Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 21, 2013

Dalton column: Launching of William Ballard

Bill Dalton
The Andover Townsman

---- — In July 1916, Andover was treated to an event the likes of which has not been seen before or since on the Shawsheen River: the launching of a 30-passenger, 25-foot-long powerboat that had a beam of eight feet and a draft of only 4 inches, meaning it could operate in very shallow water.

There were two accounts of this event in the Andover Townsman, one written by a member of both the Ballard and Abbot families, who called the river by its more ancient spelling “Shawshin.” She signed her account of the event with letters C.H.A., and she was the preeminent Andover historian and genealogist of her day, Miss Charlotte Helen Abbot. Her description, which is more poetry than prose, described how the bits and pieces of the boat were carried to the river from a shop owned by Allan F. Abbot, one of her relatives.

So let’s go back to what C.H.A. wrote: “The energy without profanity of the stern faces, the skill combined with horses and man that launched cart and boat all at once, then sorted out the pieces... was vastly entertaining to a limited, feeble, anti-suffragetist.” The writer described the beauty of the first trip on the boat, saying it offered the “...finest view of Abbot’s Bridge, the sky, the trees, the daisies, the cheering, waving, freight train employees... the small doggie that was under everybody’s feet without getting crushed...the canoes along the edging of the river, the lasses on the wharf who cheered, all went into a movie that remains.”

The idea that there was a movie of the event is fascinating, although without preservation the almost-100-year-old film must be beyond repair. The famously strong-willed and stately Charlotte Helen Abbot was one of the prime movers of the Andover Historical Society, which was still an infant when the movie was made. And yet, one wonders where the movie is and whether anyone thought to preserve it. Surely, Charlotte Helen Abbot, who was a one-person historical society before the Andover Historical Society existed, would have known its whereabouts and may have demanded the movie be owned by the Society.

The “limited, feeble, anti-suffragetist” Miss Abbot had one or two more surprises. She writes of William Ballard who came “here” at the age of 17 in 1633, and that a number of the Ballards knew Roger, the Indian for whom Roger’s Brook was named. Since most early records, as shabby as they are, indicate that William Ballard arrived in Andover in 1653, we can, but need not, assume that when Charlotte Helen Abbot spoke of William Ballard being here in 1633, the “here” she spoke of was North America. As to the Indian Roger, this is a rare account of his existence outside of Cutshamache’s (the Indian on Andover’s town seal) reservation of Roger’s right to some land and the taking of alewifes from the river, but, again, it is difficult to know if Miss Abbot is playishly speculating or not. However, since we know that Roger lived in Andover at the time of its official settlement, we must inquire as to the origin of his European name.

The author of the second story, perhaps attempting to staunch speculation as to what C.H.A. meant when she spoke of William Ballard’s arrival “here,” explains that Ballard arrived in Newbury in 1646 and came to Andover in 1653,”...being the first Ballard family to settle in Andover.” The author of the second account of the “Launching of the William Ballard,” was likely Townsman editor John N. Cole, and this account is more specific in some details, stating that Miss Lucy Ballard Abbot, a descendant of William Ballard, and the sixth named Lucy, “was sponsor of the event... and made an attractive picture as she stood on the bow carrying a large bunch of daisies.” Horace Hale Smith, the ninth generation in a direct line from William Ballard, was the master of the boat, which was launched near the Andover Canoe clubhouse, not far from the Andover side of the Hartwell Abbot Bridge.

Authors note: Andover’s early records were bad because Andover’s settlers didn’t bother to keep records and because Indians burned many of the records that did exist. It is true that eminences such as Simon Bradstreet, Rev. Woodbridge and the rest on the list of Andover’s first official settlers were the first Europeans officially here. These first official settlers were required by law to live within a half mile of the minister; however, the chances of less politically connected, yet more adventuresome settlers being within the confines of what is now the Andovers seems quite likely to me. We should never assume that those who listed themselves as first settlers were the first Europeans in Andover.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is BillDalton@AndoverTownie.com.