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THE settlement of this town goes far back into the early history of Massachusetts. According to Winthrop, the
plantation of Nashaway was undertaken in 1643. The whole territory around was in subjection to Sholan or Shaumey,
sachem of the Nashaways, and whose residence was at Waushacurn, now Sterling. Sholat? occasionally visited Watertown
for the purpose of trading with Mr. Thomas King, who resided there. He recommended Nashawogg to King as a place
well suited for a plantation, and invited the English to come and dwell near him. Accordingly King, united with
a number of others, purchased the land of Sholan, and procured a deed for 10 miles in length and 8 in breadth,
stipulating that the English should not molest the Indians in their hunting, fishing, or planting places. This
deed was confirmed by the general court.
The precise time of the removal to Lancaster is not known. The first building was a "trucking house,"
erected by Symonds and King, about a mile south-west of the church. Mr. King sold all his interest in this grant
to his associates, who, having given lots of land to Richard Linton, Lawrence Waters and John Ball, sent them up
to make preparation for the general coming of the proprietors, and these were the first inhabitants. Others by
the name of Prescott, Atherton, and Sawyer, soon followed. For the space of seven years little was done to forward
the settlement of the plantation; nevertheless, there being nine families in the place, they petitioned the general
court to be incorporated as a town, which was granted on the 18th of May, 1653, (0. S.) by the name of Lancaster.
The first town meeting on record was held in the summer of 1654, probably soon after the petition just mentioned
was granted. At the next meeting it was voted not to take into the town above 35 families, and the names of 25
individuals are signed who are to be considered as townsmen. They are as follows, viz.
Mr. Jos. Rowlandson,
William Kerley, sen.
John Whitcomb, jr.
Wm. and John Lewis,
William Kerley, jr.
Many of these names still abound in Lancaster and the vicinity. In 1659 the town repealed the impolitic order limiting
the settlers to 35, and after this the population rapidly increased. The affairs of the town appear to have proceeded
in tolerable quiet for more than 20 years from the first settlement, till 1674. The Indians were inclined to peace,
and in various ways were of service to the inhabitants. But this happy state of things was not destined to continue.
The day of deep and long-continued distress was at hand. The natives, with whom they had lived on terms of mutual
good will, became their bitter enemies: desolation was to spread over the fair inheritance; fire and the tomahawk,
torture and, death, were soon to be busy in destroying all the comforts of domestic life. On the 22d of August,
1675, eight persons were killed in different parts of Lancaster. On the 10th (0. S.) of February following, early
in the morning, the Wampanoags, led by Philip, accompanied by the Narragansetts, his allies, and also by the Nipmucks
and the Nashaways, whom his artful eloquence had persuaded to join with him, made a desperate attack upon Lancaster.
His forces consisted of 1,500 men, who assaulted the town in five distinct bodies and places. There were at that
time more than fifty families in Lancaster. After killing a number of persons in different parts of the town, and
burning a number of houses, they directed their course to the house of Mr. Rowlandson, the minister of the place.
This house at the time was occupied by soldiers and inhabitants to the number of 42, and was defended with determined
bravery for upwards of two hours. The enemy, after a number of unsuccessful attempts to set fire to the building,
succeeded by pushing a cart filled with combustible materials against it in the rear. In this way the house was
soon enveloped in flame, and to avoid perishing in the ruins the inhabitants were compelled to surrender. Only
one man escaped. The rest, twelve in number, were either killed on the spot or reserved for torture.
Different accounts vary in the number of the slain and captives. At least here were fifty persons, and one account
says fifty five. Nearly half of these suffered death. No less than seventeen of Rev. Mr. Rowlandson's family and
connexions were put to death or taken prisoners. He at the time, with Capt. Kerley, was at Boston, soliciting military
aid from Gov. Leverett and the council. The anguish they felt at their return is not to be described. The Indians
made great plunder in various parts of the town. They were forced, however, to retreat on the appearance of Capt.
