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The Wymans: Burlington’s first family

Francis Wyman House Burlington MA

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, June 26, 1979

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 001)

The Wymans: Burlington’s first family

Looking as if it were about to fall down or be blown away, the old house was bought by the then new association of Wyman descendants in 1900 and carefully restored. Today, it is a credit to their foresight and family pride and a place Burlington school children visit to learn about colonial living and local history. Harold and Dolly Smith have lived here since 1964. To them, the old house — its timbers held together with wooden pegs, its huge central chimney, its floors no longer plumb — is a place to love, and they have made it a warm and happy home once more.

Several years ago, some archeology students from Brown University conducted a dig around the old place. They found several artifacts which they estimated belonged to the time of Christ. The area may have been occupied by Indian tribes from time to time. It is known that during the early years of the house’s existence, Indians did camp in the field across the road when they wished to barter with the settlers, although the main Indian encampment in Burlington is now the Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

Francis Wyman house and cave Burlington MA
The cave-like structure at the Francis Wyman property is analyzed here. It’s either a genuine native American structure, or was constructed to resemble one.

Brothers John and Francis Wyman came to New England in 1640 from a farm in Herts, England, about 25 miles from London. Francis was just 21 at the time, and John was two years younger. Both came to Woburn when it was founded in 1642, were among the 32 original signers of the Woburn Charter or Orders and built their houses and started their tannery business close to Central Square on what is now Wyman Street, then called Wyman’s Lane. Their small colonial business was the forerunner and laid the groundwork for the tremendous growth of the leather industry which Woburn enjoyed until fairly recent times.

In 1655, the brothers bought from President Dunster of Harvard College his 500 acre grant in Billerica, for 100 pounds. Ten years later they bought the adjoining 500 acres on this side of the Billerica line from the estate of Martha Coggin, called the Woburn Coytemore Grant, for only 50 pounds. On this latter grant each brother built a farm house about a half mile distant from one another. The one still stands, the other has long since disappeared and its exact whereabouts forgotten.

Woburn records indicate that Francis Wyman was living on his farm during the troublous times of an Indian uprising known as King Philip’s War. The Wyman family tradition has the house occupied as a frontier post for the protection of farmers in the so-called Shawshin area. Francis Wyman and his son Francis Jr. and John Wyman and his son John, Jr. fought in that war, one killed in the bloody Swamp Fight in 1675 and another dying of wounds the following year.

When he was a lieutenant in the militia, John Wyman and his daughter Bathsheba got into trouble with the law.In April of 1676, Indians had raided settlements in Chelmsford and Billerica. The Billerica garrison was being bolstered by militia under the command of a Captain John Cutler. He ordered Constable John Seers to find horses and other equipment which might be needed by his troops. Knowing that John Wyman had two horses on his farm, here Seers came to basically draft them into war.

Then the folly began. John Wyman, who no doubt felt that he and his family had suffered enough already, refused to allow Seers to take one of his horses. In fact Wyman physically refrained him from doing so, and told one of his servants to ride the horse away. Seers’ 17-year-old grandson Daniel tried to interfere and was promptly hit over the head with a stick wielded by Wyman’s servant, Jim Carringbone. Daniel retaliated by calling him a rogue, struck him with his musket and threatened to shoot him. Bathsheba Wyman and others now got into the act, and Seers, now free of Wyman, “struck her,” he said, “with a stick upon the coats but not to hurt her at all.”

Somehow Seers did manage to capture a horse, but Wyman wrenched the bridle from his hand with “many reviling speeches” and pushed him away. Bathsheba stuck her foot out at the right time, causing poor Seers to fall to the ground, a rather undignified posture for a Constable of the Crown. Seers called Wyman a heathen, Bathsheba called Seers something far worse, Carringbone hit Daniel again, and a boy working for Wyman at the time rode the horse away.

“I was forced to go away without any horse,” complained Seers to the General Court, “not withstanding the great haste Captain Cutler was in.” The Court took a dim view of the whole affair and fined both Wyman and his daughter forty shillings apiece. When Wyman appealed, the Court added the constable costs of six shillings, adding what Wyman thought was an insult to an injury.

By 1694 the Woburn records show that Francis is assessed for 370 acres of land, John’s widow (John died in 1684) is assessed for 115 acres, and a Lieut. John Wyman is assessed for 300 acres, all in Woburn. Some other large landowners at that time were named Winn, Symes, Johnson, Richardson, Graves and Simonds. This whole area was part of Woburn but became Burlington in 1799. The old house on Francis Wyman Road, then known as simply the Road to Bedford, passed out of the hands of Wymans in 1820 when Abel Wyman sold to Mathew Skelton, who in turn sold to Joshua Reed in 1827. Reed continued to live there until he died in 1899 at the age of 98. Actually no Wymans lived in Burlington for many years until Arthur Wyman moved his family here in 1966. One of his young sons is named John.