Tales of My Home
Stories about the Lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts
Above: My home until age 2 1/2, Saunders Street, Lawrence, Mass., circa 1973
Today while researching something else --- the early industrial history of Andover, Mass., which later split into two towns in 1855 --- I came across a description of Daniel Saunders, effectively the founder of Lawrence in 1847. He's considered the founder on account of his owning most of the land on which Lawrence was built, in the sandy backcountry of Andover's West Parish known to locals as "Moose Country".
For the first time I noticed that he married a daughter of Caleb Abbot, of Andover. I have a 5th great grandfather named Caleb Abbot (1751-1837), who was at Bunker Hill as a militiaman. Caleb Abbot and wife Lucy Lovejoy, also of Andover (1757-1802) had at least fourteen children, one of whom was my 4th great grandmother Elizabeth Abbot (born Andover 1791, died Lawrence 1880), who married a French Huguenot's grandson, Samuel Stevens Valpey (1795-1876). Valpey's claim to fame was ownership of the first commercial butcher in Andover, at 2-4 Main Street. This Valpey's mother was also named Elizabeth Abbot, of Andover (1766-1833) and so presumably Sam Valpey married a cousin of his. As an aside, in my genealogical research I have come across a lot of tangled knots of consanguinity when researching Andover ancestors, all seemingly named Abbot, Lovejoy, Osgood, Stevens, etc. But that's a story for another time.
A few searches in Ancestry.com and LO AND BEHOLD! Said Elizabeth-the-younger-Abbot had a sister, Phebe Foxcroft Abbot --- Foxcroft being another old Andover name--- born Andover in 1797 and died in Lawrence in 1888. She was married to this very same Daniel Saunders on June 21, 1821 in Andover...making the founder of Lawrence my fifth great uncle by marriage. As a result, Daniel and Phebe's children, including Daniel Jr. (elected mayor of Lawrence in 1860) and Caleb (elected mayor of Lawrence in 1877) are my first cousins five times removed. A lot of things in Lawrence are named Saunders... including Saunders Street, where I lived until I was two and a half years old.
The biography of Daniel Saunders, Sr. that I came across today, in "Historical Sketches of Andover" (1880) by Sarah Loring Bailey, borders on hagiography in its positive review. It is worth quoting in its entirety if only for its details. However, as I discuss below, this glowing account might not have been deserved, as Saunders did not by any means become a rich man. Instead, the wealth of Lawrence went to his capitalist backers, the "Boston Associates," who likely got his lands for a pittance compared to the returns they made.
A Glowing Account of Daniel Saunders, Sr., founder of Lawrence, Mass.
"Daniel Saunders learned the business of cloth-dressing and wool-carding in his native town, Salem, N.H. He came to Andover in 1817 to seek employment, and, after working on a farm, entered the mill of Messrs. Abel and Paschal Abbot, in Andover, where he ultimately obtained an interest in the business, taking a lease of and managing the mill. Being solicited by his former employers to return to his native town and start a woollen mill there, he did so, and remained for a time, but, about 1825, removed to Andover, and settled in the North Parish [now North Andover], for a time leasing the stone mill erected by Dr. Kittredge, and afterward building a mill on a small stream which flows into the Cochichawick.
Here he carried on the business of cloth-dressing and wool-carding for some years. In 1839 or 1840 he purchased a mill in Concord, N, H., and carried on manufacturing there, but retained his home at North Andover. About 1842 he gave up the woolen mill at North Andover, sold his house to Mr. Sutton, and removed to what is now South Lawrence, Andover West Parish, south of the Merrimack River, near the old "Shawsheen House." The tract of country in this vicinity was flat and sandy, covered principally with a growth of pine trees. It went by the name of Moose Country. At the point near Mr. Saunders' house, which was a more improved and attractive locality, were two taverns, the Shawsheen House and the Essex House. These were relics of the palmy days of the old stage routes and turnpikes and the Andover tollbridge which, erected in 1793 at a great cost [site of the present-day O'Leary Bridge in Lawrence], was the wonder of the country people and the sorrow of the stockholders for many years.
This "Moose Country" was the ancient "Shawshin Fields," where, during the Indian wars, blockhouses were built, to protect the Andover farmers in their ploughing and planting and harvesting. The neighborhood of the taverns was, during the provincial period and the Revolution, and even down to the present century, a considerable business center. The taverns, long owned by the Poor family, had store of legend and tradition connected with them. The bridge was also freighted with memories and anecdotes, which old settlers handed down to the younger generation. Even in Mr. Saunders' day, the glory had not all passed away. Here was the grand gathering to welcome General Lafayette, when in 1825 he made his tour from Boston to Concord, N.H .; and here glittered resplendent the cavalcade of Andover troops which escorted the hero on his journey.
But with the decline of the turnpike [present day Route 28] and the stage lines, and the advent of the railway, the prosperity of Moose Country waned; the taverns became silent, the bridge comparatively deserted, and the river Merrimack flowed amid scenes almost as solitary as when the Indian paddled his canoe, and was the sole tenant of the forests. But to the seemingly practical man of business, who had taken up his abode in these solitudes, they were suggestive of schemes and plans of activities which to the ordinary observer seemed as visionary as any ever cherished by the writers of romance.
