John Farmer.

An historical memoir of Billerica, in Massachusetts. Containing notices of the principal events in the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of the town, from its first settlement to 1816 online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryJohn FarmerAn historical memoir of Billerica, in Massachusetts. Containing notices of the principal events in the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of the town, from its first settlement to 1816 → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook










An Historical Memoir

of Billerica.

:i'^ ■ ■■ - A -.«■••*. r^














Published by Request.



<• / f c















Published by Request,






ttlLLERICA, in the County of Middlesex, was
known to the first European inhabitants by the name of
Shawshin, which it probably received from its proximity to
the river of this name. To the aboriginal inhabitants, it
appears to have been known by the name of Shawshinock,*
or Souhegenock, a name applied to the river Shawshin in an
ancient plan. Its present name is derived from Billericay,
in the county of Essex, in England, from whence it is sup-
posed that several of the first inhabitants emigrated. By
them it was written Billericay in the earliest records of the
town. It is known that some of the first settlers were from
Raleigh, a town contiguous to Billericay, in England, and
t}iis, with other circumstances, affords a presumption that
5?veral were actually from the latter place.t

A concise view of the IcgtU origin of the town may b^
gratifying to the curious enquirer. The means of informa-
tion on this subject must be derived from copies of original
grants, which fortunately have been preserved! Nothing

• I fimi in the reewds, " Shawshinock, or Billcrica," and in an old plan,
" Souhegenock river," which it is thought can be no other thah S hawihin

f BiLLKRiCA wa* about the tifelfth original town settled in the county of
Middletex. It i^ ranked among the "noted towns" of New-England, in
Herman Molls' Folio Geography, printed in 1701. It it 18 miles north of
Bolton, and is watered bjr Cencord and Shawshin rivers, which run northeast-
wardly into Merrimac river. The number of inhabitants at the commence-
fbent of the century might have been 870. The limits were then much more
•xtensive than they are at present. It is now surrounded by Chelmsford,
Tewksbuiy, Wilmington, Burlington, Bedford, Carlisle, all of which adjoin it.
Anciently, it was bounded by Chelmsford, Andover, Woburn, Cambridge and
y oncord. From an ancient plan in mjr possession, apparently taken in confor-
mity to the original grant to Cambridge, the length from Andover line to
Concord was arioout 1 1 miles ; the greatest breadth from Shawshin to the
mouth of Concord river, 6| miles, and the leaft breadth from Shawl^in t6
Concord river 3i miles. The town, lying on both sides of Concord river, is
at this time feven miles in length, and of various breadth, and contains
aboat 17,000 acre*. " j ' •

satisfactory occurs in history. In 1642, a grant of all the
land* between Concord aad ohivvshiii rivers, and extending
to Merrimac river, was made by the General Court to the
town of Cambridge, upon the conditioji " that they should
erect a village there within five years, which should not ex-
tend so as to prejudice the villages of Charlestown and Co-
chittuate." From the nature of this grant, it appears proba-
ble that this was the first within tliese limits, that was made
by the General Court with a view of forming a township.
The next year, a second grant was made, without the express
condition of effecting a settlement as stipulated by the for-
mer. Several years passed away, before the inhabitants of
Cambridge availed themselves of the privileges conferred by
these grants. The last undoubtedly retarded the settlement, .
as the town of Cambridge was exempted from the condition
of forming a settlement within a limited time.

From the best evidence which can be obtained, it is infer-
red that tiie first settlement was made about the year 1653.
It was commenced by a number of respectable families ;
some from CamhHdge. but the g'-enter pT.rt were originally
from England. The following in!ormafion respecting some
of tlie mo3t prominent characters among the early inhabitants
is collected from authentic sources, yohn Parker, supposed
to have been born in England, was approved as clerk of the
writs, in this town, in December, 1657. He was one of the
first selectmen, and continued in that Otfice seven years. He
died, 14 June, 16G7. yoii.a KiUicd^e vva,» an inhabitant
as early as about 1659. From .him, it is said, have descend-
Cvi all of the name in New-England. Tradition informs us,
"that he had knowledge of the healing art." This knowl-
edge seems to have descended to his posterity in the eldest
branch of his family. He died, -18 October, 1676, leaving
five sons. John Kittredge, his oldest son, was a physician
in this town, and died, 27 April, 17 14, at the age of 49.
yohn Rogers was among the early inhabitants. He died, 25
January, 1686, leaving four sons. John Rogers, his oldest
son, from whom are descended all of tlie name now in town,
was killed by the Indians, in 1695. William French, born
in England, in 1604, it seems was an inhabitant of Cam-
bridge, but afterwards came to this town. He was a mili-
tary officer, and frequently solemnized marriages. He died,
20 November, 1681, in his 78th year. John. French, his
son, was an inhabitant in 1659, and died in October, 17 12,

