Who Was Major General Daniel Denison?
The Denison Grant
In 1660, the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, awarded Major General Daniel Denison 600 acres of land not owned by any entity in the so-called “no man’s land” in what today is West Methuen. In doing the research necessary to learn the history of our 18th-century homes, many old and ancient deeds were consulted. All of the deeds we studied in West Methuen, mentioned some border to “Denison’s line”, “Denison’s farm” or Denison’s brook”. In 1876, a small book written by Joseph Howe, the former town clerk of Methuen, wrote, “The strip of land, perhaps a mile and a half in width, between Haverhil Line and Drawcut line seems to have been granted by the General Court to individuals. An old plan in the County records indicates that Major Denison, who had a grant of 600 acres from the General Court in 1660, owned more than a thousand acres on the River…” 1
So, we wondered, just who was this man who was granted 600 acres and amassed possibly 1,000 acres of land in our community?
Background and Family
Major General Daniel Denison, was born in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England on 18 October 1612 He was the son of William Denison and Margaret (Chandler) Monk. He was one of 7 children; John, who was married and well established when the family migrated to New England and stayed in England; William, a British soldier who fought in Holland and was lost fighting at the Siege of Breda in 1624; George, who died at age 8; Daniel; Sarah, who died one week after birth; Edward, came with the family to New England and lived his life in Roxbury, Massachusetts; George 2, came with the family to New England, returned to England to be a soldier, was captured, freed and returned to New England. He ultimately moved to Stonington, Connecticut and lived out his life there.
In a paper Daniel wrote for his grandchildren about their ancestors, he wrote, “I was the eldest of the three brothers that were brought to New England…on the 18th day of October 1632.” In this paper, he said of himself, my father “unsettled himself and recalling me from Cambridge removed himself and family in the year 1631 to New England.” 2 The Denisons settled first in Roxbury (1631), removed to Newtowne (Cambridge) in 1632/3 and Ipswich in 1635. 3
In Newtowne (Cambridge) on 18 October 1632, he married Patience Dudley the daughter of Governor Thomas and Dorothy (Yorke) Dudley. In addition to being the daughter of a colonial Governor, Patience was the sister of Governor Joseph Dudley and of Anne (Dudley) Bradstreet, considered America’s first woman poet, who lived in what is now North Andover. She was also the sister of Samuel Dudley who married a daughter of Governor John Winthrop.
Daniel Denison was elected Deputy to the Massachusetts Great and General Court in 1635 to 1637 and again from 1640 to 1652. He was honored by being chosen Speaker of the General Court in 1649, 1651 and 1652. In 1643, the Town of Ipswich granted him 200 acres of land for his service.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony’s governance was based on the royal charter of 1629. This charter included the establishment of a “council of assistants.” 4 The assistants were a body of magistrates who not only decided judicial cases, but also played a role in the Colony’s lawmaking. The assistants were elected by the colony’s freemen. Daniel Denison was elected one of the assistants on the Governor’s Council in 1654 and held that office until he died.
He held various positions in Ipswich including town Clerk and was instrumental in establishing the grammar school and was made one of the officers in 1651. He contributed to its maintenance for many years. He was appointed major general in 1653 and held the title until 1680. He was chosen to be Secretary of the commonwealth in 1653. He was very active in dealing with native Americans during the King Phillips war. In 1654, he was chosen as one of three to examine, compare, reconcile and place together, in good order, all former laws pf the Massachusetts Bay Colony, both printed and written. He was ordered by the General Court to peruse, examine and weigh every law. He received as compensation for a job well done, a quarter of Block Island, now in Rhode Island. In addition to this land, General Denison was given 267 acres for his father, 10 acres on Plum Island, 600 acres in Hadley in western, Massachusetts and in July 1662, the General Court granted him 600 acres of land on the Merrimac beyond the Haverhill line. In 1677 he was granted an island in the Merrimac River known as Major Denison’s Island.5
In 1660, General Denison joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company and in the same year was elected its commander. General Denison is the first person to have joined the company and became its commander in the same year. General Denison died on 20 Sep 1682 at Ipswich and is buried in the Highland Cemetery in that town. At his funeral, his Pastor preached, “The greater is our sorrow. Who are now met together to solemnize the funeral of a person of so great worth, enriched with so many excellencies, which made him live neither undesired nor die unlamented, nor go to his grave unobserved…”
Article by Sharon Pollard | Methuen Historical Society Board Member
1 Joseph E. Howe, “Historical Sketch of the town of Methuen from its Settlement to the Year 1876.” Methuen, MA,
E.L. Houghton & Co., Printers, 1876. pp. 5 & 6.
2 New England Historical Genealogical Register 46:127-28
3 Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, 3 vols.
(Boston:NEHGS, 1995[hereinafter GMB], I:521-24, New England Historical and Genealogical Register: vol. 1+
(Boston: NEGHA, 1847+) [hereafter NEHGR], 23:313, 46:129.
4 “The Charters and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay” T> B> Wait and Co., Boston, 1814
5 Probate records of Essex County Massachusetts.