Nashoba Hill: The Hill that Roars

Vision Quest and Nashoba Praying Indian Village



Field Investigation © by Daniel V. Boudillion




Note: this is the full text of the abbreviated version published in the book Weird Massachusetts


Expanded & Revised





There is a very special hill in Littleton, a hill that roars.  The Indians thought the winds were pent inside; the Colonials said it sounded like cannons; some folks climbed it to await the rapture; and others erected a stone altar on its top.  It’s a well-known hill, famed these days for its ski slopes.  But its history is far more strange, and ongoing, than anything that has ever swooshed down its slopes or taken the chair-lift.  Gather around the ski lodge fire, friends, and hear the strange tale of Nashoba Hill: of a dark king under the mountain and an island village of vision quests and shamans.


   .Section 1: History & Legend


   Nashoba Praying Indian Village

Littleton, Massachusetts was originally a Praying Indian Village.  Back in 1646, Rev. John Eliot, known as the Apostle to the Indians, began an effort to organize the Massachusetts Indians into Christian Villages.  With the backing of Cromwell’s England and 12,000 pounds sterling, he began a long-term mission to the Massachusetts and translated the Bible into Algonquin in 1663.


Although he was a Puritan, Eliot was also a humanitarian and he felt that the best way to assure their survival in the midst of heavy English land-pressure was to organize the Indians into English towns and lifestyles.  They were to convert to Christianity, have deeded towns, live in English houses, wear English clothes, and worship Puritan style in Meeting houses. 

 John Eliot


Between 1651 and 1658, Eliot and his assistant Daniel Gookin organized seven Praying Indian Villages in Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Nashoba was the sixth.  All told there were at least 14 such villages in Massachusetts with between 45 to 60 inhabitants each. 



The UP-BIBLUM GOD, the Bible translated into Algonquin

1663 edition


In an interesting twist, Eliot allowed the Indians to choose the sites of their new Villages.  The local Concord Indians led by an early convert, their Sachem Tahattawan, requested the "nashope" lands close by.  With such latitude to location, it would not be unexpected for the Indians to choose places that were special or important to them.  It is also known from Eliot that "nashope" was Tahattawan’s main residence, again marking these lands as desirable.


The Indian Plantation of Nashoba [also spelled Nashobah] was formally granted by General Court in 1651 and was laid out in a lozenge-shape carved from a gore of unsettled lands situated between Groton, Chelmsford, Concord, and Lancaster.  Its sides were approximately 3 x 4 x 4 x 4 miles in length and the area encompassed most of current day Littleton and a portion of Boxborough (which was formerly Littleton). 


The Village thrived until King Phillip’s Indian War in 1675-76, when the Nashobas were rounded up and dumped on Deer Island in Boston Harbor to freeze and starve.  Only a handful survived to return.  The Plantation was rapidly sold to English settlers seeking land and by 1714, it was completely in English hands as the Town of Nashoba, and re-incorporated as the Town of Littleton in 1715.  The surviving Indians were given the Indian New Town, a 500 acre tract of rocky hill between and including portions of Nagog Pond and Fort Pond (which was named after the Indian fort there).


Nashoba Indian Plantation 1654 and Town of Littleton 1988

click to enlarge


Note: Nashoba Plantation is in red, and Littleton is marked in blue.  The red square of Nashoba Indian Plantation was incorporated as the Town of Nashoba in 1714.  The next year the name was changed to Littleton.  Note how the shape of the town has changed over the years.  For instance, the lower left corner became part of Boxborough, and Concord Village (Powers Farm) was added to the right side of town. 


   What does "Nashoba" Mean?

Nashoba is a word of many meanings.  When applied to the Nashoba Praying Indian Village, it means the Place Between the Waters.  (These titular waters were Nagog Pond and Fort Pond, and less significantly, Long Pond.)   When applied to Nashoba Hill, it means the Hill that Shakes.  It is from Nashoba Hill that the early English settlers said the booming and rumblings emanated.  Sachem Tahattawan certainly did choose a place of special and unusual qualities, intentional or not. 



Nagog Pond & Fort Pond


Note: The "Place Between the Waters" is located between Nagog & Fort Ponds.


   Where the Winds are Pent

Daniel Gookin in his Historical Collections of the Indians in New England, (written in 1674, and published in 1692), identifies an Indian belief that unusual noises were associated with a pond in Nashoba:


"Near unto this town [Nashoba] is a pond, wherein, at some seasons, there is a strange rumbling noise, as the Indians affirm; the reason thereof is not yet known.  Some have considered the hill adjacent as hollow, wherein the wind, being pent, is the cause of this rumbling."


Commenting on this passage by Gookin, Rev. Edmund Foster of Littleton said in his 1815 Century Sermon that, "The above pond above mentioned must be Nagog . . . it lies on the eastern extremity of this town." 


Nagog Pond at Winter Solstice


Creative Commons: Courtesy of Muffet


The "adjacent hill" is not specifically identified by Gookin, but John Mitchell in Trespassing (1998) indicates that it is a low hill to the "Northwest" of Nagog Pond, and paints this florid picture, "[the hill] was hollow and the four winds were pent up inside.  Periodically they would attempt to escape, and at these times … terrible roaring and growls and rumbles were issue forth from within the hill.  The very earth would shudder, massive rocks would shift from their beds, trees would sway and creak, and were it not for the intercession of the shamans, the earth might have cracked open and revealed the dark, boiling innards."


Nashoba Hill


Note: View from the Packard Farm on Great Road.


Eyewitnesses of the rumblings in earlier centuries clearly identify the spot as Nashoba Hill.  John Warner Barber in his 1841 Historical Collections relates,


"The report of the strange noise, heard occasionally in this pond, was not without foundation.  But the noise was not within the water, as they [the Indians] imagined, but from a hill. Lying in a north-west direction, and about half a mile distant form the pond, partly in Littleton and partly in Westford, known by the name of Nashoba Hill." 


Other odd earth-noises heard in Nashoba at that time were loud humming sounds that emerged from the beneath the Praying Indian Village.  This was recorded in the writings of John Eliot, who knew the village well and lived there off and on while preaching.  A Littleton Town Clerk’s report from 1896 references Eliot in this regard,


"He came to this place to visit his wards, and in his writings are found allusions to it, among others to the noises in Nashoba Hill." 

"Elliot, The First Missionary Among The Indians"

John Chester Buttre, 1856

"Eliot's Pulpit", Boxborough

Near Swanson Road, since destroyed



Note: Elliot preferred to preach from the top of large boulders to the extent that these locations became known as "Eliot's Pulpits."  There are a number of such Eliot's Pulpits in Massachusetts.  The one in Boxborough, pictured above, was adjacent to what would become the Nashoba Praying Indian Village, and is where he often preached to the Nashoba Indians.  See the Picture Glossary of New England Lithic Constructions for further information on Eliot's Pulpits.  A more representative picture of Eliot's preferred mode of address, if otherwise inaccurate, is here.  He was also known to preach beneath large trees, the Eliot Oak in the Praying Indian Village of Natick being one such example.

Interestingly, for about a week in the early 1980s a humming sound was heard to emanate from the ground in Littleton.  It sounded like it was coming from the North and proceeded Southwards, and was most audible near the Congregational Church on King Street.


Humming sounds from the earth are not without precedent, the "Taos Hum" of Taos, New Mexico being the best known of such phenomena. 

   Water Monsters

An Indian belief related by John Mitchell in Trespassing is that Nagog Pond was supposedly home to a water monster in the time of the Nashoba Praying Indian Village.  According to Mitchell, Ap’cinic was a water beast that lived deep in the pond.  It had horns and a "gnashing beak," and would "reach up out of the waters of Nagog at certain times and draw the entrails of passing villagers down into its depths."  Its tentacled arms were said to feel along the shore for victims. 


Nagog Pond


Currently Nagog Pond is the town of Concord’s water supply and prior to that it was a resort lake with boating, the Nashoba Inn, and cottages nearby.  I have never heard of anyone being pulled in by Ap’cinic, but plenty of people have been pulled out by the Acton Police for illegal fishing. 



Indian Water Monsters



Piasa sketch & Uktena-like petroglyph

Note the horns and long tail


The Piasa picture is from a sketch made by Jean-Bapiste Framquelin in 1678 of an Indian painting on the limestone bluffs on the Mississippi River in Alton, Illinois.  Although modern drawings show the Piasa with wings, the Framquelin sketch and the 1673 Marquette description depict the Piasa as water monsters, as follows:


"They are as large As a calf; they have Horns on their heads Like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard Like a tiger's, a face somewhat like a man's, a body Covered with scales, and so Long A tail that it winds all around the Body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a Fish's tail."


It was not until 1836 that it erroneously became a "bird" and was depicted with wings


More Easterly, and more in Algonquin territory, there are similar traditions of horned serpentine water monsters, such as the Maine Abenaki Pita-Skog, meaning "Great Snake," and the eastern Uktena, meaning "Horned Serpent."  Further, there is also an Underwater Panther in Eastern Native tradition. 


For more on the Piasa and links to winged anomalous beings, see: Mothman & the Thunderbird: A Striking Resemblance Between Two Creatures of Legend



   A Haunting Landscape: Sarah Doublet Forest

Some people feel that Nashoba is haunted, specifically, the area known as the Sarah Doublet Forest on the rocky hill squeezed between Nagog Pond and Fort Pond.  This is the 500 acre area set aside in 1714 for the remaining Indians after they sold off the Village.  It remained in Indian hands until 1736 when the last surviving member, Sarah Doublet, passed away.  It is considered to be central to the old Village, and if Tahattawan did chose "nashope" for its special qualities, the 500 acres would particularly display those unique qualities.


