Brookline's beginnings were rural; its land was originally parceled out to citizens of Boston as allotment farmlands in the 1630's. As allotment holders found it convenient to live close to their crops and livestock, a settlement grew up around the "Muddy River Hamlet". By the end of the seventeenth century, its inhabitants had built a school house, laid out three major roads, obtained exemption from paying taxes to Boston, and were petitioning the Massachusetts General Court for independence.
After three attempts, a petition to be a separate town, signed by 32 freeholders, was granted on November 13, 1705. The Muddy River hamlet was formally incorporated as the Town of Brookline. Samuel Sewall, son of Judge Sewall of Salem Witch Trials fame, lent the community his services as the first Town Clerk and, it is thought, the name of his family's "Brooklin" lands, which lay between the Charles and Muddy Rivers. A Town Meeting and Selectmen governed the Town, then, and still do today.
The residents of Brookline in the early eighteenth century were almost all farmers, many cultivating lands inherited from their fathers or acquired through marriage. Some of their names, such as Heath, Winchester, Clark, Aspinwall, and Devotion, remain with us today as street and neighborhood identifications. Zabdiel Boylston of Brookline, a physician, and uncle of John Adams, earned initial notoriety and enduring fame by introducing inoculation against smallpox to the American colonies in 1721.