Wadsworth, who, hearing of the distressed situation of the people, immediately marched from Marlborough, where
he was stationed, with forty men. He quartered his soldiers in various parts of the town, and remained there some
time; hut before his departure one of his men was killed by the Indians. Bat the alarm of the inhabitants was so
great, and such was the general insecurity of the border towns, that when the troops withdrew, about six weeks
afterwards, the rest of the inhabitants left, under their protPction. Immediately after this desertion of the place
all the buildings were reduced to ashes but two. For more than three years after this, Lancaster remained without
an inhabitant. During this time Mr. Rowlandson preached in Weihersfield, Conn., and there he died before the resettlement
of the town. His wile and two of his children were restored to him after three months' captivity. Most of the women
and children taken at this incursion of the Indians returned. From 1680 to 1692 the inhabitants were not molested
in the resettlement of the town. But upon the breaking out of King William's war, the colonies were again involved
in a war with the Canadians, both French and Indians, in the calamities of which this town had a large share. On
the 18th of July, (0. S.) 1692, a party of the Indians attacked the house of Peter Joslyn, and murdered his wife
and three children. and a widow Whitcomb. Elizabeth How. his wife's sister, was taken captive, hut afterwards returned.
Another child of his was killed by the enemy in the wilderness. At the time of the assault, Joslyn was at work
in the field. In 1695, on a Sunday morning, Mr. Abraham Wheeler was shot by the enemy lying in ambush. No further
injury was done till 1697, when they entered the town under five leaders, with an intention to commence their attack
upon Thomas Sawyer's garrison. It was by the merest accident that they were deterred from their plan. The gates
of Sawyer's garrison were open. A Mr. Jacob Fairbanks, who lived at half a mile's distance, mounted his horse,
which came running to hint much frightened, and rode rapidly to the garrison, though without suspicion. for the
purpose of taking his son who was there. The enemy, supposing they were discovered, being just ready to rush into
the garrison, relinquished their design, and on retreating fired upon the inhabitants at work in the fields. At
no time, however, excepting when the town was destroyed, was there so much injury done, or so many lives lost.
They met the minister, Rev. John Whiting, at a distance from his garrison, and offered him quarter, which he rejected
with boldness, and fought to the last against the cruel foe. After this they killed twenty others, wounded two,
who afterwards recovered, and took six captives, five of whom in the end returned to Lancaster. The restoration
of peace in Europe brought a short season of repose. In 1702, war between England and. Prance was renewed, and
again reached the colonies. In 1701. 700 French and Indians proceeded against Northampton, but finding the inhabitants
prepared for an attack, they turned their course toward Lancaster, except 200 of them, who for some reason returned.
On the 31st of July they commenced a sudden and violent attack in the morning, in the west part of the town, and
killed Lieut. Nathaniel Wilder near the gate of his own garrison. Near the same place in the course of the day
they killed three other persons. The inhabitants were much inferior to the French and Indians in number. Capt.
Tyng at this time happened to be in Lancaster with a party of soldiers; and. Capt. How gathered in haste what men
he was able, and marched with them from Marlborough to the relief of the town. They fought with bravery, but the
large number of the enemy forced the inhabitants to retreat into garrison. Upon this the enemy burnt the meeting-house
and six other buildings, and destroyed much of the live stock of the town. Before night such numbers came to the
relief of the town, that the enemy retreated, and with such success that they were not overtaken by our soldiers.
What number of the enemy was killed at this time is uncertain, but it was supposed to be considerable. A French
officer of some distinction was mortally wounded, which greatly exasperated them.
"On the 26th of October, the same year, 1704, a party of the enemy having been discovered at Still river,
the soldiers and inhabitants belonging to Mr. Gardiner's garrison, with divers others, went in quest of them, and
returned in the evening, much fatigued with the service of the day. Mr. Gardiner, (who had been preaching several
years with the people of Lancaster, and was now their pastor elect,) in compassion to the soldiary, took the watch
that night upon himself; and coming out of the box late in the night, upon some occasion, was heard by one Samuel
Prescott in the house, between sleeping and waking, who, supposing him an enemy, seized the first gun which came
to hand, and shot him through the body in the parade. But the fatal mistake immediately appeared; and he, being
carried into the house, forgave the per son who shot him, and in an hour or two expired, to the great grief not
only of his consort, but of his people, who had an high esteem of him.
"On the 15th of October. 1705, Mr. Thomas Sawyer, with his son, Elias Sawyer, and John Biglow, were captivated
at his garrisoned house about the dawn of day. Mr. Sawyer's youngest son, about fourteen years of age, escaped
through a back window of the house.
