If you look in the history books, you will not find any reference to a Tewksbury Indian massacre. But that would not mean that the town had no involvement in one. By twists of fate, a massacre occurred (1695) on land that was to become part of Tewksbury (1733), then later part of Lowell (1826).
The Massachusetts General Court (legislature) in 1664 had granted an area of 500 acres to Indians of the Pawtucket tribe at Wamesit, bordered by the Merrimack and Concord rivers. Rev. John Eliot preached to the Indians frequently, and Wamesit, near Fort Hill, became the fifth village of the “praying Indians”, who had been converted to Christianity.
A century before the American Revolution, trouble broke out between the Indians and the English settlers in southern New England. The uprising was led by a chieftain named Metacomet, known to the English as King Philip, who sought to drive the English out. Of the 90 settled town in Massachusetts, more than half were attacked by Indians. Billerica was not among those, due to the leadership of Wannalancet, sachem of the Wamesit, who took to the wilderness to avoid the fighting.
From 1677 to 1689, a period of peace ensued, though tensions remained high. Some real estate transactions were recorded. In 1685, Jonathan Danforth bought, for 13 pounds sterling, land to be known as Billerica, bounded by the Merrimack on the north, Andover on the northeast, Woburn on the south and Concord on the west.
In 1689, the Catholic King James II of England was deposed and fled to France. The new king, William III, was protestant. War broke out between the British and the French, known as the Nine Years’ War or the War of the Grand Alliance. In the colonies, it was King William’s War, the first of the French and Indian Wars, which gripped New England from 1689 and 1760. English colonists, allied with Iroquois Indians, fought against French forces allied with Abenecki and Pennacook Indians.
Two raids occurred in Billerica during King William’s War, one on August 1, 1692, the other on August 5, 1695.
In the 1692 incident, six persons were killed in a raid about a half mile south of North Billerica. There was almost no record made of this raid, other than the notation “all killed by Indians” for Mrs. Joanna Dutton, her daughter Mary Dunkin, 16, and her son Benoi, 2; and Mrs. Ann Shed, her daughters, Hannah, 13, and Agnes, 2.
The second raid took place east of the Concord River, near the Merrimack in territory that later became part of Tewksbury. Then in 1826, it was annexed by the city of Lowell.
An account of that raid appears in the 1882 History of Billerica by Rev. Henry A. Hazen. He quoted from “An Historical Memoir of Billerica,” published in 1816 by Joseph Farmer:
“In the northerly part of the town, on the east side of the Concord River, lived a number of families, who, without garrisons and in a time of war, seemed to be under no apprehensions of danger. Their remoteness from the scenes of Indian depredations might have contributed to their fancied security. The Indians came suddenly upon them in the daytime. Dr. Mather, the only early writer who has mentioned the event, says it was reported they were on horseback, and from that circumstance “were not suspected for Indians, till they surprised the house they came to.” They entered the house of John Rogers, son of one of the early settlers, about noon, and while from the fatigues of the day he was enjoying a repose upon his bed. They discharged one of their arrows, which entered his neck and pierced the jugular vein. Awakened with this sudden and unexpected attack, he started up, seized the arrow, which he forcibly withdrew, and expired with the instrument of death in his hand. A woman being in the chamber threw herself out of the window and, though severely wounded, effected her escape by concealing herself among some flags. A young woman was scalped and left for dead but survived the painful operation and lived for many years afterwards. A son and daughter of John Rogers were taken prisoner.
The family of John Levistone (Livingston) suffered most severely. His mother-in-law and five young children were killed and his eldest daughter captured. Thomas Rogers and his oldest son were killed. Mary, the wife of Dr. Roger Toothaker, was killed and Margaret, their youngest daughter, taken prisoner. Fifteen persons were killed or taken at this surprisal. The records of the town give the names of fourteen who were killed or taken into captivity. Ten were killed, of whom five were adults. Though the Indians were immediately pursued by inhabitants of the center of town, yet so effectually had they taken precautions in their flight that all efforts to find them were unavailing. It is said they even tied up the mouths of their dogs with wampum, from an apprehension that their barking would discover the direction they had taken. The shock given to the inhabitants by this melancholy event was long had in painful remembrance.”
Mrs. Toothaker was the sister of Martha Carrier, who was executed in the Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692. Her husband was absent during the raid, having gone to Salem seeking to address the witchcraft delusions that had claimed the life of his sister-in-law.
Hazen quotes a report by Col. Joseph Lynde. The attack led to a massing of militia, with about 300 men participating. They marched to the Merrimack and guarded the three fords between Andover and Chelmsford with 48 men at each ford. Another hundred men camped at Prospect Hill (Ames Hill in Tewksbury), “that lies between Chelmsford and the river, on the northern side of the great swamp.” The militia scoured the woods to no avail, and later gathered at a place called Sandy Pond (Silver Lake in Wilmington), eight miles east of Billerica.
Several other towns were attacked during the war, including Haverhill, where Hannah Dustin was kidnapped. She was taken to an island in Contoocook NH where, aided by her nurse and a boy, she was able to kill and scalp ten of her captors.
On Sept. 11, 1697, a treaty was signed, officially ending King William’s War. However, before word had reached Massachusetts of the treaty, Indians attacked Lancaster where they killed 21 people, wounded two and took six captives.
In 1703, another war broke out, Queen Anne’s War. In that conflict, a party of Indians attacked Dunstable on July 6, 1706. Five broke off from that attack and went to Reading, where they attacked the home of John Harnden, on a site that is now in Wilmington. They killed Mrs. Susanna Harnden and three children. The oldest daughter took some of the children and hid behind a large boulder, but they were discovered. Abigail was wounded and thrown in a pond, but survived. The other children were kidnapped, but were recovered.
copyright 2009 Larz Neilson