Joseph Sidney Howe.

Historical sketch of the town of Methuen, from its settlement to the year 1876 online

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Online LibraryJoseph Sidney HoweHistorical sketch of the town of Methuen, from its settlement to the year 1876 → online text (page 1 of 4)
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E. L. Houghton & Co., Printees. Currier's Building, Bro«iwat.



It is not attempted in the following pages to pi'esent a com-
plete history of the Town of Methuen. The limited time for
preparation of this Sketch only admits a recitaL of the princi-
pal facts. No attempt to write the early history of this town
has ever been made, and as the old times recede, and old peo-
ple drop into their graves, much valuable material is becoming
lost forever. The investigation necessary to prepare this
paper has shown, that by proper eftbrt many old traditions,
and much valuable information, might be gathered which
would be of great interest and value, not only to us, but to
those who come after us. At present, however, we must be
content with a rapid and imperfect statement of some of the
principal facts in our history as a town.

The native inhabitants of the valley of the Merrimack were
the Penacook or Pawtucket Indians, of whom the Chief was
Passaconnaway, always a firm friend of the settlers. These
were subdivided into smaller tribes. The Agawams had their
home on the coast, from the Merrimack to Cape Ann ; the
VVamesits at the junction of the Concord and Merrimack riv-
ers (Lowell) ; the Pentuckets at the mouth of " Little river,"
in Haverhill ; but no evidence appears showing that any par-
ticular Indian tribe had its home in Methuen. It is certain,
however, that Bodwell's tails (at the Lawrence dam,) and
the shores of the Spicket as far as '•'■ Spicket fVdls," were fa-
vorite resorts of the Indians, especially during the fishing sea-
son. The rivers in those early days, and for many years
afterwards, swarmed with salmon, shad, alewives, bass


and sturgeon. The salmon was the principal fish used as
food ; the shad and alewives were used by the Indians to
manure their corn, and their example was followed by
the settlers. It is said on good authority that it was no un-
usual thing to specify in the articles of agreement between
master and apprentice that the apprentice should not be re-
quired to eat salmon above six times a week.

Some years before the first settlement of the country, a vio-
lent war broke out among the Indians, which resulted in the
destruction of a large number. This was succeeded by a pes-
tilence, which carried oft' many more, so that the number of
Indians found by the first settlers in this region was very small.
The greater part of Methuen was at first included in the town
of Haverhill. That town was first settled in 1640 by about a
dozen colonists from Newbury, headed by Mr. Nathaniel
Ward. Two years after, the whole territory was purchased
of the Indians, Passaquo and Saggahew, who are supposed
to have been among the last of the Pentuckets. The original
deed — of which the following is a copy — is now in possession
of the city of Haverhill :

"Know all Men by these Presents, that we, Passaquo and
Saggahew, with ye consent of Passaconnaway : have sold unto ye
inhabitants of Pentuckett all ye lands we have in Pentuckett ; that
is eyght myles in length from ye little Rivver in Pentuckett West-
ward ; Six myles in length from ye aforesaid liivver northward ;
And six myles in length from ye foresaid Rivver Eastward, with ye
Ileand and ye rivver that ye ileand stand in as far in length as ye
land lyes by as formerly expressed : that is fourteen myles in
length ;

And wee ye said Passaquo and Sagga Hew with ye consent of
Passaconnaway. have sold unto ye said inhabitants all ye right that
wee or any of us have in ye said ground and Ileand and Rivver ;

And we warrant it against all or any 'other Indians whatsoever


unto ye said Inhabitants of Pentuckett, and to their heirs and as-
signs forever. Dated ye fifteenth day of november Ann Dom 1642.
Witness our hands and scales to this bargayne of sale ye day and
year above written (in ye presents of us) we ye said Passaquo &
Sagga Hew have received in hand, for & in consideration of ye
same three pounds & ten shillings.


r AbbAU V\> (a bow and arrow)

TRISTRAM COFFIN, passaquo. [Seal]


ye sign of ( 1 ) g^ GGA HEW (a bow and arrow)

THOMAS DAVIS. ° sagga hew. [Beal]

It is not easy to see exactly what the Indians intended to
convey by this deed, nor does it apjDear to have been clear to
the early settlers ; for no regular survey was made until i666,
when we find that a committee was appointed by the General
Court to "run the bounds of the Town of Haverhill." They
began at the meeting-house, which was situated about half a
mile east of Little river, and ran due west eight miles and
"reared a heap of stones" (which point must have been a
mile or two west of Salem village). Then they ran from that
heap of stones due south until they touched the Merrimack
(somewhere near the island east of the Bartlett farm), and
north until they struck the northern line of the town.

