Benjamin F. Arrington.

Municipal history of Essex County in Massachusetts (Volume 2) online

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A classified work, devoted to the County's remarkable

growth in all lines of human endeavor;

more especially to within a

period of fifty years













Taken prisoner in Indian raid, March 15, 1697. Slew

nine of her captors in camp at night, and

returned to her people in Haverhill



The story of an old New England town like Haverhill, rich in tra-
ditions, events, history and active participation in great historical move-
ments, can be told within the limits of this article only by selection from
its records, and not in full detail. It was the sixth Essex plantation to
be established, Salem (1626), Lynn (1629), Ipswich (1633), Newbury
(1635), and Rowley (1639) being settled earlier. The exact list of the
first settlers and the exact date of its settlement, whether 1640 or 1641,
are unknown, since records of the very earliest years either were not kept
or were lost. We know, however, that in response to the request of the
Rev. Nathaniel Ward and his son-in-law, Giles Firman, both of Ipswich,
the General Court on May 13, 1640, made grant to "Mr. Ward and New-
berry men" of a new plantation on the Merrimack, giving them choice of
location at Pentucket (later Haverhill) or Cochichewick (later Andover),
"provided they return ansv/er within three weeks from the 21st present,
& that they build there before the next Courte." Evidently they return-
ed answer, selecting Pentucket, and made a beginning of building in the
surmner of 1640 ; for at the next General Court, meeting October 7, 1640,
commissioners were appointed to view the bounds between "Mr. Ward's
plantation" and Colchester (later Salisbury). A similar order by the
General Court, June 2, 1641, appointed a committee "to set out the
bounds between Salisbury & Pantucket, ali: Haverhill. They are to
determine the bounds which Mr. Ward &, his company are to enjoy as a
town or village if they have 6 houses up by the next General Court in the
8th m, (October)." This order contains the first mention of the name
chosen for the new settlement, Haverhill, and marks the desire of the
Rev. Mr. Ward to perpetuate in the Nev/ World the name of the old town
in England whence he came and where generations of his family had
lived. It is probable that the number of settlers in the new plantation
was very small and the houses very few in the summer of 1641, for the
order contains the condition "if they have 6 houses up by the next Gen-
eral Court." Nathaniel Ward had sought the establishment of this settle-
ment, not for himself, but in the interests of his son-in-law, Giles Firman,
a physician, and of his son, John Ward, a clergyman. Firman did not
remove to Haverhill, but the Rev. John Ward, accompanied by John
Fawn and Hugh Sherratt, went from Ipswich to Haverhill in 1641. Of
the early settlers it is possible that James Davis, John Robinson, Abra-
ham Tyler and Joseph Merrie settled in Haverhill in 1640 ; it is, probable
that in addition to John Ward, John Fawn and Hugh Sherratt, Job Clem-
ents, William White, Samuel Guile and Richard Littlehale became set-
tlers in 1641 ; and it is certain that in addition to these, Robert Clements,
Tristram Coffjoi and Thomas Davis were dwellers here in 1642.

When the first settlers came from Newbury and Ipswich up the
Merrimack river to the site of the Indian village of Pentucket, no red
man dwelt there and no wigwam stood there. Doubtless the place had
been desolated by that fatal epidemic of 1616-17, under which whole
Indian villages wasted away and the New England tribes were reduced
to feeble remnants of their fonner strength. Traces of their settlement

Note — This excellent narrative, closing on page 481, is contributed.


in Pentucket existed in stone arrow heads and the fragments of stone
tools, the bones of their dead, and, so tradition says, a single abandoned
wigwam in the East meadow. But though no Indians occupied the local-
ity or disputed their possession, the Colonists recognized the proprietary
rights as belonging to Passaconaway's tribe, and as soon as they could
meet the representatives of the great chief, they bought the territory
comprised in their plantation. This deed, called the Indian deed, dated
November 15, 1642, conveyed to the settlers a tract of land along the
Menimack, extending eight miles west from Little River and six miles
east from the same bound, and six miles north, for three pounds and ten
shillings — a great triangle of land, from which Methuen (including the
present territory of Lawrence north of the Merrimack) was set off by
the General Court, December 8, 1729, and a very large tract, now em-
braced in the New Hampshire towns of Salem, Hampstead, Plaistow and
Atkinson, containing nearly one-third of the population, property and
population of Haverhill, was separated by the establishment of the boun-
dary line between Massachusetts and New Hampshire by decree of the
King in Council, August 5, 1740.

