Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Question of Boundaries Part II - Fall River, Massachusetts

In 1746, in a confirmed a decision by King George II, the colony of Rhode Island was awarded lands previously held by the Massachusetts Colony. By this decision the towns of Little Compton, Tiverton, Bristol, Barrington, Warren and Cumberland became part of Rhode Island.

Although neither Massachusetts or Rhode Island was satisfied with the King's decision no further action was taken by either colony. We can only assume this is because there were increasing tensions between the Crown and the colonies that in 1776 would result in the Revolutionary War. When the colonies secured their freedom there was still no action, although both Massachusetts and Rhode Island surveyed the boundaries with Massachusetts claiming that Rhode Island was infringing on its rightful land.

Perhaps so shortly after the founding of our country there was no means to settle such a dispute, or perhaps there was simply too many other things that the young country had to resolve first. Whatever the reason the boundary between Tiverton, Rhode Island and Freetown, Massachusetts remained just south of present day Colombia Street as laid out by Rhode Island in 1746.

In 1803 the Southern part of Freetown was separated and incorporated as a new town, Fall River. In 1804 the new town had its named change to Troy and again back to Fall River in 1834.

As a town Fall River grew slowly at first
. When incorporated there were but 1,000 residents and 7 years later the census recorded only 1,296. The census of 1820 recorded only 1,594 residents but the 1820's would represent a boom in Fall River's growth. During the 20's several mill complexes were built and with these new mills came the need for mill workers. Fall River's population exploded to 4,159 in 1830 and would increase to 6,738 in 1840!

It is during this time frame that our next border dispute takes place. In 1832 Rhode Island filed a bill against the Massachusetts in the U.S. Supreme Court. In legal action that would take 6 years to conclude the Court dismissed the case claiming 'want of jurisdiction'. It seems the opinion of the Court was that one state could not sue another state over "Contests for rights of sovereignty and jurisdiction"
Contests for rights of sovereignty and jurisdiction between states over any particular territory, are not, in my judgment, the subjects of judicial cognizance and control, to be recovered and enforced in an ordinary suit; and are, therefore, not within the grant of judicial power contained in the constitution.
Following the Supreme Court dismissal Rhode Island and Massachusetts appointed 6 commissioners, 3 per state to resolve the boundary issue. With 5 of the 6 commissioners coming to same conclusion, their recommendations were submitted to their respective legislatures but just when it seems the long contested question was about to be settled it was delayed once again.

The people of Fall River appointed a committee to petition the Massachusetts Legislature to not allow any settlement that was less advantageous than granted by King George II in 1741. They further argued that the commissioners of Rhode Island in 1746 had failed to lay down the boundary in accordance to the instruction of the King. The result, they said, was that a thickly settled area had been divided and the result was that northern Tiverton, although closely aligned with Fall River fell under the jurisdiction of a different state.

As a result of this committee's actions the Massachusetts legislature refused to ratify the decision of its commissioners. Both states looking to resolve the long standing dispute filed bills of equity with Supreme Court in 1852, both agreeing to abide by whatever decision the Court should reach.

Back to Part I On to Part III


bmcmolo said...

Was there ever a part 3? I found this blog searching for info on the Mass/RI border last night - great stuff! (I'm a Rhodey ex-pat who once worked for a season in Fall River (at Capital Records Warehouse) so I like checking in on home.

Lefty said...

Thanks! Sadly I don't think I ever did a part 3. I was writing it with a another blogger writing the RI view of it and he lost interest and I never wrapped it up.

Please check back.. I've been in a blogging slump of late but promise I haven't stopped!