Skip to content

GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

Groton s founding father
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Capt. James Parker, a
native of England, sailed
in the 1630s to the Puritan
colony at Massachusetts
Bay. He became one of
the principal figures
during the formative years
of the town of Groton,
which this year celebrates
its 350th birthday. Previous
installments of this series
included a brief synopsis
of Parker’s life
and his gradual migration
from Charlestown to Chelmsford.

Part 3: On to Groton

According to the 1816
“Historical Memoir
of Billerica” by
John Farmer, among towns
incorporated in 1655 were
Chelmsford, located across
the Concord River, and
another, which was a large
tract of land lying further
west near the Indian frontier,
situated on both sides
of the Nashua River. Known
originally as Petapawag
Plantation, it was renamed
by head petitioner Deane
Winthrop, son of the late
illustrious Governor John
Winthrop, for the family’s
English hometown of Groton.

Farmer also pays tribute
to John Parker, who served
Billerica as “clerk
of the writs” in
1657, and as one of the
town’s first selectmen
from 1660 until his death
in 1667.

One other note of interest
from Farmer’s history
regards a river crossing
that allowed easier passage
to lands to the west.

“The first bridge
over Concord River, on
the Boston road, was erected
at, or near the fordway,
some time previous to
1658,” wrote Farmer.
“For many years
after, it was supported
by Groton, Chelmsford
and this town.”
This crossing, known as
the Billerica Bridge,
lasted until 1699, when
it was destroyed by a
flood and rebuilt “higher
up the river.”

While the Puritan settlers
were busy establishing
the town of Billerica,
efforts were simultaneously
under way to prepare the
settlement of Chelmsford.
On May 19, 1653, as recorded
in the Rev. Wilson Waters’
1917 “History of
Chelmsford,” 29
freemen petitioned Gov.
John Endicott and the
colonial assembly to grant
“a tracke of land:
which bordereth Upon the
River Merimake: nere to
paatooket, which we doe
find: a Very Comfortable
place to acomidate A company
of gods people Upon.”

Four Parkers — John,
James, Joseph and Jacob
— signed the petition,
which was approved. Another
Parker, although not one
of the signers, has the
distinction as Chelmsford’s
first inhabitant.

“Abraham Parker,
the first settler, had
his homestead on the south
side of the Billerica
road,” wrote Waters.
He adds in a different
part of the book that
Abraham’s wife,
Rose Whitlock Parker,
“was the first woman
to ‘Bake and Brew’
in Chelmsford.”

Settlers were present
in the area “before
the grant was made in
1653,” according
to Waters. “They
were here, doubtless,
in 1652, as the first
birth is recorded early
in 1653, viz: ‘Joseph
Parker, the son of Joseph
and Marget his wife 30
daye of March, 1653.’”
Jacob and Sarah Parker’s
child, also named Sarah,
was born soon thereafter.

James Parker removed to
Chelmsford after only
a short residence in Billerica.

His son, Josiah, was born
in 1654 or 1655 in Chelmsford,
followed by Samuel in
1656, Joshua in 1658,
Zachariah in 1659 and
Eleazer in 1660. Nearing
his 40th birthday, James
was already a recognized
town leader, being elected
a “Trustee to order
the affairs of the Town”
in 1656, and a selectman
in 1658.

While in Chelmsford, James
Parker became a large
landowner. His homestead,
including over 50 acres
of land, was in the Robin’s
Hill area, located off
present-day Route 27 about
a mile south of the center
of town. He also held
title to about 3,000 acres
of land north of Chelmsford.

According to Waters, “Edward
and William Tyng came
to America about 1639.
In 1660 James Parker,
of Chelmsford, sold Edward
three thousand acres in
what is now Tyngsboro.
Dunstable was named for
the English town, the
home of his [Edward’s]
wife, Mary.” Edward
later deeded this land
to his son Jonathan Tyng,
who was a founder of Dunstable
and for whom Tyngsboro
is named.

Although the settlements
of Billerica and Chelmsford
progressed slowly but
surely through the first
decade after their 1655
incorporation, the same
was not true of the third
of the three sister towns
— Groton.

A few setters, notably
John Tinker, established
trading posts near a Nashua
River crossing in the
so-called Nod district.
But due to its remoteness
and distance from the
seat of religious and
civic government in Boston
and its closeness to the
inland Nipmuck Indians
across the Nashua, it
was about seven years
before any serious attempt
was made at establishing
a township.

The Indian threat

Francis J. Bremer explains
about the Indian threat
in his excellent 2003
biography of John Winthrop.
This threat came “as
the colonists began to
expand from the coastal
settlements,” says
Bremer. “One impetus
for expansion was the
fur trade, which offered
substantial profits to
both individuals and the
colony.” He continues,
“As they sought
more furs for the trade,
significant changes in
Indian society and economy
began to occur, and in
many cases, new friction
between tribes developed
and older rivalries became
more intense.”

