Maybe you’ve come through Billerica. On the northern approach, near the North Billerica commuter rail station, lies the site of the John Rogers homestead, marked by a sign erected by the Massachusetts Tercentenary Commission in 1930. The sign memorializes an event that happened even longer ago on today’s Billerica Avenue. Early in Billerica’s history, during the Indian Massacre of 1695, the homestead of John Rogers was destroyed. The sign once reported that the entire Rogers family was killed. Later, those words were grayed out after researchers learned that several of the Rogers’ children had escaped and survived.
That’s only part of the story. The massacre at Billerica in 1695 was just one of a series of ‘Indian raids’ that formed part of King William’s War. Relations between the colonial powers of France and England had been strained since 1689. Both countries encouraged their respective American Indian allies to raid the other’s colonies in New France (now Canada), Acadia (now Canada and Maine), and New England. As the war between France and England wore on, the raids crept closer and closer to Billerica and the town militia fervently guarded its borders. Prior attacks had hit Dover (New Hampshire), Salmon Falls, and Falmouth Neck (today’s Berwick, Maine and Portland, Maine, respectively). Even though Billerica residents had felt themselves safe from the raids, being far south of the frontier with the French colonies, they still cringed at stories of English colonists in the more northerly settlements being killed, or captured during the raids and sold into captivity.
With a wary eye, Billerica learned of the raids growing increasingly closer. During September 1691, two raids hit Dunstable (Mass.). A raid attacked Lancaster, Mass. less than a year later in July 1692. The raids did come to Billerica – in 1692, three years before the raid on John Rogers house.
In August 1692, the town’s first massacre occurred near today’s Pollard Street. Surviving records record little. Indians raided two households near the current site of the North Cemetery. In the first, Joanna Dutton, a widow whose husband had died of smallpox, was killed. Her children, Mary and Benoli Dunkin were also slain. In the next household, the raids claimed Ann Shed along with her daughters Agnes and Hannah. Both mothers were 36 at the time; their children ranged in age from two to 16. Mrs. Dutton was survived by five of her children. Three of Mrs. Shed’s children survived.
The second, larger massacre occurred in early August nearly three years later, in 1695. Town records recorded 15 people dead or taken captive, from four of the few houses that then stood east of the Concord River, in Billerica’s northern section. According to the contemporary account written by Dr. Mather, the Indian raiders came upon the townspeople at high noon and in broad daylight. The home of John Rogers, its site marked today by the Indian Raid sign, was raided first. They found the farmer asleep in his bed and shot him through the neck. Rogers awoke, ripped the arrow from his neck, and died holding it in his hand. A woman, witnessing the attack, only survived by escaping through a window and hiding inside a pile of flags in the yard. The Indians scalped a second woman, who survived and lived for many years afterward. John Rogers’ son, Daniel, 12, and his daughter, Mercy were captured by the Indians. Another four children escaped.
The raid fell upon the home of John Levistone next. Levistone’s mother-in-law and his five young children were killed. Another daughter, eleven-year-old Sarah, survived, but was taken captive. The third house raided belonged to John Rogers’ younger brother, Thomas, who was killed along with his son. The last home raided belonged to Mary Allen, whose sister, Martha Carrier, had been hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692, and whose husband, Dr. Roger Toothaker, had been accused of witchcraft there and died in prison soon after. Mary Allen died in the Indian raid; her youngest daughter was captured. Word of the attacks soon reached Billerica Town Center, whose residents chased after the fleeing Indians. The Indians easily escaped into the woods. Town residents soon realized that the Indians had planned their escape well and had even muzzled their dogs.
Today, the sign near the North Billerica commuter rail station memorializes the site of the John Rogers homestead, the only raid site that has been definitively identified. The identification was possible because, at least as late as the 1880′s, a well used by John Rogers was still visible. Also, bricks that had been brought from England were found in the homestead’s cellar. Historians have since proposed that the Levistone household was located southeast of the Rogers Homestead, perhaps along present-day Mt. Pleasant Street or High Street. Estimations of the locations of the homes of Thomas Rogers and the Toothakers have placed them at the site of the present-day MBTA west parking lot and the point where the Middlesex Canal leaves the Concord River, respectively.