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Revolutionary Homes and Methuen’s Minutemen

May 15, 2018

A home built by an American patriot who put his life on hold to respond to the alarm at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, is in jeopardy of being demolished.


Thomas Dow was one of 156 Methuen residents who responded to that alarm. He joined others whose names—Bodwell, Griffin, Whittier, Davis, Swan, Frye, Emerson—are present in the pages of Methuen history. They have earned a place of respect in our community.

 

Thoughts of the Thomas Dow House spiked the curiosity of a committee of the Methuen Historical Society (Joy Karpowicz, Joe Bella, Bev Brown and myself) which spent four months researching the number of homes which still exist from this era, and the brave men who built and/or lived in them. The results of this research were put on display at the Methuen Museum of History on Patriots Day. This exhibit will remain on display through Wednesday, July 4.

 

The research led all of us to discover fascinating things about the early beginnings of the part of Haverhill which became Methuen in 1725. We learned much about how the Royal government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony dispensed land and meted out justice. In today’s West Methuen, a prominent merchant from Salem, Massachusetts, John J. Higginson, was given land in “Dracutt” and present-day Methuen. This land was considered no man’s land—owned by no one. The land given by the Proprietors to John Higginson was referred to as “his loot”. Although loot in the late 17th century didn’t have the same slang connotation as it does today, perhaps it was the inspiration for modern day usage.

 

In researching the house where Lt. John Parker, Jr. lived, we learned that the land his father, Timothy Parker, had bought from John J. Higginson, which straddled the Dracut/Methuen line, contained mines with deposits of iron, nickel and silver.  A written history says this iron was used to make muskets for the Revolutionary army.  We can’t say for certain that is fact.

 

We came across some long-gone acknowledgement that remnants of our early municipal existence might remain. Noticing parts of a house which didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the house, our research led us to the written histories by Rev. F. D. Haywood 1929 and William Barnes in 1905. Both men wrote that the house in question may have been the parsonage for the Minister of the First Church in the 18th century or that the parsonage was the barn to the house which was torn down many years before.

 

We learned some fascinating stories about early Methuen. Consider the Emerson family of West Haverhill, now the Ayers Village area of East Methuen. One of them, Michael Emerson, father of the famed Hannah Dustin, was a violent man who cruelly beat at least one of his children. He was fined 5 shillings for his “cruel and excessive beating of his 9-year old daughter Elizabeth with a Flail swingle and kicking of her” by the colonial Quarterly Court of Essex County.  Another early immigrant and landowner, Robert Swan, referred to the Emerson house as “that wicked house.”  We wondered if Michael Emerson’ s treatment of his children could have contributed to daughter Hannah Dustin’s behavior during escape from her Native American captors. We believe 5 of the homes we identified as dating to the Revolutionary era were built on land owned by the Emerson’s at some point.

 

While researching the old deeds and transfers of land, we were struck by the enormity of the land the afore mentioned Robert Swan owned.  His land stretched from the Ayers Village area of Haverhill and Methuen, through to parcels in central Methuen out to the section of Methuen which today borders Pelham.  The Swan family’s ancient homestead, eventually through marriage, became the home of the Nevins family. In the 1960’s, this beautiful home was torn down to make room for the architecturally challenged Quinn Municipal Building.  Imagine!  Pictures of this home can be seen at the Methuen Museum.  One of the homes which originally belonged to the Swan family and Minuteman Caleb Swan still stands at 80 Hampshire Street.

 

The other local lore we researched was the Denison grant. As we looked at early deeds, many of the property bounds mentioned Denison’s land, Denison’s farm and Denison’s brook.  Our interest was piqued when it was suggested that Major General Denison had a log cabin on this land. So why we asked, would a Major General who lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts, have a log cabin in Methuen? Major General Denison came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a young man, married the daughter of the Colonial Governor, and became a major figure in Colonial Massachusetts government. In 1662, he was awarded 600 acres of “land on the Merrimack” for his military and civic services. Local historian and former Town Clerk, Joseph Howe, wrote in 1876 that General Denison amassed over 1,000 acres. So now we knew why so many land transfers in West Methuen, had Denison’s land as a boundary. Although there is no evidence that Denison ever lived on his land in Methuen, we do know that some of his descendants did. Maybe one of them lived in a log cabin! 

 

Learn the Stories of Methuen’s Minutemen

If your interest is peaked you can visit the Methuen Museum of history every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., or Wednesdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The Museum is located at the Tenney Gatehouse, 37 Pleasant Street, adjacent to Methuen City Hall. 


We will be open on Memorial Day, May 28 from

10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. 

1. The History of Dracut, Massachusetts by Silas R. Coburn, 1922.Press if the Courier-Citizen, Lowell, MA 

2. Short History of the First Congregational Church, 1929. 

3. As I Remember Methuen Nearly Sixty Years Ago.1905 [self-published] 

4. A wooden instrument like a large knife that is about two feet long, has one thin edge, and is used for beating and cleaning flax. 

5. Quarterly Courts of Essex County, May 1676, Salem, MA, Vol. VI, p. 141 

6. Will of Major General Daniel Denison, Essex County, MA Probate records, database [online] New England Historic and Genealogical Society. Boston, MA 

7. Joseph A. Howe, The History of Methuen, Massachusetts, 1876.

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