"500 Acres Land.  Indian Reservation."

1714 Littleton Proprietor's Map

Courtesy Littleton Historical Society


This rocky hill is a strange and inspiring landscape indeed.  The bare bones of the earth are exposed in bleak gray ledge, cliff, and strange long humps of granite bedrock that look like beached whales.  Narrow trails wind between them, and stone walls of inexplicable origin proliferate.  Traces of the old village remain: acres of corn planting mounds, three worked-stone springs, a hollowed and smoothed rock surface, and artifacts unearthed on the western slopes*.  I’ve been told by a retired Professor that the fire-blackened rock faces are the marks of Indian fires.  Also in evidence are veins of white quartz, a crystal structure prized by the shaman of old. 


*Note: An elderly man who owned a summer camp on Fort Pond related this story: when he was a boy he used to fire his .22 rifle from the back steps of the cottage into the slope of the hill across the lane.  For safety's sake, he dug out a shooting butt in the hillside, and in doing so unearthed a considerable number of stone Indian artifacts.  The location and type of artifacts have led some to believe that this hillside was a burial area. 



Corn Planting Mounds


Note: There are very few surviving Indian corn planting mounds in existence.  If these are real mounds, as we suspect, then they are of considerable historical significance.  About 15 years ago we were able to interest the State Archeologist in these mounds to the extent that he set up a date to meet us here and look at them.  Unfortunately, due to an illness, this was cancelled and never rescheduled. 



Freshwater Springs in the Sarah Doublet Forest


Note: There are three worked-stone springs in the Sarah Doublet Forest.  The one to the left has a capstone and a cleared channel.  In the 30 years I have visited this locations I have never seen this spring dry - with the one exception of the occasion I took the photograph.  The spring to the right emerges from under ledge-rock.  A channel has been cleared for the water to flow.  The third spring is now the water supply for a summer cabin on the shore of Fort Pond.  The springs are significant - any Indian settlement would require fresh water (lake water is not a good idea to drink) and would have provided a year-round supply. 



The Indian Fort at Fort Pond


By Daniel V. Boudillion

14 December 2009


Fort Pond in Littleton was named after the Indian Fort of the Nashoba Praying Indian Village era of 1651 to 1714.   This was a small palisaded enclosure, similar to other Indian forts recorded by the Puritans in the 1675/76 King Philip's War.  It is recorded that the Nashobas would abandon the fort and leave the area the minute the Mohawks (their ancestral enemies) would appear in the area, so it likely that the either the fort was poorly constructed or there were not enough men to defend it, or both.  However this may be, its exact location has been lost, but there are several possible places it could have been. 


For the rest of the article click here.





Worked Stone and White Quartz at Sarah Doublet Forest


Note 1: The stone to the left is in a small Colonial quarry.  A large oval bowl of unknown purpose and origin has been worked into the stone.  It does not appear to be a lye leaching stone, nor does it look like a typical corn-grinding stone.  In any event, the stone was left intact and carefully quarried around, suggesting it was of significance.  It may also indicate an Indian origin as Native Americans were often employed as stone cutters in Colonial times, and may have preserved the stone. 


Note 2: The stone to the right bears white-quartz, a stone significant to Native Shaman at the time.  There is also a second vein of white-quartz in the western slopes of the hill.  This would have been part of the of significance of Nashoba as a "special place." 


There are three turtle effigies to be seen here, as the turtle was sacred to the Algonquin-speaking peoples of Massachusetts.  The largest is a collection of boulders on the lower eastern slopes that appears like a giant turtle crawling up from Nagog Pond towards the hilltop.  A carapace stone is further up the hill and a small but elegant stone-pile turtle effigy is in the woods near the eastern shore of Nagog.



Turtle Rock at Sarah Doublet Forest & Nagog Pond Turtle Effigy



Turtle Carapace at Sarah Doublet Forest


Photo enhancement courtesy of Tim MacSweeney


   Colonial Cannons: The Shooting of Nashoba Hill

The early English settlers were also aware of the strange boomings and rumblings in the area, especially from within Nashoba Hill. It was so loud that they likened the sound to cannon shot, and said it was as though an army was trapped inside the hill. 


According to Barber in 1841, "A rumbling noise, from time to time has been heard from this hill ever since the settlement of this town, it has been repeated within two years past [1839-1841], and is called 'the shooting of Nashoba Hill.'"


The first English settlement in the area began with Ralph Shepard and his son-in-law Walter Powers in 1666.  They lived in an area between Nagog Pond and Nashoba Hill called Concord Village that shared a common border with the Praying Indian Village.  The settlement was nearer to the Hill than the Pond and Powers actually lived on the lower slopes of Nashoba Hill as early as 1675 in the old Garrison House.  Both families would have heard these "cannon shots" and are no doubt the people referred to as hearing the noises "ever since the settlement of this town." 


Walter Powers' Garrison House Well


Note: The Garrison House was situated on the lower slopes of Nashoba Hill to the right of the well.  There is a local tradition that there was a tunnel leading from the Garrison house into the side of the hill.  The Garrison house is long gone, but the rumors of the tunnel persist.  It is possible this is a folk memory of a chamber that was said to have been in the vicinity. 


The rumblings became part of the fabric of Littleton life, so much so that a one-page write up on Littleton in Nason and Varney’s popular a popular 1890 almanac, the Massachusetts Gazetteer, includes a mention of it: "The most noted eminence is Nashoba Hill, on the eastern border.  From this, since first settlement, a rumbling noise is sometime heard, which is locally called 'the shooting of Nashoba Hill.'"


The same year, Herbert J. Harwood published his Historical Sketch of Littleton, in which he refers to Daniel Gookin’s 1674 observation of the rumblings as follows:  "Traditions are plenty of rumbling noises, sometimes said to be like the discharge of cannon in the vicinity of Nashoba Hill." 


These traditions of noises associated with Nashoba Hill have survived up to the modern era.  On April 4, 1957, Carolyn Webster notes in her Littleton Legends newspaper column that Nashoba Hill is "a curiosity because of the rumblings which have been known to emanate from it in the past and in recent years." 

  Massachusetts Gazetteer, Nason & Varney, 1890

   1821: An Altar on Nashoba Hill

Not long after Rev. Edmund Foster had delivered his Century Sermon at the Puritan (now Unitarian) Church in Littleton, a new denomination was quietly filtering into town via Nashoba Hill.  Although standing as a pillar of the community today, the Baptists started out facing much hostility.  It is described on the Littleton Baptist website as "the great hatred and contempt which they met in certain quarters" over their differences in doctrine and practice - which was essentially a clash between Old Testament and New Testament beliefs.  Prior to 1821, there were only several Baptists in Littleton and they had to meet secretly, and had no pastor. 


View towards Westford from the top of Nashoba Hill


One of these few Baptists began weekly meetings with a believer from Westford and they chose to do so secretly on the top of Nashoba Hill, which is the boundary line between the two towns.  On the spot between the two parishes on the hilltop "they erected an altar of stone" and began praying for a revival of religion in their towns.  These hilltop meetings took place from the early spring to late fall of 1819.  The first Baptist meeting hall in Littleton was dedicated in 1823.

   1844: Signs & Wonders in Nashoba

The years between 1838 and 1844 were years of religious revival and wonder in Nashoba.  In 1835 William Miller, a Vermont farmer turned preacher, began prophesying that the end of the world would occur sometime between 1843 and 1844.  He gained a considerable following in Massachusetts particularly in the Nashoba Valley area where he often preached the approaching Day of Doom in the small brick Baptist Church in Littleton.  "Graves will open up!  Christ will reappear!  There will be signs in the heavens!," he thundered from the modest pulpit. 


These Second Adventists, or Millerites as they were more commonly called, set up large encampments in Groton, and in Littleton (now Boxborough) in J. H. S. Whitcomb’s pastures on the southeast side of Oak Hill Road.  All summer long the nightly singing, shouting, and occasional shrieking of hundreds of fervent Millerites could be heard clear across Littleton.  It was "the craziest spot in Massachusetts," the locals averred.  (Clara Endicott Sears, Days of Delusion, 1924)

 William Miller 1848


Signs and wonders did indeed follow the path of Miller’s teaching.  Nashoba Hill was heard to rumble and roar, as was noted at that time by Barber in Historical Collections.  And just as impressively, in April of 1843, a massive comet appeared in the sky over the encampments.  In January of 1844 the encampments saw rings around the sun and blazing crosses in the sky.  The end was undoubtedly at hand.  Possessions were given away and good-byes said to non-believer friends and family.  White robes were donned, and after an aborted run on March 21, 1844, the Millerites gathered on the night of October 22, 1844, to await being carried up to heaven.


Robed Millerites climbed Gallows Hill in Salem, others gathered at graveyards, and still more assembled naked on county hillsides.  In Littleton the leading Millerites, including the Richardsons of Westford, gathered at Benjamin Hartwell’s house on the Common to await ascension and the end of the world.  The rank and file gathered at the Whitcomb farm encampment; or the Old Burying Ground in Littleton Center to ascend with their dear departed. 


