Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Twelve Men in Open Boats

Twelve men climbed into open boats and made their way from the familiar harbor to the unexplored regions west of Newbury and Ipswich. The river on that late summer day sparkled with sunlight and was littered with fallen leaves as they quietly explored new territory. Every bend revealed dense wilderness occasionally interrupted by grassy meadows. They rowed for sixteen miles before nearing the place that the Indians called Pentucket.

Nathaniel Ward, the esteemed Puritan Minister from Ipswich had petitioned the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for a settlement along the Merrimack River in order to secure a residence and ministry for his son John Ward. The men chosen to pioneer this expedition were pilgrims, independent men who had come to New England to establish a home and community where they could plough the land and practice religious freedom. After finding the settlements at Newbury and Ipswich fully inhabited, Pentucket promised a chance for prosperity at a new plantation where land could be cleared, fields tilled and God’s abundant bounty sustained.

The intrepid explorers were by name: William White, John Robinson, Abraham Tyler, Samuel Gile, Christopher Hussey, Daniel Ladd, James Davis, John Williams, Joseph Merrie, Henry Palmer, Richard Littlehale and Job Clement.

At the Crooked River

As they labored against swirling currents and the late afternoon tide an area containing a broad plain was visible on the northern shore, excellent grounds for planting, cultivating or grazing. The valley surrounding the river looked fertile and beyond the next bend a fresh stream emptied into the river. Here the historic landing was made. It was an ideal spot of open land near the edge of the river surrounded by tall and stately oaks and pine trees. To the west the river could be viewed almost as far as the eye could see before sweeping broadly in a southwesterly direction. Northward a thick forest guarded the stream up a gradual incline to higher ground. Across the river to the south more forest filled the land with wildlife and birds peculiar to New England. Here at this place on a knoll, the first shelter was built of logs and rough hewn-timber.

The waterway served as a boundary between regional Indian tribes and was called Monomack from the words “mona” an island, and “auke” a place, meaning the island place. Other lore calls it “merruh” and ”auke” meaning place of strong currents. Still others claimed the name was derived from the large presence of sturgeon in the river. Whichever is accurate the Pennacook Tribe occupied these lands for generations and a local village had once resided near the mouth of the Little River tributary. Pestilence had taken its toll and driven any permanent indigenous tribes from the area to the point where no wigwams remained. None-the-less Indians still hunted and fished here and laid claim to the place they called Pentucket, which in the native language meant “at the crooked river.”

The Sachem, Passaconnaway ruled over a confederacy of tribes throughout the region including Agawam, Wamesit, Nashua, Souhegan, Amoskeag, Pennacook, and Winnipesaukee. Legend claimed he possessed magical powers. According to folklore, he could turn dried up leaves to green and make living snakes out of dead snakeskins. One story claimed he visited Plymouth Colony and attempted to use his magic skills to force the English away. Whether fact or fiction there were no major conflicts with the colonists and Passaconnaway took no part in King Phillip’s War.

Wonalancet was a young Pennacook brave and he fished along the banks of the great river and hunted in the nearby meadows. He had traveled the path from Massapaug (Great Pond) to Pentucket many times and considered this tribal land. He must have watched the English encroachment with apprehension and bewilderment. As a nation their numbers had been depleted over the years by small pox and other causes. His father Chief Passaconnaway had chosen peace over war and decreed that they should not to disturb the white settlers. It was a time of uneasy change for the young Pennacook.

The Wilderness Colony

The winter of 1641 was severe yet the settlement’s numbers continued to climb. Later that year the pioneers of the plantation renamed it Haverhill after the ancestral home of their newly arrived minister John Ward.

John Ward was the son of the Reverend Nathaniel Ward who was pastor at the church in Ipswich. He was born in Haverhill, Suffolk County, England in 1606 and educated at Cambridge University. He came to this country in 1639 and preached first at Agamenticus (York, Maine) before moving to the newly established settlement at Pentucket. He was a virtuous man, educated not only in religious training but also in matters of reason and science. He possessed a strong memory. He was a good speaker yet shy in outward disposition toward his parishioners. A man of some physical endurance, he could easily hike thirty miles when such a test of stamina challenged him.

Although he was offered the hand of the daughters of well-to-do Englishmen and even a wealthy parsonage at home, he married Alice Edmunds, a beautiful bride from a commonplace background by whom he had two children, Elizabeth and Mary. They were beloved partners for forty years, choosing to live in this wilderness colony and devoting their daily lives to God and the spiritual and moral needs of their fellow settlers.

By June the town was fairly settled and at least as many as six houses were now standing. The General Court appointed selectmen to establish the boundaries of Salisbury and Haverhill. Dense forest occupied most of Haverhill except where lightning had struck or where Indians had purposely set them ablaze in order to create openings so that deer and wild game could be more easily hunted. Grassy meadows existed to the west of the tributary called the Little River and were highly valued by the settlers, since they provided hay for their livestock. But as yet there were no public roads or surveyed maps of public lands. It was still a wilderness.

More than two years passed before title to the land was finally purchased from the Indians. This was unusual and was probably because so few of them resided in or near the settlement. The deal was finally struck with native Indians Passaquo and Saggahew who as purported owners of the land, and with the consent of Passaconnaway, sold it for three pounds and ten shillings. At that time, the boundaries of the area purchased were 12 miles north of the Merrimack River. The original deed included the towns now known as Salem, Hampstead, Atkinson and Plaistow in New Hampshire, along with Methuen, Bradford and Haverhill in Massachusetts.