When the first adventurous settlers from Newbury and Ipswich
came up the river to establish their new homes at Pentucket, they
moored their pinnace where a brook — Mill Brook, now lost to sight, but
its location marked by Mill street that lay west of it — came purling down
to join the Merrimack ; and they chose the land close by, stretching west
along the river from the present location of Pentucket Cemetery, for their
dwellings. These homes were doubtless rude houses of logs, with the
crevices filled with clay, and each had about it a lot of a few acres, where-
in they planted their orchards and made their gardens. The Blackstone
and russet apples grew there, and the dear English flowers, heartsease
and mignonette, rue and rosemary, for all these were brought from the
Old England to the New in the sailing vessels that brought the Colonists.

There were apportioned to each settler grass lands and grazing lands
remote from their homes and often very widely separated. Daniel Ladd's
"accommodations," for instance, were scattered from East meadow, near
the Whittier homestead, to the Spicket meadows in the present confines
of Methuen. The courage, energy, perseverance and strong will of
these earliest settlers should never be forgotten, for they planted a
colony where the wilderness had to be conquered and the soil made to
yield a living, and the necessary "accommodations" could be reached only
through roadless forests and across bridgeless streams, while packs of
roaming wolves, eager to attack the solitary settler or his flocks, and the
savage Indians, more cunning and less merciful than the wild beasts,
created conditions of constant danger and fear.

The first winter in the new settlement, 1640-1641, was one of ter-
rible severity. The depth of snow was very great, and so cold was it
that Boston Harbor was frozen over, and for six weeks passable for
oxen and loaded carts. The hardships of those earliest years in the
little hamlet are pathetically told in the death of thirteen children before
the year 1644, and of twenty-seven other children and seven adults be-
fore the year 1633. And yet the colony grew —

"Nor fire, nor frost, nor foe could kill
The Saxon energy of will."

Stem in their religious faith, the Colonists worshipped under the
leadership of their "Learned, Ingenuous and Religious" minister, John


Ward, at first under a great spreading oak or in the houses of the settle-
ment. In the same year (1645) in which Haverhill was incorporated
into a town — the twenty-third town in the colony — the first church was
formed with a membership of fourteen members, eight men and six wo-
men. Three years later, in 1648, the first meeting house was built, "on
the lower end of the Mill lot," a tiny log structure twenty-six feet long
and twenty wide. On the front of this house the heads of slain maraud-
ing wolves were often nailed, and on its doors the laws and public notices
were always posted. In it, after the services, there followed the trial
of offenders, and there were heard the penitent confessions of those who
had transgressed.

While the settlers doubtless from the first transacted public business
by assembling together, the first recorded such meeting was held in
1643. In that year the General Court divided the colony into four coun-
ties, Norfolk, Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk. Haverhill, lying north of
the Merrimack, was grouped with Salisbury, Hampton, Exeter, Dover
and Portsmouth (Strawberry Bank), in forming Norfolk county. It
was transferred to Essex county by an order of the General Court, Feb-
ruary 4, 1680. The first "clerk of the writs" and "town Recorder"
(1643) was Richard Littlehale. The first birth and the first death in the
town was that of the infant, John Robinson (1641), whose brief life lasted
but three weeks. The first recorded marriage was that of Job Clement
and Margaret Dummer, December 25, 1645. The first selectmen, chosen
October 29, 1646, were Thomas Hale, Henry Palmer, Thomas Davis,
James Davis and William White.