Littleton's Old Burying Ground


Note 1: These were unsophisticated times and the majority of the Millerites had trouble imagining how they would actually ascend to heaven.  Thus, many of them procured large baskets and sat in them, supposing they would rise to heaven in the basket.  They also gathered at the cemeteries under the assumption that their dearly departed would rise bodily from the grave and accompany them to heaven in the basket.  This resulted in the event becoming quite the spectator sport wherein large crowds of non-believers gathered at the cemeteries - including Littleton's Old Burying Ground -  to watch the Millerites and their dead rise to God.  The more sophisticated Littleton Millerites gathered at Benjamin Hartwell's house across the street.


Note 2: This belief in the dead rising corporally resulted in the end of at least one marriage.  In an account related by Clara Endicott Sears, one fellow spent the night sitting on the grave of his dead wife so he would be able to ascend with her.  His current wife, however, did not appreciate this gesture, and upon the morning's light soundly rebuked her husband and proceeded to terminate the marriage. 


According to Clara Endicott Sears in Days of Delusion, (1924), "All through the eventful summer of 1843 and 1844 long processions of Millerites could be seen wending their way up the green slopes of some hill back of their town or village, there to await or watch out for the coming of the Lord."  Not unsurprising, there is a local legend that some Millerites so impressed with the rumbles and roars of Nashoba Hill, considered to be heralding the end of the world, that they were often seen on the hill and spent the night on its peak awaiting the promised flight to heaven.  (Oral tradition.)


The prophesied end did not come that night but panic did come to a congregation of well-to-do Millerites at the Bancroft mansion in Westford.  A local joker named Amos Jackson, armed with his bugle, gave a mighty blast outside the building at midnight.  At the apparent summons of Gabriel’s Horn, the white robed Adventists stumbled outside falling to their knees while others cried and screamed hysterically.  Amos supposedly greeted them with a laconic, "How do," and walked home.                                                                      


Sadly for many Millerites, there was no home for them to walk back to come daylight.  They had given away all their possessions including their houses and the new owners were not much obliged to return them. 



William Miller and the End of the World


"1843 was to be the year of the world's end.  In that year, Christ personally would return to the earth to establish his kingdom, glorify the saints, and take vengeance on the wicked.  This was the conclusion arrived at by William Miller in 1822 and the message that he proclaimed for the next 21 years."


To the left is "Miller's Prophetic Chart of 1843, published as a lithograph by B. W. Thayer and Company.  The large numbers indicate two different methods of calculation that Miller used, both arriving at 1843 as the year for fulfillment of the prophecy.  The chart was published in 1842."

 1843 Prophetic Chart


As much as William Miller wanted it to, the world never ended.  He even prophesied it three times with no luck.  Sadly, he seemed to have believed his own prophecy, and died a sad and broken man. 


William Miller and the Millerites seem to weave their way through the fabric of the times I write about.  For other articles that have Millerites in the background proclaiming doom , please see:


       Deed Rock and Gods Ten Acres

       How the Shakers Invented Spiritualism



   .Section 2: seismology


   Modern Rumblings: An Epicenter

Nashoba hill still booms.  On January 23, 1990, I was living on Robinson Road at Littleton Common, about one mile northwest of the peak of Nashoba Hill.  There was an extraordinary, explosive, all-pervading boom, and the house staggered as though it had been struck by a car.  Actually, it and the entire Nashoba area had been struck by an earthquake centered in Littleton registering 3.6 on the Richter scale.  This was the strongest earthquake recorded in Nashoba since the approximated 3.5 in December of 1668.  And I can tell you that Nashoba Hill does indeed boom.


Littleton-Nashoba: A Seismic Epicenter


Note: Littleton is circled in red.  The yellow squares are earthquakes, and the size of the square represents the relative size of the earthquake.  Note how Littleton is an island epicenter for a cluster of midsized earthquake activity. 


But at least today, its booms are in conjunction with seismic activity.  Nashoba has always been an area of concentrated seismic events.  The old Newbury-Clinton Fault runs practically under Nashoba Hill as it passes southwest between Littleton Common and Nagog Pond.  For some reason, the Littleton section of the fault is very active as an epicenter.  In the last 70 years alone, there have been at least twenty recorded earthquakes centered in Littleton (Nashoba), averaging 2.2 on the Richter scale. 


The most recent, a 2.5 magnitude earthquake on October 19, 2007, was just over a mile Southwest of Littleton Center.  This was not without its sonic component.   Boston’s WCVB TV5 reported that concurrent with the earthquake residents of Littleton "heard what sounded like a loud boom or explosion" and that they also "heard rumblings" later in the morning during an aftershock.  The epicenter was only two miles from Nashoba Hill, and exactly at the geographic center of the old Praying Indian Village. 

   Plutons & Earthquakes

The October 2007 earthquake was reported on the news as a product of the Newbury-Clinton fault.  However, earthquakes in Eastern Massachusetts are of a more complex origin.  For starters, when I discussed the seismology of the area with a geologist, he informed me that the Newbury-Clinton fault is an artifact of a previous age and has not been active in over a million years. 


Rather, earthquakes in the vicinity are the product of geologic features called Plutons.  The pluton/earthquake connection was discovered in 1975 when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission required Pilgrim Unit II in Plymouth, Massachusetts to address the validity of seismic guidelines used in the design of the plant. 

Plutons – named after Pluto, god of the underworld – are 100 million year old cylindrical shafts of cooled magma with depths of 30 miles or more.  It was found that all the major earthquakes in Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire centered on these plutons (called the White Mountain magma intrusive series, and which are much younger than most New England rocks). 


Further, the seismically active plutons were discovered to have magnetic and gravitational anomalies.  An aeromagnetic survey in 1975 confirmed that these magnetic anomalies are circular and do indeed correspond exactly with the circular tops of the pluton shafts.

Plutons & Aeromagnetics: Ossipee Pluton

Note how the circular plutonic rock shaft (top illustration) has a matching circular magnetic anomaly (bottom illustration).


At its simplest, the study found that where there are circular magnetic anomalies there are plutons, and where these plutons also exhibit gravitational anomalies is where (and only where) earthquakes occur in New England. 


Magnetic Anomaly Map: Magnetic Anomalies Correspond to Plutons


Note: Blue arrow indicates the magnetic anomaly (Pluton) under Nashoba Praying Indian Village.  Also, the section of the Newbury-Clinton fault running through Littleton is plutonic as well. 


The earthquakes themselves are caused by linear stresses pressing against the less compressible rock (Gabbro) of the cylindrical plutons.   This causes a slight twitch in the pluton, which results in earth tremors. 


Interestingly, in Our New England Earthquakes (Weston Geophysical Corporation, 1977) an aeromagnetic map of New England reveals that the Nashoba plutons follow the line of the old Newbury-Clinton fault.  So although the fault is not active, the plutons on it are. 

   Earthquakes in Nashoba

Certainly, earthquakes have been recorded here in Nashoba since the earliest Colonial times, and they have been recorded in conjunction with noise activity, a significant piece of the puzzle. 


The Littleton Town Clerk’s report of 1896 referencing John Eliot, the man who organized the Nashoba Praying Indian Village, had this to say, "He came to this place to visit his wards, and in his writings are found allusions to it, among others to the noises in Nashoba Hill, and to a great crack in the earth made here by an earthquake previous to 1670."  (Emphasis added.)


Eliot described this crack as a vast "hiatus" in the earth that created immense "cavities" under the rocks.  The location of this crack is unrecorded but it is assumed it was somewhere on Nashoba Hill. 


"A great crack in the earth made here by an earthquake"


Note: The above crack in the bedrock is several feet wide, up to 10 feet deep, and over 150 feet long.  When I first encountered it up by Black Pond in Littleton I was sure I had found the vast earthquake-created "hiatus" and "great crack" Eliot reported seeing in Nashoba.  Unfortunately, I have since learned that this is a very early Colonial lime quarry, and the "crack" is where the lime seam ran before the lime was picked out.  Frankly, I was very skeptical of such a crack being a lime quarry, or any type of a quarry, until I found pictures of the old lime quarry in the Estabrook Woods over in Carlisle that looks exactly the same.  So sad.  In any event, here are some links to early Colonial lime quarries in Carlisle and Chelmsford for comparison. 


Nashoba Hill, remember, means the Hill that Shakes.  Gookin also equates the rumblings of the hill with earthquakes, "Some have considered the hill adjacent as hollow, wherein the wind, being pent, is the cause of this rumbling, as in earthquakes."  (Emphasis added.)


In 1890 Herbert Harwood follows suit and equates the rumbling noises and sounds to the "discharge of cannon" with seismic activity, referring to the noises as "probably earthquakes." 


This is the popular explanation for the noises and Littleton Legends columnist Carolyn Webster concurs.  In writing about the Nashoba noises in 1957, she informs us that "a few years ago there were earth tremors felt at Cobb’s Chicken farm not far from Nashoba Hill.  Present day geologists advance their theories on the booming of Nashoba, but so far none have been proven."  Cobb’s Chicken farm was located on Pickard Lane (at the present Montessori School), which is about halfway between Nashoba Hill and Nagog Pond. 

   Strange Lights

In conjunction with the seismic activity, there have been reports of strange aerial lights.  This is not as odd as it may seem, as the theory of "earthquake lights" has received considerable attention in the past few years. 


