Concord New Hampshire: Sewall’s Island, Falls and Bridge

The history books about Concord, Rockingham County, New Hampshire give us insight Sewalls falls concord nhinto its place names.  Sewall’s Falls and Sewall’s Island were two of the earliest named locations.  Sadly few, if any current residents remember why they were given this name.

All indicators show that the ‘Sewall’ in question was Judge Samuel Sewall of Massachusetts, “who formerly owned the premises.”  This is quite an understatement.

In 1668 the island and area was surveyed and laid out, along with five hundred acres of land and intervale, “in the wilderness of Pennicooke… on the east side of the Merrimack River” under a right granted to Governor John Endicott to John Hull. When John Hull died, his only heir and daughter Hannah and her husband Samuel Sewall inherited the property later known as Sewall’s Farm (in 1695). He went on to become Chief Justice of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

And so in the early days of the settlement of this section of New Hampshire, Sewall’s Falls was well known.  Sewall’s Falls Bridge, over the Merrimack river, was incorporated as a toll-bridge in 1832 and built soon afterwards.  Three times it was carried away by freshets and rebuilt.  This bridge was recently rebuilt.

Even before these points of interest were given a European name, one source says that the now Sewall’s Island was a favorite abode of Passaconaway, and the interval located nearby on the east side of the Merrimack River was the site of an ancient Native People’s fort (one of three known in the Concord area).

According to the History of Concord, after the settlement of Pennacook by the Europeans, an incident occurred at Sewall’s Island. “The story runs that Peorawarrah, a chief, having stolen the wife of another Indian living down the river, had, with his paramour, paddled his canoe to Sewall’s Island, and there landed for the night. The deserted husband, who had on foot traced the enamored pair to their landing place, lay in wait all night on the opposite east bank. At dawn Peorawarrah and his stolen squaw took canoe for further flight up river. But by a turn in the current the couple were brought within range of the injured husband’s gun. At one shot, “both were killed–fell overboard and sunk” “The report of the gun was heard by one of the settlers — tradition says Ebenezer Virgin–who afterwards met the Indian who had satiated his revenge [Bouton’s Concord 47]. The latter told what he had done, and said, “Poerawarrah had good gun.” Virgin verified the statement, by finding, in a search of the river, “Peorawarrah’s gun”–“a “good” one–which still existed in 1903, a valued relic and heirloom.”

In 1729 Captain Ebenezer Eastman leased “Sewall’s Farm” from the Judge, agreeing to pay ten shillings rent the first year, with an increase of 10 shillings each succeeding year until fifteen pounds was reached, then that sum would be paid annually. The intent was for the rent to start off cheaply, and Ebenezer Eastman would improve the land. By 1731 the farm had been sold to Joseph Gerrish and Henry Rolfe, of Newbury MA who now collected the annual rent.

As for Samuel Sewall, the namesake of this place–he is somewhat famous for several

Likeness of Judge Samuel Sewell from "An Adress on the Life and Character of Chief-Justice Samuel Sewall, delivered in the Old South Church, Boston, Sunday, October 26, 1884, by George E. Ellis.

Likeness of Judge Samuel Sewell from “An Adress on the Life and Character of Chief-Justice Samuel Sewall, delivered in the Old South Church, Boston, Sunday, October 26, 1884, by George E. Ellis.”

reasons.  First, he kept a diary covering a period from 1674 to 1729 that was reprinted in several volumes by the Massachusetts Historical Society. It details the daily life of a Bostonian (some might say the the minutae), detailing domestic life, private affairs, and quaint customs of the mostly well-to-do in colonial New England.  It is a frequently studied document by serious historians.

Secondly, Samuel Sewall was one of the judges involved in declaring judgement against those accused in the Salem (Massachusetts) witchcraft trials.  What is different about Samuel Sewall, is that he came to realize his error in these cases, and contritely (and publicly) asked for forgiveness.

Thirdly, he was one of the first and earliest outspoken opponents of American slavery.  His pamphlet, “The Selling of Joseph,” was published in 1700 and it was the first antislavery tract printed in America.


1. Ould Newbury: historical and biographical sketches, by John J. Currier; Boston: Damrell and Upham; 1896; page 247
2. History of Concord, New Hampshire : from the original grant in seventeen hundred and twenty-five to the opening of the twentieth century, James O. Lyford, editor; Concord, N.H.: Rumford Press, 1903

*Additional Reading*

Report on the alterations in the channel of Merrimack river. … [Prescott, William], Read before the New Hampshire Historical Society at its Annual Meeting in June 1853

-John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Prophecy of Samuel Sewall

-Pamphlet “The Selling of Joseph“-

-Book:Samuel Sewall and The World He Lived In” (based on his diary)-

Witchraft Trials, from Diary of Samuel Sewall

The Sewall/Sewell Family

Sewall’s Falls Bridge (recent update on progress)

-Flickr Photographs: Sewall’s Falls and Bridge

17th Century Colonial New England: Witchcraft

Sewall’s Falls Hydroelectric Facility, East end of Second Street spanning Merrimack River, Concord, Merrimack County, NH – photographs from Library of Congress.


