Up through the end of the 17th century, towns such as Lancaster, Groton and Haverhill were the northwestern frontier of English settlement. Often they came under attack by the Native Americans who formerly lived in those places. Such was the case in the nearby town of Groton, Massachusetts on this day in 1694.
I’m of the opinion that local conflicts between the English settlers and the resident native Americans played a substantial role in the ultimate founding and development of Lowell more than a century later. Conflict between the English and the Indians was not inevitable. In fact, they had lived compatibly for decades. For example. on May 18, 1653, the General Court of Massachusetts granted two petitions (spelling true to original):
One from seuerall of the inhabitants of Concord and Wooburne, the other from Mr. Eliot on behlfe of the Indians, for land bordering vppon the Riuer Merimacke, neere to Paatookett, to make plantation . . .
And so on the same day the General Court created the town of Chelmsford, it also created Wamesit, which encompassed most of current downtown Lowell extending to and including the Pawtucket Falls. John Eliot was a minister whose life’s work was to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. Wamesit became one of the “Praying Indian” towns in Massachusetts (another was Natick). The neighbors lived peaceably until 1675 when King Philip’s War, which began in Southeastern Massachusetts, spread throughout the entire English settlement area. Groton was attacked three separate times during March 1676 and while no fighting took place in Chelmsford, the effects of the war were felt. In the summer of 1675, a haystack was burned in Chelmsford and although there were no witnesses, the Indians of Wamesit were suspected. The General Court decreed:
Whereas the Weymesitt Indians are vehemently suspected to be actors and consentors to the burning of a haystacke at Chelmsford, this Court [will meet with the English witnesses] and decide what to do with the Indians now at Charls Toune.
A Wamesit resident, William Haukins, was adjudged to have set fire to the haystack and he was sold into slavery as punishment. When a barn was burned in Chelmsford, residents took justice into their own hands and raided Wamesit, killing a 12-year old boy and wounding four women and children. Two of the Chelmsford residents involved in the attack were charged with murder, but they were acquitted by a jury of their neighbors.
As a result of this and other incidents, Wannalancit, the leader of the Pawtucket Indians, abandoned Wamesit and led his people into the wilderness of northern New Hampshire. Eventually, Chelmsford residents began squatting on the now vacant town of Wamesit. By 1730, Wamesit had been annexed to Chelmsford (becoming known as East Chelmsford). But since the English settlement patterns in Chelmsford, Billerica and Andover had already been long established, the former Wamesit property remained sparsely settled for another century until the entrepreneurs from Waltham showed up and purchased for a very reasonable fee this strategically located vacant lot that soon became Lowell.