The settlement grew steadily in numbers and became organized in
the first ten years of its existence (1640 to 1650), and at the end of that
period it had a considerable population, with possessions of cattle and
horses and cultivated fields, with a town organization and a church,
whose minister was a revered and influential leader. Much of the rec-
ords of the early years has to do with the apportioning of land and its
changing ownership, and into them are written, too, the efforts to bring
into the town men skilled in the industries needed in the community:
John Hoitt, a brick maker, comes from Ipswich to Haverhill (1650), the
town granting him three-fourths of an acre of land and thq clay pits (in
the West Parish) in consideration that he become a resident; Isaac
Cousins is offered "a six acre house lot, with all accommodations propor-
tionable (Dec. 16, 1651), provided he live in the town five years, fol-
lowing his trade of a smith." John Webster is offered the same (July 4,
1653), provided that he follow the trade of a blacksmith "in doing the
town's work when they have occasion" ; his brother, Stephen, a tailor, is
induced to remove here from Newbury at about the same time. A ferry
across the Merrimack was established in 1648, the place being just west
of the present fire station on Water street (nearly opposite Kent street) ,
the ferryman, Thomas Hale, and the rates "one penny for a passenger,
two pence for cattel under two years old, and four pence for such as were
over that age." In 1660 it was ordered in the November town meeting
that the land "behind the meeting house should be reserved for a burial
ground", the land now in the central part of Pentucket Cemetery. In
the same year, probably, the first public school in the town was estab-
lished, the teacher being Thomas Wasse, and his salary ten pounds a
year. He held this place for fully thirteen years, but his later services
were given to Newbury, where he died. May 18, 1691.

But while the foundations of the settlement were being made with


care and zeal, and there was the promise of a prosperous town in a
location so admirably chosen, there was one deterrent, the fear of attack
by the merciless Indian. During the first seventy years of its existence,
Haverhill was a frontier settlement, the clearings in which its few houses
were set, — no more than thirty in the village, and several, more venture-
some, lying scattered within a mile or two of the village — were bounded
on the north by an unbroken forest that reached even to the St. Francis
river in Canada, one hundred and fifty miles away. And this so vast
forest, harbored and protected, was swiftly traversed by a foe steal-
thier, more treacherous and more cruel than the beasts of prey. Un-
doubtedly the fear of the savages dwelt ever in the hearts of the Colon-
ists. A stockade was built around the meeting house, and the men set
sentinels to watch, and carried their muskets to the church as well as to
the field. Yet within the first thirty-five years of the life of the settle-
ment (1640-1675) there were no signs of Indian hostilities, and so appre-
hension became dulled, the watch was less constant — the stockade was
suffered to fall into decay. This period of safety and calm drew to a
close with increasing troubles in the Colony between the English and
the Indians and signs of hostility by the red men, and the outbreak of
King Philip's War, opening with the butchering of the men of Swanzey,
as they were returning from church on Sunday, June 24, 1675, followed
by attacks on isolated places and homes as widely separated as Hadley
and Deerfield and Saco and Wells, kindled into new and stronger life the
fear of the Indians. Although in this war, which ended in 1678, no at-
tack was made on Haverhill, rumors and reports created constant appre-
hension, and the town was kept active and guarded, and by order of the
Court one-fifth of the men were continually on scout duty. On May 2,
1676, Ephraim Kingsbury was killed by the Indians, the first person in
Haverhill to be thus slain, and on the following day Thomas Kimball
was killed while defending his home on the road leading from South
Groveland to Boxford, and his wife and five children were taken captive.
In 1688 war broke out afresh on the frontiers, the Indians charging that
the English had not kept the treaty of 1678, and terror spread her dark
wings over the isolated settlement on the Merrimack. In August 13,
1689, a party of Indians made their swift appearance in the northern part
of the town and killed Daniel Bradley, near where the Atkinson depot
now is. In the same attack they shot Daniel Singletary, living nearby,
and captured his son. In the following October, Indians again appeared
in the same part of the town, and wounded unto death Ezra Rolfe, who
lived near the site of the present North Parish Meeting House. So ter-
rified were the inhabitants of Haverhill that in the next town meeting,
March 24, 1690, they seriously considered abandoning the settlement
and withdrawing to some place less remote from protection. The select-
men made provision for six garrisons and four houses of refuge, separa-
ting these so widely that each part of the town was provided for. The
stories of those days have come down the years on the lips of tradition,
notably the youthful bravery of the boy captives, Isaac Bradley and
Joseph Whittaker; the prowess of John Keezar; the mysterious fate of
the boys, Thomas and Jonathan Haynes, and the thrilling fortunes of the
twice-captured little Joseph Haynes and young Daniel Ladd, the "marked
man" ; the heroism of Hannah Duston and Mary Neff ; the awful experi-
ences of the brave Hannah Bradley ; and the attack and massacre in the
very centre of the settlement on August 29, 1708. These stories should
be read in fuller detail than the limits of this article permits them to be


written, in order that we may know by what courage and endurance and
suffering and sacrifices the town was held in those dread days when