In short, it is thought that the pre-and post-seismic stresses, particularly in which the "explosive process of rock fracture causes electrons emitted from fresh broken surfaces to bombard the surrounding air and excite it to produce light.  This theory explains satisfactorily how both large and small earthquakes which break the earth’s surface can produce light.  Such phenomena as bright white lights floating among treetops, luminous dust clouds moving along near the ground, sequential flashes from different points on a hillside, and fireballs on the horizon can be explained by earthquakes" and are seen to appear at fault zones. 

  Earthquake lights: Turkey, 25 July 1999


Following the 3.1 magnitude earthquake in Nashoba on October 15, 1985 (described as "the rumblings of a freight train") there appeared yellow-orange, brightly glowing pockets of air in the Woodchuck Hill and Oak Ridge area on the Harvard-Boxborough border.  This part of the Oak Hill ridge is just a mile and a half southwest of the old Nashoba Indian Praying Village and is high enough to have been seen from the village. 


Earthquake lights, 12 May 2008, Sichuan China


Note: This video was taken 30 minutes before the earthquake.  (Click here for the YouTube video)  Note the similarity of colors to the Woodchuck Hill lights of 1985 which were reported as being "yellow-orange." 


Further, at the time of the November 23, 1980, Nashoba earthquake of 2.5 intensity, I observed at night from the vantage point of Nagog Pond a bright welling-up of intense white light out of the top of Fort Pond Hill (in what is now called the Sarah Doublet Forest), in the heart of the old 500 acre reservation.  This welled up like a dome of light, about 350 yards wide, and about 200 yards tall at its peak.  After about three seconds the light then collapsed back into the earth.  This was observed with a friend. 


Nagog Pond: view of Sarah Doublet Forest from across the water


Note: The light-dome anomaly was seen over the trees on the far left shore.


Since I have been presenting this topic as a slide show in Littleton and surrounding towns a number of people have come forward to share with me their own experiences with light phenomena in Nashoba.  For example, an elderly man on Star Hill in Littleton had light balls roll through his house one night, and an employee at Nashoba Hill Ski Area in Westford describes seeing a recent dome of light at Nagog Pond similar to the one I saw. 


Earthquake lights, 26 September 1966, Mount Kimyo, by T. Kuriayashi


Note: Compare this image to the descriptions of glowing domes of light seen at Nagog.


Going back to the fact that Eliot allowed the Indians to make their own choice of location for their praying villages, they certainly chose a place in "nashope" where many strange and wondrous characteristics are concentrated and occur regularly:


Rumblings and hummings from the earth.

Seismic activities.

Strange light phenomena. 


It seems unlikely that this is coincidence. 


   .Section 3: The Moodus Noises  


   There is a Bad Noise

The lights, rumblings, and earthquakes at Nashoba are hardly without precedent.  Indeed, this has been going on in a place known as Moodus, in East Haddam, Connecticut for as long, and with much more attention. 


Moodus is an abbreviation of Machemoodus which in the local Wangunk dialect means "there is a bad noise," a reference to the strange sounds heard there.  These noises were recorded by Colonials as early as 1668, and centered on Mount Tom, located on a neck of land between East Haddam and the Village of Moodus, all of which was purchased form the Indians in 1662.

Mount Tom, Haddam Connecticut


Note: Mt. Tom and Nashoba Hill are quite similar in size.   Mt. Tom at 314 feet in height rises 214 feet above the Connecticut countryside, while Nashoba Hill at 426 in height rises 226 feet above the Massachusetts countryside.  Also, both hills are composed of the same geologic materials: Schist and Gneiss. 


The Counties both Nashoba Hill and Mount Tom are located in are called Middlesex County.  I do not attribute any particular significance to this, but it is an odd connection worth mentioning.

These noises were described at the time as crackings and rumblings that were compared to fusillades, to thunder, a roaring in the air, to the breaking of rocks, to reports of cannon, and to rocks falling into immense caverns and bouncing off underground cliffs as they fell.  Sometimes the sounds and tremors would roll out of the north and pass underneath, and break like a severe thunderclap, "shaking the houses and all in them."  These were so numerous that the Reverend Hosmer, the first minister in Haddam, wrote in 1729 that he had heard several hundred such noises both "fearful and dreadful" within twenty years, sometimes daily. 

   Earthquakes & Lights

The region of Moodus is one of the three most seismically active places in New England, the others being Ossipee, New Hampshire, and northeastern Massachusetts including the Nashoba Hill area.  John Eliot records in his diary a series of earthquakes including the now familiar attendant noises and aerial lights.  "On November 4, 1667, there were strange noises in the air, like guns and drums, and on March 16, 1668, and earthquake shock was felt after there had been prodigies [extraordinary objects, probably light phenomena] in the heavens the night before."  These noises and vibrations were intense enough to agitate the waters of the river. 

The Moodus Noises Cave


According to local legend, the Moodus Noises can be heard most clearly issuing from the cave on Cave Hill, which is adjacent to Mt. Tom.  The site is owned by the Cave Hill Resort in Moodus, Connecticut.  For more on the Moodus Noises, see here


Entrance to "Moodus Noises" cave on Cave Hill, 1940s


Concerning a 1663 earthquake felt all the way in Montréal, the French relate that "Ten days after the initial shock, a loud rumbling noise was heard.  Forest trees were set in violent motion, thrown from side to side.  There were flashes of lightening and rocks cracked and rolled over each other." 


A 1797 earthquake in Moodus resulted in "stones of several hundred tons found removed from their places and fissures were found in immovable rocks."

   A Prodigious Trade at Worshiping the Devil

Indian Pawahs (powwows) were seen as priests with certain powers.  According to James Mavor and Byron Dix in Manitou (1989), "They could make 'rocks move' and 'trees dance.'"  This sounds uncannily like the above-quoted descriptions of seismic activity upon rocks and trees in the 1663 and 1797 earthquakes, and in significant earthquakes in general.  Surely there is a link between Indian shaman and earthquakes. 


According to Mavor and Dix, the Indians local to Moodus were "known for their religious activity and served as priests or shamans to other tribes.  Pequot, Mohegan, and even Narragansett Indians, with whom the other groups were constantly in conflict, went to Moodus and the Machemoodus powwows because they believed that the thunderings and quaking, called Moodus noises, could only mean that this was the home of Hobomock, the spirit most sought after by the powwows of New England.  The English colonists, as early as 1670, reported both the noises and extraordinary Indian ritual activity on the mountain [Mount Tom]." 


Mt. Tom by E. A. Coates


Revered Hosmer describes Moodus in 1729 as "a place of extraordinary Indian pawaws, or, in short, that it was a place where the Indians drove a prodigious trade at worshiping the devil."  In other words, Moodus was a significant and important questing ground for native shamanic activity. 


Hobomock was one of two principle deities of the Algonquin-speaking peoples of New England, the other being Kichtan.  Kichtan was not seen or prayed to but was understood to be good.  Hobomock was seen and prayed to and was of a more earthy and ambivalent quality.  He was not a devil as such (the Indians had no devil figure) but was rather a dark and powerful side of nature. 


The Indians prayed to him to heal wounds and cure diseases, and when a disease was curable, Hobomock was considered responsible for both the condition and the cure.  If it was not curable, it was considered the will the Kichtan.


As the most day-to-day operative spirit, Hobomock was the most sought after deity in vision quests by the powwow shaman.  He was invoked musically, and with rhythmical practices, and was said by the successful spirit quester to protect and empower those who obtained visions of him.  However, to Puritan eyes, those who sought visions of Hobomock were perceived as seeking the devil. 

   Of Witches and the King Under the Mountain

Legends of Puritan times relate that witchcraft was at the root of the Moodus noises.  It was said that the Haddam Witches, who practiced black magic, met the Moodus witches, who used white magic, in a cave beneath Mount Tom, and fought them in the light of a great carbuncle [gem] that was fastened to the roof.  If the-witch fights were continued too long the King of Machimoddi [Machemoodus], who sat on a throne of solid sapphire in the cave whence the noises came, raised his wand: then the light of the carbuncle went out, peals of thunder rolled though the rocky chambers, and the witches rushed into the air


Note: Hobomock apparently had several such dwellings.  Twenty-two miles to the west of Mount Moodus is "the sleeping giant," Mount Carmel – a series of hills that resemble a human form in repose (not unlike Ute Mountain in Colorado where the "great warrior god" sleeps).  The local Quinnipiac Indians were said to believe that Hobomock was sealed within Mt. Carmel for diverting a river by stamping his feet – an act that sounds suspiciously like an anthropomorphicized description of a powerful earthquake.


Mount Carmel: "The Sleeping Giant"


Note: The series of hills gives the impression of a large figure in profile sleeping on its back. 


The Moodus account is interesting in two respects.  First, it pits the witches of Haddam, a town, against the witches of Moodus, the woods.  Uniformly, English dwelled in towns, and Indians dwelled in the woods.  In an odd, almost Freudian, reversal of Puritan thought the black magic witches were the English and the white magic witches were the Indians. 


Second, and more germane to our topic, the King "of the bad noises" resides enthroned within the Mountain itself, wherefrom emanates the rumblings and explosive thunderclaps.  To quote Mavor and Dix, who also came to the same conclusion that Hobomock resides within the rumbling hill, the shaman sought Hobomock "especially in locations such as the summit of Mount Moodus [Mt. Tom], where the depths of the mountain are considered the home of Hobomock, who makes the bad noises." 

