An American Family History

The How Family in Sudbury






During the Indian wars, some colonists were taken captive. They were killed, ransomed, or adopted into the tribe.

Sudbury in Middlesex County, Massachusetts was incorporated in 1639 with a population of 476. A major battle of the King Philip's War was fought in Sudbury in 1676.

from Year Book 1898 by Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Among the early settlers was one John How, a glover by trade. He was admitted a freeman in 1641 and was chosen selectman the next year. In 1655 he was appointed "to see to the restraining of youth on the Lord's day." He was a petitioner for Marlborough plantation in 1657, moved there about the same year, and was elected a selectman. He was the first tavern keeper in that town, having a public house as early as 1661....

The proximity of John How's house in Marlborough to the Indian plantation brought him into direct contact with his savage neighbors, and by his kindness he gained their confidence and good will, and they accordingly not only respected his rights, but often made him their umpire in cases of difficulty. He acquired, I have read, the reputation of a Solomon by his decision of a dispute where a pumpkin vine sprang up within the premises of one Indian and the fruit ripened upon the land of another. The question of the ownership of the pumpkin was referred to him, when he called for a knife and divided the fruit, giving half to each claimant. This struck the parties as the perfection of justice, and fixed the impartiality of the judge on an immutable basis. John How died in 1680, at the age of seventy-eight years, and left an estate valued at £511.

His son Samuel [How], a carpenter by trade, born in 1642, married, in 1663, Martha Bent, daughter of John Bent, of Sudbury, the first of that name; and later widow Clapp, of Hingham. He is described as a man of great energy and public spirit. ...

In 1702 Samuel How gave his son David [How], born in 1674, a tract of one hundred and thirty acres of the so-called "new grant" of Sudbury, and on one of the lots of this grant, bounded easterly on the highway and westerly by Marlborough, David How began immediately to build a house. During its erection tradition says that the work-men resorted at night for protection against Indian attacks to the Parmenter garrison house, half a mile away. Soon after its construction How opened it as a public house, the fifth tavern on the road from Boston westwards.

In a letter to an English lady, dated Dec. 28, 1863, Longfellow gives his version of the genesis of this house.

Some two hundred years ago, [he says,] an English family by the name of Howe built there (in Sudbury) a country house, which has remained in the family down to the present time, the last of the race dying about two years ago. Losing their fortune, they became innkeepers, and for a century the Red Horse has flourished, going down from father to son. The place is just as I have described it, though no longer an inn. All this will account for the landlord's coat of arms, and his being a justice of the peace, and his being known as the squire, things that must sound strange in English ears....

Nor do I find that David How was compelled by a reverse of fortune to open his house to the public. He was one of a family of thirteen children of Samuel How....

It may be supposed that David How, one of so large a family, found it necessary to earn his living by a respectable calling, and the business of his grandfather in Marlborough would naturally suggest that of an innkeeper. He accordingly opened his house to the public, not the first man in Sudbury to do so, but destined to eclipse them all in the celebrity of his inn and the fame of his descendants. His house, then called simply "How's Tavern in Sudbury" to distinguish it from How's Tavern in Marlborough, soon became known...The original house was a small one...

David How kept the tavern until his death in 1746, when it passed into the hands of his son Ezekiel, by whom it was enlarged as increased business made necessary. Receiving the custom of the great highway and mail route from Boston westward, the old inn of one story was merged in a more elaborate structure of two stories with a gambrel roof and arms spreading on either side, receiving through its seventy-nine windows alike the summer's and the winter's sun.

An early American tavern (or ordinary) was an important meeting place and they were strictly supervised. Innkeepers were respectable members of the community. Taverns offered food and drink. An inn also offered accommodation.
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©Roberta Tuller 2020
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