What really happened in: North Andover, MA

By Jim Hayden — 1st NH Regt.

Actually, quite a lot has happened in the 350 years of North Andover's existence, but no, there were no battles in the town during the Revolutionary War. The town's history is, however, very interesting.

By the fact that the town is, along with Andover (her wealthier sister to the Southwest), celebrating her 350th Birthday, it is easy to see she was settled very early in terms of Anglo colonization. Prior to 1646, several partners, all very young, moved inland from the coast, along the Merrimack River. There, close to 20 miles from the shore, the areas that now are Haverhill, Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence, MA were settled, mostly for agricultural reasons.

The early settlers found that New England weather did not mimic that of Great Britain, and in fact the growing season was much shorter. Because of this situation, they needed to lay in more hay for their livestock to feed on than they were used to. The answer lied in the use of large meadows in the marshes along several river systems, including the Merrimack.

Settlements along the Merrimack River Watershed, well inland from the coast, were not a new thing, however. The numerous local tribes of Indians had, by the time of the white settler's appearance, developed a very advanced system of agriculture in the area. Between burning over large areas of land at regular intervals and annual spring floods bringing in nutrient-rich silt, the area along the rivers was very rich for plant growth.

With very little work, much marsh grass could be harvested by the settlers.

Little by little, the areas that are now Concord and Sudbury, MA, along with aforementioned towns along the Merrimack, were settled. These areas also yielded large quantities of fish and wild game.

Along with the settlements came uneasy tensions between settlers and Native populations. Occasionally, these broke out into war, or at least attacks on settlements. To that end, an extensive militia system was developed — and used. There were attacks on several local towns, including Haverhill, where Hannah Dustin and her family were abducted and moved North toward Canada. She escaped, killing most of her captors and deserting the rest on an island near Concord, NH, in the Merrimack River. Her spot in history is still debated by friends and foes (Was she a cold blooded killer or a heroine???) I'll leave that to you.

Another local hero, Robert Rogers, was born in neighboring Methuen, MA. Of course, he goes on to a career as the star of "Northwest Passage." OK, the real story is that he and his brother form one of several ranger groups during the French and Indian War. Their exploits become legendary, and he goes on to remain loyal to King George III during the Revolution...so we won't discuss him any more. The local area produces many soldiers who fight in provincial units against the French, however.

The year 1774 sees great changes in the political and social climate in Massachusetts. With Gen. Gage being placed as Military Governor, the Massachusetts Legislature being basically outlawed, and the Port of Boston being closed, the militia system undergoes a drastic change. The militia system which was mandated in 1620 with the "Pilgrims" and was always loyal to the crown, now purges itself of all loyalist officers, and elects "Patriot" leaders. The legislature goes underground and is renamed "The Provincial Congress," meeting in secret first in Salem, MA, then in Concord, MA. Supplies are rounded up, including LARGE cannons (not just field pieces). The British fort at New Castle, NH (near Portsmouth), is raided by militia in December of 1774, before it could be garrisoned by a larger force. The weapons and powder are seized in a bold move (400 militia vs. 4 British Regulars and an officer).

April 15, 1775, the Provincial Congress passes "Rules Regulating the Massachusetts Army" — or standards for a standing army. Three days later, the regulars march toward Concord. The "Lexington Alarm," as it becomes known, through an intricate system of riders, gets the word out throughout New England. The militias from the Merrimack Valley area also answer the alarm. Following the battles of Concord & Lexington, there was a general panic along the coast. Rumors were rampant that the British army and navy would launch reprisal raids along the coast. The result was an evacuation of most residents. They headed inland, especially to the area of Andover and North Andover.

Meanwhile, militias began to descend on the area surrounding Boston. The rest is history...The Continental Army is formed from the units, and 212 years later, we form the "Continental Line, Inc." The town of North Andover constantly filled it's quota of Continental soldiers throughout the war.

A few quick side notes to the area. First, there is some evidence, as presented by a local historian, that the Andovers are celebrating their actual founding 12 years too late. If so — and there is good evidence — the founding would have been in 1734, just 14 years after the settlement of Plimoth Plantation and a couple years after the white settlement of Boston.

Second, the area was witness to the birth of the Mill system in America. A bit upstream is Lowell and next door is Lawrence, both the scene of large mill complexes. Lawrence was also the scene of one of the worst labor disputes in history. The Bread and Roses Strike was responsible for many of our current labor laws being created. The large clock tower of the Ayers Mill (which you can see when approaching our event site) was the rallying site of the mill workers during that strike.

Third, our hosts for the weekend are the Barker Family. They are descendants of one of the first 10 families to settle North Andover. The farm has been in continuous family ownership, and continues to be a working farm.

Fourth, the so called "Salem Witch Trials" were felt in the Andovers also. There were some local residents that were also accused in the hysteria.

So what happened in North Andover...Quite a bit actually.

Copyright © 1996 Jim Hayden. All rights reserved.