"A yell the dead might wake to hear
Swelled on the night air, far and clear;
Then smote the Indian tomahawk
On crashing door and shattering lock;"

and neither compassion nor mercy stayed the hands of the cruel foe.

The attack on Haverhill on March 15, 1697, made memorable by
the story of one of the captives, Hannah Duston, was made by a small
party of Indians, numbering no more than twenty, but the swiftness of
the savages, the paralyzing fear that their cries and appearance caused,
and the isolation of the houses attacked, made their v/ork bloody and de-
structive. Nine houses were burned, twenty-seven persons, of whom
thirteen were children, were killed, and thirteen prisoners were borne

Two miles northwest from the centre of the village was the fann of
Thomas Duston. Here, probably where Eudora street now is, he had
built a cottage in 1677, to which he brought his bride, Hannah Emerson,
whom he had man-ied in December of that year. Twenty years later, be-
cause the little house seemed too small for his growing family, — there
were seven children living then, and four had died previously, — selecting
a site still farther west, he began to build a larger and stronger house of
brick. On the eighth of March, 1697, a twelfth child was bom to Mrs.
Duston, and to care for the mother and the infant, Mrs. Mary Neif , whose
home was a mile nearer the village, had come to act as nurse.

It was the fifteenth of March. The wood fire on the hearth threw
its glow over the simple fuiTiishings of the humble home. It flickered
over the bed on which Mrs. Duston lay, weak and ill ; it gave faint color
to the piece of linen still in the loom, which she had been weaving be-
fore her illness ; it shone on the week-old baby in her anns, to whom she
had given the name Martha. With no apprehension of danger, Thomas
Duston had started to go on horseback to a distant part of his farm.
He had gone but a little distance when, with horror, he saw stealing
forth from the woods on the north a band of Indians, moving stealthily
but swiftly towards his house. He turned his horse, galloped back,
shouted to his children to flee, and tried to get his wife from bed, that
he might aid her to escape. There was not time. Urged by his wife to
save the children, he seized his musket, leaped on his horse and rode to
overtake them. At first, thinking that it v/as impossible to save all, he
planned to seize one or two from the group and ride rapidly away. But
when he came to his children, the father's heart could make no choice,
and he resolved to defend all and bring them to safety, or die with them.
Dismounting, he placed his horse between his children and the enemy,
rested his musket across the back of the animal, and bringing it swiftly to
bear on any Indian who came into the open — for they skulked behind
trees — he kept the foe at bay and brought all to the gariison: house of
Onesiphorus Marsh, a mile from his home.

In the Duston home the nurse, Mary Neff, had hastily cut the woven
cloth from the loom and wrapped the infant in it, and was starting in
flight when the Indians reached the door. They seized her and the child,
dragged Mrs. Duston from the bed, set fire to the house with fagots
from, the hearth, and started immediately, with the captives, in retreat.
The baby cried, and the mother saw a savage snatch it from the arms of


