot size, and configuration by means of plats and verbal descriptions. Records of the Dartmouth highway surveyors in this collection include surveys of proposed routes and assessments of fees for road repairs, 1717-1845. Land surveyors' records, dating from 1710-ca. 1850, principally consist of undated plats which appear to have been prepared between 1790-1827.
Voting lists, notices, orders, and certificates comprise the registrars of voters' records, 1793-ca.1825. The treasurer, who was responsible for the receipt and payment of town money, is represented by records which include lists of notes due, auditing committee notices, bills and receipts, and related material, 1780-ca. 1840. The town records conclude with a series containing financial memoranda, ca. 1790-1815, 1851, believed to have belonged to town officials.
Also included in this collection are records of various Bristol County, Massachusetts, court officials, specifically registrars of deeds, judges of probate, and justices of the Court of Common Pleas. These materials are arranged in Sub-group 2 of the collection. Deeds, 1755-1805, 1847-1851, and a petition to the Massachusetts legislature concerning the care of Dartmouth land records, 1847, constitute the records of the registrar of deeds. Estate records of the judges of probate include wills and inventories, guardianship records, a power of attorney certificate, and related records, 1705-1829, 1869, 1912. Records of the justices of the Court of Common Pleas, dating from 1777-1819, consist of cases, depositions and decisions, an appointment, bills, and lists of petit and grand jurors.
In addition, this collection contains materials relating to Ephraim Tripp (1753-1825), who served in several town offices including selectman in 1795, town clerk in 1809, and assessor. His papers in Sub-group 3, however, primarily reflect his personal affairs as a merchant and estate administrator. Of primary importance among these documents are fragments of diaries chronicling his service in the General Court of Massachusetts in 1810-1812. This material is supplemented by incoming and outgoing personal correspondence, 1765-1818; agreements, deeds, leases, and bonds, 1777, 1800-1830; estate records, 1768- 1825, including records concerning the estates of Silas Gifford and Tripp's father, William Tripp; guardianship records, ca. 1780-1799; and financial records, 1737-1856, for Tripp and his son, James Tripp (b. 1794), including accounts, a cash book, bills and receipts, and memoranda.
Records in this collection seem to constitute some of the oldest extant manuscripts relating to the town affairs of Dartmouth, Mass. Researchers should note, however, that a substantial quantity of contemporaneous as well as more recent material may be found in the Dartmouth Town Offices, located in South Dartmouth, Mass. The town clerk's office has records of local births, deaths, and marriages which occurred from 1667 to the present; town meeting records, 1770 to date; records of street layouts from 1852 to date; and on going registrars of voters' records beginning in 1884. The assessors' office has records dating 1861 to the present. The tax collectors' records begin in 1915, when the office of the collector became a separate unit apart from the treasurer's office. School committee records, found at the office of the superintendent of schools in South Dartmouth, Mass., include minutes, lists of teachers' salaries, and records of the length of school years, dating from 1839 to the present. Microfilm copies of Dartmouth marriage and death records, 1667-1787; minutes of town meetings and an index, 1674-1787; as well as original manuscripts relating to selectmen, overseers of the poor, surveyors, and Ephraim Tripp, dating 1793-1823, are available at the New Bedford Free Public Library. A more complete list of these records can be found in the Collection File for Mss 53. Correspondence, a tax list, surveys, minutes, memoranda, and similar records for Dartmouth, Mass., ca. 1744-1815, are also contained in the following manuscript collections of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society: Mss 27: Smith Family Papers (Sub-group 1); Mss 36: Taber Family Papers (Sub-group 3); and Mss 51: Cummings Family Papers (Sub-group 2).
Published works which provide additional information about the organization of New England town government include Cities In The Wilderness, by Carl Bridenbaugh (1966), and Town Officer, by I. Goodwin (1834). Sources for additional information on the history of Dartmouth, Mass. include The History Of New Bedford And Its' Vicinity, 1602-1892, by Leonard Bolles Ellis (1892), and Our County And Its' People: A Descriptive And Biographical Record Of Bristol County Massachusetts (1899).
Arrangement of Collection
Information for Researchers
Access to Collections
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New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 53, [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Related Manuscript Collections
Mss 27: Smith Family Papers
Mss 36: Taber Family Papers
Mss 51: Cummings Family Papers
The bulk of the records in this collection were given to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society on 3 March 1981 by the Ohio Historical Society, which removed these materials from its collection of Tucker Family Papers. Other records were given by William C. Taber in 1903 and by the Thomas Cook House and Museum, 13 July 1981.
Processed by: Barbara E. Austen, ca. 1982
Encoded by: Kermit Dewey, 03 April 2012
Funds for processing this collection were provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Please Consult Research Library for Detailed Description of Collection
Actions and defenses--Mass.--Bristol County
Actions and defenses--Mass.--Bristol County--Cases
Alcohol--Law and legislation--Mass.--Dartmouth
Civil procedure--Mass--Bristol County
Commissioners of deeds--Mass.--Dartmouth
County courts--Mass.--Bristol County
Court records--Mass.--Bristol County
Dartmouth, Mass., Town Records
Dartmouth, Mass.--Officials and employees
Dartmouth, Mass.--Politics and government
Dartmouth, Mass.--Voting registers
Gifford, Silas, 1715-ca. 1800
Massachusetts. County Court. (Bristol County)
Municipal officials and employees--Mass.--Dartmouth
Probate courts--Mass.--Bristol County
Probate records--Mass.--Bristol County
Real property tax--Mass.--Dartmouth
Registers of births, etc.--Mass.--Dartmouth
Roads--Mass.--Dartmouth--Maintenance and repair
School management and organization--Mass.--Dartmouth
Schools--Mass.--Dartmouth--Records and correspondence
Small claims court--Mass.--Bristol County
Taxation of personal property--Mass. --Acushnet
Taxation of personal property--Mass.--Dartmouth
Taxation--Mass.--Dartmouth--Rates and tables
Tripp, Ephraim, 1753-1825
Voters, Registration of--Mass.--Dartmouth