1643 was a memorable year for several reasons. On one Sunday in March an earthquake shook the area causing little damage but startling townspeople. Then in July a sudden storm struck that lasted for an hour knocking down trees in its path from Lynne to Hampton. So violent was the tempest that it lifted up the meetinghouse at Newbury as people worshiped indoors. It was also a year of crop failures as corn was scarce and clams, mussels and dried-fish became the staple of the day. Faced with these challenges Haverhill continued to grow as a village. During the year the General Court passed a law requiring a record to be kept of births, deaths and marriages in each town. In Haverhill, Richard Littlehale was chosen Clerk of the Writs and Town Recorder and the first town meeting of which proceedings are recorded was held November 6, 1643. Rules were now being established for landowners and public tax rates were being set. By 1645 it was incorporated as the twenty-third town in the Colony.

Planting Grounds

The Plantation at Haverhill was a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and sweeping meadows stretching from the west where Long Hill rose above the Little River, eastward to Great Pond and the riverbanks at Holts Rocks. It occupied an abundance of rich fertile if rocky soil, which was ideal for single family farms. Land ownership was prized and a man’s worth in relation to the amount of property he possessed determined the number of acres that was awarded to him. Under this arrangement house lots were granted in the village and meadowlands were assigned in the same exact proportion elsewhere. In many cases a meadow lot was several miles from the house of its owner as was the case with townsman Daniel Ladd.

Ladd had his house in the village while his planting grounds were in two separate locations. One was in the plain about two miles east of the village near today’s Riverside neighborhood while the second was up river just about as far to the west of the village near the present section of River Street that is now home to several car dealerships. His meadowlands were in seven separate lots in as many different directions. East meadow was in the easterly part of town, three miles from his home, while Spicket meadow was at least eight miles in the opposite direction. Pond meadow was two miles northeast; Hawke’s meadow some three miles west; Primrose swamp two miles northwest; and Mistake meadow somewhere in the westerly part of town.

The first homes were simple, cottage-like shelters about 16 feet long and 14 feet wide. Their walls were made of rough-hewn notched timber. The roofs were sloped to shed the snow. Some were thatched with long, tough grass, in the old English style. At first, chimneys were made of logs covered with clay, but fireproof brick chimneys were soon constructed. Later clapboards were used to cover the walls and roofs were shingled. Heavy wooden shutters were used instead of glass windowpanes.

One of the early objectives of the town was the building of a meetinghouse. Religion played an important role in Puritan life but religious meetings here were held mostly in private homes or outdoors under the canopy of an oak tree. In 1648 a house of worship was finally constructed that had no gallery and no cupola but occupied a prominent spot next to the burial ground and facing the river.

Soon the General Court ordered the town to establish a ferry for the convenience of passengers. The river was an obstacle to places south and the authorities wanted a passage to Andover and points beyond. The crossing was established at a place called Old Ferry Way. About that time a highway was laid out along the banks of the river that is now Water Street. No grants of land were permitted from the south side of the street to the river nor were improvements permitted in the plain between the village and the ferry, a deliberate action by the selectmen to keep the riverbanks unobstructed.

The Saltonstall Seat

At the annual town meeting of 1668 Nathaniel Saltonstall was chosen Town Recorder and Clerk of the Writs an office he held for thirty-two years. In addition to his magistrative duties as he was also authorized to join persons in marriage. In the Puritan separation from the Church of England marriage was considered a civil contract and not a religious rite.

No man of his time was more admired than Nathaniel Saltonstall. He was born in Ipswich about 1639 and graduated from Harvard College in 1659. He was a descendant of the highly regarded Saltonstall family in Yorkshire England. His grandfather Sir Richard Saltonstall came to the new world aboard the ship Arbella with Governor John Winthrop in 1630 but returned to England a year later.

Saltonstall’s father, also named Richard was born in 1610 and journeyed to the New World with his father. He returned to England at the same time where he married Meriall Gurdon. Four years later they sailed back to America and settled in Ipswich. Richard made several more crossings before returning to England for good in 1683.

Nathaniel, however, was American by birth and he remained here resolutely seeking out opportunities of the new world. He married Elizabeth Ward the daughter of Reverend John Ward of Haverhill on December 28, 1663 and they lived on a fine Haverhill estate that was conveyed to him by his father-in-law. In 1664 his father also deeded him eight hundred acres of land ”on the occasion of his marriage and the estate overlooking the river was thereafter known as the Saltonstall Seat.

Saltonstall was a man of superior talent and enterprise. He was chosen Captain of the military company in Haverhill in 1665 and later appointed Colonel. He was elevated to the rank of Major, which was a superior post. He commanded great respect for his principles and in 1692 was appointed one of the judges in the proceedings surrounding the persons accused of witchcraft in Salem. With a liberal stand and a mind apart from the superstitions of the day he refused to serve on the commission. His position was a bold statement for truth and opened the eyes of many to the fanaticism of the trials.

