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Dedham is home to the Fairbanks House, the oldest surviving timber-frame house in the United States, scientifically dated to 1637.

The first man-made canal in North America, Mother Brook, was created in Dedham in 1639. Although both are slow-moving rivers, they are at different elevations.The difference in elevation made the canal's current swift enough to power several local mills.In 1818, though citizens were still taxed for the support of ministers and other "public teachers of religion", Dedham set a precedent toward the separation of church and state.Main articles: History of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1635–1792; History of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1793–1999; History of Dedham, Massachusetts, 2000–present; and History of Dedham, Massachusetts in television and film Settled in 1635 by people from Roxbury and Watertown, Dedham was incorporated in 1636.It became the county seat of Norfolk County when the county was formed from parts of Suffolk County on March 26, 1793.

When the Town was originally incorporated, the residents wanted to name it Contentment.The Massachusetts General Court overruled them and named the town after Dedham, Essex in England, where some of the original inhabitants were born.At the first public meeting on August 15, 1636, eighteen men signed the town covenant.They swore that they would "in the fear and reverence of our Almighty God, mutually and severally promise amongst ourselves and each to profess and practice one truth according to that most perfect rule, the foundation whereof is ever lasting love." They also agreed that "we shall by all means labor to keep off from us all such as are contrary minded, and receive only such unto us as may be probably of one heart with us, [and such] as that we either know or may well and truly be informed to walk in a peaceable conversation with all meekness of spirit, [this] for the edification of each other in the knowledge and faith of the Lord Jesus…" The covenant also stipulated that if differences were to arise between townsmen, they would seek arbitration for resolution and each would pay his fair share for the common good.In November 1798, David Brown led a group in Dedham protesting the federal government; they set up a liberty pole, as people had before the American Revolution.It carried the words, "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President," referring to then-President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson.