Walk the pastures and farmlands of Sutton, and even today you can occasionally uncover a sharp, flaked arrowhead left by a Nipmuc hunter thousands of years ago. Tour the 1757 Waters family farmhouse, and you can see and feel three centuries of history return to life in the wood that burns upon the hearth, the quilts that once softened settlers’ sleep, and the simple furniture that rested aching bodies. All these things were drawn from the land, the “eight miles square” that offered Sutton’s first English settlers fertile soil, powerful waterways, and plentiful timber. A Nipmuc Indian, John Wampas, had visited England in the 1600s and deeded thousands of acres in Massachusetts to Edward Pratt. Following Wampas’s death, Pratt came to America, where he sold interests in his land to several other Englishmen, whose claims, along with those of the Nipmucs, constituted a legal thicket for the provincial government.
In 1681, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony sent William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley to the Nipmuc country to sort out those claims. Their own holdings, known as “Manchaug Farm,” included most of what is now West Sutton. The remaining lands beyond the Blackstone remained unresolved until 1704, when the General Court granted Pratt and his fellow proprietors “a certain tract of land … situated in the Nipmug Country between the towns of Mendon, Worcester, New Oxford, Sherburne and Marlborough, of eight miles square.” Sutton, an Anglo-Saxon name meaning “South Town,” had been born
The town was surveyed in 1715, its ill-defined edges bordering on “sundry farms” and one or another established town. However, the first settlers had no time to quibble over boundaries. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 had brought a temporary halt to war between England and France, a conflict played out on New England’s frontiers by the early settlers and their respective Native American allies. Thirty families-including Sibley, Stockwell, Marsh, and King--took up the challenge of settlement. The first town meeting was held in 1718, and the first Congregational meetinghouse was soon built, with pews granted to each of the leading families.
When war came again in the 1770s, Sutton sent 65 minutemen to answer the first alarms, followed by 215 Revolutionary soldiers to secure the nation’s independence. It was Rufus Putnam, born in Sutton in 1738, who fashioned a defensive bulwark on Dorchester Heights that helped force the British to abandon Boston. The land showered Sutton with plenty. On his farm in West Sutton, Stephen Waters perfected the Sutton Beauty apple. Daniel Webster was so impressed by Sutton’s livestock that he once remarked, “In the town of Sutton in Massachusetts I have seen some of the best cattle in the world.”
The Sutton story, however, was far from complete. In the early 19th century, the American Industrial Revolution, born in Samuel Slater’s mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, spread rapidly along the Blackstone River valley. David Wilkinson built a mill and village on the river. A trio of Providence businessmen - Jonathan Congdon, Samuel Congdon, and Randell Green- purchased pastures in what is now Manchaug village and harnessed the Mumford River for industry. Sutton’s English heritage was soon spiced with French Canadian workers, along with Irish, Italian, German, Dutch, Armenian, and Swedish immigrants. In 1829, Episcopal and Baptist churches were built. Shuttle and machine tool shops were built. They prospered but then declined as the 20th century brought large-scale industrialization.
While Sutton has seen many changes since the days of the Mills it is still home to many of the descendents of that time. And while some of the old mills have been preserved and are being re-utilized today, Sutton’s industrial and commercial base is largely located along the Route 146 corridor and Route 122A. The Town of Sutton remains largely rural and residential in nature and is home to many farms including Keown’s, Whittier’s and Water’s Farm as well as attractive recreational spaces like Lake Singletary, Purgatory Chasm, and Lake Manchaug. The Town of Sutton celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2004.
Taken in large part from the book “Images of America-Sutton”
By Chris Sinacola