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that was in some respects the most remarkable boundary question with which this country has had to deal. Twice the question went to the Supreme Court of the United States, and in one of these suits Daniel Webster and Rufus Choate were employed as counsel for Massachusetts. Choate, in order to illustrate the indefiniteness of certain boundary lines, said before the Massachusetts Legislature:

The commissioners might as well have decided that the line between the States was bounded on the north by a bramble bush, on the south by a blue jay, on the west by a hive of bees in swarming time, and on the east by five hundred foxes with fire brands tied to their tails.

As early as 1642 the line between the two colonies was marked in part by Nathaniel Woodward and Solomon Saffrey, who set up on the plain of Wrentham a stake as the commencement of the line between Massachusetts Bay and Rhode Island. This stake was by them supposed to mark a point 3 miles south of the Charles River.

In 1710–11 commissioners appointed from Massachusetts and Rhode Island agreed upon the north line of Rhode Island, and their action was approved by the legislatures of both colonies. The agreement was as follows: 31

That the stake set up by Nathaniel Woodward and Solomon Saffrey, skilful, approved artists, in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and fortytwo, and since that often renewed, in the latitude of forty-one degrees and fifty-five minutes, being three English miles distant southward from the southernmost part of the river called Charles River, agreeable to the letters-patent for the Massachusetts province, be accounted and allowed on both sides the commencement of the line between Massachusetts and the colony of Rhode Island

In 1719 this line was run by commissioners appointed for the purpose, but subsequent investigation has shown that it was run very inaccurately. 32

The line between Massachusetts and the eastern part of Rhode Island was fixed by the commissioners in 1741. The colony of Rhode Island appealed from their decision to the King, but in 1746 he affirmed it by a royal decree.33 In accordance with this decree the line was run in 1746 by commissioners of Rhode Island whose report may be found in the United States Supreme Court records for the December term, 1852, pages 208–210.

In 1748 the Legislature of Rhode Island appointed commissioners to continue the line to the Connecticut corner, recognizing the Woodward and Saffrey stake as the place of beginning. Massachusetts failed to appoint commissioners, whereupon the Rhode Island com

4 Howard 631. a Rhode Island Acts, May, 1867, pp. 6 et seq.

* Certified copies of the proceedings in council and of the royal decree were among the documents presented to the U. S. Supreme Court, December term, 1852, original No. 3, pp. 200–208; also published in U. S. Geol. Survey Bull. 226,

pp. 56-59.


missioners proceeded to complete the running of the line. In their report they say with reference to the initial point of their survey:

That we, not being able to find any stake or other monument which we could imagine set up by Woodward and Saffrey, but considering that the place thereof was described in the agreement mentioned in our commission, by certain invariable marks, we did proceed as followeth, namely: We found a place where Charles River formed a large current southerly, which place is known to many by the name of Poppatolish Pond, which we took to be the southernmost part of said river, from the southernmost part of which we measured three English miles south, which three English miles did terminate upon a plain in a township called Wrentham..

From this time forward repeated steps were taken by Rhode Island, by resolutions and by appointment of commissioners, to ascertain and run the line in connection with commissioners from Massachusetts. Commissioners from both colonies met once, but they failed to agree upon a boundary in place of that established under the agreements of 1711 and 1718. As a ground for these efforts Rhode Island alleged that a mistake had been made by her commissioners in commencing the line at the accepted position of the Woodward and Saffrey stake, which, as set on Wrentham Plain, at Burnt Swamp Corner, was considerably more than 3 miles south of the Charles River.36

This controversy, however, embraced the entire line from the State of Connecticut to the Atlantic Ocean. Massachusetts asserted that an encroachment had been made on her territory from Burnt Swamp Corner to the ocean by Rhode Island, who, on her part, claimed that the jurisdictional line of Massachusetts from that corner to the Connecticut line was, in its whole extent, upon the territory of Rhode Island. The legislatures of the respective States having failed after repeated efforts to adjust the controversy, Rhode Island in 1832, by a bill in equity, brought the subject of the northern boundary from Burnt Swamp Corner to the Connecticut line before the Supreme Court of the United States, which in 1846 decided that the jurisdictional line claimed by Massachusetts was the legal boundary of the two States between these points.

