A Brief History
Dracut’s Indigenes and First Pioneers before Incorporation
When the first Europeans arrived, this land of Dracut belonged to the Pennacook Confederacy, led by the Bashara, Passaconaway. This great Native American leader’s territory ranged from Ipswich to Canada. He made his headquarters in Dracut on the hill beside Long Pond. Diseases brought by Europeans had dwindled his empire to about 10% of what it once was. Marauding Mohawks from New York constantly terrorized his peaceful tribes. Passaconaway recognized that the emigrating Europeans have better weapons, and he saw many advantages to an alliance. He encouraged his people to welcome these new settlers.
With Passaconaway’s influence over his people, it is clear why Puritan missionary Rev. John Eliot chose Dracut as a site for teaching Christianity to the natives. In 1642, he built a church, house, barn, school and courthouse and teaches them the word of the Puritan God in their native language. In 1653, Rev. Eliot secured a grant in Dracut and another in Chelmsford (now Lowell) for the tribe’s exclusive use. Converting the natives was not easy and this settlement does not flourish as expected but the Indigenes people remain.
Sections of land in Massachusetts were gifted by the state to persons who served in the military. Capt. John Evered alias Webb of Chelmsford, along with three others, were granted Rev. Eliot’s abandoned missionary site. Webb purchased the other three men’s shares and became the sole owner of the grant in 1659.
Dracut’s soon-to-be first settlers are living in Ipswich, a small seacoast town hoping to become the main seaport of Massachusetts. All of the land in this fast-growing town of Ipswich is now occupied. Purchasing or gaining more land is not easy to come by.
Samuel Varnum and Richard Shatswell both emigrated with their parents as teenagers to Ipswich. They worked together as surveyors and both inherited the property their family was granted, including the homes they had built. Both families were wealthy. Together, they purchased half of Webb’s property, the half without the missionary site, in 1664/5. This is the first time the name “Draycott on the Merrimack” appears and this is the first time that Dracut land passed from a grant to proprietors who had the intent to make this their home.
The Pennacooks and these first settlers lived in harmony. On October 15, 1669, Samuel and Sarah Varnum’s son, John Varnum was born. He was the first white baby born on the north side of the Merrimack. His birth was assisted by Pennacook women and celebrated with traditional dancing. John grew up to be the First Town Clerk of Dracut. The original Varnum family land is now in the Pawtucketville section of Lowell along Varnum Avenue and some of this property is still in possession of the Varnum family.
Richard Shatswell, after living in the wilderness less than five years, moved back to Ipswich. He sold his half of the property to Thomas Henchman, one of the founders of Chelmsford.
Edward Coburn, was next to purchase land in Dracut. He emigrated as a teenager and arrived in Ipswich with his older brother, Robert. Robert and his family were granted land in Ipswich and built a house. Edward, a commoner, was renting one of Richard Saltonstall’s farms in New Meadows, Ipswich (now Topsfield). In 1668, he purchased the other half of Webb’s property, the portion with Rev. Eliot’s missionary buildings, and in 1671, Thomas Henchman sells him Shatswell’s property also. Some of Rev. Eliot’s buildings on this property will later be known as the Webb-Durkee house and the Coburn Mission.
Thomas Richardson was the next settler to move to Dracut. His grandfather, Ezekiel Richardson, came from England in 1630 to Charlestown, Massachusetts and later became the founder of Woburn. Thomas’ father, James Richardson, moved to Chelmsford in 1659 and married Bridget Henchmen, the daughter of Thomas Henchmen, who was one of the founders of Chelmsford. Thomas Richardson was born in Chelmsford in 1661. He married Hannah Coburn, the daughter of Edward Coburn. Thomas Richardson purchased land in Dracut from his father-in-law in 1693.
Samuel Varnum, his family, and the families of the Coburns and the Richardson's, sign the petition to incorporate the Town of Dracut on February 1, 1701/2 and officially name it Dracut.
Three hundred years later, ancestors from all three of these families are still living here in Dracut because this town is pretty awesome.
This brief history of the Town of Dracut was written by the Dracut Historical Society.