Nathaniel Saltonstall died May 21, 1707. He left three sons Gurdon who became the Governor of Connecticut, Richard and Nathaniel. His only daughter Elizabeth married the Reverend John Dennison of Ipswich and then the reverend Rolland Cotton of Sandwich. The Saltonstall family remains prominent in New England, all of whom descend from their distinguished Haverhill ancestors.

The Sawyer, the Blacksmith and the Swans

Haverhill was prospering but among its trades it did not have a sawmill. A sawyer was desirable for the local production of boards and planks to meet the needs of the growing community. A sawmill meant progress and finer building materials like clapboards and shingles for houses. Up until then materials were brought in by horse and wagon from Newbury, an inconvenient and costly trek. As a result the town was anxious to build its own mill and identified a fine location on Little River. Isaac Cousins was granted the rights to operate the mill and to retain a one-sixth interest with other investors owning the rest. In exchange the mill would pay to the town, every twelfth hundred shillings earned. However mill ownership and operation was a vexing problem and disputes over remuneration, adequate production and upkeep persisted for years.

Several other trades were critical to the prosperity of the early settlement not the least of which was that of blacksmith. In 1657 John Johnson of Charlestown was contracted to move to Haverhill and given a house and land “provided he live here seven years, following the trade of blacksmith in doing the town’s work.” Blacksmiths worked with iron to make and repair tools people needed for farming, household tasks, and other trades. When roads were established in the settlement, Johnson also fixed carts and wagons and shod stage horses. His descendents carried on the trade through several generations and kept several sturdy shops at the same Water Street location.

More improvement was apparent when Mill Street was laid out. For more than a century this would be known as The Great Road leading to and from the village. It later received its more common name for the millstream that flowed from Plug Pond to the river providing the power necessary to run a small gristmill.

The population increased rapidly as word spread of its desirable location, prosperous inhabitants and welcoming disposition toward new comers. Efforts to expand its boundaries, however, were met with resistance by the General Court when the town claimed a tract of land just six miles from Andover near the Spicket River. The claim was eventually denied though western boundary disputes persisted for years. None-the-less the laying out of more highways encouraged the division of more meadowlands and the establishment of new common lands. Common lands were owned collectively but gave individuals traditional rights, such as the opportunity to graze their livestock on common pasture and access to woodlands in order to harvest cordwood for household fuel.

Town meetings were important gatherings for conducting town business and the debate and discussion of other affairs of the settlement. It was a strongly held ideal that every citizen had an obligation to attend to town management and to neglect such an important duty was a punishable offense, which they did not hesitate to administer. Stocks and a whipping post were later erected for such occasions at the east end of the meetinghouse on the common. Likewise they considered religious worship a fervent duty. These were stern Puritans who believed in the Sabbath as a day set apart from everyday responsibilities and they were uncompromising in their beliefs.

Some inhabitants however, were more of a threat to the tranquility of the colony. In April 1654 Robert Swan of Haverhill, was accused of stealing the heifer belonging to John Williams and then intimidating those who would appear against him in a Court of Law. Later in Salisbury Court, he was presented for being drunk and for cursing. Menacing behavior continued throughout the Swan family as his son Samuel was accused of wantonly stabbing one of Simon Wainwright’s horses with a half pike.

The Swan men were ruffians, constantly brawling and often involved in disputes with the town over property rights and taxes. They burned down fences they didn’t like and moved stone boundaries they didn’t agree with. Their neighbors regarded them as agitators and malcontents. As the clan became more and more intolerable they eventually migrated west toward the Spickett River and the remote area that eventually became Methuen.

Indian Troubles

King Phillip’s War was an interruption to the growth and prosperity of Haverhill as the town braced itself for the defense against Indian uprisings. King Phillip was no king but the grandson of Massasoit with whom the Plymouth colonist had a treaty. As the chief of the Wampanogs in Rhode Island he hated the whites because of their encroachment on tribal lands and hunting grounds. He was a charismatic leader and united the tribes of the region to wage a war to eradicate the white settlements.

Haverhill was fortunate. While other settlements recorded savage raids that burned homes, killed landowners and made captives of women and children, Haverhill suffered no major attacks to that point in time. The threat of these uprisings, however, was real and a constant source of fear and alarm to the settlers to the point where they were afraid to leave the safety of the village for the more remote and exposed fields and planting grounds.

When trouble did occur it began with the misdeeds of two Christian Indians named Symon and Samuel. Christian Indians were indigenous Native Americans who had been converted and lived among the members of the settlement. Symon and Andrew were Haverhill converts known to be troublesome and devious. They stole an Englishman’s horse and were fined five shillings according to court records, and in apparent acts of revenge, engaged in several brutal assaults. On May 2, 1676 Indians stalked and killed Ephraim Kingsbury. Although his assailants were not confirmed, the next day the house of Thomas Kimball of Bradford was raided by the well known Symon and Andrew along with a third converted accomplice named Peter. Mr. Kimball was murdered and his wife and five children were taken captive for six weeks. Mrs. Kimball was later released through the intervention of Wonalancet and identified Symon who thought he had negotiated a deal with the English. Instead, authorities confined them to a Dover jail. They eventually escaped and continued their rampage with their eastern brethren in the Indian Wars throughout the Piscataqua region.

