1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Taunton (Massachusetts)

TAUNTON, a city and one of the county-seats of Bristol county, Massachusetts, U.S.A., at the head of ocean navigation on the Taunton river, 17 m. above its mouth, about 35 m. S. of Boston, and about 14 m. N. of Fall River. Pop. (1890) 25,448; (1900) 31,036, of whom 9140 were foreign-born, 2844 being Irish, 2366 French-Canadians, 1144 English, and 801 English-Canadians; (1910, U.S. census) 34,259. Taunton is served by the New York, New Haven & Hartford railroad (Old Colony Branch) and by interurban electric railways connecting with Fall River, New Bedford, Providence and Boston. The channel of the Taunton river has been deepened and widened by the Federal government, and in 1910 vessels of 11 ft. draft could reach the city at high water (mean range of tide at Taunton, 3.4 ft.). Within the corporate limits of the city, which has a land area of 44.25 sq. m., there are six villages—Hopewell, Britanniaville, Oakland, Whittenton, East Taunton and the Weir. Taunton Green, a rectangular stretch of land fringed with lofty elms, the “common” of the New England town, about which is the business portion of the modern city, is 1 m. from the Weir, the port of the city.

The city contains interesting specimens of colonial or early 19th-century architecture. Among the modern public buildings are the handsome granite County Court House (1895), facing the Green, the Public Library building (given by Andrew Carnegie), the registry building, the county gaol, the city hall, the post office, an old ladies' home, an emergency hospital, the Morton Hospital, occupying the fine old residence of Governor Marcus Morton, and the Y.M.C.A. building. The Bristol County Law Library and Old Colony Historical Society (incorporated in 1853 and organized in 1854) possess valuable collections of books, and the latter has a collection of portraits and antiquities. Bristol Academy (1792; non-sectarian) is a well-known preparatory. school, and there is also a commercial school-the Bristol County Business College. At Norton (pop. int 1910, 2544), directly N. of Taunton, and formerly within its boundaries, is Wheaton Seminary (1834) for girls. Among social clubs are the Winthrop Club, the Bristol Club, the Taunton Boat Club, the Yacht Club, and the Country Club. A good water-supply, owned by the city, is obtained from neighbouring lakes and ponds, along the shores of which are many summer cottages. Taunton was one of the first cities in the United States to own and operate its own electric lighting plant, which it acquired from-a private corporation in 1897. Its industrial importance began with the establishment of ironworks in 1656; the plant then opened continued in active operation for about 225 years. Brick-making and shipbuilding were two of the early industries; the latter, formerly very important, has now been abandoned. The manufactures to-day are extensive and varied. The aggregate value of the factory product in 1905 was $13,644,586, an increase of 18·2 per cent. over that of 1900. Of this amount the value of the cotton manufactured was $6,141,598, or 45 per cent. of the whole. Herring fisheries give occupation during a part of the year to a considerable number of workers. Taunton has a prosperous jobbing trade, and large shipping interests, the coast wise trade being particularly important.

Taunton was founded in 1638, when the territory was purchased from Massasoit by settlers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and became the frontier town of Plymouth Colony. Myles Standish was engaged on the original survey. But there had been earlier settlers in the region—at “Tecticutt” (Titicut), which later became part of Taunton. The settlement at Taunton was at first known as Cohannet, but the present name—from Taunton, Somerset, England, the home of many of the settlers—was soon adopted. The town was incorporated in 1639. In 1671 it was the scene of a meeting between Gov. Thomas Prince and King Philip, at which a treaty was drawn up. During King Philip’s War, Taunton was a base of operations for Plymouth Colony troops under Gov. Josiah Winslow. In 1686 Taunton was one of the towns which refused to comply with Sir Edmund Andros’s demands for a tax levy. For some years Thomas Coram, the philanthropist and founder of the London Foundling Hospital, was engaged in the shipbuilding industry here. In 1774, after the passage of the Boston Port Bill, the people of Taunton showed their sympathy for Boston by raising on the Green a red flag on which were inscribed the words “Liberty and Union.” The leader of the patriotic party at this time was Robert Treat Paine, to whose memory a bronze statue has been erected. During Shays’s rebellion the Taunton court-house was twice besieged by insurgents, who were each time dispersed through the resolute action and firmness of Gen. David Cobb, one of the judges. The event is commemorated by a tablet on Taunton Green. In Berkley, which until 1735 was a part of Dighton (Taunton South Purchase, separated from Taunton in 1712), is the famous Dighton Rock, with inscriptions long erroneously supposed to have been made by Norse discoverers of America, but now known to be the work of Indians. Taunton was chartered as a city in 1864. In 1909 a new city charter was adopted, under which the mayor and nine councilmen (elected at large) were the only city officers elected at any city election; candidates for these offices are nominated by petition; the mayor appoints, subject to the approval of the council, a chief of police and a city solicitor.

See S. H. Emery, History of Taunton from its Settlement to the Present Time (Syracuse, N.Y., 1893); D. H. Hurd, History of Bristol County (Philadelphia, 1883); Quarter Millennial Celebration (Taunton, 1889).