Skip to content

Long before the Winns or Wymans

1955 Burlington High School yearbook frontispiece

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, August 21, 1979

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 009)

Long before the Winns or Wymans

For many years, the Burlington High School yearbook was known as the “Arrowhead” in recognition of the fact that Indians occupied this area long before the Johnsons or the Wymans or the Winns did. The 1955 senior class used the Indian as the central theme of their book and some of the drawings therein are quite good. Two pages of simple sketches show various students in Indian garb in rather imaginative Indian activities.

1955 was the year that graduating class dedicated its yearbook to Mr. Richard Roche, who was football coach at that time. Still a member of the faculty at Burlington High, he now confines his teaching to the Social Studies. Thirty-seven graduates that year, including James Boyd, David Gelineau, still live in town, and Peter Macione and Chester McLaughlin now teach at the High School. Jane Brown, who now helps operate the Credit Union, was also a member of that class. Now for the past few years the name “Arrowhead” has been dropped. So much for tradition.

Three hundred years ago, real Indians were very much in evidence hereabouts and many of their arrowheads have been found in various places around town as farmers plowed fields or dug cellars. Some arrowheads are now in the Burlington Museum. Indians must be mentioned in any local history. Sewall does in his “History of Woburn,” Chapman does in his “History of Winchester” and Hazen devotes considerable space to these early people in his “History of Billerica.”

Thomas McGowan, once librarian of the Woburn Public Library and a noted local historian, mentions the Pawtucket in his condensed “History of Woburn” written for Woburn’s 325th anniversary and printed serially in the Woburn Daily Times in 1965. Parker L. Converse, another Woburn historian, devotes several chapters to Indian legends in his “Legends of Woburn” in which he gives the Indian names to Horn Pond (Initou), Rag Rock (Mianomo), and Horn Pond Mountain (Towanda). If one highest point of land in Burlington, Greenleaf Mountain had an Indian name, no one bothered to write it down.

Burlington seems to have been a borderline area between two tribes, the Massachusetts who occupied the shore area and the Pennacooks who lived in the Merrimack River valley. So what tribe actually camped on the spot now known as Chestnut Hill Cemetery is impossible to say, since boundary lines shifted from time to time. Not only were those people excellent hunters, but they also were good farmers. So it may be that helping to support the encampment here were several cultivated flatlands growing corn, squash and pumpkin.

A number of the early English settlers of this area had personal contact with Indians, accounts of which have been passed down to us, sometimes distorted by prejudice, sometimes infuriatingly vague. In a spirit of revenge and a vain effort to hold on to his patrimony, the Indians during King Philip’s War decimated the male population of New England, but no fighting, pillaging or burning took place in what is now Burlington.

A year or two prior to the outbreak of that war, a lone Indian renegade, probably the worse for imbibing too much illicit firewater, knocked on the kitchen door of a farmhouse which stood on the road to Bedford, now the site of the McCarthy house. A young girl answered the door, the only member of that long forgotten family who had not gone to church that Sabbath morning. The man indicated that he was thirsty and wanted a drink. The girl obligingly opened the bulkhead doors and went to the cellar for a jug of cider. When she returned he took the jug and then struck her savagely with his tomahawk, killing her on the spot. Her blood spattered upon the door and became a dark stain which was pointed to for years thereafter as evidence of Indian atrocity.

In 1724, in one of the most barbarous and detestable acts of early Colonial History, the government of Massachusetts authorized a bounty of one hundred pounds for each and every Indian scalp produced, as a measure to help the defense of the frontiers. Indians were to be hunted down and treated as wolves. Naturally there were adventurers who saw a chance for some easy money.

A Capt. John Lovewell of Dunstable raised a company of volunteers and made two “successful” expeditions in pursuit of Indians in late 1724 and early 1725. The latter trip netted them one thousand pounds when they surprised 10 sleeping Indians. The third expedition carried out in April of 1725 did not go so well. Forty-six men started out, but only 34 went beyond great Ossipee pond. Five of these were Woburn men, the rest with one exception were from Groton, Dunstable, Concord, Weston, Billerica and Andover. By the first week in May they had reached what is now Fryburg, Maine, and here they camped by a small pond since then called Lovewell’s Pond.

The group surprised a lone Indian whose scalp they took, but on returning to camp the whole outfit was surprised by a large force of Indians who, having found their camp, simply waited in ambush for their return. The fight that ensued was a disaster for both. Many Indians died, including the chief, but so did nine of the Colonials at the first volley, including Capt. Lovewell. Behind rocks for cover and with the lake at their back, the remaining men fought on. The Indians left at dusk. Only eighteen Colonials lived to return to their families, half of them severely wounded. The one scalp was never delivered for payment. Of the Woburn men, one was killed outright in that first onslaught. He was Ichabod Johnson, born in a Burlington farmhouse where St. Mark’s Episcopal Church stands. His father, Capt. Edward Johnson, died of a broken heart three months later.

One can imagine that maybe the land that Edward Johnson tilled had grown Indian corn before he settled there.