More About Shawsheen River

The Shawsheen River, a tributary of the Merrimack River, runs northward through Bedford, Billerica, Wilmington, Tewksbury, Andover and finally to Lawrence, where it meets the Merrimack. It is more than twenty-six miles in length. According to Sarah Loring Bailey’s Historical Sketches of Andover, the most common early spelling was “Shawshin,” meaning “great spring.” From the earliest days, the river was the center of industrial activity, with mills and ironworks established along its banks. Joseph and John Ballard owned twenty acres along the river and established mills there in the 1680s. Thomas Chandler, too, owned ironworks on the river, near the intersection with today’s Route 28.


According to several people in Andover who confessed to being witches in 1692, the Shawsheen was also the setting for their “baptism” by the Devil. In the seventeenth century, many of the details from accusers and confessors of witchcraft turned the norms of religious behavior and traditions upside down, from baptisms, to religious suppers, to meetings.


Sixteen-year-old Andrew Carrier, the son of Martha Carrier, was accused, arrested by John Ballard, and brought to Beadle’s tavern in Salem Town for questioning on July 22. He was, according to historian Marilynne Roach, “so frightened he stuttered.” Initially claiming his innocence, he eventually confessed to witchcraft after being tortured. It was Mary Warren who first said Andrew Carrier had been baptized in the Shawsheen. Andrew’s 10-year-old brother Thomas would later confess to also being baptized in the Shawsheen by the Devil.


Reverend Francis Dane’s grandson, 14-year-old Stephen Johnson, confessed on September 1. He told of working most of a summer day at Benjamin Abbot’s house, after which he stripped off his clothes for a swim in the nearby Shawsheen. The Devil, accompanied by four others, appeared and threw him into the river, in order to “re-baptize” him.


Samuel Wardwell also claimed to have renounced his former baptism and to have been re-baptized in the Shawsheen by the Devil, as did his wife Sarah. Thinking better of his confession to witchcraft, Wardwell recanted, to no avail. He was hanged on September 22 on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill.