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The Merrills of Old Newbury - (Portion)
   Jean Merrill Thurston

   The earliest record of homestead land grants to John and Nathaniel Merrill in Newbury were on the "Neck", a piece of dry land bordered by the Parker River on one side and salt marsh on the others. In the Proprietor's Records, folio 38, there appears: "To John Merrill an House-Lott of four acres on the neck over the Great River be it more or less and is bounded by John Pemberton on the east, John Caley on the west, the River on the north, and the Way on the south. Under the date of 23 July 1638: "There is granted to John Merrill's brother (Nathaniel) four acres in the Neck for an house lott next to his brother Jno. Merrill."

   The first dwellings were log cabins soon after replaced by comfortable frame houses like those they left in England. The roads were mere paths unable to accommodate even a small cart. These were improved as commerce expanded. In 1639 the General Court directed highways to be laid out by representatives from each town connecting its roads to those of the next town. A coastwise, continuous highway was soon opened from Newbury to Hingham, well south of Boston.

   When the amount of tillage at the original homesites along the Parker River proved insufficient for the growing community, commissioners were chosen to lay out and assign lots of land three miles away near the Merrimack River. In 1642 John Merrill was appointed as an appraiser of land, home and stock of the inhabitants. Every new house lot consisted of at least four acres and four years were allowed for the construction of new dwellings. Ownership of the original homesites along the Parker River reverted to the town of Newbury.

   John Merrill was granted twelve acres of salt marsh at the tip of a cape formed by the Parker and Plum Island Rivers. It was the practice of the farmers in those days to cut the marsh grasses and feed it to their cattle as a source of salt. John later conveyed six acres to Stephen Swett, his son-in-law and three acres to his brother Nathaniel. In 1671 he sold the remainder to his nephew Abraham Merrill. To this day the area is known as Cape Merrill and it is included in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

   Relations between the New England colonists and the native Indians were good from the start. After the short-lived Pequot uprising in 1637, the Indians lived at peace with the settlers for almost forty years. The inventories of Merrills in these early years show the possession of muskets and swords for self-defense. In 1690, raids on surrounding towns were a cause for alarm in Newbury. The house of Nathaniel's son Abraham was fortified as a garrison to which inhabitants of western Newbury could flee in the event of an Indian attack.

   On 7 October 1695, five Indians plundered the house of John Brown, two miles south of Abraham Merrill's garrison and captured nine people. Subsequently Abraham was ordered "In His Majesty's Name" to dispatch sentinels each night to secure his side of the settlement. Nearly all of the captured colonists were retaken and thereafter Newbury escaped the bloody raids which ravaged nearby towns.

Ref: The Merrills of Old Newbury, Jean Merrill Thurston

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     © - Updated 12 October, 2001


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