"The Indians treated Mr. Sawyer with much cruelty, but at length they arrived at Montreal. There Mr. Sawyer
observed to the French governor that on the river Chamblee there was a. fine seat for mills; and that he would
build a saw-mill for him, provided he would procure a ransom for himself; his son, and Biglow. The governor readily
closed with the proposal, as at that time there was no saw-mill in all Canada, nor artificer capable of building
one. He accordingly applied to the Indians, and obtained the ransom of young Sawyer and Biglow without the least
difficulty, but no sum would purchase Mr. Sawyer's redemption. Him (being distinguished for his bravery, which
had proved fatal to a number of their brethren) they were determined to immolate. The victim was accordingly led
forth and actually fastened to the stake, environed with materials so disposed as to effect a lingering death.
The savages, surrounding the unfortunate prisoner, began to anticipate the horrid pleasure of beholding their captive
writhing in tortures amidst the rising flames, and of rending the air with their dismal yells. On a sudden a friar
appeared, and with great solemnity held forth what he declared to be the key to the gates of purgatory, and told
them unless they immediately released their prisoner he would instantly unlock those gates and send them headlong
thereinto. Superstition prevailed, and wrought the deliverance of Mr. Sawyer. for they at once unbound him, and
gave him up to the governor. In one year he completed a mill, when he and Biglow were discharged. They detained
his son Elias one year longer, to instruct them in the art of sawing and keeping the mill in order when he was
amply rewarded and sent home to his friends, where his father and he both lived to a good old age, and were gathered
to their graves in peace.
"On August 5th, 1710, a party of the enemy coming by advantage of the bushes very near to Mr. Nathaniel and
Mr. Oliver Wilder, and an Indian servant, at their labor in the field, the servant was killed, but the men escaped
to the garrison. And this was the last misthief done by the enemy in Lancaster."
The year following tile incorporation of the town, Rev. Joseph Rowlandson preached among the people, and continuing
with them, he was ordained in 1658, at which time it is probable the church was gathered, though not certainly
known, as tile records were destroyed at the burning of Mr. Rowlandson's house. After the resettlement of the town,
Rev. John Whiting was settled in the pastoral office, in November, 1690. He continued but a few years, being killed,
as already related, in 1697. In May, 1701, Rev. Andrew Gardner began to preach at Lancaster, and the day of his
ordination was fixed in the fall of 1704; but before the time came, a sudden and surprising death arrested him.
He was succeeded by Rev. John Prentice, who was ordained March 29, 1708. His successor was Rev. Timothy Harrington,
who was installed in 1748. Rev. Nathaniel Thayer, D. D., the next pastor, was settled in. 1793. From the close
of the last Indian war the population increased rapidly. The first meeting house, as already stated, was burned
by the indians in 1704. Another was raised the next year, and completed in 1706. The third was built in 1743. The
present elegant brick meeting house was built in 1816, and was dedicated on the 1st of January following. Within
the present bounds of the town there has never been but one incorporated religious society.
Lancaster is beautifully situated on the Nashua river, whose north and south branches meet near the center of the
town. This stream annually overflows the extensive intervals on its banks, and enriches their already productive
soil. There are ten ponds in different parts of the town. Interesting specimens of minerals are found here. and
a large slate quarry was once worked for the supply of the Boston market, hut has for some time been neglected.
The above engraving shows the appearance of the central part of Lancaster from the road a few rods north of the
burying ground. The prominent building in the center, with a spire, is the Congregational (Unitarian) church. The
buiding with a small spire, to the right, is the academy. The Lancaster House, with a turret, is seen to the left
of the church; the bridge seen below the meeting house is that on which the principal road crosses the Nashua.
The Lancaster Bank is in this village. Mr. Rowlandson's house, which was burnt by the Indians, was located at the
spot where the cattle are seen feeding. In the central village there are about 75 houses. In this place there are
many large elms. There are two other villages in this town, the south or New Boston, and the North village. Population,
1,903. Distance, 16 miles from Worcester, about 25 from Lowell, and 35 from Boston. In 1837 there were 1 woollen
and 3 small cotton mills. There were 6 comb manufactories; value of combs manufactured, $35,000; males employed,
40 females, 9. Engraving in its various branches, printing, and bookbinding have been carried on to some extent
in the central village.
Historical Collections Relateing to the
History and Antiquities of
Every town in Massachusetts with
By John Warner Barber.
Published by Warren Lazell.