This western boundary of the town remained unchanged
until Methuen was set off sixtv years afterwards. As finally
determined the shape of the town of Haverhill was triangular.
Starting from Holt's Rock (" Rocks Village.") the line ran
due northwest until it met the north and south line from Mer-
rimack River, as mentioned above.

The strip of land, perhaps a mile and a half in width, be-
tween Haverhill Line and "Drawcut" line seems to have been
granted bv the General Court to individuals. An old plan in


the County records indicates that Major Denison. who had a
grant of 600 acres from the General Court in 1660, owned
more than a thousand acres on the river, above the Haverhill
line, including what is now the Bartlett farm and lands south
. and west. West of that was Col. Higginson's farm of over
three hundred acres. A little north of these was Marshall
Michelson's tract of three hundred acres. Printer Green had
three hundred acres lying on each side of the brook which
runs from "-White's pond," then called ''North pond."

Thus it will be seen that tlie title to a great portion of the
land in Methuen came directly from the aboriginal owners.
It is said that the uplands at that time were mostly covered by
a heavy growth of timber, except an occasional spot burned over
by fires set by the Indians, The meadows were, many of
them, cleared and covered with a tall and dense growth of
grass. The Indians were accustomed to burn the grass in the
fall, that they might more easily capture the deer resorting to
them to feed on the young gi-ass in the spring. These mead-
ows appear to have been much sought after by the early set-
tlers, who obtained from tliem, the principal subsistence for
their cattle. They cut and stacked the hay in the summer and
in the winter drew it home on sleds. An early writer says of
Haverhill: "The people are wholly bent to improve their
labor in tilling the earth and keeping of cattel whose yearly
increase encourages them to spend their days in those remote
parts. The constant penetrating further into this Wilderness
hath caused the wild and uncouth wood to be filled with fre-
quented ways, and the large rivers to be overlaid'with Bridges
passable both for horse and foot ; this town is of large extent,
there being an overweaning desire in most men after meadow
land," &c. The records of the town of Haverhill show that
no one was admitted to the rights and privileges of the Colony
unless first voted in l)v the town.


The lands were divided among the inhabitants in accord-
ance with a vote "That he who had £200 should have 20
acres for his house lot, and every one under that sum to have
acres proportioned for his house lot, together with meadow
and common and planting ground proportionally."

Lot-layers were chosen by the town to divide the land
among the inhabitants as it was cleared up or became accessi-
ble. From this mode of division it happened that one man
would own a large number of small lots scattered over the
whole town. It is now very difficult to exactly locate the lots
as they are recorded in the Haverhill records, because they
were usually bounded only bv marked trees. These descrip-
tions show that some of our local names were of very ancient
date. In 1673, thirty-two acres of land were laid o(T to John
Clements, bounded by '' Sowes brook." In 167S, "-eleven
score acres of upland " were laid oft* to James Davis, Sen.,
bounded on the west by Spicket river, Spicket falls being tRe
southwest bound. In 1683, we find the recoi'd of a similar lot
lying on the southerly side, running to '' Bloody brook" on
the east, and taken up by James Davis. Jr. These lots in-
cluded the land now occupied by the east part of Methuen

In 1658, five acres of meadow were laid oft' in "Strongwa-
ter" near a "little pond." In 1666, a parcel of meadow was
laid out to Matthias Button, on the south side of "Spicket
hill." In 1659, there was a division of the land west of the
Spicket river, with a provision that 'Mf more than two acres
meadow be found on any one lot it shall remain to the town."
In the same year we find a record of the laying oft' three acres
of land in "Mistake meadow" in the west part of Haverhill,
whence we conclude the name originated in somebody's blun-
der, and bv some mistake has become "Mystic." The distribu-
tion of common lands was continued from time to time, until



finally, after much contention between the old settlers and new-
comers, the "Proprietors," or owners of the common land,
organized separately from the town and disposed of the re-
maining land as they saw fit. Our townsman. David Nevins,
Esq., has in his possession a grant from the " proprietors," of
the islands in the Spicket above the falls, to Asa and Robert
Swan, for £2 10 shillings, and bearing tlie date of 1721.