• With the reservation of individual grants. See Appendix, article I.

aged about 78. George Farley, a resident at Woburn a few
years after bis emigration to this country, was one of the se-
lectmen seven years. He died, 27 December, 1693. Ralph
Hill, who died, 29 November, 1663, was an early inhabi-
tant, and one of the selectmen two years. Three of his sons,
Ralph, Jonathan and Nathaniel settled in this town at an
early period. Ralph Hill, his eldest son, was one of the
selectmen aJeven years, and a deputy to the General Court in
1693 and 1694. He died, 2 May, 1695. Samuel Manning
was selectman nine, and town clerk six years. In the years
1695 and 1696, he was elected a deputy to the General Court.
He died, 22 February, 1711. Simon Crosby was one of the
first innholders in town. Th« time when he first became an
inhabitant does not appear. He was admitted a member of
the church, 24 November, 1667, and consequently must
have been an inhabitant about that time. In several town
offices, he appears to have acquitted himself to general sat-
isfaction. He died after the year 17 14. yonathan Dan-
/orth, brother to the honorable Thomas Danforth,* was a
native of Framingham in England. He was distinguished
among the first settlers of this town, and had a principal
share in all its public transactions. He died, 7 September,
1712, aged 85. Jonathan Danforth, his son, died, 17 January,
171 1, aged 53. Reverend Samuel Whiting ^zs an inhabitant
as early as 1658. He was son of reverend Samuel Whiting
of Lynn, who married a daughter of the right honorable
Oliver St. Johnf of England. It is presumed that she was
his mother. $ The time of his birth has not been ascertained.
The records of Lynn have been examined for that purpose,
but give no information. Considering the time he graduat-
ed, it appears probable that he vnc^ bom in England. Of
the last two, a more particular acc<Jteit will be given under
the respective years of their death. Thomas Richardson
was from Woburn. He was accepted as an inhabitant, 26

♦Judge Sullivan, in his history of Maine, page 385, says that Thomas
Danforth of Cambridge " had two brothers, the one a clergyman of Rox-
bury," and " the other brother was a minister in Billerica." The worthy
author perhaps mistakes with respect to the last. I find no evidence of his
being a minister, thpugh it is apparent from his writings that he was a schol-
ar, and might have had an acquaintance with the languages.

t The family of St. John was very ancient, and derived their surname
from a place called St. John, in Normandy, a late province of France.

X Elisabeth Whiting, wife of reverend Samuel Whiting, of Lynn, died
March 3, 1677.

Reverend Samuel Whiting died, December 11, 1679 — L)'*^** recordt. His
life may be found in Mathers' Magnalia.


Augiist, 1667, He was a deputy to the General Court in
1703 and 1704. He died, 25 February, 1721. Edward
Farmer was son of John Farmer of Anceley, in the county
of Warwickshire, in England, from whence he emigrated to
this country.* He had a considerable share in the public
affairs of the town. He died, 27 March, 1727, aged about
87. yostph Tompson was a selectman and town-clerk many
years, a deacon of the church, ao instructor of youth, a cap-
tain of the militia company, and a deput}^ to the General Court
in 1699, 1700 and 1701. He died, 13 October, 1732, aged
93, having survived all the original settlers of the town.

The progress of the settlement was not rapid. Being con-
nected to Cambridge, and tli^ir local situation unfavorable to
frequent intercourse with that place, the inhabitants of Bil-
lerica, then Shawshin, e*rly applied for separate privileges.
So early as 1654, the inhabitants of Shawshin requested free-
dom and immunities from all public rates and charges at
Cambridge. This reqire^, resulting from the inconvenience
of their situation and their local disadvantages with respect
to Cambridge, appears to have received immediate attention.
It was taken into consideration by the inhabitants of Cam-
bridge, at a public meeting, 29 January, 1654. Four com-
missioners, Henry Dunster, Richard Champney, Edward
Goffe and John Bridge, were appointed to make such propo-
sitions to the inhabitants of Shawshin, as they should con-
ceive to be most "meet and equal." The following is the
substance of the several propositions, submitted by the com-
missioners to the people of Shawshin, which were readily
accepted, i. That all the lands, belonging to the place called
Shawshin, shall be an «Mtire township, or plantation, freed
and acquitted from all manner of common charges, due or of
right belonging to Cambridge, by virtue of any grant of that
place to them by tbe General Court. 2. That the inhabit-
ants of Cambridge, or their heirs and assigns, who may im-
prove any lands they may possess in Shaw'shin, shall pay to
the common charges in due proportion with the rest of the
inhabitants. 3. That the inhabitants of Shawshin shall here-
after acquit and discharge the town of Cambridge from all
common charges, rates, duties, &c. 4. That whenever any
of the inhabitants of Cambridge, shall alienate any of their
interest in lands at Shawshin, the lands so alienated, shall be
liable to taxation, in the same manner as if they had been