The bloody raids lasted for three years until the colonists responded in armed pursuit. The annihilation of large numbers of hostile warriors including King Phillip and the severity of the winter season caused a general attrition that ultimately brought the war to a close. The fate of Symon and Samuel is not known but they were most likely killed when Indian fighters were dispatched to Maine to capture or kill the last of the hostile Indians.

Uprisings continued sporadically whenever the French were at war with England, since they liked to stir up trouble from Canada. The French armed the Indians and encouraged them in their brutality, planning many of the assaults on the New England settlements. Whatever good fortune Haverhill had found in avoiding the earlier hostilities was now waning as news of sudden and brutal attacks on frontier settlements reached the alarmed townspeople. War parties most often set upon their victims before daybreak slaughtering some and taking away others to Canada where they were sold to the French until and unless their freedom could be paid for by anxious relatives. In the village and beyond, people were in a constant state of fear and plans were devised for the defense of the isolated frontier settlement. Colonel Saltonstall appealed to the General Court for soldiers to help fortify the garrisons. Six such fortified homes including the Peaslee Garrison were strategically located throughout the settlement, constructed of bricks with ports or loopholes through which defenders could direct gunfire.

The Strange Case of Dr. Peaslee

Dr. Joseph Peaslee, Jr. was born in 1646 and raised in Haverhill near Rocks Village. He married Ruth Barnard in 1671 with whom he shared a close relationship. Too close it seems, for the sensibilities of their fellow townsmen, as they had a baby six months after their wedding day and were soon thereafter, presented to the Salisbury Court for fornication, a charge to which they readily admitted. They were sentenced to a whipping or to pay a fine of six pounds. The records do not show which punishment was carried out.

In 1673 in the midst of the Indian incursions Joseph built a fortified house in East Haverhill where he prospered as a millwright and a farmer and was known locally as a physician. The Peaslee-Garrison is the oldest house in Haverhill and endures today at 790 East Broadway. Garrisons were safe houses constructed with bricks and they often had no staircase to the second floor to thwart Indian raiders. Many of the bricks used by Peaslee were imported from England. A chimney is located at each end of the house and it originally had three rooms upstairs and three rooms downstairs. The woodwork was said to be elaborate for its day and the richness of the house suggested social prominence.

Dr. Peaslee, however, had a split personality. Although he was generally a respected member of the settlement at other times townsmen considered him a nuisance or worse. He was in and out of court on numerous occasions both as a plaintiff and defendant for various misdeeds several of which reveal a darker side to his character.

In November of 1676 Peaslee was charged with assaulting one Peter Bruer with a chain. He was ordered to pay restitution to Mr. Bruer in corn and money. He was also bound to good behavior. Later in April 1677 he was convicted of abusing Timothy Swan and ordered to pay 20 shillings in corn to Timothy's father, the contentious Robert Swan.

Then in 1681 he faced major assault charges for a brutal beating of one Peter Green following a barn-raising, ordinarily a neighborly affair. The cause of the altercation is unknown but along with several other witnesses, Ephraim Roberts testified that Peasley had chucked Green under the chin, and then took an apple from a tree and stomped it to pieces boasting: "I could do with you as to this apple, and deal with you and throw you into the river." Peaslee challenged him to a fight but Green refused and began walking home. After following him for a short distance Peaslee struck his victim from behind and beat him until he lost consciousness. He told Ephraim Roberts that Green was drunk and to haul him under a log and leave him there. Peaslee was found guilty, fined and forbidden thereafter to bear any weapons.

This ornery disposition apparently took a turn for the better when he found his religious compass with the “Society of Friends.” The Peaslees were an independent clan and were among the first to declare themselves Quakers. When the community petitioned for a new meetinghouse in the East Parish, Dr. Peaslee made a formal request that the Friends be allowed to use the meetinghouse “for and in their way of worship” but his request was turned down. Instead he opened his home to the first Quaker meeting in New England. Joseph and Ruth were founders of the fledgling Friends movement in Haverhill and were ancestors to the renowned poet and Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier through their daughter, Mary’s marriage to Joseph Whittier.

The Tragic Life and Death of Elizabeth Emerson

Michael Emerson built a home near the village on the great road close to the house of William White. White was a stalwart of the settlement and one of its most prominent townsmen. While the Emersons were also early settlers of the town they were not considered founders, and certainly not in the same social standing. Emerson must have committed some grave indiscretion because it is evident that White disliked him and his family. As a result of this neighborly feud it was decided by the town that the Emersons should leave the village and “go back in the woods.” Michael was granted a tract of excellent land two miles west with generous acreage to entice their immediate and distant removal.

Elizabeth was the sixth of fifteen Emerson children and one of only nine to survive infancy. Mortality was very high among infants and many parents avoided early bonding as a result. Often times a baby was referred to as “it” rather than he or she until the toddler’s survival was assured. This psychology resulted in child rearing that was sometimes stern and often accompanied by corporal punishment. At age eleven Elizabeth was the victim of abuse from her short-tempered father who struck her with a farm instrument called a flail swingle and kicked her so severely that he was ultimately brought before the court for cruel and excessive beating of his daughter.

