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Groton’s Founding Father

(Capt. James Parker, an English Puritan, was 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 have followed Parker’s involvement in the first years of Groton’s history.)

By Rudy Van Veghten

Special Contributor

GROTON — During 1675, the Native Americans who resided in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island rebelled against the ever-increasing pressures placed on their lives by the European invaders.

The leader of the eastern Massachusetts Wampanoag tribe was Chief Metacom — known to the Pilgrims and Puritans by the anglicized name of Philip. As leader of the Native Americans’ effort to take land back from the foreign invaders, he became known as King Philip.

He was supported in this campaign by the Narragansett and Nipmuck tribes. Other chiefs who joined in waging King Philip’s war included Passaconaway, Wonalancet and another chief with an English name, John Monoco. After he lost an eye, Monoco became known as One-Eyed John.

An example of this belief comes from a letter to the governor in which Capt. James Parker asks for the colony’s protection “for your New England Israel.” Another time he calls Groton “our Jerusalem.”

As English, Dutch, French, Swedish and other groups of immigrants plied the Indians with a deadly mixture of guns and alcohol, it was only a matter of time before war broke out. As various tribes became more hostile, colonists grew nervous, and the Massachusetts colonial government selected militia officers to prepare defenses.

In 1673, James Parker was promoted to lieutenant, then captain of the local militia, or pikemen as they were called. In 1675, town records begin to show Groton’s particular concern being, along with Lancaster and Marlborough to the south, the western-most settlements of the Bay Colony and the most exposed to attack.

Dr. Samuel Green records, in his “Groton During the Indian Wars,” that when Capt. Parker and his selectmen met on July 22 that year, they set a tax levy “for the defraying of the charge of the ware.”

In August, Parker followed up with a letter to the colonial governor noting that the townspeople “are in very great straits … (and) much discouraged in their spirits,” and he requested ammunition and muskets for their pikemen.

Assisting Capt. Parker in preparing defenses against Indian attacks was Major Simon Willard of the Nonacoicus section of Groton (now Ayer). He was the father of town minister Samuel Willard.

Simon Willard, one of the original founders of Concord, served in various important capacities throughout the colony. He was a member of the Massachusetts Court of Assistants, and he led a 1652 expedition in the name of Governor John Endicott to the headwaters of the Merrimack River Weirs Beach, N.H., then considered to be the northern boundary of Massachusetts.

A lull in the conflict late in 1675 brought to the forefront the issue of who should pay the expenses of protecting the Colony and the towns. A September 1675 edict came down from the Governor and Council that they “do expect their bee meet provisions of victual made for the garrison soldiers herby ordered, at the charge of towne; whch is not to bee brought unto the accot of the publicke.”

According to Green, Groton was assessed 11 pounds, 10 shillings for its share of war costs, whereupon Capt. Parker was selected to head up a committee in November “chosen to treat with Mr. Willard about sending down to the generall court to Enforme and supplicat to them that we may have payd to us what is our due from the countrey and also that the Billit [upkeep] of the souldiers may be upon the countreys account.”

As Indian threats increased once again a month later, however, town residents were a little more agreeable to paying. “At a Generall Towne meeting held Decem 9 75 It was this day agreed upon and by vot declared that the soldiers that are still remaining in the town shalbe continued in the towne at the town charg till such tim as we hear a returne from the army goei[ng] against the naroganset.”

Copyright © 2005 by Rudy VanVeghten. Used by permission.