* Some letters of the reverend Thomas Muston of Wykin, his maternal
uncle, to his friends in this country, have afforded me several interesting

granted by Shawshin. 5. No person, having land granted
him, shall make any sale or gift, unless he shall make im-
provement by building and fencing. If any such improve-
ments shall have been made and the person remove from his
brethren, he shall not make sale, or gift, or any alienation
thereof to any person, without the concurrence of the inhab-
itants of Shawshin,* Immediately after the acceptance of
these proposals, the inhabitants of Shawshin requested the
General Court " to confirm and record the same,"! Their
request was granted, and on the 29th of May, 1655, the town
appears to have been incorporated, t

In 1656, the inhabitants of Shawshin, in answer to their
petition, obtained from the General Court a grant of land,
lying upon Concord river, near the farms of John and Rob-
ert Blood. § To this tract of land the court granted the
name of Billerica. Whether the tract embraced by Shawshin
grant, had previously received this name or not, is a subject
of conjecture. It is certain however that this name is used
in the records as early as 1654. In the same year that this
grant was made, the Court granted the inhabitants of Biller-
ica, 8000 acres of land, lying at Natticott, which was located,
24 April, 1657. About 6300 acres were situated on the east
of Merrimac river and 1750 on the west side. The condi-
tions of this grant were, " that the inhabitants of Cambridge
should accept thereof, and disengage the lands desired at Bil-
lerica ; and that the town of Billerica be settled with twen-
ty families at' least within three years, that the ordinances of
God may be settled and encouraged in the said place of
Billerica. "II

The town was divided into lots by Jonathan Danforth,
who was one of the committee for locating the house lots.
These lots were most generally denominated ten, and five acre
lots. A ten acre lot, or single share, contained 113 acres of
upland and 1 2 acres of meadow. A five acre lot, or half of
a single share, contained half the quantity of upland and six

* The names of the persons who accepted these propositions, and who were
perhaps all the inhabitants of the place at that time, were, Ralph Hill, Ralph
Hill, Jr. William French, John Steams, William Pattea, George Farley, John
Croe, James Parker, John Parker, Robert Parker, Jonathan Danforth and
William Chamberlain.

t The General Court confirmed their request May 23, 1655.

X Massachusetts Register.

§ See Appendix, Art. HI.

II Several subsequent gran<^ were made to Billerica, which maybe seen in
the office of the Secretary of State. May 22, 1661, a grant of 4000 acres ;
May 27, 1663, 800 acres; Oct. 9, 1667, 500 acres.' Mafs. Records, pages 377,
421, 594.


acres of meadow. There were intermediate lots granted,
having regard to the same proportion of upland and meadow.

Tlie inhabitants had previously adopted such regulations,
as they conceived were calculated to ensure their domestic
tranquillity. One respecting the admission of future inhab-
itants appears to have been rigidly adhered to. It was agreed
that "all persons unknown to them, desirous of becoming
inhabitants, should bring a certificate from the place whence
they came, exhibiting such testimony as should be satisfac-
tory to the town — that upon their admission as inhabitants,
they should subscribe their names to all orders of the town,
and bear their proportion of all public charges in church,
town and commonweal." Among the other regulations
which were subsequently adopted, were the following : Any
person, not qualified by law, who should presume to give
his voice or vote in any elections of the town, or interfere
in any town affairs, was subject to a fine of five shillings to
be levied by the constable. Any inhabitant or proprietor,
who should bring in, or entertain in town any person as a ser-
vant, should give bond to the constable to secure the town
from all damage they might sustain by such servant. In
case of refusal to give bond, a forfeiture of twenty shillings
per week was incurred. No proprietor, possessing less than
a ten acre privilege, should alienate any part of his right to
any person without consent of the town. But a person hav-
ing more than this proportion, might sell or dispose of a five
acre privilege. Proprietors of not more than ten acre privi-
leges could not, without permission of the town, dispose of
their privilege to any person, not even to their children, with-
out the town had refused to make them a grant.