   The Voice of Hobomock

Hobomock was certainly sought after, especially in places like Mount Moodus, which was considered his abode.  He could speak in subterranean thunderings, as well as through the quiet subtleties of rocks and stones.  There are a number of perched stones in the Moodus area.  Given even the slightest tremor, these will gently rock, which was an indication of the spirit of his presence to the discerning shaman. 


Mt. Tom by Charles Farrer 1865


Certainly the rumblings and rockings were the manifestations and voice of Hobomock and shaman came from all over New England to seek him in such places with the qualities of Moodus. 


However much he was sought, the shaman sought to appease his more powerful eruptions by carving symbols of the Wakon-bird (spirit-dove) with special quartz crystal* spirit-stones (according to Mavor and Dix in Manitou).


*Note: White quartz is certainly found on Mt. Tom, as evidenced by this picture


The power of Hobomock to move the rocks and trees became associated with the Hobomock-seeking shaman of seismically active areas.  Thus it is no exaggeration, spiritually, that their powers were specifically said to be the power to make "rocks move" and "trees dance."  It is an identification with the powers of their deity, and places like Moodus were these shaman’s sacred sites. 


Mavor and Dix concur in Manitou, "The history of the Moodus area attests to participation of the native shamans with a geophysically active landscape that moved and produced [noises] and light.  This follows a pattern among cultures all over the world that have attributed religious significance to glowing forms that appear at areas of recurring earthquakes." 

 Algonquin Shaman


Charles M. Skinner, in Tales of Puritan Land (1896) links Moodus back to Nashoba, as follows, "Such cases are not singular.  A phenomena similar to the Moodus noises, and locally known as "the Shooting of Nashoba Hill," occurs at times in the eminence of that name near east Littleton, Massachusetts.  The strange deep rumbling was attributed by the Indians to whirlwinds trying to escape from caves." 


   .Section 4: A Sacred Place of Vision Quest


   Nashoba: Saving it from the English

Skinner is correct to cite Nashoba Hill.  Nashoba Praying Indian Village bears all the same qualities as Moodus, except on a smaller scale.  It is an epicenter of seismic activity from the earliest recorded times up to the present; there is a hill that rumbles and thunders; light phenomena are seen here in conjunction with earthquakes; and it is a site specifically chosen by the Indians themselves. 


Recall that Eliot allowed the Indians of 1651 to chose the locations of their new villages.  These sixteen square mile plantations were granted by deed to Indian ownership, thus protecting them from the usual encroachment and overrunning typical of the land-hungry English.  When Sachem Tahattawan chose "nashope," its close proximity to Concord was questioned.  Eliot thought they would have preferred a location that was further away, with more game, and with less encroachment from the English.  Eliot questioned Tahattawan on this but Tahattawan was adamant.  "Nashope" it would be. 

       John Eliot


It seems likely, considering the circumstances involved, that Tahattawan was using the opportunity to reserve away a site sacred to Hobomock from being overrun by the English.  However sincere he may have been as a convert, he would also have been savvy enough to take advantage of the opportunity presented him.  After all, "nashope" was his principle residence, and he would have been more aware then anyone of its significance. 


Also, as a permanent village site, which a Praying Indian Village would be, it was lacking the game required to support a community.  Traditional Indian ways were to move their villages several times a year to follow the seasons of harvest and game.  Clearly, there were other factors involved with the selection of Nashoba Indian Plantation. 


Mavor & Dix Indian Village / Seismic Activity Map from Manitou


Note 1: The red dots show the locations of the first 7 Praying Indian Villages.  Mavor & Dix have drawn-in both magnetic anomalies and rivers.  (For the purposes of this map ignore the rivers.)  The map shows that the 7 Villages fall on or adjacent to magnetic anomalies (and therefore plutons and are thus on seismically active locations). 


Note 2: Mavor & Dix in Manitou call the above seismically active magnetic anomaly locations "linear faults."  Rather, these should be termed plutons per the discussion on this webpage.  The magnetic anomalies marked on the above map were however coped from the Our New England Earthquakes map, and therefore do mark plutons and not faults.  Only the plutons, and not faults, are seismically active in Massachusetts at this time, so although the terminology is incorrect, the Mavor & Dix argument is still sound. 


Another interesting fact about the locations of the Praying Indian Villages is that the early ones at least may all have been situated at sites chosen by the Indians for special qualities.  When Mavor and Dix laid out the original seven Indian Plantation on a map of seismic activity, they noticed that four of the villages (including Nashoba) fell on linear faults, while another two were adjacent to anomalies.  "This impressive correlation of seismic activity with the locations of the praying Indian villages supports our theory that these places were selected in part because of their seismic activities, which indicated that they were abodes of the spirit Hobomock."  (Mavor and Dix, Manitou.)

   Nashoba: A Ritual Landscape

It is my opinion that the Praying Indian Villages - especially Nashoba - were located at sacred places chosen by the Indians at areas that they knew and that they and their ancestors had ritualized. 


Is there any indication of such ritualization at Nashoba?  The answer is yes. 


For starters, there were eight underground stone chambers local to the old Indian Plantation:  six in Littleton, one in Harvard, and one in Acton.  Of the six that fell within the exact bounds of Nashoba Plantation, two of the ones in Littleton have since been destroyed, and another Littleton chamber since lost (said to have been at the Northwestern foot of Nashoba Hill).*  There are chambers in Moodus and Mavor and Dix consider these and other chambers to be kiva-like vision quest sites.  One of the Littleton chambers is in the Sarah Doublet Forest, the heart of the old sacred landscape of Nashoba. 


*Note: The eight chambers of the Nashoba area are: Whitcomb Ave Chamber 1, Whitcomb Ave Chamber 2, Partridge Lane Chamber, Sarah Doublet Chamber, Nashoba Brook Chamber, the destroyed King Street/495 dogleg Chamber, the Tahattawan Road/Foster Street Chamber, and the lost Nashoba Hill Chamber. 



Whitcomb Avenue Chambers 1 & 2 in Littleton


Note 1: The Whitcomb Avenue Chamber 1, to the left, is on a hillside and overlooks the Boxborough Esker site.  Unfortunately, due to the sighting lines being blocked by a large red barn, it is unknown if it is oriented to view a significant sunrise over the esker.  However, with the advent of GoogleEarth, calculations can be run to recreate the sightlines and determine significance if any. 


Note 2: The Whitcomb Avenue Chamber 2, to the right, is adjacent to the Whitcomb house.  The Whitcomb house was built in 1705 and is the earliest Colonial structure in the vicinity.  The chamber has had many uses over the years.  It was briefly used as a tomb by the Whitcomb family until around 1925 when some collage boys broke in and stole a bone.  It was also used by a Mr. Whitcomb of years gone by to play the trumpet in.  The chamber originally had a walk-in entrance, as evidenced in this 31 May 1932 photo by Harriet Merrifield Forbes.   The chamber is next to a brook, and at the time of the walk-in entrance, the floor of the chamber would have been roughly level with the brook, and thus prone to flooding - a fact that would have made it a very poor "Colonial root cellar."  Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, there is a 40 foot stone tunnel in the immediate vicinity of the chamber.  The tunnel is partially filled and is collapsed in the middle, but as recently as the 1970s boys were able to crawl a good 12 to 15 feet into it.  Local folklore is that it was constructed as an escape route to the chamber in the event of an Indian attack. 



Dogleg Chamber in Harvard


Note: A length of the entryway of this chamber has long since collapsed.  Originally, in the above right photo, the crawlway came in from the left and crossed to the current opening, and made a left hand turn into the current opening.  Here is a sketch from Manitou of the current tunnel and chamber configuration.  There is legend of a second chamber adjacent to this one that was destroyed by Partridge Road.  Also, there is reason to believe that this chamber was used in Underground Railway times as a way station.  For a picture of the crawlway, see here.  (Did you see the big hairy spider?)  The chamber itself is large enough to stand up in.  As a matter of fact, when Partridge Lane was being surveyed for house parcels, the surveyors had lunch one day in the chamber. 



Nashoba Brook Chamber in Acton: Collapsed & Reconstructed


Note: The Nashoba Brook chamber, which had a partially collapsed entryway, was reconstructed in 2006 by the Acton Historical Chamber with assistance from NEARA.  Professional archeologists and historians associated with the project erroneously maintained that the chamber was within the bounds of the Nashoba Praying Indian Plantation, and made this part of their reports.  Clearly, they never looked at the historical record, the Littleton Proprietor's map, or bothered to even review the deeds involved.  The chamber, though in the Nashoba area, is more then a mile and a half from the easternmost corner of Indian Plantation.  Sadly, several chowderheads in NEARA continue to chant this error as religious dogma.



Interior of Whitcomb Avenue Chamber 1 & the Nashoba Brook Chamber


Note: For a picture that captures the surprising size of the  roof slabs of the Whitcomb Ave Chamber 1, click here.  For an interior shot of the Whitcomb Ave Chamber 2, see  here.  Interior shots of the Nashoba Brook Chamber are here and here



Sarah Doublet's Cave


By Daniel V. Boudillion

14 December 2009


There is an oral tradition in Littleton that Sarah Doublet (the last Indian to hold title to the 500 Acre Indian Reservation) lived in a cave somewhere in what is now the Sarah Doublet Forest.  The problem with this is there was known cave in the area - indeed, I myself had walked the land hundreds of times since the late 1970s and did not believe for an instant there was even the possibility of a cave up there.  Other people I knew wove convoluted theories that her "cave" was actually a lean-to of branches up against a large boulder, for example. 