Young women were considered naturally weaker than men and a source of temptation in the frontier community. In April 1686 at age 23 Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter Dorothy. Illegitimate childbearing was not considered disreputable if the couple subsequently had a successful marriage. Michael Emerson insisted his neighbor’s son Timothy Swan was the father, perhaps hoping for matrimony. The contentious Robert Swan was so indignant by the claim that he threatened to “carry the case to Boston.” Nothing more was charged and Dorothy came into the world fatherless though rumor had it that one Samuel Ladd, a prominent family man from the village, was the real father.

Five years after the birth of Dorothy, Elizabeth was again the object of scandalous misfortune when she was arrested and charged with the murder of two illegitimate infants. On May 7, 1691 she gave birth to twins boys during the night, in a trundle at the foot of her parents bed. Distraught by her predicament she somehow managed to conceal the infants for three days, before sewing them up in a bag, and then burying them in the backyard of the Emerson homestead.
The following Sunday, while her parents were at church, a group of citizens responding to rumors that Elizabeth was pregnant went to the Emerson house. When they arrived Elizabeth was pale and very weak and submitted to an examination by the women without protest. In the meantime, the men went into the backyard and found the bodies of the two infants buried in a shallow grave.

The shocking revelations lead to an examination of facts by Nathaniel Saltonstall. Testimony implicated Samuel the son of the prominent Daniel Ladd of seduction and fornication for allegedly coercing Elizabeth from her home to a nearby tavern for more than one romantic liaison. The affair was probably carried on for all five years between the births of Dorothy and the twins, which should dispel any allegations of promiscuity. There is also a possibility that the twin boys were born prematurely and did not survive for natural reasons rather than at the hands of a murderous mother.

But Ladd denied all accusations of involvement and nothing more was made the claims. Saltonstall remanded Emerson to the custody of Boston authorities and in spite of her declarations of innocence Elizabeth spent two years in prison before she was hanged at Boston Common for infanticide following her coerced confession to Cotton Mather.

Ironically, four years later Mather would bestow fame and adulation on Elizabeth’s older sister Hannah Emerson Duston for an act that many in society would come to regard as more heinous than any of the sins committed by Elizabeth.

The Witches of Haverhill

In 1692 the Salem witch trials were in full hysteria. Suspicion fueled by jealousy, delusion and fear, was spreading throughout several Puritan Colonies north of Boston and Essex County in particular.

On August 4 Mary Clark of Haverhill, under accusations of being a witch, was presented in Salem before John Hathorne and other magistrates for examination. Hathorne was a strict Puritan who believed the devil used witches to undermine the purpose of the church and cause moral and physical harm to its congregation. Because of these beliefs, Hathorne and another Justice, Jonathan Corwin, took complaints about suspected witches very seriously and the punishment for those found guilty was extreme. Nineteen of the accused were hanged at the gallows, and an eighty year-old man was pressed to death, convicted on nothing more than "spectral evidence,” testimony that apparitions resembling the accused had tormented people, as well as the hysterical statements of a few teen-age girls.

At the trial a girl named Mary Walcott was called as a witness against Clark and swore that she had been afflicted by Clark’s “looking upon her,” which caused her to suffer grotesque fits of contortion, falling into frozen postures and complaining of biting and pinching sensations. The Judges who were predisposed toward the guilt of those suspected of witchcraft, lest they be considered in league with the devil, exhorted Mary Clark to confess but she absolutely denied the charges.

A Constable of Haverhill (either Joseph Peaslee or John Ayer, both of whom were in attendance) was called upon and asked about Mary Clark’s fame and reputation. He answered that he had heard that she was or had been guilty of such actions, but as to anything in particular he could not say. When the Justices asked Walcott if she could be mistaken, she answered that this was the very woman she saw afflict Timothy Swan, and also Betty Hubbard and Ann Putnam on separate occasions.

Hubbard and Putnam along with Susanna Sheldon and Mary Post were part of a group of girls whose imaginations were carried away by palmistry, magic and spiritualism and they were the chief accusers and witnesses in many of the witchcraft trials. Ann Putnam said that Clark had afflicted her by pinching, choking and striking her. Mary Post even claimed to have observed her spirit eating and drinking at a witch meeting and that she had also seen her afflict Timothy Swan.

In addition to Clark the list of those accused at Salem included Martha Emerson, Mary Green, Frances Hutchins and Ruth Wilford all of Haverhill. One other from north of the Merrimack, Susannah Martin of Amesbury, executed July 19, 1692, was the “Goody Martin” of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “The Witch’s Daughter.”

As the accusations became bolder doubts were developing as to how so many respectable people could be guilty. It became apparent that most of the accused were generally of a higher social standing and more prosperous than their accusers and the belief grew that the plaintiffs were perjuring themselves in order to gain land or position in the community. In the fall of 1692 Sir William Phipps, the Governor of Massachusetts vacated the Salem Court of its authority. He disallowed all spectral evidence and the following spring most charges were dismissed and those still imprisoned were pardoned. It was most likely that the Haverhill women were released at that time.

In the aftermath there was a groundswell of contrition yet still some measure of denial existed, especially by those who had prosecuted the witch-hunt. Perhaps because of Nathaniel Saltonstall’s conscientious refusal to participate in the trials there was far less recrimination in Haverhill and witchcraft accusations were scarcely chronicled.

