Groton Real Estate Deal In 1683 Had Coercion, Intrigue, & Brinksmanship
Little James Fox, a name sounding something like a doo wop artist from the 1950s, was actually a native man named Gasumbitt, living in the Groton area in the 1680s. Little James Fox aka Gasumbitt, along with other native people were offered the opportunity to pick up some ready cash by putting their signatures on a deed to ‘sell’ all the town’s lands to the English settlers of Groton. Having recently lost King Phillip’s war, a war where native people lost a huge percentage of their people in a total rout, they were hardly ‘negotiating’ as equal parties.
Despite having routed the native inhabitants in the war, white European colonists held a widespread fear of Indians and Groton landowners were concerned that title to their land from the English King might not rest on a solid legal foundation. Determined to strengthen their rights to their most prized possession - their land and farms - they sought additional legal protection by giving themselves double indemnity: title by the right of discovery from the English Kings and additionally, by legal instrument from the native peoples.
Therefore, on October 23, 1683, Groton Town Meeting formed a committee to negotiate just such a deed. Town Meeting’s instructions read as follows:
"John Page, John Parish, Ensign Lawrence.
As you are chosen a committee for and in behalf of the town, you are desired for to prove the right and title we have to our township by all the legal testimony, which can be procured, when the town is sent to by any authority; and if any indians can prove a legal title to the remainder of our township, you have power to buy it at as easy a lay as you can, and make it as good as may be in behalf of the town; and you shall have reasonable satisfaction for your pains.
In the name of the Selectmen,
JONATHAN MORSE, Clerk."
Showing urgency to ‘close the deal,’ the committee negotiated the legal arrangement quickly, especially by the standards of 1680s Groton. A mere three weeks later, on November 14, 1683, the committee had the deed in hand ‘for and in consideration of the full and just sum of twenty and eight pounds ten shillings.’ Town Meeting voted to put the deed on record in the ‘Town Book’. The full text of the deed can be read in Chapter I of Caleb Butler’s history of Groton.
However, although this deal was accomplished quickly and even though voters agreed to add the deed to the town records in 1683, it was not until several years later, sometime after June 8, 1702, that the town actually recorded the deed in the ‘Town Book.’
The delay was due to a certain Robert Robbins and others refusing to give up the signed deed unless given some kind of compensation by the town. Finally, after several years of wrangling, the Town Meeting agreed to give said Robert Robbins and others ‘three acres of meadow and ten acres of upland near his meadow; and to the heirs of Peleg Lawrence, deceased, three acres of meadow and ten acres of upland near the same’, upon condition that they, Robert Robbins, and the heirs of Peleg Lawrence, “do deliver that Indian title, that they now have, to the town.”
It’s hard to know the reason that Robbins and company withheld the deed. But, based on Caleb Butler’s early history of Groton, it was not uncommon for the town to order a public works projects at a certain price and then be unable to raise the money for payment. It may be that Robbins and his associates had paid the ‘just sum of twenty and eight pounds ten shillings’ to the Indians for the deed and were simply insiting that the town reimburse them in kind.