More About John Durrant Homestead, Site of

Durrant was granted land in Billerica in November of 1659, and established his homestead on Pollard Street at Salem Road, north of the center of town. He married neighbor Susanna Dutton in 1670, and the couple had four children between 1672 and 1687. Susanna has some interesting history of her own. According to Kathy Meagher, the local historian at the Billerica Public Library, Susanna came from an abusive home. Prior to arriving in Billerica, her father Thomas had been found guilty of beating his wife, behavior that was witnessed by neighbors. Another daughter ran away from home and was returned to her parents with the admonishment that they not beat her. Perhaps this childhood environment led to Susanna’s later unconventional behavior and headstrong ways. Billerica neighbors described her as a “shameless hussy.”


It is also clear from the scant records that John Durrant was either inattentive or lazy when it came to providing for his family. Quoting from Meagher’s notes, “In 1676, the Durrant family was found to be wanting and the selectmen had to ask their neighbors for contributions for their care.”


The rebellious Susanna was apparently not satisfied with her husband either. In 1680, she and married neighbor Thomas Wilkinson (see Roger, Mary & Margaret Toothaker, Site of for more Wilkinson information) were “presented for lascivious carriages toward each other and each to others,” according to Roger Thompson’s 1986 book Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699. Not only was Susanna forward with other men beside her husband, but neighbors reported numerous instances when she and Wilkinson were found alone together, in her home, in the woods, all the while openly affectionate with each other. It was reported she posted two of her children outside of her house to keep watch when she was alone with Wilkinson. The low-key John Durrant was unable to manage the embarrassing situation. In December of 1680, forty pound bonds were imposed on Wilkinson and Susanna “– half of which her husband had to pledge – for not companying with each other, and for good behavior.” Susanna was released from her bond in the spring of 1681, and Wilkinson disappeared from Billerica and the records.


Although there is no definitive information in the records, John Durrant found himself in Cambridge prison in 1692, where he died that October. The timing suggests a possible charge of witchcraft, but there is also an interesting connection to the Wardwells, as mentioned above.


Susanna’s mother died in the summer of 1684. That fall, her father Thomas remarried, to widow Ruth Hooper, making Ruth Susanna’s stepmother and making John Durrant Ruth’s step-son-in-law. Ruth was also the stepmother of Sarah Hooper (Hawkes) Wardwell, married to Samuel Wardwell of Andover. Sarah and Samuel, and their daughter Mercy were all examined as witches. Samuel was executed on September 22, wife Sarah was convicted but reprieved in 1693, and Mercy was found not guilty in 1693 and released. Was Ruth Hooper the key? Her step-son-in-law Samuel Wardwell was executed. Her step-son-in-law John Durrant died in prison with unknown charges. It may just be a coincidence.


The building that stands on the Durrant property today was likely built by Isaac Foster in 1756. In 1793, architect Ruben Duren acquired the property and became a tavern keeper. According to Meagher, “The survey parties scouting the route for the proposed Middlesex Canal stayed there and were charged for lodgings and meals.” In 1795, Thomas Richardson bought the property and made Richardson’s Tavern a popular resort for travelers. It was an overnight stop on the stagecoach line, and was the center of a small business community that grew up around it. The property became the Jones Farm from 1836-1934.


Across the street from the Durrant property is the site of Edward Farmer’s home. He was one of two families to whom Toothaker children were “put out,” when their father was unable, or unwilling, to  care for his family.


Pollard Street and Salem Road, North Billerica, MA. Private property. Not open to the public.