We can find no record showing when the first settlement was
made within the present limits of Methuen, or who made it.
It is certain that the east and south parts of the town near the
river, were first occupied, doubtless because they were nearer
the villages of Haverhill and Andover. We have been in-
formed by Asa Simonds, Esq., that when repairing the old
'•'• Bodwell house" — now in Lawi'ence — some years ago, a brick
w^as found bearing the date 1660, which had been marked upon
it before the brick was burnt. This would seem to indicate
tlfat a house was built in the neighborhood near that date.

It is not unlikely that further inquiry may fix the date and
place of the first settlements here with considerable certainty.
It seems doubtful whether there were many settlers in Methuen
until near the time it was set ofi' from Haverhill. It is likely
that the Indian troubles whicli extended over many years pre-
vious to 1720, seriously checked, if they did not entirely pre-
vent, the settlement on farms. Andover and Haverhill were
made frontier towns by act of General Court and both towns
suffered severely during the Indian war. But we have never
seen a record of an Indian attack on settlers living upon terri-
tory which afterwards became Methuen. There were many
attacks on the scattered settlers in West Haverhill antl in An-
dover, and if there had been many inhabitants in Methuen. it
is hardly probable that the Indians would h.ave passed them by.
There are some old traditions of encounters with the Indians,
in this town, which we have not space to relate. The most


important of these events took place in Feb. 1698 ; Jonathan
Haynes and Samuel Ladd with their two sons had been to
London meadow from their homes, in West Haverhill, for
hay, each with a team consisting of a pair of oxen and a horse.
The path lay along betwen Howe street and World's End
pond. When returning home, just northeast of the pond, they
were suddenly set upon by a party of Indians who had con-
cealed themselves in the bushes on each side of the path.
These Indians, fourteen in number, were returning from An-
dover where they had killed and captured several persons.
They killed Haynes and Ladd with their hatchets, took one
of the boys prisoner and kept him for some years ; the other
boy cut one of the horses loose, jumped on his back and got
away. The Indians then killed the oxen, took out their
tongues and the best pieces and went on their way. We find
no record of trouble with the Indians after 1708.

In 1 71 2, nine persons living in that part of Haverhill now
Methuen, petitioned the town to abate their rates for the sup-
port of the ministry and schools, and the town voted to abate
one-half their taxes. In 1732, a petition was presented to the
town of Haverhill by persons living in what is now Methuen,
to be set off as a separate town or parish. This petition was
not granted. The next year Joshua Swan and 26 others, with
shrewd foresight, petitioned the Town of Haverhill to "set
off fiftv or sixty acres of land southwest of Bare meadow, to-
gether with a piece of land lying on a hill commonly called
Meeting-house hill in times past, reserved by our forefathers
for the use of the ministry, might in hard times make a con-
venient parsona9;e, if bv the blessing of God the Gospel might
so flourish amongst us, and we grow so prosperous as to be
able to maintain and carry on the Gospel ministry amongst
us." This petition was granted at the next town meeting, but
it did not serve to make the petitioners less intent on a separ-


ation. Soon after, Lieut. Stephen Barker and other inhabitants
of the western part of Haverhill, petitioned the General Court
for an act to incorporate them into a new town. The act
passed in December, 1725, and was as follows :

♦' An act for Dividing the Town of Haverhill and erecting a new
Town there and in parts adjacent, by the name of M ethuen. Where-
as the West part of the Town of Haverhill within the County of
Essex, and parts adjacent not included within any Township is
Competently filled with Inhabitants, who labor under great Difficul-
ties by their remoteness from the place of Publick Worship, &c.,
and they having made their application to this Court that they may
be set off a distinct and separate Town and be vested with all the
Powers and Privileges of a Town. Be it therefore enacted by the
Lieutenant Governor, Council and l^epresentatives in General Court
assembled and by the authority of the same. That the West part
of the said Town of Haverhill with the land adjoining be, and hereby
are set off and conscituted a separate Township by the name of
Methuen, the bounds of the said Township to be as follows, viz : —
Beginning at the mouth of Hawkes' Meadow Brook, so called, in
Merrimack River, and from thence to run half a point to the north-
ward of the northwest to an heap of stones, or till it intersect Hav-
erhill line ; from thence upon a straight course to the head of Duns-
table line, and so upon Dracut line about four miles to a pine
southeast, frome thence six miles or thereabouts upon Dracut line,
South to Merrimack Kiver, and from thence to run down said river
ten mile and forty pole till it come to the first mentioned bounds.
And that the inhabitants of the said lands as before described and
bounded, be and heieby are invested with the Powers, Priviliges
and immunities that the Inhabitants of any of the towns of this
Province by law are or ought to be vested with.

