Before its English settlement, the location of present-day Lancaster was called Nashaway, which means the land between two rivers. Viewed from south to north, the rivers of the name form a Y shape. The main river, the Penecook River forms the right arm of the upper part of the Y and splits to form the left arm of the upper part of the Y (the North River) and the base of the Y (the Nashaway River).

In 1653 the General Court ruled that, as there were already nine families in Nashaway and others intended to settle there, the inhabitants were granted the liberties of a township and that it was to be called 'Prescott' [after John Prescostt, who was instrumental in its settlement and who would play an important role in its early history]. Edward Breck, Nathaniel Hadlock, William Kerley, John Prescott and Ralph Houghton were to be the prudential men of the town and the town was to be part of Middlesex county. The Court was overruled on one point by someone in higher authority and on 18 May 1653 the town was named 'Lancaster'.

The original signers of the town covenant were Edward and Robert Breck, John Prescott, William Kerley, Thomas Sawyer and Ralph Houghton in 1652. The covenant included a clause agreeing not to admit inhabitants 'notoriously erring against the doctrine and discipline of the churches and the state'. John Whitcomb, Sr., John Whitcomb, Jr., Edmund Parker, Benjamin Twitchell and Anthony Newton also signed in 1652. John Moore, William Lewis, John Lewis, Thomas James, Stephen Day, James Atherton, Henry Kerley, William Kerley, Jr., John Smith, Lawrence Waters, John White, John Farrar, John Houghton, Samuel Deane and Richard Sutton signed in 1653. James Draper, Stephen Gates, James Whiting (Whiton), John Moore, Edward Kibbie, John Mansfield, John Towers, Richard Dwelley, Henry Ward, John Pierce, William Billing, Thomas Joslin, Nathaniel Joslin, John Rugg, Joseph Rowlandson and John Rigby signed in 1654. Still later, John Roper signed in 1656; John Tinker in 1657; Mordecai McLoud in 1658; Jonas Fairbanks, Roger Sumner, Gamaliel Beaman and Thomas Wilder signed in 1659; Daniel Gains signed in 1660.

Early tasks for the new townsman were to set up a mill, assign lots, build infrastructure and to ensure they had a minister of their liking. On 23 (3) 1654 John Prescott's mill began to grind corn in Lancaster. Twenty acre lots to the west of the North and Nashaway Rivers were assigned to John Prescott, John Johnson, Henry Kerley, William Kerley, Sr., John Smith, William Kerley, Jr. and John Moore. Lots between the Penacook and North Rivers were given to Edward Breck, Richard Linton, Ralph Houghton, Robert Breck, James Atherton, John White, William Lewis, John Lewis and Thomas James. The allocation of meadow land was based on the size of one's estate: four each 100 pounds a man was worth, he received four acres. On 27 (3) 1656 a highway to Concord was planned. In 1658 the town convinced Mr Rowlandson to stay on as their minister and negotiated with John Prescott to build a sawmill. Records of these early years were kept by the town clerk, Ralph Houghton.

Lancaster suffered terribly during King Phillip's War. On 22 Aug 1675 Indians attacked Lancaster, killing eight people: George Bennett, Jacob Farrar, Jr., Joseph Wheeler, Mordecai McLoud and his family and a Watertown soldier. On 10 Feb 1675/6 the Indians attacked Lancaster again, killing 14 people in the Rowlandson garrison and nine other people: Ens. John Divoll and his son Josiah, Abraham Joslin, Daniel Gains, John McLoud, Thomas Rowlandson (the minister's nephew), John Kettle, John Kettle, Jr., Joseph Kettle, Lieut. Henry Kerley's wife Elizabeth and sons Joseph and William, Ephraim Roper's wife Priscilla and daughter Priscilla, three members of the Ball family, Jonas Fairbanks and his son Jonas, Ephraim Sawyer, Henry Farrar, Richard Wheeler and one other person. Twenty people were taken into captivity and many probably died, including the minister's daughter Sarah, John and Hannah Divoll, Abraham Joslin's wife, daughter and brother and four children of Henry Kerley. John Roper was killed a few days later. The town was abandoned on 26 Mar 1676.

Resettlement after King Philip's war began in 1679, but without the town's minister, Mr. Rowlandson, who had gone to Wethersfield and died in 1678. Lancaster sustained further Indian attacks in the French and Indian Wars. Hannah, the wife of Jonathan Whitcomb, and Peter Joslin's wife and three young children were killed in attack on the Joslins' house on 18 Jul 1692; Peter's young son Peter was taken captive and killed shortly thereafter. In 1695 Abraham Wheeler was killed. On 11 Sep 1697 Indians killed Lancaster's minister, Mr. Whiting. Daniel and Joanna Hudson were killed, as well as their son Nathaniel and his two children. Their grown daughters Joanna and Elizabeth were taken captive and probably died in captivity. Also killed were John Prescott's daughter Hannah, the wife of John Rugg, her son Joseph Rugg and his wife and three children; Jonathan Fairbanks and two of his children; Ephraim Roper, who had lost his first wife in the 1676 massacre, his second wife and his daughter. On 15 Apr 1704 the town was ordered to repair to garrisons. On 31 Jul the town was attacked; Lieut. Nathaniel Wilder, two men from Marlborogh and a soldier were killed and much property was destroyed. On 16 Jul 1707 Indians killed Jonathan White, son of Josiah. Jonathan, son of Nathaniel Wilder, and Ens. John Farrar, son of Jacob, Jr., were also killed that summer.


Nourse, Henry S., Early Records of Lancaster, Massachusetts, 1643-1725, Clinton, W.J. Coulter, 1884.