In 1658, nineteen persons agreed with the reverend Samu-
el Whiting, in reference to his settlement with them in the
gospel ministry. They stipulated to give him and his heirs,
a ten acre privilege, and a house comfortably finished wit'i
the accommodations belonging to it, if he should continue
with them during his life. They agreed to give him a salary
of £.^0 for the first two years, ^.50 for the third, ;^.6o for t le
fourth, and afterwards engaged to " better his maintenance as
the Lord should better their estates.' His stated salary a"-
ter the fourth year, was £.'jo. The inhabitants appear to have
enjoyed the stated ministrations of the gospel, before they
had erected a house of worship. Finding their numbers an-
nually increasing, the town voted to build a meeting-house,
30 feet in length and 24 feet in width. This house, erected
by John Parker, was completed about 1660. For se.eral

years, it was covered with thatch instead of shingles. It had
■no galleries till about 1679, when it was enlarged and repaired.

In 1660, the first selectmen were chosen, who were to con-
■eluct the prudential affairs of the town. The number was
five, the same as at the present time.

The town being infested with wolves, the inhabitants or-
dered that a bounty of 20 shillings should be paid to any per-
son, either English or Indian, who should kill a wolf within
the limits of the town and present the head thereof to the
constable. In this manner these ferocious animals were prob-
ably extirpated. The Indians as well as English received
tiie bounty.

The south burial place was located in 1663. It originally
contained half an acre, and was the gift of Ralph Hill, senior.

From good evidence, it appears that the church in this
town was gathered in 1663, and reverend Samuel Whiting
vas ordained on the nth of November in the same year.
The precise day when the church was organized, cannot be
po-itively ascertained from any records which are known to
€xist. It is suspected however, and not without some de-
gree of probability, that it mi^ht have been, 27 April, 1663.*
At this time, there appears from the town records to have
been a council of elders and messen;;ers from other churches,
though we are not informed for what express purpose they
were convened. It is worthy of remark that this church hai
never been vacant but once, during a period of more than one
©ne hundred and fifty years. "From the earliest date of
their connexion with a gospel minister to 1760, a friendly
harmony has uniformly, or with very transient interruptions,
subsisted between the church and people of God in this place,
and those, who have successively ministered to them in hoi/

In 1669, there were twelve baptisms in town, and eight
persons admitted to full communion. In August, the same
year, there was a contribution of six pounds for the relief of

• The evidence that the chnrch was gathered in 1663, rests on a charge iH"
the town records, vol. I, page^o. The charge respecting the Elders and Mes«
fiengers from other churches, is made as follows ; " 27, 2, 1663, Charges, when
je councill of Elders and Messingers from other churches— [then follow x lexf
•characters, which are unintelligible] £1, lj,6"

I Dr. Cumini;*.



Ihe fleet, which had gone on an expedition to recover th«
island of St. Christopher from the French.*

A regard for purity of morals and an attention to religiou*
duties, appear to have been characteristics of our ancestors.
Within a few years after the town was settled, three person*
were chosen "to examine the several families, and see
whether their children and servants were taught in the prin-
ciples of religion." In 1675, we find the selectmen of this
town passing an order that all children and youth from eight
years old and upwards, should be sent by their parents and
masters to the reverend Mr. VVhirino;, to receive catechetical
instruction at such times as should be appointed.

On the 2 August, 1675, Timothy Farley of this town, was
killed at Quaboag, now Brookfield, in an engagement with
the Indians. t Such was the gloomy aspect at this time, and
the alarm and terror spread through the country by the rava-
ges of the Indians, that the inhabitants of this town held a
meeting on the 13 August, for the purpose of adopting
measures for mutual defence and security. The following
entry of their proceedings, is made in the records, which
gives an idea of the danger, they apprehended from their
subtle and powerful enemy. " The town, considering the
Providence of God at the present, calling us to lay aside our
ordinary occupations in providing for our creatures, and to
take special care of our own lives, and the lives of our wives
and children ; the enemy being near and the wainin^ of
God's Providence upon our neighbors being very sclenin,
do therefore, order and agree to prepare a place of sarety for
women and children ; and that persons and teams shall attenc}
the said work until it be finished. An account of the whole
charge being kept, shall be equally divided upon the inlabit-
ants with other town charges." Soon after this meeting;, the
town received an order from the honorable council, to ; ather
the several inhabitants into garrisons according to their best
capacity. In obedience to this order, a meeting of the se-
lectmen and committee of the militia, was holden for that pur-
pose, 8 October, when several garrisons were formed, and
suitable arrangements were made. On the 14th, the select-
men and committee were met by Major Simon Willard, who
approved their measures, and assisted them in instituting a