The perpetual shame that was cast on the Puritan Community is no more evident than by the fact that Judge Hathorne's great-grandson, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, added a "w" to his name to distance himself from his ancestor for the unrepentant role he played at Salem. After the Salem witch trials no one was ever again convicted as a witch in America. Salem Village eventually separated from Salem Town in 1752 and became the town of Danvers.

Hannah Duston and the Tomahawk Killings

Thomas Duston was said to be a man of good character and unshakeable courage. He settled his family at the western frontier outpost apart from the village. In March of 1697 he was preparing a distant field for the spring planting when he spied a party of men edging gingerly out from the woods in an area just west of the little River. The intruders moved stealthily closer until the faces became so visible that he could see the war paint. Instantly he grabbed his musket and hastened for home. He rode by horseback intending to intercept the Indian attack and safeguard his family to the protective quarters of a nearby garrison. But the assault was swift and in this moment of crisis Thomas made a decision to usher seven of his eight children to safety while leaving behind his infant daughter and wife Hannah who was inside the house and too weakened from her recent birthing to join the escape. Duston was fired upon and without returning the volley gallantly kept his attackers at bay by simply pointing and threatening his loaded musket as he led his children to the garrison of Onisephorus Marsh halfway up Pecker’s Hill. Meanwhile the marauding Indians set upon Hannah, her infant daughter and nurse Mary Neff. The child was dashed against an apple tree and killed instantly as Hannah and the nurse were taken captive. The retreating war party had slaughtered or captured thirty-nine persons and left behind nine burning homes.

The beleaguered women endured a forced journey northward to Pennacook, with a young boy named Samuel Lennardson who had been captured in an earlier raid on Worcester. They were separated from the other captives and placed under the watchful eye of a family of two men, three women and seven children. As the weeks passed Hannah came to understand enough of their language to realize that Canada was their destination. Fearing the worst she began to devise a plan of escape and enlisted her fellow captives. Tradition has it that the boy had been with this family long enough to be trusted. At Hannah’s urging he asked one of the men where to strike a man to kill him with a tomahawk and also how to scalp his victim. The Indian must have thought he was simply a curious boy as he described the murderous tactics in detail.

The Indian family apparently did not regard their captives as dangerous and thought they were too timid to risk an escape so they slept each night without restraining or guarding their prisoners. Hannah’s rage over the death of her infant daughter Martha, however, must have been overwhelming. She waited until all were asleep, picked up a weapon belonging to one of her captors and struck deadly blows to each of them with such force that most were dispatched without alarm. A wounded squaw and a young boy escaped into the darkness while Hannah completed her grim task by scalping her victims and placing the gruesome booty in a linen cloth that had been looted from her house. The scalps would bear witness to her story if and when they returned home safely. Assiduously they made their way to the canoes, scuttling all but the one in which they made their way down river. With a dead captor’s musket in hand they were watchful for passing war parties or likely avengers who might be in hot pursuit once the alarm was sounded.

Hannah Bradley was among the other captives who were separated from Hannah Duston and Mary Neff. She was present at the natives’ camp when the badly wounded squaw and boy arrived to tell of the death of ten Indians at the hands Duston and Neff. She later told of the fierce agitation that spread among the Abenakis and the party of warriors that gave chase. But Hannah Duston was determined and resolute. She ordered that one companion remain awake while the other two slept and avoided most open daylight passages. After a long struggle they made their way home to Haverhill and to their astonished survivors who were still mourning their certain loss.

Regarded by many for her strength and courage Hannah Duston was the first American woman to have a statue dedicated in her memory and to this day the only North American woman to have two, the second one standing on an island near Pennacook, New Hampshire. However, the morality of the acts committed by Hannah Duston have been hotly debated throughout the passage of time by notable historians including Cotton Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier and Henry David Thoreau.

Hannah Bradley and the Scalding Soap

Other isolated attacks occurred with little or no warning and created a constant anxiety to the inhabitants of Haverhill until the winter months when the Indians would retreat to Canada. This caused a regrettable relaxation as on the eighth day in February 1704 a party of six Indians attacked the unguarded garrison of Joseph Bradley in West Parish while he was away. A pregnant Hannah Bradley was boiling soap when the invasion occurred and having already suffered the indignities of captivity after the Duston affair she was not about to be taken without a fight. She poured a ladle of the scalding soap across the head of one of the intruders before being overpowered and taken captive once again. Her defiance was not without repercussion. During her journey north she gave birth to a child that was treated with severe cruelty by their captors who placed embers in the baby’s mouth when it cried and used their knives to scratch wounds to its head. Finally when Bradley left the child unguarded to wander a short distance, she was repulsed and distraught to discover the infant impaled on a pike when she returned.

Once in Canada Hannah Bradley was sold and indentured to a French family who treated her with kindness. Joseph Bradley learned of his wife’s whereabouts in March 1705 and traveled by foot to Montreal where he paid for her release. They sailed to Boston and she returned safely to her home in Haverhill more than a year after the ordeal began.