the nurse and dash it to death against a tree. Her eyes were dry, but
in her heart grief for her child was rivalled by hatred for its murderers.
With the Indians to whom these captives were given was an English boy,
Samuel Leonardson, who had been captured in Worcester in the autumn
of 1695, and who had learned the language and customs of the Indians.
Through him Mrs. Duston learned what the fate of herself and Mrs. Neff
was to be — that they were to be made to run the gauntlet, naked, and then
sold into captivity. Cool and undaunted, they planned a different fate.
Under their directions, the boy asked of the unsuspecting savages how
they struck to kill at a single blow, and how they took the scalp lock.
While they were encamped on a small island in the Merrimack, a few
miles above Concord, on the night of March 30, just before dawn, and
while the sleep of the camp was soundest, the three captives arose and
gliding among their enemies killed ten of them by striking them as the
boy had been taught. A wounded squaw escaped, and an Indian boy
was spared. The three captives gathered what provisions were in the
wigwam, scuttled all the canoes save one, and in that embarked on the
freshet-swelled waters of the river. Hardly had they pushed off from
land when Mrs. Duston bethought herself that the story of so remark-
able a deed might not be believed without proof. So they turned back,
scalped the Indians whom they had slain, wrapped these grim proofs of
their deed in the piece of linen that had been about the infant when it
was killed, and once more pushed out into the river. The frail canoe
brought the captives safely down the river to Haverhill, and they landed
where Bradley's brook joins the Merrimack. After waiting a few days,
to rest and gain strength, Mrs. Duston, accompanied by her husband,
Mrs. Neff and the captive boy, journeyed to Boston. They went to peti-
tion aid from the Provincial Government, and they carried in proof of
their story the scalps which they had brought away from the wigwam.
The House of Representatives voted on June 8 "that Thomas Duston in
behalf of his wife shall be allowed out of the publick treasury Tv/enty
Five pounds ; and Mary Neff the sum of Twelve pounds Ten shillings, and
the young man concerned in the same action the like sum of Twelve
pounds Ten shillings." Mrs. Duston lived long after this adventure,
dying in 1736, at the age of seventy-nine. In her letter to the church,
asking admission, she quaintly says: "I am Thankful for my Cap-
tivity ; 'twas the Comfortablest time I ever had," meaning that God made
His word and His promises then to be of most comfort to her. She died
at the home of her son, near where the monumental boulder on Monu-
ment street now stands, but of her place of burial there is neither record
nor tradition.

The last and most disastrous attack on Haverhill was made on
August 29, 1708, just before sunrise. In the hostilities of Queen Anne's
War, an attack was planned by the French in Canada on New England.
It was the intention to destroy Portsmouth first, and then to spread deso-
lation over the whole frontier. The English were warned, scouts and
soldiers Vv^ere set to protect the New Hampshire towns, and the original
plan was frustrated. Then the French and Indians, two hundred or more
in number, turned their plans to an attack on Haverhill, a hamlet of less
than thirty houses, and defended by very few soldiers. On this August
morning, just as the first flushings of light shone in the east, John Keezar,
an eccentric man, a great walker and leaper— it was told that he had
walked to Boston and back in a night, and that with a heavy pail of milk
in_each hand he could leap over a cart, — returning from Amesbury, saw


the savages emerging from the woods close by the village, and near
where the Soldiers' Monument now stands. At full speed he rushed
down the hill to the heart of the village, shouting the alarm, and at the
meeting house on the Common he discharged his musket to alarm the
town. The people were asleep and unguarded. Awakened by Keezar's
shouting and the report of his musket, they heard immediately follow-
ing it the terrific yell of the foe. Hideous in their war paint, and with
demoniac shrieks, they came, dividing and scattering, as was their cus-
tom, that they might at one time make many attacks. One party rushed
to the house of the minister, Benjamin Rolfe, standing where the High
School building now is. Three soldiers formed the garrison of this
house, but they were craven and useful through fear. Rolfe leaped from
his bed to defend his home, but a shot through the door wounded him
in the elbow. The door yielded, and the foe, pursuing him through the
house, killed the minister by the well at the back door. The three sol-
diers, with Mrs. Rolfe and her youngest child, were victims of the toma-
hawks of the Indians. Two other children, however, were saved by the
quickness and wit of Hagar, a servant, who carried them to the cellar
and concealed them beneath two tubs, while she herself hid behind a
barrel. The Indians pillaged the cellar, and even trod on the foot of
one of the children, but without discovering them. Anne Whitaker, who
was staying in the house, hid herself in an apple-chest and escaped.

West of the meeting house stood the home of Thomas Hartshome.
The foe attacked this, killed Mr. Hartshome and his two sons as they
ran out, seized an infant that was in the attic and threw it from the win-
dow, but failed to find Mrs. Hartshome and the other children, who had

Online LibraryBenjamin F. ArringtonMunicipal history of Essex County in Massachusetts (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 59)