Since my first Haverhill ghost investigation in 2008, people have asked me why Haverhill and vicinity are so haunted. There are many reasons. History may be part of it.
Why is Haverhill haunted?
Haverhill (pronounced “HAY-vuh-rill” or just “HAY-vrill”) has been the site of many significant events. They include some gruesome history that is documented at Golden Hill.
Haverhill, Massachusetts — a lovely town near the New Hampshire border — was known for intense Native American activity, and it was a gathering place for several Penacook Indian tribes.
In 1640, colonists settled in the area and named it Haverhill, after the English town and birthplace of their first minister, John Ward. According to the “Haverhill Deed of Township,” the land was formally purchased in 1642 from the Pentucket Indians. (That deed was signed on Mill Street, just a short walk from Golden Hill.)
The colonists paid three pounds and ten shillings for the entire town. The only signatures of the Natives were two “bow and arrow marks” on the deed. After that, Haverhill was generally peaceful, but some relations with the Natives were difficult.
One of the most horrific attacks occurred on March 15, 1697, when Indians burned six homes and killed or captured at least 39 people.
Many of the victims were buried in Pentucket Burial Ground on Water Street in Haverhill. (The Pentucket cemetery was established in 1668, and has many old and unmarked graves.)
That was the same attack in which Hannah Dustin (or Duston) was captured, along with her newborn daughter, Martha, and Mary Neff, Hannah’s midwife. For 15 days, they were marched in freezing March weather.
After Hannah’s six-day-old baby was brutally killed by Abenaki Indians, Hannah Dustin and Mary Neff were joined by another captive, 14-year-old Samuel Lennardson. Hannah avenged her daughter’s murder by organizing a revolt one night. With a hatchet, Hannah killed and scalped nine of the 10 or 12 Indians they ambushed. Among Hannah’s Native captors, only one woman and a young man escaped the attack.
Hannah, Mary and Samuel seized a canoe and reached the nearest colonial settlement where they presented the scalps to the British authorities, for a reward of 50 pounds.
Hannah’s story has been the subject of controversy. Some describe her as a hero while others are less flattering. Nevertheless, a Haverhill statue commemorates her history, and — though the story is disputed — she may be buried in an unmarked grave in the Pentucket Burial Ground.
Around Haverhill, you may see artifacts from the Dustin-Duston Family Association.
Hannah’s connection to accused Salem witch Lydia Dustin (or Duston) is not clear. Lydia Dustin died on March 10, 1693 — four years before the Haverhill attack — after being acquitted of witchcraft.
An 80-year-old widow, Lydia Dustin was not allowed to leave the Salem prison because she could not afford the jail fees. The courts had impoverished her. Lydia’s husband, Josiah (1623 – 1671), had been one of the founders — and leading land owners — of Reading, Massachusetts.
A second bloody attack
On August 29th,1708, Haverhill was attacked again. This time, over 100 French and Indians raided the town in a guerrilla-style attack. At least 40 people were killed and others taken captive, and — according to some contemporary descriptions — the town of Haverhill was “destroyed.”
Many victims of that attack are also in unmarked graves “at the south end” of Pentucket Burial Ground.
A spiritual site
Golden Hill is an historical location with beautiful river views.
From the first colonial settlement at Golden Hill, the site has been recognized as a deeply spiritual site. John Ward, the minister who came to Haverhill in 1641, held church services there. (The 1710 house located at Golden Hill was named for him.)
There are also rumors that, before the colonists’ arrival, the site was considered sacred by the Native Americans.
Witch trials and Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall
One colonial home atop Golden Hill passed from Rev. John Ward to his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Major Nathaniel Saltonstall.
Nathaniel Saltonstall (1639 -1707) was a soldier and a 1659 graduate of Harvard University. He’s remembered as one of the judges during the 1692 witch trials in nearby Salem, Massachusetts. Records suggest that Major Saltonstall was “very much dissatisfied with the proceedings.” After the hanging of “witch” Bridget Bishop, Saltonstall resigned in protest, and was replaced by Judge Jonathan Corwin.
Nathaniel Saltonstall was later accused of witchcraft. His grave is also in the Pentucket cemetery.
1815 Duncan House and 1850 Daniel Hunkins Shoe Shop
Two other historical buildings at Golden Hill include the Duncan House, built in 1815 — the year James H. Duncan began his law practice in Haverhill — and the Daniel Hunkins Shoe Shop from 1850.
Haunted Bradford College is also in the city of Haverhill. For more about its ghosts, see my related articles.
The college is no longer at that location. It is now private property.
Haverhill is clearly a magnet for historically significant events. From its early Native American lore, to its violent Colonial history, to Bradford College’s Necronomicon connections and ghost sightings, Haverhill has an ample foundation for paranormal activity.