This all changed one Spring morning in the early 1990s when I was out for a walk in the Sarah Doublet Forest. 


For the rest of the article click here


Also in the Sarah Doublet Forest is a mammoth boulder resting on bedrock.  This appears similar to the perched rocking stones in Moodus, the kind of stones that would respond with rocking, however slightly, to even the most otherwise undetectable earth tremor and "Voice of Hobomock."  There is another smaller perched boulder near the southern shore of Nagog Pond. 



Harvard Rocking Stone & Nagog Perched Boulder


Note: The Harvard rocking stone, located in South Shaker Village, is approximately 1 ton and can be set in motion with the finger of one hand.  The Nagog perched boulder appears to be a rocking stone.  Forest detritus has built up on the platform at it has very little movement at the moment. 


Sarah Doublet Forest Perched Boulder


Note: This huge boulder appears to have slipped off its platform, perhaps in an earthquake?  It is my theory, based on the similarities with Moodus, that this was at one time a rocking stone as well.  It is located on top of the hill over looking the area. 


Another ritual site is in Boxborough (originally part of Littleton), a little more than a mile away from the Sarah Doublet Forest, but still within the bounds of the old Indian Plantation.  This site is a solstice sunrise site.  From a stone slab viewing platform (if you care to venture out on the morning of the winter solstice) you will observe the sun rising across a field from a notch in the halves of a large outcrop of bedrock.  There is also a midsummer solstice sunrise that can be viewed from the platform, but it is less spectacular and less convincing. 



Half Moon Meadow Brook Winter Solstice Sunrise Site


Note: Sunrise Rock, left,  is a large boulder/bedrock formation.  The sun is observed to rise in the notch in the rock as evidenced in the picture to the right.  Click pictures to enlarge. 



Half Moon Meadow Brook:

A Sunrise Solstice Site


Field Report by Daniel V. Boudillion


On December 22, 2001 at 7:30 a.m., approximately thirty people gathered in a field in Boxborough to watch the winter solstice sun rise majestically through an alignment of stone structures.  The outing was sponsored by the Sudbury Valley Trustees and led by George Krusen.


Half Moon Meadow Brook is a lithic site located in Boxborough, Massachusetts, and may well be one of the most significant early sites in Middlesex County.  Its most outstanding feature is its spectacular winter solstice sunrise alignment.  There is also a summer solstice sunrise alignment and a variety of interesting and enigmatic stonework.


For the rest of the article click here.


Interestingly, the 1725 deed from Isaac Powers Junior into Samuel Dudley shows that at that time there was an Indian trail running between the Indian New Town at the Sarah Doublet Forest and the solstice sunrise site, or Half Moon Meadow Brook as it is called today.  It is recorded as "…the Path that runs from Benjamin Hoar to Joseph Blanchard."  This "path" is now Newton Road and Boxborough Road. 


Isaac Powers junior to Samuel Dudley, February 24, 1724


Note: The deed goes on to run as follows: "...the Path that runs from Benjamin Hoar to Joseph Blanchard then running Northerly by said Path till it comes to a stake and heap of stones then bounding on Benjamin Hoar across Rattlesnake Meadow..."  Rattlesnake Meadow is the marsh at Fort Pond at the corner of Newtown Road and Boxborough Road, which can be seen here.  It was so-called because of the rattlesnake problem in the area in those days.  However, by 1850, the rattlesnake had been systematically exterminated in Massachusetts.  For more on Rattlesnake named places in Littleton, see: Looking For and Finding Littleton's Rattlesnake Hill


   Blanchards & Witchcraft: Location, Location, Location

The Blanchard name is well-known and respected in Boxborough, but perhaps less well known is the fact that Joseph’s three daughters Elizabeth (11), Joanna (9), and Mary (7) were involved in the last recorded instance of Witchcraft accusations in Massachusetts.  This happened in 1720, when the Blanchard girls accused Abigail Dudley, the wife of Littleton’s Town Clerk and Selectman, Samuel Dudley, of bewitching them.  It created more than a local stir and the girl’s drew an avid audience that relished the spectacle of them falling into fits and allowing themselves to be found in odd places such as ponds and rooftops, supposedly transported there by Mrs. Dudley’s witchcraft. 


As the summer wore on a formal complaint of Witchcraft loomed against Mrs. Dudley.  However, Mrs. Dudley died in childbirth on August 9, 1720 before any such formal accusations were lodged.  In 1728 Elizabeth Blanchard confessed to false accusations on her part to the Reverend Ebenezer Turell in Malden, where the Blanchard family had moved for several years following the events.


The girl’s fits and accusations played out at their home on Depot Road in Boxborough, which was part of Littleton at the time.  The Blanchard homestead was situated in what is now the front yard of George Krusen’s colonial, itself a Blanchard house. 


Blanchard House, Depot Road, Boxborough


Note: The original Joseph Blanchard house of 1718 stood between the current structure and road.  It is known that John Blanchard built the current house in 1844/45 using beams and planks from the original home.  A recent dry spell revealed the footprint of the original foundation between the house and road.


In a strange twist, the Half Moon Meadow Brook Winter Solstice site is on the site of the old Joseph Blanchard farm and only a hundred yards from where the original house was located and the witchcraft fits and accusations played out. 



Winter Solstice Sunrise at Half Moon Meadow Brook


Note: In these photos of the Winter Solstice sunrise, an anomalous green orb is seen to move across the meadow.



1720 Littleton: the Dudley Witchcraft Affair


By Daniel V. Boudillion

31 October 2009


The Town of Littleton was barely 6 years old when it was rocked in 1720 by accusations of Witchcraft.  The young daughter of Joseph Blanchard, followed by her two younger sisters, exhibited outrageous afflictions and behaviors that they attributed to the machinations of a witch.  Ultimately they accused Mrs. Abigail Dudley, the wife of Littleton’s first Town Clerk and Selectman, Samuel Dudley, as their diabolical tormentor.


In the process, the Blanchard home became a sideshow of "afflicted" behavior: fortune telling, trances, fits, levitation, invisible attacks, retaliations, and rocks flung down the chimney (and into the soup!).  People came from miles around for the cheap entertainment and the majority opinion was Witchcraft, and a formal lodging of accusations loomed against Mrs. Dudley.  She, in turn, had the audacity to die in peculiar circumstances before any such charges could be lodged against her and a trial executed – but yet strange deaths and suicides have dogged the descendents of Joseph Blanchard ever since. 


Forthcoming article by Daniel V. Boudillion, currently being presented locally as a slide show. 


For an introduction to the Dudley Witchcraft Accusations see Ceremonial Time: Fact or Fiction?  An Inquiry into John Hanson Mitchell



   Boxborough Esker

Blanchards and Witchcraft aside, there is another special site within the bounds of the old Indian Plantation.  This is located in Boxborough but was originally part of Littleton.  The site is a series of three large earthen circles, each surrounded by a ditch, that Mavor and Dix believe to have Indian ritual significance.  It is located next to Muddy Pond on the eastern side of the Boxborough esker on Beaver Brook.  It is significant that this esker runs its length dead-center along the Newbury-Clinton fault.  In fact, some geologists think certain fault-line eskers are the result of soil liquefactions in high magnitude earthquakes rather then glacier related soil deposits. 



Top of Boxborough Esker & Earthen Circle at base of Esker


Note: The the earthen ditch-and-circles are very subtle and difficult to see in person, let alone capture in a photograph.  Your best bet is to visit the location in the late fall or early spring at dawn.  The early morning shadows will help define the shapes so you can see them better. 



Prayer Seat at Boxborough Esker on left & example of a Prayer Seat in good condition on right


Note: The prayer seat on the left is at the base of the Esker.  The one on the right is shown as an example of a Prayer Seat  in good condition.  See the Picture Glossary of New England Lithic Constructions for further information on Prayer Seats.


Whatever the cause, there are several stone prayer seats here, much like at Moodus, and a summer solstice sunset alignment as well.  The following statement from Mavor and Dix in Manitou sums up well their views and interest in the lands of the Nashoba Indian Village:


"We believe that the shaman-preachers of Nashoba used the praying villages to maintain the Indian communication links, the sacred landscape and the stone and earthen structures in the midst of encroaching white colonists.  We believe that central to their world was the Boxborough esker."


I disagree on the "centrality" of the Boxborough esker.  Certainly it was important, perhaps ritualistically, but I feel the Nagog area was more central to the natural intrinsic uniqueness of Nashoba. 


The Boxborough Esker: A Featured Site in Manitou

Field Report by Daniel V. Boudillion


The Boxborough Esker is prominently featured in the book Manitou by James Mavor and Byron Dix.  They consider it a significant Native American site in the Hopewellian tradition.  To quote the authors:


"We believe that the shaman-preachers of Nashoba used the praying villages to maintain the Indian communication links, the sacred landscape and the stone and earthen structures in the midst of encroaching white colonists.  We believe that central to their world was the Boxborough esker."


I thought it would be interesting to visit the esker and report how it appeared to me.  It is not my intent to prove or disprove anything with this article, but simply to report what I saw and provide some photos for those who have not yet visited the site.


For the rest of the article click here.



