Friday, January 2, 2009

William Shepard, Wheelwright

Dedham Gazette March 27, 1818.


Journeyman Wheelwright


Wanted immediately, a journeyman at wheelwright business - one acquainted with light and heavy work. None but a good workman need apply. Inquire of

William Shepherd

Roxbury (Jamaica Plain) March 19, 1818.


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Columbian Centinel February 10, 1822.

Chaise Stolen

A Canvas Top Chaise, painted black, the body green, and wheels and carriage black, one of the supports under the shaft, on the axle, carved and painted, the other not carved or painted, with all the Harnesses laying in it, was laying in front of the Wheelwright's shop of the subscriber on Jamaica Plain, in Roxbury, and was stolen between Thursday night and Friday morning, 27th Sept. A reward of Twenty Dollars will be paid for the recovery of the Chaise and conviction of the Thief, or one half for either, by WM SHEPHERD.

Roxbury 1st Oct 1822.




Before the coming of the automobile, the trades of blacksmith, wheelwright and carriage maker were the backbone of the transportation industry. Long after the first railroads were built, carriages were still necessary to carry people and freight from rail station to home and business. William Shepherd was a wheelwright in Jamaica Plain during the first half of the 19th century. From the articles above, we know that he had his own shop, with men working under him. Unfortunately, such advertisements rarely give addresses - apparently, the community was small enough that you could ask for William Shepherd and any local person could direct you to his shop. Luckily for us, there is another source of information.

From the Norfolk Registry of Deeds, we know that in September of 1822, Mr. Shepherd purchased three quarters of an acre plus 11 rods (11 rods being about 8% of an acre) of land on Centre street near Eliot street from the trustees of the Eliot School. Prior to that year, the trustees had rented land for income to support the school. In some cases, the people buying land from the Eliot School trustees already had houses on the land, so it may be that Mr. Shepherd already had a shop on the site when he purchased the land in 1822.

The deed for the purchase describes the boundaries as follows:

Southeast on the Great Road 90 feet, southwest on the land of David S. Greenough 424 feet, northwest on land of said trustees 84 feet, and northeast on land leased to Sarah Brewer 410 feet.

Such boundary descriptions can make locating the plot difficult to impossible, depending on the situation. Luckily for me, the deeds for the Greenough and Brewer land are also available, allowing me to generate a map of the properties, seen below.





Centre and Eliot streets, 1822 (Shepherd land border in blue). Click on map to see bigger view.



Centre street (formerly the main road, Highway to Dedham, or upper road) runs along the bottom, and Eliot street runs from lower left to upper right, past the Third Parish meeting house (the Unitarian church) and Eliot School. Four long plots were cut out of the Eliot School lands along Centre street. To the right, Thomas Davis and Sarah Brewer each leased land in 1814. In 1822, William Shepherd purchased the lot next to Sarah Brewer, and David S. Greenough bought the lot on the corner of Centre and Eliot streets. The Shepherd lot faced Centre street at the same place as today's AAA Appliance store (or the old First National supermrket, for the old-timers among us). Missing from the map above are Thomas and Hagar streets. In 1837, a deed mentions two un-named passageways that would become Thomas and Brewer streets. Hagar street would come much later. On this map, Thomas street would be located at the border of the Brewer and Davis lots, most likely through the Davis property. Notice that the back end of the four Centre street lots align with today's boundary line between the Unitarian church and the Eliot School properties along Eliot street. So today, walking along Eliot street, we can imagine - accurately - where theseCentre street lots stood in the 1820s.

Many deeds from the 19th century leave us wondering exactly where the plots were located. Most are defined by the names of adjoining owners, and few include angles taken at corners. Some are even "to the willow trees, thence turning north...," which was understood perfectly well at the time, but serves only to leave us in the dark today. In this case, we know exactly where the Shepherd lot was, and what business the owner was in.


As often happens, we also gain insight from the surrounding properties. In this case, Brewer is a familiar name. Tradition has it that the house now standing on the southeast corner of Brewer and Thomas street (25 Thomas st.) was the Brewer house, and was moved from Centre street to the current location some time in the past. The Sarah Brewer deed puts her at the exact spot, and makes this story entirely plausible. This is the same house owned by the Clough family for 50 years, as told in this recent entry.

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