Henry Sewall, was born 8 April 1576 in Coventry, England. He married Anne Hunt. He sent his son Henry to New England in 1634, and shortly after came over himself. He lived awhile in Newbury MA, near the Lower Green; but when the meeting-house was removed to the new town in 1646, he sold his house and land, and removed to Rowley MA where he died in March 1656-7.

Henry Sewall Jr., son of Henry & Anne (Hunt) Sewall, was born in 1614 in Coventry, England. He removed to New England in 1634, bringing with him England servants, “neat cattle,” and provisions.  He was in Ipswich MA through that winter, and in 1635 he moved to Newbury MA. He was one of the first settlers of that town and was granted over 600 acres of marsh and upland as his proportion. He went to Cambridge with others in May 1637 and was made a freeman.  On 25 March 1646 he married Miss Jane Dummer, eldest child of Stephen and Alice Dummer, of Newbury MA. They removed to England for several years where five of their children were born. In 1650 he returned to New England alone. On 5 August 1650 he bought 40 acres in Newbury MA (from Edward Woodman) including a house and barn on the Merrimack River. He probably lived in that house for a year or two when he again returned to England. In 1659 he returned to Newbury MA, and sent for his wife and family. They arrived in 1661.  In the meantime he bought 7 Nov 1660 (from John Brown a glazier of Newbury MA) a house with four acres of land, near Tristram Coffin, and a shop, located on the northerly corner of Parker Street and the country road, now High Street. Henry Sewall and his family resided here several years, later building a new house at the northwesterly end of his land on Parker Street.  He lived there many years and died there 16 May 1700, aged eighty-six. He was buried in the graveyard near Upper Green in Newbury MA. His tombstone reads: “Mr. Henry Sewall (Sent by Mr. Henry Sewall his father in ye ship Elsabeth & Dorcas, Capt. Watts Commander). Arrived at Boston 1634. Winterd at Ipswich. Helpd begin ths Plantation 1635. Furnishing English Servants, neat cattel, & provisions; married Mrs Jane Dummer March ye 25 1646. Died May ye 16 1700 at AET 86. His frutfull vine being thus disjoind fell to ye ground January ye 13 following. aet at 74; Psalm 27:10.” From the diary of his son Samuel, we know that his funeral bearers were Col. Peirce, Mr. Nich. Noyes, Mr. Sam. Plumer, Mr. Tristram Coffin, Maj. Danl. Davison, Major Thomas Noyes, and 8 underbearers.
Children of Henry & Jane (Dummer) Sewell:
1. Hannah Sewall, b. 10 May 1649 in Tunworth, Hampshire, England; m. 24 Aug 1670 Newbury MA to Jacob Toppan; had 8 children
2. +Samuel Sewall (eldest son) was b. 28 March 1652 at Bishop Stoke, Hampshire, England.
3. John Sewall, b. 10 Oct 1654 Baddesley, Hampshire, England; m. 27 Oct 1674 in Newbury MA to Hannah Fessenden; had issue
4. Stephen Sewall, b: 19 Aug 1657 in Baddesley, Hampshire, England; he m. Margaret Mitchell. Their son Jonathan was the father of Jonathan Sewall who was b. 17 Aug 1728 in Boston MA and who graduated from Harvard, was an attorney, and later Attorney General of colonial Massachusetts and a friend of John Adams (later President of the United States). This same Jonathan (the younger) was a loyalist who died in 1796 in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. He was the attorney in the famous trial for the murder of Ruth Perley Ames.
5. Jane Sewall, b. 25 Oct 1659 Baddesley, Hampshire, England; m. 24 Sep 1677 in Newbury MA to Moses Gerrish, son of William & Joanna (Lowell) Gerrish; had issue
6. Anne Sewall, b. 3 Sep 1662 Newbury MA; she m1) Jacob Toppan; m2) William Longfellow; m3) Henry Short; had issue
7. Mehitable Sewall, b. 8 Ma 1665 Newbury MA; m. 15 Nov 1684 in Newbury MA to William Moody, son of Caleb & Judith (Bradbury) Moody; had issue
8. Dorothy Sewall, b. 29 Oct 1668 Newbury MA; m1) Ezekiel Northend; m2) Moses Bradstreet; had issue