Provided, That the Inhabitants of the said Town of Methuen,
do within the space of Three Years from the Publication of this
Act. erect and finish a suitable house for the Publick Worship of
God, and procure and settle a Learned, Orthodox minister of good
conversation and make provision for his comfortable and honorable
support, and that they set apart a lot of Two Hundred arces of land


in some convenieat Place in the said Town, for the use of the
ministry, and a lot of fifty acres for the use of a School. And that
thereupon they be discharged from any further payments for the
maintenance of the ministry in Haverhill. And be it further en-
acted by the authority aforesaid, That the Inhabitants of the said
Town of Methuen, be and and hereby are empowered to assess all
the lands of Non Eesidents lying within the said town. Two pence
per acre towards the building of the Meeting House, and settling
of a minister there. Provided, nevertheless that there be and here-
by is made a Reservation or Saving of the Right and property of the
Province Lands (if any there be) within the bounds aforesaid, to
this Province."

It was ordered by the Court ''that Mr. Stephen Barker, a
principal inhabitant of the Tow^n of Methuen be, and hereby
is empow^ered and directed to notifie and summons the inhabi-
tants of the said town duly qualified for voters, to assemble
and meet sometime in the month of March next, to choose
town officers according to law, to stand for the year." In
compliance with this order a meeting was appointed for the
ninth of March. The following is a copy of the record of
that first town meeting held in Methuen :

• • A tt our first annual meeting in the town of methuen, march
ye 9th 1725,6 Leutanent Stephen Barker was leaguly chosen mod-
erator for ye meeting.

Att the same meeting william whittier was chosen town dark &
sworn for ye yer insewing.

Att the same meeting selectmen war leaguly chosen for ye year.

1 JOHN BAIIiKY, ") Select men sworn

2 EBENEZER BARKER, I to the faithful discharg
3' ASlE SWAN, S-of the ofies of assesers

4 DANIEL BODWEL, august yc second 1726

5 THOMAS WHITTIER. j before me William Whittier

town dark.

att ye same meeting Richard swan is leaguly chosen cunstable for
the year insewing.

voted that the cunstable or colector shall be paid one shilling for


each twenty shillings of money that he shall colect or gather of the
Taxes which shall be laied upon the nonrazedance or peopel which
belong to other towns. March ye 9th 1725,6 the toun voated that
Thomas silver should be excepted to serve cunstable or colector in-
stead of Eichard swan for ye year insewing and ye same day thomas
silver was sworn to the fathfuU discharge of the office of a cunsta-
ble by the selectmen of methuen. Robert swan is leaguly chosen
town treasurer att the same meeting march ye 9 for ye year insew-
ing. town treasurer sworn.

1 ROBERT SWAN. ^ of hishwaye
Serveirsof 2 EPHRAIM CLARK, i serveirs all sworn,
high ways. 3 BENJAMIN STEPHKNS, [


fence vewers JOHN I. CROSS,


Tithen men 1 JAMES HOW,

2 WILLIAM GLTTTERSON. Both tithen sworn,
field drivers 1 JOHN HASTINGS,


att the same meeting March ye 9 172."'), in SAMUEL SMITH

1 hog riefs

hoge riefs was leaguly chosen j THOMAS AITSTING

J Both sworn.

Att ye same meeting march ye 9 voted yt hogs should go att large
acording to law.

Att a town meeting march ye 9 1725,6.

Voted that the select men should have power to a gree with an
athadoxt minester to serve in the work of the miuestry for ye year
insewing and not to exceed five and forty pownds and find the min-
ester his diat.

