John Fletcher was born in Acton to James (a young Revolutionary War soldier) and Lydia (White) Fletcher on July 21, 1790. In Acton’s vital records, we found siblings Betsy (b.1786), James (b. 1788), Daniel (1797-1799), Lydia (b. 1800), and several who died young and whose names were not recorded. James (the father) was involved in the business of Acton and donated a piece of his land in 1806 to be part of the Town Common. The family first lived on what is now Hammond Street but then moved to a farm near the first meeting house (off of Nagog Hill Road near what was then the Brooks Tavern). John’s son, (Rev. James), later wrote about their home site, “Here stood for many years, from 1794 on, the Fletcher homestead, where James Fletcher, the father of Deacon John Fletcher, and his brother James and Betsey, the sister, lived during childhood up to the years of maturity. A few feet from this ancient cellar hole to the west is the site of the first Fletcher russet apple-tree. Childhood’s memories easily recall the ancient unpainted cottage, the quaint old chimney with the brick-oven on the side, and the fire-place large enough for the burning of logs of size and length, and in front to the southeast a vegetable garden unmatched at the time for its culture and richness, and a large chestnut-tree to the south, planted by Deacon John, in early life.” (Acton in History, p. 247)
Though records of John Fletcher’s youth are hard to come by, we do have a physical description (from much later military pension records) that he had fair skin, black hair, and brown eyes. He no doubt attended the school nearby and would have helped on his father’s farm. As he got older, records show that he and his brother James Jr. served in the local militia. In April, 1808, John was already serving as a corporal in Capt. Simon Hosmer’s Company that became known as the Davis Blues. In 1810, John was chosen to be sergeant, and in 1813, he became the company clerk. By that time the country was at war. When the governor of Massachusetts called for troops to defend Boston in the fall of 1814, John Fletcher served as sergeant and clerk of what was by then Capt. Silas Jones’ Company. Brother James Fletcher was a corporal. According to Fletcher’s History, (p. 277-278) the company was first to report to headquarters and met with an enthusiastic reception as it marched through the streets of Boston. The British never attacked, however, and the company saw no action. The War of 1812 concluded soon thereafter. John continued to serve in the militia and eventually was made captain. Town meeting records refer to him as Captain John Fletcher in the years 1821 and 1822.
In June 1812, John’s brother James was initiated into the Masonic Lodge in Concord, and John followed in June 1813. Both men were proposed for membership by Simon Hosmer. In 1814, father James and James Jr. bought a farm from neighbor Paul Brooks, including a house, barn and cooper shop. Presumably, the intention was to expand the father’s farming operation and/or to establish James on a farm of his own. Unfortunately, James Sr. died on Dec. 9, 1815 by the falling of a tree (according to his tombstone and Fletcher’s History, p. 246), an event that must have shocked and greatly changed life for the family.
By 1814, we know that John Fletcher was already in the shoe business, as he listed his occupation as shoemaker when called up to serve in the War. In 1815, the town of Acton paid him $4.67 for providing shoes for the poor. We have not yet discovered details of the early years of his shoe enterprise, such as how he learned the trade, his sources of materials, and when he started hiring outside labor.
In March 1819, James Fletcher Jr. sold to his brother John for $250 a half of his share of the land he held, including his father’s two farms, a woodlot, and “all other lots of every kind which I am now in posion [possession] of”. The records of the brothers’ buying, borrowing, and selling of property are voluminous and hard to pin down completely, but the impression one gets is that John managed to pay off his debts but James may have had more trouble and needed cash infusions at times.
John and his brother James established a store together. Its exact beginnings are a little unclear from the records, but it was definitely operating before 1822 and probably by 1820 when James Fletcher’s census listing included two household members engaged in commerce. According to John’s son Rev. James Fletcher’s History (p. 272), the brothers’ first store was on the site of the present-day Memorial Library. We found from a deed dated Sept. 28, 1820 that James and John Fletcher, traders, bought a store near the meetinghouse from Francis Tuttle for $325. It was apparently quitclaimed by Widow Dorothy Jones on Dec. 7, 1821. (Land Records, Vol. 308, p. 232 & 233)
In January 1822, Worcester’s Massachusetts Spy ran an ad offering a reward to be paid by James and John Fletcher to help track down the criminal(s) who, on the morning of January 22, burned their store “after having been robbed (as is supposed) of its contents.” The brothers would pay $100 for “the detection of the Incendiary or Incendiaries, and the recovery of the Property -- or $50 for either.” (Jan. 30, 1822, p. 4) Surette’s History of Corinthian Lodge noted that on Feb. 4, 1822, “Bros. John & James Fletcher, of Acton, having met with a severe loss by fire, requested assistance from the Lodge, and a subscription paper was opened and signed by the members present.” (p. 128) Fletcher’s History says specifically that the store was on the library site when it “was burnt.”(p. 267)