Bloody Sunday

Haverhill suffered its most devastating Indian attack in the summer of 1708. The French had conspired earlier that spring in Montreal with a council of Indians that included all the tribes in eastern Canada, plus the Abenakis and one hundred French Canadians to bring a new campaign of terror to English settlements. The original plan was to venture south in two groups to attract scant attention and regroup near Lake Winnipesaukee before descending upon the frontier settlements at Portsmouth and beyond. An accidental killing of one of the Hurons by another of that tribe was seen as a bad omen and caused them to abandon the cause. Then French Mohawks, falsely claming that disease was spreading through their numbers used the excuse to also retreat from the ranks. Undeterred the French pressed on to Winnipesaukee only to find that their eastern Indians allies had also deserted them. With their legions depleted they decided upon a less ambitious offensive to save face, and chose the frontier settlement on the Merrimack as their target.

The settlers of Haverhill, having seen no Indian troubles in recent times were lulled into a sense of false security and returned to the normal routines of frontier life. Even the soldiers that were sent to occupy the garrison homes had become lazy and non-vigilant in their duties having diverted their attentions more often to the young females of the town rather than possible Indian attacks. On the morning of August 29, 1708 as the village slept, a war party of about 150 French and Indians quietly slipped by the frontier garrisons toward the village. A young local named John Keezar who was an early riser was leading his horse from pasture and was near the pound when he spied the invading forces and raced ahead to the village firing a single musket shot to raise the alarm. Suddenly the pre-dawn air was filled with war cries as the savages descended on the town.

The Rolfe Slaughters

The house of the Reverend Benjamin Rolfe where the City Hall and municipal offices stand today was the first to come under siege. Rolfe courageously struggled to brace the door while garrison soldiers who were quartered there stood frozen in fright offering no resistance. Two musket balls passed through the door and one struck him in the elbow after which he retreated out the back door before he was overtaken and tomahawked to death near the well. The stalkers returned to the household where they discovered and slaughtered Mrs. Rolfe and their youngest daughter Mehitible. Two other Rolfe daughters escaped death when a Negro slave named Hagar bravely hid them in the cellar. Ann Whittaker who also lived with the family hid in an apple chest under the stairs and survived unharmed. The cowardly soldiers who had abandoned the defense of the family begged for mercy to no avail.

A short distance west of the meetinghouse Thomas Hartshorne was fatally shot along with two of his sons as they ran from their house to call for help. A third son was tomahawked as he came out of the doorway. Mrs. Hartshorne hid in the cellar with the rest of her children while leaving an infant son in the bedroom for fear that its cries would give them away. The marauders overlooked the hideaways but upon finding the baby callously heaved it out of the window into a pile of shingles. The infant somehow survived the fall and was ultimately rehabilitated to complete health.

John Johnson the blacksmith was seventy-six and a lieutenant in the local militia. His cottage home occupied the corner lot overlooking the river at what is now the junction of Main and Water Streets. Johnson engaged his attackers at his front door where he was shot and died instantly. Katherine Johnson escaped to the garden with their one-year old great granddaughter Lydia before she was set upon and brutally killed. Miraculously, the baby was found unharmed by her great grandmother’s side.

Meanwhile two more Indians were raiding the Swan household, which stood in the middle of a field located approximately where the Trinity Episcopal Church resides today. Swan saw them approaching and barricaded the door to defend his family against the intruders. The force of the attack proved too great, however, and just as Swan began to despair and one of the indians started to squeeze through the narrow doorway Mrs. Swan grabbed a three foot spit from the fireplace and with all the strength she could muster ran it through him putting to end the assault.

Mrs. Wainwright’s Escape

A short distance away another war party was laying siege to the home of Simon Wainwright. Wainwright was the first merchant in Haverhill and the Captain of the village militia. He lived in one of the houses of refuge, which were not full-fledged garrisons but quartered soldiers. From his doorstep on a ridge he could see across the Little River to the west, and beyond the leafy woods toward the village at the east. When he heard the commotion he reacted immediately but was killed by a musket ball fired in the first volley. The soldiers who were garrisoned there continued the defense of the dwelling until Mrs. Wainwright inexplicably opened the door and welcomed the Indians with ceremonial warmth and hospitality, which so stunned them that they momentarily ceased all hostilities. When they demanded money she politely excused herself to comply but instead slipped out the back door with all of her children except for one daughter who was taken captive. The deception enraged the Indians and they began to loot and set fire to the building before the soldiers rearmed their defense and caused them to retreat.

In the West Parish Joseph Bradley was having breakfast when he heard the distress call from a boy who had run the entire three-mile distance to spread the alarm. Bradley was an experienced Indian fighter having staved off more than one attack during his thirty-six years on the frontier. After making sure that the garrison near his house was secure he assembled five men and started east toward Little River, then southerly by Thomas Duston’s house where three more armed men joined their company. It was soon thereafter that they found the packs of provisions and medicines that the enemy had hidden in the woods near Long Hill before commencing their raid on the village. After removing the packs they spread out in the edge of the woods as Bradley positioned them so that they would have the advantage when the enemy forces returned for their supplies.

Ayer Sounds the Warning Horn

Captain Samuel Ayer was a Selectman, Constable and Deacon, a man of high standing in the community. Ayer heard distant gunfire from his garrison home in the North Parish just before the raiders descended on what was the first Ayers Village where Gale Park resides today. So sudden was the attack that Thomas Ayer’s wife and daughter were chased down and killed as they ran for the garrison. Thomas survived but a life or death defense of the safe house ensued as French and Indian warriors surrounded it and rammed the door with battering logs amidst a hail of musket balls. Legend has it that a lull in the battle allowed Captain Ayer to sound a horn four times, which was returned by two answering calls from Mill Street. This apparently unnerved the Frenchmen, as they must have thought English reinforcements were on the way and they made a hasty retreat with thirteen of their wounded companions. After assessing the damage and assuring himself that the compound was secure Captain Ayer set out with eight other men in pursuit of the marauders.

