Monday, January 30, 2012

That little Notch on the Massachusetts Border?

See that little Notch on the Massachusetts/Connecticut border?

You know the one I mean?  When you look at the top and bottom (northern and southern) borders on the map of Massachusetts they are mostly straight lines.  However, on the southern border there is a strange little square sticking out that locals call “The  Granby Notch” after the Connecticut town with a hole.  On the Connecticut side they call it the “Southwick Jog” after the Massachusetts town that eats into their territory.  How did it get there?  Why is it there?

It appears that my 9x Great Grandfather is to blame for this strange border notch between Massachusetts and Connecticut.  Nathaniel Woodward was born about 1590 in England, and he lived in Boston, Massachusetts.  It appears that he was a mathematician and a surveyor.   In 1638 he ran the boundary line between the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies, and Connecticut.  He surveyed land north of the Merrimack River and helped to establish the boundary between Charlestown and Lynn.
When I found a mention of Nathaniel Woodward in a 2001 New York Times article, I never suspected to find a controversy, but this news story explained the puzzle.   In 1642 Nathaniel Woodward and his companion Solomon Saffery were hired by the Massachusetts Bay Colony to find the southern border that ran straight to the Pacific Ocean from three miles south of the Charles River.   According to the New York Times:

Normally, surveyors would simply begin tacking westward, marking the state line as they went. But Woodward and Saffery were afraid of being slaughtered by Indian tribes in the untamed New England interior (now known as metropolitan Springfield, Mass.), so the two instead chose to sail around Cape Cod, down into Long Island Sound and up the Connecticut River, until they reached what they believed was the proper latitude.
            In fact, they were about seven miles too far south. So they fudged the mistake, added a large dip in Massachusetts' southern boundary that took in 108,000 acres of what had been Connecticut, and kept moving west. Down in Hartford, officials quickly learned of the maneuver and demanded a new survey. Massachusetts ignored them. Thus began decades of Notch-related feuding…
Incredibly, 162 years passed before both states finally agreed on a compromise in 1804 that cemented the Notch's current smaller size and ended its role in the longest interstate boundary dispute in United States history.”

The Woodward Genealogy:

Generation 1: Nathaniel Woodward, born about 1590 in England, died 11 May 1685 probably in Boston, Massachusetts; married first to Unknown, second about 1638 to Margaret Jackson.  Five children with first wife, three more with Margaret.  Nathaniel Woodward is my 10 x Great Grandfather.

1. Nathaniel Woodward, born about 1613, married 1.) Mary Jackson, 2.) Katherine Unknown
2. John Woodward, born about 1615, married Sarah Crossman
3. Robert Woodward, born about 1618, married Rachel Smith
4.  Sarah Woodward, born about 1620
5.  Ezekiel Woodward, born about 8 May 1624, died January 1699 in Wenham, Massachusetts; married 1) Anne Beamsley and had eight children, 2) Elizabeth Unknown, widow of John Solart, and had two more children, 3) Sarah Edward, widow of Nathaniel Piper. Ezekiel is my 9x Great Grandfather.  I descend from two of his daughters with Anne Beamsley (Margaret, born 24 February 1655 who married William Andrews; and from Prudence, born 4 April 1660 who married Benjamin Marshall)

New York Times, “A Blunder in 1642 Creates Headaches for Homeowners who Straddle a Border” by Paul Zielbauer, 26 January 2001.

The “Southwick Jog” explained by the Connecticut State Library

Some Descendants of Nathaniel Woodward, Mathematician, compiled by Percy Emmons Woodward, Concord, New Hampshire: Rumford Press, 1940

Some Descendants of Nathaniel Woodward who came from England to Boston about 1630, by Harold Edward Woodward, Boston, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1984

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Great story. I have relations in Southwick and have often wondered who was to blame for the notch! Thanks for letting me know!

  2. I have Anne Beamsley's sister, Mercy, who m. Andrew Peters. So, another distant relationship for us!

  3. Fascinating to think that your direct ancestor was responsible for the shape of Massachusetts! I don't think most people (myself included) have given much thought to how states got their shapes. I think there's a show about that the History Channel runs, in fact, but I've never watched it.

  4. You should use these two sources, one of which has Nathaniel's English origins:

    “Some Descendants of Nathaniel Woodward Who Came From England to Boston About 1630” by Harold Edward Woodward (Boston, NEHGS, 1984)
    “The English Origin of Nathaniel Woodward” by Doris J. Woodward and Patricia Law Hatcher, The Maine Genealogist 20 (1998): 147-168.

  5. Thanks, Martin, this will cme in handy when I get around to WOODWARD on my Surname Saturday series!

  6. You should also note that there were two Nathaniel Woodwards. The man you have is the Boston man and is not the man who eventually moves to Taunton. See the English origins article and the Great Migration Begins 1620-1633, III:2061-64.