II. EARLY SETTLEMENT
In the early days of our country, boundary disputes between states were common. Both Connecticut and Massachusetts claimed title to the towns of Enfield, Suffield, Woodstock and Somers, now in Connecticut. In 1713, these towns were put under Massachusetts rule to protect them from Indian attack and the land comprising the towns of now Belchertown, Ware and Pelham, which were not settled, was assigned to Connecticut. This section was known as the "equivalent lands."
In 1716, the "equivalent lands" were sold by Connecticut to 16 persons who resided in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Some of this land was granted to Jonathan Belcher, later to become the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, and the town's namesake. Belchertown contained an area of 27,190 acres or approximately sixty square miles.
This region was reputed to be the best hunting ground anywhere around. Hunters would set fires to make deer hunting easier, but this destroyed much of the original forest. Wild thick grass grew in the place of the trees and made excellent pasturage for cattle. Settlers from the surrounding valley drove their cattle and sheep to this hilly pastureland during the summer, and temporary herders' camps were set up. The region also supplied pine trees for candlewood and for making turpentine, an early local industry.
The first trails in the area were made by deer and other animals. Indians followed those paths and later white men came on foot and horseback. It was not until 1673 that a true route was laid out. This was the old Bay Path which followed an Indian trail from Boston to Albany, New York. Weary travelers would stop at a spring (now on Cold Spring Road) and refresh themselves. Thus the area became known as Cold Spring .
Several families from Hatfield, Northampton and Hadley moved to Cold Spring in July, 1731. In 1737, a petition went to the General Court stating that "they had twenty families and more expected soon." The earliest families to settle here were those of Samuel Bascom, Aaron Lyman, Samuel Stebbins and Capt. Nathaniel Dwight. Their homes were established far apart from one another as they felt the Indian situation here was not a major threat.
Other problems beset them, however. The chief dangers were wolves, bears, wildcats and poverty. As late as 1784, the town offered a bounty of six pounds for killing wolves, and the townspeople set up a committee with neighboring towns to combine efforts in wiping them out. The land was rocky and filled with roots. The settlers were not accustomed to such hard farming conditions. With only a quarter of the land settled, they could not raise enough taxes to meet their debts. Turkeys and other wild game were plentiful, however, and the land, once tilled, was fertile.
The first minister to come to Belchertown was Reverend Edward Billings. In 1738, a meeting house was erected and was occupied as a place of worship, though the building was not completed until 1746. Since the early settlers were "greatly embarrassed by debt" they had to partially pay their minister in firewood. They did not finish their meeting house for eight years because of the lack of tax money. When Rev. Billings was dismissed in April, 1752, the population had increased to 50 families.
The town of Belcher's Town was incorporated on the 30th of June 1761. The name given to the town was in honor of Jonathan Belcher, formerly a large landowner in the town and Royal Governor of Massachusetts from 1730 to 1740. The first town meeting was held September 30, 1761. It is interesting to note that two of the elected officials were a deer reeve and a hog reeve, the latter being required to round up stray hogs and care for them in the town pound. Deer reeves were expected to control the illegal killing of deer as these animals were then becoming scarce in this area. Early town meetings were also religious affairs. Laws were passed on attending and supporting the church and observing the Sabbath.