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THE ancient Indian name of Billerica was Shawshine, a name which it received from its vicinity to the river
of this name. The present name is derived from Billericay, in the county of Essex, in England, whence it is supposed
that several of the first inhabitants emigrated. As early as 1637, the general court appointed Capt. Jennison and
Lieut. Spooner to view Shawshine, and to consider whether it be fit for a plantation. In 1641, it was granted to
Cam-. bridge, “provided they would make it a village to have ten families settled there within ten years.” It appears
that the first settlement was made about the year 1653. It was commenced by a number of respectable families from
Cambridge, but the greater part were originally from England. The following are the names of some of the first
principal settlers: John Parker, John Kittredge, John Rogers, William French, George Farley, Ralph Hill, Samuel
Manning, Simon Crosby, Jonathan Danforth, Rev. Samuel Whiting, Thomas Richardson, Edward Farmer, Joseph Tompson.
In 1656, the inhabitants of Shawshine, in answer to their petition, obtained a grant of land lying upon Concord
river, near the farms of John and Robert Blood. To this tract the court granted the name of Billerica. In the same
year, 8,000 acres of land lying at Natticott were granted to the inhabitants. About 6,300 acres were situated on
the east of Merrimac river, and 1,750 on the west side. The town was divided into lots, by Jonathan Danforth, who
was one of the committee for locating the home lots. These lots were most generally denominated ten and five acre
lots. A ten acre lot, or a single share, contained 113 acres of upland, and 12 acres of meadow. A five acre lot
contained half this quantity.
It appears that the first church was gathered in this town in 1663, and the Rev. Samuel Whiting was ordained in
the same year. The first meeting-house was erected by John Parker, and completed about 1660; it was at first covered
with thatch instead of shingles. A regard for purity of morals and an attention to religious duties appear to have
been the characteristics of the first inhabitants. Within a few years after the town was settled, three persons
were chosen “to examine the several families, and see whether their children and servants were taught in the principles
of religion.” In 1675, the selectmen of this town passed 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. Whiting, to receive catechetical
instruction at such times as should be appointed. Mr. Whiting died in 1713, having preached in this place more
than fifty years. He was succeeded by Rev. Samuel Ruggles.
Capt. Jonathan Danforth was one of the most active and enterprising settlers of Billerica. He was distinguished
for his mathematical knowledge, usefulness, and piety. From his skill in surveying, he was frequently employed
in locating new towns and settlements in the provinces of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The plans of his surveys
were very numerous, and many of them remain. He also left other manuscripts. A poem was written on his death, (in
1712,) of which the following is an extract:
"He rode the circuit, chain'd great towns and farms
To good behavior and by well marked stations,
He fixed. their bounds for many gcnerations.
His art ne'er fail'd him, though the loadstone failed,
When oft by mines and streams it was assailed
All this is charming, hut there's something higher,
Gave him the lustre which we most admire."
Here follows an account of his piety, attention to religious duties, which are celebrated by the poet in the
versification peculiai to that period.
About the period of king Philip's war, the number of families in Billerica was about forty eight, arid the number
of dwelling houses forty seven. The alarm produced by the incursions of the Indians at this time, caused many persons
to leave their habitations and seek refuge in the most compact part of the several towns. It is not known, however,
that this town suffered any essential injury during Philip's war.
Within the original limits of this town lived a considerable body of Indians. The Pawtucketts, at Wamesit and its
vicinity, contained in 1675 about 250 souls. They had been formerly estimated at 3,000. They inhabited a small
tract of land on the east side of Concord river, and bordering on the Merrimac. The division line between them
and the English, it is said, extended from Merrimac river, about half a mile below the mouth of Concord river,
on a direct line to Concord river, two miles from its mouth. Their plantation was separated from the English by
a ditch, which may be still traced. Within these limits is a hill, called Fort Hill, on which are some remains
of their fortification. in this place it seems the Indians were in some degree civilized, and attended to the cultivation
of their lands.