In spite of the damage inflicted it was becoming evident, that the raid on this village was much more costly than the French leaders ever anticipated. The English had proved to be resilient fighters and after the initial shock they responded with deadly resolve. At the garrison assaults, Frenchmen and Indians had fallen or were badly wounded and even in the savage invasions of solitary homes the settlers had fought back with a good measure of vengeance. The Indian leader Assacambuit was wounded in the foot and his raiders were now in full retreat scattering down Winter Street, across the Little River and racing for cover.

Commander De Chaillons was caught off guard when he reached the top of Long Hill. This was an open field and when Joseph Bradley’s men opened fire from the woods the trap was sprung. Captain Ayer and his party now numbered about twenty men and caught up to the enemy from the rear with his son and another company of men on the way. The skirmish lasted more than an hour before Captain Ayer was slain. He was a large man and had been shot in the groin and he bled so profusely that when told his father had been killed his son looked at the body lying in the grass and said that could not possibly be his father as he (the corpse) had on a pair of red breeches.

The French and Indians hid in the tall grass, as the men now numbering around sixty fired on them at will from long range. They could not stand and reload their muskets as they would be easy targets, so they lay low. The pursuing townsmen however, dared not advance to engage them in close combat as they knew the Indian's fighting skills were deadly. As a result the raiding party escaped to the cover of the forest and the engagement ended. In the aftermath many retreating Frenchmen returned to give themselves up having no provisions and suffering severely from the battlle.

The surviving colonists faced the grim task of burying their dead. The day was hot and the bodies would soon putrefy so a single grave was excavated at the burial ground where sixteen cadavers were laid to rest side by side. Their Pastor Benjamin Rolfe was among the casualties and so Colonel Richard Saltonstall offered a few solemn words. The soldiers killed were buried together in a mass grave. Enemy casualties were buried for the most part where they had fallen, Indians in shallow graves while the burial spots of Frenchmen were covered with fieldstones. A total of sixty-one persons died between sunrise and sunset on that fateful Sunday.

Uncommon Ground

In the aftermath of the massacre there were fewer Indian raids near Haverhill and although a number of wayward bands were observed skulking they were usually chased away without incident. Amidst the peace that followed, the town would address matters that had been long neglected. The procurement of preachers for new parishes as well as a proper schoolteacher were among the discussions of importance to the town. Nathaniel Saltonstall wrote to the General Court in opposition to more public houses than were necessary and just two taverns were licensed.

Another issue that had remained dormant during the uprisings was now being pushed to the forefront. It was the matter of land rights of the commoners versus the limited rights of non-commoners. In the early years of the settlement the right to live in a town implied the allotment of land ownership and the right to use the common lands of the town. As a result land lots were freely given to families who greatly improved their standing through one and two or more generations.

The commoners or proprietors as they were called, were the early settlers of the colony and their relatives. They claimed privilege over the control and disposition of all common and undivided lands within the boundaries of Haverhill. They felt that by assuming the original risks related to the wilderness settlement they also deserved the rewards of control over land rights and that the others were Johnny come lately land grabbers.

The inhabitants, on the other hand, had suffered the same savage incursions of the Indians and fought just as gallantly and wanted more in terms of their fair share of the unassigned lands in the vast settlement. But the proprietors were parsimonious in the disposition of land grants and stonewalled all efforts to open discussion of the controversial subject. The largest undivided tract was the so-called cow common, which lay in the North Parish stretching from Great Pond (Kenoza Lake) to the junction of Fishing and Little Rivers. Other undivided tracts of land were equally desirable. While petitions for small grants of land were approved, a wider plan to divide lots in the cow common and to lay out highways to gain access to those lands was not commissioned.

The dissention was no more evident than in the meetinghouse where commoners and non-commoners defiantly elected separate officials, causing the intervention and moderation of independent observers to mediate the hotly disputed argument. Ultimately the proprietary rights of the Commoners were upheld and common lands were preserved for their arbitrary discretion. The manifest authority of their claims was too strong to be overturned and they would continue to control the granting of acreage to commoners and non-commoners alike. During this period a more ordered hierarchal society was emerging and the easy upward mobility that characterized the early years of the settlement was slowly disappearing.

In the years that followed Haverhill’s borders regressed substantially. In 1724 residents in the western part of the town petitioned the General Court to grant them permission to form a new town above Hawke’s Meadow Brook. Although opposed by their fellow townsmen the petition was approved the following year and the Town of Methuen was incorporated. In 1741 a new State line was run between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Salem, Plaistow and later Atkinson and Hampstead were incorporated as towns north of the boundary removing nearly one-third of Haverhill’s population and territorial claim. As time passed the proprietors saw their control and influence waning and they began to dispose of lands including the previously undivided cow common and then smaller scattered lots including many along the river. Wharves were built and the town began prospering from inland and coastal commerce. After 100 years the settlement of Pentucket was no longer a frontier town and change was on the way.