So far as we can leani, no other town in the country bears
the name of "Methuen." How this name originated has been
a matter of considerable speculation. Some have thought
that it took its name from a town in Scotland called "Meth-
ven," and others have supposed that this town was named in
honor of Lord Methven of Scotland. A. C. Goodell, Esq. ,


preparing the Provincial Laws
for publication, suggests a theory which we think must be the
true one. It was a common thing in those days, when a town
was incorporated, for the Governor to give it a name. The
act of incorporation was passetl l)y the Legislature, engrossed
and sent to the Governor, with a space for the name in blank.
When it was presented for his signature, he inserted the name
in the proper place.

The original act of Incorporation of the Town of Methuen,
in the office of the Secretary of State, clearly shows that the
name was inserted by a hand different from the one that en-
grossed the bill. The act is written upon the parchment in a
large, full hand, while the name is written in a small, running
hand, and with ink of a different cc^lor, but similar to that used
by Gov. Dummer in writing his signature.

A careful examination of the writing leaves little doubt that
Gov. Dummer wrote the name with his own hand when he
attached his signature. Of course it is now impossible to give
with certainty the reason which suggested the name to him.
But at that time there was one Lord Paul Methuen who was
Privy Councellor to the King, and who was for some years prom-
inent in the English Government. It is altogether likely that
the town was named for him and it is also prettv certain that
these facts are about all we can ever learn about it.

We find from the town records that nine town meetings were
held during the first year, and that the principal business was
locating the meeting-house and perfecting the necessary ar-
rangements for religious service. At that time, and for many
years after, the minister and meeting-house were supported by
a town tax, as schools and highways are now.

Unfortunately at the outset, a bitter quarrel sprang up con-
cerning the location of the meeting-house. On the 28th of
May, 1726. a meeting was called to " prefix" a place whereon


to build a meeting-house. Twenty-eight persons voted in favor
of locating the house "between James Davis' and Samuel
Smith's house" (Powder House hill,) twenty-two entered
their " dissent against the meeting-house being carried from tlie
meeting-house land, or hill so called," — the land which had
been granted by Haverhill two years before — and supported
their "■dissent" by a quaint and vigorous argument. The
dispute waxed hot, meeting after meeting was held, votes
to pi'ovide labor and material were carried and reconsideretl,
but the majority ^nally prevailed and the new meeting-house
was raised and boarded on " Powder House hill." The mi-
nority, however, were determined not to be beaten , and petitioned
the General Court to reverse the popular decision. The com-
mittee appointed by the Court to visit the place concluded that
the parsonage lot "was the properest place for the meeting-
house to stand," so the minority were victorious, and in May,
1737, the town voted to remove the frame to the "■ place where
the Court ordered it should stand."

The town records show that the Sunday services, as well as
the town meetings, were held at the house of Asie Swan until
the meeting-house was ready for occupancy. Asie Swan
seems to have been a man " prominent in those days" and his
house is said to have been situated a little east of Prospect
hill. The meeting-house was " forty feet long, thirty feet
wide, and twenty feet stud." There was but one pew, and
that for the minister's family, the congregation generally being-
seated on benches. There were no means of heating the house
in cold weather, until within the recollection of persons now
living, and in the cold winter mornings the humble worshippers
must have needed a fiery discourse to make them comfortable.
It is said that there was a tavern in those days on the " Frye
place " to which the meeting goers usually resorted at noon,
where they found a kettle of hot water ready, and plenty of


spiritual comfort less etherial than that which they received
within the sacred edifice.

The first road laid out by the Town of Methuen extended
from somewhere on '' Hawkes Meadow brook to James
Howe's well," and was probably a part of Howe street north
of the Taylor farm. The records of the Town of Haverhill
show that previous to that time a large number of town ways
had been laid out in the west part of the town — probably for
convenience in reaching the meadows and woodland. At this
distance of time it is almost impossible to trace them unless
they happen to touch some well known point. They general-
Iv commence at a marked tree, by some path, thence to some
other tree, thence to a stump marked, and finally come out at
another path, and are almost invariably two rods wide.

The roads of those days were probably little better than an

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Online LibraryJoseph Sidney HoweHistorical sketch of the town of Methuen, from its settlement to the year 1876 → online text (page 1 of 4)