While this suit was pending an attempt was made to settle the long controversy by an amicable adjustment of the whole line from the Connecticut corner to the ocean. Commissioners were appointed by both States in 1844 to ascertain and mark the true boundary from Pawtucket Falls (presumably near the present city of Pawtucket) south to Bullock Neck. In 1845 the same commissioners were authorized to ascertain the entire line from Burnt Swamp Corner to the Atlantic Ocean.

34 4 Howard 632. 35 14 Peters 273.


In 1846, the equity suit having been decided,34 they were authorized " to erect suitable monuments at the prominent angles of the line, from the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest corner of Rhode Island, and at such other points on the line as may subserve the public convenience.” A majority of the commissioners agreed upon a line and erected monuments in 1847.37

The report of the joint commission was dated Boston, January 13, 1848. The line so agreed upon as a boundary between Burnt Swamp Corner and the northwest corner of Rhode Island was a straight line, varying a little from the irregular jurisdictional line established by the decision of the Supreme Court, and is described in the report of the commissioners, as follows:

Begin at the northwest corner of Rhode Island, on Connecticut line, in latitude 42° 00' 29'' north, and longitude 71° 48' 18'' west of Greenwich, thence easterly in a straight line 21.512 miles to Burnt Swamp Corner, in Wrentham, being in latitude 42° 01' 08'' and longitude 71° 23' 13''. [See p. 95 for corrected position.]

Upon this line 27 monuments were placed exclusive of that at Burnt Swamp Corner.

The General Assembly of Rhode Island, in May, 1847, ratified and established the line from the ocean to the Connecticut line, to take effect and become binding whenever the said agreement and boundary line should be ratified by the State of Massachusetts.” The Legislature of Massachusetts did not ratify the agreement and boundary line but proposed another joint commission, which was agreed to by Rhode Island. The attempt made by these commissioners to settle the line having failed, Massachusetts commenced a bill in equity before the Supreme Court of the United States for an adjudication of the boundary line from Burnt Swamp Corner to the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1860 both States agreed upon a conventional line and asked that a decree of the United States Supreme Court should confirm the same. The prayer was granted, and the line was thus finally established by a decree rendered December 16, 1861.38

The Supreme Court decision made no reference to the line from Burnt Swamp Corner to the Connecticut line. In 1865 the Legislature of Massachusetts took action in regard to this portion of the line, as follows:

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* 4 Howard 591.

** See copy of agreement in Documents relating to the boundary line and disputed territory between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, p. 39, Fall River, Henry Pratt, printer,


*A full discussion of the Massachusetts-Rhode Island boundary disputes, reports of commissioners, legislative acts, etc., may be found in Massachusetts H. Doc. 102 of 1861, Doc. 3 of 1869, Doc. 1230 of 1899; in Rhode Island Acts, May, 1867; and in U. S. Supreme Court Rec. No. 3, December term of 1852.

Resolved, That the boundary line between the State of Rhode Island and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, from the line of the State of Connecticut to Burnt Swamp Corner, begins at the north west corner of the State of Rhode Island on the Connecticut line, in latitude 42° 00'29" north, and longitude 74° 48' 18"*° west of Greenwich, and runs in a straight line 21 and 12 miles to Burnt Swamp Corner, in Wrentham, being in latitude 42° 1' 8"'.60 and longitude 71° 23' 13''.26. [See p. 95 for corrected position for this mark.]

This is the line agreed upon by commissioners and called the “line of 1848,” which was ratified by Rhode Island when run but rejected by Massachusetts.

As a result of the tardiness of Massachusetts in ratifying the line, Rhode Island rejected it on the ground that the then recent settlement of the eastern boundary by the decree of the Supreme Court had so changed the aspect of the controversy that she could not consent to the adoption of the line of 1848 as her northern boundary. Thus the northern boundary of Rhode Island was left in the condition prescribed by the Supreme Court decision of 1846.

