Wayland’s earliest history is detailed in the Pulitzer-prize winning book “The Puritan Village” by Sumner Chilton Powell and in Helen Fitch Emery’s excellent history “The Puritan Village Evolves: a History of the town of Wayland, Massachusetts”.
Wayland was the first settlement of the Sudbury plantation, established in 1638, and incorporated in 1639. Among the 60 original men, women, and children, were 15 Puritan families who had traveled in the ship Confidence from England. These original families included the Curtis’s, Grouts, Stones, Haynes, Noyes, Bents, and Goodenows. Bringing with them the English pattern of farming, with collective fields and grazing along with individual lots, they named their town Sudbury after the town in Suffolk, where their pastor Edmund Brown and some of their company had lived. The original settlement was clustered one half mile northwest of the present town center, now Bow and Old Sudbury road. The abundant pasturage along the Sudbury River that attracted them is evident today at the town’s Cow Common conservation area and extensive Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge areas. Wayland and Sudbury residents established the Sudbury Valley Trust in 1953 in part to protect these lands. Today Wayland is in the top 5 communities in the state in conservation acreage.
The larger part of the land grant was granted to the settlers collectively. There were six other independent grants in the area made to Herbert Pelham, Henry Dunster, William Jennison, and Mrs. Glover. At the outset each townsman had individual lots of 4 acres, with other allotments made according to family size, status, and cattle ownership. They also shared fields and grazing along the river.
The first meetinghouse was built east of the Sudbury River in 1643, at the site of what is now the Old North Cemetery. Sudbury was only the third inland settlement within Massachusetts, after Concord and Dedham. Land grants would eventually total more than 40 square miles, including land now in Wayland, Sudbury, Maynard, Stow, Framingham, and Natick. The lands west of the Sudbury River were first settled in 1643.
Within 10 years, the town had established the first Town Meeting, a system of government still used in towns throughout New England today. Early resolutions centered on the desire of the town to apportion their land without the influence of the clergy. In 1654, one of the earliest establishments of the separation of church and state in the colonies was created at a meeting of ministers at Parmenter’s tavern called by Sudbury’s pastor, Rev. Edmund Brown, to assert pastoral rule. They were met by town Selectman John Rudduck, who said “We shall, or should, be judged by men of our own choosing.”
In 1643, a bridge was built west across the river and present-day Sudbury began to be settled. By 1656, the population had expanded and moved well west and south and established the Marlborough plantation, which became a separate town in 1660.
In 1676, Sudbury was the last town attacked by Native Americans during King Phillip’s (Massasoit’s) War. The east side of the river was more heavily populated than the west side at that time, and the majority of the deaths occurred on the west side. Many lives were lost by a contingent of the Concord militia at the river crossing. (The bridge and monument are just north of 27, near the Wayland Country Club). The Sudbury residents gathered in several garrison houses on either side of the river. The fight reached east across the river almost to Weston.
In 1714, after several generations had passed since the original settlers, residents of the western district petitioned the General Court for separation from the town of Sudbury. The newer settlers on the western side of the river thought that new land grants should be apportioned equally rather than by the previous merit-based system. In addition, the Sudbury River crossing was especially wide and difficult in the winter and spring, making it onerous for the residents on the western side of the river to make it to the meetinghouse for services. It was the usual course at the time in Massachusetts for newer, usually western, areas of settlement to petition to become separate towns, and the petitions were granted if there were no objections from the original settlement. The older families on Sudbury ’s eastern side did object, with the feeling that the town could still retain the unity of the original settlers if a second meetinghouse could be established. Consequently, in 1723, a second, western parish meetinghouse was built in what is now called Sudbury Center.
By the time of the American Revolution, some of the earliest protests of taxation and for self-governance had come out of Town Meeting. By 1774, Sudbury was one of the largest towns west of Boston and therefore had formed one of the largest militias, about 400. On April 19, 1775, the eastern and western parishes of Sudbury sent at least 302 men to Concord. Of the 115 men from the eastern parish, there were 75 militia led by Captain Joseph Smith and 40 in the minute company led by Nathaniel Cudworth. Their march through Wayland is recreated on April 19th every year by the Sudbury Minutemen. In North Cemetery are buried 56 men who fought during the war.
By 1780, the issue of town division arose again. Unusually, the petition came from those who lived in the original settlement on the eastern side of the river. Essentially, it was a tax protest. The higher average wealth level of the residents on the eastern side of the river and on Pelham Island caused the east side of Town to have a higher total assessment than the west side. There was very high town tax burden in the late 1770s caused by extra costs associated with the Revolutionary War. There had also been years of support for the damages and deaths incurred during King Phillip’s and the French and Indian wars. As a result the east-siders paid more than half of Town taxes even though more than half of the Town population (and the associated costs for Town services) was on the west side. Shockingly to the petitioners, the descendents of Sudbury ’s original settlers, the Massachusetts Legislature, on April 10, 1780, agreed to the division with the proviso that the original settlement had to forfeit the name of the town. The eastern parish took the name of East Sudbury.