In 1850, it still retained its graceful proportions; its great limbs were intact, and it showed few traces of age. Within the past twenty-five years, it has been gradually breaking up.
In 1844, its girth, three feet from the ground, where its circumference is least, was twelve feet two and a half inches. In 1884, at the same point, it measures fourteen feet one inch; a gain so slight that the rings of annual growth must be difficult to trace—an evidence of waning vital force. The grand subdivisions of the trunk are all sadly crippled; unsightly bandages of zinc mask the progress of decay; the symptoms of approaching dissolution are painfully evident, especially in the winter season. In summer, the remaining vitality expends itself in a host of branchlets which feather the limbs, and give rise to a false impression of vigor.
Never has tree been cherished with greater care, but its days are numbered. A few years more or less, and, like Penn’s Treaty Elm and the famous Charter Oak, it will be numbered with the things that were.
When John Eliot had become a power among the Indians, with far-reaching sagacity he judged it best to separate his converts from the whites, and accordingly, after much inquiry and toilsome search, gathered them into a community at Natick—an old Indian name formerly interpreted as “a place of hills,” but now generally admitted to mean simply “my land.” Anticipating the policy which many believe must eventually be adopted with regard to the entire Indian question, Eliot made his settlers land-owners, conferred upon them the right to vote and hold office, impressed upon them the duties and responsibilities of citizenship, and taught them the rudiments of agriculture and the mechanic arts.
In the summer of 1651, the Indians built a framed edifice, which answered, as is the case to-day in many small country towns, the double purpose of a schoolroom on week-days, and a sanctuary on the Sabbath. Professor C.E. Stowe once called that building the first known theological seminary of New England, and said that for real usefulness it was on a level with, if not above, any other in the known world.
It is assumed that two oaks, one of the red, and the other of the white, species, of which the present Eliot Oak is the survivor, were standing near this first Indian church. The early records of Eliot’s labors make no mention of these trees. Adams, in his Life of Eliot, says: “It would be interesting if we could identify some of the favorite places of the Indians in this vicinity,” but fails to find sufficient data. Bigelow (or Biglow, according to ancient spelling), in his History of Natick, 1830, states: “There are two oaks near the South Meeting-house, which have undoubtedly stood there since the days of Eliot.” It is greatly to be regretted that the writer did not state the evidence upon which his conclusion was based.