Monday, August 17, 2015


In this modern age road construction is a fairly simple thing. The surveyors lay out the route,
and if it runs across private land the owner is compensated, or the land is taken by eminent
domain. But back in colonial New England it wasn't as simple as that. Back then, if the road
ran through private property, sometimes the property owner might decide to block the road
because he didn't want traffic coming across his land. Such was the case in 1710 in Dracut, Ma.
when a man named Jonathan Howard bought land that included a road that had been in use
for forty years but which he now wanted to close.

The citizens of Dracut appealed to the colonial government in Boston, and my 7x great
grandfather Joseph Colburn and his brother Daniel sent the following petition to the General
Court  recorded by Silas Roger Coburn in his History of Dracut. All spellings are as recorded
by the transcriber.

"This appears to have been satisfactory to the families of the Coburns and Varnums for several years, but in 1710 the owner of the land on the south side of the river attempted to close the road. The settlers in Dracut desiring only their rights petitioned the General Court as follows: "To the Honord Court of ye Generil sessions of the peace Holden by her Majestyes Justices in & for ye County of Mddlx June ye 13 1710 at Concord. The petition of severil of the Inhabitants of the Plantations called Draucutt scituat upon the Northerly side of Merrimack river Humbly sheweth. That where as your petitioners as also our predecessors of ye fore cited place have for now fourty yeares peacebly enjoyed the free use of away to travil & go to Chelmsford over merimuck river at ye landing place against ye now dwelling house of Joseph Coleburn the wch way went from sd landing place cross ye farme wch did formerly belong to major Hinchman, the wch way as we apprehend is in the same place where it was layd out by order of the selectmen of Chelmsford and is more convenient upon several accounts then any other place fer landing our boat both from winds and Ice in the season of ye year as also that place is more convenient to defend the Boat from ye Enemies if assaulted there being no other house fortyfied at ye river but sd Colburns there being nine or ten houses near thereto all which desire the way may be there being the principle part of sd plantation. But there is now one Jonathan Howard a cuccussor upon the sd farm of major Hinchman doth stop us in our passing in sd way by fencing us from going there when we did apprehend was our right to go. And therefore we your poor petitioners Humbly beg and desire of this Honored Court to consider our Condition and order something to be done to effect."

Daniell Coburn Joseph Coburn in the name of the rest"

The answer to the petition was favorable as a brief report of the court will show: "July ye 30 1710 The Court Considering the danger of laying sd way any where else Especially in time of War Order that the sd way be Continued and used as it is now Till this Court Shall See Cause to alter the same and sd Dracut men to pay costs.

History of Dracut, Massachusetts: Called by the Indians Augumtoocooke and Before Incorporation, the Wildernesse North of the Merrimac. First Permanment Settlement in 1669 and Incorporated as a Town in 1701,  Press of the Courier-Citizen Company, 1922 - Dracut (Mass.)

In this case, public safety when the colonists were still at war with the French and Indians trumped
the rights of the property owner.

Moses Coburn will be the subject of the next post in the 52 Ancestors series.

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