The Jethro’s Tree tercentenary marker stood in Concord Center until late January. The Select Board ordered that sign and two others removed “for maintenance” amid controversy over their messaging. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Opinion: Concord’s tercentenary markers under a microscope

March 3, 2024

Concord’s tercentenary markers have become a cause célèbre recently, with multiple articles and opinion pieces published about them in this newspaper. I’ve kept track, because over the last year I’ve spent much time studying them on behalf of the Historical Commission. Please be reassured, neighbors, that although a seemingly hasty decision was made to take the markers down, it is supported by detailed research. 

The1930 project must be seen in the context of other roadside marker programs in this country. Virginia inaugurated the first in 1926; there are now more than 2,900 markers in that state. The second was the Massachusetts project to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Bay Colony. The commission responsible for it was inspired by Virginia — they sought advice from that state in planning. Today many states have ongoing roadside marker programs featuring signs in a recognizable style. 

Though they look similar, the tercentenary markers stand apart from the others. The number made — 264 — was finite (half are missing). Most tell stories about pre-1750 history, often from a one-sided perspective that champions the struggle of English colonizers while suppressing facts about Native resistance against the dispossession of their homelands.  

While other states (Pennsylvania for example) are reviewing messaging on old markers, correcting or removing those that are inaccurate or offensive, no single authority has assumed responsibility for content review in Massachusetts. Elsewhere new markers are being created to address underrepresented history. Instead, the tercentenary markers are stagnant, outdated purveyors of information. Worst of all, they are capped with the offensive imagery of the Massachusetts coat of arms (encourage state reps to restart the effort to resolve this disgraceful problem!). 

It’s irresponsible to keep misleading signage on public view. The myth told on one about a misunderstood land transaction made under an ancient oak affiliated with someone named Jethro may seem charming, but it isn’t based on documented evidence. Nothing about Jethro is said on the marker. Present at that meeting, which was probably held at Peter Bulkeley’s house (in 1637, not in 1635), were two Native men with that given English name, a father and his son. The elder Tantamous (Jethro’s Algonquin name) was wrongly accused of murder during King Philip’s War and unjustifiably hanged in Boston from a different tree in 1676. Earlier that year 58 Native people were forcefully taken from Concord and interned on Deer Island — many were subsequently sold into slavery. This disgraceful abduction was our town’s most shameful moment. Local Indigenous history was obscured by the tercentenary markers’ authors. 

Hopefully homes will be found for the markers where they can be better explained as historical artifacts. Finding the best ways to share Concord’s illustrious (but sometimes difficult) history accurately and inclusively will be ongoing.  

Concord is the first town to take a hard look at what was being told on their markers and to act — hopefully this will set an example for others. I’m happy to share my report with those interested in their history. Please contact me at to request a copy. 

Nancy Fresella-Lee 

Walden Street