The former glory of Moose Country was nothing in comparison with the brighter days which he foresaw. From a careful study of the river, he came to the belief, not till then entertained, that there was a fall in its course below the city of Lowell sufficient to furnish great waterpower.
He became so confident of this, and of the ultimate improvement of this water-power, that he proceeded to buy lands along the river which secured to him the control of flowage. This he did without communicating his plans to any of the citizens. Having made all things ready, he secured the cooperation of capitalists, to whom he unfolded his project. The Merrimack Water Power Association was formed, of which Mr. Saunders and his son, Mr. Daniel Saunders, Jr., then a law student in Lowell, became members, Mr. Samuel Lawrence, of Lowell, being Chairman, and Mr. John Nesmith, Treasurer. Mr. Nathaniel Stevens, and other citizens of Andover, also joined the association. When the scheme began to be talked of, it created a great sensation among the farmers who owned most of the land along the river. Their ancestral acres assumed a sudden importance in their eyes. They had to decide whether they would sell for double the money which ever had been offered for the lands, or whether they would hold the property in hope of greater gain.
The company could not at first decide at what point to construct the dam, whether at its present site, Bodwell's Falls, or farther up the river, near Peters's Falls. They, therefore, bonded the land along the river. This, however, it was difficult in some cases to do, and some parties of Andover refused entirely to sell, so that the new city was built up at first mainly on the Methuen or north side of the river [Methuen being split off from Haverhill in 1725].
In March, 1845, the Legislature granted to Samuel Lawrence, John Nesmith, Daniel Saunders, and Edward Bartlett, their associates and successors, the charter of the Essex Company, authorizing, among other things, the construction of a dam across Merrimack River either at Bodwell's Falls or Deer Jump Falls, or at some point between the two falls. The dam was begun in 1845, and was three years in building.
The completion of it made a fall almost like a second Niagara in breadth and volume of water. The unbroken sheet of water was 900 feet wide, the masonry 1,629’ in length, and rising in some parts over forty feet in height. The thunder of the cataract, when the dam was first built, could be heard for two or three miles. The old Andover farmers "could not sleep o' nights," as they said, for thinking what might happen in the spring freshets, and the jarring of the ground was so great near the river bank as to rattle doors and shake down dishes in the cupboards, and seriously disturb the equanimity of orderly housewives. It would be a long task to recount all the predictions, fulfilled and unfulfilled, made by the wiseacres, from the day when " Saunders's folly " was their theme, to the day when, his visions and plans more than realized, he saw a city of thirty thousand inhabitants, and manufactories larger than any in the world. Mr. Saunders died in 1872, aged seventy-six years. He married a daughter of Mr. Caleb Abbot, of Andover. Two of his sons are residents of Lawrence,— Daniel Saunders, Esq., and Caleb Saunders, counsellors at law. The former was born in Andover, graduated at Harvard College, 1844. He has been mayor of Lawrence and representative to the Legislature. The latter was born at North Andover, graduated at Bowdoin College, 1859. He was mayor of Lawrence, 1877."
Pretty laudatory account, right?
However, there is another side to the story.
The Rest of the Story: The Boston Associates and the Founding of the Essex Company
Notwithstanding the glowing account of Daniel Saunders, above, other accounts are less lauditory. The Lawrence History Center, in their description of the founding of the Essex Company, provides a probably more balanced synopsis:
"As early as the mid 1830s, a small manufacturer turned land speculator, Daniel Saunders, began buying thin strips of land on either side of the Merrimack River between Lowell and Andover/Methuen in order to be able to control water power rights. He worked with his son, Daniel Saunders, Jr., his uncle, J. Abbot Gardiner, and John Nesmith. They established the Merrimack Water Power Association and then approached Samuel Lawrence, brother of Amos and Abbott Lawrence, both major manufacturers and part of the later-named Boston Associates. Samuel Lawrence reported to his brothers and to other manufacturing leaders, most prominently Nathan Appleton and Patrick Tracy Jackson. A number of the Boston Associates bought out Daniel Saunders and the others and formed the Essex Company. They kept Daniel Saunders on for a period to continue as a land agent."
In other words, Saunders had literally nothing to do with the construction of the Great Stone Dam, which along with its canals and other waterworks, allowed Lawrence to exist, and presumably received none of the wealth of the Essex Company, having sold out his land rather than receive equity in the new company. Nathan Appleton and Abbott Lawrence, principal investors, by contrast died rich men although by the time of their investment in the Essex Company they were already very wealthy. Appleton gained his wealth, along with his brother Samuel, as a successful trader of dry goods imported from Europe during a risky and precarious time, the Napoleonic Wars when New England vessels were liable to be impounded by either the French or British ships; and then later he and his brother were principal founders of large scale manufacturing in Waltham and Lowell before turning their attention to Lawrence. I could not find any indications of the wealth of Nathan, but his brother and business partner was worth $1 million when he died in 1853, the equivalent of billions today. He endowed a lot of things at Harvard and Amherst College.
Abbott [two t’s] Lawrence was even more prominent, becoming an unsuccessful candidate for Vice President on the Whig ticket and then American ambassador to Great Britain. He endowed the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard, Lawrence Academy in Groton (previously known as Groton Academy, not to be confused with the much later-established Episcopal Groton School) and the Boston Public Library.
(For a bit more about the Essex Company, see the entry under the same name in the Glossary.)