by Harry Chase
If you leave your car at the dead end of Fisher Lane off Willow Street and then follow a footpath westward over the river (Rumford, that is) and through the woods for 200 yards, you’ll come to Cobbler’s Corner. You’re not trespassing; the Corner’s on town conservation land.
On your left, opposite a junction of fieldstone walls, you’ll see a cast bronze tablet mounted on an iron post. Its embossed letters will tell you that Cobbler’s Corner was the apex of the Eight Mile Purchase surveyed by Myles Standish in June 1640.
The plaque, placed by the local Daughters of the American Revolution on June 9, 1941, commemorates the earliest recorded event in the history of what is now Mansfield.
And yes, this is our old schoolbook friend Capt. Myles Standish who in 1620 arrived at Plymouth aboard the “Mayflower.” He was the only professional soldier among the Pilgrims.
His detractors called him (not to his face) “Captain Shrimp” or “Little Chimney” because he was a small man with flaming red hair who “burned exceeding hot.” In other words, he had a short fuse. A pocket Hercules, he once stabbed a giant Indian to death in hand-to-hand combat.
A fighter, not a lover, Myles, after his wife Rose died, sent John Alden to woo Priscilla Mullins on his behalf. Longfellow wrote a poem telling how this proxy courtship backfired. By the time Standish visited here, he was in his mid-50s and his hair was no longer fiery.
The Revolutionary ladies who worded the plaque might have made history clearer for us if they’d explained that Cobbler’s Corner was the northwest angle of the original town of Taunton.
In 1637, 60 or 80 folks trekked down from Dorchester and bought from Massasoit’s Wampanoag Indians a huge spread they called the Eight Mile Purchase because each of its four sides was supposed to be eight miles long.
This tract included all of the present Norton plus parts of Taunton, Raynham, Berkley and Mansfield. There’s a dubious story that the purchase price was a peck of beans and a jackknife.
Not what you’d call big spenders, the new arrivals tipped the Indians an extra two shillings (33 cents) an acre for their house lots. (Do you wonder that today’s short-changed Wampanoags hope to recoup their losses with a casino?)
At first the settlers adopted the Indian name Cohannet for their new wilderness home, but two years later they renamed it Taunton.to honor their place of origin in southwest England.
The new Taunton was in Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth General Court, sticklers for legality, ordered that the Purchase be surveyed, and handed the job to Myles Standish and a Capt. Brown. These two began by blazing a couple of trees south of Taunton and then ran lines in opposite directions for four miles to establish the lower boundary of the town.
Next, they bushwhacked north for eight miles to the two upper corners of the tract. Having worked in a survey gang, I know what they met with: swamps, streams, bullbriers, rocks, stumps, fallen trees, poison sumac, snakes, deer flies, mosquitoes, – you name it, they found it.
When Standish and his footsore party reached the northwest corner of the Purchase he had to wait impatiently while one of his men sat on a boulder and cobbled his worn-out shoes. Afterward, they piled a big heap of rocks to mark the point and called it Cobbler’s Corner.
Myles was a better warrior than a surveyor. His Eight Mile Purchase measures about nine miles on a side. Nor are the lines straight; his survey teams wandered a bit as they pushed through the thick woods. But they did their best with the methods and instruments of the time.
Since 1640 Taunton’s northern boundary has shifted south, and other towns like Mansfield have peeled off from the original Purchase.
But if you’d like to stand where over 367 years ago Capt. Myles Standish watched one of his men mend his shoes, go visit Cobbler’s Corner.