In June, 1880, the Legislature of Rhode Island passed a resolution to remove the monuments of the “line of 1848” and erect monuments on the jurisdictional line. In 1881 the Legislature of Massachusetts took like action. This jurisdictional line has the same termini as the line of 1848 but is a very irregular line, in places running north of a direct line and elsewhere falling south of it, the extreme variations being 529.3 feet north and 129 feet south. It is described as follows: 40

Beginning at a monument of dressed granite, marked “Mass.” on the north, “R. 1.” on the south, and “Con.” on the west sides, standing at the northwest corner of the State of Rhode Island, in latitude 42° 00' 29.45", longitude 71° 48' 18.07'! west of Greenwich ; thence running easterly in a straight line to a pile of stones on the westerly bank of Wallum pond at high-water mark; thence easterly in a straight line to the southwest corner of Uxbridge and the southeast corner of Douglas, to a monument of dressed stone, marked “D Nov. 9, 1829," on northwest face and “U” on east face, and “B” on south face; thence running easterly in a straight line to a point formed by the intersection of the easterly line of Harris Avenue, so called, with the southerly line of Gaskill Street near the bridge of Waterford, and about fifteen rods easterly of the easterly bank of the Blackstone River; thence running easterly in a straight line to a monument of split stone granite about five feet above ground, having five faces, marked on the west face “M,” on the northeast face “ B," and on the south face "C"; thence easterly in a straight line to the stone monument now standing on Wrentham Plain at Burnt Swamp Corner,

marked on two sides Mass, and on the other two sides R. I.

3 This is a clerical error. "Longitude 74° 48' 18"" should read longitude 71° 48' 18''."

40 Massachusetts Laws for 1883, ch. 154, approved Apr. 30, 1883. Rhode Island act approved Mar. 22, 1883.

The following statement concerning the east boundary of Rhode Island was made by commissioners of 1897–98 for both States : 41

On March 1, 1862, a decree of the Supreme Court of the United States issued the previous year became effective, which changed the boundary line between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of Rhode Island. By this change the town of Pawtucket west of the Seven and Ten Mile rivers, a narrow strip of Seekonk between the middle of the above-named rivers and the line of highest water on the eastern banks, and the southwestern part of Seekonk, now East Providence, were annexed to Rhode Island, in exchange for territory in the vicinity of Fall River. The Legislature of Massachusetts anticipating this change, provided by chapter 187 of the acts of 1861 for the proper jurisdiction of the territory east of this new boundary, and the State of Rhode Island by a similar act, chapter 379 of the acts of 1861, provided for the jurisdiction of the new territory acquired west of this line.

On account of the imperfect marking of this line and the difficulty of defining the high-water lines of rivers and ponds, which formed the State boundary, it was decided in 1897 to redefine the line and to substitute for indefinite highwater boundaries a series of straight lines as near as may be to the line established by the decree of 1861, which could be readily and permanently marked.

The general court of that year authorized the topographical survey commission, representing Massachusetts, to act in conjunction with a commission representing Rhode Island, in locating, defining, and marking the State boundary line, from “ Burnt Swamp Corner" southerly to the sea.

A full report of the doings of these commissions was made in May, 1899, and the general courts of both States promptly ratified their work by the passage of acts which contain a full description of the line 12

The 1898 survey of the east boundary of Rhode Island was commenced at Burnt Swamp Corner, marked by a granite monument inscribed “Mass.-R. I. 1861–1883; 1898," in latitude 42° 01' 08.35'' and longitude 71° 22' 54.51". The line thence runs S. 2' 40" W. 8.65 miles, thence east and south by straight-line courses of irregular length to a point where it intersects the line of high water of the Atlantic Ocean, in latitude 41° 29' 50.87", longitude 71° 07' 15.62", about 45.789 miles from the point of beginning. The termini of all the straight lines are marked by the old monuments where recovered or by new granite monuments 12 by 12 inches by 9 feet 6 inches, suitably lettered and set 51/2 feet in the ground.

In 1713 commissioners from the Province of Massachusetts Bay and Colony of Connecticut adopted a line between Massachusetts and Connecticut. By this line the frontier towns of Woodstock, · Suffield, Enfield, and Somers were given to Massachusetts. In 1749

41 Massachusetts Topog. Survey Comm. Rept. : Atlas of the boundaries of the Town of Seekonk, sheet A, 1900.

** Massachusetts act of June 3, 1899, ch. 476 ; Rhode Island act of May 26, 1899, ch. 683. Massachusetts H. Doc. 1230, May 23, 1899, contains reports of the commissioners and of the engineer, also a plat of the line and descriptions of the monuments.

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