Materials published by
the Chelmsford Historical
Society note that James
Parker sold his Chelmsford
homestead before relocating.
“When James Parker
moved to Groton in 1663
because of religious differences,
the house with its 52
acres of land was conveyed
to Thomas Barrett and
his son,” according
to the society’s
website. This home now
serves as the historical
society’s headquarters
and museum.

There is no explanation
about these “religious
differences,” but
such occurrences were
common in the seventeenth
century Bay Colony. Many
times, these “newcomers
were still involved in
the search for a better
understanding of God’s
will,” according
to Bremer. “And
many of them had been
influenced by radical
tendencies that had been
developing in English
puritanism.” These
differences led to the
banishments of Roger Williams
to Rhode Island and Anne
Hutchinson eventually
to the more tolerant Dutch
colony of New Netherlands.

According to Virginia
A. May’s 1976 book
“Groton Plantation,”
the settlement of Groton
came from two directions.
Richard Blood, owner of
a large tract of land
near Concord, threw in
his lot with the new town
to the west. And from
further up the Concord
River in Chelmsford, James
Parker decided to invest
his life and resources
into the new frontier
community.

Caleb Butler’s groundbreaking
“History of Groton,”
published in 1848, records
the distribution of property
among the town’s
first proprietors in 1662.
This property was meted
out in a total of 755
“acre rights.”
Each of these rights contained
about 54 acres of land.
Richard Blood, receiving
60 acre rights or over
3000 acres, was the town’s
largest landowner. James
Parker, with 50 acre rights,
owned more than 2500 acres.

Blood’s land was
largely in the Nod Brook
area, site of the earlier
trading posts. Parker’s
was on either side of
the present day Main and
Hollis streets north of
Town Hall.

Richard Blood and “Deacon”
James Parker were among
Groton’s first selectmen,
along with John Lawrence,
William Martin and James
Fiske, chosen at the first
town meeting elections
on December 24, 1662.
(Christmas celebrations
in the Puritan system
of religious government
were discouraged.)

“The fact that there
were two groups of petitioners
for Groton and that both
were granted the same
territory may have created
some rivalry between the
two factions,” writes
Virginia May. “These
two prominent men, Capt.
Parker and Richard Blood,
belonging to two different
groups of settlers and
interested in their own
entrance into the town,
may have had differences
of opinion that carried
into town affairs.”
Parker, she noted, lobbied
for laying out the first
town highway through Chelmsford
and to the Billerica Bridge.
Blood, however, pushed
just as hard to establish
a road to Concord.

This rivalry can also
be noted in “The
Early Records of Groton,
Massachusetts,”
transcribed and published
in 1880 by Dr. Samuel
A. Green. When the town
voted on March 18, 1663,
“That Mr. Miller
is by the Consent of the
Town ma[ni]fested by vote
to be desired if God move
his hart there unto to
continue still with us
for our further edifice[tion],”
Blood was the lone voice
recorded as dissenting
against this call for
a “settled”
minister.

Mr. Miller died June 13,
less than three months
after accepting the Groton
assignment, and the town
soon thereafter voted
to call the Rev. Samuel
Willard, of Concord, as
its next spiritual leader.
This time it was James
Parker who was among those
registering dissent, along
with Richard Sawtell,
Samuel Woods, John Nutting,
James Fiske.

“It is somewhat
remarkable that Mr. Willard
should be settled with
these men opposing,”
writes Butler. “They
must have been about a
fourth part in number,
and certainly some of
the principal and most
influential men of the
town.”

As it turned out, the
Harvard-educated Mr. Willard
was a good choice by the
Grotonians. His father,
Simon, was influential
at the highest levels
of government in the Bay
Colony. Major Simon Willard
moved to a southern part
of Groton and later took
part, along with James
Parker, in the town’s
defense against Indian
attacks.

At other times, Parker
and Blood appeared to
work together cordially
and efficiently, such
as on July 21, 1665. “It
was this day agreed and
by voate declard [that]
Sargent James Parker and
Richerd Blood shall make
a [covenant] with the
carpenders” to build
a town meeting house.
At one point early in
the town’s history,
Blood sold to Parker an
Indian fishing weir (a
device of intertwined
sticks used to catch salmon
and/or shad) at Stony
Brook near today’s
Forge Pond section of
Westford. Nor did their
political differences
prevent Blood’s
son Nathaniel from marrying
Parker’s daughter
Hannah.

As far as public support,
Blood was elected a selectman
six times and Parker 16
times between the years
1662 and 1683, the year
when Blood died. Parker
was subsequently chosen
a selectman another 11
times, with his last term
from 1699 to 1700, a year
before his death. Most
of the time, Parker was
the first listed, or “head,”
selectman, indicating
he received the greatest
amount of voter support.
Continued.

Copyright © 2005
by Rudy VanVeghten. Used
by permission.

The Life and Legacy of
Capt. James Parker came
about through writer Rudy
VanVeghten’s search
into his maternal ancestral
roots. He has uncovered
a significant amount of
information about his
maternal ancestors and
how they settled in Groton
in the mid-17th century,
eventually migrating north.
This story is a capsule
of what he discovered
about one of Groton’s
and his family’s
founding fathers.