   An Island of Granite in a Sea of Schist

The entire region is an area of sedimentary schist and gneiss that extends 21 miles from Lowell to Bolton on a Northeasterly axis, and is about 5½ miles wide.  In geologic terms this area is called the Nashoba Zone, and its composition of sedimentary schist and gneiss dates from the Ordovician/Proterozoic-Z (Ozn) eras.


There are seven small "islands" of intrusive rock rising out of this ancient seabed of the Nashoba Zone.  These islands are composed of Andover and Acton Granite of the Silurian/Ordovician era (SOagr), a light-gray to pinkish gray stone.  The largest of the seven islands - in the very middle of the Nashoba Zone - is the rocky hill sandwiched between Nagog Pond and Fort Pond.  This is the Sarah Doublet Forest, the heart of the Nashoba Indian Plantation.  It is literally an island of granite in a sea of sedimentary schist and gneiss.  This granite island is a small elongated oval running Northeasterly, about three miles long and three-quarter miles wide.  Its three-quarter mile width runs exactly between Nagog Pond and Fort Pond.  The granite meets the schist and gneiss at the edges of both ponds, extending slightly beneath them both. 


Granite Islands in a Sea of Schist


Note: The Andover granite "islands" are filled in with light blue, and the location of the Sarah Doublet Forest is marked with a red dot.  For reference, Littleton Common is marked with a dark blue dot.   click map to enlarge


Significantly, the hills of the Moodus region are domes of schist and gneiss, same as the sea of rock that composes the rest of the Nashoba Zone, and Nashoba Hill itself.  Nashoba and Moodus are areas of the exact same geologic composition, as are the noise-making domes of Nashoba Hill and Mount Tom. 



Geology of Mount Tom: Schist & Gneiss


Note: Mount Tom is of the same geologic composition as Nashoba Hill: Picture 1 of of Mt. Tom is of schist in the foreground with gneiss further back, and picture 2 is of gneiss.  Courtesy of The Geology of Mount Tom State Park website. 


Also significantly, the heart of the Nashoba Praying Indian Village, the Sarah Doublet Forest on Fort Pond Hill, is situated dead center on this the largest island of granite in the schist/gneiss zone.  The final area of Indian activity in Nashoba, the 500 acre Indian New Town, is almost entirely within the granite zone.  Also, there is more of the Andover/Acton granite intrusions within the bounds of the old Praying Indian village than in the rest of the entire Nashoba Zone. 


Sarah Doublet Forest in relation to Andover Granite Island


Note 1: This map shows the location of the Sarah Doublet Forest in relation to the "island" of Andover granite.  The Sarah Doublet Forest is the gray oval between Fort Pond and Nagog Pond.  The Andover Granite Island is outlined in red-purple.  The 500 Acre Indian New Town (Indian Reservation) is the green square.  The overall Praying Indian Plantation is marked in blue.  Note how the Andover granite island encompasses most the Indian New Town in general, and all of the Sarah Doublet Forest (and hill) between the two ponds.  The Sarah Doublet Forest is the "sacred center" of the old Indian Plantation, and it seems unlikely that its being on the "island" in its entirety - as well as the reservations being mostly on it as well - is coincidence.  Rather, it seems the site was chosen for this geological peculiarity. 



Note 2: This map is also a good illustration of the location of Nashoba as "The Place Between the Waters."  The three "waters" in question are Long Pond at mid-map, and Fort Pond and Nagog Pond at the bottom of the map. 


It would seem that this is significant to the selection of "nashope" by Tahattawan and his shamanic advisors, and no doubt one of the factors that contributed to its unique character. The heart of the village was centered on the granite island.  Thus the heart of the vision questing and shamanic activity was also centered on the granite as well.  Hobomock’s voice may have come from the schist hill, but he was invoked from the granite. 


Perhaps the granite islands reacted in some unusual or pronounced way to the tremblings of this seismically active area.  Or perhaps they remained calm in a storm of jiggling schist and gneiss.  Certainly, these islands are from a deeper strata of rock and their roots penetrate the shallow sea of schist and gneiss deep into the seismically active bowels of the earth.

   Powwows Under the Mountain

The voice of Hobomock was a powerful call to the shaman of old in "nashope."  In fact, according to legend, Tahattawan didn’t simply die, but apparently followed the Voice of Hobomock into the hill itself, where he now lives his ghostly life in Hobomock’s domain.  


In an essay written around 1910, Littleton schoolboy Jonathan Harwood recalled a local legend that "Tahattawan and King Philip, – Indian Sachems – as the legends run, still hold their ghostly pow-wows in a cave on Nashoba.  Hence the roar of dissenting voices occasionally issue…" 



Ohio Olentangy Indian Caverns: Council Rock


Note: Although there are no known caves in Nashoba Hill, Indians did use caverns for council rooms and shelters.  For instance, concerning the Olentangy Indian Caverns in Delaware Ohio: "There is evidence that the Wyandotte Indians used these caverns as a haven from the weather and from their enemies, the Delaware Indians.  One of the large rooms contains "Council Rock", used by the Wyandotte's for tribal ceremonies. Courtesy of the Olentangy Indian Caverns website. 

According to this legend, Sachem Tahattawan is therein accompanied by King Philip (otherwise known as Metacom), the most powerful and fearsome Indian of Massachusetts history.  King Philip developed such a frightful reputation in the King Philip’s War against the English settlers in 1675-76 that dozens of place names still bear the remembrance of this Wampanoag sachem. 

   Mary Shepard Kidnapped

There is reason to attach King Philip’s name to the area.  A King Philip’s War incident occurred 350 yards from Nashoba Hill on a hill between it and Nagog Pond.  On February 12, 1676, Mary Shepard (or Mary Powers, there is some debate over the name) was keeping watch on Quagana Hill while her brothers Isaac and Jacob Shepard threshed corn in a nearby barn.  The Indians took them all by surprise, killed the brothers, and abducted Mary to their Wenimisset camp in New Braintree, Massachusetts.  Mary stole a horse and escaped to Chelmsford three days later. 



Quagana Hill & Wenimisset Lower Camp


Note: There is a Powers' family oral tradition that Mary came back pregnant.

Who Was Mary?  This section under construction: 16 December 2009.


There is some debate between the Shepard and Power's families over who "Mary Shepard" actually was.  Both Harwood in Littleton (1890) and Hudson in Concord (1904) record the event as happening to Mary Shepard.  However, "Mary Shepard" does not show up in the historical record of the time the events took place: 1676.  Unlike all the other children of Ralph and Thanklord Shepard, there is no birth, death, or marriage records for her name.  Charlestown, Malden, and Concord do not list her. 


However, there was a Mary Powers on the spot and of the right age in 1675.  Walter Powers had married Ralph Shepard's daughter Trial, and his Garrison house - built for protection against the Indians of King Philip's war (1675/1676) - was only about 300 yards from Quagana Hill.  Ralph Shepard lived about 50 yards from the hill.  Ralph Shepard and his son's families, and Walter Powers and his family, were the only English people who lived there, in what was a part of Concord Plantation called Concord Village. 


It is recorded that "Mary Shepard's" two brothers, Isaac and Jacob, were killed by the Indians and she taken prisoner.  However, if Mary were


King Philip is the arch-enemy Indian of the Puritan Colonials and all things "English," personifying to them all that was heathen, wild, and savage in the New World.  That he is in the hill conducting heathen powwows is an indication of the non-Christian practices associated in Puritan times with the sounds emanating from the hill.  Just as significantly, Sachem Tahattawan, supposedly a convert, is also in the caverns beneath the hill conducting ghostly powwows – veritable rituals to Hobomock – with the most feared Indian in Massachusetts history. 


King Philip's War Club: Fruitlands Museum



Note 1: War clubs like this were the hand-weapon of choice among the Algonquin speaking warriors of King Philip's war parties.  Most Puritan settlers who were killed died of a result of having their heads bashed in by clubs like this.  Indeed, my direct ancestor and his family were "Cutt of" (killed) in a raid on their secluded farm in Warwick in 1675, with the exception of the youngest son who was ransomed back for a wagon load of pumpkins.  This story was simply a family tradition until 2004 when I found a copy of a letter that Warwick's Captain Edmund Calverly wrote the Governor begging for reinforcements, and citing the death of Francis and his family as proof of the pressing need:

"As Also that they has Cutt of Francis his wife & fower smale children, And burned his house, And All his provision & goods was, for ought we know ther destroyed together, for wee then could find none of them."

Note 2: There is a modern story about King Philip's War Club worth recounting as well.  Back in the 1970s some young men visited the Indian Museum at Fruitlands and asked to look at the club - which was on open view and not display-cased at the time.  An excuse was made to get the curator to leave the building for a few minutes.  When he returned both the young men and the club were gone.  The club remained missing for many years.  However, about 15 years ago it surfaced at a local yard sale, and better yet, was seen by a person who knew what he was looking at.  To make a long story short, the club was purchased for a few dollars and returned to the Museum. 


The sounds from the hill are the roaring of their rebellious voices.  Tahattawan, associated with the place of Hobomock’s voice as Sachem of "nashope" and thence Nashoba Praying Indian Village, has in the end become one of the heathen voices of the hill, if not the King under the Mountain himself. 



King Philip & Sachem Tahattawan


Note : These are artists conceptions - there are no known likenesses of either King Philip or Sachem Tahattawan.  The earliest depiction of King Philip was an engraving by Paul Revere, seen here, created 96 years after Philip's death.