During the French and Indian war, on Aug. 5th, 1693, the Indians made an irruption on the inhabitants of this place.
"In the northerly part of the town, on the east of Concord river, lived several families, who, though without
garrisons and in time of war, felt no apprehensions of danger. Their remoteness from the frontiers might have contributed
to their apparent security. The Indians came suddenly upon them in the day-time. They entered the house of John
Rogers while he was sleeping, and discharged an arrow at him, which entered his neck and pierced the jugular vein.
Awakened by 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, made her escape by concealing herself among some flags. A young woman was scalped,
and left for dead, but survived the painful operation, and lived many years afterwards. A son and daughter of Mr.
Rogers were made prisoners. The family of John Levistone suffered most severely. His mother-in-law and five young
children were killed, and his oldest daughter captured. Thomas Rogers and his oldest son were killed. Mary, the
wife of Dr. Roger Toothaker, was killed, and Margaret, his youngest daughter, taken prisoner. Fifteen persons were
killed or taken at this surprisal. Though the Indians were immediately pursued by the inhabitants of the center
of the town, yet so effectually had they taken precautions in their flight that all efforts to find them were unavailing.
It is said that they even had 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."
The above is a southern view of the central part of Billerica, taken from the Concord road. The Unitarian church
(erected in 1797) and the academy are seen on the left of the engraving. The tavern and post office, the town house,
and some other buildings, are seen on the opposite side of the street; the spire of the Orthodox Congregational
church is seen on the extreme right. The village street is about a mile in extent. About two miles northward, the
Middlesex canal crosses the Concord river; in the eastern part of the town this canal and the Lowell railroad cross
the Shawshine river; the canal crosses this river by means of an aqueduct 20 feet in height. Population, 1,498.
Distance, 10 miles from Concord, 6 from Lowell, and 18 from Boston. In 1837, there were 2 woollen mills, and 4
sets of machinery; 96,319 yards of cloth were manufactured, valued at $32,561; males employed, 17; females, 23.
There were 512 pairs of boots and 19,336 pairs of shoes manufactured, which were valued at $11,093.
The following inscriptions were copied from monuments in the grave yard on the Concord road, about a mile from
the central part of the village:
Sub hoc saxo sepulchrali conditi sunt cineres Reverendi domini SAMUELS RUGGLES, ecclesae nuper pastoris Billerice;
qui cursu quem Deus dederat peracto A. C. 1749, morti cessit tertio die Martii, cum vixisset annos circiter 68,
et munere sacerdotali ferme 41 fideliter perfunctus esset.
Which may be translated in the following manner:
Beneath this monumental stone are gathered the ashes of the REVERNED SAMUEL RUGGLES, late pastor of the church
at Billerica; who having finished the work appointed for him by God, departed in 1749, on the 3d day of March.
He was about 68 years of age, and had faithfully discharged the ministerial office for almost 41 years.
Here lies ye body of the widow LYDIA DYER, of Boston, the place of her nativity, where she left a good Estate &
came into ye country May 22d, 1775, to escape ye abuce of ye Ministerial Troops sent by George ye 3d to subject
North America. She died July 28th, 1776. aged 80 years.
The sweet remembrance of the just
Shall flourish when they sleep in dust.
Beneath this stone rest the remains of the Rev. HENRY CUMMINGS. D. D.. late pastor of the church and Christian
Society in Billerica. Born Sept. 25th, 1739; ordained Jan. 26, 1763; died Sept. 5th, 1823. Possessing intellectual
powers of the highest order, he was eminently learned, pious and faithful, and by his life and example illustrated
and recommended the doctrine and virtues he taught and inculcated. -In grateful remembrance of his distinguished
virtues, this stone is erected by the people of his charge.
Historical Collections Relating to the
History and Antiquities of
Every town in Massachusetts with
By John Warner Barber.
Published by Warren Lazell.