Natick was first settled in 1651 by John Eliot, a Puritan missionary born in Widford, Hertfordshire, England who received a commission and funds from England’s Long Parliament to settle the Massachusetts Indians on both sides of the Charles River, on land deeded from the settlement at Dedham. They were called Praying Indians - Eliot was best known for attempting to preserve the culture (minus the religion) of the Native Americans by putting them in thirteen planned towns where they could continue by their own rule, with Natick as the political and spiritual center. Eliot and Praying Indian translators printed America’s first written Bible in the Algonquian language.The colonial government placed such settlements in a ring of villages around Boston as a defensive strategy. Natick was the first and best documented of such settlements. The land was granted by the General Court, part of the Dedham Grant.
A school was set up, a government established, and the Indians were encouraged to convert to Christianity. In November, during King Philip’s War, the Natick Indians were sent to Deer Island. Many died of disease and cold, and the Indians who survived found their homes destroyed. The Indian village did not fully recover, and the land held in common by the Indian community was slowly sold off to white settlers to cover debts, and, by 1785, most of the Natick Indians had drifted away.
In 1775, both English and Praying Indian citizens of Natick participated in the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, as well as serving in the Continental Army. The names of the Praying Indian soldiers from Natick are memorialized on a stone marker, along with all of Natick’s Revolutionary War veterans, on a stone marker on Pond Street near downtown Natick.
The town was officially incorporated in 1781. Henry Wilson, born in 1812 and eighteenth Vice President of the United States, lived most of his life in Natick as a shoemaker and schoolteacher, and is buried there. He is the namesake of one of Natick’s middle schools.
Though Natick was primarily a farming town, the invention of the sewing machine in 1858 led to the growth of several shoe factories. The business flourished and peaked by 1880, when Natick, with twenty-three operating factories, was third in the nation in the quantity of shoes produced. The shoes made in Natick were primarily heavy work shoes with only one or two companies adding lighter dress shoes to their line. Natick was famous for its brogan, a heavy ankle-high boot worn by soldiers in the American Civil War. The wound core for a more resilient ball was developed by John W. Walcott and combined with the figure-eight stitching devised by Col. William A. Cutler. It was manufactured by the firm of H. Harwood & Sons in their factory built in 1858 - the first plant in the world for the manufacture of baseballs. In 1988 the H. Harwood & Sons factory was converted into baseball factory condominiums.
In 1874, a great fire in downtown Natick demolished 18 business blocks, two shoe factories, the Town Hall, Natick’s only fire engine house and the Congregational Church, as well as many private homes. Though no lives were lost, the loss of property was greater in proportion to the town’s wealth than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1875, Natick’s new Central Fire Station was completed on Summer Street and opened with grand ceremony on the same city block where the great fire was first discovered. The Central Fire Station is now the home of a private non-profit community performing arts center called The Center for Arts in Natick (TCAN).
Miles 8 through 12 of the Boston Marathon run through Natick on Patriots Day every year along Route 135/Central St., and thousands of residents and visitors line the road to watch.