Note: It is also interesting how the legends around Nashoba Hill migrated across the two competing cultures.  It went from the Indians believing that the winds were pent in the hill, to Colonials believing that the Indians themselves were pent in the hill. 

   Nashoba: Shaman & Sacred Ground

Like Mavor and Dix, I also think that history and evidence indicate that the Nashoba Praying Indian Village was a uniquely special place, and chosen for religious reasons of the Indians.  Hobomock lived like a king in the depths of the rumbling hill and shaman sought him here in vision quest in the underground chambers, living among Tahattawan’s folk in the village on the granite island, an island with its roots deep in the earth. 


The earthquakes signaled Hobomock’s might and agitated the waters of Nagog Pond.  The glowing lights added to the mystery of the place.  The boomings were his voice, and his slightest whisper could be read in the movements of the perched boulders.  Quartz was found here for carving the Wakon-bird in appeasement if necessary.  Stone turtles climbed from sacred water to sacred hill.  Strange powers lived in the pond and moved its waters, and would drag you into the deeps if approached to close.  Perhaps the Ap’cinic story was a metaphor or warning to the uninitiated – here be dragons. 


Stone turtle ascends the hill of vision quest


Indians certainly lived in the heart of Nashoba, the Sarah Doublet Forest, on the hill between Nagog Pond and Fort Pond from its inception as a Plantation in 1651, to when the last surviving member died in 1736.  The longevity of this tract as Indian-held land happened in a round-about way, not in the linear manner erroneously depicted by John Mitchell in Trespassing*.  However, the outcome was the same – the heart of the area was lived on and tended by Indians until the very end.  Even then they didn’t really die, they simply entered the ghostly cavernous realms of Hobomock deep beneath Nashoba Hill and became the voice of the hill itself. 


*Note: The unofficial settlement of Littleton began in 1686 with the sale from the Indians of half the Plantation to the Hon. Peter Bulkeley of Concord and Maj. Thomas Henchman of Chelmsford for the consideration of 70.  This sale included what is now known as the Sarah Doublet Forest.  By 1701 the entire Nashoba Praying Indian Plantation had been sold into English hands, and a series of competing petitions were generated over the fate of the area – that it be incorporated into other towns, or be incorporated into its own town.  It was finally decided by Massachusetts Bay General Court in favor of it being its own town, and incorporated as Nashoba in 1714, and renamed Littleton in 1715.  Even though the Indians had sold all their lands, they still continued to live where they always had, which was an inconvenience and affront to the new English landholders.  Thus, when the town was incorporated in 1714, a 500 acre tract was was aside as an Indian Reservation in an attempt to corral the Indians off English lands.  The 500 acre tract, which encompasses the Sarah Doublet Forest, was chosen for two reasons.  First, it was poor farming land, and thus of little value to the English.  Second, it was a location where most of the Indians were living anyway - an observation that lends weight to it being of special spiritual significance to the Nashoba Indians. 

   Nashoba Today

As I look up from my computer and out my dining room window across what was once Walter Powers fields back in 1670, I can see Nashoba Hill, one half mile away.  Is the dark king still under the mountain?  It has been 2 years since I last heard his voice, but the occasional tremor reminds me of his presence. 


New life has been given these old sacred lands.  In the Sarah Doublet Forest, the heart of Nashoba "between the waters," are several stone circles.  A white witch coven met there in the early 1980s not far from the chamber, calling the blessings of the Old Gods upon that place, or more likely, calling up the Old Gods from that place. 


Stone Circle in the Sarah Doublet Forest


Note: In the book Trespassing John Mitchell has this to say about the Sarah Doublet Forest: "Once I even found a small stone circle in the the area, a sort of miniature Stonehenge ... neo-pagans have set up a celestial tracking stage here, in the form of a circle of stones, wherein they worship the rising or setting of the sun, moon, and stars."


It is not uncommon to stumble upon a contemplative soul in quiet mediation in the woods of the Sarah Doublet Forest. As you walk the trails you will also notice that modern rock-stackers have been at work here balancing columns of stones, in a modern version of "duff," the old Indian rock-stacking game.  At night, the coyotes yip in the woods and the moonlight eerily shadows the undulating rocky mounds and the rough-stone sacred turtle effigies.

   The Six Altars of Nashoba

Within the original bounds of the old Nashoba Praying Indian Village, I have found 6 stone altars tucked away in the woods.  Based on field-use and tree growth (they are concealed by trees in what once were open fields cleared of stone), these would not appear to be more then 80 years old, and were probably made sometime after the 1960’s.  It seems neo-pagans have felt attracted to this place as well, same as the Indian shamans of old were.  Indeed, some feel that the Indians have not abandoned Nashoba, and that certain stone and brush formations are their continuing offerings to Manitou, the spirit of place.  As late as 1920, it was still recorded that Indians would pass through for a day or two to visit the graves of their ancestors on the low islands in the swamps of Fort Pond. 



stone Altars: Nagog Woods, Half Moon Meadow Brook, Oak Hill



The Six Altars of Nashoba:

A Question of Purpose and Origin


Field Report by Daniel V. Boudillion


Over the past twenty-four years I have noticed a variety of unusual lithic constructions in Nashoba, Massachusetts.  A particular structure that keeps turning up is a flat-topped table-like structure, either round or rectangular.  I call these structures "altars", although it is unclear what exactly they were intended for.  So far I have recorded and investigated six.  There are two varieties: round and rectangular.  These are found as follows: 2 on Oak Hill, 1 at Nagog Pond, 1 at Nagog Hill, 1 at Black Pond, and 1 at Half Moon Meadow Brook.


The following is a review of the structures and their environment, a discussion on possible uses and builders of these constructions, and my conclusions to date.


For the rest of the article click here.



   The Shooting of Nashoba Hill - New Year's Eve Style

For those who do not live here, or do not have the patience to wait for the unpredictable Voice of Hobomock, the tradition of "the shooting of Nashoba hill" continues to this day, and quite spectacularly I might add - light phenomena and all.  Every New Year’s Eve, Nashoba Hill Ski Area puts on a magnificent twenty minute midnight fireworks display, and the booming of the explosions roll across the town like cannon shot.  How strange and wonderful is it that the 350 years tradition of a booming hill still continues at the exact same spot, albeit with a modern twist. 


Fireworks at Nashoba Hill as seen from Indian Council Esker


There is a tradition here among the locals too.  Every New Years Eve at midnight, my friends (Ed, Gib, and Don) and I stand out at the old Indian council spot on the high esker behind my house and watch, beers in hand, as the fireworks drape and scintillate the night sky above us.  Even the old shaman never had it so good.

   GPS Locations & Accessibility

The poet J. G. Brainard (1796-1828) wrote of Moodus, but could well have been describing Nashoba with these same words:


Oh, this is the very wizard place,

   And now is the wizard hour,

By the light that was conjured up to trace,

Ere the star that falls can run its race,

   The seat of the earthquake’s power. 



Nashoba Hill is private land, but the Westford side is owned and operated as Nashoba Valley Ski Area.  So come winter, you can explore it there, if you like to do your exploring on skies, that is. 

Nashoba Hill Peak: 42.5400N, -71.4480W


Nagog Pond is the Town of Concord water supply, and posted as "no trespassing."  But there are trails off of Nagog Hill Road in Acton on conservation land that wind down near the pond. 

Acton Nagog Parking Lot: 42.5000N, -71.4390W


The Indian New Town (Sarah Doublet Forest), the heart of the old village on Fort Pond Hill, is now conservation land owned by the Town of Littleton, with access on Nashoba Road. 

Sarah Doublet Forest Parking Lot: 42.5120N, -71.4540W


The Solstice Sunrise site was recently purchased by Sudbury Valley Trustees, with access on Littlefield Road in Boxborough. 

Half Moon Meadow Brook: 42.5030N, -71.4870W


The Boxborough Esker site is owned by The Nature Conservancy, and may be accessed by a trail at the end of Swanson Road.

Boxborough Esker: 42.5050N, -71.5280W

   References Cited

Barber, John Warner.  1841 (edition).  Historical Collections. 

   Worcester, MA: Dorr, Howland & Co.


Goodrich, S.G.  1844.  A Pictorial History of America.

   Hartford, CT: E. Strong.


Gookin, Daniel.  1792.  Historical Collections of the Indians in New England.

   Boston: Apollo Press by Belknap and Hall.


Hurd, D. Hamiliton.  1890.  History of Middlesex County MA

(A chapter entitled "Historical Sketch of Littleton," contributed by Herbert Harwood). 

   Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co.


Hosmer, Rev. Stephen.  1895.  Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, Vol. 3.

   Hartford CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co.


Mavor, James W. and Byron E. Dix.  1989.  Manitou.

   Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International.


Mitchell, John.  1998.  Trespassing.

   Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.


Sears, Clara Endicott.  1924.  Days of Delusion.

   Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.


Simmons, Gene.  1977.  Our New England Earthquakes.

   Boston: Boston Edison Company.


Skinner, Charles M.  1896.  Tales of Puritan Land.

   Philadelphia and London: J.B. Lippincott Co.


Webster, Carolyn.  1957.  "The Town's Topography."  Littleton Independent,

   April 4, 1957.  Littleton MA.


Walcott, Charles Hosmer.  1884.  "Concord in the colonial period: being a history of the town of Concord" 

(Rev. Edmund Foster of Littleton, 1815 Century Sermon).

   Cambridge, MA: John Wilson and Son. 




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