From the history of Taunton


The ancient purchasers, of whom some account has been given in preceding chapters, were drawn hither from various localities in the old country, and from a temporary residence in other parts of the new, by the reports of special advantages for a permanent settlement which had reached them. Among these may be mentioned the chance for subsistence from the fisheries. What is now known as Mill River had long been visited by the Indian Tribes, In spring time, for herring, which came in immense quantities, almost filling the river to its banks. We have documentary evidence from a direct descendant of one of the first settlers, not far from the year 1700, that this was so, and these settlers guarded nothing with greater care than these same fisheries, which gained for them the reputation of being a herring town. The Indian name of the town was given it, according to this same authority, not from its much snow, as has sometime been said, but from certain falls in the Mill River, which fixed the spot where, at their first coming, the white men built their grist mill.


 This is the document which has come into our hands, through the kindness of Mr. James M. Cushman, a direct descendant of Elder Cushman, of Plymouth, and for some years clerk of the City of Taunton -- a document signed by William Briggs Jr. of Taunton, considerably less than a century after the settlement, and who must, therefore have known and conversed with some of the settlers and got his information from them. His father, William Briggs, grand senior (as he designated himself), was a man of substance and good standing in town, as was also the son. The document, in part, is as follows:


'The Indian name for Taunton is Cohannet, at first given to the falls in ye Mill River where the old Mill (so called) now stands, being the most convenient place for catching alewives of any in those parts. The ancient standers remember that hundreds of Indians would come from Mount Hope and other places every year in April, with great dancings and shoutings to catch fish at Cohannit and set up theyr tents about that place until the season for catching alewives was past and would load their backs with burdens of fish & load ye canoes to carry home for their supply for the rest of the year and a great part of the support of ye natives was from the alewives. 


The first English planters in Taunton found great relief from this sort of fish, both for food & raysing of corne and prized them so highly that they took care that when Goodman Linkon first craved leave to set up a grist mill at that place, a town vote should be passed that fish should not be stopped. It is well known how much other Towns are advantaged by this sort of fish. Middleboro will not permit any dam for any sort of mills to be made across their river to stop the course of fish nor would they part with the privilege of the fish if any would give them a thousand pounds and wonder at ye neighboring town of Taunton, that suffer themselves to be deprived of so great a privilege.


It seems to be a sort of fish appropriated by Divine Providence to Americans and most plentifully afforded to them so that remote towns as far as Dunstable (as we hear) have barreld y'm up and preserved them all winter for their reliefe. No wonder then that the poor people of Taunton were so much concerned when such sort of a dam was made at Cohannit that should quite stop the fish from going up the river and therefore prosecuted the man that did it in ye law (which process in law how it came to a full stop as it did is mysterious and unaccountable) and it was difficult to persuade the aggrieved people to forbear using violence to open a passage for ye fish and to keep in the path of law for y'r reliefe.


It is very strange and matter for lamentation that those who complain'd for want of fish were so much derided and scoff'd at as contemptible persons. Strange that any of mankind should slight & despise such a noble and bountiful gift of Heaven as this is of the plenty of this sort of fish afforded to Americans for their support; nay, 'tis very sinful that instead of rendering thanks to our Maker and Preserver for the good gift of his Providence for our support, that wee should despise them. Be sure, many, who formerly saw not that stopping the fish would be so great a damage to the Publick are now fully satisfied that it is an hundred pound damage in one year to Taunton to be deprived of these fish & as the town increases in number of people, the want of them will be found & perceived more and more every year.


 These fish may be catcht by the hands of children in theyr nets while the parents have y'r hands full of work in the busy time of Spring to prepare for planting. Some of Taunton have been forced to buy Indian corn every year since the fish were stopped, who while they fisht, they'r ground used to have plenty of corne for y'r family & some to spare to others. The cry of the poor every year for want of the fish in Taunton is enough to move the bowels of compassion in any man, that hath not an heart of stone."