* These articles are derived from a MS. of Capt. Jonathan Danforth, n»
«cived from Mrs. Hannah Rogers.

t See Whitney's hiltory of the county of Worcester, article Brookfield


number of other garrisons in addition to those formed on tfai|
8th.* :

The excitement produced in the public mind at this period^
by the predatory incursions of the Indians, caused many per-
sons to leave their habitations, and seek refuge in the most
compact part of the several towns. The settlements in the-
northerly part of this town on Concord river, were, from their
situation, peculiarly exposed, and were deserted by the in-
habitants, who were ordered to be eatertaiied "in the bod/
of the town," It is not known that thi> to.vii reui;ived any
essential injury during King Philipi' war.

The number of families in town about thi^ timrj, appears to
have been forty-eight, and the numl^er of dwelling-houses
forty-seven. In 1679, there were si-cty raie iblc estates, in-
cluding non-residents. Irv a return made Ia i63o, to a
warrant from the deputy Governor, the town stated th©
number of families able to bear public charges to be fifty j(,
and of aged persons and p^or, including wij')vvs, to be ten*
A writing and reading school was at this time taught b/
Joseph Tompson. No grammar schoal wa"; in to.v.i.

In 1684, Jonathan Danforth Was choien deputy to a
" special General Court." This is the first notice we find on

* The following were the garrisons appointed at these meetings, with the in-
habitants belonging to each.

1. /^a//>A //i/h' — Nathaniel and Jonathan Hill, T'aomi.^Dutton, jan. WlHIam
French, William and Isaac Chamberlain. (5 houses.)

2. 7 /ttmtas Foj'ers'— Joseph Foster.James Frost.Joseph French.Joseph Walk-
er, Daniel Rogers, John Kittredge and T'homas Richardson. (0 houses.)

3. Simon Oflj^yV— Richard Daniel, WiliiamHam'et,J\cob Ham':et,Jonathan
Hides, Joseph /"ompson and Peter Bracket. (7 families.)

4. Rev.Samiul Whititts^s — Thomas Dutton, sen. John Dutton, Dan'el Shed
John Shed, John Durant, John Rogers, John Rogers, jr. Thom is and Nathan-
iel Rogers. (6 families.) 7'his was " the main garrison and the last refuge in
case of extremity."

5. Thomas Patten' s—GoXAsvl More, Samuel Froft, John Kidder, Roger Tooth-
aker and John Trull, (5 families.)

6. James jPatterson' s~john Baldwin, Edward Farmer, Thomas Farmer, Hen-
ry Jefts and John Jefts, (4 families.)

7. Jacoi French's— John French, John Marshall, Thomas Ross, and William
Chamberlain, jr. (4 houses.)

8. James A'iJjer's—D^mtl Shed, jr. Samuel Trull, John Bracket, and James
Kidder, jr. (4 families.)

9. Jomthan Dj-nforth's—SiTOMel Manning, Johm Du-ikin, and Jonathan Dan
forth, Jr.

10. Timothy Brooks^ — Michael Bacon.

1 1. George Farley's house " to entertain as it miy be capable."

12. Job Lane, from his remote situation wis allowed to fortify his own
fcouse, and "to have two soldiers if the country could spare them." Th«
Masters of the several Garrisons were sergeant Rilph Hill,serg. Thomas F(»>
ier, serg. Joseph Tompson, Rev. Samuel Whiting, Thomas Patten, Jamoi
Patter&on, John Marshall, serg. James Kidder and Jonathan DaiifortL


fhc records of a deputy being chosen from this town. The
inhabitants, it is probable, had been represented by non-resi-
ient deputies, which was frequently practised under the old
charter of the province. This practice was abolished in

1 3 4

Online LibraryJohn FarmerAn historical memoir of Billerica, in Massachusetts. Containing notices of the principal events in the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of the town, from its first settlement to 1816 → online text (page 1 of 4)