Samuel Sewall, eldest son of Henry & Jane (Dummer) Sewall was b. 28 March 1652 at Bishop Stoke, Hampshire, England.  He traveled to Newbury MA from England with his mother in 1661, and was placed under the tuition of Rev. Thomas Parker for 6 years, when he was admitted to Harvard College. He graduated in 1671, and received the degree of Master of Arts in 1674. He married 25 feb 1675-6 by Governor Bradstreet to Miss Hannah Hull, daughter and sole heir of John Hull, Esq. a goldsmith and merchant of Boston MA. In 1652 and for several years Mr. Hull was master of the mint in the colony. He coined the New England sixpences and shillings, and acquired great wealth.  Samuel was chosen one of the assistants of the council in 1684, 1685 and 1686. He was member of the Boston Artillery Company and was elected captain in May 1686. In 1691 Samuel was nominated for the council and was annually chosen until 1725 when he declined to serve longer. As one of the assistants, he was also, ex officio, a judge of the superior court. In 1692 under the provincial charter he was appointed one of the judges of a special court for the trial of persons charged with witchcraft. Nineteen persons were at different times tried, condemned and executed.  Judge Sewell soon became convinced that innocent men and women had been unjustly accused and condemned, and often expressed deep regret, penitence, and humiliation for the part he had taken in causing them to suffer the extreme penalty of the law. At a public fast, 14 Jan 1696-7, he presented to Rev. Mr. Willard, his minister, a note which was read to the congregation assembled in the Old South Church, Boston, he standing up while Mr. Willard read it, and bowing in token assent when he had done.  The note is printed in full in his Diary, as follows:
“Copy of the Bill I put up on the Fast Day: giving it to Mr. Willard as he pass’d by, and standing up at the reading of it, and bowing when finished; in the Afternoon.
Samuel Sewall, sensible of the reiterated strokes of God upon himself and family: and being sensible, that as to the Guild contracted upon the opening of the late Comission of Oyer and Terminer at Salem (to which the order of this Day related) he is, upon many accounts, more concerned than any that he knows of, Desires to take the Blame and shame of it; Asking pardon of men, And especially desiring prayers that God, who has an Unlimited Authority, would pardon that sin, and all other his sins, personal and Relative: and according to his infinite Benignity, and Sovereignty, Not visit the sin of him, or any other upon himself or any of his, nor upon the Land: But that he would powerfully defend him against all Temptations to Sin, for the future, and vouchsafe him the efficacious, saving Conduct of his Word and Spirit.”
Although he condemned himself in this public manner for sins committed he still retained the confidence of his friends and associates. Under the provincial charter he was chosen December 6, 1692, one of the judges of the superior court. In 1718, he was appointed chief justice of the province, and retained his seat on the bench until 1728.
In 1700 he spoke out against American slavery, publishing a pamphlet entitled “The Selling of Joseph,” where among other statements says, “All men, as they are the sons of Adam, are co-heirs, and have equal right unto liberty, and all other outward comforts of life…there is no proportion between twenty pieces of silver and liberty.”
His first wife died 19 October 1717. He married 2nd) 29 Oct 1719, Abigail Melyen, daughter of Jacob Melyen, who had been twice married before, namely to James Woodmansey and William Tilley. She died 26 May 1720.
He married 3d) 29 March 1722 Mrs. Mary (Shrimpton) Gibbs, a daughter of Henry Shrimpton, and a widow of Robert Gibbs. He had no children by his 2nd and 3rd wives.
Judge Samuel Sewall died 1 January 1730 and was buried in the tomb of his father-in-law, John Hull, in the Granary burying ground in Boston MA.
Children of Samuel & Hannah (Hull) Sewall:
1. John Sewall, b. 2 Apr 1677 Boston MA, d. 11 Sep 1678
2. Samuel Sewall, b. 11 June 1678 Brookline MA; m. Rebecca Dudley; had issue
3. Hannah Sewall, b. 3 Feb 1680 Boston MA; m. Grove Hirst
4. Elizabeth Sewall, b. 29 Dec 1681 Boston MA; m1) Grove Hirst; m2) Samuel Gerrish
5. Hull Sewall, b. 8 July 1684 Boston MA, d. 1686
6. Henry Sewall, b. 8 Dec 1685 Boston MA, d. 22 Dec 1685
7. Stephen Sewall, b. 31 Jan 1687; d. 26 July 1687
8. Rev. Joseph Sewall, b. 15 Aug 1688 Boston MA; m. Elizabeth Walley; had issue; minister of the Old South Church in Boston MA.
9. Mary Sewall, b. 28 Oct 1691 Boston MA; m. Samuel Gerrish; had issue
10. Jane Sewall, b. 7 Aug 1693 Boston MA; d. 13 Sep 1693
11. Sarah Sewall, b. 21 Nov 1694 Boston MA; d. 1696
12. Judith Sewall, b. 2 Jan 1702 Boston MA; m. Rev. William Cooper, of Brattle Street Church, Boston 12 May 1720, and she d. 23 Dec 1740, leaving two children–William, the celebrated town clerk of Boston, and Samuel, who succeeded his father as minister at Brattle Street Church, and was colleague pastor with Rev. Dr. Colman; he died 23 Dec 1783.

1. NEHGS Register


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