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Life in Dorchester Included Perilous Jobs
 [This article appeared in the Dorchester Reporter, November 6, 2008]

Life in Early Dorchester Included Perilous Jobs By Earl Taylor

William Robinson died in 1668 when he was ?drawn through by ye cogwheel? of a grist mill and was ?torn in pieces and slain.? The mill was built by Edward Breck who in 1645 was given ?by the hands of most of the inhabitants of the town, Smelt Brook Creek, on the condition that he doth set a mill there.? Smelt Brook Creek was later known by the name Tenean Creek and was a tidal estuary that ran through the area that now contains Phillips Candy House, the shopping plaza opposite, the Murphy School and the Armory on Victory Road (formerly Mill Street).

Many families among the early settlers of Dochester carried on a trade in addition to farming the land. Israel Stoughton constructed the first mill in Dorchester for grinding corn, possibly the first grist mill in what is now the United States. Two families constructed water-powered mills of a very special type, one at the South Bay and the one mentione above built by Edward Breck at Tenean Creek near Commercial Point. Unlike river mills, these mills depended on the action of the tide to power their machinery. An impoundment area or mill pond would fill up on the incoming tide. When the tide had risen to its highest point, the miller would close the gates to contain the water in the pond. Then when the water level outside the pond fell below the water wheel, the miller could begin operation and continue grinding until the tide rose again high enough to impede the turning of the wheel. The New England coast was lined with tidal mills along its length in early years.

Breck sold an interest in the mill to Robinson, who himself sold to Timothy Tileston in 1664 for 96 pounds. The description at that time was: a ?little house? and ten acres of land on ?Tide-Mill Creeke, and half a corn water-mill standing on the tide in the creeke, commonly called Salt Creeke or Brooke, near Captaine?s Neck.? The fact that Robinson sold his interest in the mill four years before he died, may indicate that he was working as an employee at the mill after he sold it.

One of the problems special to tide mills was the changing schedule from day to day of the high and low tides. In 1916 when Henry N. Blake wrote a memoir, he remembered: ?I was born in a one-story building of wood on the southwestern side of Mill Street in Dorchester, (now Boston), Massachusetts, on the fifth day of June, 1838. On the opposite side of the street was a grist mill of the old style, owned by Ebenezer Tileston and my father. The power was furnished by the incoming tide which flowed into the pond and closed the gate when it receded. My father was the miller and worked in the night or daytime according to the ebb and flow of the tide. The payment for grinding corn and grain was fixed by law and the miller had the right to take for his services a certain portion of each grist call ?tolls,? but the parties agreed sometimes upon a sum of money.


The Dorchester Historical Society hosts a Tide Mill Conference on Saturday, November 8th at its headquarters, the William Clapp House at 195 Boston Street. Registration starts at 8:30 am. Suggested donation is $25.

Related Images: showing 8 of 18 (more results)
Here are some images from the Atheneum archive related to this topic. Click on any of these images to open a slideshow of all 18 images.
Tileston School, Mattapan, Mass.Rev. Charles Tileston WhittemoreTileston HouseSouther Tide Mill in Quncy
Map detail of Clap tannery and mill location 1852Souther Tide Mill, QuincyLocation of Tileston MillLocation of Asa Robinson mill at Neponset
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Created: November 11, 2008   Modified: November 11, 2008